If you like being adored, impressing women and getting free drugs all the time, then I guess it’s attractive. If you don’t you’re stuck with bad hours and bad pay.
Rock stars come in all brands and colors, but few arrive in as curious a package as Iva Davies. For a start, he didn’t learn his licks at 14 practising in his parents garage; he came via the circuitous route of formal classical music training. Consequently he never agonised over a new Chuck Berry riff while skipping homework.
Now that he has entered the ultra-cool echelon in the rock world, he still doesn’t fit with the rest of the boys. Unlike Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes, or Swanee’s John Swan, or a multitude of other Aussie rockers, Davies doesn’t show up at rock clubs and leap on stage for a jam of some soul classics. Unlike many others, he doesn’t take young bands under his wing and throw himself into an orgy of hit-making in darkened studios. And on the subject of orgies, he speaks disdainfully of the traditional retreats of the rock superstar, the eternal consumption of women and drugs holds no fascination for Iva Davies.
Yes, he’s a cool one alright. In his elegant, slightly old-fashioned, classically-cut suits and with his almost aristocratic appearance, he would look more at home buying a gold cigarette lighter at some gentlemen’s outfitters than strutting around with a guitar on the grimy stage of a suburban hotel.
His classical training began at the age of six, courtesy of his mother, whom Davies describes as a very accomplished classical pianist. Little came of these early efforts, except that being surrounded by music at home instilled something of the Terpsichorean muse in the young Iva. It wasn’t until he was 11 that he decided to grab this thing by the throat. A schoolteacher asked who could play an instrument and Davies thought a little white lie wouldn’t hurt so he shot his hand in the air, aiming to get his hands on a trumpet. Trumpets were out of season but the teacher’s wife taught the oboe, so the writing was on the wall.
The first scholarship came at the age of 14, and Davies began attending the prestigious Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where he won a string of further scholarships. Even after finishing his high school studies Davies continued at the conservatorium, aiming for a diploma in performance and playing the oboe with various chamber ensembles and orchestras . Then, inexplicably, he chucked it in. After more than a year of indecision and involvement with other projects - musical and non-musical - he re-emerged as the heart throb lead singer for a band called Flowers.
Flowers were a strange band for a bunch of newcomers - tight and controlled, playing a set of immaculately performed covers versions of rock classics from T-Rex to the Sex Pistols. With Davies well-honed arranging skills, learnt while filling in time as a sheet music writer for a publishing company, their performances were head and shoulders above the usual clumsy early efforts of fledging rock bands. The band, originally the baby of bassist Keith Welsh, gradually became more and more Davies’ vehicle for his songs and ideas. The writing tasks fell to him, much to his annoyance, because none of the other band member really had much idea of how to write a song.
His initial distaste for the task turned into an exacting quest for perfection in tunes which first saw the light of the day on a public stage, and later on the band’s first album, Icehouse. That title became the bands new name when the old moniker became unviable. Davies’ domination of the group continued until it came time for recording the band’s second album (Primitive Man, this time by Icehouse) - he virtually dismissed the rest of the band and flew to Los Angeles to record it almost single-handedly.
Getting back on the road to promote the album, Davies didn’t reassemble the old band but preferred to cast about for musicians that interested him, inviting them along to rehearse and hit the track, while still calling the combination Icehouse. This seemingly high handed treatment of the other band members accords with Davies’ general attitude toward his music - when he’s right, he’s right and if you don’t agree with him you can take your ball and kick it in somebody else’s backyard. If that dictatorial attitude were coupled with driving ambition, Davies might have made himself a lot of enemies among this country’s musicians. But that’s not the case: Davies isn’t ambitious so much as curious...enough to try as many combinations and sounds as he can, although even he can’t seem to express what he’s searching for.
Penthouse writer Roger Crosthwaite found it just as hard pinning Davies down on the subject of what he was going to do next as he did reconciling the image of Davies as a popular teenage idol with the calm, conservative, dry-witted man he sat down to talk with in the offices of Regular Records, the independent company that releases Davies’ recordings to a seemingly insatiable public.
Iva Davies is that rarity among rock stars - intelligent, perceptive and somewhat perplexed that all this fuss should be made over him.
