If last month's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards had recognized the "Most Ambitious Local Band," Oval Opus surely would have won. The Pop/Rock quartet is poised for a giant leap to the national scene with the release of their latest CD, Oxygen, later this month.
The band members all balance waiting tables during the lunch rush with frequent rehearsals and weekly gigs, locally and in Cleveland and Michigan. Any spare time is devoted to perfecting their songwriting, which Oval Opus stresses is a cooperative process.
While lead singer Aaron Patrick usually takes charge in the lyrical department, songs are a result of the entire band's input. Whether they start with a guitar hook by Josh Edmonson, a drumming sequence by his older brother, Dan, or a bass line from Amos Heller, songs are first brought to the table for everyone's opinion.
"We don't move forward with a song until we're all happy," they insist.
So what's the product of all this collaboration? "We end up with something that's a little of all of us," says Patrick. This evidently includes his own Gospel and Folk roots, the Edmonson brother's experience in Jazz and Blues, and Heller's undying affinity for old Heavy Metal.
With many different musical backgrounds and no single decision-maker, one would think agreement would be difficult to come by. But not according to Oval Opus.
"We all pull from different areas," explains Heller. "I'm excited to do the next album already, because of the diversity. It's really fun writing with these guys. When we get something that's really good, we all like it. We all trust each other."
The younger Edmonson agrees. "Everyone's pretty much on the same page," he says.
Oxygen, the result of a long, 14-month effort, provides strong evidence of the band's persistence and devotion to each other and their music. "We started in August of last year and scratched it all in December," says Patrick. Under the direction of a seasoned producer, Chris Estes, Oval Opus was able to create a more marketable album without radically changing their approach.
"Chris helped us find our niche and reevaluate what we wanted to do," elaborates Patrick.
Although Oval Opus committed to a definite Pop feel for the new CD, the band maintains its usual diversity between songs. "Walk Away" and "Dixie Queen" feature a Country leaning, while the opening track, "What About Tomorrow?" is an instrumentally strong, straightforward Modern Rock song with a lot of depth, easily the most effective on the disc. The soft ballad "Don't Love Me Anymore" brings 'N Sync to mind, but fortunately it retains a stronger sense of musicality and originality than the typical "boy band" product. Ironically, the hidden track at the end of the CD best reveals the band's wide variety of vocal influences from heartfelt Gospel to silly, lyrical stylings akin to Barenaked Ladies.
Oval Opus, always conscious of the possibility of crossing the line between originality and marketability, admits to purposely creating a radio-friendly album, but adamantly defends their position.
"Pop does mean popular," recognizes the younger Edmonson, "but we wanted something different."
"We're not selling out," reinforces Patrick. "It's still us. It's not a full departure, just a change of season."
"It was a pretty serious change for us," allows Heller. "But it's also made us much more savvy as writers and businessmen."
The most refreshing thing about Oval Opus is their honesty and their realism about what it takes to make it big in today's music industry.
"We wanted to do a professional, national CD," asserts Heller. "We want people to come see us and say, 'These guys are local, and they shouldn't be.' "
The band is marketing its album as much as humanly possible, even resorting to handwritten announcements in sidewalk chalk on the University of Cincinnati campus.
"We're not allowing ourselves to fail," says Heller.
"If you want to get to a certain level, you always need to be one step ahead," explains the elder Edmonson. "That's what we're trying to do."
But no matter what their goals, Oval Opus never loses sight of the main reason they play: their love of music. Expect no stage fright from these guys; they live to play in front of an audience. The band is committed to making the live performance a major production, a special show, while having as much fun as possible.
"The energy given off is definitely given back," explains Patrick.
"You'll definitely have a good time, no matter who you are," assures Heller.
OVAL OPUS will host their CD release party Friday, Dec. 15 at Bogart's, with openers Austin Speigel, the Mike Farley Band, and Promenade.