Weren’t you the new guy in the band?
Those guys were together in high school, they grew up in the same area and knew each other, that basement band in high school that everybody was either in or knew. Ohio State University ’97, I met them there. I loved the guys. We were friends first. I loved the band ... It really started for me in late ’97, early ’98, humping gear, doing whatever was necessary to help my buddies out. A sound check turned into a show which turned into all the shows, and then the record. Now I’m a full-fledged member and have been so for quite a while.
Have you and your bandmates been able to keep the friendship going as the band’s career progresses?
Absolutely. It’s the cornerstone, the building block, the genesis of the whole band. I feel pretty fortunate to be in a situation where it’s really a friends' band first atmosphere. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve actually raised my voice to anybody in the band and probably have a couple of fingers left over. It’s really been a special situation.
What’s new about the upcoming tour when compared to past outings?
We’ve had almost a full year of playing the new material so we’ve really gotten to know it, develop it and kind of expand [it] further. The album versions of songs for us are always kind of blueprints, it always expands and evolves from that. So I’m excited to go out and do that and try new and different arrangements of all these [songs] that we’ve gotten to know and love over the past year.
Also, we’ve just finished up our “Extended Stay” tour. For us, it was a little departure from what we normally do, underplaying markets and having a week-long residency. Through that, we got to provide an audience with a different experience every night. We dug fairly deep into our catalog in order to do so. I think normally during a tour we’d play 50 or 60 different tunes, but for that tour we played somewhere about 100. In a lot of ways it felt like cramming for a midterm or a final, trying to get all this material down. Now we have forty-some odd songs we normally don’t play under our fingers. So I’m excited to expand on that idea and bring some of that rare material that normally doesn’t get out there, out to the audience this summer in confidence.
But even on previous tours you offered something different every night.
We understand that our audience travels to different shows. There are groups of individuals in our audience that will go to multiple shows during a tour, during the year. It’s not uncommon for us to hear, “This is my 50th show, this is my 70th show, this is my 25th show,” that kind of thing. So every night has got to be a different experience, every night has to be a different set. There’s always, I would say, a set arrangement, a bookend to every song, but solos are different.
I think something that sets us apart from different bands is our singer, Marc [Roberge]. There’s a part of the show that’s kind of improvised vocally every night that takes the band on a different tangent. Again, it’s something that provides our audience with a new and different experience every night, but also keeps it fresh and exciting for us and allows us to play songs like, “That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker,” “Hey Girl,” and “Shattered (Turn the Car Around),” some of the stuff that we play almost every night, it keeps it fresh and exciting for us.
Some of the best concert experiences are like that, where an act brings something special to the live performance that you can’t get on the album.
I think you have to. I think they’re two completely different beasts. You can’t do the same thing live that you can on a record and vice versa. They’re two different environments. While our record may be a four-minute intro to a song, call it overreaching, live, it really makes the night. For us, we work very hard to provide the best arrangement possible for an album experience and then take that blueprint, expand upon it and develop it for the live set.
When the band goes into the studio, do members of O.A.R. go in individually or does everyone play live together?
It depends on the project. I can speak from the last record, on King what we did [was] probably different than any of the others, we did a great deal of legwork ahead of time. I have this mantra that I use in life and in my profession, is that the time you put in before you hit “record” pays dividends once you hit “record.” We’ve certainly lived by that.
We live in all different cities. Our singer and bass player live in New York, our guitar player lives in Virginia, our drummer lives in Chicago, I live in Columbus, Ohio. We’re not with each other every week, every weekend, rehearsing and things like that. So we decided we’d spend a week in everybody’s respective home town writing and developing for the new record as we did for King.
So Chris our drummer in Chicago picked an old theatre, kind of abandoned theatre type setting; I picked a recording studio in Columbus, Rich, our guitar player in Virginia, picked a scrappy little studio that Fugazi used to record at. I’m a big fan so I was psyched to be there. In New York we picked the Euphoria rehearsal stage, it’s more of a jazz rehearsal stage than maybe like a rock [rehearsal stage], it fit for the time. And we worked really hard and we developed this material. By the time we went into Avatar to record the material, we cut 20 tunes off the floor in ten days, for us that’s a pretty good clip. And we probably could, minus a couple of little overdubs, stopped there. Then we took it home, digested it and at that point a couple of guys went out to Burbank, California, to work with [producer] Matt Wallace to produce some overdub work. I have a studio at my home and did the horn track stuff I wanted to take care of there. It happened a number of different ways.
