EVERY band wants it. A lot of bands claim they have it. Others have hits for years and never have it. O.A.R.’s got it: a devoted, organically grown grassroots following.
Now, after four releases that made them one of the most successful indie bands ever, culminating with their 2002 double live CD, Any Time Now, which has sold nearly 100,000 copies, O.A.R. makes the transition to a major label with their Lava/Everfine Records debut In Between Now and Then. It’s a move they have made cautiously, but not just to make sure they found the right home for their music. In order not to leave a single fan behind, O.A.R. announced it to them first on their message board and promised to personally answer all the questions fans asked. Ninety nine percent of the messages O.A.R. received were congratulatory.
Any fears fans may have had about the music changing will quickly be allayed with one listen to In Between Now and Then. Singer/lyricist Marc Roberge, continues to explore his favorite themes–freedom, wanderlust, idealism and love. Present and accounted for in precision-crafted songs like “Mr. Moon” is O.A.R.’s secret recipe for an infectious, joy-filled breezy cruise through rock and folk seasoned with what they like to simply call island vibe roots rock—pinches of ska and reggae. Songs like “Coalminer” and “Revisited” that may seem loosely structured are actually so well anchored with tight playing that the listener always knows exactly where O.A.R. is guiding them. “Right On Time” is a true rock and roll song, yet retains that feeling of ease that makes O.A.R.’s music stand out.
O.A.R. also decided to briefly return to their beginnings on In Between Now and Then. They chose to introduce themselves to radio and video with “Hey Girl,” one of the first songs they wrote. The sweet surrender of the upbeat, romantic track has made it a concert favorite.
“We wanted to re-record it and finally do it right,” explains Roberge. “We want to show people who we are and to represent ourselves as truly as possible, to pay tribute to the band we have been up until now with a song that truly defines the band.”
As an additional introduction, O.A.R. has also included a bonus live DVD with In Between Now and Then. Filmed at a show at Irving Plaza in New York this winter, it captures the infectious joy of an O.A.R. concert with three songs: their striking blend of Western rock and reggae in “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” that has become a concert staple; “Risen,” plus “Revisited” from In Between Now and Then.
To record In Between Now and Then O.A.R. reunited with producer John Alagia (John Mayer, DMB, Ben Folds) and engineer Jeff Juliano with whom they recorded Risen.”Working with John and Jeff is not only fun, they force you to challenge yourself,” says bassist Benj Gershman. “That’s a really good thing for musicians who are always trying to come up with something better and something that stands the te est of time a little bit more. They make you ask yourself, ‘Is this the way I want the song to go?'”
O.A.R. collaborated in their usual way with each member writing his own part and Roberge supplying the lyrics. They headed to New York to record for the first time after pre-production at a studio in the mountains of Virginia. One big change for O.A.R. was allowing themselves the luxury of pre-production. Explains drummer Chris Culos:
“There was a lot of pre-production done for the album which was really great for us because we were able to get in there and actually hear our ideas, hear how the finished product would sound. We got to work it out, listen back, get better ideas of what we were really going for. When we actually went into the studio, we felt like we were on for the first time. We were able to express our ideas all the way from beginning to end. We had a chance to get to that point where everybody is happy and that is totally different from any experience we’ve ever had.”
The formation of O.A.R. wasn’t all that unusual. Roberge, who lists Bob Marley’s Babylon by Bus and Crowded House’s self-titled album as his first two CD purchases, got together with his junior high school classmate and best friend, Culos, who listened to Genesis, Metallica, and the Beastie Boys. They found common ground in the Pearl Jam “MTV Unplugged” video, which they would watch over and over again. To expand the line-up, Roberge invited guitarist Richard On to join them and Culos recruited Gershman.
What happened after that is one for the books. Assembled from two live recording sessions, the band released their first album, The Wanderer, for their rapidly growing fan base in the Washington D.C. area. Word of mouth began to spread about the band and “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” became a cult classic. O.A.R. began selling out venues in college towns from the Midwest to New York and selling CDs at the shows. While attending Ohio State, they met sax player Jerry DePizzo who completed the line-up and made his recording debut with O.A.R. on their second album, Souls Aflame. The recording yielded two more concert staples, “City on Down” and “Night Shift.”
O.A.R. still didn’t have a formal marketing plan, advertising or recording budget or a record company promoting their music to radio and the press. But they did have their legions of fans and when file sharing burst onto the Internet in 2000, their popularity exploded. In February 2001 the band’s manager, with full support of the band, created Everfine Records. This new independent record label would help to raise the visibility and profile of the band with their third studio release, Risen. The album debuted at #11 on the Billboard Top Internet Sales Chart. The following year, the live set Any Time Now, debuted at #156 on Billboard’s Top 200 and #4 on the Heatseekers chart. In the summer of 2002, O.A.R. was invited to join the Jeep World Outside Festival Tour with Sheryl Crow, Train and Ziggy Marley and found themselves playing to 10,000 to 15,000 fans every night.
“I think this is our true first record,” says Roberge of In Between Now and Then. “We took a lot of what we had already as a base. The island vibe just seems to be what cuts through. But I really do think that our true abilities right now are writing songs that are different across the board, different genres. We like to call it organized confusion.”
“A reporter once brilliantly called our music a train wreck of many styles,” Roberge continued with a laugh. “That is what it is. I really do think it’s an accidental thing when you’ve got five guys who like five different kinds of music getting in and playing together. Yeah, you’re going to experience a lot of confusion. Within confusion, there’s fusion. It works for us.”
What could be next for O.A.R. except gold and platinum?
“Sure,” notes Gershman, “that’s the evolution of …Of a Revolution.”
Chris Culos – drums; Jerry DePizzo – saxophone
Benj Gershman – bass; Richard On – guitar
Mark Roberge – guitar, vocals