John Oates: ‘I was standing with Ray Charles in front of me and Bob Dylan behind me’
When he is not on tour with Hall & Oates, John Oates develops his solo career. He recently released Good Road to Follow, a 3 E.Ps collection in which he approaches various musical styles.
You grew up in Philadelphia, a city famous for its soul music scene, and this is the place where you started your musical career. What memories do you have of that time?
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia called North Wales. I moved to the city after high school and made my first single when I was 17 at virtue sound studios. I hung out in Philadelphia and began to play in soul and blues bands as well as art gallaries and folk clubs. The 1960s were an amazing time there because the classic R&B artists would play the uptown theater and the newly rediscovered tradional blues and folk artist were playing the coffee houses and Philadelphia folk festival.
In the 70’s, you left Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles. The L.A. of that period is a legendary place. Was it as exciting as it is claimed to be?
In 1972 Daryl and I moved from Philadelphia to New York City where we recorded 3 albums on Atlantic records with the great Arif Mardin producing and one with Todd Rundgren. In 1975 we went to Los Angeles to record 3 albums on RCA records and although we spent time in L.A. we never really lived there. We were on tour all the time.
Now you record you music in Nashville. It seems to be the new place to be for a musician. Can we compare it to the L.A. of the 60’s and 70’s?
Nashville is called “Music City” because there is so much music going on there and not only country. There are great rock and roll bands, indy bands, R&B, blues… and the most amazing musicans and writers on the planet. So many artists from all over the world are moving to Nashville and the city is becoming much more cosmopolitan but still has the roots of traditional americana.
Good Road to Follow is not an ordinary project. Do you consider it as an album? A single compilation?
It started as a series of digital singles that I collaborated with a lot of amazing writers, producers and players. In march of 2013 I began to release them and in early 2014 I put the music together in the form of 3 E.Ps just so i could have some musical sense since there were a lot of differnt styles of music because I have so many influences.
Hall & Oates have a very soul oriented repertoire but there is a greater diversity of musical styles in this album. What were your influences?
I have gone back to my earliest influences such as the roots of early rock and R&B as well as the traditional folk and blues that I grew up playing and listening to before I met Daryl Hall. Now I use those early influences to inform my new music and have brought back some of the pop sensiblilties as well.
Good Road to Follow is a collaboration with many songwriters and musicians. How did you choose the people you want to work with on this collection of songs?
Most of them were friends and people I work with in the studio some I have known for a long time and some are new. I just went with my gut feeling and believing in surrounding myself with talented people. I didn’t have any kind of pre-concieved idea I just let the songwriting dictate the direction of the production and recording.
I don’t know if you have ever sung in France. Is there a chance to see you live there with or without Daryl Hall?
Hall & Oates played in France two times that I recall but it was in the 1970s and 1980s. I would of course love to play a solo show in France and i will if someone would like to make me a offer.
Hall & Oates songs were often covered by other musicians. What is your favorite cover of a Hall & Oates song?
I like a lot of the hip hop artists who have sampled us over the years like the first de la soul recording of “Say no Go”. I also like the Bird and the Bee album where they covered our songs.
What is your favorite Hall & Oates album?
You did We Are the World. What are your memories of the recording sessions?
The most amazing collection of popular artist from that era all in one room singing together may never ever be equaled. I was standing with Ray Charles in front of me and Bob Dylan behind me… It was something i will never forget.