of Montreal's Kevin Barnes interviews Daryl Hall and John Oates Part 2 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

of Montreal vs. Hall and Oates Part 2

Kevin Barnes interviews John Oates

Sep 29, 2009 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (Kevin Barnes photos) Issue #28 Fall 2009 - Monsters of Folk
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If you were anywhere near a radio in the '80s, you are likely familiar with Daryl Hall and John Oates. The duo's string of hits is remarkable—"You Make My Dreams," "Private Eyes," "Maneater," "Out of Touch," and more. In fact, they are considered the most successful pop duo in music history, with 22 Top 20 singles, six platinum albums, and six albums gone gold. On the surface, Hall & Oates couldn't be more different from Athens, Georgia's of Montreal. But of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes grew up on Hall & Oates and harbors a not-so-guilty liking for the pair's music. "The songs definitely were songs I liked a lot, and actually I had forgotten about them," says Barnes. "Then within the last four or five years, they sort of came back into my consciousness, and I started realizing how cool those songs are." Under the Radar hooked up Barnes (who plans to release a new of Montreal album, False Priest, next year) with Daryl Hall and John Oates to discuss the band's history (showcased in the new box set Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates) and what makes Hall & Oates tick. Individually, Hall & Oates keep busy on their own, and they also continue to tour together as a duo. Hall has the webcast Live From Daryl's House, and Oates has a comedy web series, J-Stache, in the pipeline. Check out part one, where Kevin Barnes interviews Daryl Hall. Here's part two, where Barnes talks to John Oates and we talk to Barnes about Hall & Oates.

Kevin Barnes vs. John Oates

John Oates: Hey it's John Oates

Mark: Hey, it's Mark from Under the Radar Magazine. We have Kevin from of Montreal too.

Kevin: Hello!

John: How's it going man?

Kevin: Pretty good.

John: Good. Where are you?

Kevin: I'm in Athens, Georgia.

John: Oh OK, Athens, Georgia, cool.

Mark: I'm in Los Angeles.

John: Oh got ya, all right. Well, I'm in Aspen, Colorado.

Kevin: Cool. I saw that you're living there.

John: I've been out here for quite awhile. I moved out here in the late-'80s and I've been here for about 20 years.

Kevin: Oh, OK, cool. You move out there for the skiing and stuff?

John: I do. I like all that mountain stuff. I ride my bike and hike and ski. We have a little farm here with a bunch of rescued animals. It's pretty cool.

Kevin: Oh cool. That's a pretty big change from Philly.

John: Oh yeah. Well, it's funny. I left Philly in 1970. Daryl and I both left Philly in 1970, although we've been known so much as a Philadelphia band. Certainly our roots are there. We actually only lived there for a few years. All our music, every recording we ever did was done in—well, 90% of it—New York, and a few albums were made in LA. But really, it's weird. We actually never made a record in Philadelphia.

Kevin: OK. Not even the early stuff?

John: Nope! Well, we have a box set coming out in October, and there's some really early stuff. It's more like demos and things like that that are on it. And that was, of course, recorded in Philadelphia. But none of our albums, from the very first album we did on Atlantic all the way up through—nothing was ever done in Philadelphia.

Kevin: Actually, I was lucky enough to have your people send me the box set. I was really, really amazed by the early soul stuff, actually. I didn't know that you guys were really into that stuff. It's amazing. The recordings are fantastic; the songs are great. I guess your song was "Need Your Love." That's the one they put on your box set.

John: I did that one when I was 17. I did that in my senior year in high school. I don't want to date myself. It was actually 1966, but I've aged a lot since then. But, you know, it was done with my high school band, and my sister was singing background on it. It was done at the old Virtue Recording Studios on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. I don't know if you know about early rock, but Frank Virtue was a guy, he [had] an early recording studio in the back that, in those days, it was a four track. He recorded a song called "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," which was a big instrumental back in the '50s. That's his claim to fame. And we recorded it there, and Bobby Martin, who did a lot of great arrangements for Gamble and Huff, he did the horn arrangement for us. We were just kids; we didn't know what the hell we were doing. We recorded on a four-track tape live, and that was it.

Kevin: That doesn't sound like kids. It sounds like seasoned session musicians. I think it sounds great.

John: Thanks for the compliment, but it was just the beginning, you know? It was my first opportunity to go to Philadelphia, to a big city. I lived in a small town about 25 miles north of Philly. My first chance to go to a big city and record, it was a big deal. Then, of course, I met Daryl about a year or so after that.

