OAR at the Fox

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Of A Revolution has been making music since their eighth grade talent show in Rockville, Maryland. Since then, they’ve traded up bass players, done a collective stint at Ohio State, toured the country and single-handedly created the genre of “college music.”

“We wanted a concept album. When we were younger, everything was told as stories, because we felt like we were 16 years old, we didn’t have too much to say,” said drummer Chris Culos. “You know, what are we going to write about, the things we haven’t experienced yet?”

OAR’s latest studio album, Stories of a Stranger, released Oct. 4, debuted at No. 40 on the Billboard 200 chart, much to the band’s excitement. Their previous albums had never managed to crack the Top 40.

“The record itself has been, basically, a year in the making. We basically poured our heart and soul into it for a year,” said Culos.

OAR enlisted friend and former Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison as producer of Stories.

“I think what we set out to do was put out a record above and beyond anything we’d ever done in the past. We have a lot more to offer than what the naysayers might say, you know; that we’re just a college jam-frat-rock band,” said Culos. “I don’t think that we’ve ever before accomplished what we know we can do on a studio record.”

Neighbors Culos and lead singer Mark Roberge started their band in grade school. Guitarist Richard On later joined the duo, thus forming the original eighth-grade talent show act.

Fast-forward to high school.

“The band sort of parted ways and that’s when Mark started writing his own music. He would come over to my house and the first two years of high school, we would come over to my house and practice the songs he was writing,” said Culos.

In 1996, Mark, Chris and Richard formed OAR with the addition of Benj Gershman on bass.

“We kept the band together and all ended up at Ohio State and met our saxophone player Jerry DePizzo there,” said Culos.

(None of the guys studied music in college; the band members’ intended majors were an eclectic collection of business, political science and even journalism).

Of A Revolution has been touring tirelessly since their conception in 1996. The band has been a staple on college radio and the college and festival concert circuit for nearly as long.

The band has evolved from a grassroots “jam band” to a well-oiled, popular music-making machine. When asked about OAR’s music making process, Culos said that the band members worked assiduously to develop their sound.

“We keep reinventing the way we write music. It’s always been Mark, who writes the lyrics and the majority of the music, and Richard, who also writes a majority of the music. Over the years, our sax player, Jerry DePizzo, also brought some to the table. But for the most part, the band always played together, and you each brought your own part to the band, and we kind of all jelled together,” Culos said. “We felt like we had a lot more to offer as musicians and we looked at the way we played – and we wanted to condense it all to be as strong at every angle, whether it was lyrics, or song structure, whatever,” said Culos.

“We’re constantly trying to make our performance the best that it can be,” he said.

OAR’s classic “Hey Girl” has been used in movies, on television and gotten oodles of radio play; but their fans clear favorite jam-and the song that the band plays at almost every show-is the anthem “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.”

“”The song was written in a couple different stages. When Mark and I were in Israel studying abroad, we were about 17 years old, and you know, we were young and we were having a fun time. I don’t want to say that we were the wildest kids, but we were – having fun. And know the consequences of the [choices] we were making, that if we didn’t learn from them, they would become mistakes. That was what, early on sparked a lot of the lyrics. That you can make mistakes – The first half of the song, it was in, like, double time. It’s called ‘Crazy Game of Poker,’ but it’s not really about a card game. On the surface it is, it’s about a couple of guys playing cards with the devil. But it’s more just like a symbol for like stages of life that you go through. Finding the person you’re going to be and making the mistakes that you’re going to. And then, the song breaks into a sort of reggae jam that takes you out to the end of the song, and that whole part of the song was completely freeform. Mark knew what he was going to sing as far as the ‘I say ‘Of’ you say ‘A’ I say ‘Revolution’ and you said ‘Yah,” but the rest of it was just improv. So the first half was sort of a wilder time, and the second part was sort of like calming down, finding calmer times and finding yourself,” recalled Culos.

“Mark always says that he free-styled the second half of the song and now 10 years later, he’s held to those lyrics that he just made up on the spot,” Culos said. “Now he constantly improvises on the stage and we take the song in a different direction almost every night and he still improvises, but he still uses that same theme.”

OAR will play the Fox Theatre in St. Louis tonight, Nov. 10, with opening act Michael Tolcher taking the stage at 8 p.m.

“He’s an incredible artist; he has a sick band. The band behind him is incredible, but we haven’t really toured with him before. We’re looking forward to playing with them to getting out on the road and getting to know these guys because, for us, it’s making the relationships offstage [that are] more fun for us.”

Culos said that the band is keyed up to play at the Fox for the first time.

“We usually play at the Pageant,” said Culos. “The Pageant is like, my favorite venue to play in the U.S. and people are telling me, ‘Man, wait ’til you play the Fox.’ I’m excited about it.”