"You Say You Want A Revolution ..."
O.A.R. (aka Of a Revolution) – Marc Roberge (lead singer/rhythm guitarist), lead guitarist Richard On, saxist Jerry DePizzo, bassist Benj Gershman, and drummer Chris Culos - formed in 1996 at Wootton High School in Rockville, MD. Roberge had known Culos since childhood where he also became friends and played in local bands with On and Gershman. DePizzo, who hails from Youngstown, OH, met the others in the dorms of Ohio State. O.A.R. first recorded The Wanderer independently as a demo in 1997.
Two years later, the switch from student band to headliner started with the arrival of their popular song, ’That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.’ The group went back into the recording studio for a second demo, which was released independently as Souls Aflame in 1999, with their third studio album Risen seeing the light of day in late 2001.
The live album Any Time Now came next in mid-2002, before the band’s major-label debut for Lava Records; the just-released In Between Now & Then.
Chatting with drummer Chris Culos recently, whilst he sat in the back of a cab being driven to his girlfriend's house in Chicago, I first wondered where the band’s name had originated? ”What happened was we were just a couple of kids at the time, playing music in the basement just for ourselves and a couple of friends that we would always invite over. A lot of the songs that we were writing at the time that appeared on our first couple of CDs are based off of a short story that Marc, our singer, was writing. He had a short story and he took themes and characters from these songs and based them off of that which is why all the lyrics are story-based. That short story was called ‘The Wanderer’ and in that story there’s a sentence that says – well, I won’t say what the first word is – but it goes ‘Blank ... of a revolution.’ Now, I don’t wanna get secretive and mysterious on you, but we gotta keep that first word to ourselves! So, we really didn’t have to think twice about it.”
Are any of you overly politically-minded?! ”No, what we mean by the revolution part of it is that we’re now playing music that we finally wanted to be playing. After years of playing in other bands and trying things out we finally hit what we were all going for. The style and the sound. It was a revolution for ourselves more than anything. So, no, I don’t want it to come across as anything political.”
You went from an Ohio State Frat Band to Billboard Chart darlings, but I’m wondering at what point was it that you realized that you had finally made it?! ”You know, I don’t know if it’s ever struck us as if we’ve ever made it or anything. But, I can tell you that a long, long time ago; way before any of this record selling and stuff happening, we exceeded anything we could have ever imagined. We never really set goals, so we never really knew when we’d ‘made it’ … and I still don’t think we’ve ‘made it’ anyway, ‘cause no matter how big you are you’ll always strive to be bigger and better. But, definitely, there are some landmark occasions when you’re sitting there looking back. Like, for instance, the Fillmore in San Francisco. That was a landmark occasion for some of the guys. When we went to Ohio State there was a theatre called the Newport Music Hall which when we first got there we said ‘One day, we’re gonna see our name on the marquee!' And by the time we’d graduated that was the place that we’d played every month and it became no big deal. But the first time that we walked on that stage we were like, ‘Man, we finally did it!’”
How much of the debut CD The Wanderer was recorded in Israel? ”None of it was actually recorded there, but some of the songs were definitely written while we were out there though.”
And how did it come about that you found yourself there in the first place? ”In our junior year of High School, which was in ’96, Marc [Roberge] and I transferred out of school for a couple of months to study abroad in Israel. And, it was definitely a change of pace and a big eye-opener for us, especially being so young. That was when it kind of hit us that we're sixteen years old and we don’t know anything yet! How can we sit here and try and write all these dramatic lyrics and stuff when we don’t know shit yet! That’s awful. So this was our chance to learn and open up our eyes.”
In Between Now And Then is the new album, so tell me more about where this album title originated ”As this is our first major-label release, we kind of wanted to get the point across that while we were branching off into a new direction that was unfamiliar, uncharted waters, that we were gonna still stick to our roots that we know where we’ve come from.”
How does the songwriting process go for O.A.R.? ”Songwriting comes about in a couple of different ways for us. Marc writes all of the lyrics and as far as the music it then comes to the rest of us and we all throw in our own parts. Or the music comes together in a big huge collaboration of the whole band. It’s very relaxed and I think you can also hear that in the music.”
Tell me more about where your song, ’That Was A Crazy Game of Poker’ came from! ”We kinda wrote it when we were over in Israel. The first half of the song was just like the country-rock part of the song, which we had definitely rehearsed. The second half of the song is like a more tranquil, funnier, way for life to slow down enough for you to take control a little bit more, and is our interpretation of reggae," he laughs. "But that second half was basically improved in the studio,” he laughs again. ”It’s really funny, because that’s what we stuck on CD and that’s what you hear today.”
1) Fav. song of O.A.R.s to play live? ”My favorite song to play live has always been ‘About Mr. Brown.’ It’s a song that we dedicated to one of our closest friends who passed away a couple of years ago and we remember him every time we play the song.”
2) Any fav. new tracks? ”We have a new song called ‘Dareh Meyod’ and it’s a song that we like to think is kinda groundbreaking for us,” he laughs. ”In the way that it came about. It’s just a different sounding song for us. I get so excited every time I see that we’re gonna be playing that.”
3) Tell me more about the song ‘James’ from the new album ”This is the first time that our saxaphone player Jerry [DePizzo] wrote the music for us. He brought the music to us while we were working on pre-production for the new album in the studio and wanted us to hear it. We loved it and so we tried to record it without the lyrics but it wasn’t working. So, we burnt Marc a copy of the song [Marc having previously asked Jerry what his own interpretation of the song was] and he took the song in his car, drove around for ten minutes and said ‘See if you guys like this’! And he basically nailed it with this one. It’s a beautiful song.”
4) Fav. 80’s hair band that you ‘rocked out’ to as a kid?! ”Man, you don’t understand,” he laughs. ”Just one?! I grew up on that stuff. I had every tape from like Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, Dokken and Motley Crew. I’m from a nice little suburb in Maryland and I’m wearing a Metallica ‘Ride The Lightening’ back patch on my jean jacket! But, I didn’t act like a bad ass though! I was like the straight-A kid with the Metallica jean jacket,” he laughs again.
Was there one band you loved more than any other at that time though? ’Oh yeah, Motley Crue!”
5) If you could meet anybody, dead or alive and ask them a question, who would it be and what would you ask them? ”My idol is John Bonham and I would just want to pick his brain and ask how he taught himself how to play like that. When he grew up learning to play the drums he taught himself how to play. They didn’t have instructors and teachers like they do now and for rock drumming, he was teaching himself as he went. I’d just like to know where the hell did that come from?!”
So, you believe in the tape-swapping that goes on at your shows, at your shows? ”Absolutely. 100%. That’s the reason why we’re where we are today, because of the kids who pass round the tapes, the CDs and even through file sharing and things like that. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for that.”
Any words of wisdom passed down to you through the years? ”My father told us, a long time ago, before we’d even left High School, ‘Don’t expect anything, but be ready for anything.’ So, we’ve always lived by that.”
Finally, describe the band’s music in five words ”Island Vibe Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll,” he laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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