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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Hoot sits down with Richard from O.A.R.

Published: April 28, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Hoot: The history of O.A.R. goes way back. Tell us a little bit about how the band got started.

Richard: Well, it all began back in grade school in Maryland. Marc and Chris, both of their moms taught in the same elementary school. I played piano back then, but I quit just in time for the 8th grade talent show. The three of us played in it, and we thought we were really onto something. Benj joined in our junior year of high school, 1996, and we used to practice in Chris basement. When we all got to Ohio State, we met Jerry and realized the value of adding his sax to the sound we already had. He became our fifth member, and the rest is history.

Hoot: So how did you come up with the name Of A Revolution?

Richard: We came up with it in Chris basement in Maryland. We were a group of musicians who all had the same vision of what we wanted to play. We started playing songs in the basement, our kind of music. The sound we created, the way we formed at a young age, the band just emergedof a revolution.

Hoot: It seems that a lot of your songs tell a story. What are the bands inspirations for the words and the sound?

Richard: A lot of it comes from brainstorming as a group. Most of our influence comes from hearing old music, since theres not too much good stuff on the radio today. A lot of it just sounds the same and isnt very authentic. Its tough to draw inspiration from it, so we mostly listen to the Beatles. Marc listens to a lot of Bob Dylan and other kinds of classic rock.

Hoot: O.A.R. took off while you guys were in college at Ohio State. What was it like trying to launch your career in music while being a student?

Richard: Ohio State was great because it was where we learned the ropes. Going to school and touring full-time was tough, man. It taught us to assume responsibility. We learned how to build and maintain our fan base, since a lot of it was right there on campus. The experience we gained from doing the simple stuff flyering, going to class, arranging gigs was so important. We had to get our priorities in order. All of us, we only scheduled classes Monday through Thursday, never on Friday. We played shows on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Those were really long nights, and it was such a challenge to get up on Monday morning and actually attend class. We actually did it once in a while, though.

Hoot: Your live shows are what attract a lot of your fans to the band. Whats it like going out there, night after night, for a 2-3 hour set?

Richard: Live shows are a high. Its so exciting. In the beginning, we used to get nervous. Like, really nervous. But now, weve sold out Madison Square Garden and do big shows all the time. Weve set the bar high for ourselves, and its almost like we want to get nervous again, because that would mean were doing things bigger and better than ever before.

Hoot: Does that make you favor your live albums over your studio albums?

Richard: Its two totally different worlds. Were not very comfortable in the studio;

we feel restricted in there. Its tough to let go in a confined space without an audience. I think our live albums are much more representative of the sound we want to produce, since we feed off our fans during the shows.

Hoot: Your fans have noticed that the jam-based reggae feel of your first few albums has changed slightly with Stories of a Stranger. In your opinion, what tracks define the new album and how do you see O.A.R.s sound changing in the future?
Richard: With this new record, weve broken it down to a science. We made The Wanderer at 16, now were 26. People hear Stories of a Stranger and say, This doesnt sound like O.A.R. And while there are a few reggae tunes on it, we knew that we couldnt have it sound just like the old stuff. If we did, we would just go in circles as a band, and I think bands should always be evolving. When we did Love and Memories, we really pushed ourselves to do something different. Its a slightly new sound, and we tried to extend our range of what we can do. Heard the World and Love and Memories are two good examples of that, and we have drawn in new fans with this new kind of sound.

Hoot: Talk a little bit about your fan base, both the die-hard longtime followers, and the new mainstream fans who hear you on the radio.

Richard: Its been interesting to manage two fan bases, especially during the shows. When we play Love and Memories, the crowd that reacts is mainly new fans who heard the single on the radio. But when we start to play old stuff, you dont hear much from them, its the die-hards. But we look at it as an opportunity to play new stuff to old fans, and the old stuff to our new fans. Especially to the fans whove been around a long time and are hesitant to get behind the Stories of a Stranger record. We want to introduce them to a new and somewhat different O.A.R. But the old stuff isnt going anywhere, it represents how we got here.

Hoot: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?

Richard: I really like Heard the World. Its really challenging for me. Im not a slide guitar player, so in the beginning I had to practice every day to master it.

Hoot: Speaking of practice, how often does the band get together to rehearse?

Richard: We tour so much that we rarely get together to rehearse. But we do have to discuss the need to craft our performances if we have a time limit. We have an hour-long sound check each day we have a show, and well talk about it then. Also during the down time before sound check.

Hoot: Whats it like hearing yourself on the radio, or seeing yourself on Jay Leno or Conan OBrien?

Richard: TV is a whole different ballgame. We got really nervous on Conan when the production assistant came into the dressing room and said Five minutes. We did Conan in 2003, right after In Between Now and Then came out. Marc was really nervous, he wanted to throw up before we went on. The thing about TV is, its a live feed and the audience is in the millions. But we played Hey Girl, which was a big hit off the album. Conan is more laid back than Leno, and his fan base is younger and newer, so it was really important for us to nail it. Which we did.

Hoot: Speaking of the big time, what is this tour going to be like for you?

Richard: Its really exciting. I think our fans will really relate to this tour package. People who listen to O.A.R. seem to really like sports and video games. We do we used to go to Orioles games all the time. In the past, wed get approached by corporations trying to sponsor a tour. But we were like, I dont think our fans would like the idea of the Tampax Tour. So when Major League Baseball and Playstation wanted to put One Shot into the video game and sponsor the tour, how could we say no?

Hoot: So what will the show be like at Brandeis? It will likely be one of the smallest crowds on this tour.

Richard: Well, were playing in Mansfield, Mass a few days before the Brandeis show, which will be even smaller. There are pros and cons to both. With a small show like Brandeis, its easier for us to amuse the fans. When you have an intimate venue like that, you just feel a little more connected. With a big show, you lose the intimacy, but from the fans perspective, it can feel much more powerful. Its a tradeoff either way.

Hoot: How do you view the internet, with regard to file sharing? How has it helped the band?

Richard: The timing really worked out for us. When we first started touring regionally, Napster was just getting big. We could go to a place wed never been to before, and the place would be sold out and everyone would know the words to our songs. Wed also look up our own stuff online. All our music was there, but so much of it was mislabeled. Songs were somehow called Gas Was Low or 3 a.m. In some ways, we were like You are stealing! But at the time, we were making a living touring, and the whole file sharing thing really helped spread our music and expand our fan base. The die-hard fans may have initially gotten our music online for free, but now they go out and buy the records to support the band. To be honest, its really helped us get where we are today.

Hoot: Where is your favorite place to play a show?

Richard: Were from Maryland, so the whole Maryland/DC/Virginia area is great. We also like New York City a lot, we did a live album at the Hammerstein Ballroom. After selling out the Garden, it would be great to go back to New York.

Hoot: Name one thing you always take with you on the tour bus.

Richard [without hesitating]: My lucky pair of Chuck Taylors. Theyre really old and pretty beat up, but I still wear them to a lot of shows.

Hoot: As you said, bands are constantly evolving. Where do you see O.A.R. in five years?

Richard: I think eventually well slow down with the touring. Weve been playing 50 or more shows a year for a while now. Life on the road just takes a toll on your personal life, and were all about trying to find a balance. But this is our livelihood and we love doing what we do. So five years from now? Definitely still touring and playing.