Chris Culos (O.A.R.) Interview on Moe Train’s Tracks
Chris Culos, Monty Wiradilaga and Brian Kracyla
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival – Manchester, TN
June 15, 2008
Moe: We’re back stage here with Chris of O.A.R. How’s it going man?
Chris: It’s going good man. We just got here, I’m really excited. We’ve got some gorgeous weather out here.
Moe: Oh, it’s beautiful out.
Moe: It’s the first day of your new tour, is today the first day?
Chris: We just started our new tour today. So excited about it… A big summer.
M: Supporting the new album that comes out next month.
C: It comes out July 15th, yes, and actually our single is called Shattered. And we’re actually getting some radio play already, which is exciting. It officially goes to radio tomorrow and fans can get it online. They can get it starting June 16th on iTunes and stuff like that, exciting.
M: How’s this album compare to your others?
C: It’s a little bit of everything. I think by calling it all-sides, it really is capturing the all encompassing thing of O.A.R. It’s got the rock, the lighter stuff, it’s got the reggae, it’s got a little bit of everything. I think the song writing is really strong. I’m really proud of all the guys in the band, our song writers… You can really see their growth. But also the musicianship side of stuff, we feel really comfortable in the studio. That was always the thing. I think our audience really gravitated to our live stuff, and they liked the studio stuff, but they didn’t think it compared to that energy. It’s was only natural. We’ve played a couple of hundred shows a year but only made a handful of CDs. It’s still a lot of time in the studio, but for us we’re still learning.
M: Is that why you guys have encouraged the taping of your live shows?
C: Absolutely. But not just that reason alone. We’re proud all our stuff that we do in studio but as far as our live shows, that’s our bread and butter. That really is what we do best, and where we feel the most comfortable. I think by encouraging taping of the shows it creates more of a community interaction, you know for people who wanna come out and see us multiple times. It keeps us on our toes to create new set lists, and change the arrangements, and jam-out, and have fun. It’s also fun for the audience because it gives them something to talk about. It’s not the same show every night, not the same version of the same song every night. It’s a lot of great things.
M: Talking about live shows, how’d it feel standing on the stage at Madison Square Garden, at a sold-out arena, at one of the most important influential venues in the whole world?
C: Yeah, it was pretty much the highlight of our career. I can’t lie. It’s just weird because when we started this band, god, we started it 12 years ago in my basement, you could never imagine, you could never think of playing Madison Square Garden. I mean, all the things you could dream about, that’s just ridiculous to think that. So, to be standing on stage, it was so surreal. To be honest, it’s the only time I’ve ever been nervous playing.
C: Yeah, we’re really comfortable with what we do. Every night we go on stage, we get really excited about before we go on, and walk on, and that’s just what we do best, we’re comfortable. Going on in Madison Square Garden man, it was a whole other thing. It was a whole other ballgame man, I can’t lie.
M: I saw that. You could see the vibe in the place, it was just awesome.
C: Yeah. But, as soon as we started, yeah, we felt comfortable again. But it was the only time I’ve been nervous.
M: So what was the most memorable part of that performance? Anything stand out in your mind?
C: You know… It flew by. Most of the shows, some nights take a little longer than others, but that night flew by. I remember it being a little more lit up inside, just because we were filming it for DVD. You could see people. We can always usually see the front row, a couple rows back, but now look at and actually get a gauge of just how many people were there, and it was freaky. No, it was cool, ‘cause you could look out, we had a lot of our family there. I could look out and see my parents, my grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and cousins, and friends, and all these people who traveled from all over the country to watch us in New York. That was the coolest part.
M: Yeah, it had to be amazing for sure. So, with the new album, I know that you’re with a major label now; you were with an independent label before. Are we go to be seeing the independent O.A.R.? Or are we going to see a new incarnation?
C: We’re always independent O.A.R., man! No, see, here’s our deal. We started as a basement band, you know, when we were in high school. We went to college to really try to make it. We went to the biggest school in the country at the time, Ohio State University, and we went for four years. Not everybody graduated, but a couple of us did.
