April 25, 2007

Of a Revolution (O.A.R)

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Slope Day alumni O.A.R. are currently on tour to promote their album, Stories of a Stranger. Frontman and lead singer Marc Roberge took some time to reminisce with Daze about their Slope Day experience, college, and also Dave Matthews Band and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Here is that conversation.
Daze: So your band, obviously Of A Revolution. Can you explain to me what revolution are you of?
Marc Roberge: [Chuckles] Well I guess it would start eleven years ago. We were [sighs] high school students in the basement of our drummer’s house. We needed a band name but at the time there was really nobody listening to us. Nothing like that, but we came up with OAR, Of A Revolution, basically just to say that we were playing something different. So it was really a personal revolution; it wasn’t a sweeping, large generalization for society by any means, considering how we were just playing music in a basement. So it was a musical thing and it was personal for us. The years went on and people started to show up and we started to make CDs and we kept the name because things were evolving in the music and that’s really what a revolution is, it’s kind of like a change, so it really is a personal thing and we just enjoy the fact that people feel a part of it.
Daze: You mentioned that nobody was listening when you started. At what point did people start listening?
M.R.: Good question. I think it definitely began small. We were touring in the basement of our good friends. Folks would come over and play instruments with us. Really just a couple guys and gals sitting in the basement listening to us, next thing you know, we made a tape and we start selling it around. Then it became a couple hundred people at a local bar, and so on and so forth. We really are the quintessential basement band, playing every day after school. A few friends, girlfriends would come home and check us out. It started small amongst friends.
Daze: Did you know back then that you’d still be doing this so many years later?
M.R.: [Laughs] No, I didn’t know that. I had a pipe dream; we all did. When we left high school, we applied to the same college. We wanted to go out of state. We went there [Ohio State University] because at the time, it was the biggest school, aside from Texas, that we could go to. We really had this pipe dream and we tried to follow it: the biggest school, all together, our bass player was a year behind so he came the next year. We basically did it all as a dream and at the same time going to college, getting our degrees and making plans for the future of working. But everything kinda worked out and here we are.
Daze: Was there any point at which you wanted to give up? What was a turning point for the band where it was either go forward or stop? Could you pinpoint that?
M.R.: That’s a really good question because I know a lot of my friends in bands have faced that before on multiple occasions. I think we honestly never had that. We had slight bumps in the road when a couple of us went away to school and we were split apart for a little while, but we operate this thing as we have a goal here and get it. There was really no point when we were questioning being a band or doing it. I think that the turning point of where we actually got to achieve that was back at Ohio State University. We were playing big shows on campus with no management, no label. That was a huge turning point when we could sell out venues for it. The next one was really getting out on the road in May of 2001 and doing this full-time. We never really questioned it; we just roll with the punches and do the best we can.
Daze: When you were at Ohio State, what did you guys actually study?
M.R.: I was an English lit major, like 20th century poetry and things like that. I took the shit seriously. I really didn’t — I had my freshman year where … freshman year basically, and then sophomore year was a little, I don’t know … I didn’t pay much attention, but I guess the busier we got with the band, the more attention I paid to school. I don’t know why. It kinda worked out that way where I felt driven to accomplish both things: get a job playing music and get my degree. My mom was an educator so it was no questions asked; I really just studied. But I did English. It was a lot of reading, a lot of writing.
Daze: You guys obviously started at Ohio State, or even a little before that, but your biggest early shows were at colleges. Do you enjoy playing college venues still? Is there something that brings you back about it?
M.R.: Yeah, you know even today, I’m sitting here right now in a parking lot of an athletics center at a college, and watching the folks walk by with their backpacks on, going to class, seeing kids running around in the gym. It’s just like a nostalgic feeling. I get to do it every day so I feel like ten years younger now every time I go to a college campus. And the shows just bring me right back to where I started. It feels real good. Not to say you don’t take it seriously, but you’ve got that free-wheeling, 18-year-old mindset every time you step on a college campus. I think that’s cool. I could use that.
Daze: You guys actually played at Cornell’s end-of-the-year festival, Slope Day, in 2004 with Kanye West. What are your memories of Cornell and Slope Day, and playing with Kanye West as your opener?
M.R.: Well, that day was a mess. I mean, [laughs] I had a great time, but I remember he was real late. And my friend Matt Nathanson, who we love, we’ve known forever, he had to cancel his show. He couldn’t play because the schedule got so screwed up. But at the end of the day, when all that was said and done, and Kanye was there, and we were there, and everyone was there, the above all thing is that we had a great show. The crowd was real cool. It went from a hip-hop leaning crowd, where they knew every song, and then we instantly changed over to rock ’n roll music, and they knew every song. So it was an eclectic, diverse crowd that was really appreciative of music. And that’s really the best part about this thing is when everyone gets together and enjoys each others’ styles so all in all, it was a good day. It just started out as a mess. [Laughs]
Daze: So you just categorized yourself as rock, which is a big general umbrella of lots of types of music. If you had to name some of the songs that directed your specific musical path, which is kind of different, reggae-influenced and not conventional rock, maybe, what would they be?
M.R.: If I had to break it down, the songs I’d say, okay ten years ago … Oh, let’s go back, like fifteen years ago, Crowded House were a huge influence on me. And when you break it down to a song, “Something So Strong” is a great song by Crowded House that was a tape, my first tape, twenty years ago. That was a huge influence. Ten years ago, I would say “Lively Up Yourself” by Bob Marley & the Wailers off of Babylon by Bus was basically what I wanted to sound like as a live band. It’s a live track. I’m not saying the song, but the sonics, the music of it is really just a vibe and a pulse that I love and that really had a huge influence on me. And Pearl Jam, “Black” is a song and “Footsteps,” those songs gave me the, I don’t know, they made me open up a little bit more on my personal lyrical side. It had a huge influence.
