Interview with vocalist Ape De Martini and drummer Mark Ruffneck
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 19, 2012
Photos by Terhi Pihlaja
Back in the early 80's there weren't many bands coming from Finland that had chosen to perform their stuff with heavy enough hands. Hard Rock/Heavy Metal bands such as Zero Nine, Riff Raff, Sarcofagus, Iron Cross and so on, were more or less recognized Finnish acts back then but, in my opinion, at the very top of the list was OZ, whose second album, Fire in the Brain, is considered one of the most classic NWOBHM sounding Heavy Metal albums of all times. Just ask anyone who knows his/her good Metal music.
OZ relocated to Sweden in 1983 because their uncompromising, violent Heavy Metal sound wasn't understood in their homeland where the music business, especially for Metal music, was basically non-existent. After recording their landmark album Fire in the Brain, OZ recorded three more albums and one EP, from 1984-91, then disbanded for more than 20 years.
In February 2010 the band reunited and their comeback album, Burning Leather, featuring both re-recordings of their better known classic songs as well as new material, hit the streets. It has caused some welcome fuss around this "Scandinavian-ized," originally Finnish, Heavy Metal band.
OZ was booked to play the Porispere festival on August 4th, allowing the band to return to their doorstep, Pori. At Porispere, they played one hell of a nostalgic set (i.e. such songs as "Gambler", "Search Lights", "Fire in the Brain", "Turn the Cross Upside Down", etc. - some true OZ classics. You really cannot look down on a set list like that, can you?). The band seemed to enjoy being back in the limelight again as did the incredibly supportive crowd.
I caught up with OZ's vocalist, Ape De Martini, and drummer, Mark Ruffneck, right after the show and I can assure you the following interview offers you more just the basic facts about these Finnish old school Heavy Metal heroes. Now get yourself seated comfortably in front of your computer because it may well be after midnight before you have fought your way to the final two lines of this marathon-like interview. I, for one, am amazed by the fact I made it through to the final chalk lines of this long conversation with the only Finnish members left from the band's original lineup.
They say so-called motormouths exist? I guess they do, indeed, as has been proved by this interview...
Luxi: First of all, thanks for your well-done gig tonight. How well did it go from your point of view?
Ape: It went well, I think. The only bad thing is that I couldn't hear my vocals in the first half of the set, but then it got better after a while...
Mark: It was a good show from us – just like the others we have done so far since we decided to put OZ back together. The crowd was great, too.
Luxi: I noticed that you have mainly done these festival shows since the reunion. Has it surprised you how both old as well as new OZ fans have welcomed you back, keeping in mind the tiny fact that you have been away from the scene for 20 long years or so?
Ape: Yes and no. The old fans have always been there for us, which is nothing but great, really. Then on the other hand, we have got these new faces in our crowd, which is kind of overwhelming to think how on earth they have found us. They even sing our songs in our gigs, knowing all the words and stuff, you know. In that sense, it's simply amazing and just like you said, it is all even more amazing to realize this because it's been such a long gap since we played together as OZ.
Mark: It's been indeed kind of amazing how well people have welcomed us back, just like this gig proved. If we go back to the very beginning of how this idea about OZ's reunion got started, I asked Jay C. Blade (bass and vocals) what he would think if we gave OZ a second chance and started playing gigs again. He thought about my idea for a pretty long time until he warmed up to it. Then one thing led to another. After a while I suggested to him that we should try to write new stuff for OZ again. I hadn't been in contact with him for more than 20 years but for some strange reason there was a perfect chemistry between the two of us after these discussions, which felt great, of course. Then things got a bit further and we decided to ask whether our vocalist Ape would be interested in joining us. The rest is history and here we are. Also, I have to say that when this idea about getting OZ back together first occurred in my mind, I wasn't thinking at all whether our comeback would cause any kind of stir among the Metal fans, not at all. I simply had no idea about anything in the music biz as to whether OZ's comeback would be worth anything or not. It was more like my kind of drunken idea just seemed to be evolving from one step to another, further and further all the time. In reality, OZ's reunion was not any type of tactical move from us or anything. If someone is thinking we are just trying to fetch some extra money by a calculated comeback of the band, I can say that's not what we were thinking of at all when we ultimately made this decision to resurrect OZ.
Luxi: Happily, Metal fans are known to be very loyal people toward the bands they like...
Mark: Indeed. It felt absolutely amazing when we played a gig in Germany, for example. The audience was singing so loud that we felt like we could not hear ourselves on the stage. That was so amazing. There were surely a bunch of people in the crowd that weren't even born when we started this band back in the day. In 1991 I told to our vocalist Ape "we should take a little break from OZ..." That break turned out to be more than 20 years, ha-ha!!
Luxi: Since the reunion, where you have had your best response so far?
Ape: I must say in Germany. Metalheads are really crazy and fanatical over there. As Mark just said earlier, at the point when the crowd starts singing "Turning the Cross Upside Down" louder than I am capable of singing in to my microphone, or hearing my voice from the monitors, then I just give up and start clapping and waving my hands together as they do all the singing for me. It's a pretty wild feeling altogether, I can tell you.
Luxi: I can only imagine. I also noticed it at your show today that there were some people in the audience that were shouting "Turn the Cross Upside Down" constantly during your set – and then they got what they were asking for when you finally played it for them.
