John Oates: The Losanjealous Interview: “The Mustache is Not Me, and I’m Not the Mustache…”

oates1HEADS UP
Daryl Hall & John Oates: Up Close and Personal Tour @ Nokia Theater
Wed Sep 2
Daryl Hall & John Oates @ Morongo Casino Resort and Spa
Fri Sep 11

A few weeks back, John Oates played an Agoura Hills nightclub with a pair of local Upright Citizen’s Brigade girls. We gave you an interview tease at that time. Now that Oates is set to return to town with Daryl Hall, the pair of them with a comprehensive boxed set release looming on the horizon (74 tracks, 16 of which are previously unreleased; four discs, more than 40 years of material on seven different labels), we’re pleased to finally publish the full transcript of that conversation. Below, find candid insights regarding Michael Jackson, American roots music, probably-drug-addled 1970s music videos, nude photo shoots, mustaches, beards, emus, alpacas, and the aging process. Ladies and gentlemen, John Oates.


John! Timely question first. I know that you guys were involved with USA for Africa, and I was wondering if you could talk to me about your interaction with Michael Jackson, or if you have any favorite Michael Jackson moments.

USA for Africa and “We Are The World”… that evening was pretty special, you know, and it’s already been documented so many times, and so accurately. What I recall about it is that Michael was pretty retiring; he didn’t assert himself very much during that thing. I think he left it up to Quincy Jones to kind of run things, and he was very quiet, and he did his thing. He really wasn’t making his presence felt in terms of being the frontman, so to speak; it was more Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones. But Michael came to a bunch of Hall and Oates shows when we’d play in LA. And I remember one time he came backstage in the dressing room after the show, and he said, in that little squeaky voice, you know, he said (chuckles) “Oh, I like to dance to ’No Can Do’ in front of my mirror, in my bedroom…”

(Ryan is laughing.)

…which I thought was pretty cool.

No arguments.

Needless to say, I think the groove affected him. He liked the groove of that song.

Solid anecdote, right out of the gate. I have another question for you regarding people that are no longer with us. I was reading your bio on your website, and it mentioned that through Jerry Ricks, you met Mississippi John Hurt and got to check out his finger-picking style up close. Is that the case?

That’s right. Jerry Ricks started out as my guitar teacher, and then we became friends, and then we actually began to play together. But during the time in the late ’60s, mid-to-late ’60s, when a lot of these traditional American musicians were being rediscovered and brought back to various folk festivals and things like Newport – and the Philadelphia Folk Festival, in particular, for me – people like Mississippi John, Doc Watson, Son House, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, all those guys…there was a guy in Philadelphia named Dick Waterman who kind of managed them, basically, and Jerry Ricks was one of his best friends. Whenever they would come to town, they would come to Jerry’s house and just sit around and pick, and I had the unique opportunity to actually be in the room with them, and watch them play, and learn right from them, and it was just pretty amazing. In fact, on our first two albums, Whole Oats and Abandoned Luncheonette, I actually played Missisissippi John’s guitar, his Guild acoustic guitar on a number of songs.

Incredible.

Yeah. I was in the right place at the right time.

So for this “Stories Behind the Songs” tour, how many new songs – songs from 1000 Miles of Life – will you be playing and telling stories about, versus how many older songs and chestnuts?

oates2Well, my show has been evolving. [Initially] I used it as a vehicle just for my solo stuff, and then I started incorporating more and more of the Hall and Oates songs: the stuff that I had written, or stuff that was more personal to me. But I started to approach the songs in a different way, and then as that began to evolve, I also started going back to my roots and the stuff we were just talking about, and I started bringing out a lot of this American traditional stuff: Doc Watson, Mississippi John. That stuff was really in my deep, deep roots before I even met Daryl, and it’s the stuff that I had really kind of put on the back burner for many, many years. I’ve kind of been rediscovering it. It’s brilliant. In a way I’m kind of a link to that. There are a lot of people who play that stuff really well, but not a lot of people who had the chance to learn it, firsthand, so I’ve started bringing that back and I’m doing a lot of that in the show as well. [The show is] kind of a combination of my solo stuff, some Hall and Oates stuff, and some traditional stuff.

