O.A.R. Share Thoughts on Career Longevity and What’s to Come After ‘King’ – Exclusive Interview
Roots rock vets O.A.R. have been sharing their music with fans for an impressive 16 years. The jam band has a well-known reputation for putting on an energetic and highly entertaining show. We recently chatted with bassist Benj Gershman for a Diffuser.fm interview while O.A.R. were soaking up all the exhibits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The most recent O.A.R. album, 'King,' was released a year ago, and is your seventh overall. Has touring become easier after every release?
I think when you release more and more music, it's one of those challenging things, no matter how you do it, to get out on the road. You're away from your loved ones and waking up in a parking lot every day. It can take a lot out of you. But when you love doing something like that, it's not as tiring as it would be if you didn't like it. We've been lucky that through all the albums, we've really enjoyed the process of being on the road together. It's not one of those things that's gotten worse or better. It's just something that we love.
The majority of 'King' was recorded with the band in a room facing each other and recording it like a live album. Is that the most ideal way to make a record instead of laying down tracks separately?
You know, I think every band needs to make a record the way they need to make a record. For us it was collaboration, facing each other and working together to create the best music we could. For our different albums that we had over the years, they all have been different scenarios. I think this one really captured that live energy we've always strived for, but also had that studio quality so I think it's a nice blend. We went through the right avenues to get on the right highway.
With O.A.R. shows, it seems you have to put as much planning and thought into your stage production as much as you are when making a new record. Is that the case?
We spend a lot of time in the set list, as well as tuning in to how the audience is responding to new and old material when we're out on the road during a show. We're not afraid to call an audible and switch things up and go in a different direction if the audience is more calm. We're not going to play our more energetic rock 'n' roll tunes. We're very aware of their reactions and effect on the show. We want them to enjoy it so we try to react in tune with that.
When you're writing and recording songs, are you thinking ahead of time how you'll be able to pull it off live?
Not really. I think when you're writing, you're just trying to write a good song that makes sense and feels good and resonates with you. We've always said that if it's coming really from us and it's an honest song, that's what translates. When you try to be something you're not or try to write something that doesn't feel like an O.A.R. song, that's when the red flags go up, you know? Writing honestly is something we always try to do.
Lead singer Mark Roberge made comments in the past on how radio has been inconsistent in their support of O.A.R. Has this made you jaded on the current state of the music industry?
Like any business you don't control the circumstances that you're working with. You have to accept and go with the way it is and radio is a big part of the game. I don't think we're jaded. We just recognize that there's forces at work that we can't control. At times we've sort of tried to ride those waves, but times we haven't gotten in the water at all. It's just one of those life things you deal with as a band in order to get your music out there. You want to utilize these mediums because they're really effective. But at times, trying to get something to cross through that medium if it doesn't fit is like driving a car into a brick wall. It's just not going to work.
O.A.R. are in a way pioneers of the online distribution model for the way music is consumed. You gained so many fans early on in your careers due to college kids sharing O.A.R.'s music online. With services like iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and the like, is the music industry headed in the right direction or are there other avenues yet to be explored?
I don't know what the right direction is, but I know it's changing rapidly. Spotify is something I use and I've hardly bought a record since I've started using it. So that to me says musicians are kind of F'd [laughs]. Record labels need to revamp their models and figure things out. It's a changing industry and it's happening so fast. That's why you hear all this stuff about record labels folding and all kinds of stuff. It's just a tricky place for things to be moving through. We've had an interesting career path because starting in 1996 the Internet was still in its infancy, so we've really been part of the whole digital transition that's gone on in our lifetime as a band. I like to think that our ability to adapt in the beginning of our career will also be something that we can do as we get older. Bands are here and they're gone. That's what happens. We're just going to ride the wave as long as we can.
O.A.R. teamed up with B.o.B. on the song 'Champions' to support Team USA at the 2012 London Summer Olympics that just wrapped up earlier this week. If you were an Olympian, what sport would you excel at?
I was a swimmer growing up. I mean, I don't think I'm Michael Phelps, but I hold this record back in my hometown for the 25M butterfly. It can never be broken because when I set the record for the 11-12 age group, they changed it to 50M years later and nobody had broken it. So I have a permanent record and don't need to go to the Olympics.
It's refreshing to see a band who has retained its original after all these years. Do you attribute that to having such strong friendships with one another?
Well, I attribute it to more than just friendship. We're brothers. Mark and I got into a disagreement yesterday and we were so mad at each other for like 10 minutes. Then we were like, "Sorry," and [were] fine after that and played a show. You know you live with these people and you go through so many things. You know what you're in it for and it's not just to make a few bucks. It's that we love doing this together. It wouldn't be what it is without one of us. We don't want anybody to disappear from it. We want every moment to happen with each other. We're lucky to have it and hoping this just last forever.
Are you already thinking about the follow-up to 'King'?
Yeah, we're already writing and excited to kind of be in that process. It's one of those things where you don't know exactly how long it's going to take until you're in it and then done with it.
Watch the O.A.R. 'Heaven' Video