Penthouse: How did you come to throw in a position in the consevatorium and a promising career as a symphony oboist for something as transient as a career in rock and roll?
Davies: There were a number of things. I was having a hard time with the oboe. I was getting so critical of my own playing, giving myself such a hard time I couldn’t pick it up without getting totally disgusted. It became more of a pain than it was an enjoyment. The other thing was I spent most of that year studying Gregorian chants and medieval music, which was a bit of a bore.
Penthouse: Did you choose the medieval strand?
Davies: No, that was part of the curriculum, but the other problem was that the diploma students were very specialised - there were only 19 of us in the year - and there were 90 people there learning how to be music teachers, some of whom had failed Third Level music, but because they had a pass in English they were qualified to teach music. On the other hand there was a friend of mine who had passed First Level music but failed English, so they wouldn’t let him in. So the people running the place didn’t really have any idea of what was going on. The problem was that the 19 diploma students shared classes with the 90 student music teachers, so the whole standard was brought down to cater for those 90. And that meant I spent a lot of the time going over things I’d known for years and years. So I dropped out at a time when I was due to sit for a really big exam, had a minor nervous breakdown and went bush for a couple of weeks. Then I decided I was not going to be a musician anymore because it was driving me to distraction, so when I got back I looked in the paper for a job. I found one as a menswear salesman, but after six months I was getting pretty tired of not being a musician - I couldn’t be satisfied either way, I had to get back into music for better or worse.
Penthouse: Seems it was a bit late for that, having burned your bridges as you did. What did you do about coming in from the cold?
Davies: I was contacted one day by the ABC orchestra, who were looking for an oboe player. The trouble about that was they had this Fascist conductor who had an incredible reputation for being totally obnoxious. His trick was destroying people. He was a very interesting character, but he had this system whereby he would take one person and systematically work on them for a couple of weeks, and everything they did was wrong. It wouldn’t matter they were doing it right or not, he would humiliate them in front of the whole orchestra. The result was either of two things: if the person was a really good musician with some self-esteem, which a musician has to have to be good, they would crack up completely and there were a couple of heavy nervous breakdowns while I was there; or if they weren’t much good and didn’t have much guts they ended up being completely servile and would do anything he wanted. Anyway, my number came up about six months down the line, and he started working on me. So one day in the middle of rehearsal I cracked and told him where to get off and I left the orchestra. It was probably the best thing I ever did. But because he was an ABC conductor, that finished my career as a professional player. There are only about 30 positions for professional oboists in Australia and they’re like public service jobs - you stay there until you’re sixty. So having rubbed an ABC conductor up the wrong way. Well, it was my death knell.
Penthouse: Is that where guitar playing came in?
Davies: Well, while all this was going on I’d been mucking around with the guitar, and I had met a couple of guys who were into playing folky dives and the occasional folk festival. So I chucked my lot in with them, playing with one or both of them around the town, and sometimes just on my own. I didn’t take it very seriously but one of these guys was really ambitious to get a recording contract. I wasn’t really. He was a very good songwriter - all right guitarist, terrible singer, but a really good songwriter. And he went to all the publishing companies flogging his songs. At the time I’d written one song, and the one company he managed to get interested in these songs was only interested in the one I’d written. That was Essex Music. They gave me a contract and tried to get me a recording contract with RCA. It was such a heavy contract. I didn’t want anything to do with it. Anyway, through him I met Col Joye and when I left the orchestra I got a job with Col writing lead lines for songs. They give me piles of tapes by Laurie Allen, Andy Gibb, Kevin Johnson and stuff like that. So I got these miles and miles of tapes and I had any amount of time to do them in, and I got $5 a lead line. What I did was stay on at the beach most of the week doing these things as slowly as possible so I could stretch them out over a long time. I stayed alive doing that for a while. That led to more lead line work, better paid, so at one stage I was writing the sheet music to most of the Australian songs coming out at the time. Then on my 21st birthday I bought an electric guitar, and somewhere along the line I met Keith Welsh, who was the bass player in Flowers. He’d had a few bands, and I was trying to get some noise out of this electric machine I’d bought, with a tiny amplifier, and I started playing with him, doing T-Rex covers in pubs like the Time and Tide in Dee Why and eventually the big time - The Royal Antler!