What are the chances you’ll dust off some of the deeper H&O cuts you wrote like, say, maybe “Friday Let Me Down,” or “Mano a Mano”?

(laughs) I probably won’t dust those two off. Especially “Friday Let Me Down.” That’s kind of a production, you know? A little tough sometimes. Some of the songs that are a little more rooted in production don’t translate as well. I do a very interesting version of “Out of Touch” and “Maneater”. “Maneater” is kind of interesting: When I was doing my [last] album down in Nashville, Sam Bush, the mandolin player, said to me, “Why don’t you do a bluegrass version of “Maneater”? He was kind of half joking, but he wasn’t really joking. And we ended up doing just that at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival; we kind of developed this really cool bluegrass version of “Maneater”, which I now play. So I do a lot of stuff like that. It’s kind of a surprising show; I also do “She’s Gone,” a few more oldies, and then of course a lot of material from 1000 Miles of Life.

That’s actually a great intro to my next question. I saw Daryl perform, with band, at South by Southwest last year. He talked a little bit about the song “Maneater” before he played it, and his story was that you’d brought it to him originally as a reggae song, and the two of you sort of spiced it up from there…

That’s exactly right. When I first wrote “Maneater”, I wrote the chorus as a reggae song. And I always remember that Daryl looked at me kind of sideways, and he said, “Hall and Oates don’t do reggae.”

(Ryan is laughing again.)

So it evolved from a reggae groove into more of a Motown groove, and I guess with the help of Sam Bush, I’ve evolved it yet again into something else. But really that’s the mark of a good song: I think a good song can be treated a lot of different ways and still keep its integrity.

After his spoken intro describing how he’d demanded the de-reggaefication, so to speak, Daryl did then go ahead and play it, reggae style, at SXSW…

Yeah, and that’s really cool. I’ve done it reggae as well.

I can’t wait to hear the bluegrass style.

Got a surprise in the end for you on that one.

You’re going to be back out here with Daryl Hall and the full band, September 2, at Nokia Theatre. What can we expect at that show? Is this leading up to, or focused around, the upcoming H&O boxed set, maybe?

It is and it isn’t, you know? Our whole life is focused around the H&O boxed set, ’cause the boxed set is really focused around us; it’s basically a retrospective of our musical careers. That’s just what we do in our shows, regardless of whether this box set was coming out or not. We do the hits; we do things that people probably expect to hear. But we also do other things: Philly songs, stuff that we like, we take some requests some times depending on whether we know the song, so we try to keep it loose. I think no one goes away disappointed by not hearing the songs that they expected, but at the same time I think they also get surprised by some of the things that we do play.

I was at the Troubadour when you guys were there last year.

That was pretty good.

That was a great show, and I’ve seen you guys more than a few times at this point. Let’s wrap the tour questions. I have a few questions now from the Losanjealous editorial clipboard…

garf_n_oatesOne final note before we get over to some more H&O topics. On the show at the Canyon Club I’ve got these two young singers. They’re kind of songwriter comedian girls…

Garfunkel and Oates?

Garfunkel and Oates, and they are amazing. I’m really looking forward to them. I’ve seen them on the web, but never seen them live. We have a little surprise planned…

I was wondering how you felt about them as openers. Hearing you now, you’re obviously cool with it. They’ve got to be really stoked to be opening for you, I would think.

I actually reached out to them. I discovered them on the web, and then I got ahold of them. I emailed them, and I said, “Hey, you guys are amazing,” and we started up a little friendship, and I said, “Look, I’m going to play the Canyon Club. Do you want to come out and open for me?”

(Ryan is laughing again.)

And they thought it was amazing, so they’re really excited about it. They’re great.

Back to that editorial clipboard. Now, these are not “Stories Behind the Songs” questions so much as they are “Story Behind the Video” and “Story Behind the Photo” questions, if you will, and you are correct in that they are largely H&O-related questions. First question has to do with the video for “She’s Gone”, the official video.

(John Oates is laughing.)

