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One on one: chatting with Hall & Oates’ John Oates

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They make your dreams come true.
Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP
Chris Bitonti

Your Vegas tour stop is part of the “Do What You Want, Be Who You Are” Tour. Why did you choose that song? It kind of exemplifies what Daryl [Hall] and I are all about. Even though we were signed to major labels back in the day, we thought like independent artists. We really had that kind of attitude about our music, about ourselves and about the way we live our lives—try to be real, try to be authentic and try to do exactly what we think we wanna do. It’s not always easy in this world.

Hall & Oates has experienced a pop-culture resurgence lately. Why do you think that is? It’s about our songs—our songs have sustained and endured. For whatever reason our songs reach people; they seem to be able to speak for them, say the things they want to say, feel the way they want to feel.

The Details

HALL & OATES
September 20, 8 p.m., $41-$91.
The Joint, 693-5222.

The critics weren’t easy on Hall & Oates. Do you feel vindicated by how relevant you’ve remained? I would feel vindicated if I cared what they said (laughs). But I always knew that our songwriting was substantial. There was a stigma in the ’70s and into the ’80s that if you had hits, you were less cool, less hip or whatever. My retort to that was always: “If it was so easy to have a No. 1 record, why wouldn’t everyone do it?” I always thought that pop records and having that type of success meant that you were reaching people on a broad basis.

You guys have such a deep catalog. When you’re choosing a setlist for your tours, do you think there’s an appetite for the lesser-known tracks or does it mostly need to be greatest hits? We have a really good dilemma. People come to hear hits, there’s no getting around that, and we try to satisfy that because we actually like our hit songs. But at the same time, as musicians and as artists, we love to play the stuff that might be more interesting to us inside the catalog. So we have to kind of rotate the album songs in and out. We’ll pick different songs on different nights and then change it the next night or whatever. Or if we’re playing in a city where we’ve recently played, we’ll come back with a slightly different set.

Hall & Oates is associated with Philly R&B and soul, but your solo work is more Delta blues and folk inspired. Why the stylistic shift? There’s just an emphasis that I’m able to bring to light in my solo career. In my solo career, I’ve gone back to my influences pre-Hall & Oates, prior to meeting Daryl. The stuff that made want to be a musician, the stuff that inspired me as a kid to play guitar and sing and write songs, that’s the foundation and core of my solo career. And now I’m taking that kind of bluesy, authentic, Americana base and bringing my pop sensibility back to it.

Where do you go for inspiration? I get it from the world at large. Conversations I hear, keeping my songwriting antennae tuned to the world around me, that’s really what it’s about. And collaborating. I’ve got a place in Nashville—my wife and I spend a lot of time there now—and I’ve found it incredibly stimulating and inspiring to be around such amazing musicians and creative people in a city that is entirely based around music.

At this point in your career, what still drives you? I am so pumped about music right now. I feel like I’m a very blessed individual who’s been able to use a legacy and a lifetime of success with Hall & Oates to allow me to do a lot of things that creative people only dream of. I’m very conscious of that, and I don’t take it for granted—just the opposite. I’m gonna milk every second of it, of this second stage of my life. That’s how I feel about it.

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