In an interest of disclosure, I’ve consumed many beers while listening to the music of Rockville, Maryland’s ...Of a Revolution, otherwise known as O.A.R. They’d just hit the music scene when I’d begun my freshman year in college, a time when music discovery often takes place through the shared boredom of a newfound freedom, the community of strangers forced together in small quarters, and, often, a few drinks. It only seemed natural that I should sit down with the band when they came to Portland, Maine in support of their StOARies tour.
Because Portland is one of the best beer cities in the United States, we also thought to share two beers from one of the cities best smaller breweries, Austin Street Brewery: Patina Pale Ale, a 5.3% hop-forward pale, and Florens, a 6.9% IPA.
We sat down to discuss the StOARies tour, the shifting dynamic of tour life as a band ages, writing with honesty, and the coolness of being in a band.
How many years is this since you first went on tour?
Benji Gershman, bassist: Three thousandth. It’s what it feels like.
[Note: It’s 21.]
What’s the difference between this tour and all the others?
Jerry DePizzo, saxophone: For one, we’re scaled down to the five of us. It’s been a while since it’s been the core five O.A.R. guys. The idea was just to strip it down to it’s raw basic form, to O.A.R., and get out there and be weird. There’s an opportunity with just us five to stretch out and try some songs that we may not know necessarily and just create and be spontaneous just as we did when we were coming up, cutting our teeth, traversing this country.
What’s the shift like? 21 years ago you’re young men. Now it’s a little different. Families and responsibilities.
Chris Culos, drums: The main focus is balancing our home life. It’s always been something that’s been important to us. If our life at home is going good, we can do out here what we need to do and vice versa. We make a lot of effort to have each other’s backs when we want to be home more or if there’s an event or something like that that you want to be home for, we try to get ahead of that and put it on the calendar.
Our focus is on touring and that’s always been our first and foremost priority. The way we tour is different. We focus more on the summer and see how that goes as opposed to touring and touring and touring and touring.
You’ve been able to carry forth so long. What’s the key to longevity?
BG: It’s having unified goals. Being on the same page, having the same goals and agreeing on how to get there.
CC: No it’s not! That’s not what we talked about.
BG: Whatever Chris. As long as Chris isn’t in the conversation.
Richard On, lead guitar: Four of five of us. It’s very democratic unless Chris wants something.
BG: We’re really good at making it fun, as well as being together on how to move forward, so as long as Chris shuts up ... just kidding, I love you baby.
What’s the off-stage relationship like? You grew up together. You work together. How is that dynamic after all these years?
RO: Literally this. Shooting the shit. Talking about grown-ass dad stuff, husband stuff, and just what we got going on at home personally. We’ve all been through and go through the same stuff.
CC: And we didn’t have to learn how to do this. What’s special is that we were friends before we were in a band. Even with Jerry, who we met three or four years later. We were friends before he became a member of the band, and by the time he joined, he was family.
RO: You can’t talk to other people. No one knows what we go through but us. I can talk to my friends from home who I’ve known since fifth grade, but even they can’t quite grasp what we go through on the road and how to balance life.
What been the most difficult thing about that balance?
CC: The obvious thing is being away, but what people don’t realize is that it’s literally like a 24-hour thing. There isn’t a, “I’m going into work, getting in the mindset, coming home and unplugging.” It’s very hard. Even when we go on vacation with family, [we’re] constantly working, and it’s something we’ve gotten better at, to respect that we’re at home. [Being O.A.R.] is more who we are more than what we do. But there are those times when we’ll hear, “Get off the phone, give me the attention right now.”
And so with the balance of home life and business and the tedium of the road, how is it possible on tour to keep the energy up night after night? Year after year?
JD: It’s always been our work nights have been everyone’s vacations or weekends. It’s something we’ve kind of come up with. For the two hours that we go up on stage, we put everything else aside, and we’ll deal with it when we get off stage.
How has the music industry changed over the course of the last 21 years?
BG: When we started, we were selling tapes out of backpacks, now we’re streaming songs on our phones. Touring has changed, the way record deals are made have changed. The way we interact with our audience: Even though it’s become more digitized, it’s always been really personal and really open. No matter how things have changed, we always try to have our finger on the pulse of what people are hoping to see or their thoughts on what’s going on. As much as a lot of things have changed, a lot of it is similar to day one.
There’s something cool about radio. It’s not like planned out ahead of time. You’re just driving around in the car and your song plays.”
What is it about music from a certain period of a person’s life that resonates so strongly?
CC: It transports you. You hear a melody that transforms into a memory as vivid as a sense of smell. It takes you right back to those times you spent with your friends or family and those are the things that you carry with you through your life. They shape who you are and what you love about things outside of work and responsibilities. This is escape. This is the spiritual side of things that bring joy.
I heard you for the first time in college. There’s something special about the music you like in those years.
CC: At that age, it’s even more impressionable because it’s kind of a time when you’re becoming an adult, you think you’re an adult at the time, but you’re not really an adult but you don’t know that until you look back on it.
You’ve always seemed cognizant of that in your music.
CC: We’ve tried to tap into that lyrically. It’s the music and the lyrics that reflect what we were going through at that same age. There’s a shared experience. We’re from Rockville, Maryland, but we shared the same experiences with everyone in our audience: hanging out drinking with friends, leaving for college or maybe the military, or just hanging out in the driveway in someone’s car BS’ing.
JD: The best thing we do is write from the gut and follow where that leads us. If we end up doing that, we’ll be just fine. Some of it will be good, some of it won’t be so much, but it’ll be honest and I think people can respect that.
BG: I think like Jerry said, we were focused on making honest albums that told the story of where we were at in life. We focused on touring and becoming a better band and making good albums that weren’t about making singles. That helped us build a relationship with our audience rather than having just one song people were attracted to.
When was the moment for you like, shit, this is what I want to do forever?
RO: Right away. eighth grade talent show covering Pearl Jam’s “Porch” and we did a punk version of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
CC: It was really loud and when those curtains opened, it was deafening. It was unlike any other feeling we’d had playing music together. You see these people in school every day and you pass them and maybe you have class with them, but the reaction we got was totally different than just seeing them every day. It was like, I don’t know, like we were rock stars.
What was that benchmark moment where you were like, “Whoa, that was cool”?
CC: Two things come to mind: When we got to Ohio State [for college] there was a venue called the Newport Music Hall that was the biggest venue on campus. You saw bands you knew, national bands, on the marquee and we thought, “One day we want to play there.” First time we played there it was pretty special. The other is, I remember hearing CD101 [local Columbus, Ohio station] play our music on the way to class. There’s something cool about radio. It’s not like planned out ahead of time. You’re just driving around in the car and your song plays.
RO: That feeling is exactly the same now then what it was back in the day.
BG: Yeah, you can’t top that.