Penthouse: So far so good - but how did that cosy situation evolve into a band with recording commitments and all the trimmings?
Davies: Keith was very ambitious to succeed - as opposed to having a musical ambition. He was very business-minded, but I still didn’t take it seriously. I’d started applying for courses at the conservatorium. I was a dropout but I could still drop back in. I wanted to do something that would get me an official piece of paper, because I’d spent all those years in music and I still didn’t have anything. But Keith was still keen; he wanted to give up his job and was at me to do the same. Then Dirty Pool, the management company, came along and it all started to look horribly serious, but I hung on like grim death to the little amount of work that I had without depending on the music thing. Even after we’d been offered lots of really good record deals I still didn’t think I was going to do it. In the end it got the better of me, I guess, and I sort of got swept along with it. It was very odd because it was really Keith’s ambition that started it, but then it came time to write some songs and nobody else was going to do it so I had to do it, and before I knew it Keith Welsh’s ambition had sewn me up. I was in there and I couldn’t get back out. I was in a band.
Penthouse: Was the classical training any help at this stage?
Davies: It was more of a hindrance than a help. What you learn in classical training, like always playing in tune and in time, generally means that most classical musicians always have a warped perspective if they apply it to rock music. I was living with this girl who had a record collection of people who I thought were really abominable - people like Lou Reed and Marc Bolan and the like (this was before I met Keith ). But these people were so fanatical about that music. I couldn’t understand it. It was horribly out of tune. But I made a bit of study of it - I wanted to work out why they couldn’t hear that this music was so crappy. A whole new set of priorities became apparent to me after a while. Initially it was really painful for me to study rock music. Then it occurred to me that for a start 90 percent of people listen to the lyrics before they hear anything else, so that a whole side of it that has nothing to do with music suddenly becomes more important - more important than the music. That’s why I’ve always been more critical of the lyrics than of the music, because I feel I have a certain amount of capability with music, but lyrics are a whole new thing. And now I tend to spend more time on the lyrics than on music.
Penthouse: How did the other musicians regard your classical training? Did they see you as a know-all, or as someone who possibly had something to offer them?
Davies: I don’t think I was regarded as a know-all, and it made certain processes really efficient. The process of rehearsing a song, for example, is always clumsy with people who can’t communicate except in fairly clumsy terms. That’s why you get a band sitting around for six months just getting their set together. Because they have to kind of ...bash it out - it’s a matter of trial and error. Generally you get a situation that is not democratic as they would have you believe. One guy will have written a song but it takes him six months to communicate what he wants to the other guys, by trying 10 possibilities, and eventually he’ll say, “Yeah, that’s the one”, instead of being able to define it in specific terms and get to the number one solution straight away. So they found it fairly efficient to work with me.
Penthouse: Would you consider studying classical music again? Would it help to develop what you are doing with a rock band?
Davies: The simple way to look at it is that I don’t see the two as being compatible at all. It’s a question of whether the training helps you or not, and if anything it was a hindrance. But more relevant is the fact that you can’t apply one to the other, they’re just so completely different. Therefore, unless I was actually interested in classical music, there wouldn’t be any point in studying it any more. And in fact I’m not really interested. There’s two things you can do when you study classical music - you can study what’s been, which means you’re studying musical history in a way, or you can study contemporary composition, which is basically sort of like going to an institution to study modern art. Ninety percent of the work studied will have as its justification the fact that it is modern art, and therefore as long as it remains obscure enough there’s nothing you can judge it by. So you can get away with murder, as long as people don’t know what you’re up to.
Penthouse: Did you ever get to like this “trashy” music that you couldn’t understand at first?
Davies: I became an absolute fanatic! It was more appealing to me because I had a different perspective. After a while I felt I could hear things much more like an untrained person. If the lyrics of a record are offensive I can’t listen to it. Regardless of what the music is like, the first thing I listen to now would be the words. And I think that that has a certain bias on it too, but it’s probably less biased than a classical musician who quite often will really like stuff like Yes, which has things that he would imagine are great music, but has these really embarrassing words. And you say to this person, “Well you’ve been listening to this record for 10 years. What do you think of the lyrics? And they still don’t know what the lyrics are.