M: You did right?
C: Yeah, I did. Woo-hoo!
M: Ha, there ya go.
C: Then we started the band and we’ve been touring full time for eight years. So we’ve been a band for 12 years and everything been a real slow growth, but it’s been growing upwards steadily since the beginning. It’s given us time to learn and make the best decisions and really pay attention to what’s going on around us. And I think we really us that to our advantage, because if something happened over night, I don’t know if we’d know exactly how to deal with it correctly, and not to say that most people don’t, but who knows. For us, we’re really happy that we got to surround ourselves with great people. Our manager Dave Roberge, our singer Mark’s older brother, he started an indy label for us when we were in college. It was really just something on paper so that we could get a distribution deal, so we could get our CDs in stores like Best Buy and stuff. It wasn’t even a real label. But he grew it into an actual full functioning label with a full staff, moved to New York City, opened up office space, pretty amazing. And from what this label, Everfine Records, was able to do, it raised us up enough profile to actually get major label attention. And we had sold enough CDs on our own that when we went in to talk to a major label; we did have a little bit of leverage. Not to say that it was all in our favor, but to be honest it was a business decision to go with a major label. We just wanted to get our music out to more people. And so when we signed with, it was Lava Records, which was under Atlantic Records, which has since folded, now we’re moved over to Atlantic Records, but it’s all the same thing. We did sort of a joint-deal Everfine Records and Atlantic, so that Everfine would always be a part of us. It’s synonymous with us, it was created by our manager for us, by us. Everything about it, the mentality, will stay there. And they’ll continue to oversee most of our live releases while the major label will put out our studio releases. Sorry for the long answer.
M: No, it’s cool. Because I know that the fans are always concerned when a band makes that leap. They’re not sure if they’re getting the same band that they grew up and loved, or something that’s manufactured.
C: Of course. I mean, we’ve seen it with our favorite bands too. If anything, it’s a stepping stone for us to be able to continue what we always done in the past. If we have to put out something that’s more geared towards pop-radio, somewhere where you see us on film or television soundtracks or stuff, it’s not to say we’re playing the game and selling out, it’s to say that we wanna do that stuff to be able to continue to do the rest of the O.A.R. stuff that we love.
M: Do you consider yourself frat-rock?
C: You know, the term kinda bothers me. I don’t exactly what it is. It gives you, it’s not that it bothers me…
M: Is frat-rock a stigma?
C: It’s just used in a negative connotation. It’s not like anyone says, ‘God, these are my favorite frat-rockers!’
C: It’s always somebody writing an article about us who pawn it off as frat-rock, as if that’s a bad thing. I’m really proud of the fact that we are able to attract fans from diverse things, whether it’s a frat, whether it’s a sorority, whether it’s just regular college kids, whether it’s high school kids, you know, older adult, any walk of life I think it sort of reaches out. I guess it is a bit of a stigma. I don’t know, I mean at first it was jam-band, and that’s really cool because some of our favorite bands are jam-bands, but we don’t consider ourselves a jam-band at all. We just don’t do that. So, to get labeled a jam-band is just I think a little misleading. So, the frat-rock thing, I don’t know, it’s just used in a negative connotation. I don’t have a problem with it if someone was using it in a praising way. Whatever.
M: Does it bother you that your band’s music makes the beds rock in collegiate America all across the US?
C: Hell no, dude, that’s the point, c’mon.
M: We’ve got a lot of comments about that, ‘Dude, you’re interviewing those guys! We’ve had sex to that music all the time!’
M: Oh, congrats on being one of the top 100 most influential indie bands.
C: Oh, thanks, performing/song writer, what an honor, we are really excited.
M: There are a lot of big names on that list.
