A Conversation with Daryl Hall
Mike Ragogna: Hey there, Daryl.
Daryl Hall: Hi, how are you doing?
MR: Peachy. And you?
DH: I'm doing well, man. Just getting ready to go out on a little mini tour with John. I'm just enjoying my post hurricane day here in the East.
MR: So, how nasty was the hurricane, really?
DH: It didn't mess with me too much up here at Daryl's Houseland, but just across the valley, there are a lot of trees down. So, it was up and down.
MR: And Coney Island took a little hit, right?
DH: Yep. (Note: This interview took place September 5th)
MR: Among a million other things, I want to talk to you about your web series Live From Daryl's House, which is basically you playing in a comfortable atmosphere with some awesome artists. Let's get right into your latest news, which is on September 24th, the show will be syndicated on television, right?
DH: That is right, and I'm really excited about that. It's been a long journey. I've been doing Daryl's House on the internet for forty seven shows, so that's forty seven months. I always sort of had the vague idea that, besides staying on the internet, it would go to regular television, and that's happening. It's been picked up all over the United States, and actually elsewhere too. It's just growing and growing, and I'm really excited about it.
MR: In New York, it's going to be on one of the great channels, WPIX, channel eleven.
DH: That's right. It's on Saturday night, so it's got the right time slot, and I hope everybody likes it.
MR: Great, we won't be able to watch our Xena reruns.
DH: No. (laughs) I think I'm preempting Seinfeld or something.
MR: By the way, I thought your Daryl's House episode with Todd Rundgren was one of the best. It seemed like the two of you were brothers and you could have just filled in the next vocal line for each other. Tell me a little about the atmosphere that is created during the taping of one of those shows.
DH: Are you referring to the Todd show at his house, or the Hawaii show?
MR: Let's talk about the Hawaii show, which was amazing.
DH: That was so much fun. I don't take Daryl's House on the road too much, so to go to Todd's house was amazing. Todd and I have known each other a long, long time, and we're both from the same neighborhood. We grew up listening to the same music in the same environment, and I've known him since we were kids, really. So, we have a musical telepathy that--I had it with T-Bone, and I have it to some degree with John, obviously, and I have it with Todd. I'd say they are all equal telepaths.
MR: (laughs) You've had a lot of impressive guests on your show like Booker T., Dave Stewart, Smokey Robinson, José Feliciano, Matt Nathanson, John Rzeznik, Train... It's just an amazing show.
DH: I've had a lot of amazing people on the show. It's more than the sum of its parts--it's really life changing, and I can't say enough about it. I could spend time on each episode and how it's changed me. I come out of the experience as a different person than when I went it on every show.
MR: Well, The Hawaii show was a little different in that it wasn't actually from Daryl's House. Are you thinking about pushing those boundaries more like that in the future?
DH: Oh yeah. The show morphs all the time. I've gotten much more into the whole food thing in the show, and that will continue to evolve. The settings for the music will evolve too. I always look at Daryl's House as a state of mind--I have it at my house most of the time--but to me, Daryl's House is wherever my band and I are. So, you could take it any number of places and still do some version of that. As I say, it's an evolving situation.
MR: It's just wonderful, and I'm a huge fan. Let's get into your new album, Laughing Down Crying. I really loved the first couple of lines from the title track, "Do I follow where I've been, the path I was on? Or do I do something new?" In a way it's like, "Should I go back to my old life or take this new path and evolve with you." That's what I got out of it. Was that the intention?
DH: I think that's exactly it--you hit it on the head. It's everything. You can use a lot of things that have happened to me--you could use Daryl Hall and John Oates, you could use things that have happened to me on a personal level outside of my emotional life, you could use the way the world has changed in the past few years--all these things are the same to me. They all interact and they all feature equally in the lines of the songs.
MR: Your material's level of quality and consistency is always terrific, whether it be a Daryl Hall album or a Daryl Hall and John Oates album. At a certain point, it almost feels like you could easily go on autopilot and write some of the catchiest pop songs ever. But that never happens, you really do put work into the lyrics, and your melodies express an emotion or two that may not be fully explored in the lyrics. Is that a fair assessment?
DH: You know, the style of writing that I came up in was a pop medium because I came from Philadelphia and that's the home of pop music. The whole American pop culture started in Philadelphia with American Bandstand and the music that came out of that city. So, the format that I use, the kind of chord patterns that I use, are associated with pop, but I don't look at myself as a pop artist. I use that medium, but I go beyond that. As you said, I really put a lot of thought into my lyrics and try to say things with them that matter to me. So, I kind of use that Philly pop thing as a springboard to go someplace else.
MR: Also on your albums, you're never going to find that track that just doesn't quite feel like it's finished, you know?
DH: Well, I'm a craftsman, and I like to get it right.
MR: Let's talk about "Lifetime Of Love." To me, the message is that you're looking for something broader, something that will last longer and be more important. Is that the theme of the whole album?
