It’s tempting to classify O.A.R. (. . . Of A Revolution) as a jam band, given the group’s propensity toward long, meandering song structures and laid-back grooves.
Then there are those who remember O.A.R. as a college rock band, from its breakout track, “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” and its members’ days as Ohio State University students. However, with those band members now out of college and all pushing 30, this label seems a little off.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs
How much: $35, $20
More info: 587-3330 or www.spac.org.
According to bassist Benjamin Gershman, the band is neither jam band nor college band, although he said he is honored that his band would be thought of in the former category.
“At one point, we were classifying ourselves as an island vibe roots-rock band,” Gershman said during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Sioux Falls, S.D. “Now, when people ask me, I just say I think we’re a rock and roll band. If you come to the concerts, that’s pretty much the feeling I think you’ll get.”
O.A.R. will be returning to Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., almost a year to the day after the group’s last performance at the venue.
“I remember last year pretty specifically,” Gershman said. “It was a really great show and a beautiful spot; we got to walk around the area and tour the grounds. We’re so excited to get back.”
This time, however, the group, including singer and guitarist Marc Roberge, guitarist Richard On, drummer Chris Culos and saxophonist Jerry DePizzio, is coming armed with a new studio album, “All Sides,” which was released last month. The album displays a more polished pop sound, moving even further away from the group’s early, scrappy-sounding demos.
Granted, the group has been moving in a more mainstream-ready direction for some time now, with 2005’s “Love and Memories” charting in the Adult Top 40. However, the band hasn’t abandoned its more jam-oriented tendencies.
“When we recorded the songs, on some of them we really tried to make them feel like a live recording,” Gershman said. “Other songs have more produced, studio sounds.”
The title “All Sides” is meant as a reflection of the band’s sound — specifically, that the album presents “all sides” of the band’s sound to date.
“Our motto was, ‘Do what’s right for the song,’ ” Gershman said. “We really took a look at all the parts that contributed to the overall crafting of the songs, and tried to make them all the best they could be. Basically, everything is there, but of course, we’ll probably write something new that branches out in another direction.”
To focus on the album, O.A.R.’s members relocated to the West Coast during the recording of the album. “I think we were removed from a lot of distractions on the East Coast; that just helped us kind of focus on the songs themselves,” Gershman said.
Songs range from anthemic opener “This Town” and the melancholy pop of “Shattered,” the first two singles off the record, to “War Song,” which showcases the socially conscious lyrics of Roberge. “War Song” is written as a day in the life look at troops stationed overseas in Iraq. It’s also Gershman’s favorite song off the record.
“The song was kind of based off an experience we had in the last year, on tour with the USO to Kuwait, Iraq,” Gershman said. “The song was just kind of something we kind of experienced.”
Matt Wallace, best known for working with artists such as Faith No More and The Replacements, two artists far from O.A.R.’s signature sound, produced the album. According to Gershman, Wallace’s involvement helped to challenge the group.
“We were able to accomplish a lot; it was a challenging time, and we feel like we rose up to that challenge,” Gershman said. “It was fun, man, he’s a really cool guy to work with, being in any of the environments of pre-production, tracking and live recording. He made it a good time, positive, enthusiastic; he motivated you to do the best with the songs.”
The band has already been getting good response to the new material live.
“The song ‘Shattered,’ I’m seeing people singing the lyrics by the third chorus; they didn’t know the song, but they’re singing along by the last chorus,” Gershman said. “It’s really exciting to see.”
Since its beginnings on the college rock circuit, O.A.R. has been known as a live band first and foremost. However, Gershman said the band enjoys recording in the studio and playing live for different reasons.
“There’s definitely good things about being on stage and being in the studio,” Gershman said. “You put everything under the magnifying glass in the studio — you get to pick what is the sound. In the live environment, you don’t have enough time to think to that point of changing things up. It’s just a different environment, a different way to play your instrument, and a great way to present a unique opportunity to enjoy as a musician.”
The group is always trying to work new material into its set lists. Gershman said he hopes that each of the 12 songs on the new album gets performed at least once throughout the whole tour.
“One of the things is that [the songs are] there when they’re ready,” Gershman said. “We’d love to play everything, but even when people request something, if it’s not ready, we won’t do it. We try to be ready with everything.”