Penthouse: Do you still look at Icehouse as a rock band in the traditional sense?
Davies: No, I mean its very hard to find an appropriate tag. I never liked the term “rock music” anyway. It’s like when people say, “It must be really weird being a rock and roll star. I don’t like that word “star”. I guess it describes a media person, but it tends to imply all sorts of other things as well, like lots of money and a flash lifestyle and all that stuff, which is not necessarily part of it. In fact, sometimes you try to avoid it. Similarly, when you say “rock band” you imply a lot of things as well. You imply this suicidal mentality of being “on the road”, and consumption of vast quantities of every form of drug, and whatever... So in order to avoid that king of image, it’s necessary to point out certain differences.
Penthouse: Actually I wasn’t talking so much about the lifestyle as about the actual music. Obviously you don’t look back to classic rhythm and blues tracks for your inspiration - you look elsewhere.
Davies: Oh, I see, Well, I doubt whether the next album - if there is a next album - would be as much of a consumer product as the last two. It used to be a challenge to put two things together - music which I didn’t think had sold out, and something which is fairly and widely appealing. But I wasted so much music that way that I’d like to find a use for the other sort of music - music that would be more applicable to film scores and ...I don’t know, but music that is not just three-minute ditties.
Penthouse; Is there not enough scope for using that other music in Australia?
Davies: I don’t think so. I think the further you get into the mechanics of selling, the more obliged you are to keep on doing it, unless you decide to start rubbing people up the wrong way. It’s like any business - If it thrives, it becomes more expensive to run, so you have to make it even more successful etc... that’s the way it works.
Penthouse: Have you developed a liking for “pop” music - snappy, three minute radio tunes?
Davies: I admire people who make really good pop records. That’s why the set of covers we had was the way it was. I really admire a couple of things Michael Jackson has done. But I like the other thing: I admire more strongly people who have achieved the same result - that is to say, made really good pop tunes - but retained this other element in them. That’s why I think songs like Telegram Sam were good: they are as classic as Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, but weren’t associated with the same sort of... discardability, if you know what I mean.
Penthouse: Is there much encouragement to experiment from your record company, and from other record companies?
Davies: It’s always governed by how far you can go in the context of still making it generally appealing. For instance, If you wanted to experiment with how to really upset people with music, which would be very interesting, I don’t think that would go down too well with the company. So therefore you can experiment, but you can’t go too far. And it is necessary to produce something a little bit different every time. That’s part of making a more commercial product. But it can’t be too different.
Penthouse: To what extent are there people in Australia who have the same ideas as you, who can easily comprehend what you’re talking about when you explain what you want to play?
Davies: I think I relate on that level far more easily than with people who have just heard my records. I could probably work with some obscure, experimental bands and we’d get on just fine, but if you just played my record to them they wouldn’t like them much. That’s why I think I’m capable of doing things which are more interesting, given that the same compromises I operate under now are part of my new environment.
Penthouse: Do you ever get tired of the same old guitar-bass-drums format?
Davies: I’ve been tired of guitars ever since I started playing one!
Penthouse: Is that because the guitar is more limited than keyboards, for instance.
Davies: It is and it isn’t. People are always finding newish things to do with a guitar, but it isn’t such a blank page as keyboards. You have to make it a real mission to do something else to experiment on. For example, I’m not very good at programming a synthesiser, and I’m not a very good keyboard player, even after all this time. But the good thing about that is every time I do something it’s an accident - I’m following an instinctive line.
Penthouse: With the introduction of machines like the Linn drum computer, is recording getting simpler? Or are they opening up new fields and making recording more complicated?
Davies: Those things can’t do anything on their own. You have to tell them what to do, and the Linn computer will repeat itself until doomsday unless you tell it otherwise. The Linn is a highly abused instrument because it can sound exactly like any cheap $100 rhythm box. Unless you go to a lot of pains, it will just play the same pattern over and over, and most people who have used it do just that. That thing by Rod Stewart - Young Turks - that’s a Linn recording and it’s got the same beat all the way through it. A lot of Human League records are the same. However, this Fairlight synthesiser is virtually a 16 track digital recorder, it does the same thing as a 16-track tape, but all on microchip. It means you can program any sound as long as the sound is only four seconds long. In fact you can do a 16-track recording on one synthesiser. Pretty amazing, eh? That’s what Peter Gabriel did on his third album. But the Fairlight’s one I’ve never got my hands on, damn it! I’d love to have one, because it would be like having your own 16-track studio to play with.
