11 Points

11 Questions With Chris Culos of O.A.R.
written by Sam Greenspan

I've been an O.A.R. fan for quite some time -- they're one of those bands that Midwest people take pride in having "discovered" before the rest of the country. These days, they're fresh off their most successful album to date (and their most commercially successful song, "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)") and are about to kick off a huge tour next month.

Before that, though, they're playing a big charity show here in L.A. on Friday, May 14. In advance of that show, I got a chance to speak with Chris Culos, the drummer from O.A.R. -- who was kind (and patient) enough to do a 39-minute interview with me. Here's what we talked about...

  1. Chris Culos of O.A.R.
    What question do you get asked most often in interviews? Most often, we get asked about what the name means, what the name stands for. [Sam's note: O.A.R. stands for Of A Revolution -- I did my research beforehand. I'm a regular Patrick Fugit.] The one thing we always get is people saying, 'You guys were a frat rock, college jam band, college band but now you're trying to be mainstream.' I don't remember setting out to be frat rock band or whatever, and we don't think there's a negative connotation with that.

  2. How was living your entire 20s in a band, touring with your friends? I would imagine it a much better alternative than getting jobs at, like, the same insurance company or something. More often than not, you hear one of us saying "I love my job." We get to live out our dream, playing in a band full time and doing it with our best friends. We continue to get along, it's amazing. And somehow, we continue to be on same page -- what music we want to make, when we want to tour. It's a democracy.

    It's funny to see how much we've grown. Now most of us are married, having babies. In hindsight, it was cooler than we thought it was. I wish we were more like the guys from "Entourage"! You're fresh out of college, on tour bus, on the road. We had fun.

    But, ya know, after a while, we all started asking: What is REALLY fun? What's rewarding? It sounds cheesy, but want to be the best we can be. Instead of going out every night, partying, getting drunk -- sleep 'til noon, then you're hungover, the show suffers, we start getting at each other. That becomes dark and boring.

    We're on the road, working out, going for runs, everyone is trying to be healthy and, individually, we work a few hours during the day, practice, write. We're proactive about writing, practicing, getting better.

  3. I once heard a quote from a guy in Barenaked Ladies after they had their mainstream breakthrough hit with "One Week" -- the interviewer said, "Did you always expect this success?" And the guy answered, "Yeah, but we thought it was gonna happen 10 years ago." Did you guys have that feeling when "Shattered" finally broke through and became your first huge top 40 hit? It was somewhat like that, somewhat just a part of the progression. We've been a band for so long, we've had lots of small success along the way. We love what we do, we're proud. At the same time, I don't want to sound bitter, but we were playing with cool bands who went out and exploded -- Jon Mayer, Maroon 5, five or 10 others. It wasn't "When's it gonna be our turn?" but it was cool to have [a huge hit] song after working so hard for so many years.

    We had small things, but it was nothing like "Shattered." That was a substantial thing for us, very exciting. But now... we're like, we've got one song and we want to follow it up. Big picture -- it's more of a stepping stone. It's not like we're U2 because of one song, we want to keep getting bigger. It makes us want to work harder when you see something like that. We're nowhere near where where we want to be yet.

  4. As a drummer, have you ever tried the drums on Rock Band? Did your skills translate? I think I'm better than the average guy. The thing is -- [drumming on Rock Band] is the basics of what you're doing but it's so different than how you play the drums. It might be on beat but it's not THE beat to the song. I can definitely hang and I'm getting better, though, but I don't own it.

    A couple of the guys in the band do the advanced level on guitar and shred. I think there's a definite advantage in being a pro. With some video games there's just a controller in your hand, like an NBA player might not instantly have an advantage in a basketball game, but, as a drummer, I'm holding drum sticks, it's a little more the same.

  5. Now, with your biggest tour to date coming up, are you guys putting crazier and weirder stuff in your concert riders? Well, that depends on your definition of weird. Some bands ask for ludicrous stuff, but it's the local people for whatever city you're in who have to run and get that stuff. It's way more fun to prank own crew than those people.

    Coconut water -- the Hennessey of O.A.R.
    The most random thing we've got: A couple of the guys are health nuts and will get into a crazy fad. This week coconut water, next week some kind of exotic tea. It's nothing impossible, but maybe you have to get it at Whole Foods. Someone would read [the rider] and say "Why do they need a whole case of fucking coconut water?" but that stuff is so good. Everyone in the band loves it.

    I was last to convert, but now I'm totally on board. It's really hydrating, really good for you, but I couldn't get into the taste. It was kind of sour. But I kept forcing myself, now I'm on board. Have you ever tried coconut water?