You’re wearing a sleeveless tux shirt, and then later you’re rocking this killer guitar solo with penguin flippers.
(see video below -ed)

That’s right. You’ve got that right.

I was wondering if you could share…

I’m just gonna say one thing: 1973.

Do I have to say any more? (laughs) I will, if you want.

Of all of your videos – and I love all you guys’ videos – maybe only “Method of Modern Love”, when you’re swimming on that cloud…

…is more bizarre?

…comes close to eclipsing “She’s Gone” for me. It’s just one of my favorites. I don’t even know if I have a question here, I just wanted to tell you: Good God, I love it.

Well, I’ll give you a little background about what happened with that “She’s Gone” thing. First of all, it was 1973. There was no MTV, there was no outlet for anything like this. You know, it might be one of the first music videos ever made. I really couldn’t say, honestly, but it definitely would be a contender. What happened was, we were asked to lip sync “She’s Gone” for a teenage TV dance show broadcast out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. And we really didn’t want to do that; we didn’t want to pretend to sing the song. It was supposed to be shot in a television studio in Philadelphia. So we thought, with the mindset that we were in at the time – and I won’t say more on that, either -

(Ryan is laughing again.)

We showed up at the television studio with a chair from our living room. The woman who’s walking through the picture – that’s Sarah…

Oh, wow.

And the devil who comes through was our road manager at the time. And we brought Monopoly money, and those weird instruments, and they thought we were nuts. They really thought that. My sister directed that video.

You’re kidding me.

They thought we were completely insane. They actually didn’t air it; they wouldn’t air it. But we had it this whole time, and eventually I leaked it out to the internet, ’cause I just thought the world should see it.

(John Oates is laughing. Ryan is laughing.)

That one stands the test of time. Truly, incredible. (Stereogum readers also weighed in on this video – ed)

Yeah, it’s pretty bizarre.

I’ll try not to dwell on it, but we probably do need to talk facial hair briefly at this point. It seems that every time I see an article about you, the ’stache crops up. I mean, you haven’t had your mustache in, I don’t know, 20 years or something now, but…

It’s pretty close to 20 years, that’s right.

But everybody wants to bring it up. And now we even hear about a possible cartoon pilot, J Stache. Last year we were hearing about this thing…

jstacheYep. we’ve been developing this cartoon series called J Stache based on my evil mustache that has a life of its own.

(Ryan is laughing again.)

It’s kind of in the internet viral blog world right now; there’s a blog out there. We’ve been trying to promote and develop it, but with the economy it’s not an easy time to get anything on television, so it’s been a little bit rough. But people like it, and it’s kinda cool, and it’s really wacky, and kinda – no, definitely – irreverent. Maybe one day it’ll see the light of day. You never know.

Appreciate the fact that you have this really warm sense of humor, you know, about your image and your public perception.

Well, the mustache is not me, and I’m not the mustache, so…

(John Oates is laughing. Ryan is laughing.)

I’ve never been confused about that.

One more facial hair question, and then I swear I’m done with facial hair.

(laughs) Ok.

warbabiesIf you look back at the “She’s Gone” video or, say, the liner photo inside War Babies, you were sporting sort of a fierce full beard there for a little while.

Yeah.

Would you ever consider rocking the full beard again, or do you think those days are done?

Well, I had shoulder surgery about 10 weeks ago. During that period of time I grew a beard because, first of all, I couldn’t move my arm. And I didn’t feel like shaving. So I did grow it out; I grew the beard back. But the beard was kind of multi-colored, let’s put it that way, white and gray. And weird, and I didn’t…I don’t know, I didn’t feel like looking like…kind of a reject from a Kenny Rogers…

Fair enough. Ok, I have a question about the photo inside Daryl Hall and John Oates, the album – aka the “Silver Album”.

Oh, Jeez. Ok. Boy, you’re pulling out all the weird ones, huh.

I have to. I have to, John. I’ve got your ear here. I just have to.

File under embarrassing moments in rock history, yes.