Kevin: Wow. I was also kind of interested how you guys went from that very soulful sound—your music has always been soulful, but the instrumentation was a little more classic soul from those early songs that you guys were doing separately. And then you got together and kind of went in a different direction. Do you know what it was?

John: I think I know what you mean. It's kind of hard to put yourself back in those days. But you have to picture walking into a recording studio and there was a bass amp and probably one guitar amp, and if you were lucky, a choice of two. A piano, an acoustic piano, and perhaps a Wurlitzer electric or a Fender Rhodes, and that was it. That was the instrumentation you had to work with. And even if you had your own band, you didn't have anything but that. So there wasn't really a lot of choices. A lot of times when you hear the instrumentation on those early soul records, it's because everyone was basically playing the same instrument. It's just a matter of how you played them and the tone and things like that. So there wasn't a lot of opportunities; there wasn't a chance to really try different things because you just didn't have it at your disposal.

What happened in the early '70s when Daryl and I got together—we met in 1968 and we kinda hung out just as friends basically, working with different bands and session work. And then when he was frustrated with what he was doing, and I was kind of frustrated with the things I was doing, we got together and we said, "Why don't we just play our songs? Why don't we just forget all this band crap and all the shit that you've got to deal with people and band members and all that. Let's just go and play. I'll play piano and sing my songs, you'll play guitar and sing your songs." And we would go to art galleries, coffee houses, and all the hip little underground scenes that were happening in Philadelphia in the '60s in the downtown area. That's what we did, and that's why the early album has the singer/songwriter thing going on, because it was a chance to strip down everything we've done before that and start over again. And that's what we did. Shortly thereafter we got a backing band and everything, and onward and upward, and all that, but in the beginning it was basically a way to get back to the beginning and focus on the songs and the writing and that sort of thing.

Kevin: I think a lot of people would be surprised—I know I was surprised—to find out how many records you guys had actually released before you really firmly established yourselves as, like, hitmakers. Not to say those songs weren't as good, but there were so many records, so many songs that you had produced leading up to the stuff that everyone knows as Hall & Oates: "Maneater" and "Private Eyes."

John: Well, you know, there's a whole decade, basically. The entire decade of the '70s. And it's interesting, I always say to people I really feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to start my career at a time when artists were allowed to make mistakes. We were allowed to make our creative screwup creatively and learn from it. Because, honestly, I feel like creative people can't learn to express themselves the way they really truly want to—and do it and articulate it in a way that's really true to themselves-unless you make mistakes. If you're afraid because of the business environment or the commercial environment, I think that's a really bad place for creativity. And we were very fortunate that we had record companies that just let us make records.

As you said, a lot of them were not commercially successful. And we did have a little run of hits with "Sara Smile," "Rich Girl," and "She's Gone" right in the mid-'70s. But then, at the beginning of the '70s and end of the '70s, we made all kinds of experimental albums. And we had a record company that believed in us enough to stick with us. Like I said, those days are kind of coming back with the Internet and everything; bands can basically do whatever they want. Thank God, it's a good thing. You know, it was before the tyranny of the record companies actually thinking they knew anything about music.

Kevin: Yeah, it's interesting the way a lot of record executives don't think of it as art, think of it as product. So a lot of people don't even appreciate music, creative music; they only think about the bottom line. The problem is, if they don't hear a single, they might just shelve the record. 

John: Exactly, and God forbid you have success on maybe your first album. And then you don't follow it up and then you're gone. What's that mean? How many great creative people are out there that maybe couldn't get a chance to figure it out and develop it? You know what it's like. You know, you've got to try things. And if you're afraid to try things because a record company is breathing down your neck, that's no environment for inspiration and creativity.

Kevin: Yeah. I saw that Daryl recorded a record with Robert Fripp, and that was also interesting to me. I was wondering, did you have any collaborations that people might not have thought of as being like a [typical John Oates thing]?

