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High Energy From The Banks Of The Ohio River
Oval Opus
In a nutshell, nothing is contrived, we write what we believe in and the kind of music we want to play. And a lot of times that is pop music, and we don't apologize for it. - Patrick "Trick" Martin
by Matt Mrowicki
Oval Opus

From the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Oval Opus has become a critical part of the area's music scene since its genesis on the campus of Miami University (Oxford, OH) in 1997. In 2003, the four-piece comprised of brothers Josh and Dan Edmondson (guitar and drums, respectively), Aaron Patrick (lead vocals) and Patrick "Trick" Martin (bass), the band's newest member, took major strides to gain greater national exposure and take their development to the next level.

Since the release of their debut album, Wagon Wheel, in 1998 and through its 2000 follow-up Oxygen, the band has collected numerous accolades while building the devoted fan following essential for the success of any musical unit. While local media outlets acknowledged the band's popularity with recognition as "Cincinnati's Best New Artist" at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards and "Cincinnati's Favorite Band" and "Cincinnati's Best Alternative Band" at the Cincinnati Enquirer Cammy Awards, their national exposure was growing as singles started to get airplay on over 100 college radio stations.

The band has also been sharing the stage with larger and more-established acts, such as O.A.R., Guster, the Pat McGee Band and Jason Mraz, exposing them to an even larger contingent of college-radio fans on a national level. At the same time, they've established themselves as regular headliners on their home turf.

With the release of their latest disc, Red Sky Recovery, in 2002, the band created an album, eleven tracks, that was ready for the same level of success and exposure as the band's live shows. To this end, in July 2003 Oval Opus signed a national and international distribution deal with Redeye Distribution, who have been recognized as Distributor of the Year (Small Division) by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers for two years running, 2002 and 2003, finally putting Oval Opus' music in national retail outlets and online retailers.

As the band looks to 2004, they continue to balance the support of the loyal Cincinnati community, while cultivating greater national success. They have embraced alternate means of spreading their sound, allowing liberal taping policies as their shows and having one of their songs used in a motion picture score, helping the band to promote itself of many different levels. Chorus and Verse spoke with the band about its history thus far, and how their current plans should lead to even further success in the years ahead.

Lets start off by talking about the early days of the band at Miami University in Oxford, OH. When you first started playing around, what sort of venues were available to perform at, and how receptive was the local community to hearing new music? When did you begin to realize that the band would be a long-term endeavor, and not just a bunch of guys playing together while in school?

Aaron: Thank God for close friends. Not only do they show up and cheer for you like you're Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones, they are also forgiving enough to realize that it is ok you suck.

That first summer, Josh and I took a trip to Florida together playing on the beach, street corners, open mics and coffee shops. If they were willing to listen we would play. If they weren't we would still play.

The local community was pretty good to us when our first record came out. It had a lot of critical acclaim and because of this we had a chance to play with the Doobie Brothers at Riverbend Amptheater less than four weeks after we put our first record out.

This was probably the biggest reason the band stayed together. A million people start bands in college, but after meeting Pat Simmons and Sky Lar from the Doobie Brothers, and seeing 5,000 people in front of you cheering, we all knew that this was something we wanted for the rest of our lives.

Your debut CD, 1998s "Wagon Wheel" cemented your place on the Cincinnati music scene, and your popularity has continued to expand in the years since. What is the state of the music scene in Cincinnati these days, and where are some of the coolest rooms to play at? Have you found that there is national and major label attention on the scene, or do bands who want to break nationally have to go elsewhere to do so?

Patrick: Cincinnati is primarily a cover band scene, which is great if you are trying to make a living playing music. I did it for years, there are plenty of places to play and the pay is good. The public is not nearly as interested in original music. The original music scene in Cincinnati has very much an "underground" vibe.