  6. No... no I haven't. But I'm glad to put this out there, who knows who'll read it -- would you guys like to do an endorsement deal with a coconut water brand? Absolutely! We've got to spread the word anyway -- I mean, I always thought coconuts gave off milk, not this weird healthy water.

  7. Other than O.A.R., what are your favorite acronym bands? I'm quite partial to ELO, CCR and LFO. I don't know LFO. [Sam's note: At this point, I actually explained it stood for Lyte Funky Ones and tried singing some of "I like girls that wear Abercombie and Fitch" to him, which he politely listened to. Then, quickly, we moved on.] But there are great ones. We grew up on DMB. RED always had some great songs. I'm loving MGMT these days... but that might not be an acronym.

    We're playing with ALO in Los Angeles. Oh... and what's that other one? LMFAO?

  8. I've read that O.A.R. attributes a lot of its early success to people downloading music. Now that you're a big band on a big label, how do you feel about people pirating and downloading your stuff? It's a double-edged sword. We went to Ohio State together, which was the biggest school in the country at the time -- but as much as we played, it would've been basically impossible for us to get outside of Columbus since we weren't signed, weren't touring. But at that exact moment is when Napster exploded.

    Everyone had Napster and was downloading music... and you could find out about bands in a different way. Our music spread and we started getting calls from all over the country to play. Clemson called. Calls from Arizona, California. It was hugely instrumental in our success.

    As we started turning into more of a regional, then a national, touring band, signed to a major label, with music on the radio, we saw there was a down side to it. We, and the industry, have had to start thinking of music as something that's free. Which is hard to say since we spend so much time and money on writing, recording, the engineers, the album artwork, distributing it. It's free now. There's no less value, emotionally, people are going to keep listening... there just isn't that value monetarily.

    So we embrace people taping our shows and sharing what they find. When we perform live, we always change up our set lists, always change up the versions of our songs. Pretty much every concert is different. People who exchange our music, or download our shows, keep talking, get excited, want to follow us more, see us live.

    The whole record industry is struggling, even the biggest bands aren't selling millions of albums anymore. We're trying to find new ways to exist without relying on selling CDs. We always sold a decent amount but, at our core, we're a live act. So people support us by coming to our shows, buying merchandise -- at our shows, for $10 afterward, you can walk out with a recording of the entire thing on a USB drive if you didn't tape it yourself.

  9. I was in college around the same time as you guys and remember hearing "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker" many years ago. When Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" came out, did you ever want to go after her for treading on your poker-related territory? Ha! If we could be connected to her in any way that'd be a good thing. I don't own or listen to her CD, per se, but I think what she does is awesome. I hear half the people say they're sick of her but she's a creative, cool person. And hey, if we can attach ourselves to her and make a totally unfounded claim against her over the use of poker in music, I'm sure we'd get some attention!

  10. Collins goes crazy.
    What's your favorite drum solo of all time? Mine is when Phil Collins goes off during "In the Air Tonight". That's a great one. [Sam's note: At this moment, I felt about as cool as I ever have.] I'll see your Phil Collins and raise you. One of the first things that made us start a band was a live Genesis concert video from their "Mama" tour in 1985. Phil and the other drummer, Chester Thompson, would do this awesome drum off. It was the '80s so they had massive drum sets, crazy lighting, crazy sound. We'd watch that all the time, in, like, 3rd grade.

    [John] Bonham [of Led Zeppelin] also has some great moments. There's a live version of "How the West Was Won" and he has some sick stuff on there.

  11. My cousin Seth is at Ohio State right now. I looked up his Facebook page and he has O.A.R. listed as one of his favorite bands. Any advice for someone who's a student at OSU? Stay as long as you can -- there's nothing wrong with being a fifth year senior, my friend!

O.A.R. is performing on Friday, May 14th at the Wiltern Theater in my first L.A. neighborhood, mighty Koreatown. It's a charity concert by Coors Light and Rhapsody International. (Coors Light is unveiling new packaging where you can pull back a window on a case of beer to see if the mountains on the beer have turned blue, and this is the concert to unveil that, I'm told.) Tickets are $15 and all the proceeds go to the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the L.A. Food Bank. If you can't go, the concert will be streamed live on Coors Light's Facebook page at 8 pm Pacific on Friday.

O.A.R. is finishing up a new album which they hope to have out by the summer and they're kicking off a summer tour that will cross the entire U.S. You can get more details here.

This post was originally published on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Interviews.

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