DH: Well, yeah, it's one of the themes. As I said, a lot of things have happened to me and happened to all of us as a society, but to me, the personal and the collective are all sort of molded together. Yeah, a lot of things have happened. I went from an old relationship into what is now a married relationship with a new person and with two step children. My best friend has died. The world is changing...I think for the worse, unfortunately. God, so many things have happened in this transition between this and the last batch of songs that I threw out into the world. I just put it all in the pot and stirred it around.
MR: Daryl, what is in the news right now that has your attention?
DH: I don't even know where to start. Every week is a different drama. Right now, I think we're starting to see the result of our foolishness with global climate change. We've had hurricanes basically coming to places that they never come, weather that is weird, and that's just this week.
MR: You mentioned earlier that T-Bone, one of your best friends, passed away. He contributed to this project, right?
DH: T-Bone and I were a co-production team as well, so we sat right before the album in January and we went through all of my songs that I had written over the years, then we picked the songs that we thought were going to be the best for the album. Then, we went into the studio and began cutting songs. We got three songs in, and we got to the song "Problem With You" and T-Bone played this incredible counterpart to me, with me singing the melody and him sort of answering me on guitar. Then, three hours later he died. It was an incredible shock. I was the last person to really talk to him, other than his girlfriend. It came out of the blue, as these things do, and it completely disoriented me in every possible way--personally, emotionally, and also musically, because he was my real co-generator of everything.
MR: It seems like, with all of this going into the album that it takes on another level. In other words, it wasn't just about the emotional elements of all you were going through, but it put you in the physics of having to soldier through a project like that, and it seems to have affected the lyrics most of all.
DH: Yeah, it took it from being sort of abstract emotion and took it into a real place like you can't imagine. Basically, the rest of the album was post-traumatic. The tracks I was cutting...his spirit was still in the room. The intensity was unlike any creative project I've ever had because of the extreme reality of what had just happened. That added to the other realities that were going on, socially, as well as my emotional life with my wife and kids. So, it all just took a very personal turn, more than it ever had.
MR: What's great is that given the circumstances of the process, it's actually a really joyful album.
DH: Yes, oh absolutely. I mean, there's frustration on the album, obviously, and then there's a song like "Crash And Burn," which I wouldn't call morose, but it's certainly a somber song. Yes, there is a joy on this album for sure, and a freedom too.
MR: Evidenced on one of my favorites, "Message To You."
DH: When I was frantically searching for someone to take the place of T-Bone--not that you can ever replace him--I immediately called up my friend Paul Pesco, who was our guitar player when T-Bone was playing bass. So, he had a history with T-Bone and myself. I called Paul and he was working with an artist on the road in Indonesia. As soon as he heard what happened, he said, "What can I do for you?" He literally quit from the band that he was in and came back to the studio. I think he wanted to break the ice, so he came in with this song "Message To You." He played the guitar lick, and I said, "Wow, that's great." That song was really meaningful, and it kick-started the album in a new and good way.
MR: Another of my favorites is "Wrong Side Of History." I know it's sort of another relationship song, but there's something else going on there.
DH: If you look at it, it's a relationship song, but it's actually more than that. It was generated like I do with a lot of my songs, where one thing is actually metaphorical to something larger. I wrote those lyrics during that Republican and Democrat nonsense with the debt ceiling and all that. I kept coming up with that line, "You're on the wrong side of history," because history will weed out all the problems and mistakes that people are making right now. I also think the media is on the wrong side of history. In a lot of cases, I think there are a lot of people that are coming out on the right and wrong side, both of what's right and wrong, and also in history.
MR: What's an example of that?
DH: Well, I can use myself. For years and years, I was beset with snide remarks by certain members of the press, where they would turn John Oates into a joke, or they would trivialize what I do, which never really bothered me all that much. But I think, a lot of times, people don't realize that when they objectify people or situations, they're actually pulsing a reaction in those people. They forget that there are human beings involved and that people take things seriously. All the snide and nasty remarks that one side makes against another side--whether it be a reviewer against an artist or a Republican against a Democrat--all these kinds of things--it's unfeeling response. It doesn't take people's emotions into consideration, and it's a very cruel and stupid thing. I think that that attitude is on the wrong side of history.
MR: Do you think it falls into the category of having to sensationalize everything in order to get attention?
DH: Yes, I do absolutely. Unfortunately, we live in that society, but that's what the song's about.
MR: I also wanted to ask you about "Save Me." Who's that guest, Daryl?
DH: Well, this is also part of my new world...it's my stepdaughter, March, singing background on that song, and a couple of other ones. That was the first song I used her on. I've been training her since she was about five years old, sort of doing what my parents did for me. She has responded very well. She has an amazing musical ear. It's funny that she's a stepdaughter, she might as well be a blood daughter because she has that kind of music in her. I finally said, "Hey, do you want to sing on the album?" She sang the background parts with me, and we have a great blend. That's the most significant change. I'm finally using people like her, you know? It's very interesting to hear the old Daryl and John blend, and now you're hearing the Daryl and March blend, which is slightly different, but it's a refreshing sound.
