It’s 2004 and O.A.R. has moved up to Lava Records, an Atlantic Records company. Things are really looking good. They’re opening for bands like the Dave Matthews Band and starring as the musical guests on late night shows. Their record In Between Now and Then is getting radio play and doing pretty well. Here in Columbus, C Magazine narrowed its focus from the three C’s (Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland), to just featuring the city of Columbus in hopes of delivering a more intimate magazine. C Magazine sat down to chat with O.A.R., whose broadening fan base aligned perfectly like an eclipse with C Magazine’s precise focus on central Ohio, to talk to the guys about what they were up to and where they were going.
Skip ahead to 2009. After 13 years together, the members of O.A.R. are still rocking (and touring) while consistently evolving their style. While only one member still calls Columbus his home, the band considers Columbus one of their favorite spots to stop for a show (or three). Their latest release, All Sides, showcases not just one facet of their talents, but pulls together the entire collective vision of the band in a way previous studio releases could not, and its single “Shattered” is all over the airwaves. Their tour is taking them from Iowa to Jamaica and back, sometimes even on a jet plane.
C Magazine, also running stronger after five years, just had to revisit the band for a catch-up interview before they rocket into superstar oblivion. Youngstown native Jerry DePizzo was more than willing to sit down and shoot the breeze on everything from the way their sound has evolved through the years to how their family lives impact their musical lives.
In this special cover story exclusive, we’re bringing you the “then” and the “now” by running our story on O.A.R. from 2004 and our recent chat with Jerry. You’ll be able to see what has changed and what will always stay the same with the OSU crew Columbus adores.
Click Here to read our O.A.R. story from 2004
The Internet, particularly Napster, was credited for the rise in O.A.R.'s fame. Do you feel the Internet (iTunes, file sharing, etc.) still plays the main role in getting your music out there?
Yeah, it certainly does. I think if you broke down all our sales of records and singles, you'd still see that people use iTunes and online stores and sites like that to get the music. Our audience has grown, but is rooted in that high school and college age demographic—they're hip to technology. We just launched liveOAR.com last month, which houses and will soon have archives of a very vast catalogue. We've just hit the tip of the iceberg on that.
How much of that do you guys manage, and how much do you trust to the developmental hands of someone else?
One thing that's held true for us is that no one is going to do it for you; you've gotta do it for yourself. We have a wonderful management team in Red Light Management, and we have a good relationship with Atlantic Records, but it's still done in-house at our management office. What separates us from a lot of other bands is there's a lot of hands-on activity from the band itself in all aspects of our online community, whether it's web design, blogs, twittering or liveOAR.com.
Did you go through manager after manager as you were coming up? Do you try to avoid managers who try to get in for the party?
You know, our story is almost the opposite, because we were so fortunate to have Marc’s [Roberge] brother David from virtually the beginning. He’s our “sixth Beatle.” For as talented as Mark is at writing lyrics, David is as talented in the music business. He's just done wonders for us. It's a family atmosphere, a tight knit group of people. If it wasn't for the hands-on attention we receive from him, I think we would have been lost in the shuffle. We wouldn't be nearly where we are today.
You once described your tour bus as a coffin. Do you tour on the same bus as back then?
We were hitting it so hard back then that we hardly ever came home. The atmosphere is certainly the same today. For some tours, we get really amazing buses, and for others tours we scale back a little bit. We make it a point now to be home more. Everybody's pretty much married now. Benji [Gershman] is still the eligible bachelor. Everyone's pretty serious now. That balance has helped us carry on and keep the pace we've had.
Is your focus still on doing live shows, or more towards recording now?
The live shows are always the bread and butter. It will always be our staple. It's the type of band we are. You can never take that out of us. We've certainly gotten better at studio recording, and we've brought that aspect of what we do up to the level of the live show. That's been an arduous task and it's taken a while. With this last record, we've really found who we are in the studio and how we work best. It was an exciting record to make. I used to fear making records; it was a daunting task, it really was. It was hard work, and not that the work was easier this time around, but it was just a much more pleasant atmosphere.
It was rough for you all to tour back then, is it even tougher to travel now?
