Hall & Oates’ Daryl Hall (pictured) talks to realscreen about swapping the pretensions of pop stardom for a pair of unscripted TV shows: the Webby Award-winning Live from Daryl’s House, and his upcoming DIY Network series Daryl’s Restoration Over-Hall.
Staying relevant in pop culture is an art form in and of itself, especially among those who experience success early on and then struggle to retain it later in life.
One musician that has managed to pull off a career re-invention is Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, the mega-selling pop duo that maintained a constant presence on MTV and the Billboard charts with hits like “Private Eyes” and “Maneater” throughout the 1980s.
Five years ago, Hall was looking for a way to reinvigorate his craft and decided to invest his own money in Live From Daryl’s House, a free web series in which he invites musicians – new blood and legends – over to his house to play music. It’s a simple idea that offers a glimpse into the creative process minus the pretension that can come with performance.
He has since produced 62 episodes featuring artists such as Smokey Robinson, Todd Rundgren, Cee Lo Green, Chromeo and Minus the Bear, and won a Webby Award. Cable net VH1 aired the most recent season on Saturday mornings, and the series now airs on HD channel Palladia, and Rural Media Group-owned networks RFD-TV and FamilyNet.
Next year, Hall will bring his other passion – antique architecture – to the small screen via the DIY Network series Daryl’s Restoration Over-Hall, which will follow the music veteran as he restores a 1700s Connecticut farm house and transforms it into a family home.
Why are you interested in doing television at this stage of your career?
The old paradigm is dead as a doornail. No matter what stage of your career – whether you’re starting out or you’re a person like me who has been doing it a long time – relying on radio and how many records you sell and all that nonsense isn’t the way to get across to people anymore. Five years ago, I realized that. I wanted another way to put music out there and expand on my music by interacting with other people.
When did you realize Live From Daryl’s House could be a new way forward?
I knew it right away for a number of reasons. One, because anybody in an official position didn’t understand it so I knew I was doing something that hadn’t been done before.
You mean record label and TV execs?
Exactly. The suits don’t understand new things. If they say things like ‘this is too clever’ or ‘this is too smart for the public’ I know I’m doing the right thing. I’m lucky enough to be in a time when one door closes, another door opens. If you have the funding – and I put my own money into this and luckily got somebody to help me – you can do what you want. The Internet is an open field. We show a side of music that nobody ever sees and that has an amazing resonance with people.
What side of music is that?
The way musicians act when nobody is watching. The way we do it is so unobtrusive: everybody is just sitting in the house, telling stories, drinking wine and playing good music. It’s such a natural experience. You get to hear stories from people who you may have been interested in for years and didn’t know who they really are.
Why do you think that side of music hasn’t traditionally been emphasized?
Music has always revolved around a musician on stage with an audience watching. When there’s an audience, there’s a fourth wall. People don’t act exactly like themselves when they’re on the stage. You just do it differently. One of my first things was no audience. That really changes things because they’re not doing their act.
What lessons did you learn from your days at MTV in the 1980s that are still relevant today?
I was there in the very beginning – literally the first day. They were not quite sure what they were doing. Again, it was a brand new thing and they really didn’t have as much content as they needed so I remember John [Oates] and I – or sometimes just myself – would go on TV and they’d just say, ‘Be a VJ for three hours.’
I’d say, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ They’d say, ‘We’ll give you a list of videos to play and then just talk and do whatever you want in between.’ We would do anything we could think of. I remember one time [Hall & Oates bassist] T-Bone fried eggs and made breakfast. I learned how to be quick on my feet without a script. Those days on MTV really prepared me for what I’m doing now.
Why do certain artists continue remain relevant? Is there a trick to it or is it something that just happens naturally?
I don’t think it happens naturally. Most artists of my generation – and I’ve never really felt a part of my own generation – feel entitled. The world is theirs and they deserve it. Everything they did was the greatest thing in the world.
The ‘I’ve seen the history of rock n’ roll’ bulls**t. They didn’t have to worry about anything. They had the whole f*****g machine behind them so they could just make, in my opinion, mediocre music or sometimes inspired music. But whatever they did, it was easy. And they got paid outrageous amounts of money to do it.
Now it’s all changed and they’re all little babies going ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t sell records anymore.’ Not as many people are coming to the concerts and because of their attitude, they’re not shifting generations and they’re watching diminishing returns. They have no wit, no ability to rethink things or step out of the box.
To switch to the DIY show, how did your interest in historic restoration arise?
I grew up in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which has some of the best antique architecture in the United States. I come from a very old family and my grandfather and my uncles were all construction people, in that they built houses and repaired old houses. I grew up taking music lessons and hanging around on construction sites. I have a dual experience in my life because family gave me these interests in preserving old houses. I love it. Old houses are the most direct ties that we have to the past.
What format will the show take?
I have a house that is a 1780s house in Connecticut that I bought and is in disrepair. It’s also small for our family so the show is about bringing this house back to its original life. It’s the story of how to bring an old house back to its purity and how it exists in the modern world.
Is there a connection between your music and your construction work?
It’s funny because I’ve done a number of these projects and it’s not that different from making an album. I look at myself as the producer/artist like I do in music. Then I hire a good engineer. I hire musicians who are master carpenters with various expertise. You have an idea and a story and you make it real. It’s not that different from making a record.
What effect have these projects had on your relationship with your fans?
I came up with this pop stardom in the Eighties and people really had no clue what I was all about, which is common. Again, I was this figure on stage and very much an object in people’s minds. With these shows, there is no barrier between what you see and the way I really am. When I’m in the world – which I am all the time – people relate to me as if they know me. And they do.
I’ve never had such a rush of goodwill from people who are thrilled and interested in what I’m doing, and in the right way too. They get it. What I’m doing now beats the hell out of what I was doing in the Eighties and I’m very happy about it.
- An edited version of this feature originally appeared in the May/June 2013 edition of realscreen magazine. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.