Singer songwriter and musician John Oates is best known as one half of the biggest selling duo of all time– Hall and Oates. Together they put over 40 singles on the charts, six of which hit number one including “Rich Girl”, “I Can’t Go For That” and “Out of Touch.” John stopped by the SiriusXM studios recently to talk with Ron Bennington about his tour with Daryl Hall and his new solo project, “Good Road to Follow”. Excerpts from the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: How you doing, man? This is a whole different scene for you?
John Oates: Yeah, man. I’m taking this musical road and I’m just going to keep on going. There’s a couple exits along the way and I’m just going to keep on walking.
Ron Bennington: So you’re open to all different kinds of styles now?
John Oates: I have so many – I have such a wide variety of musical interests. I love all kinds of music. I just love great songs. For me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s where it starts and all the icing and all the flavors you put on top is just extras.
Ron Bennington: And it’s always been about playing all genres. If you look back to the early Hall and Oates stuff, you guys were doing R&B, but with folk guitars.
John Oates: With acoustic guitars, that’s it.
Ron Bennington: So, right from the beginning there was probably a chance people were going – what, what are you guys doing?
John Oates: Well we – we were lucky enough to come up at a time when we were allowed by the music business to do, “Abandoned Luncheonette” and then go to “War Babies” which was 180 degrees in a different direction – kind of rock experimental and then come back to R&B, like you said. So, this is really – it’s really kind of a more return to where I really come from as a musician. Just being open minded – and today it seems like the world’s gone back to singles. So I said, “Why not release a bunch of singles?”
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Ron Bennington: So you’re going to put out a single a month. Now, all the songs are recorded? Or are you recording them as you go along?
John Oates: Well, I knew I was going to have a real busy year so I’ve kind of front loaded it by working really hard this past summer. So I’ve got about 15 or 16 in the can. And we’re just trying to figure out which ones will come out when. We do know the first one is the one we just heard – the Hot Chelle Rae collaboration. I’ve known Ryan Follesé and Jamie the drummer and singer since they’ve been about 4 or 5 years old.
Ron Bennington: Is that right?
John Oates: Because I used to write songs with their dad. And so, they asked me to come into the studio and do a version of “You Make My Dreams Come True” for a new compilation that they’re doing and then I said – hey, let’s do a song from my project. So, we wrote this together. They produced it and – went in the studio and I said – let’s make a record exactly the way you would make your records. So, it’s kind of cool. So, every person I work with brings a different flavor.
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Ron Bennington: Well, you’ve got this freedom because Hall and Oates still do good business. Which, you can’t say that about a lot of bands from your era. So when you guys go out and play, people want to come out and hear the Hall and Oates catalogue – they love those songs. So, now you and Daryl each have the opportunity to go out and follow some things separately.
John Oates: We are so lucky and blessed. We don’t – and believe me, neither Daryl nor I take this for granted. We are making the most of it. As you said – you said it exactly right. We have this incredible Hall and Oates foundation that we built over the years. We still love to play together and we still do play together. We just finished Jazz Fest down in New Orleans, which was amazing. And we’ll continue to play together, but at the same time it gives us this ability to – Daryl’s got this great TV show, “Live from Daryl’s House”, and he’s doing a bunch of other things and I’m doing this and it’s fantastic.
Ron Bennington: Did you guys consciously come to that decision? Like, hey let’s stay together, but still do separate stuff?
John Oates: You know we always looked at ourselves like two guys – individuals working together. We never really – in fact it’s funny. Our company’s called “Two-headed Monster” because – it’s really a bit of a joke, but we see the thing we do together as Hall and Oates as this thing that we created together. But we feel like we’re two individuals at the same time and what’s cool about it is Daryl and I have both given each other the freedom to do that. There’s no weird feelings and I guess that’s really why we’re still together basically.
Ron Bennington: And it was always this way throughout your career?
John Oates: Always. From the very beginning. Yeah.