Then we took some time off and wrote some more material, I guess stage two material which is more of the single-based stuff, like “Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes,” and “Back To One” on that record was developed piecemeal, one guy by one going in there and laying their stuff on top of it.
Horn-wise, all the solos were taken off the floor, playing with the band. “Over and Over” which is one of my favorite tunes on the record, that was one take. We came by material in a number of different ways. Whatever suited that song, that’s what we did.
Do you ever find yourself listening to recordings you made months ago to jog the memory?
I’m pretty well rehearsed at this point. I guess something that we did last summer, which we’re kind of continuing and evolving on this summer, is we decided to take out a horn section. That was a big fun challenge for me because I left high school and that was the last kind of organized sectional work I had done. Fifteen years later I had to go back and actually read and write charts and hire guys and develop a section, a unit. That’s something we did last summer and it worked out great. We’re doing the same thing this summer and kind of expanding on it. So it’s been a lot of fun. That’s something that’s certainly new and different and breathes life into the band.
I went out in Columbus and recruited trumpet players from Ohio State. [Our] trombone player is a young guy who gigs around town. I wanted that fire in the belly of youth. People who are psyched to be there, excited to take part in the whole experience and be out there to play their asses off and play all the O.A.R. tunes. And that’s what happened. It added exponentially to the show.
Playing with the younger musicians, does that help the band maintain the fire in the belly as well?
Absolutely. The first real show we played with them was at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan in Atlantic City in front of 30,000 people. I remember when “Poker” hit, which is one of our big songs and one people go all crazy for, their jaws dropped and they were just like “Holy shit!” They’re jazz kids, so they play to maybe 50 to 100 people a night in little smoky bars and clubs around Columbus so they never experienced anything like that.
And I had the biggest grin on my face. I was so excited that I could provide those guys with that kind of an opportunity. I just love it. They’re a lot of fun to be around and it provides a lot of perspective for everybody. It shows how fortunate we are to be doing what we’re doing and operate at the level [we’re at].
With you living in Columbus and other members in New York, Chicago and Virginia, do you think your respective locations help keep the band grounded as opposed to having the band based in, say, Los Angeles or Nashville?
I don’t know. I never lived in Los Angeles. I know that when we were coming up and growing this band, our cliched phrase was “We were born in Maryland but we were raised in Ohio.” I don’t think we would have garnered the same amount of success that we’ve had, especially early on, if we did it in New York. The grassroots movement that happened with this band occurred because it was us playing for our peers in colleges, universities and clubs and things around the country.
Being in Ohio and at Ohio State in particular, we were in a three-hour radius. You’re in Cleveland, you’re in Indianapolis, you’re in Chicago, you’re in Pittsburgh. We were able to grow this thing in concentric circles while still getting an education at Ohio State. It was certainly a unique college experience, growing it within your peers and everyone rallying around us. I just don’t feel we would have that same experience in the big three, your New York, L.A. or Nashville. Nothing against that. Obviously people do that all the time. I’m just glad we did it the way we did it.
It sounds as if the band’s roots helped instill that famous Midwestern work ethic, something you wouldn’t have acquired if you were based in Los Angeles and spending time going to clubs and hanging out with other musicians.
I grew up in Youngstown, a blue-collar steel town. In a lot of different ways, raw talent is kind of overrated, it’s not enough. You need a work ethic, that drive, that fire, that push and that relentless desire and willingness to go after your dream and go after your craft. People that rely on their own innate ability so they can derive some success from it, I don’t feel they can fully aspire to their potential by relying on it by itself. You need more.
Speaking from my own experiences, I may be a little light on the talent side but I’ll outwork you. That’s helped me, not only in the music business, but in every aspect of my life as well.
