With fifteen years and seven albums under their belts, O.A.R. is still somewhat of a music industry phenomenon. Originally formed by a group of high school friends from Rockville, Md., the group headed to college at Ohio State and began to gain traction on the college scene during the late '90s with an easy going, upbeat, reggae-influenced jamming style that lent itself surprisingly well to live shows. Encouraging their fans to record their concerts and share music online, the band's career gained steam while hovering somewhere underneath the radar screen of pop culture. Though never achieving what you might call "mainstream" success, they cemented their reputation early on as an exciting and extremely prolific live band, earning a core fan base that's allowed them to tour almost nonstop over the past 10 years.
What's more, they're still going strong; their 2011 album King reached number 12 on the Billboard 200, higher than any of their previous six albums. Over the past 15 years, this college band that started out writing lighthearted songs like "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," has grown up together and begun to deal with weightier issues, while still maintaining the sense of fun on which they made their name.
On the eve of O.A.R.'s trip to Indianapolis on Feb. 4 for the Super Bowl Village festivities, drummer Chris Culos took a minute out to chat with NUVO music blogger Grant Catton about the new album, the Super Bowl, and how the band has matured over the years.
NUVO: Have you ever played at a Super Bowl before?
Chris Culos: We played [Super Bowl XLIV] in 2010 down in Ft. Lauderdale, at a big event the weekend before the game. It was right by the beach, packed with people, such a fun experience. It was a great way for us to play for an audience that doesn't necessarily all know who we are.
NUVO: How do you approach a show like the Super Bowl Village differently than a regular show on your tour?
Culos: If we're playing a really intimate, small venue, we're not going to play every hit radio single we've ever had; the audience isn't necessarily there for that. But if we're playing a big festival date, like this, and we know there are people in the audience out there who've never heard us before, we're going to throw in a couple more of our popular songs, so people can kind of connect the dots and say, "Oh, I've heard this on the radio, or in a movie. I didn't know this was that band."
But we don't like to focus on that, we like to do what we do best: put on a kick-ass set list with a mix of new songs, mostly older songs - we don't like to jam the new stuff down people's throats. We like to mix up the set lists a lot because it's fun for us and it's fun for the audience.
NUVO: How has the King tour been going?
Culos: Really good. We spent a long time working on the record, so to finally have it out and have some positive audience feedback is really cool. We stretched out some of our songs in the studio more than we have in our past couple of records - which is something we tend to do more live - so it felt like it was kind of seamless when we finally started playing it on tour.
NUVO: What song do you have the most fun playing live?
Culos: "The Last Time." From the very beginning it just felt like we were playing it on stage, even in the studio. Normally, being in the studio feels very scientific, very sterile. But with a song like "The Last Time" it almost felt effortless.
NUVO: How do you think your sound has changed since you first started out?
Culos: When we were 16 our lead singer Marc [Roberge] was trying to figure out what he was going to say and how he was going to say it. So he would tell stories, and he would tell them through different characters' eyes, and these characters would pop up in songs like "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," and all these early songs. So that was the focus early-on.
Throughout the last 15 years our sound may have changed in the studio as far as getting better opportunities, better recording studios, more money behind the projects, and better producers. But the change has really been about us growing as a band, growing up as individuals, and living life. We went off to college. We went out and traveled the road for 10 years. Some of us are married with kids. So instead of telling stories about different characters, we've found ourselves writing more about our own personal things.
NUVO: Any songs on King that are particularly revealing?
Culos: Well, the song "Irish Rose" [on the deluxe edition of the album] is an acoustic guitar song telling the story of a guy whose wife gets cancer. It hit really close to home, because after Marc had written the song his own wife was diagnosed with cancer. Part of the reason it took so long for us to record the album was so that they could take their time to go in and fight her health problems. She's totally healthy now, but when the album came out Marc struggled with whether to tell that whole story. But ultimately he felt like, "This is who I am. This is not something to be quiet about. This is our story."
NUVO: Are you guys going to the game?
Culos: I don't think so. Maybe if we can bribe somebody into throwing us some tickets [laughs].