The members of O.A.R., the rhythmic indie-rock group from Washington by way of Ohio State, found themselves in a perplexing situation after the release of their 2002 live album, Any Time Now.
The disc had sold 100,000 copies, a considerable number for an independent band with a homegrown label. They needed the logistical and marketing power that comes from a major label. But some of their fans would likely take offense at the move if it was seen as selling out.
So when the group decided to take their label to Lava Records, a division of Atlantic, they patiently explained the move to their fans via their Web site. “It was something we thought a lot about, because we knew a lot of listeners might not immediately understand why we did it,” says O.A.R. bassist Benj Gershan.
“It was a big step. We were extremely happy with everything we did with Everfine Records, and the choice to sign with Lava didn’t come easily or quickly.”
Ultimately, though, the band realized what they could gain from the deal. “We thought a lot about how the deal would be structured and how we wanted our relationship with Lava to work, so we could maintain the same level of music. We wanted it to only have to help the process. "
“We felt like we were getting the best of both worlds, because we still had our independent label and also the power of a major label. We had the homegrown feel with the ability to get our music out to the whole country.”
With the release of In Between Now And Then, the major label affiliation has allowed them to move forward with their best-sounding, most cohesive recording to date. “We’ve always been about growth and we’ve always wanted to get more professional and hone in on what the songs are. As we grow as musicians, we want to be represented in the albums we release,” Gersham said.
“This album, we felt, was a good step along that chain. Not only in a musical sense, but for what we’re able to hand people. There’s a DVD in there that shows what we’re about and what you can expect from a live concert experience. There’s still a lot more to come.” The group also grows musically, finally bringing the eclecticism and lightheartedness from their live shows to a studio recording.
It’s a transition from their humble roots to their current nationwide stardom. “This album for us was another chance to show, on a lot of different levels, where we come from, where we’re at right now and where we’re hopefully going to go,” Gersham said. “That’s the title of the album. We’ve done a lot independently, and now we’re taking things to the next step on a major level. It’s like we’re in between two different points in our career and we want to give people a good feel for where that is exactly.”
O.A.R. formed in the early 1990s, when drummer Chris Culos, guitarist Richard On and singer/songwriter Mark Roberge formed a band. Gersham was added shortly thereafter. “It was junior year in high school, and I was lifeguarding with Chris, the drummer, and he and I talked a lot about music. He was playing with Richard and Mark. I was a bass player looking for another group to play with. It happened once we got back to school. “I went over one day to jam, and they were all there playing, and instantly, there was an easygoing chemistry and we’ve been playing ever since. We picked up Jerry when we got out to Ohio State in 1998, and it was the same thing.”
As one might expect from a band with such varying styles, each of the members has vastly different musical tastes. “We’ve all exposed each other to different music. Mark and Chris got me into a lot of Bob Marley and Beastie Boys, and I think I got them into different jazz stuff and classic-rock stuff,” Gersham said. “Richard got me into the Cure. We all have different backgrounds, but we feel like we mesh really well when we play together.”
Because of O.A.R.’s tendency to stretch out musically, the group often gets compared with the Dave Matthews Band. While Gersham admires DMB, he doesn’t see the comparison as being particularly apt. “They’re incredible musicians and have done an incredible job of molding a grass-roots following,” he says of DMB. “Musically, I feel like we’re two different bands, but we do have some similarities. I feel like the difference is evident when they see a live show of ours. They would be able to instantly tell. It’s easy to make a comment like that because we both have acoustic guitars, a singer/songwriter and a sax player. The music is different.”
O.A.R. and 311 will perform at the Verizon Wireless Music Center on Friday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. All tickets for the show, which also features rockers Something Corporate, are $30 and are available at Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 239-5151 or by visiting cc.com.