It's different. It was certainly much more grueling and difficult at that point. There was a lot of work in a van. Even when we had a bus, we were loading and unloading our own gear. Logistically, it was far more difficult. As you progress in life, and you start families, it becomes harder to take that first step out the door when you're home for a while. My daughter Sophia is four and she gets it. She knows I'm going to be gone for a while, and that's a hard thing to deal with. Emotionally, there is more baggage and it's more difficult, but that travel is far easier.
Has the move to a major record label brought you the exposure you hoped for? What are the pros and cons?
At the end of the day, exposure-wise, it has. We've certainly gotten our money's worth out of the major label experience. We've been able to take part in some opportunities that are just amazing and fantastic. It's been great. Leave it to O.A.R. to have a really great record and single in the midst of the worst depression in 60 years. In some ways, we've gotten the sales we wanted, but at the end of the day, there is no marketing campaign that can eclipse one friend going to another friend, handing them a CD and saying, “Dude you've gotta listen to this." Fortunately, we've got a lot of that. That's really where we're still rooted. For some, it's a hard pill to swallow. They've seen us as “their band.” It was a kind of underground thing. Now, all the sudden, we're on a Ford commercial and playing at NASCAR events. At the same time, you can see this band really appreciates the audience and does a lot to make sure everyone still feels included, even though the audience and venue have gotten bigger.
Have you released an album that you're completely happy with?
The best I can say is that our last record was my favorite. If you can still make music that really inspires you and that you really work for, that says something. We came as close to sounding like O.A.R. in the last record. I look forward to this new one we've started writing. The music's coming in such an organic and natural way. You always hope that the next record is going to be the record you've always hoped for. Even when you make a record you're really happy with and enjoy at the end of the day, you always feel that you can top it. In the end, longevity garners respect and usually ends up earning it. The book has yet to be written on us.
What's more important: nailing every single note perfectly or performing a show the crowd loves, regardless of errors?
It's all about communicating with the audience and entertaining. No matter what kind of music you perform, you’re there for entertainment. If people feel great when they leave, your job’s done. You are always your harshest critic. You go into the studio not playing the songs, but performing the songs. When you can do that, and when you can capture that, those are the most successful takes.
What's your favorite venue in Ohio? Still Newport?
The Newport always holds something special. We cut our teeth there. It's really a great and memorable place. But Columbus is fortunate that it has a place like the LC that's so scalable and has such a utilitarian purpose. You can have a big outdoor show or an intimate indoor show. You can do almost anything with that damn place. It's a really great size. I look forward to playing there a lot. We're also returning to Nautica in Cleveland because we really dig it. We look for venue more than size.
“Hey Girl” got some radio play, but fizzled out. It was mentioned that that wasn't really the song O.A.R. wanted to be known for forever. Your new singles have reached phenomenal success. And then there’s your iconic jam song, “It Was a Crazy Game of Poker.” Right now, what are you happy with as a defining song?
“Poker” is still the song that grabs people. I feel that’s the one that really hits them in the heart and makes them die-hard fans. On the radio side, I’m really proud of "Shattered." It's just a good pop song. If we wrote it, or John Mayer or whoever wrote that tune, people would be like: "That's a damn good tune." When we meet people, they are familiar with that song. That's always the first comment: "Hey man, that “Shattered” tune is a really great radio tune." And it really is. But “Poker” has been, and still is, the defining O.A.R. experience.
Are there any songs that are misunderstood as far as what they mean?
”Conquering Fools” is one that is misunderstood. We're a band people put on at parties when they want to have a good time and when they want to take things in. That's one of the original songs people did that with. The funny thing is the song is all about not letting those kinds of things control you and overcoming your demons and fighting them. So when people slam beers back to “Conquering Fools,” I kind of shake my head and think, "You need to pay attention a little bit on that one."
Regarding your recent album All Sides, what separates it from your previous work?
It’s the closest O.A.R. has been to being O.A.R. in the studio. From a guy on the inside looking out, it is the record that sounds most like us.
How exactly does a famous jam band get received in LA?
We've done alright. That’s a town where you can tell when you have a song on the radio and when you don’t. We've done enough legwork there, and we've picked the right venues where we can transcend trend to a certain degree. The audience is demographically the same throughout the country. The same energy and atmosphere from our shows on the campus of Ohio State is there at the Mercury Theater in L.A.
