Britt Daniel Meets Ray Davies

britt-daniel-kinks.jpg
Photograph by Francesco Carrozzini
WRITTEN BY
Steve Kandell

Compared to most of their indie-rock peers, Spoon have been around forever. But for sound advice on true staying power -- including the "right" to fail -- their dedicated follower goes face to face (sort of) with the Kinks' well-respected man about town.

BRITT DANIEL: I guess I heard all the Kinks songs growing up, but I was a latecomer to buying Kinks records, at least compared to a lot of my friends. The first one I got was [1966's] Face to Face, and it was a revelation for me.

RAY DAVIES: What was it about that one that appealed to you?

DANIEL: I liked the personal nature of the lyrics. I liked the stories. It seemed almost like a garage-rock record, but started to head into more constructed pop-song territory.

DAVIES: Our first record had six or seven cover songs; by Face to Face we were writing all our own material. There was never much thought given to making a complete album before then.

DANIEL: I still think it might be my favorite one. I don't know if that's just because sometimes the first record you get by anybody can be your favorite.

DAVIES: It's one of mine. It's got songs like "Fancy" and "Too Much on My Mind," which were huge. It's more looking inside the writer than trying to write pop songs.

SPIN: One thing that always comes up about the Kinks is that they were considered, at the time anyway, distinctly British-sounding. Britt, coming from Texas, did you feel there were references that went over your head?

DANIEL: Definitely in songs like "A House in the Country" or even the use of harpsichord -- that sound felt very English to me.

DAVIES: Well, it is a very baroque-sounding instrument, and I suppose there's something English about it, but it's not meant to be reflective. I made a rather silly statement when "You Really Got Me" came out; I said I'd always sing in an English accent because a lot of my contemporaries in the U.K. adopted an Americanaccent on their records. But then the first line of "You Really Got Me" has an American twang. I was trying to protect the English colloquialisms and the English way of life in the lyrics, because that's what I knew. "You Really Got Me" was only the third or fourth song I ever wrote. I just wrote about people I knew and experiences I'd had at that time. And those things were English.

SPIN: Britt, early Spoon songs definitely had a different, less personal feel than what you're doing now. Do you remember worrying that you couldn't tell certain kinds of stories because you hadn't lived a lot yet?

DANIEL: I don't know if I consciously thought that, but it certainly was true. For the first years I was writing songs, they weren't personal and they weren't very vulnerable. It took awhile for me to be able to write that way. I think I was just trying to come up with any lyrics that wouldn't be embarrassing to sing. It was only later that I got into this idea of actually expressing myself.

DAVIES: See, I'm still living a mile away from where I grew up -- I think the first 20 songs I wrote were based on experiences I had in the neighborhood. It was only with Face to Face and Something Else that I discovered I could write songs about myself. That sounds weird, but for a while, I couldn't find my interior, couldn't find my identity. Before that, I was probably afraid to touch on personal issues, not because it was taboo, but they were difficult for me to confront.

SPIN: Was there a particular song or particular moment where you found your comfort zone?

DAVIES: There's a weird song on Face to Face called "Fancy." I still haven't worked out why I wrote that; it just kind of came to me real late one night. I still don't understand what it's about. Inventing characters, like the well-respected man, that was easy to do. But sometimes down the line, when you become those songs -- you become those people you were writing about -- then it's kind of scary.

Read more of Britt & Ray's chat in the April 2010 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now.

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