I wish the old O.A.R. web message boards still existed. I was once the target of a thread called “Tough spot for the guys,” where I was criticized (to put it lightly) for introducing the band in a video interview as hailing from Columbus, OH. Poor journalism. Guilty. I knew four of the five band members met and formed the band in Rockville, Maryland BEFORE moving to Ohio to link up with the fifth and final member, Jerry DePizzo while the guys attended THE Ohio State University. Ohio became a SECOND home to the band (as noted on a track titled “Roads Outside Columbus” on the band’s major label debut, ‘In Between Now and Then.’) It’s where the band grew and flourished; where the industry took notice of the crowds the band was drawing in the Midwest.
The MARYLAND natives will come back to Ohio to perform at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, co-headlining with Dispatch on Friday, August 12.
CleveRock caught up with DePizzo via phone in advance of the show to discuss the band’s return to the Buckeye State.
“We’ve been playing in Cleveland since darn near the very beginning,” DePizzo, (a Youngstown, OH native) said.“I used to go see shows at Nautica in The Flats. My first concert experiences are imprinted there. To go back there and experience that and have the reception we get every time is great. Being from Youngstown, I usually have lots of family that I have to chase around so it has a lot of feelings of a hometown show.”
Cleveland hosted O.A.R.’s annual event Feeling Better Than Everfine Fest for four out of its five-year run (2001-2004; 2006). The event, headlined by O.A.R. each year, included opening acts Maroon 5, Howie Day, Matt Nathanson, and Marc Broussard, among dozens of others.
When asked if he would have liked to have seen that festival continue past its expiration date:
“The festival business is real finicky and challenging. If you think the music business as a whole is challenging; join the festival business,” DePizzo replied. “You’ll be drinking from the fire hydrant the whole time. It was a great experience and it gave us a lot of perspective on how to execute a great festival.”
The past is in the past! The present is exciting, too. DePizzo mentioned in a press release announcing the current tour that he is surprised that a tour with Dispatch has not happened sooner.
“We’re taking a page from Marvel. We’re combining all the Multiverses into one. That’s what we’re doing. Rightfully so. They are great folks. Their souls are as sweet as their voices. They are so nice and genuine,” he complimented. “It just felt like this made sense for both audiences for a long time. We’ve been planning this for a long time, but then the world took a hard left turn and we had to figure some other stuff out. This tour has easily been 2 ½ to 3 years in the making. We felt it made sense then. We’re seeing the fruits of that right now. We’re having great audiences.”
Two veteran acts with more than 20 years of experience under them; equally loyal fan bases…Who will close the show each night?
“We’re flip-flopping where it makes sense,” DePizzo clarified. “I think we’re at an even 50/50 in regards to the amount each band has in each slot. We flip/flop when it makes sense.”
O.A.R. is on the road in support of their recently released album, ‘The Arcade,’ which dropped on July 18, marking their 10th studio release. (That’s a lot of songs!) With a wide span of ages in fans, some who were jamming to the band in college dorm rooms in the early 00s, others who discovered the band with their single “Shattered” in 2008, and youngsters who heard O.A.R. when their parental units dusted off their old copies of early works “Risen’ or ‘The Wanderer.’
How do Jerry and the guys narrow down the setlist? Of course, no O.A.R. show would be complete without “Crazy Game of Poker,” but what about the rest of the list?
“We have to play ‘Poker’ so people don’t throw tomatoes at us. We did a couple of shows in ’05 or ’06 and we did two or three shows without playing ‘Poker’ at a headlining show. I remember that when we finished the set and I went out to the mezzanine area and people were walking out mad. People were like, ‘GODDAMNIT! FUCK O.A.R.!’” Depizzo recalled. “The purpose of O.A.R isn’t to make people upset; it’s to make people feel better. We want people to leave feeling better than when they got there. If we’re not doing that then we’ve got a really big problem. That was a big problem with a fairly easy fix. Honestly, people get so excited and so happy and have such a good time. It’s a good feeling to be able to flip that switch every day.”
The rest of the show…
“We like to do a couple from the new album and we graciously appreciate the response from it. It’s probably the most positively received album we’ve released to date,” he says of ‘The Arcade.’ “Who knows why that is or anything, but folks have enjoyed it very much. We play a couple from that and then sprinkle in tunes that people love from O.A.R.”
