Interview Date: 09/30/2009
Run Date: 10/13/2009
In July, Bullz-Eye chatted with John Oates, and now that he and his longtime partner…no, not J-Stache…are receiving the box-set treatment from Legacy Recordings with the 4-disc Do What You Want, Be What You Are, it’s time for us to chat with Daryl Hall. Given the lengthy history of the duo (their debut album was released in 1972), there simply wasn’t time to discuss every single album in their discography, but we did manage to speak about quite a few of them – including War Babies, Hall & Oates (the so-called “silver album”), and even Marigold Sky – as well as Hall’s acclaimed online series, “Live from Daryl’s House,” his work with Robert Fripp, and his appearances on “Flight of the Conchords” and “Z Rock.”
Daryl Hall: Hi, I’m here!
Bullz-Eye: (Laughs) Hey, Daryl, how’s it going?
DH: It’s going well.
BE: It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I’ve gotten hold of an advance copy of the box set, and I’ve been spinning it constantly since receiving it. It’s very awesome. How did this thing first start coming together? Was it you and John’s idea, or was it the label’s?
DH: It was the label’s idea, because Sony is involved with my publishing, so they thought it was a good time to do this. And when I found out that they were considering doing this, I wanted to get involved. Because I said, “Okay, it’s my life…my musical life…so let me please dictate and edit what’s actually going to be put on these four CDs.” So I got really heavily involved in it, and I spent weeks and weeks listening to…well, all of the songs that I’ve ever cut, really!
DH: …and figuring out what in the world is…you know, what’s the most important thing? How do you narrow all of this down to even four CDs? And I think I’m pretty happy with…no, I’m completely happy with the songs I’ve chosen. I think they all show sort of the evolution of these two guys and how they evolved together and how they evolved individually as musicians and as people. The whole arc of my career is right there in front of you.
BE: I’d never actually heard anything by the Temptones (Hall’s former group) or the Masters (Oates’ former group)...
DH: Very few people have. (Laughs)
BE: …so it was very cool to be able to hear those tracks open the set. From what I’ve read, it sounds like you guys might never have gotten together if gunfire hadn’t opened up during a battle of the bands in Philadelphia.
DH: Well, yeah, I mean…I don’t know. We probably would’ve met each other, gang fight or no, because it was a relatively small music scene in those days. It was the real genesis of the Philadelphia sound. I’m sure that we would’ve somehow been in contact. And, also, we were just starting college together at the same college. But, y’know, it was sort of auspicious and typical of the time, and it really sort of was a door that opened to a friendship. We didn’t really collaborate together for four or five years after that; we shared apartments during the time we were going to school. John was sort of in some bands on his own, and I was fooling around with…well, actually, I was doing a lot of work with Gamble and Huff and others on my own. And then after we got out of school was when we actually started working together. So I thought it was important to put some of this early stuff on the first CD.
BE: The early material by Hall & Oates is kind of all over the place, genre-wise. Was there a particular point when you realized where your strengths lay, or was it just a gradual evolution?
DH: Well, I think in order to find our strengths we had to go all over the place. We come from a regional thing, as I was just saying. We’re very regional musicians at our core. Philadelphia in those days was a place unto itself, musically, and still is now to some degree, though not as much as it was. But we had other interests, and we had our own music. John was very interested in country music…early country, bluegrass, and early folk music. Things like that. Real Americana music. And I had a lot of classical training. And, so, you have to put all those things into the mix along with the sound of Philadelphia. So right from the get-go, we had a lot of influences that were in some ways disparate, and we had to figure out how to put them all together, and then as we grew as musicians and entered into the world, we had all of these other exposures to music from lots of other places. So it was a constant sort of mixing and matching and trying to figure out how to evolve with all of these different sounds and how to make something coherent emerge out of it that was distinctly me or distinctly John. It took a long time, and, y’know, we went up some blind alleys and, in a lot of cases, we did great things. It’s interesting, again, when you listen to the box set to hear that evolution, to hear some of those blind alleys, and to hear some of the comings-together. Like, for example, you get these two Philly guys and you hear them interacting with California musicians like Steve Lukather and those kind of guys, who were big studio musicians in the L.A. scene but had a very different background. So, y’know, there are lots of things like that that become apparent as you listen to it.
BE: How gratifying was it to have R&B artists covering your material, given how much their sound had influenced you?
DH: Well, I wouldn’t call it gratifying, but at the time, it was a natural progression. We had a hard time breaking into white pop radio. We were around for quite awhile with…I mean, we had the Abandoned Luncheonette record, and Lou Rawls and Tavares both covered “She’s Gone,” and Tavares had a #1 R&B record with it, but we had released ours and it kind of stalled out at…well, I forget where it landed, but it was big on what in those days was called the underground or FM music scene, so it was well-played in that scene. And then “Sara Smile,” which was on the silver album (Hall and Oates), was the third single released, and that broke in the R&B community. That broke on black radio. So our first success was on black radio, which, again, was sort of natural, given our background. And then we crossed over onto pop radio. So that’s really how we came in: very much through the back door.