John: Yeah, I had a bunch of things. It was actually during the same period of time. Daryl tried some things in the '70s with Robert Fripp, and in the late-'80s I worked with a band called Parachute Club out of Toronto, Canada. And they were a really cool, kind of rootsy, political kind of band. Daniel Lanois produced their first album. I jokingly say that I finished their career off with the second one. But I had a great time with them and I think we did some great music together. And I went down to Australia and wrote a song with Iva Davies from a group called Icehouse, and it was called "Electric Blue." It became a huge hit; it was #1 in Australia, and I think it went to #2 here in the U.S. That was a very cool thing to do. I worked with a bunch of songwriters during the early '90s, people like Jerry Lynn Williams, who wrote "Running on Faith" and all that stuff for Eric Clapton and is just an amazing songwriter. So yeah, I just tried a bunch of things and I learned, quite quickly, that although I enjoy producing records, I didn't really enjoy being involved with other people's lives, which is what producing records is. It's almost as important as the music! And I really couldn't devote myself to other people's worlds. I kind of got out of the production thing.

Kevin: I wanted to ask a little bit about the songs that are probably your most famous songs, like "Maneater" and "Private Eyes" and "Kiss On My List" and things like that. "Maneater" is such an iconic song, and a lot of people think of that time period, that's like one of the first things that's gonna pop up. 

John: I agree with you. I think one of the best things about that song is that it represents that era and that time period of the early '80s. And moreover, it represents New York City in the early '80s. It was a world of—you know that movie Wall Street?

Kevin: Yeah.

John: Gordon Gekko says "greed is good" and all that crap? That was really what that song was all about. And when I hear it, it brings back that world. I was living in the Village and we were having a lot of commercial success, and we were traveling and MTV was in its infancy, it was a very heady time in New York. The New Wave thing was happening. Rap was actually starting. There were so many amazing things going on in the Village and stuff. I wrote that song; I was in a restaurant that we used to hang out in, in the Village on 9th Street called Mary Lou's, sitting in there with a bunch of friends and this gal came in the room, and she was one of those women who can kind of suck the air out of the room. She was just incredibly gorgeous. She was so beautiful that basically everything stopped. And she kind of came down to the table and sat down. And the thing that really blew my mind was that she had a mouth like a sailor, completely filthy. And it was that weird dichotomy of this tremendous beauty with this really foul mouth. And I sat there and I honestly said to myself, "Oh man, she'll chew you up!" And I said to myself, "Holy shit! There's a song there!"

And I went back, and I started writing, and I actually started writing it as a reggae song. I wrote the chorus as a reggae song. In fact, sometimes Daryl and I will play it that way. I do it sometimes with my solo band. It sounds really good as a reggae song! I had this really great hook, "Here she comes," and all that. And I played it for Daryl. Daryl and I were writing and I played it for him and he said, "That's cool, but Hall & Oates don't do reggae." [Laughs] I always thought that was a funny comment. And I guess I was glad I listened to him. He put the more Motown feel onto it with the piano. It was his idea to put that kind of  "dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, da, dum" groove. He put that on, and we put the verse together. And there you go.

Kevin: It's pretty hard for me to imagine it as a reggae song.

John: It sounds really cool if you think about it like: [sings in a reggae style] "Oh, oh, here she come, watch out boy, she chew you up." It sounds really cool. I did it at Telluride Bluegrass Festival last year with Sam Bush and his band. And we did it as a reggae song. And then, at the end, we broke into a bluegrass version of it. It's had many incarnations.

Kevin: Who came up with the major lyrical idea for "Private Eyes?" Was that you or Daryl?

John: You know, neither of us. That idea came from someone named Janna Allen. Janna Allen was [Daryl's girlfriend] Sara's sister, her younger sister. And she traveled with us and she was a very good friend to both of us for many years. And she was kind of a young songwriter, she played guitar. I'm speaking of her in past tense because she passed away. But she came up with it. It was her idea, and she ran it by Daryl and Daryl just ran with it. And he came up with a lot of the chords and unique chords, which is very much his trademark. You know, some very interesting chord progressions. And that's where the song came from.

Mark: Did you guys always know that you were going to have the handclaps on that song? Or was that something you added later?

John: That was my idea. I'll take full credit for that. That was just something we did in the studio. I remember, we were in the studio, the track was going down and we got to that thing "Private Eyes," clap, "watching you," bop-bop. You know, it's just one of those things that we just did and said, "That's cool, let's do it." You know, it's funny, we didn't think too much about stuff. We just went for it. Over the years, especially in the early days...we were never exactly darlings of the press. And things have turned around for us lately, which is nice. But in the early days everyone would hang this thing on us about how we were these premeditated [musicians], we had a secret of some sort of "hitmaking machine." And it was like nothing could be further from the truth. We never even set out to write singles. We just would write the best songs we could. We almost let the record companies pick the singles. We just said, "Here it is," and would do it. So we were anything but this kind of prepackaged hit machine. We were the exact opposite.

