Commentary

Back to school with O.A.R.

Originally Published: September 2, 2011
By Jim Wilkie | ESPN.com

What better time than the start of college football season to talk with college radio stars O.A.R.?

[+] EnlargeMarc Roberge
Tom Briglia/FilmMagicMarc Roberge and O.A.R. developed a following at Ohio State before word spread to other campuses around the country.

Members of O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) attended Ohio State University and remain die-hard Buckeyes fans, although many members now make their homes far from Columbus.

"Oh, yeah, Ohio State all the way. We were basically born in Maryland and raised in Ohio for a little bit," lead singer and rhythm guitarist Marc Roberge said in a phone interview last month.

The Ohio State football scandal and the forced resignation of former coach Jim Tressel haven't soured Roberge's enthusiasm about his Buckeyes.

O.A.R. have intersected with sports on many levels. Their music has been featured on network sports broadcasts, and ESPN has used "Wonderful Day," "One Shot" and "This Town" during past coverage of college baseball. Roberge was slated to participate in the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic for Cancer Research in Raleigh, N.C., but couldn't attend because of Hurricane Irene.

"That's something I'm super excited for," Roberge said before the event. "I just want to see [Charles] Barkley hit the ball a few times."

O.A.R., which includes drummer Chris Culos, lead guitarist Richard On, bassist Benj Gershman and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, released their seventh studio album, "King" (iTunes | Amazon), in early August. It reached No. 2 on Billboard's Rock Albums chart, and the single "Heaven" is No. 30 on USA Today's Hot Adult Contemporary airplay chart compiled by Mediabase.

Roberge spoke with The Life about music, the Buckeyes and other sports while O.A.R. made a tour stop in Hartford, Conn.

The Life: Congratulations on the new album; I saw it was off to a good start on the charts.

Roberge: Yeah, yeah, it's been doing good so far. It's one of those things you can get caught up in and just watch that stuff, and you're only gonna set yourself up for good days and bad days. So I just checked it out the first day, I was super psyched, and now I'm afraid to check back.

The Life: You've been playing shows all summer before the album came out. Have you played very much new material live before "King" was released?

Roberge: You know surprisingly, we've had a good reception from playing more new stuff at shows. In the past you've got to be really careful. You don't want to play too many new songs in concert because probably the majority of people are there to hear stuff they know, you know what I mean?

The Life: And with cellphones and digital cameras you don't want to leak too much new material out there before the album is released.

Roberge: Well, yeah, I guess. The only reason -- and not for those purposes … because I'd rather people hear it, then buy it -- I'd just rather more people hear it. I don't mind that stuff as much.

What I do mind is when you're playing it early on, it's not perfected yet. It's not where you want it to be and people get really used to those versions, and maybe they won't like the album. So you let them hear the album first and play it live and … most songs end up better live anyway, so they're pretty happy.

The Life: You guys formed and got your start at Ohio State but are now all spread out. How does that work for getting together to create an album, rehearsing and all that? Most of you have families now.

Roberge: Yeah, you know, most of us have families. It's not very difficult to get together because we're all very driven to do that. But what we have to do is keep realistic and organized. So on this record we went to different people's houses, we went to Chicago for a week, Columbus for a week, Virginia for a week, New York for a couple weeks, really spread it out so everyone had the opportunity to wake up in their own bed and go to work and bring in their own songs. It really brought to it a little taste of each city.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Greg Bartram/US PresswireFormer Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's accomplishments still impress Buckeyes fans such as Marc Roberge.

So that was really cool. You just gotta have to make it happen, you know; it's like anything. We're not going to practice every single day, but before every tour we rehearsed in New York for about a week or two. So we make sure it gets done.

The Life: It must be tough being an Ohio State fan lately.

Roberge: It's sort of like you've got 10 kids in a room and everyone's doing something wrong and your kid got caught (laughs). I think you can look at it one of two ways: I mean, you can look at it as in [you] go Ohio State bashing or everybody makes mistakes. It's really hard to say everybody makes mistakes at that level, though, because in my personal opinion, it's unfair to have these high expectations for kids who actually do deserve to participate in some of these profits. I just think they're trying to make their way.