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Ron Bennington: The interesting thing is – with those fans, they might not look at new Hall and Oates songs the same way they might look at your individual songs. Like – we’re able to probably give you a break if you go in a different direction, or Daryl a break if he goes in a different direction. But when Hall and Oates goes in a different direction you’re like – whoa, what happened?
John Oates: Well, you know what? We’re actually not going to go in a different direction. We made a conscious – the way Daryl and I feel about it is that Hall and Oates, the future of Hall and Oates, is in our past. Meaning, that we’ve made so much music – in a lifetime we couldn’t play the music that we’ve made.
Ron Bennington: You’ve got that many hits.
John Oates: Well, it’s not only the hits. We figure, we’ve even – the tracks that we play, the deeper tracks. We have so many of them that we just can’t physically do it. So, we said – you know what, it’s better for us and it’s more exciting for us to try new things. And when we play as Hall and Oates, we give people exactly what they want. They’re happy, we’re happy, and it’s great.
Ron Bennington: So, they come out – they’re going to get a Hall and Oates show.
John Oates: They’re going to get a Hall and Oates show. They’re going to get what they want plus more. And when Daryl and I go our separate ways we do our own thing.
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Ron Bennington: Now when you were kids – you guys were kids in Philly. You were playing that Philly sound, but you’re pretty much the only white guys in that crew, right? There wasn’t a lot of you guys.
John Oates: Well, Philadelphia – the early days of Gamble and Huff was a very integrated rhythm section. It was before Black Power and all that stuff happened. And so, it really was a more integrated thing. Daryl and I came to it – we listened to urban R&B and to the Philadelphia radio stations like H-A-T and D-A-S, but I used to go to the Philadelphia folk festival, I played folk. So, we came at it with a kind of a little broader feel. So, we incorporated what we loved about Philadelphia’s urban R&B vibe with a more traditional American thing. And like you said earlier – R&B on acoustic guitars.
John Oates: We actually – Gamble and Huff actually asked Daryl and I if we wanted to be staff writers. Right as Daryl and I were kind of getting together. We had to make a big decision – were we going to stay in Philadelphia and work with Gamble and Huff? Which was really the only game in town. And a good game. But we felt like there was something else we wanted to do. We didn’t want to be in that box, you know? And to this day, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff – I mean, I love those guys and I just think that they made some of the greatest records of all time.
Ron Bennington: Absolutely. Yeah. I would actually put that sound – that 70’s sound up against Motown anytime.
John Oates: There’s no doubt about it. It may not have quite the universal recognition as Motown, but Philadelphia R&B is in a class of its own. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to look at that kind of music – Motown, Philadelphia R&B and Memphis, Stax. You put those three together, man, I’m good.
Ron Bennington: And that drew you at the same time you were listening to folk music.
John Oates: Well, I started out – see, what people don’t realize is that I started playing guitar at 6 years old. So, I played – I was playing 15, 16 years before I even met Daryl. So, I was already a fairly accomplished, young guitar player. I played folk blues. I played blue grass. I played a lot of delta, swampy stuff. And when I met Daryl, I kind of brought that to the table. He brought – him being a piano player, brought a little bit more of the schooled and doo-wop street corner thing. And really, that’s what we combined and that’s what became our sound.
Ron Bennington: And the vocals are still there with you guys. That’s one of the amazing things to me.
John Oates: Plus we have a band that – I have never heard a band with better singers, background singers, than this band. Every one of our background singers in our band could be a lead singer in a band. They’re fantastic.
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Ron Bennington: But now, you have that comfort level for all these years. You’re walking away from it, playing with all different people, writing with different people. So, obviously some of it you’re going to love and other stuff – I guess you just hit the wall every once in a while, right?
