O.A.R.'s latest album may be called "The Rockville LP," but don't take the title to mean it was recorded in the group's home town of Rockville, Md. It actually was recorded in and out of studio settings as the band toured amphitheaters across the United States.
But the album title is fitting because the group drew inspiration for the project by returning to Rockville and revisiting the community that still feels like home nearly two decades after the group began its journey together as O.A.R. The band plays Sept. 25 at Silver Legacy Resort Casino.
"The band was looking for a concept for the record, looking for something to really creatively sink our teeth into," said sax player Jerry DePizzo during a recent phone interview. "So we figured, let's go back to the Rockville area. We went down the same roads, went to (drummer) Chris (Culos') basement and kind of recharged and reconnected with that energy and that spirit that first got everybody together playing gigs and things. That was enough to recharge the creative batteries and go out and finish the record."
This recharge for O.A.R. began with songwriter-producer Nathan Chapman in Nashville in 2013. After that early session, other parts for the album were recorded outside of the recording studio environment.
"We brought a recording rig out, and we utilized every venue that we were at," DePizzo said. "We would record guitars outside in Virginia at a show, and we would have a soundstage in Connecticut and we would be doing handclaps at the end of (the song) 'I Will Find You.' And piano we would do at Saratoga Springs because they have a bunch of Steinways just sitting there. So we brought in a piano tuner and had at it. We utilized every and all space to make this record."
Still, DePizzo credits Chapman (best known for his work with Taylor Swift) for helping to get the project off to a strong start. Chapman and O.A.R. singer Marc Roberge had met during an event in Los Angeles and decided to try writing together. Those Nashville sessions produced the album's most concise and poppy songs, such as "Peace" and "Two Hands Up." This met one key goal for the album: to have songs that could be sent to radio.
"I think we all know we needed a song that really connected with people in a broad way. And working with Nathan certainly was a great experience for that," DePizzo said.
DePizzo joined Roberge, Chapman and two other Nashville-based writers, Kevin Kadish and Blair Daly, for one of the sessions and said it was a cool learning experience.
"The craft and the focus on the song was great stuff," DePizzo said. "It was just really cool to be there, to be a part of it and kind of absorb that into our workflow."
Having the radio-ready songs in hand allowed O.A.R. to connect with something else that relates to Rockville — the experimental attitude they had back in 1996, when Culos, singer Marc Roberge, guitarist Richard On and bassist Benj Gershman got together as high-schoolers to form the band. DePizzo joined O.A.R. after meeting the band during college at Ohio State.
Back then, there were no thoughts about writing singles or paying attention to songwriting conventions or rules. DePizzo said the band wanted to reconnect with their inner 16-year olds and the freedom they felt in making music. And having four potential singles already in hand let the group, in DePizzo's words, get "a lot weirder" with some of the other songs.
"Once we knew that we had some material that we felt was going to connect with people, regardless of whether they are fans or not, we felt we could really focus on some material that conceptually can expand the borders a little bit more," DePizzo said.
Those "weirder" songs include such extended tracks as "Caroline the Wrecking Ball," "I Will Find You" and "The Architect," which make room for more intricate arrangements, stylistic left turns, solos and instrumental interplay.
Those songs harken back to O.A.R.'s early albums, which found the group fusing a wide range of influences (including pop, reggae and island music) in songs that often topped five minutes and usually expanded further in concert with improvisations. That approach gained O.A.R. a strong following within the jam band community.
Wanting to expand the group's audience and develop their songwriting chops, O.A.R. began to concentrate on tightening up its songwriting as it made albums such as "Stories of a Stranger" (2006), "All Sides" (2008) and "King" (2011).