Kevin: With your song "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," I know it's been sampled many, many times by hip-hop groups. Have you heard any of those, or do you have any opinion about that?

John: I've heard every one of them, I think. Unless one sneaks by.

Kevin: Is there one that is your favorite?

John: The first one was De La Soul, "Say No Go." And that was a New York band in, I believe, it was the late '80s? I remember we did a song for a movie called Earth Girls Are Easy with Nile Rodgers. Nile Rodgers was producing the soundtrack album. So Nile asked us to do the song for Earth Girls Are Easy. So we did the song, and we were doing a video for it for MTV. We were on a stage, like an outdoor stage that we had built in Queens somewhere. I remember this little girl came up to the front of the stage with a little portable cassette machine. In between takes, we were just hanging out and she said, "Have you guys heard this?" And we're like, "No, what is it?" And we literally knelt down at the front of the stage and she hit the little cassette tape recorder and played "Say No Go" by De La Soul, which was kind of just like an underground record at the time.  And we were like, "Wow! That's cool!" I had never even heard of sampling. I didn't even know what it was. And that was the first one. And over the years it's been sampled by so many people. And then, of course, Simply Red basically just used the song and wrote another song over the top of it in the last incarnation. So I think it's cool when it's creative. You make the records, you do what you do, and it's out there for the rest of the world. Wherever it goes after that, eh!

Mark: I really love the intro to "I Can't Go for That."  To me it sounds really modern, even today.

John: It does. It's modern because it's so classic in its simplicity. That happened in a weird way too. We were doing the album and everyone had left the studio except Daryl, me, and the engineer. And there was a little keyboard sitting out there, and on top of the keyboard we had this little Roland CompuRhythm. It was a primitive drum machine. It was one of the first ones; it only had four preset drum groups. It had four white buttons: rock one, rock two, bossa nova, and samba, and that was it. And it had a little knob that you could turn and adjust the tempo, and we used to use it for time. We didn't use it for the actual drum machine. But what we would do is, we'd figure out when we were cutting our tracks live, we'd just put 'rock one' on and figure out what was the best tempo and kind of use it to kind of get going. And then we'd shut it off. Well, in this occasion, it was sitting on top of the keyboard and Daryl went out to the keyboard and he started fooling around. And he hit 'rock one' and whatever tempo was set on it, and it started doing that dicky little drum groove, you know? And he started playing the base line with his left hand. [Sings] Ba, ba, ba, ba, bom, bom, bom, bom. And that was it. And he started putting some chords on it. And I was there, and he said, "Get your guitar out." And he said, "Try something like this." Daryl actually came up with the idea for that. And that was the whole song.  We recorded it right there, just the two of us, and that was the end. That was it.

Kevin: Did you do that often, just kind of work on stuff, just the two of you?

John: Most of the '80s records were done with a full band, and they were done in the old classic way of—the band's in the studio, playing. And we would play. Then, a lot of times, later on as our digital technology started happening, more like toward the end, like, H20 and Big Bam Boom, we started incorporating drum samples and snare samples and all that stuff. Bob Clearmountain did a lot of snare samples on Mickey Curry's drums, and actually to this day, I hear those same samples being used. Some of the big sound of the '80s with the reverse gated snares and all that kind of stuff? A lot of that stuff was our drum kits and our snares.

Kevin: It's funny, speaking about people borrowing from the '80s or being influenced by the '80s, it seems very popular now for artists who are putting out records now, that weren't even necessarily born when the records were made, are sort of taking inspiration from the production of those '80s records. Have you noticed that a lot listening to something? "Oh that sounds exactly like a record I did in '82."

John: I hear it; I do hear it. But I hear it, and then I hear it translated though a new generation's mindset and sensibilities, which I think is very cool. And really, that's how it should be. That's what pop is all about to me. It constantly evolves and it's constantly feeding on itself and building on itself and using its past to go forward. That's what pop has always done. Look at Elvis. He just listened to black radio and did his version of it, and on from there. Yeah, I think that's cool and that's the way it should be.

Kevin: I wanted to ask you about J-Stache. I just saw it for the first time today, and I love it. I think it's amazing. Really, really, funny and creative. I only saw the initial trailer.

John: That's pretty much all we've got.

Kevin: How did that come about?

