Monday, October 12, 2009

My Interview with Daryl Hall & John Oates




As seen on ALTERCATION


Do What You Want, Be What You Are, is the new 4 CD boxed set from the biggest selling duo of all time, the oft misunderstood Daryl Hall & John Oates. For almost 40 years, Hall & Oates have been recording together, topping the charts with hit after hit, while getting hit for their string of unfortunate MTV videos during the eighties. As a longtime, pre-MTV fan of the band, I've made a second career out of trying to convince the non-believers, that Daryl & John are so much more than "Maneater" & "No Can Do." This wonderful boxed set covers it all, from the pre-H&O material of Daryl & John's first bands, The Temptones and The Masters, to the early folk material found on their first two albums, to the middle 70s where they were finding themselves as rock 'n' soul artists, through their most successful period in the 80s, right on up to their most current achievements.

I had the pleasure of talking to both Daryl Hall and John Oates, (separately) and here's what they had to say.

ME:
So let's talk about the box. How difficult was it for you guys to decide on the final track list for this set?

DARYL:

Well, I did most of it, which is not unusual, and I had to listen. That was the only way to do it...to sit down, take every song, analyze it and listen to it in a big giant gulp. I'm not a nostalgic person, I don't go back and listen to my stuff. I don't think most artists do. But I had to and it was a real eye-opening experience, like getting a perspective on your whole life.

JOHN:

It was difficult. There were a lot of choices. How do you do it? How do you distill 450 songs into 74, or whatever it is? Obviously the hits had to be included, and they are. But we wanted to create a package for the hardcore fan who really knows us, give them some surprises...create something that maybe they never had, which we did with the unreleased selections. But for the casual fan who may only know us because of the hits, we wanted to show the depth of the material, the songwriting, and the production, the uniqueness of some of the things that we did that were above and beyond those songs that were so famous.

ME:

As I look at every Daryl Hall & John Oates record, each subsequent release seems so diverse from the one prior. It seems so natural for you, like you guys never experimented and failed. But as the biggest selling duo of all time, do you feel that your hits truly represent what you and Daryl originally set out to do?

JOHN:
No, not really. I mean, they represent a part of what we are. We came up as pop songwriters. Pop music to us was really the singles that we grew up with as kids. We were never really into the long, involved rock operas, the instrumental excursions and things like that. We were pretty succinct, pretty direct. But at the same time, we created a lot of adventurous things, in our...not only our songwriting but in our production and our record-making. And I think that they are the things that this box set gets to showcase.




ME:
Live From Daryl's House could be the best hour of television not on television. The last episode featured Todd Rundgren as a guest. You guys go way back, with Todd producing 1974's War Babies, a record that he says he "took the blame for," because the public perception was that he took you and John away from your soul roots. It's a record that sounds nothing like the record before it, 1973's Abandoned Luncheonette or its follow-up, the self-titled Silver Album from 1975, which included at that point, the biggest hit of your career, "Sara Smile." With three albums so radically different from each other, what was your mindset heading into the studio to record your next record, Bigger Than Both Of Us?

DARYL:

Well, I like to bust out. I've always tried to break the barriers. I have no creative fears, you know? Most people pay at least some kind of service to what they've been doing, and try to be a little more careful. They try to repeat their successes. We never really thought that way. Neither John or I, though he's a little more like that than I am. When we went in after the The Silver Album we were just looking ahead, man. We called the album Bigger Than Both Of Us, because we saw what we were doing and in some ways it WAS bigger than the both of us. We went into it with the idea that we were making some noise and people were responding to us.

JOHN:
I think we were trying to find ourselves. And you really have to include the first record as well, which is Whole Oates. It's a real, singer-songwriter, organic kind of record. I think if you take all four of those records...well actually it's the first three, Whole Oates, Abandoned Luncheonette, and War Babies...you take those three records and combine those various style elements, the singer-songwriter folky thing, the kind of R&B thing we got into, and the more experimental rock thing we got into with Todd, you take those elements, and then you listen to The Silver Album with "Sara Smile" on it, I think you'll hear all three of those on that record. And I think The Silver Album was the first time our sound started to coalesce into something. The Silver Album really brought it together."

ME:

The Silver Album got the most representation on this boxed set with 6 songs. Was that a conscious decision, or did that just happen?

DARYL:

(surprised) No, it wasn't a conscious decision. You're the first person to point that out. Really? Six songs from that album?

JOHN:
No it wasn't conscious. It was exactly the reasons I just mentioned. The Silver Album is really where, in the seventies, we really found ourselves. The three albums that followed, Bigger Than Both Of Us and unfortunately Beauty On A Back Street...if you look very carefully, there's not one song from Beauty On A Back Street on this box set. I hated that album. And for the rest of the seventies, for rather extenuating circumstances, the reasons being we were recording in L.A., we weren't comfortable, we were recording with Chris Bond and our relationship with him was deteriorating...that all came to its nadir at Beauty On A Back Street. It's probably the album I like...well, it's the album I hate. But then, from that point on, you look at "Red Ledge" and "X-Static," we started to rebuild and to lead ourselves to producing ourselves, which is where we had our most commercial success, so...it kind of went up and went down and went up again.

