Abetted by red wine and Heinekens, three cool dudes are talking about why they’ve seldom been considered cool.
“If you were a rock-and-roll or a blues-influenced person, you were cool,” explains Daryl Hall from the kitchen of his home in Millerton, New York. “If you were influenced by other things, then you were suspect.”
“We have the same problem with us,” adds Patrick Gemayel, keyboardist/bassist for Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo.
“Why are New Wave records less cool than Rick James records?” wonders Chromeo frontman David Macklovitch.
Hall, a friendly yet feisty presence, has the answer: to dismiss those kind of questions.
“It’s really interesting to buck it. See what happens,” he says. “I think that we’re brave people, because we didn’t do what the obvious thing was.”
The scene is from a 2008 episode of “Live From Daryl’s House,” the fascinating online series where the Hall & Oates frontman jams with various musicians from his pastoral pad in southeastern New York, sharing abundant stories, spirits and verve.
This brief exchange encapsulates a lengthy career: “Buck it.”
Those two words have pretty much served as Hall & Oates’ operating principle for the past forty-odd years.
Think about the unlikeliness of their rise to becoming the top-selling music duo of all time.
A brief recap:
Two white dudes from Philly, who met while enrolled at Temple University in the late ’60s, start a band and earn their first airplay on R&B stations, then almost the sole province of African-American artists.
Over the course of three consecutive albums in the early ’70s, they made a full-on blue-eyed soul record (“Abandoned Luncheonette”), followed by a prog-rock opus produced by Todd Rundgren (“War Babies”) and then a glam-rock excursion adorned with a dudes-lookin’-like-ladies album cover (“Daryl Hall & John Oates”).
It takes them nine albums and 10 years to deliver their breakthrough hit record, 1980’s “Voices.”
In the early ’80s, they embraced electronics to a far greater extent than many of their peers, helping catalyze electro-pop, which is why, decades later, a band like Chromeo continues to cite the group as a primary influence.
The extent of Hall & Oates’ artistic breadth is underscored by “Live From Daryl’s House,” where artists as wide-ranging as Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump, proggy indie rockers Minus the Bear, Latin pop favorite Jose Feliciano, ska lifers Toots and the Maytalls and dozens more jammed with the show’s namesake.
It serves as a reminder of just how deep and diverse the Hall & Oates songbook is.
“I think ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ really had a big impact on the whole thing,” Hall says, “because it showed my true persona, musically. It also showed off the songs in a slightly different way, because the arrangements were different than what you’re going to hear on the radio or on a record. People were listening to me with different ears. I speak a lot of musical languages. I can be comfortable singing with Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, somebody like that, and also be comfortable with the O’Jays.”
A new generation of fans
The show introduced Hall & Oates’ repertoire — a musically rich reservoir of soul, New Wave, digital funk, art rock, adult contemporary staples, and hit after hit after hit (34 in all) — to a new generation of music fans thanks in part to appearances by contemporary acts like Plain White T’s, Aloe Blacc and Neon Trees.
These Hall & Oates newcomers have helped reinvigorate the duo both musically and at the box office: They didn’t grow up hearing the band on the radio, where songs like “Maneater” and “Out of Touch” were once as ubiquitous as loud-talking DJs with goofy, self-applied nicknames, and so their entree into the band consists of more than just the hits.
“The younger kids who are coming to the show — and there are a lot of them, man — they have a broader expectation of what they’re going to hear,” Hall says. “They’re listening to us as a whole. Everybody wants to hear ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Kiss on My List,’ but I think that people are looking at us as a career band as opposed to just a radio band, because it’s not their experience with us. It’s very encouraging, and allows us to be freer with what we do.”
This will manifest in Hall & Oates’ current tour, where the expected hit parade will veer off course, from time to time.
“We’re doing some changes,” Hall says. “It’s not the show we’ve been doing for a while, which was a very kinetic, high-energy, song-after-song-after-song kind of show. I think there’s a little more texture in this show, musically. We’re changing some of the arrangements, things like that, which I think makes it more interesting for the audience, hearing songs in a slightly different way, and it makes it more interesting for us.”
Finding the right tour mate
Hall & Oates will be joined on the trek by an inspired choice for an opening act: artful English popsters Tears for Fears.
Like Hall & Oates, Tear for Fears brought a sense of refinement and a love of pop craftsmanship to the mainstream airwaves beginning in the ’80s.
Hall’s a picky dude.
Which is why he picked them.
“When we decided we were going to go back out this year, we were approached with a lot of different bands to open for us or co-headline, whatever you want to call it, and I didn’t like any of them,” Hall says. “None of them were good fits. They all felt wrong.
“We heard that Tears for Fears wanted to go out on the road and we contacted them because of all the people that I had thought about, that was the best fit of anybody going out at the same time we were,” he continues. “It was really our choice. There’s a certain melodic sophistication that they have in their music. Their music is timeless. I sort of feel that’s the same thing you could say about our music.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
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