The nice thing about this is that there are lots of venues where almost anybody can play if they want, so there are playing opportunities for bands that are just getting started, or have a unique or original sound. As far as real legitimate rooms for original music, there are not many. The problem is you have rooms that hold a few hundred, and then rooms that hold over a thousand, there really isn't anyplace in between. So, when you are a band drawing about 300 people on average, an appropriate venue can be a little difficult to find.

We generally play at The Mad Frog, a college club near UC or The 20th Century Theater, a converted art deco movie theater in the suburbs. By splitting our time between both venues, we have found some success in the market.

There has been some national and major label attention in Cincinnati. We've had Over The Rhine, Blessed Union of Souls, The Ass Ponys, The Afghan Whigs and classics like Pure Prarie League and The Isley Brothers. We have found that most bands don't need to relocate to break, but you definitely have to tour or work in a more nationally recognized market like New York or Nashville. But being based out of Cincinnati is very feasible.

Earlier this year, you signed a deal with Redeye Distribution for national distribution of your latest CD, Red Sky Recovery. How was the decision made to sign with a national distributor, and why go with Redeye to handle this important step for you? Have you been pleased with the way things have gone since the partnership was signed in July?

Dan: We were so pleased with the outcome and response of the record so we decided to make it as available as possible to people all over. Redeye is a very well-known independent distributor and we felt that they were perfect for this. We have been very pleased with the partnership so far. Having the CD in stores has given the record a much bigger platform in which to jump from.

Can you recall the first time you heard one of your songs played in the radio, and how you felt about it at the time? Is it still exciting to hear your music on the air and do you enjoy doing the interviews and other media appearances that do along with radio and other means of promoting your music?

Aaron: Have you seen the movie "That Thing You Do"? I swear it really felt that way. We had friends calling us up and telling us that they heard it. Of course, we had called them and told them when it was going to be played. I think we might have even recorded it ourselves at home.

The coolest time I heard the song on the radio was when I was driving my car one summer night and I pulled up to a traffic light and the girl in the car next to me was listening to our song being played on the radio. My friend looked over at her and said "who is that?" and she replied, "I don't know, it's the radio". I went to bed smiling that night.

I feel extremely lucky when I find out a new station has picked up a single. It is a unique experience when someone wants to talk with you about something you have created. You feel really lucky that out of all the musicians playing and making music that someone was actually interested in what you are doing; so I look forward to talking with people about the project. I do have to say that performing on television is absolutely nerve-wracking. I don't quite know why but I can't get over it.

Oval Opus

One of the tracks from Red Sky Recovery was included in the film "Winter Break." Is hearing your music used to score a film a totally different experience? How did your involvement in the movie come about, and do you consider that a one-time opportunity or are you open to having your music used in other areas such as film, or even television?

Patrick: Yes, having a song in a movie is a totally different experience. It's really cool. I remember when we got a copy of the DVD. We all sat around Aaron's apartment and watched it. We didn't know when the song would be played, or how much of it. We didn't know if it would be featured in a scene or just be music playing in the background on a car radio or something. I'll never forget when we heard the first few notes of the song, I got goose bumps. It was really different hearing the song in that kind of context. We were lucky enough to have nearly half of the song played at a very important point in the movie. I think it was very effective to the plot and had a lot to do with the mood of the scene. So we really couldn't have asked for more. And being on the soundtrack has opened up so many new fans to us.

It was a great experience all around. We are certainly open to more opportunities to have our music in movies or television.

The band has announced plans for a college tour in 2004. Can you announce anything about how plans for that tour are going, when it'll start and some of the places that you'll be playing?

Patrick: We have booked the college tour through NACA. We did a showcase in Peoria in October. The tour should take us through the Midwest, which is our primary market. We will get to go a little further west into Illinois and Iowa and a little further south into Kentucky, and possibly some shows in Florida. So we will be opening up some new markets.

Has the band found that college radio has been supportive, and do you anticipate that most of the fans that you'll be playing for on the tour will already been familiar with your music?

