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Mashed Oates 

The once-mustachioed member of a legendary duo reflects on their influence and their collaboration with Gym Class Heroes

Wednesday, Aug 29 2007
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Forty years into their career, Hall & Oates remain the top-selling duo of all time. Women still throw panties at them, and John Oates’ mustache is nearly as iconic as Gene Simmons’ tongue. (A Georgia woman made an entire film about it.)

What do these guys have left to prove? They’ve even won over the hearts and minds of the irony generation, via fictionalized portrayals of themselves in the Yacht Rock parody videos. (Sample quote from the Oates character: “You’re a fucking loser, Cetera!”) Oates himself resides luxuriously outside Aspen, Colorado, while Daryl Hall collects his royalty checks from upstate New York.

One would think they’d have pulled a Buster Douglas a long time ago. (You know, the guy who beat Mike Tyson, retired soon after and watched his weight balloon to nearly 400 pounds.) But the ’70s and ’80s synth heroes still tour — albeit in a “livable way,” says Oates, speaking by phone before a recent show in San Francisco.

click to enlarge John, sans signature furry caterpillar, with Daryl (above, as always) (Photo by Justin Wilson)
  • John, sans signature furry caterpillar, with Daryl (above, as always) (Photo by Justin Wilson)

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“We go out for a couple weeks, come home for a couple weeks,” imparts the formerly mustachioed one. “We’re not out there killing ourselves for months at a time. We try to go to nice places, try to stay in good hotels, try to enjoy the experience, because if you get burned out on it, of course you wouldn’t want to do it.”

But that’s not all they’re up to. In what may be the oddest pairing since Cher and Beavis and Butt-head got together, Hall & Oates recently joined forces with Gym Class Heroes for a mashup CD. The wildly popular hip-hop lite act from Geneva, New York, had already announced their fandom by naming their tour “Daryl Hall for President.” Earlier this year, lead singer Travis McCoy asked Brooklyn rap producer J.J. Brown and his engineer/partner, Dan “The Deacon” Maier, to put the lyrics from the Heroes’ As Cruel as School Children over Hall & Oates instrumentals.

Brown and Maier, known for merging Ludacris vocals with Jackson 5 samples (you can peep their Re-Release Therapy at www.5gproductions.com), hunkered down in the studio for weeks, emerging with a tasty compilation Oates calls “the most unique steps I’ve heard coming out of hip-hop in quite a while.”

The mashup effort vastly improves upon As Cruel as School Children, although Hall & Oates fans may initially find McCoy’s vocals annoying. Brown likes to refer to the project as a “matchup,” as instrumentals culled from the duo’s entire oeuvre were cherry-picked for each track. Thus Gym Class Heroes’ “Clothes Off!” rests atop melodies from “Out of Touch” and “Family Man,” as well as percussion samples borrowed from “Crime Pays” and “Missed Opportunities.” The disc will be bundled with a Gym Class Heroes live DVD, and will likely come out in the fall, Brown speculates. (Gym Class Heroes were unavailable for comment.)

Oates swears he’s not pandering to the kids.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and go, ‘We gotta stay youthful, we’ve gotta stay on track with what’s going on in the music business,’ ” he says. “[But] I’m thrilled that there’s a whole new generation of people rediscovering us. I think a lot of it has to do with people like the Killers and Gym Class Heroes, who have been giving us the shout-outs and opening up their fans to us.”

Introduced to the famous duo before a recent concert in New York City, Brown and Maier found them quite cordial. Oates even wore a pin from their production company, 5G, onstage.

“They want to run their ideas by up-and-coming urban producers, because that’s what’s always worked for them,” says Brown, noting the pair’s use of legendary Afrika Bambaataa producer Arthur Baker as a consultant on Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom. In fact, Brown continues, the duo are largely unheralded for pioneering a number of studio trends. Oates agrees.

“We were one of the first groups to use sampled instruments. We started with synthesizers at the moment they became available,” he says, adding that they had some of the first hits utilizing drum machines. “So, we were combining these different technologies all at the same time, and I think it’s something we never really did get credit for.”

As the Yacht Rock videos underscore, Hall & Oates’ legacy may be cheesier than the duo would like to admit. But, with teen brats dominating the pop charts in recent years, it’s hard not to look back at maturish hits like “Private Eyes” and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” with nostalgia.

Thankfully, we’ll always have those songs. But the same isn’t true of the mustache.

“To me it kind of symbolizes the old John, and I’m not that guy anymore, so I decided to shed my skin and have a bit of a personal transformation,” Oates says. “I’ll never bring it back. That’s one thing I can promise you.”

Hall & Oates play Fri. and Sat., Sept. 7 and 8, at the Hollywood Bowl.

Reach the writer at bwesthoff@laweekly.com

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