Chris Culos of O.A.R. on Charity Work, Side Projects, and the Band's Upcoming Album

Chris Culos of east coast jam band O.A.R. is stoked to play at the Celebrity Theatre, one of his all-time favorite venues. The band has been hard at work on a new album that has been a long time coming since the beginning of 2010, but O.A.R. is assuring fans it will be worth the wait. Remarkable back to back summer and fall tours with Citizen Cope and The Dirty Heads have contributed to the delay.

The band will be passing through the Valley to unleash new material and positive vibes on September 28 at the Celebrity Theatre.

Up On The Sun spoke with Chris Culos about photography, an upcoming benefit show, and the Phoenix Open.

Up On The Sun: The last time O.A.R. played a show in Arizona was in February at the Bird's Nest at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. So many people tried to get into the tent to see you play that it reached way over capacity and fire marshals had to close the entrance. You've sold out shows at Madison Square Garden, among other venues, but having to turn people away from your shows isn't typical. How did the fans, the fire marshals, and you guys deal with that?

Chris Culos: That situation was very unexpected. It turned out to be a little bit of mayhem. I think what happened with the Bird's Nest is they didn't expect so many people to be there already during the day. And then when ticket holders showed up later that night and there wasn't room for them to get in, all of a sudden there was this huge crowd on everyone's hands. Our management worked with the fire marshal and people running the event to try and figure out the situation. It got a little heated, I'm not gonna lie. We were all very concerned. There were just a lot of people at this huge event.

A lot of our audience had been waiting and bought tickets way ahead in advance. We just needed to kind of figure out how to pull it off. There were still a couple of problems, but I think the night turned out to be another success. Hopefully the FBR will have us back. I think they asked us back for next year. We'll see if we can make that happen. But [the FBR is] an awesome time. It's such a fun party. It's crazy; it doesn't seem like a golf tournament at all. It's a huge concert where there just happens to be some people playing golf.

UOTS: At least you'll be playing in a more normal venue on Tuesday.

CC: The Celebrity Theatre is one of my favorite venues to play in the whole world. It's big and circular. The stage rotates. Being in the center of the room is a different feeling. It's a little bit more intimate.

UOTS: O.A.R. will be playing a Heard The World Fund charity show at the Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland in December to benefit The Levine School of Music and Neediest Kids. How did you guys choose to work with those organizations?

CC: We're honored to be a part of a lot of different charity organizations. We felt like these two in particular were great causes. As a band, we felt that a benefit show was something that would do a lot of good. The [Levine] School of Music is a huge nonprofit. I know they have nearly 4,000 students. We just thought we could really help out. And the Neediest Kids, that's another one. Being from the Maryland/D.C. area, I know that there's a lot we could do to help with kids staying in school and that kind of stuff.

The fun part of being involved is that you can't say one charity is better than the other. We've been able to do a lot of things towards youth, education, and environmental awareness, which is really what Heard The World focuses on. This is a big, exciting event. The show is going to be a little different than what we normally do.

UOTS: How so?

CC: It's an acoustic hybrid setup, so it's not really the full band --- electric guitars, in your face --- that you would see at a regular show. It's going to be a little bit more stripped down. [It's] still a full band, still all the hits. It's not just going to be us playing acoustic guitars, playing ballads. But it's going to be a unique night to complement the room that we're playing in. The Strathmore Music Hall is supposed to be amazing, so I can't wait.

UOTS: You guys really do a lot of charity work. It's commendable. Benj and Marc have visited some elementary schools in New York City, and you did your IAVA campaign. Plus, you guys still run the Green Dream, which had a huge success on your summer tour.

CC: Yes, bigger than ever.

UOTS: Benj Gershman recently unveiled a photo exhibit, "Rock, Cause (O.A.R.)" in New York City at the Morrison Hotel Gallery. The gallery was a collection of tour life photos from the perspective of Benj and the rest of the band. I've noticed he always takes shots on his camera phone at shows too. How actively did Benj work on that side project for the last five years while O.A.R. has been on the road?

