John Oates, one half of the most successful duo in music history, doesn’t feel like there’s much of a place in the world these days. “Don’t get me wrong, I still love the idea of an album, but I don’t know if the world has time for it anymore,” he told us during a recent visit to VH1 headquarters here in New York City. To that end, he’s decided to eschew the traditional method of writing and recording material —hole up in a studio for a few months with a few collaborators, then release 10-12 of those songs packaged together in the LP format— and instead embraced the digital future on his new project, The Good Road To Follow. Starting in June, Oates will begin offering a year-long subscription to fans through his website that will give them access to one single each month, tracks that he has worked on with the likes of Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic), Nathan David Chapman (Taylor Swift), Hot Chelle Rae and more.
“When I was a kid in the early ’50s, the only thing that mattered to me was singles,” Oates explained. “I looked forward to going to my little record store in the little town I lived in in Pennsylvania and buying that little ’45, saving my money up and bringing it home and playing it until the grooves wore out. But then of course in the ’60s and the ’70s, the album became the holy grail. It became what you wanted to do — write a group of songs that were cohesive, that had flow, that had a feel to them.”
“Well, you know, the world has moved on, as we all know,” he astutely notes. “Digital delivery systems and the virtual world has sped up our universe and our way of thinking, our way of working, our way of acting, our way of relating to each other, and music has followed suit. And, in a way, it’s come back to the beginning. It’s back to singles as far as I’m concerned.”
This realization led Oates to experiment with a new way of writing, recording and releasing singles into the world, some of which haven’t even been recorded yet. The idea is for him to work with as many like-minded souls as he can over the next year, and now that the word is out about this new direction he’s headed in, the phone won’t stop ringing. During the course of our conversation together, he mentioned that Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame had been among the people who had reached out to him about a possible collaboration.
“Word has kind of spread since I’ve met other people, I’ve told them about the project and people seem really excited to get involved with it,” he told us. “So The Good Road To Follow has a lot of these exits and stuff — so far, not many potholes and stop signs, which I like — and it just keeps on going. The idea is that maybe I’ll just keep on going down this road and just keep releasing songs and as long as there are people out there who listen and care, it’s gonna be great.”
This project seems promising not just because of its originality, but because it’s coming at a time when there’s been a serious resurgence of interest in Hall & Oates material. “[There has] been kind of a perfect storm of awareness that has been created,” Oates admits. “A lot of it has had to due with Daryl’s TV show, Live From Daryl’s House, which does an amazing job of integrating his vibe and his musicality with newer bands. Some of the younger groups and artists who are out there, like The Killers and Gym Class Heroes, who have talked about us as being influential to them to their fans, their fans have kind of jumped on the bandwagon and taken a look at us. All of a sudden, it was like ’Wow, I just discovered this bunch of old guys who are still pretty cool!'”
The path that John Oates and Daryl Hall forged for themselves was built on the strength some truly timeless material, most of which was notable for its multi-racial appeal. “You know, I think Daryl and I were really one of the first crossover bands of all-time in the world of pop music,” Oates confided. “I just think that breaking barriers is important for music — music should not have barriers. I think people like Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Bruno Mars [prove that] if you perform it well, record it well, there shouldn’t be any limitations on where it’s heard.”
Look for John Oates to launch his new project, Good Road To Follow, next month. This project’s first single, “Stand Strong,” is available now.