So it's a tough situation, and I really don't like to judge these people and their actions unless I'm in their shoes, because I know that life's a hustle and you gotta make it work. So I'm not really down on the Buckeyes at all. It's just a bummer, it's a big-time bummer, and it's tough for a city that really depends on that completely.

I think [former Buckeyes coach Jim] Tressel … and what he's done at Youngstown State and Ohio State is really great regardless of some of the infractions. It takes a ton of talent, patience and hard work to get the accomplishments he's gotten. And quote-unquote cheating, that doesn't make it happen; you've got to make it happen.

The Life: The NCAA will decide soon if there will be further sanctions. How long do you think it's going to take for the program to bounce back?

Roberge: Oh, I think it's gonna take a little while. You can look at USC as an example. … There are guys like me who probably made excuses up and down for it. But it still doesn't matter when it comes to the brand, because I think we're gonna have a lot of trust to gain back from the public.

USC could go out and win every single game, and there's still going to be this scarlet letter on them, no pun intended for the Buckeyes. I think it's gonna take definitely two full seasons; regardless of what they do, they're not gonna win back favor. But I think in three seasons, you know it's gonna be back to a level playing field, and everybody is just going to expect them to win, and it's about football.

I look at USC as an example. What happened with Reggie [Bush] and everything else, it's just like, Man, how long does it take to get over that?

[+] EnlargeAlex Ovechkin
Greg Fiume/NHLI/Getty ImagesCapitals fans are still waiitng for Alex Ovechkin to reach that next level.

The Life: It seems it hits all the big programs sooner or later, and nearly everybody gets caught breaking the rules.

Roberge: I think it's important, though, that … Tressel made mistakes and everybody made big-time mistakes. But a lot of coaches, I think, know where that line is and there's absolutely nothing wrong -- and I think somebody on ESPN made this commentary saying -- absolutely nothing wrong with going right up to that line, like as far up to that line as you can get and be creative.

And that's part of the game that I think the problem is for head coaches and athletic directors [who] think that they can skirt that line and get on the other side. And eventually it's going to come up. I just think it's better off being wide-open about it and saying, "You know what, I'm going to take it to the line, and I'm gonna do that. And it's part of the game."

I think if you're pretty open about that, less people are going to be prying against you.

The Life: Where do your sports interests fall?

Roberge: Oh, yeah, football. I'm a Redskins fan; I grew up in Rockville, Md., my whole life. Redskins all the way, man. When the Ravens came around, it wasn't even a question. Redskins fan, a Buckeyes fan; I'm a big football guy.

Baseball's something that's been growing on me a lot lately just with our involvement with MLB and things. Having buddies on teams and things helps get more into it. Baseball's been good; basketball's something that I need to start going to more games I think it could get me more into it. It's tough to be a Wizards fan, though.

The Life: Yeah, you guys have had more baseball connections. You performed at the 2006 Home Run Derby, and it must be great for you that the Baltimore Orioles use "This Town" with a video montage of highlights at Camden Yards.

Roberge: Are you kidding? You hear your songs [used as] walk-up music or just at the stadium, you get the tweets or whatever, emails and text messages, and it's completely surreal because you were going to games as a kid. You hear the bands on the P.A. or you see the players identifying with the band, and you think that's just the coolest thing in the world and one day you'll do that.

So when that stuff happens you never take that for granted. And each time it's cool, and it happens a lot, and it's just really an interesting thing that I never ever thought would actually happen, so it's pretty nice.

The Life: Have you ever been at a game when they unexpectedly play your songs?

Roberge: I've been at a Caps game, and that's happened. And I've also been at a Knicks game where I was just sitting in a seat and they put me up on the screen and they just started talking about the band. I was completely caught off guard and nervous. "Get that camera off my face." (Laughs) I was stuffing my face with something.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesYankees slugger Nick Swisher apparently works O.A.R. into the rotation in the clubhouse of the Bronx Bombers.

