O. A.R.' s Wind-up Records debut album, King, marks a new beginning for the band, while also paying homage to their past. It is the seventh studio effort in a career that began with their high school recording, The Wanderer. Bringing back the title character from their first album, O.A. R. takes the listener on a journey to discover that what the Wanderer, and the band members themselves, had been searching for all along, was there from the beginning. As the closing song on the new disc states, a return "Back to One."
King is O. A.R.' s follow-up to their 2008 studio album All Sides, which debuted at #13 on the Billboard Top 200 and #3 on the Digital Album chart. The album provided many firsts for the band including their first Certified Platinum single "Shattered," which in 2009 was the #6 best-selling Rock Song at iTunes and earned them an ASCAP Award as one of the Most Performed Pop Songs of the Year. With All Sides, the band's cumulative album sales reached close to 2 million and they received the honor of being on Performing Songwriter's list of the 100 Most Influential Independent Artists of the Past 15 Years. The release was the culmination of years of hard work creating music, traveling the country and performing for their legions of fans.
To begin work on King, the band embarked on a journey to each band member's hometown. The first stop was at The Metro in Chicago, home to drummer Chris Culos. "The music was coming together very naturally, helped by the vibe of being in a real venue versus a stale rehearsal room. It was a perfect way for the recording process to originate from a 'live' place," says Chris. From there the band moved on to Columbus, OH's (Jerry DePizzo) brand-new 1305 complex; Washington, DC's (Richard On) legendary punk studio Inner Ear; and New York's (Benj Gershman and Marc Roberge) historic Avatar Studios. Like The Wanderer completing his odyssey back to where he started, the band members returned home for inspiration and to prepare for their next adventure.
"When I first started writing songs I was young and hadn't experienced many things, so I chose to write from the perspective of someone else, the Wanderer," notes Marc Roberge. "Now, after having traveled throughout the country, gotten married and having a child of my own, I felt like it was time to bring the Wanderer back and complete his journey."
As the concept for the album was taking shape and the songs were nearing completion, lead singer Marc Roberge was blindsided with news that his wife had cancer and a tumor needed to be removed immediately. After putting everything on hold, the band eventually resumed recording, but this time with a new appreciation of what they had and a resolve to inspire others to be true to themselves and to find their own King within.
"We already had the theme for the record planned, but we never knew how much the message would resonate with each of us, and that we would be confronted by how fragile life can be. The idea of appreciating what you have and enjoying your life has always been a message in our music, but it never hit so close to home," says Richard.
Songs like "Taking on the World Today," "The Last Time," "Gotta Live" and the stark piano ballad "Over and Over," began to take on new meaning. Inspired by producers Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, Blues Traveler, Paul Westerberg) and Gregg Wattenberg (Train, Five for Fighting), O.A. R. began to hone in on the emotional essence of the songs, blending their more traditional reggae roots with new musical elements they had picked up over their fifteen years performing together. The new tracks contain moments of uplift ("Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes"), shimmering guitars ("The Last Time"), world beat ("Gotta Live"), populist fervor ("Fire," "Dangerous Connection"), narrative prowess ("Almost Easy") and even hip-hop (which you can hear in the various connecting interludes as well as the DJ Logic samples, and the excerpt from a speech by rap entrepreneur Russell Simmons on the title track).
The first single "Heaven," which was the last song to be written, served as the centerpiece for the album's central theme.
"Having just gone through the hardest year of my life, I had a clear understanding of how good it is to be here, to be who you are. I feel like we spend so much time worrying about where we are going to end up that we completely ignore the world that surrounds us every day. I was tired of doing that. 'Heaven' is about living on your own terms and being yourself," says Marc.
"This record really tells the story of our journey," adds guitarist Richard On. "It has led us back to what inspired us to write songs in the first place - the story of The Wanderer. However, this time, we had the added benefit of experience which made us better musicians and songwriters."
"Even though there were many ups and downs during the making of this album, we ended up with what we had all hoped for—an album where the individual pieces work together and tell a broader story," notes Marc.
And now O. A.R. is ready to get back to what they do best—playing live for their faithful fans.
"There's such a great feeling in the band now," adds Richard. "We're incredibly excited to get the new music out to all the fans who have been so supportive of us over the years and who have been patiently waiting for this new album. We can't wait to get out on the road and perform the new material."
For O. A.R., the most difficult of times is about to give way to the best of times.
The Wanderer is back… Long live the King.