O.A.R. - Never Holding Back

When (not if) the Columbus bred O.A.R. hits the mainstream, it will undoubtedly seem like an overnight success. Five guys in their mid-twenties with a major label deal and a sound as clean as three-day old stubble may come across to some as another product of a music industry looking for the next big thing. We know better. We’ve been listening.

After forming in high school and gelling at Ohio State--born in Maryland and bred in Ohio, as they like to say--the band rode the initial Napster craze to recognition throughout the country and established a fan-base that would make any guerilla marketer stand up and applaud. Having signed with Lava Records last year, the band is reaping the rewards of major label cache: increased radio play, appearing on Late Night with Conan and opening six dates for the Dave Matthews Band this summer. Getting back in the studio this winter, O.A.R. finally seems ready to get off the bus and get in the fast lane.

“You’re sleeping basically in a coffin,” says guitar player Richard On during a recent gig in North Carolina. The crypts of which he speaks are the mini bunks lined four to an aisle in the tour busses that have increasingly been the band’s home over the years, causing a bit of a Groundhog Day feel after groggily waking up in city after city. Much like Matthews and other devotees of the road, O.A.R. made their name with live performances that wander in and out of set lists and leave fans rushing for their wallets and their iPods.

“We’ve been together for so long that we really try to make it a family atmosphere when we’re out there,” says bassist Benj Gershman. “We’ve basically had the same crew for five or six years now and it’d be much more difficult to do this if that wasn’t the case.”

“It’s gotten rougher going out though,” adds lead singer Marc Roberge. “Now that we’re starting to have families and other responsibilities like that, it
makes it that much tougher to leave for weeks at a time. This four-week tour is actually a perfect length because usually at about six you start to really get worn down.”

The increased exposure and shorter tour routes are in large part due to the contract the band signed with Lava, the Atlantic Records-distributed label that’s also home to Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker, among others.

“We were aware that no matter how good your music is or how much of a following you have, there seems to be a wall with how much exposure you get being on an independent label,” notes Roberge. While still tied to Everfine, the label they’ve been with from the beginning, the band wanted to bypass that wall and begin reaping the rewards of their work. “Our earlier stuff is selling great, and our Lava release has done well, so we’re excited with how things have worked out.”

Despite the hands-off approach from their new label, one gets the feeling something just wasn’t right with their initial release.

“It’s important that people realize we’re still growing in the studio,” On points out. “This was basically the third time we were in the studio and we still have a lot to learn about the whole process. We’re still growing and trying to find that comfort level and hopefully through experience we can finally put out a record that we’re completely happy with and feel like it represents the band and what we’re about.” Adds Roberge, “We really feel like we made the best record we could at the time, but we know already that we’ve moved so far beyond it that when we go in the studio this winter, we’re ready to do it our way.”

The Lava release, In Between Now & Then, produced “Hey Girl,” which proved to be a moderate success on the radio, but failed to catch on in a big way. That may be due to the fact the band still battles with the task of capturing their live performances in the relatively sterile atmosphere of a studio. “Our shows may not be as polished, but one thing we realized is that we’re not a polished band,” says Roberge. “You come see us live and we’re missin’ shit, fuckin’ up and having a great time, but that’s our band and we need to take that to the studio and be that band.”

At no venue have they been “that band” more than at the Newport.
As a Buckeye, you don’t have to think long or hard to know how crazy a show can go there, while still blowing the roof off the place. Bands like O.A.R.
will always be able to relax and take their shows in stride, because everyone there aspires--if even just in thought or prayer--to be just like them. G Love is greeted with similar lenience. When Benj and Richard were tossed the idea of either playing one Ohio Stadium gig or fifty Newport jobs, the old haunt won out.

“Ah, man. Not fifty; maybe like three or four,” says Benj. “That’d just be the tour: the Newport tour,” Richard joked. “Now that would be Groundhog Day.”

Nipping that in the bud, Roberge reiterated the importance of staying true to their roots, but looking to finally use those coffins a bit less frequently. “I don’t want to be on road 300 nights a year for the rest of my life. I want to get a song on the radio and get it played on the radio every day. “Hey girl” was on quite a bit, but for whatever reason it didn’t hit and I’m glad, because that wasn’t a song that I wanted to hear all the time and only be known for. Now, on this record, that will hopefully be the case and it will be something we can be proud of when it does.”

As always, we’ll be watching for the fireworks.