To read the article at GQ’s website: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/tv/blogs/the-stream/2012/05/the-gqa-hall-and-oates-on-their-late-revival-and-why-the-black-keys-will-save-music.html
Hall and Oates are experiencing a bit of a resurrection in popularity these days, no doubt due in part to the success of Daryl Hall’s web show Live From Daryl’s House, which has showcased new talents like Fitz and the Tantrums and Chromeo. Both in their 60s now, and each having released critically-acclaimed solo albums within the past couple of years, Daryl Hall and John Oates are busier than ever. We caught up with music’s best-selling duo in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where they co-headlined the first-ever Great Googa Mooga festival with another ubiquitous Philly band, the Roots. And while we fought the urge to ask our most pressing questions (Who is “She’s Gone,” about and where did she go?), we got them to open up about The Voice, the public perception of the duo, and why the Black Keys just might save the music industry.
GQ: You both have so much going on between new solo albums, touring together, Live From Daryl’s House. How often are you guys in touch?
John Oates: Well, we’re in touch when we work, pretty much. Unless there’s something we need to talk about. But, you know, it’s two different solar systems just floating around out there in musical space. And when we’re together, it’s great, it’s like an old shoe, you know? It fits, it works, it’s good. And when we’re not together, we go our separate ways.
Daryl Hall: The state of everything is that I’m trying to make room for everything. I have made room for everything. And you know, I tour occasionally with John, and I’m doing solo stuff and I’m doing Daryl’s House stuff and it’s a lot of work, that’s all I can say.
GQ: You guys played the finale of The Voice a couple of weeks ago. What effect do you think it and similar shows have had on the industry?
John Oates: I think a lot of kids get this idea that there’s this big lottery prize floating around out there that they’re just going to win one day and all of a sudden they’re going to be on TV and their life’s going to change. But I mean, look at all the American Idol contestants who haven’t been able to make the transfer, you know? And haven’t sustained. Tons of them.
GQ: Especially past winners.
John Oates: But it is what it is. Considering the fact that the industry is in the toilet, it’s a bright spot where people actually pay attention to music and musicians and it’s one way that artists get discovered in this world today. I liken it to an exaggerated version of the old talent show on steroids.
GQ: It sounds like you’re pessimistic about where the music industry is headed right now. What do you think can be done to right the ship?
John Oates: I don’t know. My biggest problem is that I just feel that there’s been an entire generation of people now who have just come to believe that music should be free, and as a professional musician who’s made my living and my life’s work out of this, I believe the creative process has an intrinsic value that should be honored. I believe that we provide something that has a value both emotionally and monetarily, and I don’t believe music should be free. Unfortunately the world doesn’t agree with me, and that’s a real problem and I don’t know how to remedy it, really. I wish I did.
GQ: I’m sure you’re in good company there. You guys are headlining the first-ever Great Googa Mooga Festival in Brooklyn, how’d you get involved in that?
Daryl Hall: I don’t know, somebody asked us. It’s pretty simple [laughs].
GQ: Well, I imagine that you guys get asked to do festivals all the time. Was there anything in particular about this one that made you guys decide to get involved in it?
John Oates: A lot of the people in our band are based in the New York area, so it was just the convenient thing to do. And we like the idea of playing festivals, especially when there’s a lot of young bands, because we get exposure to an audience that might not just come see a Hall and Oates show, which is a great thing for us because, as you probably know, our audience has gotten a lot younger over the past several years.
Daryl Hall: This has been happening now for quite a while. I don’t know what that point was when it shifted, but we started seeing more and more teenagers and college kids come to the shows and then it got to the point where I think we have as many, if not more, kid fans than we do, what I call the “veteran fans.” Who knows what’s caused it. I think Daryl’s House has a lot to do with it, I’ll say that.
John Oates: Yeah, I think Daryl’s show has been very important in changing the perception of Hall and Oates.
GQ: Well and it seems that there’s been a reciprocal effect as well. A number of the guests that have been on—Chromeo, Mayer Hawthorne, Fitz and the Tantrums—have seen a lot of success lately, probably somewhat due to the show. Do you see yourselves as catalysts for this resurgence in ’60s Stax and Motown-inspired music?
Daryl Hall: It seems like that even though I work with a lot of styles on the show, there’s this underlying “Nu Soul” thing that’s going on and Sharon [Jones] is involved, Alan Stone, you know, Mayer Hawthorne, Eli Reid. There’ve been a lot of artists that sort of all share this thing, and I love it.
John Oates: And even before Daryl’s show started, bands like the Gym Class Heroes and the Killers were talking about how influential we were to them as they were growing up as young musicians and developing.
Daryl Hall: It reminds me of the music that I started with when I was a kid back in the late ’60s you know? ’60s soul music is what’s grabbing people.
GQ: John, you mentioned before the perception of Hall and Oates. What do you guys think that is and how does it differ from the way you view yourselves?