That was a trip, especially at the Caps games, because I was a season-ticket holder as a kid my whole life. That was crazy for me; that happened last year.

The Life: What did they play?

Roberge: They played "Wonderful Day," which is just an old track, and I don't know why. I just heard it, and they just used the instrumental of it. But it was very cool.

The Life: Do you remember which players use it for walk-up music?

Roberge: He was on the Mets. I really wish I could remember. (Editor's note: Daniel Murphy has used "This Town.")

You know, [Nick] Swisher on the Yankees, we're gonna get together here in a couple of weeks and have a hang. He was a fan. … He's been pumping the music in the locker room a little bit, so that's pretty cool.

The Life: He's getting involved in music and just released a kids' album of cover songs.

Roberge: He's got like a record label or something. I've got to find out what's going on with this guy because he contacted us. … The other night [former New York Rangers defenseman] Brian Leetch was at the show in Boston. I was hanging out with B-Leetch and I'm like, This is amazing (Laughs). It never gets old.

I always wanted to be a professional athlete, as musicians do, but I ended up being short and skinny (Laughs).

The Life: What sports did you play as a kid?

Roberge: Football was, … Maplewood Football back in Maryland is like a big Beltway league-type thing, travel team. I wrestled for 10 years, and that was also a huge part, and in Maryland lacrosse is real big. So I used to do football, wrestling and lacrosse: They are the big, major sports.

The Life: You mentioned Brian Leetch; he just showed up at your show?

Roberge: No, I did this softball game at Yankee Stadium about a month ago with Boomer [Esiason] and [Craig] Carton. Those are just buddies, old buddies who've been just awesome to us for years. So B-Leetch is in the outfield with me, and I'm just sitting out there and Cecil Fielder rocks one out. I drop it, of course.

Bernie Williams comes up next. … Like, you've gotta be kidding me. "Don't hit this to me." … So he hits it and Leetch, and I fumble around him and cause him to drop it. And then he's like, "Hey, what's up?" (Laughs) And I start talking to him and [he asks me] What do you do?

I'm in a band. He's like, "What band?" I said O.A.R. He was like, "I've been to like five of your shows."

And we just started talking shop, and he came out to our show the other night with about 10 of his buddies. And he's just an awesome guy, man, just a real guy. A sports hero, just the real deal.

[+] EnlargeBrian Leetch
Al Bello/Getty ImagesFormer Rangers star Brian Leetch got to know Marc Roberge at a softball game.

The Life: Hockey guys are great, aren't they? You mentioned you were a Washington Capitals fan and they're one of those teams that are just on the cusp of greatness.

Roberge: I mean, you gotta understand that back home in D.C. Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] is [huge]. … Everyone knows what he's doing all the time. Everyone is watching the guy. … And the second he decides to, he's young, but the second he decides to turn it on as far as off the ice, that guy is gonna be unstoppable. I mean, he's unstoppable now, but just wait. I think until he turns that other … it's like in music the first four years you're partying your face off as much as -- not that he's partying, but that's the equivalent of being young. So then out of nowhere you decide, you know what, you're mine to lose.

And then I just think the Caps, everyone is expecting them to win the Cup, but I don't think they're there right now. It's going to take maybe this season to really dial it in, and then boom.

The Life: Everything has to fall into place and get the right players. You never know.

Roberge: It's been that way since 1990 or whatever, or even the [Rod] Langway years, Scotty Stevens, Pete Peeters. They're getting all the way up there, and then every time it's just like either the Penguins or Rangers knock 'em off. It's the worst, man.

The Life: Well, they made some good offseason moves. But it's good to see that after all the ups and downs that they're such a big deal there finally.

Roberge: Yeah, I mean they've sold out what, every single home game for two seasons or something crazy like that?

That's huge, I mean, that's what it's all about. And I think you just look at that crowd and it's just red. Just everywhere.

And that's what we never had in D.C. We had the Skins back in the day, in the ['80s] and stuff, and it was just like the Caps are bringing that back, you know. We just had to deal with the Wizards and the Bullets.


Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at espnpucks@comcast.net.