ME:

Now that the boxed set is finished, is there anything that was removed last minute that you wish could have made the final cut?

DARYL:
Yeah. Off hand I couldn't tell you what, because there are so many songs. We realized we had a 4 CD set to deal with and I came up with...at least...10, 12, maybe even more songs that could have easily gone on there and we had to whittle it down for time. But sure, there's a lot that I could have, or would have put on. But I am really happy with what I DID put on. Put it this way, nothing significant was left off. I fought and fought for anything that I thought was important. And Sony was really great. They really were on the same page.

JOHN:
Yeah, there are some things that could have gone on there, but then there are a few hundred things that could have gone on there. Where do you draw the line? What's gonna be really cool, what I think could be the highlight of this particular box set is the 7 or 8...I can't remember if it's 7 or 8 tracks from our first English appearance at the Victoria Theatre. (Ed. note: It's 5 tracks.) I can't remember if it was '74 or '75. I had that stuff on an old videotape which I transferred to a DVD and I started looking at it and I was really blown away by it. The band was young...and...when I think back as to the history of our amazing musicians and bands who have played with us over the years, that band, that particular ensemble never really stuck out in my mind as ever really being one of our better bands. But when I heard it now, as time has gone on, that band was unbelievable. The way they played and the way we played together...I was just actually amazed. I had completely forgotten about it. When you hear that, I think the hardcore fans are really gonna freak out.

ME:
"Storm Warning." Tell me about that.

DARYL:

That was an outtake from Change Of Seasons. "Storm Warning was a song by The Volcanoes, a band that was on Arctic Records, which was my first label. And one of the guys in The Volcanoes ended up being in The Trammps, you know, "Disco Inferno," and he also played on The Temptones records. John and I always loved that song. And we were fooling around in the studio during Change Of Seasons and we just cut that song.

JOHN:
That track was recorded live in the studio. We just about got it.

ME:
It's a killer! So what's next? Boxed set out, hopefully that's not the swansong.

DARYL:
Right now, I'm doing a Daryl solo record. I just signed with Verve Records. And of course, Daryl's House. As far as me and John, we don't have any immediate plans. John and I work together all the time, so we're never that far apart.

JOHN:

My next record is going to be a traditional, finger-picking folk album. No drums, just guitars and mandolins. I'm gonna do some Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, all the stuff I loved when I was a kid. I'm gonna do that this winter and see where that takes me.


John Oates and I talked a bit about his recent solo release, the very moving and very folksy "1000 Miles Of Life," a record that takes you right back to the very beginning, with personal songs not unlike what can be found on the first two Daryl Hall & John Oates records. I asked Daryl Hall if there were any plans on releasing audio from "Live From Daryl's House." His reply, "Well, yeah. But you can only imagine the loopholes with all the labels involved."

I highly recommend "Do What You Want, Be What You Are," for both the casual and hardcore Daryl Hall & John Oates fans. Just skip "Maneater," if you really can't deal. There are 73 others to choose from.

8 comments:

steve simels said...

Speaking of their maligned 80s videos, I would like to go on record as saying that "Did It in a Minute" is as good a pop record as anybody anywhere has ever made.

I would also like to add that "Where Are the Italian Girls" is to die for as well, and could be a hit for somebody right this very minute.

jeff said...

is it just me, or were there some slights against john in daryl's comments?

Sal Nunziato said...

My feeling from talking to both of them is that, the respect for each other is there, but both seem more than satisfied apart.

Anonymous said...

I'm very excited to hear that John Oates is doing a blues album.


Herb the Dentist

Anonymous said...

Long live Johnny Oates! As usual, he comes off like a genuine, nice guy in contrast to Hall's raging ego. C'mon Daryl, you're a team - act like it. I mean, you need John more than ever these days. You can't even hit the high notes anymore, so stop being such an ass.

Karen Vitt said...

Long live Johnny Oates! As usual, he comes off like a genuine, nice guy in contrast to Hall's raging ego. C'mon Daryl, you're a team - act like it. I mean, you need John more than ever these days. You can't even hit the high notes anymore, so stop being such an ass.

Gene Oberto said...

Gee, what's wrong with "Maneater?"

michele-with-pug said...

Great interview Sal. And very revealing.... Actually what Anonymous says in terms of Daryl"s ego is spot on. When I met the both of them(way, way back when -about "Red Ledge" time) it was very obvious the extent to which Daryl loved himself and John was pensive, humble and clearly interested in achieving musical perfection.....