July 7, 2015 Interview – John Oates of Hall & Oates
When one looks to some of the best Rock-n-Roll duos of all-time, chances are they will immediately turn to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Commonly known as Hall & Oates, the two musicians came together in the early 1970’s as solo artists, soon to become a songwriting team that created some of the most memorable tunes in Rock-n-Roll history. Attaining six number one singles, a slew of multi-platinum records, and touring internationally for years, Hall & Oates justifiably are called the most successful duo in Rock-n-Roll. Now, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, the two musicians continue to perform regularly, together and solo, as well as writing new music on their own. Recently we sat down with one-half of the powerhouse team, John Oates, for a closer look into the history of their music, remaining inspired to write new music solo, touring, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Hall & Oates have the most successful Rock duo’s of all time. Your career has spanned over four decades, sold millions of records, and have been inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame as of 2014. What do you think has been the key to the band’s success?
John Oates – The songwriting. The songwriting is at the core of everything, because without the songs that we wrote, none of this would have happened. I think we started out as songwriters. I think we see ourselves as songwriters, first and foremost, the fact that we all are multi-instrumentalists, and the fact we all arrange and produce, we both sing, we both play, there are a lot of factors. If you really had to get down to it, it has to be the songs.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, strong songs make for success. Finding a songwriting partner is not an easy task, a lot of musicians take a lifetime career to try and find that right chemistry. Yourself and Daryl really have that magic combination, since the beginning. You have had a slew of hits, as we have just mentioned. When you two first hooked up to create musically, was that chemistry instantaneous? Did you know you had something special?
John Oates – No, actually not. We got together as friends, and we were not really planning on having a partnership, we just appreciate each other as musicians. At first, we dabbled with a few things in the early days, the late ’60s, and it really did not sound great, we did not have a focus. Daryl was doing studio work, I was doing some as well. I was playing in a band, and he was playing in a band. It was not until 1970 when I went to Europe for a month, I came back, we got together, and he was disenchanted with what he was doing. I was not happy with what I was doing, and we were just said “Let’s get together and you play your songs, and I will play mine, and we will accompany each other and see where it goes.” We had no big master plan, we did not have a master plan at all. We just said, “Let’s play our songs for people,” and that is how it started. We basically built our music and friendship up from scratch. It was not about money, it was not about success, it was just about us playing together and seeing what happens.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and it certainly worked out very well as we can see. With your songs with Hall & Oates, what is really special about them is you have the ability to produce a variety of different sounds, from ballads like “Sara Smile,” to the more upbeat songs like “You Make My Dreams,” even the more in-depth tracks like “Adult Education.” What I want to know is how important it is to have that variety as songwriters?
John Oates – The fact that there is two of us, and not to mention that we had collaborators over the years too, with Sara Allen and Janna Allen, mainly those two, so we had some outside influences. The thing is we both had a lot of different types of music that we like and are interested in. We are again two people, so its a multiplication problem. Well not a problem actually, its multiplication success, and that is really what it is based on.
The fact that you mentioned that, the fact that I am most proud in the string of hit singles is I do not think there is one of them that sounds like the other one. All of them are completely different, and I think it is very hard to do. It is not like we found a formula and just stuck to it and tried to replicate it, I am proud of that fact.
CrypticRock.com – That is exactly what right. Each song is unique from one another. They have all been successful, which is also great. You have been actively touring and releasing new material in recent years, but with Hall & Oates, it has not been since 2003 that you, as a duo, have released new original material. With that said, will there be plans for a new studio album in the future?
John Oates – Not in my horizon. Not for any other reason than Daryl and I cannot even play the songs we have already written and recorded, much less put new music out. I think where our passions lie are in our individual projects; Daryl’s TV show is great and he spent a lot of time developing it. I have a TV show in development, I am making solo albums, I am collaborating with people, I am writing a book. To me it is much more interesting at this point. We have so much music that we created that we do not even play, and we have songs that we have never played live, as crazy as that sounds. At this point there no moving forward with new music when we have this wealth of incredible music behind us.
CrypticRock.com – Good point, and it makes perfect sense there. It is quite amazing that there are some songs that you have not played live in the extensive career that you have. It is really amazing actually. Speaking of live concerts, you recently released a live Blu-ray/DVD & CD entitled Live in Dublin. What was the experience like putting this package together?
John Oates – It was easy. We were on tour in Europe, we had never played in Dublin together. I had played in Dublin, Daryl had played in Dublin, both solo, but we never played together. The tickets sold out within an hour, so we knew that the place was going to be packed and really intense. We knew that it was a great theater. When you add up all those elements, we knew we had the making for a very special night. That is why we focused on the Olympia Theatre in Dublin for the DVD. It was great, the band was hot, we were on tour so we were well-oiled, and that is what it takes; you try to capture magic. I had just done a DVD on my own prior to that called Another Good Road, which is out now, which is an extension of my 2014 Good Road to Follow album. With that, I played live in the studio in Nashville with an incredible all-star band, so that came out about a month before the Dublin one did.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of Good Road to Follow, the record is a very good record. It is very soulful and has a very Blues-like sound to it. What was the writing and recording process like for this?
John Oates – The whole idea for Good Road to Follow was for me to reach out to people that I either knew or wanted to know and to work with them, collaborate, and do a very intense project where it is one song, one single, and we go in and record it. From writing the song, record it together equally, that was the approach to the whole album. Once I had a string of digital singles under my belt, I assembled them into the album that was going to be Good Road to Follow. Originally it was just going to be a series of digitally released singles.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. It eventually formed into a record then?
