We caught up with O.A.R. before their show in Mansfield, MA, Sunday night (June 11) to talk about what it’s like carrying the band into its 21st year, attracting new fans, and the evolution of the music industry. Check out highlights from our conversation with drummer Chris Culos and saxophone player Jerry DePizzo below.
On recording their debut album The Wanderer with only $600:
Chris: We borrowed money from friends and parents. It was one of those things, there was not a lot of production value. Press record and if you make a mistake? It’s too late. “Sorry, I can’t afford to have a second take.” So that’s what we love about those first albums… We call them practices on record because we were literally writing the stuff as we were recording it. Mistakes and all.
The evolution of O.A.R.’s sound – from jam-band beginnings to radio-ready rock:
Chris: When we started in my mom’s basement we were just fans of music, listening to everything from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan to the Beastie Boys… We were directly getting these influences at the time we were being exposed to that music for the first time. I think at that young age it was a little more carefree and laid back and we were just trying to figure out what we wanted to say as musicians and as artists and as writers. And as we grew up and we wrote more, we continued to try and work on our craft to get better at it, and with the growth of the band’s success had the opportunity to work with higher level producers that we never would have had the chance at an early age. And then also being able to team up with major labels at a certain point later down in our career has an influence on what it is we’re trying to do to reach a new audience.
How the music industry has changed:
Chris: It’s interesting because when we started – forget CDs, they were still selling cassette tapes! So we’ve gone away with that, we’ve gone away with CDs, we’ve gone away with downloads, and we’re on to streaming. We’ve seen the music industry change so much over the course of our lives and we just continue to adapt. Part of the songwriting craft at the end of the day is to get our music out to as many people as possible.
Jerry: It is the wild west as far as how you release content. And it’s exciting, and it’s challenging too because I don’t think there really is a black-and-white, brick-and-mortar example of what to do next for artists. There really isn’t. I think the most important thing to do is write from the gut, write from the heart, write good tunes, and work with smart folks who will figure out a way to put it out.
Playing the radio hits versus crowd favorites on tour:
Chris: It’s not necessarily greatest hits, and I think a lot of our fans expected us to do greatest hits. I think it’s more crowd favorites. In that sense, we’ve had some songs that have had success in radio, but some of our most popular songs have never once been played on the radio. But they’re still our fan favorites, and there’s a reason there’s a connection there. So when we get in front of Train‘s audience, that’s basically a huge opportunity for people to hear us for the first time and show them what we do.
It’s not just “Shattered,” and “Love and Memories,” and “Peace,” and “I Go Through”… When we play those we see recognition in the audience, and that’s really cool. But also for them to see what we can really do, stretch some things out and play some songs from the older era. Even some of our current stuff right now like “I Go Through,” I feel like we could have written that the day after we wrote “I Feel Home,” it just captures that feeling for us of friends and family, and wanting to stay connected with that, and we take it on the road.