John: Well, it came about this way: Our publishers had been very aggressive in trying to expose our music catalogue in a lot of ways. As you probably know, you have to in this day and age with movies and TV and commercials, or whatever. So they came up with the idea. They all had mustaches; they were all growing mustaches in New York. And they came up with this idea that my mustache was this iconic symbol of the times. But then they said, "What if it becomes a superhero or a villain or something weird, and actually has a life of its own?" I haven't had a mustache in well over 20 years. I'm far enough removed from it that I can actually look at it like that. And when they ran the concept by me I was like, "That's a pretty cool idea." They wanted me to be in it, and I said, "Well look, if I'm going to be in it, I can't be that guy with the mustache, because I'm not that guy with the mustache. So the mustache can be it's own personality. And I'll be me." They liked that idea, and the ideas began to fly and develop. And we got Dave Attell to do the voice of the mustache, and he's amazing. And I do my own voice, and we just started out from there. Right now we're going after it virally and trying to get people to kind of pick up on it, and people are really, really liking it. Who knows where it's going to go? It might stay viral and become one of those deals. Or it might go as a cartoon, I don't know.

Kevin: I can't see how it won't be the most successful cartoon in the history of mankind. I think it's really funny.

John: [Laughs] Wait a minute, did you just say "the most successful cartoon in the history of mankind?"

Kevin: I think it's going to be more successful than even Scooby Doo.

John: Are you serious? I don't think you're being serious. But if you are, that's pretty cool. I want you to tell my publicist that.

Kevin: Sure, that's great. When I saw it, I was shocked. It's one of those things that  everyone else in the world knows about it except for me, like I'm always the last one to the party. It's really, really funny.

John: Well thank you. I appreciate that. I'm going to spread the word. I'm gonna tell the world that you said that. We'll get the word out on this thing.

Mark: Kevin and I were both kids in the '80s. I think Kevin was born in '74, is that right?

Kevin: Yeah.

Mark: And I was born in '76. So Hall & Oates was like a big deal to me when I was a kid in the '80s. A lot of us have obviously grown up loving your music, and some of those people have gone on to become musicians, like Kevin. And there are a lot of indie-rock type musicians, like Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie is a big fan. And I don't know if you know Girl Talk—he's like this DJ mashup guy—he's a big fan. I was just curious if you've noticed a resurgence of the band as these kids of the '80s have grown up, and if you've noticed an influence on bands today because of that?

John: All those things. I mean, I totally agree with you on all those things. A lot of these bands, like Death Cab for Cutie and Gym Class Heroes and Travis and those guys, they have been so kind in saying to their fans about how much we've influenced them, and giving us all the props, and that has really, in turn, created a whole new generation of fans for our music. And I think it's amazing and I'm very appreciative, because as I said earlier in the conversation, we weren't exactly the darlings of rock press back in our heyday. And now it's kind of a vindication to feel like some of these bands and newer musicians like you guys are more appreciative of what we've done and the body of work. The box set is a testament to it, because I think newer bands and newer artists realize how difficult it is, not only to just endure in the music business, but to have success and a lot of hit singles and things like that. It's not easy, and I always joke that if it was easy, everyone would do it. It really feels good to know that people are saying that about us and appreciating us on a different level just purely on the merit of what we've done.

Mark: There was talk you were going to do a record with that band Chromeo. Is that still a possibility?

John: You know, it is possible. Chromeo reached out to us quite a while ago. They ended up doing the Live From Daryl's House, you know Daryl's Internet broadcast? They did that with him. I haven't actually worked with them yet. But they were really into it. We haven't done anything with it. I don't know if that's going to happen right now. There's a bunch of really cool things happening. A very good, amazing country singer named Jimmy Wayne, who's an up-and-coming country singer, just has a big #1 record. He's cutting "Sara Smile." And they're really excited about adding country. There's just a lot of really cool things happening. I'm getting to play with all the people I wanted to play with back in my folky days, like all the really cool bluegrass musicians, people like Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush and Béla Fleck. They were all on my solo albums. Things are in a really cool place. I'm very appreciative of the fact that I've gotten to the point in my life where I can kind of try different things and do it purely for the sake of the music.

Mark: Have you heard of this band The Bird and The Bee that are doing a whole Hall & Oates cover album?

John: Yeah, in fact, they reached out to us and asked if we would endorse it. And we said, "Yeah." We thought they were really great. Have you seen Garfunkel and Oates yet?

Mark: No, what's that?

