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John Oates talks Hall & Oates’s new tour, his memoir, and playing Tulsa

Daryl Hall and John Oates

You may remember Hall & Oates as the duo who brought you top ‘80s pop classics, but the careers of John Oates and Daryl Hall extend much earlier and later than the 1980s. I was able to talk to John Oates fresh off the release of his new memoir “Change of Seasons” and just before his 29-city tour with Tears for Fears. Tulsa is the first stop on the tour, a location that provides both nostalgia and convenience for Oates. He lived in Tulsa for a year in the ‘90s to help produce an album and remembers the excitement he felt playing Cain’s in 1979. Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears will be at the BOK on Thursday, May 4. 

MARY NOBLE: Can you share some stories about the time you’ve spent in Tulsa?

JOHN OATES: Tulsa has been a tour stop for us for many, many years. I remember when we first played Cain’s Ballroom. That was a big deal for me. I thought that was such a cool venue with such a great music history and I loved it. We’ve just always stopped in Tulsa over the years. I had an uncle that lived in Arkansas and whenever we played in Tulsa he would always come over and visit. So, yeah, it’s been a cool place to play. A lot of great musicians have come out of your area and Oklahoma. 

NOBLE: Anything you can tell us about the upcoming Tulsa show?

OATES: Well, we bring as much intimacy as you can. It’s a big room and a big show with a lot of stuff going on. We have an amazing band … and we try to reach the audience in the most personal way we can, but at the same time you’re in this big giant room, and it’s kind of one of those things—you try your best to be personal and connective, but at the same time you have to deal with this giant space you’re in. 

NOBLE: I heard you’re taking three days to prepare in Tulsa. 

OATES: Tulsa is the first show on the tour, so we were hoping to get into the arena a few days early to set up all our equipment because it’s a big tour and the first time we’re setting everything up. And it’s the first time we’re playing with Tears for Fears, so we have to have a few days to prepare and get our stuff together.  

NOBLE: How did you decide to tour with Tear for Fears?

OATES: We love going on tour
with people we admire and people we feel that will make a compatible package for the music we make, and I love their songs. I think they’re really good. They happen to be available and they also were preparing a new album, so it just came together in a very seamless way. 

NOBLE: You’re also working on a new album, is it going to be a solo record?

OATES: Yeah, I’m working on an album called Hurt, which started out as kind of a traditional blues record. As I began to get into it I assembled this really unique band and we began to play these songs and I guess it’s become kind of a progressive Americana record. It’s got some really old music that goes way back into the ‘20s and the ‘30s, and it’s kind of like a history of American roots music—that’s what I’m into when I do my solo work. I go back to the early days before I met Daryl and I play the music that started me out as a kid. 

NOBLE: Was writing your memoir therapeutic? 

OATES: Yeah, in a way. It brought back memories that I thought maybe I would never think of for the rest of my life had I not gotten to this process—the more memories (that) came up, the deeper the information started
to appear. 

NOBLE: You went through your handwritten journals for the memoir. Was there anything not included in your memoir that you wish was in there?

OATES: No. I mean, I wrote the book that I wanted to write. Sure, I could have written four or five different versions of that book. One of the hardest things for me to do was tell my personal story and tell my side of the Hall & Oates story without speaking for Daryl because I don’t have any right to speak for him. That was a real tight-rope walk that I had to figure out how to do, and I think I did a good job with that. I reveal a lot about what it took to get Hall & Oates together in the late ‘60s early ‘70s, and I really detail a lot about the music, but at the same time I tell a very personal story about what it took for me to grow up. 

NOBLE: You and Daryl have garnered a significant multigenerational fan base. What do you think is the secret to that other than the timelessness of your music?

OATES: I think that is the secret … It’s the timelessness of the songs. These songs for some reason are still resonating with not only our older crowd who’ve been with us for years, but a whole new generation of music fans. They’ve rediscovered us, and for some reason they like the music. That’s why we’re playing these big venues now, because a lot of older fans don’t necessarily like to go to big arenas because it’s not the experience, perhaps, that they’re looking for in their life. But young fans love to have that big, giant, communal experience, and so if you look at our audience now it’s considerably younger in general. 

NOBLE: Does the divisive political climate in the U.S. affect your creativity?

OATES: You know, I’m saddened by a lot of the things I see. I’m kind of an idealist in that I would love to see this country come back together. I think we need someone to help unite this country in a lot of ways. Not only politically but socially as well. 

Right now it is divided. There’s no doubt about it. There’s a lot of very strong opinions in a lot of different directions, and who knows where we’re going—but I’m not a political pundit. I don’t talk about that kind of stuff. I just want people to be independent thinkers … If everyone can think for themselves and not just get swept up in rhetoric and hysteria, I think it would be better, if people could step back and make intelligent decisions based on what they think is right and wrong. 

NOBLE: How have you and Daryl nurtured a collaborative, creative relationship over such a long time?

OATES: There was a period of time when I think we were very, very inspired. We were living the same kind of life, experiencing the same kind of things being on tour, struggling, making records, spending a lot of time together, and that really is what inspired this output of music we’ve made over the years. Since the late ‘80s, early ‘90s we’ve only recorded a few times, and so our lives have gone in separate directions, but we still enjoy playing together and we love playing the songs that we created.

For more from Mary, read her interview with Juicy J.