Penthouse: Nobody has offered to stake you for one?
Davies: Ha! No..they’re worth about $25,000.
Penthouse: Is the use of computers still at an embryonic stage? What will be the next big leap in record production?
Davies: I think the next thing that will change won’t be the actual recording process. The big let-down has always been the actual vinyl that the music ends up on, and the tone arm on the record player is the most clumsy mechanical device in the whole system. So you go to all this trouble to get the recording right, and then in the end it’s all mucked up by this primitive mechanical thing which bobs up and down inside a groove in the plastic. The other really primitive device is the average stereo speaker, which is a piece of cardboard with a magnet attached. So they’ll be the next areas for technological advances it think. Particularly since the other end of it, the recording end, is real “state of the art” stuff, and if everyone had tape machines to play it on it would be great. But most people have record players. It’s a bit ridiculous - at one end people are making fantastic sounds..amazing quality..and at the other end it comes out sounding a real mess.
Penthouse: Do you spend a lot of time talking to other musicians? Davies: No I don’t.
Penthouse: Why? Because you don’t find it productive.
Davies: Well, I’m not in the right environment. I don’t hang out with the bands. I never go and see them at all. And some musicians find my attitude really peculiar because I clock off, right? I come in, clock on, do whatever has to be done, and then I clock off. After a certain hour I don’t want to know about it anymore. And I tell them that if you’ve been a musician for as long as I have, then in order to retain some interest in it you have to forget about it for a lot of the time. You get confronted by these people, and they’re about 20 and they live rock and roll..they’re up and playing 20 hours a day. Whenever they’re not rehearsing they’re out seeing another band or jamming with their friends. So by the time they get to 26 they’re burnt out. They don’t want to know about music anymore.
Penthouse: Can they really spoil it for themselves that much?
Davies: Well, if you start making a living out of a hobby then you end up really hating it because it’s not a release anymore. That’s the big risk I run, and that’s why I take such an apparently mercenary attitude towards music. I’m not musically sociable.
Penthouse: Your attitude towards musicians who work with you is a little strange, too. Do you see yourself as part of the band, or are they there just to play your songs?
Davies: They’re there to play the songs for the tour. Then when it finishes I work out what I want to do, they work out what they want to do and I work out whether I want them to do it with me. And I’m sure they do the same - that is, work out whether they want to stick with me. You see, I might not want to ever play again, or I might want to go off and make film scores by myself, or I might want to make some videos or something I really don’t know.
Penthouse: Is there a reason for keeping things that loose, with no commitments to anybody?
Davies: The only reason I’ve constructed the situation this way is that I’ve walked out on things before - like I walked out on classical music after all those years - and I’ve always ended up doing something better than I was doing before. So I might go into limbo again for a while.
Penthouse: Can you operate on your own? Have you got the equipment to make recordings by yourself at home?
Davies: No, I haven’t got the gear to make the commercial recordings, but I’ve got the equipment to either amuse myself or make something that will interest somebody else, whereby I can get into a studio. But it’s a tough situation. If I put up as much money as it takes to put a commercially viable studio in my house, then I’d have to make money out of it. And as soon as I have to make money out of it it ceases to be a hobby.
Penthouse: What about performing? Is that a necessary evil because that’s the way the pop system works, or is it an enjoyable part of the whole process?
Davies: It’s enjoyable to be performing after a years break, and it was enjoyable when it was new, but beyond that I’m not sure whether it’s so much fun. I’m certainly not a stage addict. I don’t think I could be 70 and still hoofing it on Broadway. It has never had that sort of appeal for me.
Penthouse: You’re not one of those musicians who races to the local jam with whatever band is on stage, then?
Davies: No, not me. A lot of people do, and I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that if you have a certain ignorance in regard to something, then it takes on novelty. For example, it would be very novel to be mobbed unless you’re being mobbed all the time. And similarly, a lot of people who live their rock and roll 24 hours a day do it because they still don’t understand it very well.