C: Honestly, I can’t put it into words, I was a little bit speechless. We’ve never really won any honors; we’ve never really won any awards. I think, in the past, people who know about O.A.R. know about O.A.R., and everyone else outside this world has sort of ignored us. It’s given us, I don’t want to say a chip on the shoulder, but it’s made us feel like we’re a little bit of the underdog, wanting to always prove ourselves. It doesn’t bother us but it makes us want to work that much harder. So to get some recognition like this, it’s really satisfying.
M: Another congratulations in order, you just got married.
C: Thank you, I’m actually about to get married.
M: Oh, I’m sorry, you’re about to get married.
C: In three weeks, it’s the countdown.
M: So what’s your thoughts?
C: Man, I’m really excited. I’m most excited to be sitting on the beach on the honeymoon.
M: Where ya going?
C: We’re going to Hawaii. And neither of us have ever been. Have you been?
M: Not yet, but this year. I think we’re going to a wedding. Apparently it’s supposed to be amazing.
C: Yeah, I can’t wait.
M: You still gonna be the same guy or what?
C: I’m gonna be the same guy, yeah.
M: What’s your most revolutionary moment of O.A.R.?
C: You know, again, I would have to say Madison Square Garden. It was pretty amazing. When we were in college, we played at a place called the Newport Music Hall. It was when we got to college and we said, ‘God, one day we’re really gonna tour, we’re really gonna do this for a career.’ And the biggest venue on campus was called the Newport Music Hall and we said, ‘One day we’re gonna play there.’ And we ended up playing there many times throughout college, and we sold it out almost every time. It was really satisfying the first time we saw our name on the marquee.
M: You guys always seem to show up with Dave Matthews. And I guess your ending the tour with them…
C: They’ve treated us well throughout the years. Honestly, we haven’t had a chance to work with that many large bands. We feel like we’ve always sort of gone out and toured on our own. They’ve been good to us, a lot of opportunities.
M: Pick up any pointers from Dave?
C: Yeah. That’s the best part of it. When I was a kid, they were probably my favorite band. I would watch them in concert all the time. So to be able to be backstage and watch a show is amazing, but really the coolest thing is to be able to be backstage and watch how they operate as a business. Most people don’t think of those things, but to see how they operate with the personnel that they hire, their road crew, the way that they handle the trucking and setting up of the equipment, and what kind of gear they use, and all that stuff. For us, that’s really the best part, I mean, we can sit there and learn from the best, you know. That’s the business model we would strive to be, if there was one.
C: It’s an empire they’ve created.
M: Yeah, absolutely. So tomorrow, I guess you guys have your first live interactive on-line show, or concert, what’s going on with that?
C: Yeah, so it’s called Deep Rock Drive and we’re actually filming it at a studio in Vegas. There actually will be somewhat of a studio audience in there. It’s a really cool thing that we have never done before where we post a bunch of songs and people can vote on what songs, and the set list and what order they want it to be in, and people can type real-time questions into us. It’s a completely interactive show. Totally new, I’m really excited. I know they’ve done a couple shows but other artists, but it totally new for us and it’s relatively new technology that they can do all this stuff. I’m just really looking forward to it.
M: Cool. So at the end of your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?
C: Oh man, I don’t think that way. That’s a good question. Honestly, we feel like we’re just starting. If that’s another answer, I don’t even know. We just wanna be the biggest band we can be.
M: So what’s that mean?
C: I wouldn’t say awards or anything like that. I think that when I was a kid I would have loved to be on Saturday Night Live. I would love to be nominated for a Grammy, I don’t wanna win a Grammy, just maybe just one time be nominated for a Grammy. What about cover of Rolling Stone, that’s a classic you gotta go with as a band.
M: So you have your checklist.
C: Checklist, yeah. You know, seeing that platinum record up on the wall, which we feel very fortunate that we’ve gotten a couple of gold records. If you’re asking, I guess that kinda stuff, but I don’t really know. We just want to fucking play.
M: I got it, man. Thanks a lot for being with us, we appreciate it.
C: No problem, man.