The 22-year strong original lineup

O .A.R. has reached its 22nd year as a band doing something many acts that manage to last two decades don’t achieve. This group 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 […]

O.A.R. jams Just Like Paradise tour at Fraze


O.A.R. is (l-r) Benj Gershman, Jerry DePizzo, Marc Roberge, and Richard On. Behind drums Chris Culos. Photo: Amber Stokosa.

By Alan Sculley

O.A.R. has reached its 22nd year as a band doing something many acts that manage to last two decades don’t achieve. This group 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 says in pondering O.A.R.’s longevity. “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. So you’ve got all of the mess-ups and everything. Imagine what 16-year-old kids are doing with a couple hundred bucks in some guy’s recording studio in his basement. And it started to grow.

“Locally we’d play a bar in town that they would allow underage kids to kind of come in with parents, parental guidance on a Thursday night,” he says. “Just something seemed like it was, there was something to it. 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.

And despite the fact that the five band members were set to go through the period of life—college years and their 20s—when people tend to grow the most emotionally and see their lives change with marriages and children, they rolled with the life changes and stayed friends throughout.

“It’s like a family, it really is,” Culos says. “We were friends before we were even in a band, and we’ve maintained that kind of friendship and that spirit. You know, we’ve had ups and downs. We’ve gone through it together. We’ve learned how to grow as a band. Everyone in the band has their own families now and I think we’ve all embraced that. And that includes our families back home that sacrifice so much that we can go and do this. That not only keeps us grounded on the road, but gives us purpose to keep doing what we’re doing.”

And after 20-plus years, it’s clear O.A.R. still has much more to say musically. When it was time 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.

The anniversary album that O.A.R. came up with was the 2-CD set called XX, and as Culos indicated, it goes well beyond a typical greatest hits collection. As a band that has released a live album in between nearly every one of its eight studio CDs, O.A.R. decided to honor both sides of its 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 the XX package.

“We got to kind of add to the studio version what we’ve done live,” Culos says. “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. This way we got to go ‘You know what, Love and Memories came out over 10 years ago, and we’ve been playing that song almost every night and some of the things we’ve done over the years have become kind of a staple part of the live version.’

“We felt like it made the song a little bit better or whatever you want to call it,” he says. “So we got to go in and record a studio version with those (added) parts.”

O.A.R. was featured on a video series on the Qello web music channel called “Evolution of a Song.” The series follows them during the writing, arranging and 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 says. “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. tours extensively, and Culos said they are continuing their long-standing tradition of changing up the selections—and sometimes the actual versions—of songs for each show and asking concert goers to vote for songs they want to hear.

“We do a different set list each night, and the songs that are more popular in terms of how often they get played, we like to kind of make up new versions from night to night,” he says. “If you’ve heard ‘Hey Girl’ ten times in concert, it’s a different version every time. We’re 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.”

O.A.R. will be sharing the Fraze stage with two special guest artists, Matt Nathanson and The New Respects.

San Francisco-based Matt Nathanson has evolved into one of the most applauded songwriters and engaging performs on the current music scene. His 2007 album “Some Mad Hope” yielded his breakthrough multi-platinum hit “Come on Get Higher.” His 2013 release Last of The Great Pretenders debuted at #16 on the Billboard Top 200 while hitting #1 on iTunes’ Alternative Albums chart. Nathanson has been featured as a VH1 “You Oughta Know” artist, and has appeared on The Howard Stern Show, Ellen, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the CMA Awards and others.

The New Respects fall into a genre of their own. They mesh rock and roll, soul, and pop music with overlays of acoustic tones. Comprised of twins Zandy and Lexi Fitzgerald, brother Darius and their cousin Jasmine Mullen, the Nashville-based group is a true family affair. Raised within the buzzing creative community of artists and songwriters that Music City has to offer, the band has been careful in selecting their influences. Steering clear of trends and fads, The New Respects demonstrate both their mental and sonic maturity by turning to sounds that have stood the test of time.

O.A.R.’s Just Like Paradise tour, with special guests Matt Nathanson and The New Respects, will appear at the Fraze Pavilion, 695 Lincoln Park Blvd., Kettering on July 24. For tickets and more information, visit fraze.com, or call 937.296.3302. To learn more about the artists, visit
liveoar.com, mattnathanson.com, or thenewrespects.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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