O.A.R.’s evolution: Band returns to Vail for a free show Friday night
VAIL CO, Colorado
One of the biggest challenges O.A.R. has faced in its career has been learning how to perform in the studio and how to be prepared to be successful in getting recorded versions of the songs that the group members felt lived up to their potential.
The band members, in various interviews with this writer going back a decade, have made no bones about having had a huge learning curve in making albums.
The group formed in Rockville, Maryland and self-released its first CD, “”The Wanderer,” in 1997. But it wasn’t until the group’s third CD, “Risen,” that the band recorded in a real studio and worked with a professional producer, John Alagia.
As singer Marc Roberge recalled in a 2003 interview with this writer, that experience taught O.A.R. just how woefully unprepared the group was to make that CD.
“All we did was show up at the studio one day in Jersey and said ‘Let’s record a record,'” Roberge said in 2003. “And we played live some of the songs we wanted to do and you could look at his (Alagia’s) face, and he’s like ‘Oh s—, what did I get myself into?’… We didn’t know anything, nothing, not a damn thing, about recording, writing.”
Four more studio albums – “Any Time Now” (2002), “In Between Now And Then” (2003), “Stories of a Stranger” (2005) and “All Sides” (2008) – have followed since “Risen.” And the feeling saxophone player Jerry DePizzo had at the start of recording of O.A.R.’s current CD, “King” (which was released in August 2011), provides a good illustration of how the band as a whole has evolved when it comes to making studio albums.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to be around long enough to get to a point where we feel very confident going into the studio,” DePizzo said in a recent phone interview. “And it wasn’t always that way. For me, (making records) carried a lot of anxiety and dread in a lot of different ways. I think over the years, we’ve continued to work on that part of what we do and get better at our craft. And when we go into a record, to make a record, it’s exciting now. It’s not something we worry about. I just feel we know how to be O.A.R. in the studio. It’s such a relief to have that feeling and have that confidence to go in and make music that you just really want to make in there, that people are going to enjoy.”
‘This is where it’s supposed to be going’
It’s a good thing that the guys in O.A.R. – DePizzo, Roberge (singer/guitarist), Benj Gershman (bass), Richard On (guitar) and Chris Culos (drums) – felt secure in their abilities in the studio with “King” because it wasn’t a quick or seamless project to complete.
The project was recorded at multiple studios and the project had to be delayed in 2010 for two reasons: Roberge’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and had to immediately undergo surgery and the band parted ways with Atlantic Records and needed to find a new record deal.
Fortunately, things are looking up on both fronts. Roberge’s wife is doing well following treatment. And on the business front, O.A.R. found a deal to its liking with Wind-Up Records. (Wind-Up also released the group’s latest concert DVD/CD, “Live on Red Rocks,” in November.
And as things were taking a turn for the better for the band, the group came up with “Heaven,” a song that it felt provided the missing piece of the musical puzzle for “King.”
Specifically what was missing at that point was a potential single. That was a concern, DePizzo said, because the group had made a breakthrough at radio with the song “Shattered (Turn The Car Around)” from “All Sides.” The song topped “Billboard” magazine’s Triple A chart and reached number two on the magazine’s Adult Pop chart, and the band wanted to continue to build on that momentum at radio with the “King” CD.
“There wasn’t that one (song) that really connected for us,” DePizzo said. “So we kept working and trying and developing different ideas and things. Then ‘Heaven’ came along, and I was like ‘OK, now we’re talking. This is where it’s supposed to be going.”
As it turned out, “Heaven” enjoyed a decent run, reaching 21 on “Billboard’s” Adult Pop chart, but didn’t match the success of “Shattered (Turn The Car Around).”
“King” as a whole is perhaps the most diverse O.A.R. CD yet. It features the band’s main musical signatures, with songs like “Taking on the World Today” and “Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes” (the latest single) offering the band’s familiar bouncy pop-rock sound and tunes like “Not for Me,” “Gotta Live” and “Are You Low” that bob and weave with the reggae and island rhythms that have been another trademark of the band. But there some twists as well, such as the electronic elements that give a different rhythmic feel to “Heaven” and the subtle hip-hop elements used in the title song, while ballads like “Dangerous Connection” and “Over and Over” expand the stylistic range of the CD.
“I think we expanded our borders without alienating any part of our sound or any part of our audience,” DePizzo said. “I think that’s important to us and it’s important to our audience, too.”