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O.A.R. takes much-needed trip back to 'Rockville'

Rockville rock quintet O.A.R.

When O.A.R. sold out New York's Madison Square Garden in 2006, it was the culmination of years of touring for the Rockville quintet. The grass-roots approach to building a fan base worked for a rock band whose albums have never reached higher than No. 12 on the Billboard 200.

But for singer Marc Roberge, the band's living-on-the-road reputation had an unsettling undercurrent to it.


"I remember one poster we had that says, 'O.A.R.: Always on tour.' That always gave me anxiety," Roberge said by phone from his Manhattan home last week. "I looked at it like, 'Well, OK, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?'"

Then last year, O.A.R. — which formed in 1996, when members were still students at Wootton High School — reached a breaking point. It had been more than two years since the group released its seventh album, "King," and the band was burned out.


So Roberge and drummer Chris Culos, guitarist Richard On and bassist Benj Gershman returned to their hometown this past Thanksgiving with the sole intention of reconnecting to their roots. (Saxophonist Jerry DePizzo made the trip, too, but the Ohio native joined the group while members attended Ohio State University.) They revisited old hangouts, teachers and memories. It was something the band had not done together in more than 10 years, according to the singer.

The result of the trip home, "The Rockville LP," hits stores Tuesday. Roberge calls the band's eighth studio album a "reboot."

"We sat and talked, and the second we brought things into the open about how good this can make us feel and how far it's been from it ... we really got to be present," Roberge, 35, said. "We shook off that anxiety about trying to match something and re-create it, and just be."

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The rejuvenation can be heard on the album's lead single "Peace," which was inspired by the successful three-year battle Roberge's wife waged with cancer.

"I finished writing it and I felt like what I was writing about was the restart button," he said. "It was getting through all the craziness and having one really clear vision of 'It's going to be OK.' "

It is a rock cliche for a tired touring band to come back to where it all started and find a spark, but the earnest Roberge said it was necessary. Now, he said, the band, which first gained legions of fans with its 1997 song "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," is stronger than ever.

"When you have to come together over some tough times and decide to stay home and focus, man, you do recharge your batteries and you come out with a fire," Roberge said. "Right now, we're going all guns blazing."

That means heading back on the road, too. O.A.R. (which stands for Of a Revolution) began its North American tour Friday and will play Merriweather Post Pavilion on July 19.


Roberge partly credits the band's longevity to avoiding the flashier pitfalls of success. (Members aren't the type to "rent Ferraris and crash them," he said.) Instead, the group cherishes its friends and family most, even if it takes a Thanksgiving trip home to remind them.

"It was really a blessing in disguise to take time, sit back and stay," Roberge said. "Everyone reconnected to their families. Even though they were always still there, time is something you can't fake. You can't replace it. You can't do it on FaceTime. You have to be there."