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Marc Roberge's Revolution
O.A.R.
A lot of younger people live half the day in a world existing in the mind. I felt like searching that world a little more and seeing exactly how much of it was parallel with the one I lived in front of my eyes. - Marc Roberge
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] November 2002 Feature: Marc Roberge of O.A.R.
..... Of A Revolution (O.A.R.)

Every band begins their journey somewhere; a basement, a garage, a classroom or some other impromptu practice space. For most bands, the experience is a moment and a memory placed aside for later recall. For best friends Marc Roberge and Chris Culos, it would be the beginning of a musical journey that has allowed them to wander far beyond the walls of their old basement, bring their music to thousands of fans around the world, and take those fans on a musical journey to exciting new places; a journey that has just begun.

While high school students in Maryland, Roberge and Culos began to play around and develop their signature sound, coupled with Roberge's crafted, telltale lyrics. With Roberge on vocals and guitar and Culos on drums, they soon added Richard On on lead guitar and Benj Gershman on bass. The band started playing out in the Maryland/Washington D.C. area, and put together The Wanderer, a debut recording for their growing fanbase. During this time, the band had chosen a name, .... Of A Revolution. While their CDs were being passed around the country, the name started to get abbreviated as O.A.R. It's always pronounced "oh-ay-ar", never "oar".

The band graduated from high school, and within a year they all found themselves at Ohio State University, and playing the local scenes. Another recording, Souls Aflame, followed, and Jerry DePizzo was added to play sax, and complete the unit that fans know today.

In 2001, O.A.R. released their third album, Risen, and soon after graduated from OSU. Out of school, their musical travels could continue with a newfound dedication to touring and bringing their music to fans around the country. A two-CD live album, Any Time Now, was released in 2002 to showcase the chops that a band develops after numerous shows on the road.

As O.A.R. prepares for a two-month tour of the United States which will take them from Arizona and California, to a homecoming in Washington, DC and into New York City, Marc Roberge took the time to answer questions for Chorus and Verse's readers about some of his inspirations and just when fans might see that next studio album.

..... Of A Revolution (O.A.R.)

The evolution of O.A.R. as a band largely took place in high school and, later, during your time at Ohio State University. While the band was in school, was it always a foregone conclusion that you would pursue a career in music and, if so, what made you continue to pursue your education? Many bands would have probably skipped school and gone off touring.

One of the funniest memories I have involving this band happened in my junior year of college. We are all sitting at the Thanksgiving table and I thought this would be the perfect time to tell my mom, who is an educator, that I would be dropping out of school to pursue music full time. My brother is the manager and he is sitting right there with me and the reaction from my mother is something I will never forget. Her eyes first shot straight to him with what I saw as true anger and the silence that followed is one I never want to experience again. Needless to say, that idea was quickly forgotten and I realized finishing school was no longer a choice I had the right to make. Turns out, the best decision I ever made was to finish school before I toured.

What was your major in college, and were there an alternative career you had in the back of your mind if “the band thing” didn’t work out?

My major was English and my childhood dream, aside from being in a touring band, is to be a professor at a university teaching creative writing. One thing I've held as fact is that at any one moment people can stop coming to the shows and turn their attention elsewhere. After finishing school, and preparing myself for this reality, I have no worries about one day fulfilling my other dream.

O.A.R. has been supportive of fans who wish to record live shows for personal use, and trade those recordings with others. While the band’s career has largely centered in the Maryland and Ohio regions, how far have you found that tapes of your shows have traveled around the world?

My girlfriend's cousin lives in Germany and he said that he has more than once come across our music out there. That is about the craziest thing I’ve heard.

Does your attitude towards recording shows extend to the creation and distribution of digital music on the Internet? Does the band support the idea that by allowing fans to trade music in a non-commercial way, it will expand the fan base, who will continue to support the band by attending live shows, and purchasing official releases?

Initially, the point of providing free music for trade purposes was to get the music further and further away from a central region. It worked for us in such a huge way and continues to be one of our main goals. We have always been a band that gets our music across better in a live setting so giving out those shows is like a constant glimpse into what we are up to. We are always trying to tighten up and get better so we let people be the judge of our progress. We let it all out there. The good, bad, and the ugly. My feeling is that if we plan on making music our profession and life then we better be prepared to let people see all sides of it, not just what we can control in a studio environment.

Your last studio album, “Risen”, was followed-up by a live recording, “Any Time Now”, in May 2002. How faithfully did “Any Time Now” capture the vibe of a live O.A.R. show, especially since live recordings are freely traded among fans? Why was the decision made to release a live performance, and what do you feel it offered absent from the fan-made recordings that are floating around?

When we decided to make a live record, there were so many arrows pointing us in that direction. After going through our first real studio experience and realizing that we had no idea what the hell we were doing we needed to show people what we do know how to do. Play live. We knew that everyone had access to live stuff already, and we needed to make this different somehow. I think it is mostly the mix that differentiates it from others. We were able to use John Alagia's unmatched ear for mixing to take the live show even further into the home stereo. We also were privileged enough to have Junior Marvin add his vibe to the set. He was one of the guitarists for Bob Marley so for me that [was] more of an honor to even be on the same stage. I hope we captured that excitement on tape. It was actually the first time we had ever played together and he hit it perfectly.

Are there plans in the works for your next studio recording? If so, can you share any information about when and where you’re planning to record, when fans might expect it to be released and any songs you’re working on for inclusion on it?

We are currently planning on recording the next record very soon. We have already begun pre-production on about 20 songs and have not narrowed down what we will use. We are planning on getting that out in early next year. It is the most exciting process I’ve ever been a part of.

What about live recordings? Do you consider “Any Time Now” a one-time effort to release a live recording, or does the band feel there is a role in continuing to make additional shows available in this manner?

