John Oates is many things.
He is, of course, half of Hall & Oates, one of the most successful musical duos of all time. But he’s also a solo artist, an author, and a rock and roll survivor.
So before you head off to see Hall & Oates at the Xcel tonight, arm yourself with extra knowledge of one of the nicest guys in music.
City Pages: How are you with being considered a seasoned vet, a respected elder?
John Oates: I am very honored and appreciative that I actually got there. I’ve worked very hard, and dedicated my life to music. When I was a kid, I looked up to my musical heroes who were older than me with a lot of respect. To be in that position myself is really satisfying.
CP: My math might be suspect, but you’ve been at music for 47 years. Is that right?
JO: That’s pretty close.
CP: Have you ever taken a break?
JO: Nope. Well, I took a very slight hiatus in the early to mid-’90s when I moved from the East Coast to Colorado, and started over again, basically. I got rid of all the pop trappings of the ’80s, got divorced, lost my manager, had some financial issues, sold a bunch of stuff, and moved to the mountains and went skiing for about five or six years.
CP: Speaking of being “at it,” tell me about how this tour with Tears for Fears came up.
JO: For many years, we have gone out on the road with bands that we like, and there’s always been either a personal connection or someone who has the same sensibilities as us or someone we think would make a good combination. We want the concerts to be a great experience for the audience. We found out that Tears for Fears was putting out a new album, and they wanted to go on the road. I love their music. I love where they are coming from. I think their songs are great, and they’re cool people. We reached out to them, made the deal, and here we are.
CP: Co-headlining tour?
JO: Absolutely. They are certainly deserving of co-headlining. We actually have a guy named Allen Stone opening the show with a short acoustic set. He’s the opener. Tears for Fears are fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about them.
CP: I’ve never seen you perform before…
JO: What have you been waiting for?!
CP: Sorry. Will you promise me that you will play “Out of Touch”?
JO: Yes! I will. I will promise you that.
CP: I have a special affection for “Out of Touch,” as well as “I Can’t Go for That.”
JO: Well, then, you’re going to be a happy guy. Listen, we’re going play all the hits.
CP: Be honest. Are there any songs that you have to do that you can barely stand to play?
JO: No. I’m being totally honest. I am very proud of the music that Daryl and I have made. The hits we have played hundreds of times over the years, they seem to stand the test of time. There’s something about the quality of the songs. I mean, if a song really got boring to us, we would absolutely drop it, and the thing is we would have plenty of songs to replace it, so that’s not an issue. We’re not playing the songs because we feel like we need to be a human jukebox. We’re playing them out of a sense of professional responsibility to the audience, and we’re also playing them because we like them. That’s just how it is. We’re very fortunate. The songs still sound good.
CP: Do you rework songs for the live setting?
JO: We rework every song. Playing live is not the same as making a record. We made the record. The recording is in the past. The songs never die, but the record is a moment in time. We do not try to reproduce records. That is not our job. The live show is a completely different animal. We stretch the songs, reinterpret them, and change them. There are many elements that are in integral to the song itself, and of course keep those signature moments. But there a lot of things that are different, and that’s how we can keep ourselves interested in these songs because they constantly evolve.
CP: Tell me a little about Hoagie Nation. This is your deal, right?
JO: The mayor of Philadelphia is a huge Hall & Oates fan, and he wanted to have a festival in Philadelphia and he wanted to put his stamp on it. He is a music lover. He asked us if we would host it, and we said that we would love to. We thought it was a great idea. We came up with the name because we thought it was funny, and sort of the symbol of Philadelphia in a way. It’s going to be a one-day event in this inaugural year, and hopefully will expand to a multiple-day event if successful. I’m very excited for the festival, because we are part owners. We get to pick artists, and be involved in the building of the festival. It’s going to be food, and all things Philadelphia. That’s not to say the music is just from Philadelphia. There will be a lot of Philadelphia-centric artists, but a lot of other people as well. My goal is to have a festival with music of all styles, because that’s how Daryl and I approach music.
CP: Changing gears, your memoir, Change of Seasons -- why is now the time for your story?
JO: Well, I’ve lived a long, interesting, and adventurous life, and I thought it was the right time to document it before the memories disappear completely. People have said, “Man, you gotta write a book someday,” so there you go. Over the last two years I have worked very hard on it, and I am very proud of it. It’s a snapshot of my interpretation of the Hall and Oates story, and it’s definitely a look into the earliest days that preceded me getting together with Daryl, and my childhood. The kind of music that made me who I am, and I can’t separate myself from the whole Hall and Oates experience. It was a bit of a tightrope. I ended up detailing the earliest days of Daryl and I getting together because people know about the ’80s. They know about the big hits, MTV, videos, et cetera, but very few people know what it took to get there. It’s not a typical rock memoir. The sex, parties, hotel rooms… a lot of that stuff happened, but it isn’t interesting to me. This book is about transformation. It’s about surviving the music business, and it’s about me trying to evolve as a man and become a person who can go on in life as a musician.
CP: Your solo music is interesting. Ever since about 2002, your material has become increasingly earthy, and steeped in rootsy, gospel, and bluegrass Americana. Is that a fair assessment?
JO: That is a very fair and accurate assessment. As I have evolved in my solo career, I needed to go back to what inspired me to be a musician as a child, and that’s what I began to lean on. You’re 100 percent right.
CP: Speaking of influences, do you want to say anything about Chuck Berry?
JO: Absolutely. Chuck Berry was a huge influence on me, one of my big heroes. Listen, I was born before rock and roll started, so when I was 5-6 years old Chuck Berry was just getting started. I was playing guitar at 6 years old, and all I wanted to do was play guitar like him.
Hall & Oates/Tears for Fears
When: 7 p.m, Thursday, May 11
Where: Xcel Energy Center
Tickets: $35 and up; more info here