This interviewer has been to several Dave Matthews Band shows this summer. One of the coolest things to see at those shows is OG fans bringing their adolescent children to the shows to make shared memories. Having been around since 1997, many fans from the early days of O.A.R. have adolescent/young adult children in tow at shows these days. That’s something the band members love to see.
“We love it. We really do. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we create an environment where people can bring their families (especially young kids), but then also, you have folks that do that for date night. It’s a great environment to bring your buddies and leave everyone at home and raise hell on the lawn like you were 17 or 18 again,” DePizzo says. “We want everyone to have a great experience together. It really warms my heart, especially on the kiddos’ side. We are all fathers now and it’s great, especially at those early ages when you imprint those memories and experiences on kids. Positive, good memories. As we all do, we progress through life and life takes a left turn and you have to hold on to some of those good memories from being a kid. We are happy to be a part of that. It’s humbling, especially with your parents, the fact that it’s something they can do together. There’s not a lot of that out there that everyone can agree upon. I love seeing it.”
As for the new record, DePizzo was asked when the writing process was started and to talk about the creation of the album.
“It’s a real-time response to what was happening during the pandemic. We were just at the beginning of 2020 in creating new music. This entire album was created at home with us trading tracks and sending them in different sessions and things,” he reveals. “The reason we called it ‘The Arcade’ is that each song was created in its own bubble and had its own distinct flavor to it. That was the vibe behind it. It was just that youthful spirit that we had at the beginning of answering the question: ‘What If?’ – We put a couple of chord changes down and then tried to maintain that spirit. It’s just a real-time response to what we were experiencing during two very atypical years in our lives.“
O.A.R. has a suspiciously loyal fan base. In all honesty, they could hang their hats on nostalgia and have fans turn out year after year; no need to release a new record. DePizzo was asked what keeps the band motivated to make new music.
“On the writing side of things, it’s because [frontman] Marc [Roberge] has something to say,” he puts simply. That’s inevitably why he writes. There’s something that needs to be said. As long as those feelings exist, there is going to be new material.“
1997 versus 2022 is an entirely different ballgame as far as the way bands get their break. The internet was in its infant stages at the inception of O.A.R. Kids spent money on blank tapes and CDs to duplicate for friends instead of shelling out for a Spotify subscription. (Hell, streaming services were science fiction at this point.) For those who don’t remember 1997, grab a history book (or download one to your Kindle) and read all about the differences. If you were there, you remember. Jerry was asked if O.A.R. would have had it easier or more difficult trying to catch a break if O.A.R. had taken a time machine from the late 90s to 2022.
“I think all things equal, it would be an equal shot. If we started today and were the age of our peers, putting us back at college age, we would still be putting out music from our own life experiences that were hopefully connecting and resonating with people. We’d be in a basement, working on tunes, and creating a live show. We’d be working that on a considerable amount,” he said. “The vehicle that we distribute our music, we’d probably be starting on TikTok or social platforms. We had a real grassroots upbringing where we went from college campus to college campus, playing shows. The audiences got so large that people in the industry had to take notice. The numbers were too great. The way the music was distributed or consumed would be different but the way we would go about it would be the same. We go about things the way we do because that’s who we are. It’s our nature. I take a lot of pride and appreciate it very much that I get to live the dream I had as a kid. I get to do that. I realize that not everybody has the opportunity to do exactly what they want to do. We talk about it often. You can’t replicate what we do. You can do every variable exactly the same way. You can try to do it twice and it still won’t happen again. Regardless of hard work and talent, a few artists get plucked and it actually works. This actually worked. We do our damndest to go out and make the most of that opportunity.”
O.A.R. has sold out Madison Square Garden, performed in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, played every major festival in the country, opened for Dave Matthews Band, and played every major network television show…the accolades speak for themselves. But that’s not what matters most to Jerry.
“The things that warm my heart or make me the happiest really don’t have a lot to do with the stage,” he says. “It’s been able to give back to the community by providing scholarships to folks at OSU or providing computers for school systems and filling needs in philanthropic areas. I’m extremely proud of those efforts and one of the biggest motivating factors to go out and make it every day.”