“Two-headed monster” is what Daryl Hall and John Oates refer to themselves as, because it’s everything they’re not. Arguably the biggest music duo of all time have said they’re able to coexist and churn out hits and perform because essentially — they don’t drive each other crazy and let each other do their own thing. Case in point last year alone — Oates released a solo album while Hall continued his highly successful web series “Live From Daryl’s House” (think Jon Favreau’s “Dinner with Friends” for the music crowd.) Still, the two found time to tour together as they always do. Arguably, the duo are just as renowned today as they were in the 1970s and Max Headroom decades. There’s no better example of this statement than the recent usage of their 1981 hit “You Make My Dreams Come True” in an instant classic dance sequence during the indie hit “500 Days of Summer.”
On October 13, that song and a ton more will be available via a box set entitled Do What You Want, Be What You Are. The impressive collection features singles, rarities, and live tracks that have never been heard before. I spoke to Hall recently and asked him about working with Oates, his aformentioned web series, and whether he feels he and Oates get the respect they so richly deserve.
How long did the box set take to put together, and why was now a good time to release it?
I always look my life as being sort of a circle or a series of circles. This is sort of the second completion of the circle. When I say completion I mean I’m not really working in the studio as much with John. I’ve sort of started a new circle with “Live from Daryl’s House” and I think we started a circle more apart then together even though we’re still working together.
I think it was a good time to show sort of what we’ve done in the studio after all these years. It seemed appropriate. As far as how long it took — awhile, man. It took weeks to sit down and really listen to every song in my life. which is a considerable body of work and really analyze it and figure out what it was that I felt was significant … the songs that I thought showed our movement, our evolution and importance.
Was it an adventure to narrow it all down to four discs?
Yeah, I mean it was. I wouldn’t say it was hard. I can edit myself pretty well but I will say the way it worked out, there wasn’t one moment that I thought was significant and got left out. I mean there were songs I would’ve added but there weren’t songs that I thought would’ve changed anybody’s perception or anybody’s enjoyment. I feel like it’s pretty well edited and a complete body of work.
How long did it take you to look through your vault of material?
It initially started with Sony coming to me saying, “We want to do a box set, are you into it?” I went “yeah.” They had some ideas and they sent me all these half-completed outtakes they happened to own and had access to. I listened to these things and I went “no.” There was a reason this stuff wasn’t ever on major records. First of all most of it was not finished, and second of all, some of it sucked. So I said forget about that “if you want to put things on there, I have things in my archives and John does too that we really like and really think are significant and acceptable.” So there was a little bit of scrambling around, and pulling what we thought were the important things out that nobody’s ever heard. The next step was just figuring out songs that maybe people forgot about — the more obscure songs that I consider significant that weren’t necessarily hits or anything like that but were important creatively.
A lot of newer bands seem to be publicly saying how much of an influence you guys have been on their lives. Still, I get a sense you both don’t get a lot of credit. What do you think of that?
You’re about the right age to have people say I’m the Bob Dylan of your generation. I think the lack of respect that you’re referring to are people over the age of 45. The younger generation gives me more respect than I could ever hope for.
I know “Saturday Night Live” dogged you a bit last year..
OK, let’s use “Saturday Night Live” and Lorne Michaels, an example of the of the old guard. My own generation and I have always had a war. We fought old battles that I’ve long won. The old guard with the Lorne and Jann Wenner’s of the world — they were not on the same side as me. They reference different things. What they think is worthy of respect is very different than what I think is worthy of respect. I’m on the side of music. I just want to put that to bed. I get more respect than I ever need in life.
How’d “Live from Daryl’s House” come about?
It initially started with the simple thought of me and T-Bone [Wolk] just sitting on my porch, playing music and people wouldn’t be paying to hear it. Then I thought, I’m a transient person. I’ve been around the world — why don’t I throw everything into oppositeland and go to my cave — my place that is the core of my life and not move for a change and have the world come to me.
After that started thinking, a format slowly start emerging. My first thoughts were “why don’t we have guests?” I’d been reading so many things about various new bands that were influenced by what it is that I do, and said “OK, I really want it to be new bands interacting with a veteran like me.” That’s really how it’s evolved and I think that’s the interesting thing about it. It’s not normal performing. It’s not an artist doing his or her act. It’s a bunch of musicians getting together in their native habitat and playing and the audience is a fly on the wall. There’s no fourth wall. I think it’s a unique experience for audience the guests and us. Everybody smiles a lot. We do 12 shows a year.
You and John still tour regularly – do you think you’ve avoided the rock & roll cliche in that you’re two individual artists working together?
That is the reason. This goes back to when we were kids. We said, “You’re a songwriter, I’m a songwriter — well work together but well share the stage. We’re two different people.” We never stand in each others way. I’m more prolific then John so I do more but I’m always doing things. There’s room for everything in my life. It all seems to work out.
Your songs are still played in heavy rotation, and I must say “You Make My Dreams…” fits in pretty damn well on the “500 Days of Summer” soundtrack …
That proves my point. When I was a kid I always looked up to people like BB King and Ray Charles – people of another generation that resonated heavy with kids. I always wanted to be one of those people and thank God I seemed to have pulled that off. I care more about that than just about anything. I think an artist’s true worth comes through an inter — generational thing — when you go beyond your own time, and start influencing people in a greater way than just what surrounds you. Living history that’s what I care about.
Lastly, I have to ask. What do you make of the recent fascination with John Oates’ mustache?
Well, I don’t know. What do you want me to make of it? I’ve got a sense of humor. I’m a funny guy. John Oates’ mustache isn’t that funny to me, but I haven’t seen it in too many years. I think it’s interesting — that’s the best way to put it. Whatever … it all works for me.
The funny thing for me is that he hasn’t had it for over 15 years …
We sort of step out of time, man. Time doesn’t seem to have any meaning to us.
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