Reluctant Townie: 'Brunching' with superstar John Oates
"I haven't had the mustache in over 20 years," says music superstar John Oates during brunch, thus blowing my mind once and forever.
We are brunching at my apartment — although Oates might not be aware that it is happening — a cup of coffee sits on the windowsill next to my laptop, a microphone and my cellphone. I take a small bite of a chocolate chip waffle, small enough that I can still speak undetected.
I would offer one to Oates, but I'm not sure if my data package covers food teleportation — and anyway, I'm eating the last one in the box. I'm sure Oates has no shortage of waffles available to him. Perks of life as music royalty.
Yet he doesn't have an assistant call me; he phones direct. Even though I am expecting a call around 10:30, it takes me by surprise.
JO: Uh, hey. Hello?
RT: Um, is this, uh, is this Oates?
JO: Yeah. Is this Ryan?
The way things worked out with scheduling, I have to watch my kid during the interview. I don't offer up this information to Oates initially.
RT: You had one of the most iconic mustaches of the late 20th century. When I think of famous mustaches from that era, I think of "Magnum P.I.," Frank Zappa and John Oates. The mustache peaked in popularity during the 1970s, dipped during the '90s, but is making a strong comeback with the youth of today. Yet, as the world zigged, you chose to zag, and in the early '00s, you shaved your mustache off. Why? And do you think the youth of today have earned the right to wear the mustache?
JO: Well, unfortunately, we do not have enough time to go into the deep psychological ramifications of why I shaved my mustache. In short, it had to do with me changing as a person, and I didn't want to be that guy anymore, and I no longer was that guy, and the mustache represented that guy, so the mustache had to go.
RT: So it's never coming back is what you're saying?
JO: I haven't had the mustache in over 20 years. Just recently, I put it back with a goatee attached to it, so I've got a little bit more facial hair going for the time being. So it's not back on its own, but it's attached to something else, so I don't know. It's not a big thing. Its just hair on your face, man.
RT: I was at Home Depot the other night and "I Can't Go For That" came on and I found myself tapping along without realizing it. Does that ever happen to you? Do you sing your own songs in the shower? If you find a $20 bill in the laundry, do you automatically start humming the bassline from "You Make My Dreams?"
JO: I don't sing those songs very often because I know them so well. They're such a part of my life. But I do sing a lot of new songs because I am constantly working out variations with melodies and thinking about changing lyrics. So when I'm working on a new song, it gets stuck in my head for a long period of time. In fact, it's almost like a sickness.
RT: You're releasing your new project "A Good Road to Follow" one track at a time, one per month. Are you writing one new track a month or are they already finished and waiting to be released?
JO: I've completed a bulk of the work, but it's still ongoing. A majority of the songs I am going to release this year are already recorded and waiting. My gut feeling is that we'll probably release six months' worth of songs and then put them out as an EP, maybe include a couple bonus tracks.
RT: Who are some of the artists you are collaborating with on "A Good Road to Follow?"
JO: Every song is a collaboration. By and large, the idea is I get together with someone I respect and admire and have wanted to work with. I have a song with Vince Gill. We wrote it in his living room. I have a song with Nathan Chapman, Taylor Swift's producer. We recorded it in the same style as the Swift records.
RT: Are there any songs currently on the radio that you wish you had written? Any artists you wished you had worked with?
JO: A lot, a lot, a lot. I'm getting ready to play the Super Jam at Bonnaroo with Jim James (from My Morning Jacket), and we've assembled an all-star band of unbelievable players. The theme is a rock 'n' soul dance party, and we're doing everything from '70s R&B to songs by The Band to songs by Prince and some Motown. All these songs that I am learning for the Super Jam are incredible, pretty much every song on the set list I wish I had written.
RT: Whose kiss is on your list?
JO: I didn't write that song, so I can't tell you that.
RT: What could you not go for in "I Can't Go for That?"
JO: "I Can't Go for That" is a song written about the music business. It was about not being pushed around and not being manipulated by big business.
RT: A case could be made that you and Daryl Hall introduced the ironic Christmas sweater to popular culture with your 1983 video for "Jingle Bell Rock." Do you still wear that sweater? And have you ever considered creating your own line of ironic Christmas sweaters?
JO: If we were responsible for the beginnings of the ironic generation, then I don't know if that's a compliment. But no, I do not have the sweater, and I wouldn't wear it if I did because I used to wear that kind of sweater when I was 10. So probably not appropriate for a guy in his 60s. And to go a little bit further, yes I do have my own clothing line — and it's coming out this year.
Ryan Jackson got a free John Oates track for signing up for his mailing list at johnoates.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.