For the majority of high school students, the time spent out of class is filled with such activities as football games, underage drinking, and worries about prom. The boys of O.A.R., however, spent high school’s free time a little differently. Before graduation, the band had already recorded its first album and established a solid foundation for what would become the grassroots-driven fan base that has taken O.A.R. through five albums, over 400,000 CD sales and a recent deal with Lava Records.
This is far from where the band started out seven years ago. Their first CD, The Wanderer, was recorded over a four-day period in drummer Chris Culos’ basement for around $1,700. Front man and guitarist Marc Roberge supplied the lyrics.
The songs on their first CD ranged from the emotionally healing, reggae styled “Black Rock” to the speed-it-up-slow-it-down concert favorite “Crazy Game of Poker.”
This tied together the chemistry of Culos, Roberge, guitarist Richard On and bassist Benji Gershman.
Playing a mix of rock, folk and reggae, O.A.R. created a style they call “island vibe roots rock.” This combination produces an infectious sound that continually gets fans jumping with upbeat themes and catchy rhymes.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Culos stated that “[the band’s name] came about when we were finally playing music that we wanted to be playing. It was like our revolution.” The official band name, Of A Revolution, Culos added, “applies to us because the revolution is the new music.”
While attending Ohio State, the band met saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, who was a welcome addition to O.A.R.’s second release, Soul’s Aflame. Recorded again in Culos’ basement, the new CD contained the crowd-pleasing “City on Down,” which called for unity and togetherness, an element that the band prides itself on.
“We play a unified sound for a unified crowd,” Culos said.
The band’s open recording policy attributed to their underground success and linked O.A.R. to the jam band scene. Personally financing tours and CD productions, the band did not have a marketing budget or a source for advertising. They were entirely dependent on shows and fans to spread the music.
With the creation of Napster, O.A.R. was taken to a whole new level of success.
“Napster led to what we are able to do today,” Culos said. “Once people found out about the band, they went back and supported us by buying records, coming to the shows or passing it on to their friends. In our case, Napster was huge.”
With their music circulating, O.A.R. sought the aid of producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, Moe., David Gray) for their third studio album Risen. Released on O.A.R.’s independent label, Everfine Records, the band created their best-sounding album yet, but it did not capture their live feel.
A year later, the band brought Alagia back to assist on a double disc recorded in O.A.R.’s hometown of D.C. The live CD, Any Time Now, created the high-energy concert sound that the band was looking for. Fans who had never seen them live were now able to hear why O.A.R. had developed such a strong following. Without a marketing plan, advertising budget, or much radio play, Any Time Now sold around 100,000 copies and debuted at #156 on Billboards top 200.
O.A.R. also started attracting record labels. Feeling the importance of staying independent and loyal to the fans, the band looked carefully into each offer and opened a forum with their listeners, promising to answer each e-mail. With overwhelming support and a pledge to stay loyal to their music, O.A.R. signed on with Lava Records and in spring of 2003 released In Between Now and Then under the joint label Lava/Everfine Records.
This album took O.A.R. from the rookie routine of rushing through recordings to a more slowed down pace.
“We spent a lot of time rehearsing and a lot of time in preproduction,” Culos said. “We have never been this prepared before. We went in for the first time and, in a studio environment, captured the live O.A.R. sound.”
The extra time can be heard when comparing In Between Now and Then to O.A.R.’s previous albums. The final product has all the elements that have kept the fans coming back, but has a more radio-friendly sound that lacks the rawness of past albums. With no fillers, In Between Now and Then is a solid album that stays true to O.A.R. fans. From the slow reggae song “Dareh Meyod” to the catchy lyrics of “Hey Girl,” this album shows O.A.R.’s playing range and growth as a band.
The decision to sign onto a major label has not deterred O.A.R. from maintaining control of its music. Despite the financial backing that Lava Records could provide, O.A.R. has decided to continue to stay self-financed. Similar to the early days, the band pays for all its expenses while on the road, as well as covers the cost of studio time. If it was not for the label’s ability to present the music to a much larger audience, O.A.R. might not have signed and simply continued producing under Everfine.
“[Being signed] has given us more awareness and more of a mainstream audience, but has our single taken off or are we on MTV? Not necessarily. We are going to continue our touring and if the record catches up, that’s great,” Culos said.
But for Culos, the most important aspect of touring focuses on the fans and the music, not the sales. “There are a lot of things we do on our days off: get together, hang out, parties, drinks, meet people and stuff like that,” Culos said. “But playing every night, that’s why we’re doing it.”
O.A.R. will perform at The Rave in Milwaukee this Wednesday night.