But it’s amazing, if you ask me. You’re lounging there, it looks like you’re inside a space station, you’re naked, Daryl looks like Ziggy Stardust in the background…

h&o_silverI’ll tell you the whole story. It starts with the cover, ok? If you look at the cover, obviously we have tons of makeup and it’s highly stylized. If you go back to that exact year, you can look at albums by the Stones, Rick Derringer, Todd Rundgren, and they all had the same glam rock-androgynous thing going on. It was the “New York Thing To Do”, so to speak, and we had hired a guy named Pierre LaRoche who had done a lot of styling for the Stones and whatnot. And I remember his words distinctly before we did the album cover shoot. He said – and he was French – he said, (mimicking slight French accent) “I will immortalize you.”

(Ryan is laughing again.)

Needless to say it’s one of the few album covers after all these years that people even ask about, so I guess in a way, he did. (John Oates is laughing. Ryan is laughing.) Whether it was a good immortalization or not is open for…

halloates_pierre(Ryan is still laughing.)

What happened on the inside was, we found this building on Wall Street that had these weird neon lights. And [Pierre] wanted me to wear, like, this plastic bathing suit. And I was like…no. “If I’m going that route,” I said, “I’ll just go naked. At least if I’m naked, I’m nothing but natural.” So that’s how that happened.

(Ryan is laughing uncontrollably.)

There you go.

I would say maybe Pierre immortalized you there, but arguably your most iconic album cover will always be H2O. I mean, that’s just a classic.

You know what, I agree with you. That’s the best album cover we ever had.

I think it’s a great album cover.

Yeah. It’s a cool album cover.

Next-to-last question. Your bio said that you have emus, alpacas and llamas there in Colorado. Just wondering if you shear those. Do you have them sheared? And if so…

Yeah, we’ve got a friend of ours, a New Zealand guy who comes over in the spring and shears them, and we rotate them. Some get sheared, and some don’t. It’s really my wife’s thing. She grew up on a farm in Illinois, and always had lots of exotic pets. All of our animals are…we’ve got a couple of dogs, peacocks, turkeys, guinea fowl…all this stuff. Most of those animals, in fact pretty much all of them, were rescued in one way or another.

Oh, that’s great.

It’s kind of her thing, and she loves being out there with the animals. And we love it, it’s really nice. They’re very gentle, and they all kinda get along with each other. We live in the mountains, so having alpacas and llamas… the environment is suitable. Those animals come from the mountains of Peru, so they’re just fine with the altitude and the kind of winters we have. It’s pretty wild…it’s a wacky farm.

Last question. You hit 60 years this year, if my math is correct.

That’s right.

Congratulations and belated happy birthday.

(laughs) Congratulations that I made it?

How do you feel about the aging process? Maybe give me something to look forward to here.

Well, I just had that rotator cuff surgery, so in regard to that, it sucks. But I’m pretty comfortable in my skin, you know, I’m pretty happy with the way I feel at my age. I don’t think of myself as 60 years old, I really don’t. I think age is completely different in each individual’s perception. Actual physical age…I think it’s different. Physically, I feel like I’m in my forties. I still run up mountains and do a lot of bicycling, and I do back country skiing. I’m probably in as good, if not better shape, than I’ve ever been in my life, so in that regard, I don’t feel it, but one thing I do like about getting older is the experience. I think you become a better person, because you’ve experienced so many things. I take life a little easier, you know, life doesn’t come at me in a rush. It just kind of…it seems like I’ve seen it lots of times. It’s like a fastball, you know, if you’re batting against a fast ball pitcher. First time it comes in, it comes in pretty quick; after you get used to it, it’s not such a big deal anymore. That’s kind of how I feel about it.

Good analogy. For what it’s worth, you don’t really look or play music that seems anywhere near your age…

Well, you know what, I still have the passion for it, and I think it’s the passion that keeps you young.

» Daryl Hall & John Oates: Up Close and Personal Tour @ Nokia Theater Wed Sep 2
» Daryl Hall & John Oates @ Morongo Casino Resort and Spa Fri Sep 11
» John Oates to Play Agoura Hills Nightclub…with Garfunkel?
» John Oates (official site)