It’s not easy to keep a band together. Between “creative differences,” drug issues, pressure from the labels and the general drain of a rock’n’roll lifestyle, most bands find themselves struggling to keep their sanity and often either lose members or break up altogether. But somehow in the case of O.A.R., which comes to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, not only haven’t they broken up, they have kept their lineup the same since the beginning. Sure it helps that most of them are old high school buddies, but for a band that has been together for two decades, that is still an incredible feat. We had a chance to chat with bassist Benj Gershman about the tour, a new record and just how they managed to stay on the same page all these years.
At The Shore: You guys have been around a long time, and remarkably you have never had a change in your lineup. What is the key to longevity for O.A.R.?
Benj Gershman: I think friendship and just having unified goals are really key elements of how we have maintained our band for such a long time. The five of us try to be on the same page about where things are going and where they are at, it’s just always been a part of what we do to coordinate with each other and make sure we are all heading in a direction that we can all live with and be proud of that we were all there together.
ATS: You guys all went to the same high school together in Rockville, Maryland. Were you all friends prior to starting the band?
BG: Oh yeah, definitely. Marc (Roberge, singer) and Chris (Culos, drummer) — their parents were friends before they were even born! We’ve all known each other a long time and even with Jerry (DePizzo, saxaphonist/guitarist) who we met in college, we feel like we have known each other our whole lives.
ATS: So many kids dream of being able to play music in front of big crowds. Does the reality of the lifestyle live up to the dream?
BG: I don’t know that the cultural vision of being a “rock star” is what we ever really strived for. We love playing music and we love being together and we love making people happy. We are really fortunate that we can deliver a feeling or an experience that leaves people feeling better than before. And that is the core of why we do this. As for the lifestyle, it’s a wonderful thing to get to see the word and play music and we are grateful that it is part of our lives, but there are certainly challenges that go along with it that we need to be mindful of and to balance it all. Family, health, your connections with friends and other interests … it’s a delicate balance, but I think we have learned to manage that really well and also continue to be present for the audience. You can’t just go away. It’s constantly a challenge, but we are driven to make it work.
ATS: What has the recording process been like on the new record you are working on?
BG: I think we are always trying to have a new sound while reminding people where this whole thing came from and how it started. I think the tone of this record is going to be a lot like (the singles) “Miss You All the Time” and “Just Like Paradise.” There are a lot of songs that have that classic O.A.R. feel, that emotion and strong lyrical content, but I think there are also going to be production elements that are more in tune with the modern sounds you are hearing in the world. So it’s a blend of everything we love, where we came from, where we are going and all of that.
ATS: Do you guys put a lot of thought into writing a single that might get a lot of airplay, or do you just write and album and release whatever seems catchy?
BG: Well, I won’t say that we are not mindful of what works on the radio, and how that can help with the music getting out there and with touring and your career overall, but we don’t just try and do that. We try to reach people with our music. I think the quality of the songwriting is getting better with time, and Marc is a phenomenal writer and the music just keeps getting better. And if we all agree that a certain song could work to bring to radio, we are going to work together to do that. We have a great team and we just have faith that the concerted effort is thoughtful and sensible.
ATS: What can fans expect from the show at Hard Rock?
BG: Oh, it’s going to be a rocker! You don’t go to New Jersey and not put on a rock ‘n’ roll concert, so that’s what I can say about that.