Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing my longtime singing hero Daryl Hall, whose 2013 Jazz Fest show with partner John Oates I wrote about for New Orleans Gambit Weekly — CLICK HERE to read that long article. Below this video of Daryl singing my favorite Hall & Oates song “One On One” with Cee Lo from Goodie MOB, is the raw, unpublished Q&A interview I did via phone with Daryl Hall.
One Halloween we put together a Hall & Oates cover band. We do a different band every Halloween. We’ve done Prince, Public Enemy, George Michael, Roy Orbison. But Hall & Oates was by far the hardest one.
Why was it hard?
It just had a lot of very subtle, unexpected key changes. It made most other pop music seem really repetitive.
Now you know my secret! That’s why I am not like other people. Our music stands apart from other people’s bands and music. It’s got a certain kind of intricacy, with surprises and all kinds of things going on that other music doesn’t have.
I’ve been getting into your colleague Todd Rundgren’s music lately because he too laces his songs with all sorts of little subtlies. Are you attending his 65th birthday party at Nottaway mansion outside of New Orleans? $799 to camp for six days, including food and booze.
So he’s doing that in Louisiana? That’s wild. That’s pretty cool. I don’t think I can make it for the scheduling. Well…you tell him happy birthday. Todd is unbelievable.
At his party he’ll also be playing his new sort of techno album. I always relate my favorite Hall & Oates music with electronics. The “I Can’t Go For That” video has that image of the Moog. Do you still dabble with the electronics?
That’s a hard question to answer. I’ve come up through every kind of technology in music. When I started it was four-track reel-to-reel and the only non-acoustic instruments you could play where the electric guitar, electric piano and organ. Through all that, over the years, the Moog became the Poly-Moog which was polyphonic, and I went through all that, and all different kinds of advances in keyboard technology, especially in the 80s. My music in the 80s reflected that because I was making use of all these new tools. By now I’ve sort of gone past all that because I don’t really feel the technology has gone any farther than it did then, as far as songs go. So I just sort of revert to a more simplistic way of production and recording now than I did in the 80s.
It seems like on your web show Live From Daryl’s House you take artists who were maybe influenced by your more electronic 80s stuff, and you bring them into your current more organic zone.
It’s just an evolution, the way I’ve grown and the direction I have gone recently. It’s the way I like to sound now.
When you present the Hall & Oates material today, like you will at JazzFest, do the songs sound different?
I think they’ve evolved, and in some cases maybe devolved into a more simplistic style. I’ve been playing the Hall & Oates catalog so many different ways over the years. We’ve done acoustic tours without and electric instruments at all. We’ve played shows that were more electronically oriented. Now, the band I have – the Live From Daryl’s House band – that style really allows all the different elements to be involved in the arrangement. They don’t sound like the records, but if you listen to our set it’s all of a piece now, it incorporates all the eras.
So you use the Daryl’s House band for Hall & Oates now? It’s just your regular band, plus John. Do you tour with that band without John?
Every once in a while I do a solo tour [with that band], and we do a lot with John, and I always use the same band. That’s my band. And when John’s in it, that’s his band too. I’ve had a lot of these guys for quite a while and have known them all for a long time. We have a great musical relationship. Our saxophone player joined our band in 1975. My drummer is the person I’ve known the shortest amount of time, Brian Dunn, and the rest of them I’ve known for decades.
In Hall and Oates’ heyday, you almost always played keys, yet today it seems like, left to your own devices, you’d rather play guitar instead. Is that fair to say?
Yeah. I came to the guitar much later – I started playing piano was I was five, then throughout my teenage years grew proficient on keyboards, then in my 20s I started picking up the guitar because I thought it would complete my ability to write different styles and play different ways. I go back and forth but especially on stage I like playing guitar.
You have a great falsetto. Can you explain the difference between falsetto and simply having a high voice?
A falsetto is just what it says, it’s a false voice. You can find it if you yodel; what’s at the top of your yodel is your falsetto. And I switch naturally between my natural voice and my falsetto – it kind of flows and overlaps. It’s hard to explain really but falsetto is a certain thing that happens with the vocal chords. I am a second tenor – if you want to get technical about it – but my falsetto increases my range considerably.
Most instruments you can practice until you are good, but with singing it often seems like you either have it or you don’t. If you can’t naturally sing, is it possible to learn?
I have a very open mind about vocalizing. You can be a great technical singer – and that has to do with genetics and experience – or you can just be a person who expresses themselves well vocally in less technical ways. The voice is really a complete extension of your personality if you are doing it right. And you don’t have to be a great singer to be a good singer. I am lucky and had a lot of training as a kid, so I had the tools. But you can be a technically good singer but if don’t have soul and you’re stiff, you can not be a good singer. It’s really all about what’s going on in your head that makes you a good or bad singer.
May I ask why you and John don’t write together anymore?
John and I are together through our body of work. Even during our recording time that extended all of those years, we didn’t write that much together. You can’t really tell from the credits but we wrote a lot separately. We did come together on some really important songs like “She’s Gone,” and “Maneater” and “Out of Touch,” but most of the songs were written more separately. We’ve always tried to maintain a separateness – which is one of the reasons we’re still together, really.
You don’t have record company people bugging you to put out another record together?
Well, luckily the music industry crashed and burned and I don’t really have to deal with that anymore. Really, it was a royal pain in the ass dealing with record company people who didn’t know anything, and confused selling with creating — that’s always a problem [chuckles]. With the rise of the internet and the gross stupidity of record companies, it did crash, but it depends what you mean by crash – it’s now all about gathering the tribe. When you have a loyal tribe, then you’re successful. It’s all about that now. The mainstream is just another stream now. What passes for pop music, it’s ephemeral, and sure, more people probably buy it than other things, but if you have a tribe, that’s more important than selling records. It always was that way really, but was masked by some people’s perceptions. It’s all out in the open now: if you want to be successful, gather a tribe.
Yes, going back to Todd Rundgren, he considers his weird Louisiana birthday bash for his fans to be his end of the year employee party!
Todd has always understood. I had success when I dabbled with [the mainstream] but he likes being on the outside and he always understood the tribe mentality. I went about it a slightly different way, but he and I have a lot of similarities, we grew up together, so we have a similar outlook.
What’s the most obscure Hall & Oates song you might do at JazzFest?
What’s obscure depends on how often you see us. We have a good problem in that we can’t even play all of our hits in one set or else we’d have to play for three hours. That’s not a brag, it’s the truth. But having said that, we do like to throw in some lesser-known songs. We create a mood up there, so we change up the set a lot. I am not sure what we will do in New Orleans. We play “Uncanny,” that’s definitely a song I like to play.
So you famously make a hobby of restoring giant mansions, and in some cases you’ve moved a few mansions over from England. Do you have any particular attachment to the architecture of New Orleans.
Well yeah, New Orleans has always been one of my favorite cities in the states because of that. I love antique architecture. I love early 19th century architecture and that’s New Orleans, at least the Quarter. Early on I was fascinated between the difference between northern architecture and New Orleans architecture with its French and Spanish influence. It’s definitely a place where I love to come look around and study. I considered [buying a home there] for a while but other things happened. We used to play in Louisiana, all over the place for years and years and years – not so much recently – but I love that part of the country. I am happy to be coming to New Orleans.