Six Questions For ... OAR

OAR found success the old fashioned way.

Deep down, most people harbor at least faint dreams of showing up at their 10-year high school reunion as the biggest success of the class. But for those of us who graduated from Rockville's Wootton High School in 1997 or 1998, we knew we had no chance even before we were handed our diplomas. That's because even back in school, it was clear that OAR was destined for big things.

The band that got its start in the high school cafeteria, local backyards and restaurants where it was a bit too easy to get served rocketed to success after leaving Wootton. OAR became the ultimate college band during its years at Ohio State and is now one of the most successful touring bands in the country, regularly filling venues as big as Merriweather Post Pavilion, where it plays tomorrow night.

I talked to singer/guitarist Marc Roberge on the day his band's new album, "All Sides," was released. It was the first time I'd talked to him in about a decade and he managed to make me feel like a fool right away. "The other day I was at home and I was flipping through all my old notebooks and whatever," Roberge said. "I had this one divider that I had written out the lyrics to a Dylan song, it said 'Johnny's in the basement, mixing up the medicine/I'm on the pavement thinking about the government.' And you underlined Pavement and you were like, 'Dude, you gotta listen to Pavement.'"

Glad to know that I've changed so much over the years.

With that out of the way we walked about the band's beginnings, its road to success and that demo tape I've been holding onto for all these years.

When was the first time you were playing and you realized, "This might actually be what I do for the rest of my life"?
There was a moment. We played at this place called the Grand Marquis Café, in Olney, Maryland. There was one time I sat down after the show with the guy who ran the joint. I sat with him and he was paying us and we did five bucks a head. And the dude was kind of trying to screw us a little bit. And I stood up for myself. And he's like, "You know what? You're pretty good with this business thing and this band thing." And when we walked out of there with some cash money and we actually called out the manager a little bit, that's when I said, "OK, I like this job. This is a good job." And that was the first taste. But it was later when I realized that it was a career thing.

It must have really dawned on you when you went to school at Ohio State. It's easy to be the big fish at a high school but to keep getting bigger at a big college is something else.
Well that was it. When we were coming up in high school, (guitarist Richard On's) parents knew we had a band. And we went away to college and we were playing every weekend, but Richard didn't really tell his parents, "This is my job, this is what I want to do." It was just assumed that he was in college and doing school. So he invites his parents out and we did the Newport Music Hall, which back then was about 1,300 seats or something. And we sold it out and it was this huge deal because we rented it out. We never got booked in places. We would always rent them out and throw our own concert. Because no one would book us, no one knew who the hell we were. And we brought his parents out and when they saw this sold out thing that was when they finally told Richard, "We approve, we're into it, let's do it." And that was our sophomore year of college. That was one of the moments when we realized, this is definitely happening.

You guys got big right around the time that Napster was exploding. How do you think that so many people found out about your music? Was it mostly Napster?
Oh, I mean, it was definitely Napster. It was Napster all the way. I remember sitting in a house in college with a friend and he was saying, "You gotta check out this Web site, Napster." And from the beginning I was like, "Eh." I was always worried about viruses on computers. I didn't get computers. I thought if I played a game I would get a virus. So I never went on Napster. But (my friend) would follow it and we would go to Arizona to play a friend's party and everyone would know the words to five or six of the songs. So I guarantee you it was Napster. And we rode that thing out. And then when all that went to hell and they were going to court and everything, they contacted us. Actually, both sides were contacting us. And we said, listen, we want to stay out of it. We were lucky enough to be involved with it but I certainly have no opinion on what's right or wrong. I just think that it was great for us back then but I would be upset if people were stealing our stuff now. I get it. I see why it's not cool.

Sort of related, you've managed to become really successful at a time when it's tough for new bands to find success because nobody's selling tons of records anymore. How'd you manage to find right formula?
When we saw the Napster thing happening we realized something. We said, look, we're in school and it's important and we're going to finish it. But what we need to do is just work. We can't be lazy about this. We gotta get out there and go to these places. When you get e-mails from Nevada and you've never even been to Nevada, you realize that you have to get out there. So I think it was partly recognizing there was momentum, and then just hard work. All the basics of how to make it in business. Just get on the road and do it and don't complain about it.

And we would play anything. We would play anywhere. The Hillel house, the church, anywhere that would take us. And I think that had a lot to do with it. Along the way we saw where the music business was going before it went there and realized it's a live show and loving to play and selling tickets is really the only way you're going to make a living. So we saw that right away and just said, live records, independent label and play shows. And that's how it went.

Now you guys are well established as O.A.R. but back in high school it was ... Of A Revolution. And there was that ellipsis and everybody always wanted to know what came before. And you never told. Still keeping it a secret?
We told about seven years ago, just once, in a small publication somewhere. And no one picked up on it. So I'm just cruising. You always want to have these band secrets. I always wanted to have one of those cool things. So I'm not telling anybody. Eventually I'm going to have to let it loose and it's not going to be the biggest deal in the world.

One day you came into class and you gave me the first OAR demo tape with four or five songs on it, all the titles handwritten by you. I still have it. How much do you think I could get for it on eBay right now?
(Laughs.) You know, that is the first ever. That's the genuine article. But I don't think you'd get much. Unless you found a really rich kid whose dad is just really, really into. Hold onto it, I'll buy it from you!

By David Malitz |  July 25, 2008; 9:20 AM ET Interviews
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oar used to be cool before they became sanctimonious butt-rockers.

Posted by: AntiOAR | July 25, 2008 1:09 PM

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