With his long blond hair and lumberjack build, Daryl Hall doesn’t look Jewish. Yet, contrary to his gentile appearance, the leading half of Hall & Oates can be counted as a member of the tribe. The blue-eyed soul man and perpetual hit machine actually converted nearly 40 years ago for a girl and still identifies as a Jew.
With the newly released, sensational Hall & Oates box set, Do What You Want, Be What You Are, the man behind "Private Eyes" is finally getting the respect he so richly deserves. He even has a new online show, Live From Daryl’s House, where both classic musicians (Smokey Robinson, Todd Rundgren) and young, starstruck ones (Plain White T’s, Chromeo) stop by to play. Heeb asked Hall about his newfound non-ironic relevance, his long and treasured career, and most importantly, what’s up with that Christmas album? Seriously, where’s the Hannukah record?
I never spotted religious themes in your lyrics before.
Well, religion has always been a part of my life, and yeah, there are inadvertent references to religion. I grew up singing in the church, but when I moved to Philadelphia, I got heavily involved in West Philadelphia. I married a Jewish girl and converted to Judaism in 1969, or 1970. Something like that. But now I’m not a member of any organized religion.
So you converted for a girl? No way.
Yeah, that’s the power of the West Philadelphia Jewish community. I spent almost a year under its tutelage. It became a part of my life. I wasn’t married to her very long, but Judaism still gives me an understanding of life. I do feel more akin to Judaism than Methodism, that’s for sure. And not to be stereotypical, being Jewish gave me more of an insight into the music business.
There’s a new interest in your music these days. Like it’s cool again to listen to Hall & Oates.
I find it really gratifying. When I was first starting out, when I was really young, I looked up to Ray Charles, B.B. King, Billy Eckstein. Those were the people I got my reference points from, and I said to myself that I want to be like them one day. I wanted to be referenced and appreciated . . . Better late than never.
Hall & Oates was groundbreaking. I mean, you guys were white.
My music caused me to have a very fortunate career. It was groundbreaking—I incorporated genres together, and that wasn’t done before. I took pop music and mixed it up with R&B.
I was watching you play with Chromeo on your online series, Live From Daryl’s House. The two of you connected so well, regardless of the generation gap and different fanbases.
We’ve actually got a lot in common. We talked about the problems they have nowadays, same that I had then. The same way that they didn’t take me seriously back then . . . that’s the same way Chromeo is being treated now. Dave is a very strong guy in that he can take it—if you’re not easily understood, you need to have an inner strength to ignore the criticism. I was there. I know what they’re going through. Super talented guys.
I’ve always perceived Hall & Oates in that Penn & Teller model. You’re the talkative Penn while John is the quiet Teller.
Duos are a strange thing. I’ve never been comfortable being labeled as a duo. John and I want to be individuals . . . We’re both Penn and we’re both Teller. If we’re like anybody, though, I think we’re like Jagger and Richards. Or Simon and Garfunkel. I look at what we’ve done as a team, like the band I put together, the musicians. I put those teams together, and John is also a part of the team.
Hall & Oates didn’t explode until the 80s. How did you stick it out through the 70s? What kept you going?
We were in the middle of punk and disco, which was a hard place to be. What camp were we in? No one really knew. And so there were a lot of strange things going on in music those days. But creatively, the 70’s were pretty incredible—I did a record with Robert Fripp that I’m very proud of. It was a very prolific time. In the 80’s, we decided to simplify and get rid of the outside factors. We produced the music ourselves and had more control over the songs.
Tell me about how that scene in the movie 500 Days of Summer. Did you see it?
Well, um, I saw that scene. [Laughs] But it’s hard to get me to the movie theater, so it wasn’t anything personal. But it made me really happy that the music was not as an addendum to the movie but was pivotal to the scene.
In 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt celebrates getting sex from Zooey Deschanel by rocking out to a Hall & Oates classic
Are you keeping up with contemporary music?
Oh, yeah. Contemporary music is important to me. That’s what Daryl’s House is all about. My being able to collaborate with these musicians . . . I needed a vehicle outside of the perception of the duo thing. It wasn’t my only motivation, but I wanted to figure out a new way as an individual artist . . . it’s been really fun.
When are you going to collaborate with Kanye West? It seems like a good fit. I can imagine him rapping over a Hall & Oates remix.
I don’t know. What can he do? Should I start a jeans line with him? Can he design Daryl Hall jeans?
What are you working on these days?
I’m doing a solo record now and I know that all these people that I’ve had on Daryl’s House . . . I’m going to bring those people into the solo project, and they’ll play along with me on the record.
I have to ask about the Christmas album. Why not one for Hannukah?
Oh, boy. The Hannukah songs aren’t as good. That’s the problem. I need to write some new material for that holiday but I’ve got a lot of energy. Maybe I’ll tackle that project one day.