When you mention O.A.R. and New York City in the same sentence, you can’t help but recall January of 2006 and their sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden. Guitarist / saxophonist Jerry DePizzo agrees that it was a “significant” event for the group, but as the band returns to the Big Apple for two dates at The Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday and Saturday, it feels more personal than just a milestone location on the tour map.
“We’re playing after Thanksgiving and it was something we used to do back when we were coming up and cutting our teeth in the business,” he said. “It’s just so cool to go back and kind of relive some of that tradition and share that in my buddies’ new hometown.”
Calling New York “kind of our home base now,” with vocalist Marc Roberge and bassist Benj Gershman calling the city home, the group that got its start in Maryland back in 1996 is a much different outfit than it was back then, but that’s not a bad thing, especially after hearing their latest, Rockville, which is named after the city they made their bones in.
“You have to evolve and you have to adapt and you have to grow emotionally, and through that comes more evolved writing,” DePizzo said. “And if you write songs that people connect with and you’re willing to work hard and surround yourself with smart people, you’re gonna do just fine. That’s the mentality that we’ve taken through this whole thing – you just keep writing songs about your life and you work hard at it and you do it in a way that expresses who you are and in a way that you feel you connect with a broad audience. And fortunately for us, it has, and we’ve been able to just be musicians, which was our end goal to begin with – to be in a band.”
Through eight albums, O.A.R. has done what only a select few groups have been able to pull off – and that’s keeping their core fanbase happy while still evolving as a band and attracting new fans. It’s not a happy accident either, as DePizzo points out.
“It’s something we think about every day going about this,” he said. “How do you create awareness to gather a broader audience and reach new people, and how do you stay true to yourself and super serve your core? How do you put yourselves in the shoes of your audience every day and think about how your shows and your experiences are viewed by them? That’s what I do, and I can attribute some of our success to that.”
Rockville is a step forward for the band, but at the same time it revisits a simpler time for them, before the days of world tours and selling out MSG. And while it was recorded in Nashville, the band’s hometown is a major character throughout the 10 tracks.
“I feel great about this record in the sense that it’s a very personal record,” DePizzo said. “When we sat down to write it, we asked ourselves ‘what are we gonna do? Where do we want to go? What do you want to talk about?’ And we all just sat down and said we’re just gonna write tunes from the gut. That’s what we did at the beginning, it’s what we tried to do throughout our career and why try to do anything else other than that? So people went home, rode down the same streets in Rockville, hung out at the same spots and that recharged the creative batteries to go out and write the Rockville LP.”
Now it’s time to bring a little Maryland back to New York City, a place which will always be a touchstone in O.A.R. history thanks to that special night nearly nine years ago.
“We felt a lot of pride for what we accomplished,” DePizzo said of selling out The Garden. “And not only us, but the people around us. It was, and still is, a real family-oriented business, and we had all arrived there together. That was probably what I enjoyed the most and what I took from that first show and the couple after that as well, that it wasn’t just us up on the stage.”
O.A.R. plays The Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on Friday, November 28 and Saturday, November 29. For more information, click here