Go ahead. Poke fun at the bristly mustache, the schlocky "Private Eyes" video or his status as pop music's most famous second-banana. Laugh all you want, because John Oates will have the last laugh. As half of the legendary duo Hall & Oates, the guitarist and singer laughed all the way to the bank on the back of numerous chart-topping hits. He's even laughed at his fictionalized portrayal as a hirsute, streetwise tough on the Internet phenomenon Yacht Rock. This year he took the joke a step further by lending his voice to the online cartoon JSTACHE, a series in which Oates fights crime alongside his hard-living, hard-loving mustache (voiced by comedian Dave Attell). Oates continues to make good on his mustache's reputation with a headlining solo appearance at this year's 'Stache Bash, the annual charity bacchanal thrown by the St. Louis-based American Mustache Institute. In advance of his appearance at the Bash, Oates spoke with B-Sides about his fabled 'stache, his solo career and the differences between himself and his online personae.
B-Sides: You've sold upwards of 80 million records and been part of the most successful musical duo of all time, but where does your appearance at the 'Stache Bash rank in your life's achievements?
John Oates: You want to hear that it's the highlight of my 35-plus-year career in the music business, right?
I can only assume that it is.
Let me ask you this question: Have you ever been to this before?
I never have.
Something tells me this is gonna be a pretty crazy event. The gathering of mustachioed people from all over the globe has to be pretty insane. I'm looking forward to it. It's gonna be a lot of fun.
How do your solo performances compare to a Hall & Oates set?
I used to call it "The Stories Behind the Songs," because I used to tell a lot of stories about the background and the back-stories to the big Hall & Oates hits, and of course play my solo material — I have two solo albums out. Now, I do a lot of rootsy stuff, a lot of blues and traditional American stuff that I used to do even before I met Daryl. So I think it's surprising for certain people who know me from my pop hits. I kind of keep it definitely different from Hall & Oates, but I don't ignore Hall & Oates. I play some of the songs that I like, that really are closer to me, like "Maneater" and "Out of Touch" and "She's Gone" and stuff like that. But it's not like a Hall & Oates show without Daryl. It's certainly different, and it's a little more acoustic, definitely more unplugged in style.
The rumor is that you are going to grow back your famous mustache for this event. Is there any truth to that?
Is that the rumor? I don't know. I have no idea. I haven't consulted with my follicles yet. They haven't communicated to me whether they can actually grow anymore.
What led you to shave it off in the first place? It was kind of an iconic thing for a long time.
It's funny. Back in the late '80s, I was going through a lot of major changes, professionally and personally. I don't want to get into it — it's too depressing — but serious things that I just had to deal with. Anyway, to make a long story short, the mustache kind of represented the old John, the guy who used to jump around in the videos and used to travel around the world doing a lot of irresponsible things. I decided that maybe I was gonna grow up, and the mustache represented the old me. I shed my skin and emerged as a new butterfly.
It seems like you've embraced your old look with the JSTACHE cartoon that's come out. How did that come about?
I'm far enough away from it now that I can laugh at myself. I can look at the guy with the mustache as a different person. What happened was, there are some people that handle our publishing catalogue, and they are always looking for ways of promoting the music and the Hall & Oates musical legacy to a younger generation. They came up with the idea, and I thought it was a really cool idea. [And] when they got Dave Attell involved to do the voice of the mustache, and I got involved, I just thought it was really funny.
I assume you've seen the Internet show Yacht Rock. To me, the funniest thing is that you are represented as this shit-talking badass who basically runs the show. Along with JSTACHE, are these Internet shows revealing the true dark side of John Oates?
I think the world would like to think there's a dark side. Everyone has a dark side — come on, let's face it. I don't think mine is quite as dark, but it makes for good theater.
No one gives Daryl Hall an online alter ego. Maybe you're finally getting your due.
Daryl Hall doesn't need an alter ego. His alter ego is his life. I mean, it's all out there. What you see with Daryl is what you get — he is the star. [Laughs]