John Oates: I think Daryl’s and my own personal perception of Hall and Oates has never changed. We’re producers, we’re songwriters, we’re singers, we’re players, we do it all. And that’s what we’ve always been about. It’s just that the world has ignored us, loved us, hated us, and been indifferent to us at various decades over the last forty years. So it just depends on what part of the curve you catch it. Right now we’re on the “Love It” curve where people think we’re cool and they like our music and it’s being rediscovered by a new generation.
Daryl Hall: One of the purposes of Live From Daryl’s House was to reach out to various types of artists, because I think that I’ve been pigeonholed, or people tried to pigeonhole me in my early days and make me into various things, you know? They tried to stick labels on me and the truth is I’m a lot of things; I can speak a lot of musical languages and I’m a soul singer, but I can do a lot of different things and work with pretty much any kind of music.
John Oates: I think what you have to remember is that the songs have endured. The compositions, the songwriting itself is strong enough to have endured the test of time. And I think that’s why we’re still around. I think that’s why people still care about us.
GQ: When you guys are going back and playing these shows again or if you’re doing Daryl’s House, have you ever rediscovered an old song of yours that maybe you kind of forgot about and then come back to years later and realize, “Holy shit, this is actually a great song?”
John Oates: Oh, absolutely. Things like that happen all the time. I do a lot of singer-songwriter shows where I just perform by myself with an acoustic guitar. And I’ll go back and look at songs, from the ’70s and ’80s and I’ll reinvent them with a new acoustic arrangement. I just came up with a really amazing arrangement of “How Does It Feel to Be Back,” and I do it like in this really folky way.
Daryl Hall: I ask the guest artists [on the show] when they pick the songs of ours to go deep, man, you know, don’t just pick the obvious songs. Although a lot of them do, they say, “Aw I always wanted to sing ‘Rich Girl.’ ” But I say, “Come on, man, you can do the catalog. Pick something we all forgot about, you know?” And so they do it, they do it.
John Oates: And again, it goes back to what I previously said, that the mark of a good song is that it can not only stand the test of time, but it can stand different approaches and different treatments and different arrangements and still maintain its integrity.
GQ: You mention classics like “Rich Girl.” Daryl, I think it was the first episode of Live From Daryl’s House where you said no set of yours would be complete without “Sarah Smile.” How do you guys feel about a song like that after playing it thousands of times over the past 30-plus years?
John Oates: I will probably repeat myself again but it sounds good, it sounds fresh and new and vital. And that, again, is the mark of a great song. That’s what it’s all about.
Daryl Hall: I still feel good about it because it’s an emotion that I can put different things into. It evolves, it has a life of its own. It isn’t just singing the same words the same way over and over again.
GQ: Do you ever get tired of playing a song like that?
John Oates: No, I don’t get tired of playing these good songs. They have a life of their own and every band member that we have, they all lend a little bit of their own personality to the arrangements of some of these classic songs. Somebody may play a little guitar lick or a keyboard lick that might cause a ripple effect through the band where something else may happen and Daryl may sing something a little differently because of what he hears.
Daryl Hall: Any song I don’t feel good about, I shelve. Anything you ever hear me sing, it’s because I want to.
GQ: How different is being out on the road now from when you guys were touring back in the ’70s and ’80s?
John Oates: Well it’s a whole different world, because we toured constantly in the’70s and ’80s.
Daryl Hall: When anybody starts out, it’s called payin’ dues, man. I mean, we rode around in vans. We had a ’68 GTO that we used to drive around the country in. Then we graduated to tour buses and it just moves along.
John Oates: Now we go out for short periods of time. We like to keep it fresh so that when we do play together, we enjoy what we’re doing. We don’t want it to become a drag and like we’re stuck in this place.
GQ: Speaking of paying dues, it seems like becoming a popular artist these days is kind of a crapshoot. On the one hand you have guys like yourselves and The Black Keys who are known for touring relentlessly for years in an old van. Then you have people who come onto the scene who become stars overnight because of videos they’ve done on YouTube. Do you have any sage advice for say, a 13-year-old picking up his first guitar trying to become a musician?
Daryl Hall: Yeah, I do, and that advice is: Be more like the Black Keys. Be prepared to work your ass off, because that’s the only way you’re going to get across anymore.
John Oates: It’s tough. I don’t envy a young artist in today’s environment. It’s not very encouraging and it’s a lot of really hard work and not a lot of benefit and payback, unfortunately.
Daryl Hall: You know, the Golden Age of music is over and that’s a fact, that’s the truth. Nobody’s going to sell 10 million records by not working hard. They probably won’t sell 10 million records anyway. But if you really want to have a long, long career that’s an honest, creative career, you’ve got to get out there and work and figure out lots of ways to get in front of people. And every artist that I know and all these new artists that come on my show are all working their fucking asses off. They’re out there constantly traveling around the world, playing music for people.
John Oates: It still boils down to the same thing: talent and willingness to work. If you are talented and you have something to offer and you’re willing to get out there and work hard, then there’s a possibility that something good will happen, you know?