For over 25 years, O.A.R. have embodied the kind of joyfully communal spirit that’s transcendent for both artist and audience alike. Since forming in Maryland in 1996, the multi-platinum-selling band have merged their musical DNA into a free-flowing sound and exhilarating live show, repeatedly selling out legendary venues like Madison Square Garden thanks to their massively devoted community of fans. In a thrilling new chapter for the ever-evolving collective, O.A.R.’s tenth studio album The Arcade marks their most collaborative effort yet: a boldly unpredictable body of work that fully showcases the extraordinary expanse of their singular musicality.
“From the beginning, this band has been about people with different influences and different styles of playing coming together to tell stories through songs based on my lyrics,” says O.A.R. lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Marc Roberge, whose bandmates include Richard On (lead guitar, backing vocals), Chris Culos (drums), Benj Gershman (bass), Jerry DePizzo (saxophone, guitar, backing vocals), MikelParis (keys, backing vocals, percussion), and Jon Lampley (trumpet, backing vocals). “Over the years our family has grown to the point where we’ve got seven musicians adding their flavor to the performances, and it felt like the perfect time to really lean into that collaborative spirit on the records, try new things, and celebrate the music we love.”
The follow-up to 2019’s The Mighty (O.A.R.’s third consecutive Top 15 debut on the Billboard 200), The Arcade took shape at a deliberately unhurried pace, with the band often working remotely to craft its high-energy collision of alt-rock and roots music and left-of-center pop. “I think what I’ll remember most about this album is the sheer amount of time we allowed ourselves to share ideas and then build those ideas into something even better, and ultimately come up with songs that we’d all love to sit back and listen to late at night or out on a long drive—an album you keep wanting to listen to all the way through,” says Roberge. Partly recorded live with the entire band in New York City, The Arcade also finds O.A.R. joining forces with such eclectic producers/co-writers as Gregg Wattenberg (John Legend, Train), Adam Friedman (Tai Verdes, Allen Stone), Kellen “Pom Pom” Pomeranz (John Legend, Tai Verdes), Stephen Kellogg, Danny Chaimson, and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas. “The reason we titled the album The Arcade is that an arcade contains so many different games, characters, colors, stories, sounds—but at the end of the day, all of that exists within the same space, under the same roof,” Roberge explains.
The first song written for The Arcade, “In the Clouds” immediately set the tone for the album’s wide-eyed exploration of finding hope and happiness in the darkest of times. With its trance-inducing grooves and luminous guitar tones—as well as a heavenly trumpet solo from Jon Lampley, who also performs in Stay Human with Jon Batiste—“In the Clouds” celebrates the transportive power of drifting off into your own dream world. “Everyone has their ways of escaping when they’re facing pressure or feeling overwhelmed, and for me that’s checking out and letting myself live in my imagination a little while,” says Roberge. On “Nightlight,” The Arcade takes on a moody urgency, unfolding in frenetic beats, shadowy textures, and syncopated guitar work as O.A.R. gently comment on the chaos of modern life. “That song is coming from the perspective of wanting to protect my kids from the constant turbulence of the world,” Roberge says. “It’s letting them know that whenever they wake up scared, I’m always going to be there for them.” And on “Life in the Big City,” O.A.R. present one of the starkest moments on The Arcade, an impossibly hopeful tribute to a close friend lost to gun violence. “My friend’s name was Billy Mitchell, and it took a long time to tell his story in a way that felt right to me,” Roberge says. “After months of trying so many different approaches, we finally landed on a production and performance that really show O.A.R. at its core, which is us taking everyone on a journey within the song. Like everything else on the album, it’s in no way a dark look at the situation—even though it’s a tragic story, it somehow lifts us up.”
That mission of making music with a profoundly life-affirming impact has defined O.A.R. since its earliest days. First taking the stage at an eighth-grade talent show, the group grew a grassroots following while attending The Ohio State University, largely on the strength of their exuberant live performance and through their fans’ feverish sharing of live recordings (a practice emphatically encouraged by the band). Over the years, O.A.R. have maintained one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world while amassing a multitude of platinum and gold certifications, selling out Madison Square Garden twice and filling Red Rocks Amphitheater over a dozen times, and performing at such high-profile events as the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony and the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration. Known for their rare level of autonomy in the music industry, they’ve also engaged in a great number of philanthropic endeavors, including establishing a scholarship at The Ohio State University and founding the Heard The World Fund (a nonprofit that’s raised over $1.2 million in its efforts to support youth and education in underserved communities throughout the U.S.).
For O.A.R., the work of endlessly uplifting their followers is equal parts charmed responsibility and immense privilege—a dynamic that Roberge considers essential to the band’s remarkable longevity. “We’re still always saying to each other, ‘Can you believe we’re still doing this at this level, and it’s still this much fun?’” he reveals. “Apart from communicating, I think the number-one thing you need to keep a band going is really appreciate and find joy in what you do, and that’s absolutely the case with us. We don’t ever take any of it for granted.”