O.A.R. anniversary album mixes live, studio songs
O.A.R. has reached its 20th anniversary as a band doing something the many acts that manage to last two decades don’t achieve. This band from Rockville, Maryland, has reached this milestone without a single change in its band lineup.
“What some people might not know is that a few of us had actually been playing together for a few years before then, anyway,” drummer Chris Culos said in pondering O.A.R.’s longevity during a recent phone interview. “Singer Marc (Roberge) and I, we grew up together, down the street from each other. And we started our first band in eighth grade with our guitar player, Richard (On). We played an eighth-grade talent show. That had to have been, I think ’92, maybe 1993. That was like three or four years prior to the band forming. So, some of us are going on toward 25 years of playing in bands together.”
Within a couple of years, Roberge was writing the first songs O.A.R. would record – starting to create a wide-ranging sound that would mix pop, rock, folk, reggae and world music – and the initial trio had been joined by bassist Benj Gershman. Culos said it was clear even then that the four friends had formed a group worth pursuing and protecting.
“When the four of us played together, that’s when we clicked as a band, as an official thing,” Culos said. ”That was in 1996. We recorded an album (“The Wanderer”) for just a couple hundred bucks. Call it an album, but it was really just a live recording on tape.
“Just something seemed like it was, there was something to it,” he said. “And as we were getting ready to graduate high school, we felt like if we all went our separate ways, it just would not come (back) together the way we could imagine it happening. We were realistic to a degree, but we just knew we owed it to ourselves (to stay a band). That’s when we made the decision to go to college together and went to Ohio State.”
One of the first musicians the four bandmates met at Ohio State was a saxophone player named Jerry DePizzo. He quickly fell in with O.A.R. and became an official member.
More to say
And after 20 years, it’s clear O.A.R. still has much more to say musically. That’s a key reason why to mark the group’s 20th anniversary, Culos and his bandmates didn’t want to release the typical greatest hits album.
“We wanted to do something to celebrate it, but we didn’t want it to be just a nostalgia piece,” Culos said.
To that end,“XX,” the 2-CD set that marks O.A.R.’s 20th anniversary, is not the typical greatest hits collection. As a band that has released a live album in between nearly every one of its eight studio CDs, “XX” honors both sides of O.A.R.’s recorded history with studio versions of 10 songs on one disc and 10 songs recorded live on the other.
But there’s a twist, especially to the studio version disc. Two of the songs are new, and three of the band’s radio singles – “Love and Memories,” “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” and “This Town” – were re-recorded for “XX,” which will be released on Aug. 5.
“We got to kind of add to the studio version what we’ve done live,” Culos said. “It usually happens the other way around. You record a song in the studio, you take it on the road and it takes on a whole new life. ... So, we got to go in and record a studio version with those (added) parts.”
The two new songs, “Follow Me, Follow You” and “I Go Through,” have gotten a special treatment. They were featured on a video series on the Qello web music channel called “Evolution of a Song.”
The series followed O.A.R. during the writing, arranging recording process, giving fans an opportunity to see how actual songs are conceived and evolve along the way.
“The idea is you’ve seen bands in the studio, you’ve seen them on the road. You’ve seen lots of footage,” Culos said. “But have you ever really seen how an important song, like a radio single, was written and the discussion that went into which one it would be? How does that (choice of a single) come about? So we documented this process in this series called ‘Evolution of a Song.’”
O.A.R. is now on a summer tour opening for Train. Culos said O.A.R. is continuing its long-standing tradition of changing up the selections – and sometimes the actual versions – of its songs for each show.
“What that (“XX” album) is is a real celebration of what got us here,” Culos said. “And that’s playing our classic songs, playing some new songs, playing some rare songs, playing some songs you may have heard on the radio, maybe breaking out (a new song) as a work in progress. It’s all across the board. It’s all about making each show unique and fun for that crowd.”