BE: There’s a lot of material from War Babies on the box set, which is awesome, since it isn’t on iTunes yet. Now, I’ve read that it wasn’t necessarily as popular amongst the people who had loved “She’s Gone,” but was that a palpable reaction at the time?
DH: It was… (Laughs) …an amazingly violent reaction from what I call the gingerbread eaters. When John and I first started, we played a lot of folk clubs and small coffee houses. Things like that. Very intimate types of clubs. That was for our first two albums, and we were very acoustic and singer/songwriter-y, and it worked really well in that environment, so that was our first following of people. And then suddenly we moved to New York, and we came blasting out with this completely different sound of War Babies…and it scared the shit out of these gingerbread eaters. They literally threw their gingerbread at us. I’m not kidding! I remember there was this one club we played called the Main Point where people started throwing their gingerbread at us. It was a very gratifying thing. (Laughs)
BE: I know he’s from Philly as well, but had you actually known Todd Rundgren before he sat down in the producer’s chair for the album?
DH: Yeah, I knew Todd vaguely because, again, the scene was small in Philly, but oddly enough, Todd was really more…well, the Philly scene was, as you know, a real R&B thing. Real street-corner R&B. And Todd was sort of on the other side. His bands were sort of Beatlemaniac bands in the late ‘60s. Even though he was exposed, because you can’t be in Philly and not be exposed to Thom Bell and the Stylistics and all that, he was sort of shooting for the other thing, so we sort of traveled in different circles and played in different clubs, so I didn’t really know him when we lived in Philly. But as soon as I moved to New York, we did start traveling in the same circles, and that’s when I asked him to…well, I thought it was logical for him to work with us, because of our different-but-the-same backgrounds
BE: Just for a quick fast-forward, I’ve got to tell you that the cover you guys did of the New Radicals’ “Someday We’ll Know” was on my Best of 2003 list.
DH: Yeah, I loved that. That’s a great song, and…I met the guy that wrote it, and I’m sorry that I suddenly can’t remember his name…
BE: Gregg Alexander.
DH: Gregg! And when I heard that song and I met him, I said, “You really like Todd, don’t you?” And he said, “Oh, man, I love Todd!” He asked me if I would cover that song, and I did, and I wanted to bring Todd into it because I just thought it was appropriate.
BE: Well, the Beatles have their white album and you and John have your silver album, but whose idea was it to make the cover art so glam-tastic?
DH: Well, you’ve got to consider the times. (Laughs) When you had Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer and Eric Carmen and all these people, anybody that didn’t look like a gorilla, they pretty much put make-up on them at that time. Actually, even the gorillas they put make-up on! So we were sort of a natural, and somebody said…I remember this make-up artist named Pierre La Roche saying to me and John, “I will immortalize you!” And, boy, did he ever… (Laughs) …but maybe not in the way that I wanted to be immortalized!
(Writer’s note: La Roche was also responsible for quite a few ‘70s classics. He painted the lightning bolt onto David Bowie’s face for Aladdin Sane, made up the cover girls for Roxy Music’s Stranded, and designed Tim Curry’s look for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”)
BE: I talked to John a couple of weeks ago, and he said that Along the Red Ledge is probably your most underrated album. Would you agree or disagree?
DH: Let me think about that for a second. (Pauses) Yeah, underrated in the respect that it was so advanced musically, and…I think we got caught in a very odd time right then. It was ’77 and the beginning of the whole punk thing was happening, and also disco was happening, and we were walking the line and caught between this seismic thing, these tectonic plates of music. (Laughs) And because of that, I think a lot of people didn’t really pay a lot of attention to that record, even though there are so many great songs on it and it was so interesting musically. So, yeah, maybe I would agree with that.
BE: I know that Robert Fripp is on the record, but what was the timeline? Was that before or after the recording of Sacred Songs (Hall’s first solo album)?
DH: It was right after. Yeah, ‘cause Robert and I were really buddying up at that point, and we sort of had a pact that anything that I was doing, he would be involved in, and anything he was doing, I would be involved in. We did that for about two or three years, including Peter Gabriel and my album and his album, so there was a lot of collaboration.
BE: Speaking of collaborations, I can still remember years ago, when I was still just a dumb kid, diving into Elvis Costello’s catalog for the first time, seeing you in the video for “The Only Flame in Town,” and thinking, “Man, I had no idea Daryl Hall was that cool!”
DH: (Laughs) Given how I am in the video for “The Only Flame in Town,” I don’t know if that qualifies as cool! I played such a complete prat in that video!
BE: Yes, but it was funny. (Laughs) And as long as we’re on the subject of videos, which of your own can you least stand to watch nowadays?
DH: Um…well, whaddaya got? (Laughs) I think video is the worst thing to ever happen to music. How’s that?
DH: I said that back in the ‘80s, and I wasn’t allowed to say it, but I said it anyway. And now I am allowed to say it, so I’ll say it even more strongly: I hate videos. (Laughs)
BE: Do you remember your reaction the first time you heard Arthur Baker’s remixes for “Out of Touch”?
