Interview with Chris Culos from O.A.R.: Kings Of The Upheaval

O.A.R is not a band that took the generic route to success. After 15 years with the same line-up, they still retain the vitality and enthusiasm of a group that’s just started out. Hailed and supported by college kids throughout the years, the diverse and colorful rock band has spread its sound all across the land while doing it their own way and it’s working just fine. Grass roots has risen up to slay the major label attitudes and this band is the poster child of being able to make money, record what you like and be hugely successful without selling your soul. Drummer Chris Culos took a few minutes to talk about the tour, the new record and what it all means to the band.

The band is putting together its seventh studio album?

Yeah, actually there have been quite a few of them and this marks our 15th year as band. And we’re finally getting back in the studio since our last release, which was in 2008, and we spent about a year and a half on this new record, which is called King. And that’s by far the longest we’ve ever spent working on an album.

What’s the level of freedom on King?

We didn’t have anyone breathing down our necks, and for the first time in our lives we didn’t have a label deadline or management saying, “We’ve got a tour, so we’ve got to get done by this date.” We don’t have anyone saying anything except us saying, “Let’s take our time and make the best album we can make.” We hear these stories about bands, they’re in the studio forever and you don’t hear from them, and the music is just getting worse and worse, (laughs) they’re hitting creative walls and they’re getting waylaid with “Why is it taking so long?”

And for us, I think it was the opposite. We weren’t gone for years and years, we just took a bit of time to do it. We were touring and had other stuff with our personal lives, so it didn’t feel like it took that long to make, and we were able to spend time making sure that it was just right. And our audience will really hear that when they listen to the record.

I’ve read that there were over 20 songs on the writing table in pre-production?

Well, there’s no filler. You get some albums you buy and you’ve got the song you heard on the radio, and a couple of cool ones for the audience, and the rest just leaves you shaking your head saying, “Why is this even on here?” We just had so much fun working on the songs that we kind of treated each one as if it was the most important song on the record, and it’s nice because we have a wide variety of material to choose from.

The whole game plan of this record was to go back to what we do best, which is getting in touch with what we do onstage, and bringing that energy into it. The writing really takes a look back at our history and has us saying, “Okay, where have we come from? What does our audience like? What is it that we like?” And it’s digesting everything we’ve learned along the way and making something brand new out of that.

College students and college radio has been a big part of your success, how has the reaction from these hardcore fans been to the new material?

It’s really positive, and we can’t do this stuff without them. So the fact that they’re supporting us year after year just means the world to us. We released our new single, “Heaven,” in June and we’ve been streaming it through several distribution sites. I think our core audience supports the fact that to continue to reach new people, we have to take new directions.

We’re just really excited. Our last album had a song called “Shattered” that was one of the most successful songs that we’ve ever had. So that opened some new doors so it hasn’t been so much about the industry saying, “Who is this band O.A.R.? I’ve never heard of them.” I think now a lot of people are already aware of who we are. So with “Heaven” we thought, “Let’s get this out there and build some momentum towards when the album actually comes out on Aug. 2.”

Are there any guests or co-writers on the new disc that you want to mention?

Absolutely. The title track of the album is called “King” and we worked with DJ Logic, who is a phenomenal musician and DJ extraordinaire who we’ve played tons of shows with and just have a great relationship both on and offstage with. And when doing “King,” he was able to fill in a lot of really tasty things to give the song style and hooks. He went out and found a bunch of great samples and loops to bring to the table and kind of co-wrote the song with Marc [Roberge].

We sampled a speech that Russell Simmons gave us permission to use and it’s just the kind of inspiring thing that tied into the whole point of the album. We have a few other co-writers on the song. Gregg Wattenberg, who co-wrote “Shattered” with Marc also worked on the song “Heaven” and then a song called “Back To One” and a few others that we were cranking out, and it’s been great to do these kind of things. We worked with Matt Wallace, our producer from a past album [All Sides, 2008] he came in and really just harnessed what it is that we do live, so we cut like 75 percent of each song just live off the floor.

Songs like “This Town” and “One Shot” are major favorites for Nascar and Fox Sports. Are you guy’s bonafide sports fanatics?

(Laughs) A couple of the guys definitely are. Myself, I love watching sports. I’m big into Nascar, golf and tennis, and I certainly watch basketball and football, but I can’t talk sports with the other guys (laughs). For some reason I can’t retain the information but I love to go to the games and have some beers and hotdogs for sure. We’ve been really fortunate that ESPN and ABC and other networks have kind of jumped onboard and have given us a lot of opportunities to get our music out there. And for us, we’re really excited because it’s hard enough to get stuff listened to anywhere (laughs).

With everything going on with the Internet you would think that it is a lot easier to reach people and in some ways it is, but it becomes harder and harder to reach a new audience the way we want to. So finding new ways of connecting and having our music played at all these different sporting events and commercials is great. We’ve heard some players are using it as their walk out music. The Cubs play it before and at the end of every game and its awesome because we get emails from the guys, and they are just genuine fans that dig our music and we think it’s the coolest thing ever because its helping spread the music in a really great way.
The band is known for their selfless work with charities. What have you sensed to be the most rewarding part of being involved in these causes?

We are very fortunate that we get to do this for a living. I mean, we are this band from my mom’s basement of 15 years ago, and we are able to continue to do this as a career and it’s amazing. We get to be up onstage with our best friends and make music and one of the most rewarding things is to be able to give back. We’ve done a lot of different events throughout the years including things that focus on youth and education. This summer we are doing some events where we are giving away free tickets to military personnel, so it’s really a good feeling and it helps others, which is the main point.

Does the jam band association really apply to O.A.R.?

Jam band is kind of a tricky phrase. Only because there is such a specific genre for those bands and what they do. But I just don’t think what we do is what a jam band does necessarily. To be lumped into that category is certainly not a negative thing, but for us it’s just not really the correct kind of description. I think we can do a lot of extended jam and we improvise a lot, but it’s really not what a jam band title describes. But the jam band community is this kind of world that we can collide with and get along with, and the audience kind of crosses over a bit too. Some aren’t necessarily as into us as they are their bands but you find a nice little balance and get in there and a festival feeling is just more about the experience and checking out new music and things like that.

When does the tour kick off and when we can actually get our hands on the new disc?

The tour officially starts in July. We are basically hitting a lot of the Midwest, and the East Coast on the main summer tour. The album comes out Aug. 2, which we are really excited about, and that’s just kind of the beginning for the year. We’re going to have to hit the rest of the country like Florida, Texas, the Southwest and Canada, maybe do a bit of international stuff and it’ll just be a busy year. The CD is King and we just released the lead single, “Heaven,” and you can get that online at our website and Facebook and at iTunes if you feel like purchasing it. And we’ll be in New Jersey on July 9 at the PNC Arts Center, one of our all-time favorite venues.
O.A.R will play PNC Bank Arts Center on July 9. For more on O.A.R. and their latest record, King, go to