O.A.R. to return to roots of its revolution

By Katie Harriman

The Lantern, Ohio State U. via UWIRE

O.A.R. to return to roots of its revolution

Selling out Madison Square Garden might be the pinnacle for most musicians, but for O.A.R. drummer, Chris Culos, selling out the Newport Music Hall surpasses The Garden on his list of career highs.

“For a basement band to think, ‘Let’s play Madison Square Garden one day,’ of course you have that dream, but it’s not realistic,” Culos said. “What was realistic is when we came to Ohio State with just a box of CDs to pass out to our friends, looking up at the Newport Music Hall marquee, thinking it looked like the biggest venue we’d ever seen. By the time we left, we were selling it out regularly. It felt like such an accomplishment.”

Culos is scheduled to return to Columbus with bandmates Marc Roberge, Jerry DePizzo, Richard On and Benj Gershman at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion Wednesday. Doors open at 7 p.m. They are touring in support of their seventh studio album, “King,” which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Culos, Roberge, On and Gershman brought their high school band O.A.R. from Maryland to OSU in 1997, where they met saxophone player DePizzo. Culos told The Lantern he doesn’t think the band would have found the level of success they did if the members hadn’t attended OSU. Along with the boom of online file sharing in the late ‘90s, Culos calls their time in Columbus a “key element.”

“I don’t know if we would have been able to build that fan base,” Culos said. “Our fan base in Columbus was so instrumental, it was the foundation that really launched our career.”

That launch led to 15 years of O.A.R. playing its reggae, jam-band sound for fans all over the country, including a sold-out show at The Garden in 2006.

Although the music has become more pop-influenced since they started out as 16-year-olds, Culos said O.A.R. has held onto old and new fans by giving them what they want at every performance. He said the band has made a new set list for every show it has ever performed, and it tries to make it a balance of crowd favorites, old songs, rare songs and a couple new songs.

“I think it’s more important to have a fresh, spontaneous performance rather than a perfect performance. There’s also an energy and something the crowd can relate to when we’re up there figuring our way out through a song we haven’t played in a long time,” Culos said with a laugh. “Not to say we don’t have a couple train wrecks every once in a while, but I think that’s part of the live, rock ‘n’ roll experience and it keeps fans excited to see us in concert.”

Culos said “King” has brought the band full circle, but it feels like it’s only the beginning. He said lead singer Roberge started writing music as a 16-year-old who was using characters to tell a story. Now that the band has experienced life for themselves, the songs come from a more personal place.

“We wanted to go back and check in with the first record called ‘The Wanderer’ and we find that the character has kind of found himself, and he figured out that what he was looking for was inside himself the whole time,” Culos said. “It’s fun to go full circle.”

Culos said “King” also proved to be the most challenging experience of the band’s 15-year music career. During the making of the album, Roberge’s wife overcame a cancerous tumor.

“It inspired us a lot,” Culos said. “When we got back in the studio we had a renewed passion for what this is all about.”

Culos said big life events, including weddings and babies, have helped the band evolve over the last decade.

“We’ve kind of gone from the band that’s out on the road, having fun, playing Xbox, going out to get drinks at night, to something more like wake up, practice, write songs, soundcheck, warm up, play a two-hour show and go to bed,” Culos said. “Fast forward a couple years and we really feel like we’ve developed a lot.”

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers will join O.A.R. for tour stops in the Midwest and Southeast. Kellogg opened for O.A.R. twice in the past. He told The Lantern he has grown as a performer since the last time he opened for O.A.R. and he is excited to play with them in Columbus.

“It’s all the thrill of getting to play with them back in the old days, but without any of the nerves,” Kellogg said.

Limited stage time and wanting to please fans is a challenge for opening acts. Kellogg said his music is a little “rootsier” than O.A.R., but they are similar in that they like to show “all sides” during a performance

“Sometimes you get out there and it feels like the audience wants to rock, but I also think like, ‘I want to make real fans,'” Kellogg said. “I’d rather make 10 real fans than rock the hell out of a few hundred people and have them come to a different show and ask, ‘Why is this guy playing ballads?'”

Culos said O.A.R. usually stops in Columbus during the summer, so it is exciting to come to town while OSU is in session.

“We haven’t been in town while people are on campus in a while and that will make it a really fun party,” Culos said. “For us to come back to Columbus and play in front of an audience that has basically been our biggest champions for over a decade makes for a really special show.”

Culos said O.A.R. tries to make the shows as interactive and it want fans to reach out with requests.

“If you have requests, find us online, find us before the show, let us know what you want to hear,” Culos said. “Make a sign, yell it out — we want to make this as interactive as possible. That’s what makes it fun.”

Lucas Perie, a second-year OSU student in political science, is attending his first O.A.R. concert, and said it is his favorite band of all time.

“I really like their live albums rather than their studio albums, so I’m excited to experience the atmosphere of one of their concerts,” Perie said. “It’s pretty cool to listen to their albums and think they wrote some of it while they attended Ohio State.”

Members of O.A.R., if you are reading this, Perie would like to hear “52-50” during Wednesday’s show.

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