John Oates: You know, I’ve not hit the wall as much as…
John Oates: It’s been incredibly positive. What I’ve found is just, working with talented people – you just let them do what they do. And I just kind of – I try not to impose myself. I’m kind of like a music traffic cop in this project because it’s all over the place. But when I walk into a room to write, or a studio to record it’s like – let them do what they do and I just kind of watch it and I say – well you know, I could sing it better if it went like this. In the end, I’m responsible for it and it’s my name on it and I’m singing and so, there’s that element. But I really have let this thing run wild and doing kind of like a folk thing with Sam Bush and then turning around and doing that pop song with Hot Chelle Rae and then doing like, a hardcore blues with Vince Gill. So, it’s really just a cool project.
Ron Bennington: And you’ve got to – you’ve got to put one song out of your mind as you go into the next week, right? Like you’ve got to kind of show up fresh with no expectations I would guess.
John Oates: I try to show up fresh pretty much all the time. Keeping an open mind is half the battle. I walk into a – there’s been some writing sessions where I walked in with ideas and there’s other writing sessions where I walk in and say – hey, here I am, let’s see what happens. And I’ve been incredibly lucky. Things just seem to have fallen together.
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Ron Bennington: Right. Was there a certain time for you though, that you knew – ok, I really am established now? Because I think a lot of times with bands it takes a while because you don’t know whether some band is going to be here for 2 years, 3 years or run the gamut. … At what point did you say to yourself – ok, this thing has legs? This thing is going to last.
John Oates: I’m still wondering every morning when I wake up.
Ron Bennington: Is that right?
John Oates: And I think that’s the fire that drives you. I think you have to think that way. Daryl and I – we knew in the 80s when we had that giant string of hits and we seemed to be ubiquitous on the radio that there was only one way to go – down from there. And we actually stopped and we kind of started doing things in different ways. And I think that it was a good thing for us to do. It was, maybe not so smart from a business point of view because the hits stopped, but it was good for personal reasons. And for me personally. And I kind of reorganized my life and I did all the things that I couldn’t do when I was running around the world being a pop star. But look where it took me. And now, I’m the better for it.
Ron Bennington: Because it’s a lot of – it’s a lot of hard work and stress to play that game, I guess.
John Oates: Well, Daryl and I went on the road in 1972 and we made an album every year from 1972 until ‘86. And we never stopped, ever. We toured, we wrote, we recorded and we made videos. That was our life. So, it’s not really much of a life. I mean, it sounds glamorous from the outside. And I wanted to be a real person. I moved to Colorado, I got married, had a kid, built a house. Did all the stuff that I really felt like, was missing. But then I came out of it with music as part of my life, as opposed to the only thing in my life.
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Ron Bennington: So, when you guys were – when it finally started to take off for you guys in the 80s, where it got really, really consistent you were already comfortable and mature enough to be able to handle that. It’s not like you were 21 years old and suddenly you have 4 number ones in a row.
John Oates: That’s true. We were a little bit older and we’d gone through a big hit cycle in the mid 70s. We played arenas, then we went back to the clubs. So, we had done it all. So, when we were – as you said, those hits started happening in the 80s we were ready to go.
Ron Bennington: Ready to go and not thrown by the MTV shit or whatever was happening at the time.
John Oates: I do regret wearing some of those outfits.
Ron Bennington: Well, everyone regrets, the difference is your pictures are still out there. (Laughs)
John Oates: (Laughs) The difference is people can hide their photo albums in a drawer right?
Ron Bennington: That’s right.
John Oates: (Laughs) Mine’s out there for the rest of the world, for the rest of my life.
Ron Bennington: We all looked like assholes, there’s no doubt about that.
John Oates: I wasn’t going to say it, but I’m glad you did.
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Ron Bennington: The new project for John Oates is called “Good Road to Follow”. John Oates, pleasure to meet you my friend.
John Oates: Thank you very much. This was really cool – cool time spending with you.
Ron Bennington: And I’ll see you next time coming through, alright?
John Oates: Thank you very much.
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You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.