CC: First off, we're really proud of Benj. He started out taking pictures a few years ago, kind of as a hobby. [Photography] was something he became really passionate about. He started to study it more and became more active in figuring out different cameras and angles and lenses, [working with] other photographers, and going to shoot other bands, and landscapes inside and outside, just really honing his craft. He's gotten to a point where this is so far from just a hobby. He's a professional photographer. He had a huge gallery exhibit at one of the most acclaimed galleries in New York City, if not the whole world. It was really exciting to support him and be a part of it.

The photos came from things that he experienced on the road. It was live shows, behind the stage and behind the scenes kind of stuff, dressing room photos. Or even if he had a day off and rented a car and went out somewhere into the country, or to check out museums or wildlife. It was a nice spectrum of all the stuff from the last couple years of his take on life on the road. [He also documented] things that were important to him, like causes he's involved in with charity work. We all went to New York and had a fun night at the gallery. I got to support him on something that was fully a Benj Gershman project. It was nice that we were included in it.

UOTS: Tell me about the performance that Benj, Jerry DePizzo and MikelParis put on at the gallery.

CC: Yeah, there was an after party at a bar downstairs underneath the gallery. MikelParis's band was playing, so a couple of the guys hopped on stage. It made for a fun night.

UOTS: You guys have been playing a few new songs live lately. There's "Light Switch Sky," which came about through a fan contribution contest via Twitter last summer. What are the other new songs?

CC: We have been playing a few songs off of the new record. One of them is called "Over and Over." That song started with Marc singing and MikelParis playing piano. We [tend to] play it towards the end of the night, maybe as the first song [of] the encore. Since it got such a reaction, Marc had an idea to bring in a full band outro for that song as a way of saying good night to everybody with a full band for a big finale. We've been doing that lately, which is fun.

"Gotta Live" and "Dangerous Connection" are two other songs we've been previewing. We haven't been playing them every night, but we've been throwing them in here and there. It's a way for us to have fun and play something fresh. But we also wanted to start putting little feelers out there to get the audience excited when they hear the new stuff so they know what to expect.

We're really looking forward to this record. We've been working so hard on it, it's ridiculous. We've taken almost a full year, and we're now putting the final touches on it. We just want the record to be the best that it can be. We're going to put it out hopefully at the beginning of 2011.

UOTS: So that's when fans can expect to get a first listen?

CC: I hope so. Right now, we're going with the attitude that the record's not done until it's done. We want to get it out as soon as possible. We wanted to have it out before the summer tour, but we feel like the more time we spend on it, the better it's getting. We're in that final stretch. This is kind of that make or break part. We just keep working hard and keep [giving] attention to all those little details. It's going to pay off. In the long run, we're gonna be more proud of this than anything. It's been a journey.

UOTS: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine started the artist protest against SB 1070, the Sound Strike. You guys don't normally get particularly political in your music. But what do you think of artists who refuse to play shows in Arizona so as to express their opinion of SB 1070? Perhaps you and your wife have an opinion on this since she went to ASU.

CC: We certainly respect that. Any band that wants to make a stance like that is really amazing. Whether you're for or against something, it always becomes a very tricky line because some bands are a lot more political than others. Some bands have audiences [that would] completely turn off a huge amount of their audience if they said something they really believed in, [so] they choose not to.

We've always tried to stay away from getting involved in political things, but we do recognize situations, and we don't want to tip toe around the incident. As far as when we went over to Iraq and Kuwait on the USO tour, it was sort of a similar heated debate between how people felt about everything. When we came back, we weren't going to not write about our experiences, but we didn't want to be so political with the whole situation. We decided to talk about the experiences through the soldiers' eyes. Whether the war is something you support or you're against, or however you felt, you could still identify with the situation.

There's a lot of heated debate with what's going on in Arizona, and I totally respect that. However, we just continue to stay not politically motivated about that kind of thing. Individually, within the band, I think we all have very strong feelings, but it's not something we're going to make public as a band voice right now.