MR: I feel like there are so many songs that would be perfect to release as a single, if we still did that these days. (laughs)
DH: I'm really glad to hear you say that. It's still new to the world, so I really appreciate that you're responding that way to the album.
MR: Daryl, what is your advice for new artists?
DH: I always say the same thing--believe in what you do, do it, and don't veer away from the truth of it. Also, work your brains out live because that's where your audience is going to come from, people that pay money to see you do what you do. I would say, no matter what period you're in with your career, that's the most important thing.
MR: Is that the advice you would give your stepdaughter?
DH: The advice I'm giving her is talk to your manager. And I'm her manager. So, there you go.
MR: (laughs) You're going to be touring to support the album?
DH: I am going to be touring to support this, for sure. I'm going to take this not only in the States, but outside of the States. I may or may not combine this touring with Live From Daryl's House tours. I've done a couple of those where I do my best to recreate the environment that you see on the show and take it on stage. It's a little bit of a challenge, but I pull it off. That has a lot to do with the way you set the stage up and the way you involve the audience. I'm really looking forward to a lot of those.
MR: Also, you're touring right now with John Oates, right? How long is the tour?
DH: It's a short one. We're just going out for like ten days.
MR: Is there a new project you guys might be working on in the near future?
DH: No, John and I aren't that interested in working together on new music right now. I'm not saying we never will, we're just really happy doing stuff on our own.
MR: Well, you also just had that beautiful box set that came out recently.
DH: That's true. We're so proud of our body of work, and it's sustained us over the years. That says it all right there about Hall & Oates.
MR: With regards to your solo touring, do you play material from Daryl Hall and John Oates during those shows?
DH: I generally don't play much of it. It depends on the situation. If it's a TV situation or something like that, then sometimes they ask me to play a Daryl and John song. I always say, "Well, I'll play a Daryl song that was recorded as Hall & Oates." I don't ever play true Daryl and John stuff.
MR: It is important to remember that it is Daryl Hall and John Oates rather than just Hall and Oates because both of you guys really came into this as individuals.
DH: And I'm glad that you see that. It's not surprising that a lot of people don't see that, but that perception is changing as time goes on.
MR: Right. Well, best of luck with your new album, Laughing Down Crying. Daryl, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
DH: Thank you very much as well.
1. Laughing Down Crying
2. Talking to Myself
3. Lifetime of Love
4. Eyes for You
5. Save Me
6. Message to Ya
7. Wrong Side of History
8. Get Out of the Way
9. Crash and Burn
10. Problem with You
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
As described in "Rainsong"'s press release, "Chadwick remembers back to a big storm and the relationship of his parents and their tightness of their family in times of crisis--being pulled back to the East--but feeling strong and in love." About the video, director Sam Cohen reveals, "The idea for the 'Rainsong' video actually came largely from my misunderstanding of the lyrics. Before I'd seen the words, certain phrases out of context made a lasting impression that I felt totally inspired to animate. I loved Chad's visual of it raining inside and the roof caving in, but there were others that I'd misinterpreted. I kept picturing this rustic 'cabin' with 'sheep in the bed' before I realized they were in the cabin of a pickup truck with the sheep in the bed of the pickup. I couldn't shake off the images I'd been imagining and eventually had the idea to put the family in the story in a cabin on wheels. I like what it does for the story because you get the sense this family's in a complete upheaval, relocating everything, but staying together. The song is about holding tight to the ones you love and how that makes difficult times easier to bare. FYI, everything in the video is paper collage animation collected from books and magazines and arranged by hand.
This May Be My Last Time Singing : Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM (1957-1982)
Here's the word on the street: "Get ready for fiery sanctified soul, heavy Pentecostal jams, drum machine gospel, slow-burning moaners, glorified guitar sermons and righteously ragged a cappela hymns! The music on this compilation was originally released on small label 45s, mostly in the' 60s and '70s. At least one-third of the records were self-released, paid for by a church congregation or the artists themselves. Others were on regional labels, typically run by one single producer, little known today outside of a small circle of collectors. This vibrant music is incredibly honest and almost criminally unknown.
"All tracks were sourced from 45s collected over the last decade by compiler Mike McGonigal, who also produced 2009's three disc set Fire in My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) for Tompkins Square. McGonigal, who has compiled records for Mississippi Records and his own Social Music label, lives in Portland, OR where he is the editorial director for Yeti Publications. He writes in the liner notes that he 'chose to source this compilation entirely from 45s because of their democratic/DIY nature; almost anyone could raise enough money to release a seven-inch single.'"
Release Date: September 20th, 2011