Music » Music Stories

Moustache-free to Be You and Me

We chat with a fresh-faced John Oates, pick the brain behind M.O.T.O. and play a scary game with Burnt by the Sun

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For John Oates, turning over a new leaf meant shaving off his Freddie Mercury moustache. Oates still ain't as pretty as his taller, blonder, better-known partner, Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, but for our money, the pint-size David Starsky doppelgänger has got to be a better sport than, say, Andrew Ridgley, the silent half of Wham! Better yet, judge for yourself:

The Riverfront Times: Why'd you shave off that fabulous moustache, and have you caught shit from your fans in the law-enforcement community for doing so?

John Oates: I shaved the moustache because I am no longer the guy who had the moustache.

Who was that guy, then?

He was a guy playing rock star and not paying attention to more important things, like real life. In terms of law enforcement, I'm too short to be a cop.

I have it on good authority that at Vintage Vinyl, our friendly neighborhood record store, your top demographic is fiftysomething black women. How do you explain your popularity in the African-American community?

We have always been popular in the black community. Our first records were played on the soul stations in Philly when we were teenagers. "Sara Smile" was a huge hit there. The black community launched our career. Our biggest challenge was getting on white radio.

Who came up with the song "War Baby Son of Zorro," and can you please explain its deeper meaning?

I think Daryl came up with the title. We're children of the Baby Boom generation; we grew up in the '50s and '60s. We were trying to encapsulate it in our psychedelic haze.

I've long sensed a bit of playful misogyny in some of your bigger hits, namely "She's Gone," "Rich Girl" and, of course, "Maneater." So I have to ask: Who's the one who gets his heart broken so often and so painfully -- you or Hall?

I think we've both had our share. I will not agree with the misogyny. It's a lot easier for guys to lament about love lost than women. "Rich Girl" was actually "Rich Guy," but it sounded terrible to sing, so we changed it to "Rich Girl." It was a friend of Daryl's girlfriend, the heir to a fast-food fortune. Everyone at the time thought it was about Patty Hearst.

You have a journalism degree from Temple. Have you ever done anything with it?

I do write prose occasionally. I write a column for a new magazine called Aspen Peak [Oates lives in Aspen, Colorado] called "Memoirs of a Reluctant Rancher."

Do you regret wearing pink jeans on the Japanese cover of Voices?

They weren't jeans. They were gabardine pants. I was trying to make a quasi-'60s statement, but it came up a little weird. Sometimes your intended fashion statement doesn't translate. That's why they invented mirrors.

Do you consider Hall to be the Caucasian King of Soul, and do you feel as though modern cocoa crooners like R. Kelly, Van Hunt, Usher and Maxwell owe him a debt of gratitude?

Daryl is one of the great soul singers of all time. The little-known fact is how good a singer I am.

Do you attribute your recent spike in popularity to your starring role in that Infinity stereo commercial?

No. -- Mike Seely

Burnt by Insanity?

One of Relapse's stable of metalcore bands that are stretching the boundaries of alt-metal, Burnt by the Sun is characterized by its unholy guitar squall and ponderous low end; the band is prone to limber breaks and has an offbeat sense of humor ("Boston Tea-Bag Party," "Dow Jones and the Temple of Doom") along with a polemical streak comparable to that of the Dead Kennedys. Singing with the typical death-metal feral growl, vocalist Michael Olender (third from left) exhibits a passion more commonly associated with escaped mental patients, so we at the Riverfront Times decided to test his sanity with some word association.

Evil: "Dead."

Mission accomplished: "Mission what?"

Tri-Lateral Commission: "What they say about these groups is true. Watch what you say."

Coagulating pools of blood: "Not my scene."

Burnt baby carcasses: "Dinner with my wife tonight."

Worthless waste of flesh: "There's bad places I can go with that one, but I'm married, so no thank you."

Punk rock: "Punk rock or hunk rock? (The answer is integrity.)"

The future of rock: "Depressing."

blink-182: "A perfect example of depressing."

James Hetfield: "Fucking pussy."

Glenn Danzig: "Big fucking pussy. (Don't tell him I said that.)"

Rock journalists: "Great article on Bill O'Reilly in this month's Rolling Stone."

Limp Bizkit: "Makes me regret ever wearing a fitted cap."

Elaborates Olender: "Heavy music's appeal has really broadened into the mainstream again with bands like Slipknot and Hatebreed paving the way, but there are a lot of half-rate bands, just following a formula, knowing they could make a living at it. I like to write about something meaningful, something that I care about that has weight and significance, and feel people not only recognize that and appreciate it, but it means more to you and that makes the record even heavier."

Verdict: In an insane world, the sane man is often deemed insane -- so Olender's clearly an "off-his" rocker. Observe the patient and the rest of Burnt by the Sun at the Creepy Crawl on Sunday, August 29. -- Chris Parker

Questions Three
Paul Caporino is one of those bonafide basement-pop geniuses, the best songwriter you've never heard of. Since the waning days of the Reagan administration, his band, M.O.T.O. (for Masters of the Obvious, but the cognoscenti just say "moto"), has issued literally dozens of EPs and cassettes along with the occasional full-length on vinyl or plastic. Through countless lineup changes and three geographical moves (New Orleans to Boston to Chicago), Caporino has only sharpened his gift for insanely catchy punk-pop and genuinely funny lyrics. Neophytes would do best to start with last year's Kill Moto! before delving into the whole Byzantine discography. Irresistible tunes such as "I Hate My Fucking Job" and "Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance to the Radio" offer big, Cheap Trick-esque rock melodies played at Buzzcocks speed, proving definitively that two or three chords are more fun than six or seven. Through it all, Caporino sounds like a man who can write perfect two-minute pop nuggets by the hundreds, as indeed he is. He's as concise verbally as he is musically:

The Riverfront Times: Your early records had a lot of lyrics about your penis ["Crystallize My Penis," "It's So Big It's Fluorescent," etc.] -- your recent ones, not so much. Has your penis become less important to you as you've gotten older?

Paul Caporino: I don't have any songs about my [actual] penis. I wrote those lyrics 'cause they were funny and they got us attention.

You've recorded songs for tribute albums to Motörhead, Shonen Knife and Frank Zappa. Does that trio pretty much triangulate the M.O.T.O. sound?

Not really. Good guess, though.

M.O.T.O.'s prolific output, homemade recordings and catchy melodies have prompted some to call you "the punk Guided by Voices." Do you take this as a compliment?

It's not a compliment or a put-down. But if it makes people buy our stuff, come to our shows and give us money, that's okay by me. -- Jason Toon

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