Some "tough times along the way" are what inspired O.A.R. to write the songs for its new album, "King," which comes out Aug. 2.
"I felt strongly I wanted to make an album about what I'd gone through to that point in our lives," frontman Marc Roberge tells Billboard.com. "I just realized it was time to take control of my life and really own it. Then life just started throwing obstacles at us, just one thing after the next, and we were forced to stick to that theme...and that idea that you have to really overcome these things and own it and really just be yourself, whatever the cost. And that's really what the album's about. It's about being a king or a queen, but of yourself."
O.A.R.'s first challenge as it set out to make the album was a decision to leave Atlantic Records, which had been the quintet's home for its last three releases, including the 2008 commercial breakthrough "All Sides." Roberge says the label "wasn't over the moon about the tracks" the group initially presented it with in 2010, and O.A.R. was disenchanted as well, which led the group to leave and sign a new deal with Wind-Up Records. "I hold no grudges or anything," Roberge says. "There's no bad guys. When you're in that situation you have to say, 'Alright, we're either going to ride it out and make it work or we're gonna have to go somewhere else.' And we found a better home for O.A.R. at a smaller record label where we could get the attention we needed."
Roberge, who resides in New York, also faced a personal crisis when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, which brought recording on "King" to a halt. She's "doing great now," Roberge says, and "recovering really well." Returning to work, O.A.R. then wrote some of "King's" key songs, including the first single "Heaven," which came from a beat -- jokingly titled "New O.A.R." -- that Roberge's brother-in-law played for him last October and was the last thing the group recorded for the album.
"Flash forward six months," Roberge says, "and the album is pretty much done and I said, 'Let's do one more.' We were flipping through demos, and I had a demo of this beat and what I had tried singing over it just for fun, and everyone said, 'Man, this is something.' So we bounced ideas back and forth, and we just knew something that we felt told the entire story of this character and this album. It began in the driveway, and it ended with O.A.R. in the studio cutting it, just 'cause it felt right. It's funny how things like that always fall into your lap at the last minute."
After writing "King's" songs in each of the band members' respective home towns, O.A.R. recorded the album in Los Angeles with Matt Wallace, who the group worked with on "All Sides," and in New York with Gregg Wattenberg. Roberge reports that the new songs are going over well in concert, too, "so much better than we thought. We've played six or seven of (the songs) so far, and they're all doing really well. I just think our fan base gets what we're doing. I'm not concerned with sounding like we used to...or like other people think we should. I think 'Heaven' is a good signal of where we're going next."
And speaking of next, Roberge says O.A.R. is "just about ready to start writing a new album here shortly," even before "King" comes out.
"I'm already kicking around ideas," he says. "I'm really digging this vibe we have now where everyone's so damn open. There's so much respect flying around. A lot of pride -- not cockiness by any means, 'cause we're as self-deprecating as it comes. But I really think that there's a lot of pride right now. We don't feel like we need to prove ourselves to too many people except us. That's good, 'cause that's when you bring your best shit."