John Oates, half of one of pop’s most enduring duos, shares tips on success and longevity as part of Clash’s Rock And Rules series…
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‘Private Eyes’ (US number one, 1981)
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Learn Your Craft
“The best thing to do for a musician or songwriter who would like to pursue it as a career is to listen to the people that they respect and admire. Try to learn from them initially and then hopefully have an original sound emerge from that. That’s the tried and true method that’s been used over the years.
“I’m not a fan of the American Idol instant stardom type thing. I believe in learning your craft and paying your dues and practicing. I’m very old school in that regard. So if I had any overall broad advice it would be that.”
Stick To Your Guns
“You should always believe in yourself. Having self-confidence and believing in your own personal creative vision is very important. It’s difficult to stick to your guns and be true to yourself because there’s a lot of pressure to sound like whoever’s ‘happening’ at the moment, which is a common pitfall for a lot of artists and there’s a lot of pressure from the business side to do that. Being a true original is very difficult, but everyone should strive for that.
“We made all kinds of different records; we made soul records, we made R&B records, we made experimental rock records. It took years for us to evolve to the point where we created our own unique sound. We were fortunate to have grown up during a time when record companies actually allowed you to make creative mistakes.”
Keep It Real
“We’ve never had a master plan but went with our gut feeling. We just tried to do what we thought was musically good. We had a certain criteria for what we consider to be good. We based it on what we liked. We didn’t base what we liked on radio, or other people’s opinions, or record companies telling us what was good. We just made our music and hoped for the best.
“You have to be true to yourself, that’s what soul music is all about. Soul music comes from the heart. It comes from the soul of the person who is putting it out there. It’s got to be truthful and real. But if you want to try different things and experiment and spread your wings then you have to be responsible for the success or failure of your experimentation.”
Control Your Image
“I might have taken the music a little bit more seriously in the ’80s and reconsidered the stupid music videos that we did. We didn’t care about music videos and we didn’t think of them as important, yet these things actually live on forever, on the Internet, for the rest of your life. So if I were to do it all again I’d take a little bit more care and artistic control over the music videos.
“But other than that I’m very happy with our body of work and I think we’ve accomplished something that not many people can accomplish: staying together for a really long time, writing songs that are still being played on the radio, that people still want to hear after 40 years. That’s a major accomplishment in itself, so I’m proud of all that.”
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‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ (US number one, 1981)
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Interview: Anna Wilson
Related: more Rock And Rules features