Penthouse: With many rock musicians, the music doesn’t seem to the main reason for getting into it. It’s like they’re fulfilling a fantasy - the whole encompassing thing of being in a band.
Davies: About 95 percent of the time that is the case. But the problem is that unless you’re into the fringe benefits, it has no appeal. If you like being adored and impressing women and getting free drugs all the time, then I guess it’s really attractive. And if you don’t you’re stuck with bad hours and bad pay.
Penthouse: Do you think you’ll be able to take a year off for other projects and then come back to it?
Davies: I’m not sure whether the industry is that forgiving. I’m not sure whether the public is either.
Penthouse: The industry here certainly doesn’t seem to be, but what about overseas? Have you got sufficient foothold over there to disappear from here for a while?
Davies: No...you see the record industry, whether here or overseas, is built around milking something quickly, then getting the next thing in - like models of cars. Once upon a time, a long time ago there used to be such a thing as a steady act that would go on forever. But the public is dictated to, so they forget quickly, and it’s not in a record company’s interest to nurture a long-term career because people don’t consume that way anymore.
Penthouse: Does this idea of disposability come just from the record companies? I would have thought the critics, especially in England and the public are cruel about dumping somebody who seems to have had their day.
Davies: I think you buy into that when you get involved in the first place. There are very few ways to get out gracefully - but there are a couple of ways to get out with the last laugh.
Penthouse: Any suggestions on how to do that?
Davies: We’ll see about that when I get out. Really, I don’t know. But I’d like to know.
Penthouse: Even though your plans are fairly nebulous, have you considered going back there to England and playing there again?
Davies: Could be, could be. England has lost a lot of charm for me because it’s not satisfying to get the respect of people whose opinions you don’t respect. And that’s certainly the case as far as the music press over there goes. And it seems to me the Australian public is probably more discerning than the English public, anyway.
Penthouse: But I got the impression that the Australian public is still rooted in hard boogie and rock, and isn’t interested in seeing a lot else.
Davies: Yeah, but to large extent that is good quality rock and roll entertainment. They still know a bad hard rock band when they hear one. And another thing - the two English guys who were in the most recent Icehouse were astounded at how good the general quality of live sound is in this country. They’d been down to these tiny pubs and seen these bands and they hadn’t seen a bad one - and they hadn’t seen any band that’s had a bad sound. People in this country spend more time and attention and money on getting good sound systems than they do in England.
Penthouse: But many good bands that have emerged here have just floundered because of the odd way the record companies go about their business.
Davies: The whole mechanics of funding recording in this country is completely peculiar to Australia. This is the only place in the world where record companies don’t advance money. What happens overseas is that when you get a contract, the record company agrees to pay you this amazing amount of money, but out of that you have to make your album. In Australia even the biggest bands, like Cold Chisel and the Angels, don’t get advances.
Penthouse: Is there any way to put into words what it was like for a student from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to suddenly be in a rock band, and have people dancing and having a loose time while you played.
Davies: I was always very curious to work out what sort of entertainment it was. For example, the entertainment of getting drunk never really made much sense to me, but obviously there seems to be a lot of it.. You know what I mean. And the entertainment of dancing has never been appealing to me. I’ve never danced and I never will. That’s always something that’s really amused me, especially when women do it - they seem to be addicted to moving. I always found that kind of curious. So the whole concept of people admiring other people who could get them dancing while they got drunk was fairly strange to me.
Penthouse: I would imagine that if you weren’t into drinking or dancing you would have wondered. “What the hell are all these people doing?”
Davies: Yeah, and I was really more interested in playing songs that I liked and listening to them - just like putting records on a record player, but better because you’re doing it yourself. So I was pretty much at sea in the situation. It remains a mystery to me. As much as a mystery to me as, for example, people who would come up to David Bowie and offer him everything they had; including their bodies to do whatever he liked with, even though they had no idea whether David Bowie had bad breath or what he was like. And they did it purely because he had made some good records that they liked and listened to.
Penthouse: It must have been incredibly breathtaking to be in Flowers when you started to make good. It was quite a whirlwind affair, from just playing a set of cover versions in a pub to being a nationally known recording act.