Patrick: At least some of the audience should be familiar with us because of NACA. College radio has been pretty supportive, as well as Freshtracks, who did the Winter Break soundtrack. It should be a mix of existing fans and people who are hearing us for the first time. It may also be the first time some existing fans get to see us live. NACA tours are always market-building tours, whereas club tours rely more heavily on existing fan base.

You did a show at 20th Century for a Live CD Recording in late November. How did the recording go, and is a live CD going to be the next release from the band? How is the mixing and mastering process going, and do you have any idea when the disc will be available and fans will be able to get their hands on it?

Josh: The recording went really well. The crowd was very enthusiastic, and I feel the band played well. The Live CD will be the next release from the band, but the distribution will be limited.

The mixing process is in full swing, and it is coming along. I am always hesitant in saying any dates when a record will be available, but it should be some time in the spring.

Like many bands, Oval Opus has set up a street team to help get the word out about the band and do grass-roots promotion. In this age of the Internet and mass media, how important has the street team been to developing your audience, and what are your general feelings about the fans who have been supporting you over the years?

Josh: Street teams are very crucial to the success of any band. We feel that having a good street team not only gives you people that are willing to hang fliers, etc., but also allows them to be a part of something exciting. When their excitement is spread throughout a region, it can intensify your buzz.

Our fans have been absolutely phenomenal. The dedication and support is overwhelming. We can't thank them enough.

You've been consistently releasing a new studio album every two years. Do you see an evolution or maturity in your music from album to album? How well do you think your early material stands up to more recent music? When you're writing new tracks, do you consciously try to do something different than you did before, or do you feel that there is an Oval Opus sound and style that fans are expecting when the band releases new material?

Patrick: I was not involved in the first two CDs; I came on board literally three days before we began the recording of Red Sky Recovery. So I can't speak too much about what went on in those early projects. I will say that the band has matured and grown considerably in the past six years. The previous three studio CDs have each been considerably different from one another. We seem to loose and gain some fans interest with each CD, but there is a sort of consistency that is always Oval Opus. I think we always know what that is, it happens naturally.

The new material will be different in many ways. First of all, I have been introduced to the writing process, which has changed the dynamic a bit, and we have also been collaborating with outside writers. So, a lot more has been thrown into the mix, but we have not lost sight of the essence of what Oval Opus is.

In a nutshell, nothing is contrived, we write what we believe in and the kind of music we want to play. And a lot of times that is pop music, and we don't apologize for it. We have learned just how difficult it really is to write good pop music that is immediate and universal in less than four minutes. In many ways we are finally coming into our own with this new material. We have a lot of really good songs in our past, but we have learned a lot in the past couple of years.

I hope that we always feel that the material we are currently writing is the best material we have ever written. Two years from now, I would like to be talking about how much we have grown and how much better our writing is than what we are doing now.

The band has a liberal taping policy at shows, but doesn't allow fans to create MP3s for distribution on the Internet. Do you feel that live taping and trading of shows has helped expand the band's fan base as it has for other groups? Why the hesitation to permit the sharing of those same show digitally, and have you found that fans are respecting the band's wishes as far as the use of those recordings?

Dan: They have been very respectful of our policy. The reason for not allowing mp3s of our music is so we can decide which material to make available online. Sometimes the quality of a board feed or mic feed of a live show is not a very good representation of what a band actually sounded like. It is just to cover ourselves in case a bad recording goes into wide circulation on the internet and hurts our reputation as artists. Other than that, tape all you want as long [as] it is for your own personal use. Taping and trading has been very beneficial to the band.

We've touched on a few upcoming projects already, but what are your expectations for the band in 2004? How far do you feel you can progress on a national level, and do you have any aspirations to be signed to a major label or gaining more attention from mainstream media outlets?

Dan: We are actually working right now in New York on new material for a new studio project. We, of course, are hoping to gain more national attention in the future and more particularly 2004. All I can really say right now is that we have a lot of big plans for 2004. We are working with a new group of people that can hopefully help us broaden our fan base. Expect to see Oval Opus all over in the coming months.

[ Website: www.ovalopus.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [publisher@chorusandverse.com], 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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