You are married with a child. How hard is the tour on your family life?
My wife tolerates it. She's certainly used to it. I've been doing this almost the entire time I've known her. It's not something you just do—your whole family is invested in it. Everyone has to deal with it. It's the little things, like it’s hard to cut my grass and take out the trash. It's the things that people do every day. Those are the things where I'm glad that I'm home.
You’ve been labeled as “Pop Rock.” Barring all labels, how would you describe your sound?
That's always the worst question to ask musicians. It's Pop music rooted in a jam atmosphere. There is an island element in what we do. It's kind of blended with Americana music. It really needs to communicate to people with just an acoustic guitar and vocals. We strive to be great songwriters; anything else is like icing on the cake.
Is Mark pretty free with the lyrics?
It's his strongest suit. It’s enjoyable to watch him work. You can bring an idea to the table, and he'll just sing something. I can work hours and hours and not come up with something that he's just thought of and just spit out. It’s really remarkable. He just has this way of putting things a way that communicates and hits people.
Did you guys ever imagine when you were growing up and learning your instruments and listening to your favorite bands that you would be playing the music you are today?
I don’t think so. I always wanted to be in a Rock band. I didn't want to be a Jazz guy. I didn't want to play in a symphonic atmosphere, playing big band or show tunes. I just wanted to rock with my friends. That's really where it was at for me. I played horn in school because I was a musical guy, and it was my way of getting to play music at first. I played bass guitar, drums, guitar, anything because I wanted to be in a Rock band. So then I went to school and I met these guys. I always thought it was going to be something else than the saxophone. Who the hell does a saxophone in a Rock band? But every other seat was taken, so saxophone was where it was for me.
What is the single thread that you can sew through most of your experience?
We've done all this together, and it's been surprisingly democratic. It's amazing how democratic we still keep things and how that still works. We've had our ups and our downs with things, but the five of us are still friends and we want to go out on tour and make music together. To be doing it 13 years later, and to be able to say that… I can't even count on one hand the amount of bands we've toured with that have that same story to tell.
Who was on the poster in your room that you idolized growing up?
I wish my mom would have let me. It would have been Van Halen, Jimmy Page and guys like that.
What’s the first thing you do when you get back to Columbus?
The first thing I do is drive home as quickly as humanly possible—usually in an unsafe manner—to get home and see my little girl. And hopefully, after a long day at work, I'll be able to see my wife at some point. But then I go and check the counter to see what I have to do during my time at home—my honey-do list. I'll usually hit up Brio at Easton, which was actually my last square job.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on the road?
This one time, we were in the autograph line and some dude pulled his leg off, and that was kinda squirrelly. In the fall, we had a pretty Rock and Roll moment where we played at midnight in Madison, Wisconsin on Halloween, right out in the middle of their main street against the capital. There was just a ridiculous amount of people. You couldn't count them all. And so we did that and then hopped on our bus to the airport and took a private jet to the Bahamas and played a show, repeated the process and flew to Iowa. We didn't really stay at all. The tour bus met us up against the jet and we all took pictures. It's nice to enjoy Rock and Roll moments every once in a while.
You guys have been together for many years, a long time for any band. What is the secret of keeping it together?
Respect for everyone. It's a brotherhood. There are times when you want to kill someone, and other times when you just want to hug them and tell them you love them—fortunately, more of the latter. That mutual respect is certainly part of it. Space. Being able to step away and come back in is certainly very therapeutic. Communication. Talking things out. It's like a marriage. I'm married to four dudes. It’s that simple. It’s all the things you do in your marriage, minus the physical ones.
With bands like Modest Mouse and Chili Peppers, what is it they have or are doing that allows them to play and grow together for decades? How often is that something you have to develop versus something that just happened?
It’s a little bit of each. It’s a little bit of luck meeting preparation meeting opportunity. And just finding some like-minded guys you seem to click with. The sum is greater than the means, and if you recognize that, and appreciate that, you can do a whole hell of a lot.
Be sure to check out O.A.R. at the LC Pavilion on June 11th.