John: Okay. [Laughs] Google them. Garfunkel and Oates, they're these two girls from L.A. They're like political, folky satirists. They do folk satire, and they're really amazing. I actually did a show with them about a month ago in L.A., and they are so cool. They're my favorite new group.

Mark: Have you guys ever thought of doing a record where you collaborate with newer musicians who were fans of yours, like a new song? Or getting cool producers or getting Death Cab involved or anything?

John: Yes. You know what? We actually tried to do that about four or five years ago. And it didn't work because there wasn't the groundswell and the momentum of the feeling you've been talking about. That's happening now, and it wouldn't surprise me if we did a project like that.

Mark: Yeah, I think it would be really cool to do.

John: So, come on, Kevin! Let's go!

Kevin: Okay. [Laughs] Let's do it.

John: What are we waiting for?

Kevin: Yeah.

Mark: That would be amazing.

John: Yeah, that would be amazing.

Mark: You could call it "of Hall & Oates."

John: Yeah, you could call it "of Hall & Oates."

Mark: Or "Hall & Oates and Montreal." Or something like that. Well, the last question I have—I also asked this of Daryl yesterday—I was just wondering if you had any advice for Kevin since you've obviously been doing this for a long time and have been through the ups and downs. How do you maintain that creative spark all this time?

John: Well, I think if music is born into you and it's part of you and it's the way you express yourself, it's the way you speak to the world, I don't think there's anything that can stop you. And you have to play to your strengths and you have to play to your audience. You have to not just look at the world as the possibility that you're just going to be everything to everyone. And find your niche, find your audience. Because there's people out there that want to hear what you want to do, and it's just a matter of figuring out creative ways of reaching them. And, you know, focus on the music. It's always been about the songs and the music. Everything starts with the songs. And a great song is a great song; it will always be a great song. And if you think on those terms and your aspirations are to be better at what you do and write a better song and make a better record, and not about making money and being a rock star, then your head's in the right place and probably good things will happen.

Mark: Cool.

Kevin: That's good advice.

John: That's the best I can do.

[Laughter]

Kevin: I think it's kind of funny that—I know you think of it as kind of a dubious question, because, can you give somebody advice? You know, everyone's head is in a totally different place and, basically, you make music because you're naturally drawn to make music. And if you weren't, you wouldn't be doing it. And I think, a very small amount of people, they even have to deal with a question like, "Am I a rock star?" or, "Am I in it for the right reason?" Because there is no money and there is no real fame. For you, it was different because you did have that. But for most people, they don't ever get to that level. So, it's always about the fulfillment of making music anyway. You never have to worry about getting off track because there's nothing to get you off track. Aside from like, "Ah man, I need to get a real job." That's the only thing.

John: Well, you know, you've got 3,533,716 views on MySpace.

Kevin: I didn't know that.

John: Beause I'm looking at it. All you gotta do is get those people to buy your albums. [Laughs]

Kevin: Yeah.

John: That's the secret right there. I mean, obviously there's a lot of people interested in you, and the true challenge is, how do you reach them?

Kevin: How to get them to buy it instead of stealing it.

John: Well, you know, it's a different world. That's your job. [Laughs]

Mark: Do you almost feel more creative freedom now than in the '80s when you had a lot of pressure to keep putting out hit singles and all that stuff?

John: We were lucky in that we had a relationship with the record company that was very hands off. Because we were successful and because we were doing well and because we had a really strong manager, we basically did exactly what we wanted to do. They weren't involved in any way in our music until the end. And at the end, we'd have a listening party, we delivered them a finished album and we'd say, "Go ahead, sell it." And they'd come up with a single, and they'd come up with a plan, and that was really where our involvement started with them. So, as I said earlier, I think I was very fortunate to come up during a time when I was actually allowed to do that. So, it was a really completely different world. It doesn't exist today unless you're just totally indie and you just do whatever you want and throw it out there. And if that's the case, then you kind of are in the same position. It's just that the potential for sales and for commercial success is a little bit different.

Kevin: Yeah. I think that's kind of a cool thing, like most indie artists are in that situation, unless you just have the worst people running the indie label ever. It's kind of like the whole concept behind indie music, is that it's supposed to be about the art of making music and creating something that's exciting and unpredictable. And because it's honest, commercial or not doesn't even factor into the equation.

