Jam Cruisin’ with John Oates
You recently played a song called “American Man” that you wrote with an outside collaborator about a year ago. Can you tell us a bit about that number and what project it is for?
I wrote that song with Marcus Hummon. Marcus Hummon is a really interesting guy. He is a very spiritual, very smart man from South Africa who is living down in Nashville, TN. He has a great sense of rhythm and a lot of interesting time signatures. It’s just a really interesting song about a man looking back on all the stages of his life. We were trying to write a song about a man who lived to be 100. I resurrected it recently and started playing it again.
You are also working on a project with Jim Lauderdale. Can you talk about that album and what your role its concept?
The Jim Lauderdale project is his album, which he is recording in England with Nick Lowe’s band. Jim likes do different things: he will go from a gospel album to an R&B album to a blues album to a bluegrass album—and everything in-between. That’s just Jim, and I love that about him. He and I wrote two songs together, and I think we are just scratching the surface. I really enjoy him as a person, that’s the first step, and I really enjoying writing with him too.
As you mentioned before, you live in Aspen and have deep ties to the Colorado music community. What originally brought you out West?
Lifestyle and desperation. I was living back East and got divorced in the late ‘80s. I had a small condo in Colorado, which I had since the ‘70s. I grew up in Pennsylvania and I skied when I was a little kid. I loved skiing but it was really just a vacation thing. But when I got divorced, I decided I was going to change my life around so I sold everything I had, moved into my little condo and started over. I lived a full year without a car—I rode my bike and took the bus and re-structured and rebuilt my life. I said, “If I am going to start over I want to do it from scratch.” I met my current wife…we had a kid and built a house and there you go.
Despite all your projects, Hall & Oates still tours a fair bit each year. How much time do you try to devote to the band verses your solo outfits?
Daryl and I do 30-35 shows a year. This past year I did 100 shows though. I did 30-35 with Daryl and about 60-65 on my own—either solo or with my blues band. So I have been promoting an album called Mississippi Mile, that’s the album that came out last April, and I have a live album with my blues band coming out. We recorded it at the XM_Sirius studio in Washington, DC and that’s called The Bluesville Sessions. We are going to release it this February. It is a band within a band. I have been playing with the drummer and bass player for 12 or 13 years. The guitar player is new but used to play with those guys back in the day—we have an incestuous family—and the keyboard player is new to this band but played on the Mississippi Mile album. So there is a unit within a unit
In a recent issue of Relix, Daryl Hall made a strong case that Hall & Oates were one of the first independent-minded bands. For a pop artist like you, how important are radio and the major labels these days?
As you know, radio is much less important than it once was back in the day when we were cranking out our hits—and I am really happy about that. I don’t think any medium should dictate success for people, and that’s what I like about the jam-family. I like the fact that it exists totally outside the mainstream music world but yet you can be extremely successful, you can have a great life and a great career and you can do exactly what you love—and you can have an incredible fanbase that supports it. I don’t think there is any other musical genre that has it, honestly. The blues crowd is a little but like that but this is unique. I also love the cross-pollination, where everyone works with each other and does projects together.
One hallmark of the jamband scene that has helped all sorts of bands reach new audiences is the festival circuit. Has Hall & Oates thought of playing some of the bigger rock and jam fests this summer?
Daryl and I did Bumbershoot last year. Daryl did Bonnaroo with Chromeo two years ago, and I will be doing some of that with our solo band but I think we will be doing most of those festivals with our solo bands.
Now that children of the ‘70s and ‘80s have successful bands of their own, a whole new generation of musicians cite Hall & Oates as an influence. Did you ever expect that a young jamband would be playing your songs?
Ryan [Stasik] has a Hall and Oates koozie, which is funny in itself, but they were obviously fans—what surprised them about me is that I wanted to play other songs and they wanted to play the Hall & Oates stuff [Laughter.] When we are doing the [UM/New Deal ‘80s side project] Omega Moos stuff we are going to play some Hall & Oates songs but we aren’t just doing them exactly the same way. We are doing some different stuff too. I kind of feel like if I am going to play Hall & Oates songs, I want to play them with Daryl.
When Hall & Oates does play, do you consciously attempt to rework the songs or stick to the arrangements?
With Hall & Oates, we mostly stick to the arrangements—the catholic structures, in the most traditional use of the word. Occasionally we will stretch out an intro to a song or play with a few things but I think people want to hear the songs the way they remember them.