Davies: Things always seemed to be a jump ahead of me. Like when the record company signed us up and asked “Well, what are we going to record?” and they said we’d better write some songs . Well, I had no interest in writing songs, I was just into playing songs I really liked. But it seemed like I couldn’t really keep on doing what I wanted to do; I had to move to the next step.
Penthouse: But surely that’s the way the business is built. You can’t rest on your laurels and be satisfied with one level, like just playing covers in pubs.
Davies: Right, exactly. But once you get on the conveyor belt, you just have to keep moving along. You can’t stop.unless you get off it entirely.
Penthouse: You have, in a way. At least you’ve managed to have a little staging points where you hop off for a breather and get back on when you’re ready.
Davies: Yes, but I’m sure that has its disadvantages. I’m sure that if I’d been greedy I could have done a lot better financially than I have.
Penthouse: Without getting down to mundane accountancy, have you come off all right out of the music business so far?
Davies: I’ve made a decent wage for a fair period of time. I would have made about the same as you have, for example, as a journalist. But there are other things that you can’t see. There’s a certain amount of physical wear and tear involved in this business which you can’t compensate for, and I can’t put any price on that. Therefore I say, even if I’d made three times the money I would still have been ripped off. So to that extent it looks like I’m going backwards.
Penthouse: Have you formulated any plan, or thought of what you’d like to do next?
Davies: No, but then again I’ve never thought along those lines. I’ve always very selfishly worked on the idea of going immediately to where I wanted to be at any given time. Well, I don’t think it’s selfish because I’ve always worked hard: I haven’t done nothing. But I’ve always been selective about what I’m working at, so when it becomes unbearable or I don’t see any future in it I’m just as likely to stop altogether, at least until I figure out what it is I want to do. Then I do nothing for a while and let the whole series of accidents put something in front of me.
Penthouse: In the light of that last statement, it’s surprising that when Icehouse split and went off the road a while, you continued to work alone on the Primitive Man album. I thought you’d be the first to hit the beach.
Davies: Well, I was. But it doesn’t take me very long to get bored with doing nothing. Like when I was doing that lead line work, it was about productive as cleaning windows. I got bored with it quickly. And when I gave up being a musician to sell clothes, all it took was the offer from the orchestra and I gave selling clothes a miss.
Penthouse: The late seventies movement was touted as the end of rock and roll. Did it happen? Is there a new musical form that isn’t rock and roll anymore?
Davies: Absolutely. I think that’s the only thing that really exists. I don’t have any concept of art, whereby you put things on the shelf and revere them because they’re old. I think something is popular, and is art, or it’s not popular and it’s nothing.
Penthouse: Do you mean that if something is not popular, it doesn’t have any relevance to music at all?
Davies: Well, popular is a relative term. Record companies may disagree with me, but for example Talking Heads ‘Remain in Light’ sold about 350,000 copies. Now gold in America is 500,000 and if it went to top 10 it might have sold five million. But still...
Penthouse: So you’re saying that if 350,000 people like that record enough to go and buy it..
Davies: ..then it’s popular, yeah. The only thing that created the myth of “art” was lack of communication. It was 150 years after the time of Johann Sebastian Bach before it became physically possible for him to become popular, because he lived in this little town in Germany and nobody outside this little town would have heard of him - until after he was dead, and the publishers got hold of his music. So he becomes “art” because there is a time lag. And people look back and say “Wow, he was doing that all those years ago” when if you’d been around at the time you would have seen other people doing the same thing. Maybe I’m not as good, but you see what I mean. That time lag makes him into a genius, rather than just a pretty clever guy. These days if anyone has got anything that’s at all good, then people will find out about it and decide for themselves whether it’s good or not.
Penthouse: I’ve heard it described rather as a finely honed craft, like turning something beautiful on a lathe.
Davies: There are aspects to it that stimulate the imagination. But all too often if there is something good about it, it begins to take on religious properties in the minds of some people. People who write slightly provocative lyrics find themselves revered as Messiahs. But to me it’s just a slightly spiky form of entertainment. It can be interesting, but no more interesting than a new television game until you work out how to master it. People have this strange idea of rock as “art” that elevates it way beyond what it really deserves.