Talking about the Revolution

Until two years ago, I never would have believed I'd become an O.A.R. fan. I'd seen them as some college-cult favorite band that didn't figure into my tastes... Oh, how things change.

They're playing two shows at Summerfest this year, and I'm on my way to see them tonight. Here's a preview piece I had in Friday's Kenosha News ...

If you’ve developed something of an addiction to O.A.R.’s live show the way I have during the last few years, your eyebrows also might have jumped when the Summerfest lineup started rolling out over the spring and O.A.R.’s name appeared not once but twice.

Nah-uh, I thought. Is that a misprint?

Nope. We checked with Summerfest’s people, and it’s not a misprint. O.A.R. will perform twice this year — at the Harley Davidson Roadhouse on Tuesday, July 1, and at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard on Wednesday, July 2, both at 10 p.m. After watching the band played to a big crowd last year at the Miller Lite Oasis and with the momentum of a new album and tour this summer, Summerfest schedulers seized an opportunity.

Turns out, O.A.R. was more than happy to take it. And, like me, they too share a major appreciation for the iconic Milwaukee festival.

“We’re always excited to be there,” O.A.R. drummer Chris Culos said by phone this week during a break between shows at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. “It’s like the part of the summer we always look forward to. It’s very different, just the excitement of playing Summerfest. It’s one of the most interesting festivals. It’s just the shear volume of it, it’s like what — you probably know more about it than I do.”

Why yes, Chris. Summerfest is known as “the world’s largest music festival.” It’s 11 days of seemingly non-stop music on 10 stages with a smorgasbord of mouth-watering foods and beverages. Others may gush about Bonnaroo, Austin City and Pitchfork, but aside from soaking up the baseball season, I pretty much live for this each summer.

“Not to mention the acts at the amphitheater. It’s just mind-blowing,” he says before laughing through a story of the band’s road crew buying an assortment of mini-motorcycles at last year’s festival and the guys riding them around back stage.

Culos says O.A.R. considered playing at the Marcus Amphitheater this year, but ultimately decided the atmosphere didn’t fit them.

“We thought about trying to play at the amphitheater and it just didn’t seem like the right fit in there,” he said. “We looked at playing with a different band, but it wouldn’t have the same vibe as playing one of those other stages. We thought this year doing two nights had to be like the best of both worlds.”

The Summerfest stops are part of an effort to showcase their forthcoming studio album, “All Sides,” which is due out July 15. The three month, 36-date “All Sides Tour” kicked off June 15 at the prestigious Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. The tour also will hit the inaugural Mile High Music Festival in Denver on July 19 and Chicago’s Charter One Pavilion on July 24 before wrapping with a three-night stand alongside Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Wash., for Labor Day weekend.

Coming off 2005’s breakthrough, “Stories Of A Stranger,” which included the band’s radio-friendly hits “Love and Memories” and “Heard The World,” one might think the pressure was on O.A.R. to raise the bar again. But the band was eager to return to its roots, Culos said.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Culos decided to form a band during the early 1990s while he was in the eighth grade with buddies, vocalist Marc Roberge and guitarist Richard On. Three years later, bassist Benj Gershman came on board and O.A.R. — aka Of A Revolution — was born. Then saxophonist Jerry DePizzo joined the band full-time in 2000, after meeting Roberge and Culos at Ohio State University.

Routinely hailed as one of the best live bands around, O.A.R. has burned a grassroots trail across the country and built a rabid fanbase with their joy-filled performances and relatable songs about life experiences. They’ve built a well-deserved reputation as a must-see band when they come to town.

But Culos admits the five friends might have strayed a little from their mission when they recorded “Stories.” Before then, the band’s radio existence was zilch. They had earned their success by word of mouth and the Internet boom. Still, the band saw “Stories” as a way to find new fans.