John: No, and you know what? I think that's a good thing. That's actually the only positive thing that's happened in the last five to eight years with the Internet. It's really allowed people to be free and to make music. As I said, the commercial potential is not necessarily there all the time. But if you want to express yourself, there's someone out there who will listen to you, and at least you can get it out there. Whereas, in the '90s, you couldn't even get it out there.

Kevin: And people getting stuck in really bad contracts. It's getting to the point now where most people don't even need a record label.

John: No, you don't.

Kevin: You can do so much on your own.

John: Well, Daryl and I haven't had a record label since 1996. This box set is the first thing that we've done since the early '90s with a major label. And Sony owns the masters to most of these things. So, this is why we did it with them. But this is kind of like a weird place to be again, having a major release on a major corporate level after all these years. We've basically been an indie act since the mid-'90s.

Kevin: Cool.

Mark: Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us.

John: Yeah, that was fun. It was a good conversation.

Kevin: Nice to meet you, over the phone.

John: Well, yeah. Hopefully, we can actually meet in person. We'll look for you, and if you ever see us playing somewhere and you want to come out, man, don't hesitate.

Kevin: OK, cool. Definitely.

John: Alright?

Mark: Cool, thanks a lot.

John: Thank you guys. See ya.

Kevin Barnes on Hall & Oates

Mark: Did you listen to Hall & Oates when you were a kid in the '80s? Was that when you first got into them?

Kevin: Yeah. The thing is, I know so many of their songs from just listening to the radio a lot. Growing up, my mom would have it on in the car. And I have a lot of memories of seeing their videos on MTV, and my brother...it was a funny thing. My brother had a little Fischer-Price tape recorder, and he used to listen to his Walkman and record himself singing on the Fischer-Price tape recorder. This was when he was like seven years old or something. And I remember catching him singing "Kiss on My List." I remember that was his jam when he was a kid. But of course, all the songs like "Maneater" and stuff like that definitely were songs I liked a lot. And actually, I had forgotten about them, getting into other things. And then within the last four or five years, sort of came back into my consciousness, and I started realizing how cool those songs are. They're very classic songs. Very timeless. And you know, when people think about catchy pop songs, those are super catchy pop songs.

Mark: I think a lot of people tend to make fun of them for a while. And people that liked them looked at them almost like a guilty pleasure for a while. And even I—I was a big fan when I was a kid, but then in the '90s I got into all indie stuff and into the 2000s, but eventually, like you, came back around. And you almost were like afraid to admit to people, "Hey, I like Hall & Oates." But then it's like, fuck that, you know? I think the consciousness has come back around that they're cool, with people like Ben Gibbard talking about them and other people like that.

Kevin: It's so funny the way music works that way, where it becomes your kind of political thing or like it defines you in a way. And you don't want people to think that you're this kind of person so you can't let them know you listen to this kind of music. But it just shouldn't be like that. It should just be, "Yeah, I appreciate this song. I like this song." You don't have to wear the uniform of that song. Or there is no uniform for that song, it's just a song.

Mark: Yeah, I hear you. I mean, they have an amazing greatest hits. They have so many fantastic songs that it's hard to argue with it.

Kevin: It's funny, it's so confusing to me the way that works. Like a band will be very popular, extremely popular, and then people, for some reason, will universally turn their back on them. And then they become super un-hip, and then it comes back around eventually. Everyone kind of comes back around because the thing that made them so important and so popular at one point in time doesn't go away. It's still there. The power is still there. The power of Hall & Oates lives on! They will never die!

Mark: Well, yeah. They had all those hits in the '80s. And then if you look at the late '80s, early '90s, they just dropped off the radar. And they kept trying to make hits, and obviously some of the songs weren't as strong as they were earlier in the decade. But just the interest wasn't there. Grunge came around and all sort of other stuff. Hip-hop became bigger. It just wasn't the thing, I guess. And so, if you look at the '90s, there's not much Hall & Oates that was big in the public consciousness, you know.

Kevin: No, it's true.

Mark: But nowadays, it's a whole different story, and this box set sounds really cool. I haven't actually heard it yet, but it sounds pretty cool.

Kevin: Yeah. It's pretty extensive. It's like four discs, and I was really excited about those first couple of songs that they recorded in '67, '68 when they were just teenagers. And I really like that kind of music, like soul music and Philadelphia soul . So, it was really good. It was very authentic.... The recording sounds great, and the vocals are great and the musicianship is great.

Mark: Now, you said your brother was into [Hall & Oates]. Was he a younger brother or an older brother?

Kevin: Uh, younger. He's only like three years younger.

Mark: So you totally busted him, then, when he was singing that song.

Kevin: Oh no, he used to do it all the time. I mean, I remember him singing that song "Angie" by The Rolling Stones. I think that was one of his favorite things to do, just sit there and record himself singing, which is weird because he didn't grow up to be a singer. He grew up to be a graphic artist. And I was the singer, and I didn't do that. That's just something you got to do. Maybe he just really liked the magic of recording your voice, and rewinding and listening to it.

Mark: Is there a particular Hall & Oates song that really stands out to you as one of your favorites?

Kevin: Um...well, of course the hits like "Maneater," "I Cant Go For That," "Kiss is on My List," "Private Eyes," "Rich Girl." I really like the song "Method of Modern Love."

Mark: Yeah, that's a great one.

Kevin: It has really interesting production for the time. And when I started thinking about them, it was like, "Wow, they have so many hits." Most people maybe they'll have one hit. I mean, most people have no hits. Then a smaller percentage have one hit. And then an even smaller percentage have two or three. And they have so many. They have like seven or eight songs that pretty much anybody who followed music from when they were younger—if they were from our generation or whatever—they know all these songs.

Mark: I know. I think they're considered the most successful duo of all time, apparently.

Kevin: Yeah, I read that. I was like, "Wow, that's a amazing."

Mark: It's funny to me how we're not like Rolling Stone Magazine or anything, and probably in the '80s, a magazine of our level probably couldn't even talk to Hall & Oates. We'd have to put them on the cover or something. It's funny how that changes and now, it's no big deal. But they've just done so much amazing stuff. So, what do you think? You think you'll take them up on the offer and record a song with Hall & Oates at some point?

Kevin: I'd love to do that. I don't know how, logistically, it would work, but that would be a great experience. Just to hang out with them. I was watching [Live From] Daryl's House—the web cast thing—and it just seems like a cool.... I'd be nervous, actually. Because everyone that's in their band is such a good musician, you know? And in a way, that's a lost art.... To play so many different styles and if someone just shouts out, "Hey, it's in this key," and then they could follow it. I couldn't do that. I rely a lot on studio trickery.... I would be like, "Man, I'm gonna be all flat and my guitar's going to go out of tune." And they're all gonna be looking at me like I suck. So, I would be kind of intimidated, but I think it would be fun. It seems like a cool experience.

Mark: Yeah, I think it would be smart for them to do a record like that where they got involved with different people, as long as it was cool people. There's probably a lot of lame people they could get involved with, there are probably fans as well, you know?

Kevin: Yeah, I don't know how adventurous they are, you know? Because it seems like, on some level, as they get older, they're kind of like going back to their roots—sort of folky, kind of singer/songwriter stuff. And wanting to work with me is kind of crazy, it's like, strange compositions, I don't know if they—I really don't want to do anything by the book or predictable or singer/songwriter. I have kind of like a negative connotation when I think about singer/songwriter stuff or like, you know, music that's supposed to be totally without any sort of pretentiousness or whatever. I like pretentiousness, or what most people consider pretentiousness I think is interesting. There is flare. There should be flare, there shouldn't just be, "I'm a workin' man, and this is my workin' man song." There's enough of those. I wouldn't want to make that. If they would give me free rein to do whatever I wanted or work with them and just make something really crazy, I'd do it. I think that'd be really fun. Really rewarding for all of us.

Also check out our recent in the studio interview with of Montreal's Kevin Barnes.

www.hallandoates.com

www.ofmontreal.net



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Jordan
February 18th 2010
6:49pm

I have had the opportunity to travel across the world and conduct interviews in many different countries. This interview with John Oates is one of the best written I have seen. I think you asked some really great questions and I feel like I came away from reading this with some new insight.

Sport
February 23rd 2010
2:40am

I have not heard anything about these guys in quite sometime. I had been wondering if they were still around and making music? I used to really enjoy their concert events in the past and would love to hear some of their newer music.

Ramonus
April 7th 2010
3:11pm

That article was godly, it might be long but after you finish it it´s better than a book. :p

Bill
May 30th 2010
2:51pm

Great interview.  I loved the classic Hall and Oates tunes of the 80’s and glad to see they are still releasing new material.  I heard an interview with John Hall on the Stern show and was totally amazed at what a cool guy he is.

mattress
June 4th 2010
5:23am

I love Kevin and his music very much!! keep on your good job….