News & Politics

Guitarist Richard On Explains Why O.A.R. Will Always Love Rockville

Four of the band’s members grew up there, and they still draw inspiration from the Montgomery County suburb.

Richard On and his bandmates named one of their albums The Rockville LP. Photograph by Zoe Rain.

If Rockville had an official band, it would be O.A.R. Four of its five members grew up in the suburb, played their first gig together at an eighth-grade talent show, then officially formed the band in 1996 at Wootton High. The name of their eighth studio album, released in 2014? The Rockville LP.

Through the years, O.A.R. has produced nine full-length albums and toured the world, but they still draw inspiration from their hometown—one member, lead guitarist Richard On, still lives in the Washington area. Fresh off the band’s 2019 summer tour, which ended at Merriweather Post Pavilion, On talked with us about growing up in suburbia, creating The Rockville LP, and how he has stayed friends with his bandmates all these years.

Rockville seems like a suburb where not much happens. How did it shape your music?

High school was a huge part of the inspiration for our songs. We have one called “I Feel Home” that [lead singer] Marc [Roberge] wrote on our friend’s driveway. When you’re in high school and you can’t do much, you drive to people’s houses to hang out—you just want to be around your friends. That’s what that song is about.

Wootton was always a very supportive environment to play our music and pass out our CDs. We had some great teachers. They never once told us we were wasting our time. Every Thursday, we had a gig in Olney at the Grand Marquis, because they were the only place that would book us, and some staff and teachers would come.

Besides your friends’ houses, where did you hang out?

The Silver Diner was a big hang because it was open late. I spent a lot of time at Champion Billiards. We all had jobs at Lakewood Country Club—I worked on the banquet side of it. Marc and [drummer] Chris [Culos] worked on the caddie side.

Tell me about The Rockville LP.

It was a concept where we said, “We need to go home and be inspired by where we grew up.” And that’s what it was all about. We did come home, we stayed with our families, just like we were in high school, and we met up at a certain time for band practice. We did some demos and songwriting in Chris’s mom’s basement. It was awesome, so nostalgic.

After Wootton, you all went to Ohio State together. How’d you get your parents to sign on to that?

Marc and Chris went to Ohio State first. [Bassist] Benj [Gershman] was a year younger than us. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Once Marc and Chris got there, they called and said, “You have to come here. There are 80 bars, 80 venues we can possibly play, 60,000 kids here—this is the place to grow the band.” At the time, I was going to Montgomery College and taking classes. Within a semester, I transferred to Ohio State. As far as our parents, mine were just thrilled I got into university and was studying “business.”

After all that time together, where do you all live now?

New York, Nashville, Columbus, San Diego. I live in Ashburn.

So you’re still pretty local. Where do you hang out now?

When I’m in Rockville, I’ll stop at Bob’s Shanghai and get soup dumplings. We go to the Natural History museum—my kids love animals and dinosaurs. And we go to a lot of hockey games. My kids play hockey, and we see the Caps whenever we can.

What do you think of Rockville today?

I think it’s amazing. I was just over in Pike & Rose for a wedding at Pinstripes. Rockville’s turned into a mini-city where cultures collide. It’s so diverse. The reason why we loved growing up there was because we felt comfortable in our skin.

The one thing I’m sad about, though, is I heard that the tree at Belward Farm is dead. We were pretty broken up about that. It was a constant in our lives and in our band. We hopped a fence to do a photo shoot with that tree.

You recently played at the Anthem. What did you think?

Hands down, it was completely amazing. When people ask what’s my favorite place to play, of course everyone says Red Rocks, but the Anthem is right up there with it. We’ve seen shows there and played twice there. I think putting that at the Wharf was a great idea to build around it. Before, there wasn’t much to do there except get crabs and seafood.

You guys have been friends since you were about 13. How do you do it?

It’s like a marriage. We love and respect each other dearly. Communication is probably the single most important thing. There was definitely a learning curve for how this was going to work, especially as the band started to get bigger and more people were involved. We’re at a point in our lives where we’re comfortable with ourselves and with each other, so it’s pretty smooth.

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Washingtonian.