Daze: You just mentioned your first tape, and you guys are actually known as one of the bands that were the first to really be helped by filesharing, which is obviously a big jump from tapes that you started out with. How do you feel about the concept of filesharing music, especially since you’ve now moved to a major label?
M.R.: Yeah, you know I break it down like this: I still to this day encourage and love the fact that people trade our live shows on the internet. They come to the shows; we let them tape. Take it wherever you want, do whatever the hell you want with it. Just don’t sell it. And then, on the other side of things, we always spend all the money we’ve got making a CD in a studio, we would just appreciate that people didn’t sell them individually. We paid our dues by saying people can tape whatever they want, do whatever they want, just come on man, at the end of the day, you understand, when people go and buy CDs at the store, the band’s not taking home twelve bucks. And the guy working at the label in A&R is not taking home any more money. So you’re really not doing any … you’re kinda like … a little bit that we do comes from CD sales but that’s alright by me. It’s changing times. You just gotta kinda roll with it. People bitch and moan about it way too much.
Daze: You guys play the theme music for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. While most bands license their music out to television shows and soundtracks like this all the time, you guys have taken a more active role in the show, playing that live set on air. How did this come about and why did you guys decide to get more involved?
M.R.: Like anybody, we’re a fan of the show. The folks on there are doing the right thing. I wouldn’t give a shit if they got paid five million dollars a year; they do much more in a day than any of us do in a year. That’s really great and we love the show. My friend, the producer, this guy Glen Ballard, called me, and said, ‘Listen, I got a song for this show and I want you guys to play it. Will you come out here? We gotta record it.’ Blah blah blah. And when Glen calls you and says he’s got an idea, you should probably listen. This is the guy who wrote “The Man in the Mirror” for Michael Jackson. We went out there, did it, and spent the day on the site. It’s crazy, man! These folks took the L.A. Clinic and revamped the whole thing, and this is a place that people really need. It was the least we could do. You don’t get paid for stuff like that, and that really makes it ten times better because you feel like you’re not working and you’re having fun. No one is paying you to be there; you’re there to do the right thing. They just make you feel good all around that show, man. Even like, the camera operators and the catering folks are all good people. It’s kinda crazy.
Daze: You guys tour with Dave Matthews a lot, notably selling out three shows at the Gorge with the band this past summer. What do you enjoy about touring with Dave and is there anything you’ve learned from him that you apply to your own band or music? And also, when people compare you guys to him, what do you think are the main differences between you?
M.R.: Wow, good question. Alright, here you go, the reason I love to tour with that band is because we just kind of … we mesh. Again, good folks. I mean, hanging out at these shows is like hanging out with our crew and band. Everybody gets along. We all know each other, a nice vibe. They’re a Virginia-based thing; we’re a Maryland-based thing. It kinda all rolls together down there, but what I learned from them is … I can’t even count how many things we’ve learned from them. The touring operation over the years, we just looked at that model and went with it. How could you not? And the philanthropy these guys do is ridiculous! They wouldn’t report it. It’s like, one of them will go buy three acres of land so Walmart doesn’t build a Walmart there. They don’t call the news reporters to say it; they just do it. So I learned from them that you don’t need to talk about the shit you do. Just do it. And musically, fantastic band. Right now they got a guy, Rashawn Ross, out there playing trumpet who I saw last year. That was my focus, watching him play was great. Musically obviously we learn from the pros, man, watching these guys play. These are like hard-core pro musicians and you get a first-hand lesson every night. So that’s really great and then, people compare us. I love it! I mean, it’s like being compared to someone who’s very successful and great songs that make people feel good. I think that’s really what we share in common is we make people feel good. The differences are they’re a lot more seasoned, they’ve been around much longer, they’ve jammed much longer, they’ve accomplished so many things. And we’re up and coming, still evolving, and still changing. I can’t see the music connection at all, but I surely don’t mind if people say so.
Daze: What would surprise people to find out about you guys?
M.R.: Gosh, I’m trying to think of some crazy-ass shi — characteristics, but um, I don’t know what people think of us … I wish I could give you a cool answer, I’m really sorry. I wish I could tell you I’m a heroin addict, but you know, unfortunately, I’m not. [laughs]
Daze: That would have been a good answer, but maybe we’re glad that you’re not. What’s up next for OAR?
M.R.: June 5 we’ve got a Live from Madison Square Garden CD and DVD coming out. So we’re real excited about that. We basically recorded the show at the highest quality and filmed it at the highest quality so we’ve got a high definition movie. It’s called Behind the Back Line. It’s an up-close and personal look at a day in the life of us.
Daze: Did you guys ever expect to be a frat party band and then selling out Madison Square Garden?
M.R.: [Laughs] Well, back then we played fraternities, sororities. We also played churches and synagogues and birthday parties and fuckin’ on our front porch and on our neighbor’s roof. We played everywhere, so the frat rock band thing was just a part of what did, but no, I mean of course we had the dream, but you can’t count on shit like that. It’s true you can do whatever you set your mind to do, just don’t count on it. I try to remind myself all the time, ‘You can do whatever you set your mind to do, but don’t put all your chips on it.’
O.A.R. will be playing at Laker Hall in Owego on Sunday. Their album Stories of a Stranger is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and in most music outlets. Visit www.ofarevolution.com for more information.