“We made a lot of songs that were geared toward radio intentionally to expand our audience and our business; we wanted to get a song on the radio,” Culos said, adding the band was surprised at how well “Stories Of A Stranger” and the single “Love and Memories” were received, even while the band didn’t consider it a noteworthy song by smash-hit standards.

Looking back, Culos doesn’t regret the decision, but says the band was disappointed other deserving songs didn’t get as much radio play. The band also realized they missed the vibe and fuse that made them so popular in the first place.“It got our foot in the door,” Culos says simply.

But enough about the past.

In early 2007, the band gathered to record demos and eventually landed rehearsal time with producer Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, Faith No More, the Replacements). The rehearsals galvanized the band and the jams reminded the guys of what brought them together. And out of that came “All Sides,” a 13-track album named to symbolize this point of where the band is in its lifespan.

“We were so excited because for the first time in the studio we were confident, we were comfortable,” Culos said. “With the preparation that went in to the record ... we knew the songs backwards and forwards.”

Asked later if he ever gets sick of touring and repeatedly playing the band’s more popular songs (the answer was rarely), Culos said, “My hair stands up straight on the back of my neck. We have the best seat in the world because we get to see the crowd all night. That’s what we had dreams about when we started out as kids and wanted to start a band.”

This time around, Culos said the band was intent on recording an album that held some strong songs, but wasn’t so focused “on straight-up trying to get up on the radio.”

They succeeded, and it might be one of the band’s best offerings yet. For “All Sides” the band actually found a perfect balance of appealing, radio-friendly rock songs that are ready-made for their non-stop touring and arena shows.

In the same vein as crowd favorites “Hey Girl” and “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” the energetic, opening track, “This Town,” is destined to be another crowd-pleaser.

Written as an announcement to the world about the band’s love for playing live and touring, it will no doubt have the crowd’s fist-pumping at Summerfest with its chorus: “This town, this night, this crowd / Come on put them up, let me hear it loud / This town, this city, this crowd / Stand up on your feet put your worry down.”

“We talk to the audience, the kids after the show, we keep up on the message boards and everything,” Culos says. “ ... We do notice stuff like ‘where’s those party songs we heard in college. We wrote ‘This Town’ with that in mind and when we heard it back in the studio, we said, ‘you know this going to be a great opener.’ ”

The album’s diversity also is clear in the reggae-influenced “What is Mine,” the bee-bopping “Something Coming Over Me,” and the thoughtful “War Song,” written after the band’s life-changing USO tour of Kuwait and Iraq last August. There a casual conversation with medics was interrupted when the soldiers ran to save the lives of incoming wounded.

“It definitely seeped its way into the album,” Culos said of the USO experience. “With the current situation in the world, we feel like we never have been one to preach about anything. We don’t talk about politics, religion, anything like that. We don’t feel the need to do it just because we have a stage and a microphone.”

Culos also says the guys couldn’t be more proud of the CD’s first single “Shattered,” which was released to the radio earlier this month. The song, written by lead singer Marc Roberge and Greg Wattenberg, is an introduction to the growth fans can expect on “All Sides,” while tackling subject matter that fans can relate and sing to.

“From where we’ve been over the course of 12 years, I think you can tell this song is geared for radio, but it’s still a very authentic song to us musically and lyrically,” Culos said. “It has a purpose.”

But now the question is, O.A.R. fans, how do you decide which show you’re going to see? Gas prices are enough to deter you from trying to catch both, but Culos could quickly have you forgetting that. Ask him if the two shows are going to differ and he answers with a resounding, “Absolutely.”

The band considers themselves a live band, first and foremost, Culos says. They pride themselves on changing their set lists from night to night and they are constantly improvising. They push themselves to produce a different version of someone’s favorite song every time they play it. The bottom line, though, is you’ll have fun no matter what night you choose.

“I think people can expect a fun, party atmosphere,” Culos says. “Really, all we want to do is have a positive message and have everybody feeling good about the night. We’re going to play new songs, old songs, fast songs, slow songs.”

No comments: