fri 30/07/2021

theartsdesk Q&A: Daryl Hall | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Daryl Hall

theartsdesk Q&A: Daryl Hall

Legendary singer-songwriter talks recording, vaccines and reaching a billion streams

Daryl Hall alongside his longtime writing partner John Oates

Writing something people want to stream one billion times is inconceivable for most of us. But then, most of us aren't Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Daryl Hall.

Alongside John Oates, he is behind some of the greatest pop songs of all time: "Maneater"; "She's Gone; "Out of Touch"; "Rich Girl"; "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"; and of course, the billion-stream masterpiece that is "You Make My Dreams".

Over 50 years after forming, the band are still finding new audiences. They've become a favourite for film soundtrackers and samplers. But they don't rest on former glories - Live from Daryl's House is a groundbreaking internet series in which Hall and his house band collaborate with incredible guest artists like Smokey Robinson, Todd Rundgren and Sharon Jones. There's even murmurs of a new Daryl Hall & John Oates record.

As the band celebrate their latest musical milestone, Daryl Hall spoke with Owen Richards about what continues to drive him:

OWEN RICHARDS: How has your lockdown been going?

DARYL HALL: Sitting around…there’s nothing much happening! It’s a lot of nothing, just like everybody else. I’m working on renovating one of my houses, so at least I have something to occupy myself with.

Congratulations on “You Make My Dreams” reaching one billion streams. With everything you’ve done, what does an achievement like that mean?

It validates what we do, that’s how I look at it. I’m just very, very happy that after this amount of time, that the song has risen to this level. It’s nice to be liked! It’s nice to have people dance to my songs! If I could be on stage, they’d be dancing in front of me.

Do you miss having that audience to perform to?

Oh, absolutely. I’m a live performer. I’ve been doing this my whole life, which is quite a long time at this point. I feel very alive on stage. It’s my natural home and I do miss it very much.Daryl Hall and John Oates liveIs there difference between what you get from performing live and recording?

Recording is doing everything for the first time. It’s discovery. It’s formulating these ideas, embellishing them and having them come to life. You make something out of nothing. It’s a very different process than live performance, which is a complete song. It opens the door to improvisation, playing with the song, and evolving the song after the fact. It’s a very different way of dealing with creativity.

And do you have a preference between the two?

I enjoy both of them. If I’m inspired, I enjoy making something come to life. An emotion or observation that I have a suddenly becomes a song. I like that. But if I had to make the choice…I’m a live person. I love playing live.

When you were in the studio with “You Make My Dreams”, did you think it was special then? Did it feel like you’d captured magic?

It’s hard for me to say. I remember it felt good. It wasn’t one of the first songs that we recorded for the Voices album. We had most of the songs cut. It was one of the last songs that I did, so it felt like a bit of completion for the project.

Can you recognise a great single when you’re recording it? Or do you have to listen back to the whole album before you choose which to release?

I always left the single choices to other people. I’m too close to it. A song that I’m emotionally moved by might not be the song moves masses of people. That always happened after the fact. I have no idea. I’m constantly surprised when something works and is successful, and I’m surprised sometimes when things don’t work. It’s really hard to judge it.

One of the reasons why the song has remained so popular is its use in film and television. Have there been any stand-out uses of your music that you’ve found particularly surprising or funny?

There’s a few. Surprising, yes, because sometimes I approve these things and forget about it! I remember the John Candy and Steve Martin movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and we’re the last song in the movie, and it always takes me by surprise because I like that movie a lot. And 500 Days of Summer, what happened in that movie really transformed people’s attitude toward that song. They did such a great visual rendition of it. It was very unusual because they really used a lot of the song. It became almost like a music video.

Do you ever find yourself watching something with music and enjoy a song, before realising it’s one of your own?

Yeah! When I go to the shops or something, I hear a song and go “hmm I like that, what is that? Oh, it’s me!” Especially with my Live from Daryl’s House show, I do all these duets with different people and they sort of become my song in my brain. Then I hear a something like a Tears for Fears song, and think it’s my song, before I realise I sang that song on Live from Daryl’s House. It’s not actually mine! That happens to me a lot.

I love Live from Daryl’s House, the passion of the music comes across so well. It’s like being part of a jam night with your friends, but with the most talented musicians around. What do you get out of those sessions?

It’s so exhilarating, it’s hard for me to even describe it. It’s a combination of what we were talking about before. It’s happening for the first time like recording, but the song is familiar like performing. It’s the combination of those things. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the other guest artist is going to do, how it’s going to work, everything is spontaneous and done for the first time. There’s no rehearsals. It’s a very edgy, seat-of-the-pants thing. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Has anyone in particular surprised you?

I’m constantly surprised. That show is one giant surprise. I’m surprised by the talent of guest artists that I wasn’t sure about, because you never know until push comes to shove. I’m surprised sometimes by the things that happen, and they’re so damn good. Lots of good things.

