Sometimes the road already traveled can provide vistas never before seen. One would think after more than a decade of crossing this country's highways, the last thing O.A.R. co-founder and lyricist Marc Roberge would want is more time on the blacktop.
But as he prepared to record the band's sixth studio CD, All Sides, Roberge, his wife, and their dogs drove cross country.
"I decided it would be interesting to make the drive from New York to L.A. to start my journey into this album," Roberge says. "I knew once I got there, time would be spent focused completely on music, so I wanted to gather some experience first. It was a completely different view of America than from a tour bus. You see so much more when you are in the driver's seat."
Of course, some would say Roberge and his O.A.R. band mates have been in the driver's seat since he, guitarist Richard On and drummer Chris Culos formed their first group in 8th grade in Maryland in the early '90s, bonding over their love of Pearl Jam.
Three years later, in 11th grade, bassist Benj Gershman came on board and O.A.R. - of a revolution - was born. Saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, after meeting Roberge and Culos at Ohio State University, joined the band full time in 2000. Eleven years after the group's first release, O.A.R. has come to stand for authentic rock music that reflects the collective triumphs and tragedies we all experience in this world: Real people making real music that resounds deeply with their fans.
Nowhere is that union between artist and audience better reflected than on All Sides' energetic ode: "This Town."
"The opening guitar riff of "This Town" is the perfect way to begin this album. It is an announcement," Roberge says. "This is a song about the joy we get out of touring this country and the world. It's about the live show and was written for the crowd."
And what a crowd O.A.R. attracts. Hailed as one of the best live bands on the planet, O.A.R. has built a rabid following and a well deserved reputation as a must-see band when they come to town.
"People often tell me that they relate to us and our music, not just with the words, but with the general manner in which we act and perform. I tell them that may be because there is no 'act'," Roberge says. "We are just five friends playing songs we love to play and enjoying every minute of it. The audience can relate because we are having just as much fun as they are. And we are writing about many of the same life experiences they are living or have lived, not some fantasy world that puts rock bands behind some sort of one-way mirror ten feet above the crowd."
The process of creating "This Town" and the other 12 songs on All Sides began in early 2007 when the band gathered to record demos and start the search for a producer. Following a summer tour, they came together again in Los Angeles last October.
Prior to entering the recording studio, O.A.R. spent time in a rehearsal space with producer Mat Wallace (Maroon 5, Faith No More, the Replacements) to run through potential album tracks. Those few weeks galvanized the band as the rest of the world disappeared and time turned backwards. "Playing the songs together in a room for hours on end reminded us of the days spent in the basement, like we were kids jamming after school every day," Roberge says. "I remember thinking how lucky I was to be there at that moment. I think we all fell back in love with just playing in a band."
The unifying experience, plus the realization that the song selections showcased every facet of the band and its musical tastes led to calling the album All Sides.
"The thing is O.A.R. has never been just one style. From song to song we like to switch it up," Roberge says. "Maybe in the past we had felt the need to explore just one of those musical alleys and see where it took us. This album is all about recording a variety of experiences with a variety of sounds. Essentially, all sides of O.A.R."
The diversity is clear from the first single, the propulsive, jangly "Shattered", to the reggae influenced "What is Mine" and the thoughtful "War Song," written after the band's life-changing USO tour of Kuwait and Iraq last August. The group witnessed the war playing out in front of them as a casual conversation with medics was interrupted when the soldiers ran to save the lives of incoming wounded.
"It was the heaviest thing I have ever seen," Roberge says of the time in the war zone. "I could have written a ton of songs about the experience, but we thought putting just one on the record was perfect. Soldiers say they listen to music to escape, not to be reminded of where they are. "War Song" is not about our view of the war; it is about the soldiers we met. It follows someone who must leave home, go across the world, and be expected to return the same. We thought the rest of the songs on the album should be escapes, not reminders."
And now, as O.A.R. prepares for the release of All Sides, Roberge finds himself hitting the road again, this time with his other family: his band mates.
"Right now, on this day, All Sides represents where we are as a band and how far we have come," Roberge says. "It makes me love playing music for a living, writing songs, and driving across the country with my best friends."