O.A.R.'s Chris Culos: Methods of Music
Starting a revolution of your own is a difficult task, but jam band O.A.R. (Of a Revolution) makes it look pretty easy.
Of course, it's harder than it seems. I spoke with drummer Chris Culos, in hopes of finding what lessons O.A.R. has learned in its transition from garage band to college rockers, and the success the band has experienced since figuring out a unique, creative method to market their sound across campuses nationwide.
"It all goes by in the blink of an eye, but other times you have these really intimate shows...where the crowd's right there in front of you and there's no curfew and the band can play as long as they want," Says Culos. "That's the fun stuff and keeps us wanting to do this night after night."
We discussed the band's history, their new album, King, which debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 chart.
O.A.R. is scheduled to perform Wednesday, January 25 at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
Up on the Sun: O.A.R. has been a band since 1996. How have you guys have progressed over the years?
Chris Culos: We've been a band for so long...we started in our parents' basement. It's been a long but very exciting journey. We had high dreams and wanted to be able to do it as a career and then look back 15 years later and be like "Wow, it still kind of feels like the beginning." I think where a lot of the times, [where] maybe we would have wanted something to happen, a big thing to happen that makes you an overnight success or something.
We were hoping something like that would happen, but honestly I think it works in our favor, that we never really had a big break we just had a very kind of slow and gradual process that's been growing steadily every year. And it may seem like you want that excitement to happen, but it's been kind of slow and very natural for us to get better at what we do and learn about the business around us to position ourselves in a way for us to actually make better decisions and get better as a band and continue that growth. Rather than have something explode overnight like, [which happens to] so many bands, and unfortunately they don't stick around. We want to be in this for the long hall. But also, like I said it still feels like it's the beginning.
You've added saxophonist, Jerry DePizzo in 2000 as well one touring member, Mikel Paris in 2006. So can we expect to see everyone there for the concert?
We will all be there. [Marc Roberge, Richard On, Benj Gershman, Jerry DePizzo, Mikel Paris and Chris Culos] And if one of us is not there then were going to miss out on one of the coolest towns. The whole Tempe, Phoenix, and Scottsdale area --we just have fun when we come down there. Play some golf, have some great food, and the weather is awesome. It's beautiful; it's one of the coolest cities ever.
One of my fascinations is just how you guys as a band have progressed, but also the way you draw inspiration drawn from past experiences, and fade that into the music.
We started playing in the basement when we were 16 years old. We were just figuring out how to play our instruments and writing fun songs that we enjoyed and would play them for our friends. Our singer Marc was coming up with ideas on how do we write lyrics - that's what is it that I'm trying to say. We were 16 years old. [He was like] "I'm not going to talk about life and love and all that." He ended up coming up with different characters and he wrote a short story and based all of the songs off of that material. He was listening to a lot of Bob Dylan; things like that which were more story-based. And I think it was a really cool way of him having to approach this. It was also very truthful, because he wouldn't just talk about life and love through other characters eyes. Because in that sense you're still even though you're saying it through a different character you're still trying to go there but I don't think he was saying it in that sense. He was just trying to say "Hey what do I know?" It was like, "Hey, I'm 16. Like, we go out we get in trouble sometimes we make mistakes, but that's what it is to be young: If you make mistakes it's not a mistake if you learn from it and grow." A lot of his songs were talking about metaphors about the journey the road of life. It was all about finding out who you are.
Throughout the next couple years, we started growing up. So that's when a lot of the songs started taking on a different shapes and characters, because it's more based on personal experiences. I think a lot of this stuff has done that. What was really cool with this latest record called King, Marc went back to talk about the original character. His name was The Wanderer, and how all that stuff he was looking for the whole time, and just being comfortable with who you are. For this latest record, it was kind of cool that we've come back to where we left off when we first started.
Why is the record called King?
King is [about] being comfortable with who you are as a person and owning it. Just saying you're in charge of your own destiny. Taking down anything around you that's not going to let you being the person who you want to be. Not letting the naysayers having any kind of control over you.
This album sounds like a definitive statement from the band. Can we expect any more projects from O.A.R.?
I definitely don't think this is the last. We tend to think how is this going to go over on a live stage. Want it to feel natural. [We ask ourselves] "What people react to?" If you continue to do that, it will continue to not only please the fans but also kind of challenge them in a way, seeing that this is the same band but that they are also able to grow as a band. We like to get out and reach through people.
Where exactly did the name come from?
There is that kind of deeper level to it. We actually took "Of a Revolution" from one of the sentences in that short story, called "The Wanderer." We don't tell people what the first part of the sentence is. It all made since to what we were doing and had nothing to do with politics. We were 16, and were looking for the musical thing that we wanted to be doing. And that was our own "musical revolution."
I'm looking forward to the upcoming show. What can you tell your fans that should be expecting at this upcoming show?
We basically put on a different show every night. So you're not going to get something that is a super strict, rehearsed, scripted kind-of-thing. This is very much us wanting to do what we do best and that's play music. Were friends and it comes across on the stage, that connection that we have also we try to create a connection with the audience.
Sometimes it's the crowd yelling what song they want to hear, other times its us messing around with the setlist a little bit, and also throwing in a couple songs we don't necessarily play every night. We don't like to jam the new stuff down people's throats the way other bands do. We're not going to be playing the entire new album. We want people to come out and have fun and take that experience home when they leave.
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