John Oates – Well actually, the fans kind of demanded it, and said, “Why don’t you put all this stuff on an album?” I was releasing them individually, and so I did.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, speaking of albums, we are kind of living in a different world these days with the digital singles as you just mentioned. A lot of artists these days feel deterred from writing a full album from start to finish because of the way things are fragmented now and broken up. What do you think about that, writing a full record opposed to writing just singles?
John Oates – It is hard to say. I still appreciate the album form as an art form, I think there is something to be said for continuity and vibe and mood; something you can really sink into. Then again, the world moves so fast and changes so rapidly that there is a lot of people who just do not have the energy and time to devote to listen to an entire album full of music. I think the EP, five song EP, has become a very valid form, and obviously singles. Singles have never gone away. From the very beginning of Rock-n-Roll, there was nothing but singles. In a way, the world has kind of returned to those days where singles really are the only way a band can get themselves out there.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is true, and you absolutely right. You look at the way music was released back in the ’50s, the early days of Rock-n-Roll. It was not until when The Beatles came around that bands actually started putting together full length records; that was not something that you saw.
John Oates – Yes, they did LP’s in the ’60s, Jazz mostly. I remember listening to Ray Charles albums in the ’60s. Hi-Fi, before Stereo even, so they were available there, just was not really a Rock-n-Roll form. You are right, it was the ’60s that really caused people to pay attention to the album as an actual art form unto itself.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, absolutely. You are actually doing some solo dates this Summer, and you are also doing some Hall & Oates dates through July and August. How excited are you for this string of dates ahead?
John Oates – I am always excited to play with Daryl. We have an amazing band and we have a lot of fun out there. We do it at a pace that we can really enjoy, and the band is amazing. It is cool to do it for a couple of weeks then breakaway and do other things. I get to do a lot of different things, and that is what keeps me on my toes.
CrypticRock.com – Right, exactly. One can imagine you want to keep exploring and doing different things, and having the solo career that you have had as well has allowed you to do that.
John Oates – That is exactly it, and that is why both Daryl and I are both passionate about our various solo projects.
CrypticRock.com – It is quite clear that you both have a wide range of musical influences. Tell us a little bit of your musical influence yourself.
John Oates – If you listen to Good Road to Follow, you kind of pick up on it. I have gone back to my earliest days before I met Daryl, and I have tapped into the roots of music; the Blues, the Folk music, Bluegrass, early R & B, early Rock-n-Roll, and that is what has really formed me as a musician and a player. What I have been able to do is basically use that as a springboard for my solo career. My solo career is much more oriented around traditional American roots music.
CrypticRock.com – Right, like you said, you can hear that in the music and in the record Good Road to Follow. Has there been any modern artists that you find interesting?
John Oates – There are tons. There are so many people I like. I like some of the Pop; I am a big Bruno Mars fan. I love what is going on in Americana music, with people like Mumford & Son, and people like that. I like all kinds of music. I am loving a band called Paper Bird from Denver, a young kind of Americanaeque, the list goes on and on. I would not know where to stop. I like Jason Isbell, I like Drive-By Truckers, it really does not stop.
CrypticRock.com – Thats great. A lot of musicians would agree with you that it is good to keep an open mind about music and not pigeonhole yourself into listening to one thing.
John Oates – Well, there is a lot of great music out there, and I think being open-minded is a good thing.
CrypticRock.com – Agree, absolutely. Speaking of the Hall & Oates sound, back in the day, it coined the phrase Rock & Soul rather than Rock & Roll, which is really a cool play on words. In ’83, you guys released that Rock & Soul Part 1, possibly one of the greatest compilation of greatest hits records of all time. Tell me, was there ever plans for Part 2, and is it still possible?
John Oates – It is funny you should ask. (laughs) We did not plan on it, but we really left the door open for the possibility. Of course we kind of stopped recording in the late ’80s. We only recorded sporadically through the ’90s into the 2000s, but I guess not. Maybe Rock & Soul Part 2 will end up being some deep tracks that we can reintroduce to people, because I think we have a lot of great music to offer that a lot of people may have passed over when they were so focused on the hits.
CrypticRock.com – That would be great, and it would be welcomed because many were curious it there was a Part 2.
John Oates – One of the first things that Daryl and I did as friends back in the late ’60s was go to see Night of the Living Dead (1968) at a Drive-in movie. We were friends, in a car, we hung out all night, and it was pretty crazy. I think one of the first movies that you could feel like it was almost really happening, and I do not think a movie had ever been made at that time that was anything like that. It was pretty impactful and pretty amazing. I like Horror movies, I like all sorts of movies. I think some movies that are not supposed to be Horror movies are Horror movies (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is true as well (laughs). You speak of Night of the Living Dead, that film is a classic. That film was actually shot in black and white at a time when color was available, but they decided to shoot it in black and white.
John Oates – Yes, and it was shot in Pennsylvania. Daryl and I, we thought this was maybe going on outside the drive-in movie theater somewhere (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is great, that is what is so wonderful about a film like that, that invokes that feeling. Another film like that are The Shining (1980) and Psycho (1960).
John Oates – They are classics, by great directors with great actors, they are classics. A Clockwork Orange (1972), Stanley Kubrick in general, I am a big fan. There are always a lot of great Horror movies.