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Members include Chris Culos, drums; Jerry DePizzo, saxophone; Benj Gersham, bass; Richard On, guitar; Mark Roberge, vocals, guitar. Addresses: Record company--Lava Records, 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10016. Website--O.A.R. Official Website: http://www.ofarevolution.com.
O.A.R., a name which refers to one of today's most notable jam bands, is an often misinterpreted moniker. By the band's own admission it means "of a revolution," and although O.A.R.'s music does not reflect any political intent, the band's unique and revolutionary approach to its music career has proved it worthy of such a name. O.A.R., whose music has been compared to that of the Dave Matthews band, has achieved notable success based solely on its credible body of work, word-of-mouth promotion, and unparalleled dedication to bringing music to its fans through non-stop touring. In a story that seems straight out of a fairytale of big dreams and rising stars, O.A.R. got its unofficial start in the dorm rooms of a university and managed, without a record label, press, advertising or tour support, to become one of the most successful independent bands ever.
O.A.R. was initially started by a group of neighborhood friends. Singer/guitarist Mark Roberge and drummer Chris Culos grew up down the road from one another in Rockville, Maryland. The two spent time during their youth hanging out in the basement of Culos's home. Although the two had varying interests in music, Roberge was inspired by Bob Marley and Crowded House, while Culos pledged allegiance to Metallica and the Beastie Boys, and the two surprisingly clicked on Pearl Jam. They were in junior high school when Pearl Jam's unplugged performance debuted on MTV. They recorded the show and began watching it repeatedly. Inspired, Roberge learned to play the guitar and the two put together a group, eventually joining forces with guitarist Richard On and another friend who played bass, calling themselves Exposed Youth. The group, however, was short-lived.
In 1996, when Roberge was in high school, his older brother Jeff offered him an opportunity to open for his Rhode Island based outfit, Foxtrot Zulu, when they were recruited to perform at the University of Maryland. In need of a group, Roberge again recruited On and Culos, as well as bassist Benj Gershman. Although the newly formed band considered re-naming itself Exposed Youth, the members felt the name would be inappropriate for their new sound, which mixed rock and folk with touches of ska and reggae. Instead the quartet chose O.A.R., short for "of a revolution," a phrase taken from a short story written by Roberge. Following their successful gig opening for Foxtrot Zulu, the group sequestered themselves in Culos's basement and recorded their first album, The Wanderer, in four days. The low-budget recording took off, largely due to the surprising popularity of the song "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," which appealed to O.A.R.'s quickly developing fan base.
Roberge and Culos were both accepted at Ohio State University. The members of O.A.R. realized that although they were young and wanted to continue with school, they had a very special musical chemistry that they did not feel could be duplicated. On had initially been accepted to another school, but transferred to Ohio State within a semester, and Gershman applied and was accepted there as soon as he finished high school. In the dorms of Ohio State the quartet met saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, who joined their lineup and added to the group's sound. The quintet again returned to Culos's basement to record their second album, Souls Aflame. Considered a more consistent record, Souls Aflame also benefited from a distribution deal with the Alternative Distribution Alliance, which was anchored by Roberge's older brother Dave.
Although the band did not have a record label or tour support, the group's notable performances began drawing capacity crowds in local venues, even selling out the local Newport Music Hall each time they played. However, the members of O.A.R. were still college students committed to their education. Roberge's brother Dave, who managed O.A.R., worked around the band members' respective class schedules as he booked the group in other cities such as Bloomington, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, and was able to secure additional college gigs mostly by word of mouth.
O.A.R. continued to pick up steam as their independent albums floated around dorms, and the band encouraged taping, a process which is prominent on the jam band scene. With most major artists, the process of taping is considered illegal, but jam bands encourage their fans to record shows and distribute the tapes without any money being exchanged. As Roberge explained to Relix magazine, "We have so much respect for the bands on the jam scene and how hard they have worked for their fans. We don't see ourselves on the same level musically as a lot of [jam] bands, but we have some similarities in our ethics and goals, touring and relaxed feel."
When Relix questioned Roberge about the factors that contributed to the band's rise, he stated, "The internet and free trade of music. Period." After yet another sold-out performance at the Newport Music Hall, the band secured a deal with CAA (Creative Artists Agency), a prestigious booking agency.
In 2001 O.A.R. released Risen on their own newly formed label, Everfine Records. The group also brought in esteemed outside producer John Alagia, who had worked with John Mayer and Ben Folds, to helm the record. Unlike their simpler do-it-yourself efforts, the group spent three months working with Alagia on Risen, to great effect. The album sold more than 60,000 copies without a major label, and their subsequent record, a double live album titled Any Time Now, went on to sell more than 100,000 copies after its release in May of 2002.
O.A.R continued to work its way into the mainstream music world, participating in the 2002 Jeep World Outside tour, which included Sheryl Crow and the band Train. The band's increasing profile also helped them to secure a deal with major label Lava Records. As Lava founder and president Jason Flom explained to Relix, "I was initially impressed by the band's songwriting and musicianship but what was particularly incredible was the fact that they developed such a large, passionate fan base through hard work on the road."
Alagia returned to work with O.A.R. on their 2003 major label debut, In Between Now and Then. The record placed the band on the mainstream map and on the Billboard charts, and received excellent reviews. Writer Dan Aquilante stated in the New York Post that the album is a "career making record that, despite its hefty 15-song bundle, has no filler. The musicians of O.A.R. . . . are insurgents in the battle to destroy cookie-cutter music."
O.A.R.'s fanbase has continued to grow, and O.A.R. and Lava Records president Jason Flom seem to have the same goals in mind. As Flom explained to the Los Angeles Times, "The challenge now is to make the leap to follow in the footsteps of great artists like Dave Matthews, who have maintained their integrity while making great records that millions of kids can enjoy." It seems likely that O.A.R. has the creativity to do just that.
by Nicole Elyse
Group formed in Washington, D.C. suburbs, 1996; released independent debut The Wanderer, Everfine Records, 1997; released Souls Aflame, Everfine, 1999; received distribution deal with Alternative Distribution Alliance, 2001; released Risen, 2001; released Any Time Now, 2002; signed to Lava Records, 2002; released In Between Now and Then, Everfine/Lava, 2003.
- Selected discography
- The Wanderer Everfine, 1997; reissued, 2001.
- Souls Aflame Everfine, 1999; reissued, 2001.
- Risen Everfine, 2001.
- Any Time Now Everfine, 2002.
- In Between Now and Then Everfine/Lava, 2003.
- Alternative Press, June 2003.
- Billboard, February 22, 2003; June 7, 2003.
- Chicago Sun-Times, May 23, 2003.
- CMJ New Music Monthly, June 2003.
- Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2003.
- New York Post, May 27, 2003; November 28, 2003.
- New York Times, November 28, 2003.
- Relix, February/March 2003.
- Tounge, Summer 2003.
- "O.A.R.," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 21, 2004).
- Additional information was obtained from press and promotional materials provided by Lava Records, 2004.
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