John Oates has been part of plenty of singles with partner Daryl Hall, 15 of which have been Top 10 hits. Now the single is becoming Oates' primary expression as a solo artist.
Oates has launched a new series called Good Road To Follow in which he's releasing a single every month for the next year via Oates' PS Records and Elektra Records. "Stand Strong" came out as a sneak peak during the spring as part of an ESPN promotion with NASCAR, while the first "official" single in the series, "High Maintenance" -- a collaboration with Hot Chelle Rae -- comes out this month, and he worked with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, Vince Gill, John Pousette-Dart and others on future releases.
"I did four solo albums. They were great experiences, but I was trying to think about different ways of doing things," Oates tells Billboard. "I'm an indie artist with major distribution, so one foot in the extreme major music business and one foot in the abyss of indie artists. I thought, 'I can do whatever I want,' so I went to John Esposito, the president of Warners...and said, 'I've got this idea. Maybe I can just release a bunch of singles. He said, 'Hey, it's your label. You can do whatever you want.' I said, 'Will you support me?' He said, 'We've never done this. It's not really what we do, but why not? Let's give it a try.' And as soon as I made a commitment to go in that direction, I started getting really excited."
Oates says the best thing about Good Road To Follow is that it allows him to approach each of the songs individually and not necessarily pursue a particular sound or style for a body of work. "I realized if I'm not really making an album, I don't have to be concerned about things like stylistic consistency, pacing, a coherent mood. All that stuff goes out the window," Oates explains. "I have a wide range of interests and like a lot of different kinds of music, and I have a lot of friends who play in different styles. So I really can do whatever I want."
Oates got to know the members of Hot Chelle Rae through their fathers, Nashville songwriters Paul Overstreet and Keith Follese and guitarist Phil Keaggy.
"They'd asked me to performer on their version of (Hall & Oates') 'You Make My Dreams Come True' for an AmfAR compilation, and when were in the studio I told them what I was doing and said, 'Would you want to do one with me?' They said, 'Let's do it!' -- It was as easy as that. We wrote ('High Maintenance') one day, recorded it another day. I basically told them, 'I want to make a record exactly the way you make your records for pop radio right now. I just want to be in the room and help and do whatever I can and sing. You're gonna produce me. You're gonna make a Hot Chelle Rae record -- the only difference is I'm gonna be the one singing.' It was a completely cool, unusual collaboration."
Oates says the Good Road To Follow songs may also be released as "groups of EPs" in addition to the monthly downloads. "I don't really want to go too long without having something physical out there," he explains. "There are still people who like to get the feel for something." And, Oates adds, he's not necessarily limiting the project to only 12 months.
"I may just keep releasing singles 'til I run out of music, which is kind of cool in a way -- as long as people don't go, 'Oh my God, not another one!' "Oates says with a laugh. "My gut feeling is telling me that it's going to take awhile for people to kind of latch onto this. I don't expect this first single to come out of the box and the whole world drops what it's doing and we get eight million downloads. It would be nice if that happens, but my gut is that it's gonna have to develop over some time."