DH: Well, I was around. The first time I heard them, I was involved in them. It wasn’t a decision that came from the outside. Arthur was very much in the production team for that album. What we would do was…he was in the room during most of the recording, so he was very familiar with the tracks and was part of the creative process, and he was also at the time such an in-demand dance mixer that he would just take the songs and run with them. It wasn’t like a lot of people do, where we would do a track and give it to Arthur from the outside; he was very much involved in the entire making of Big Bam Boom.
DH: Ah! Well, it evolved in a very natural way, as a lot of ideas do. It was sort of, “Well, instead of touring all the time and going around the world, why don’t I try and bring the world to me?” And I think the internet…I was at the right place at the right time, and I saw the beginnings of internet entertainment, and that people were going to go to the internet and actually try and do other things with it besides downloading porn or getting information. It was actually a potential entertainment medium. So I banked on that, and I think that the internet is in a very transitional period, much like television back in 1950. I feel very akin to those people. The pioneers of television were kind of looked at cross-eyed because they were doing that, but they saw the future, and I think that me and my people see the future. I love the idea of just turning the whole performance idea on its head. Instead of the audience sitting passively while the artist does his or her act, the audience is a fly on the wall in the midst of all of that, and then the musicians are just in their natural habitat, acting in the way that they normally would off-stage.
BE: So do you pick your own guests, or do people pitch them to you?
DH: No, I pick my own guests. I mean, people…at this point, people are coming to me all the time, asking if they can be on the show. Now it’s become a lot easier. When I first started, the scheduling and finding of an artist were problematic, although I never really had any problems. There were a lot of people who were eager to do it, even though it was in its infancy, and now it’s taken off to the point where a lot of people are calling me and saying, “I want to be on the show.”
BE: Do you have a favorite use of one of your songs in a film or a TV show?
DH: No. I mean, I don’t know. Nobody’s really asked me that before. I don’t know if I have a favorite, but I think that, in general, when people use my music, whether it’s in a movie or a TV show or if they sample it and use it that way, I find it…interesting. And sometimes fascinating, because once it leaves me, it enters the world, and how people use these things and what it symbolizes alters from my original intent. So I’m always interested. It’s almost always a good thing.
BE: You’ve turned up on both “Flight of the Conchords” and “Z Rock.” Do you go trolling for gigs like that, or do they come looking for you because they’re heard you’re a nice guy with a sense of humor?
DH: They’re trolling for me, man! (Laughs) I’m tapping into my comedic side. On “Conchords,” we did a lot, and they only used a little bit, but “Z Rock,” that was a whole other story, and I had so much fun doing that. I think that’s just a fantastic show, and I hope it stays on, because I think it’s just so inventive, and the cast is so good. It’s all really ad-libbed, and, y’know, it takes a certain type of person to be able to do that. Luckily, I’m one of them. (Laughs) But the whole cast is so good on that show.
BE: Did you enjoy your portrayal in “Yacht Rock”?
DH: I never saw it.
BE: Oh, really? Well, it’s very funny.
BE: Well, lastly, to bring it back to what we’re here to talk about, I know you can’t include everything on the box set, and I’m willing to accept the omission of “Portable Radio” didn’t make the cut…
DH: Wait a minute, isn’t “Wait for Me” on the album?
BE: Oh, absolutely. But…
DH: Oh, you know what? I don’t even know the names of my own albums. The song is “Portable Radio,” and the album is X-Static. Okay, never mind. (Laughs) Sorry, what were you going to say after that?
BE: I was just going to ask why there was nothing at all from Marigold Sky on the album. I figured that at least “The Sky is Falling” would make the cut.
DH: Well, it was more because…that’s the first album John and I made that we paid for. It was an indie record, we paid for it with our own money, and it’s not owned by the same people. I’m going to remix that, anyway, and put it out again, because I think that’s a very…well, I wouldn’t call it “underrated” because I don’t think it ever was rated! (Laughs) It sort of slipped through the world’s fingers, and it’s time to re-release it.
BE: I’d agree with that. I loved the opener, “Romeo is Bleeding.”
DH: Oh, absolutely. There are so many good songs on that album, and I think I just want to tweak it a little bit, maybe even add a song. I don’t know, but we’re definitely going to re-release it.
BE: Well, I look forward to the set coming out, of course, but also for a new album. I’d read something online about you guys doing a collaboration with Chromeo…?
DH: (Hesitates) Well, Chromeo was one of the bands that was on our show, but I haven’t collaborated with them outside of that.
BE: Oh, okay. My understanding was that you and John had actually done a song with them.
DH: No, what you probably heard…truthfully, every artist that I’ve had on my show, I’ve said to them, “I want to work with you some more, maybe we can get together and write some songs or do some touring together or do a ‘Live from Daryl’s House’ review.” Any of those things are possible, and now that my solo record is going to get started at the beginning of next year, I’m sure…I’m positive that we will have some of the artists who were on the show collaborating on songs for the album.
(Writer’s note: Chromeo must have taken Daryl’s post-“House” comments as the gospel, since they apparently released a press release at the time, one which led to this news brief on Pitchfork.com. Here’s hoping they’re on the top of his list when it comes time to call folks to assist on that solo album.)
BE: All right, Daryl, thanks a lot. It’s been a real honor talking to you.DH: Thank you!