We will definitely be releasing more live records from locations around the country. That is going to be our chance to test ourselves.

O.A.R. contributed a track, “Hold On True”, to “Bands for America”, a compilation CD with a stellar-line up of acts. Talk a little bit about how the band came to be included on the album, and what the purpose is behind the “Bands for America” project.

That time of my life is such a blur. We were on tour at the time and all I remember is sadness. Projects like this are a small opportunity to do something for a cause that never should even exist. There is no question when you are asked to contribute to something like that, but it's hard to say what we feel we can help. I just wish no one ever had to make something like that at all. Fresh Tracks did a great thing and all I can say is that we hope it helped someone, somewhere. It's such a bitter thing.

Talk about some of your inspirations. Your first album, “The Wanderer”, was based on a short story of the same title written by Marc, and the track “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” seems to serve as a follow-up to that story. It is fair to call “The Wanderer” a concept album? Do subsequent albums follow similar themes or have you found your songs evolving as you’ve gotten older?

Being sixteen and seventeen and trying to write about life is somewhat of a humorous thing. On one hand, I didn't know shit from shit. All I knew was what growing up in the suburbs of DC was like which is certainly not the most hardened place in the world. I only knew what life was like in a place that gave me all the opportunity in the world. I’m not saying that to be cocky, I’m saying it to be honest. I really needed to see things and grow up a little bit to understand what was going on out there. On the other hand, I had a true hunger for exactly that. So, I wrote about it. A lot of younger people live half the day in a world existing in the mind. I felt like searching that world a little more and seeing exactly how much of it was parallel with the one I lived in front of my eyes.

"The Wanderer" began as a story about someone who leaves the world he knows as his and tries to search out what lies beyond city limits. It grew from page to page and I saw within the story a whole lot of songs and characters that I could put into songs. Next thing I know, I was in Israel studying for three months of my junior year of high school and it was there that the story really expanded. I felt like that little world I had known was a whole lot bigger with every person I got to meet and understand. The first lesson in life that I have tried to follow ever since is understanding how little I really know. That leaves me open to learning a whole lot more.

The album "The Wanderer" took a lot of those stories and put them to music in an act of organized confusion. One of those things I may have set out to try and accomplish as a concept record didn't happen at the time, but as the years have passed I can now look at it as more of a diary record, because each song shows me what I was thinking back then and the themes still have a huge relevance in my life today. "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker" became the song most people hear first from us, and it has such a weird story behind how it was made. I wrote the first section of it in the dorm room in Israel during a time when I was as frantic, confused, and stressed as any other 17-year-old. The second, slower, portion of the song didn't even become part of the tune until we were in the studio recording. We knew we were going to break it down a bit but the entire second portion was freestyled right there. We kept the take due to lack of time and funds and ever since it just sort of took as the way the song is done. I always think about what I would do differently if I could do it again but, then again, who knows.

In the past, O.A.R. songs have gained inspiration from literary works, including Stephen King’s “The Stand”. Is this still the case with your latest material, and what books are creeping into O.A.R. lyrics these days?

Books have always inspired me to write. Lately, they have not been a huge part of the lyric process, though. I think that now that we have been around the country a few times and experienced what it is really like to have to say goodbye to your loved ones so often, and then figure out how to say hello again, a lot of material has stemmed from that. Also, I am writing about what I have seen over the last two years. A lot of stuff still in the story format because it is a lot of fun and a chance to step aside and talk about someone else.

Part of the O.A.R. story involves time spent in Israel by yourself, Chris and Benj, including visits to the Masada. Can you talk about this time, some of the places you visited and what effect it had on you, both personally and as musicians?

Everybody has that one experience that changes their lives and that is what Israel was for me. All of the sudden, I was in another country, surrounded by new things and I just took it all in. I can't really explain what it did for me. I remember sitting on the roof of this old storage building we called the watchtower with my best friends just looking around every couple nights. It is those things I remember most. When we did nothing but sit and talk. I still write about it all the time because there is always a story there.

O.A.R. is in the midst of a national tour. Has the band gotten comfortable with the rigors of being on the road all the time, and do you enjoy being in new cities and venues? Are you all still able to get along with each other after a few weeks of touring?

The first tour was the craziest. We were in a bus with our best friends having the most fun we could fit in every day. I think now our concerns are less in how much shit we can get into and back, not how we can make each show better than the one before. Our front house engineer told us, when he saw we were slipping, that people will only remember you from the last show they saw. So, we began pushing ourselves to get healthy and on point. I guess we realized that people pay way too much to see us and we should work hard to give them the best we got. As far as us getting along, I think we always get along. We have known each other for so long that we know when to step aside and let frustration and stress pass.

Talk briefly about some of the band you’ll be performing with, including the Pat McGee Band, Matt Nathanson and Maroon5. Pat McGee in particular has been cited as a favorite by both by both you and Chris. It is a kick to be able to share the bill with someone that you admire?

I think playing with bands we have never been with is the most exciting part of all this. We always say how lucky we are to get a free show every night. Nathanson is amazing and funny as shit. Maroon 5 is becoming one of my favorite bands and we know Pseudopod from the summer and can’t wait to be with them. It is going to be night after night of good times.

Finish off with your plans for after this tour concludes. What is the band looking forward to in the New Year, and what projects can fans look forward to seeing? Any comments that you’d like to make to those fans who have been waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for a new studio album?

We are going to take a little break in December for what seems like the first time in two years. Much needed, but we will then jump into the studio and aside from the record we will be working on getting some free music out and some side stuff here and there for fun. All kinds of things. We appreciate the patience but, believe me, we are getting a little impatient ourselves.

[ Website: www.ofarevolution.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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