These days a lot of bands offer VIP packages and meet-and-greets. How much does O.A.R. interact with fans?
We certainly participate in that as well. I feel it allows the audience member to choose the level of involvement they want in their own experience. I always try to think of things as fans first, audience first. I’m fans of bands and artists and I try to think how I would want to be treated. I know the other guys do too. [They] go out after shows, meet people, take pictures, sign autographs. It doesn’t take a lot to do that, it just takes a little bit of time. I think it goes a long way and is something that is appreciated. It’s fairly easy on the ego, too. I have to be honest with you.
I’ve also learned that you can have this peer-to-peer interaction without being right next to somebody, with Facebook and Twitter and things like that. I love that aspect of that. Especially Twitter where you have this direct communication with your audience. I think we interact with people a lot in that regard which has always been a lot of fun and certainly one that can be rewarding, and will probably get you into a lot of trouble, too.
Regarding VIP packages, who would you pay to have a VIP experience with?
I’m a big Springsteen guy. If I had a chance to shake The Boss’ hand, I’d probably go for that.
How do you feel about fans taking cell phone videos at your concerts and posting then on YouTube and other places?
I love it. Especially when they’re putting it on Facebook and things like that. I don’t know how many millions or hundreds of millions are on Facebook now, but I know 60 to 70 percent of people on Facebook visit it every day. That’s the digital impression of themselves. That’s the new model for a grassroots movement. It may not be a buddy handing a buddy a CD or cassette and going, “You need to listen to these guys.” Now it’s a YouTube video, a Facebook video, now it’s a Spotify recommendation, however you want to do it. I try not to inhibit that [cell-phone videos]. I know every venue has its own policy. We work hard to provide a good experience for our audience but also abide by the policy of the venue. But I love that, I think it’s the way of the future. It’s free advertising.
From a musician’s point of view, do you have any opinions on subscription music, such as Rhapsody and Spotify? It appears that OA.R.’s entire catalog is on Rhapsody.
We’re on Spotify as well. I myself pay for a Spotify subscription. I think it’s fantastic. Me personally, I think that’s where media is heading. It’s not going to be who can sell you the most content, it’s going to be who provides you with the best content experience. Whoever wins out on that remains to be seen. But I think everything will be on a digital cloud somewhere and we’re just going to pay to access it.
There was a time when it was almost inconceivable for a rock band to turn 20 years old, but for O.A.R., that’s only a few years away. Do you feel as if you and O.A.R. are just getting started?
I don’t think we’ve lost any kind of steam. People ask questions like “What’s the secret to staying around?” One is keeping perspective and respecting the group dynamic. For us [it’s] keeping the family alive, thriving and having that relationship be a healthy one.
It’s not rocket science towards the end of it. You get better at your craft and you survive. I know those are fairly blanket statements, but there are no truer statements to make. You need to get better at what you do every day, every year, every record, every tour. If you do that and survive and keep your head up, after awhile all those things you dreamed about as a kid come true.
You’ve been doing a lot of press lately. Is there something you’ve wanted to tell the world about the upcoming tour, but no one has asked you the right question?
Oh, man. I think those kind of questions end up getting me in trouble, airing personal grievances (laughs) or what have you.
One thing I’m really excited for is that we’re going back to Jones Beach this summer. We haven’t had the opportunity to do that in a couple of years and I’m just really thrilled to be in the New York area in the summer. It’s one of those special places, special venues. We’ve been fortunate enough to play a couple of them. Like Red Rocks we’ve done for almost every year now for the past couple of years. There are only a couple special places like that and I’m glad we’re back.
O.A.R. returns to the road this week, playing Alfred State SUNY College in Alfred, N.Y., April 20 and SUNY / Oswego in Oswego, N.Y., April 21 before heading to Portland, Maine for a gig at the State Theatre April 25. Other stops include Northampton, Mass., at Calvin Theater April 26; Worcester, Mass., at Assumption College April 30 and Louisville, Ky., at 4th Street Live! May 4. Click here to purchase King. For more information, please visit OfARevolution.com.