Before recording their new album, O.A.R. didn't go to their usual rehearsing studio. They set up shop at an old showcase space on the top floor of the Chicago music venue Metro and stayed there for a week.
The area, bassist Benj Gershman recalls, was cramped — big enough to accommodate only about 50 people. But it gave the band members the sense that they "were in a live environment instead of just rehearsing."
That stop in Chicago, where drummer Chris Culos lives, was part of a new rehearsal ritual where the band traveled to each member's current hometown.
Gershman said the unusual lead-up to recording was fitting because "King," the new album, is a continuation of the story the band began with their first album, "The Wanderer."
In "The Wanderer," "the character is searching and not sure of his place in the world, and 'King' is all about him returning to where he knows he belongs and owning that place," he said.
"King" finds O.A.R., who perform Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, graduated as elder statesmen of indie rock. It's their seventh studio album.
When the band started in Rockville, Maryland — the original four band members were students at Wootton High School — they "were a very innocent band, our eyes wide open," Gershman said.
"The Wanderer" was recorded over just two days. "We went in and recorded live. We set up in a room, and there was an engineer, and he recorded what we played," Gershman said.
Now, they are confident of their voice and personality. Gershman said "King" is his favorite album.
The idea to travel to each of the band members' hometowns to prepare for production — something they'd never done — was lead singer Marc Roberge's.
"We felt the comfort level of the songwriting process and the creation of the songs would come more naturally and less stressfully if we did it that way," Geshman said.
Roberge also thought it would make more sense to travel to where the members live because everyone's dispersed over different cities; none of them live in Maryland anymore, though they stay close to their families here, said Gershman.
After Chicago, the band members went to Columbus, Ohio, where saxophonist Jerry DePizzo lives, then Washington, D.C., (guitarist Richard On's current home town), and last, to Gershman's and Roberge's New York City.
The two months of lead-up allowed the band members "to get the kinks out of the songs," Gershman said, and determine which songs would be included in the final album. Except for "Heaven," and "Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes," all other songs on the album came out of those early rehearsal sessions, Gershman said.
Gershman said it's difficult to compare the complete freedom they experienced on "The Wanderer" to the more rigorous approach they took on "King."
But, he said, because they took their time rehearsing, the actual production went by faster and more smoothly — just a month at Avatar Studios in New York City.
Musically, Gershman said, they wanted an album that "sounded like the O.A.R. that we knew we are."
"It was more an idea of playing solid, simple bass lines that had energy and groove," he said. "The idea was to serve the songs and not try and overplay them."
O.A.R. prefers not to be labeled a jam band or frat rock group. Instead, "I would describe us as a rock 'n' roll band," Gershman said. He feels "King" is a culmination of their 13-year-long career.
"We're creating music now because we want to create music that is right for our group," Gershman said. "It's a band that has been through a lot over the years, and evolved a lot musically and personally and as a group. This album is us choosing what how we want to represent ourselves."
Gershman said the band, which hasn't performed at Merriweather since last summer, hasn't finished the set-list for their upcoming tour.
But he said fans can expect to hear a blend of old and new — he's just not sure if it's going to be 50-50 or 70-30.
"I'm sure we're going to be playing a decent amount of new songs," he said. "We're excited to have all this new music."
If you go
O.A.R performs Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. SOJA and Virginia Coalition open. Tickets are $35-$45. Call 877-435-9849 or go to ticketfly.com. Venue information: 410-715-5550 or merriweathermusic.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun