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John Oates to unveil sounds from new CD in Aspen

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
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ASPEN – John Oates, the 1980s pop-music icon and Aspen-area resident, will take the Wheeler Opera House stage Saturday evening with a reconfigured roots-rock band and new sounds from his CD “Mississippi Mile,” set for official release on April 12.The album contains a few originals, such as the title track, but mostly covers, including The Coasters’ “Searchin,” Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right” and Bob Dylan’s “He Was a Friend of Mine.”Oates is best known as one-half of the hit-making duo Hall & Oates. With musical partner Daryl Hall, he scored six No. 1 U.S. Singles and many other Top 10 songs from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, including “Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone,” “Rich Girl,” “Private Eyes” and “Out of Touch.” In recent years, however, Oates has turned to the broad musical genre known as Americana, a mix of soul, rock, blues, R&B, folk, country and other influences.Born in New York City and raised in Philadelphia, Oates has a home in Nashville as well as Woody Creek. He is executive producer for the upcoming 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival, which will be held at the Wheeler Opera House March 30-April 2. He said he won’t be doing his own show at the festival this year, but he’ll be around to back up some of the other artists.On Thursday, Oates set aside 30 minutes of his time for a question-and-answer session with The Aspen Times to discuss this weekend’s Wheeler concert and other matters pertaining to his career and love of music.Aspen Times: How does “Mississippi Mile” compare with your previous solo release, “1000 Miles of Life”?John Oates: The idea for “1000 Miles of Life” and the songs that were in it really came from a deep emotional place. It was an album about growing up, maturity, and really kind of serious album in a lot of ways. What I was thinking about was a lot of really important people in my life had passed away, people who were important to me from a personal and musical point of view. I started to think about mortality. The general feel of the songs was very serious.I felt like it was time for me not to stand on the sidelines anymore as a musician, as a songwriter. I felt that even though I was known for my pop songs over the years, there was a deeper place that I hadn’t really tapped into. The musicianship, the songwriting, are all on a very high level. It was all originals except for a Daniel Lanois song and a song by a very good friend of mine named Jerry Williams, who had passed away.The new album is much more fun. I wanted to move away from that serious style and record an album of songs I liked. I took it initially with a casual approach, I said ‘you know, I’ll just record some songs I liked when I was a kid.’ After the recording was finished, I had inadvertently created this musical autobiography for myself. Of artists who were inspirational and influential to me as a kid, growing up, before I even met Daryl. … I had whole musical life before Hall & Oates. People think I was born with a moustache singing “Maneater” or something (laughing). Far from the truth, because I was playing in coffee houses and folk clubs and with blues bands and R&B bands. “Mississippi Mile” represents where I am really coming from as an individual musician, much more than anything I’ve ever really done before. But the interesting part is that I really didn’t set out to do that; I just set out to record some fun songs. It was kind of a cool surprise.AT: When did you finish it? Why has it taken nearly a year to release the CD?JO: We recorded it in May 2010 right after the Nashville flood. We were supposed to record the album when the flood actually happened so obviously we put it off a little bit. We finished it very quickly. It’s about as close to a live album as you can make. All the performances are exactly as they happened in the studio. It’s almost exactly what we played in the moment.After I made it, there was a very fortunate circumstance. Through mutual friends I was reintroduced to a guy named John Esposito, who had become the president of Warner Music Nashville. He’s a huge fan, a music lover, and one of the few music executives out there who has a tremendous passion and deep knowledge of music. We kind of hit it off. I invited him to the studio. He said, ‘what are you going to do with this record.’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll probably just sell it out of the trunk of my car.’ I was being facetious but I really wasn’t. And that’s how the relationship began. So now I’m with Elektra Nashville (a Warner label). Being involved with a large company and setting up a proper promotional and marketing effort takes some time, and that’s why it took so long to put the record out.I like the people and the people really believe in me. Right now, it’s a honeymoon, so we’ll see what happens. I have a good feeling. There’s a change in the old traditional music business, and the old dinosaurs are falling by the wayside rapidly. Elektra Nashville and John Esposito represent a new approach to the music business.AT: Have you put together a new touring band?JO: Not a totally new band. The core band is two local guys who I’ve been working with for about 10 years now, John Michel (drummer) and Michael Jude (bass). They are well known in the valley; they’ve played all over the place. We’ve become friends and we play together all the time. I’ve added a keyboard player named Kevin McKendree, from Nashville, and a guitar player named Mark Newman, who lives in New York but is an old friend of John and Michael. They’re kind of reuniting an old team. I think it’s going to be exciting. The music is fun to play, with a lot of jamming. We’ll be touring until June … and then in the summer I’ll be doing a mix of that and some dates with Hall & Oates.We do a couple of old Hall & Oates songs; we reinvent them a little bit. (At the Wheeler), we’re going to do almost the whole album”Mississippi Mile,” except maybe one or two songs. I throw in a couple of the old chestnuts: the songs that really resonate for me from the old Hall & Oates catalog. I like to lean more on the ’70s songs than the ’80s songs. The ’80s songs are so well known. I don’t really like to do Hall & Oates without Hall. If you want Hall & Oates, just come to a Hall & Oates show. But (with the solo band) I like to do songs from the “Abandoned Luncheonette” album. Every day someone says to me, ‘That’s my favorite album you guys have ever made.’ It’s much closer to me and what I’m doing today than the ’80s hits are.AT: How is the Songwriters Festival changing this year?JO: Not really. This is the second annual event. There is a very subtle difference. We are having fewer performers this year but trying to give them more time. I think last year we were overly ambitious and we had too many performers and we didn’t give them enough time. We also try to introduce unknown songwriters by giving them a 20-minute set between the headliners. People will get blown away by some of these new and young people who are just incredible.AT: Is songwriting a lost art?JO: Absolutely not. It’s alive and well in so many forms. It’s the record-making that’s changed drastically. Even in pop music, there’s so much that sounds alike, there’s still some great pop songs being written. In the new genre of Americana music, there’s beautiful songs being written every day. The audience just has to find it. That’s one of the goals of the songwriting festival is to bring these songwriters into the foreground. It all starts with a song. I don’t care what record you’re making, you’ve got to have a song. Without that you have nothing. You can be the best guitar player or singer in the world, but it’s all about the songs.AT: You’ve written many great songs. Do any of them stand out, in your opinion, as being the best?JO: I’m proud of all of them for different reasons. If I had to pick one, I’d say “She’s Gone.” It’s a song that defined my career early on, put me and Daryl Hall on the map, and it’s a song that to this day we play every night, regardless of whether we’re playing together or solo. It’s a song that just resonates with people and sounds just as good today as it did 35 years ago. It stands the test of time.asalvail@aspentimes.com


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