Daryl Hall and John OatesWith “You Make My Dreams” reaching a billion streams, I’d love to know your thoughts on the controversy about how much artists get paid via streaming?

In the music business, you have to pay attention. We were aware of the importance of streaming before a lot of other people were, and we made our business deals accordingly. It’s very important for artists to think about that. If you don’t stand up for yourself, someone’s going to take advantage of you. That’s the way of the music world.

Is that a motto you’ve lived by from the start of your career?

No, unfortunately. I was victimised for many years by not knowing what to do. I learned my lessons I hope, and I go into situations now with my eyes much wider than when I was a kid.

So if you were starting again from now, what would you do differently?

I would hold onto my publishing and pay a lot attention to that. That would be my main thing. I would also try and control my career more, and not listen to other people.

You’re constantly gaining new fans from streaming, from films etc. Was there any time in your career when it felt like your time in the spotlight was over?

My career has gone on now for how many decades? There are ups and downs in any career. I don’t look at those peaks and valleys as anything other than that. The challenge is to learn when things don’t go your way, assess it, and try to figure out how to go to the next level. I’ve never just sat back and said that’s over for good. I look at everything as an opportunity.

Were there any times that you had to make a stand for yourself?

Yeah, a number of times. I’ve fought to have things released. The whole idea of Daryl’s House was revolutionary. No-one had ever done it. That was quite a challenge to work against people who, through their lack of vision, were not helping the thing to come about.

What inspired you to start it?

I thought it was time for it. It was time to give the world something different than just the normal performance where the audience just sits there and reacts to you on stage. I wanted to do something opposite, really. No audience and show what people are like off stage. Show what their real talents are all about, not just some manufactured act.

It really does bridge that gap between studio life and performance. It’s also a great way to show people’s musicality, rather than just recreating what’s on record.

Very true. I have a fantastic team of musicians that I work with, and I’m lucky to have chosen guest artists that almost always rise to the occasion and beyond that.

Are there any artists at the moment that you’d like to work with? Or just enjoy listening to?

Well, yeah. I don’t like to talk about other people, but there’s lots out there. I don’t listen to music a lot but when I hear something by accident or somebody turns me on to something. A lot of what I started doing years ago has become a common genre now. Dealing with a certain kind of soul and expanding on that soul thing. It’s become, not common, but its own genre.

I’d love to know a bit about that songwriting. You’ve had such an extended career, and your sound has developed over time. Have you actively ever changed your approach to songwriting? Or is that change all in the production?

I’ve never really changed the way I write because I write in many different ways. Sometimes it will just be triggered by say a drum groove. Sometimes it will be something I hear in the air. It could be anything, could be a car horn! Or someone else’s song that triggers something completely different. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes the chords come first. There is no pattern with the way I write.

You and John were heading back into the studio before the pandemic. Where are you with that right now?

Waiting for things to open up. John and I have both had our vaccines now, but the person I was working with is a Dutch artist and that’s problematic right now. We’re basically on hold.

With such a back catalogue and a long break, do you feel that weight of expectation when writing material for a new Daryl Hall and John Oates record?

I think there is a certain expectation. Instead of looking outside of what I do with John, I’m looking within what I do with John. I’m writing a quintessential Hall and Oates-style record. I’m not trying to drag other influences into it. I’m just mining my own past and expanding on that.

And is that an enjoyable experience for you?

It’s something different. I’ve never done it before. I haven’t worked with John in the studio for a long time. Once we do get in there, I think it’s the only way that’s relevant.

What was that working relationship in the studio like? Would you have your set roles, or was it a lot more free depending on the song?

We rely on a team when we work together. That way it isn’t just about John and I, it never was. I create a team, sometimes it’s a producer and sometimes it’s just a good engineer, and always great musicians.

You always have such good musicians. How do you put that team together? What makes you say “I want to play with them”?

The people that I have right now I’ve had for years and years. They came in various ways, friends of friends and all different kinds of things. But what binds us is we are such good friends and we respect the hell out of each other. I have such a great band, I really do. These guys can do anything, and they do it the way I like them to do anything. They came in a lot of different ways, but boy am I glad I have them.

Your interest and love of music now – does that come from the same place as it did when you were starting out?

When I was starting out, I was working with the Philadelphia crew. I worked with Gamble & Huff and Thommy Bell and people like that. That was a very different way. It was everything for the first time. Boy, it’s hard to even describe it. I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. I was just soaking things in. Now, when I work with someone for the first time, it’s coming from a different place.

Finally, is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to when this pandemic is over?

Getting to my other houses. I have a house and family in London that I haven’t seen in over a year. But more than any of that, it’s getting in front of people and playing shows with my mates.

@OwenRichards91

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