Ape: It's funny that when we did "Turn the Cross Upside Down", some people thought that OZ was somehow a satanic band, which we were not. We did it, we did it as a joke. But what happened, the idea behind this song was commonly understood in a very different way, kind of stamping OZ as a satanic band, which was our fault in the end, I guess. Over time, however, people have realized that the song was made for the joke, though, and from then on it's been a part of our set list. It's always lots of fun to play that song for the crowd.
Luxi: Since the reunion, you played one of your gigs at one club in Stockholm, Sweden and at the end of your set, Messiah Marcolin (ex- Candlemass, ex-Memento Mori, etc.), joined you on the stage. He sang both "Black Night," by Deep Purple, and "Fire in the Brain" with you. Was this somehow pre-planned, and since when you have known Mr. Marcolin?
Mark: The idea behind this whole event was that we wanted to arrange a private party, a sort of an OZ Fest, and inviting all of our friends to come over for our gig. All the other bands have some true fans, but we in OZ have some true friends instead, he-he!! Hence, I thought it would be a nice idea to arrange some kind of special party where all the invited friends of ours would be warmly welcome. As we have been living in Stockholm for more than 30 years, since we moved from Finland, we have got to know many people over the years that have become our close friends, Messiah being one of them.
Ape: Yes, we have known him since the late 80's so, in fact, we have known him quite a long time.
Mark: When we moved to Stockholm at the end of eighties, we didn't know each other but eventually we became friends. He was an OZ fan and he told us that "Fire in the Brain" is one of the best Metal songs, in his opinion. Of course it was very flattering to hear a compliment like that from him. We asked Messiah whether he could be interested in singing "Fire in the Brain" with us at the OZ Fest and he was in right away. We also did Deep Purple's "Black Night" at our private party, as that was the only song he still remembered the lyrics for. This private party was so much fun for all of us that we are actually planning to arrange a second edition. We'll see then when and where it will eventually take place.
Luxi: Have you had any guest musicians on stage before?
Ape: As far as I can remember, no we haven't.
Mark: No, but we have had some discussions that if there's someone among the audience who'd like to climb on the stage and sing or play one of our songs with us, then anyone is welcome. We are not so narrow-minded people that we wouldn't allow that to happen. Even you are welcome if you can play or know the words for one of our songs.
Luxi: Apparently when you played Purple's "Black Night" at your private show in Stockholm in this February, it was the very first time you guys played that song? Just feel free to correct me if I am wrong...
Ape: Yes, that was our very first time covering that song that night, and we simply had no idea how to play it. A man my age should know how to play the song even if you'd never had played that song before, ha-ha!!
Mark: I agree with Ape. Every musician our age should know how to play "Black Night" properly. If you don't, then you have chosen a wrong career for yourself. Just quit and find a new profession for yourself, ha-ha!!
Luxi: (*laughs*) I guess Messiah Marcolin somehow knew in advance that if the OZ guys cannot play "Black Night" as cover, besides Deep Purple, of course, then nobody can...
Mark: We were like "Sure Messiah... let's go for it. We have played 'Black Night' like hundreds of times before, so it's nothing but a piece of cake for us to perform it with you", which was total bullshit on our part, telling Messiah how we used to play "Black Night" at our gigs. Glad he didn't notice it at all. The song went pretty darn well, I think.
Luxi: If Messiah had only known better...
Mark: He told us he didn't have time to learn the words for "Turn the Cross Upside Down" so we agreed that he would do both "Fire" and "Black". Our vocalist Ape doesn't feel awkward a bit if somebody else joins him on the stage and starts singing a song with him. In fact, it makes his job easier if he doesn't have to sing all the songs alone. On the other hand, if someone has the guts to suggest he/she could replace me on drums for one song, then I would just say "welcome – go ahead!" I could even step aside from behind the drum kit for the whole concert, join the crowd and give my thumbs up from the crowd for my casual replacement behind my kit, no problem at all, ha-ha!! A bit more seriously again, I must say Messiah is a really nice guy as a person, totally professional and just an awesome fellow, all in all.
Ape: Mark just couldn't be more right about his comment regarding Messiah. He's an amazing fellow in every possible sense.
Luxi: As we were talking before this interview session, this is your last gig until... ahem, your next gig?
Mark: Ha-ha... you are so correct; this truly is our last gig until our next gig. I remember when we packed our things and moved permanently to live our lives in Sweden in the late eighties. There's a Swedish super-star living in Stockholm named Ulf Lundell who cancelled one of his gigs. Then he explained the reasons behind this cancelled gig by saying, kind of like the Swedish style, "A cancelled gig can also be counted on as a gig – cancelled or not." Like saying "I did a tour in the early eighties with 70 dates on it but only did 34 of them and the rest was cancelled," you get my point? Moving back to OZ though, in my opinion we should have done more gigs during this summer but, unfortunately, I have noticed that this whole music business hasn't changed much for the better since we were doing gigs in the 80's. Back in those days we were in some sort of 'stand-by' position, ready for gig offers and playing as much around as possible. Many gig organizers approached us and acted overly friendly towards us and the same déjà vu phenomenon has happened to us ever since with people wanting to book us for gigs again. So strange things took place and eventually we had to turn some of these gig offers down because some of them were just weird and not that favorable for us. That's the main reason why we haven't played that many gigs during this summer even if we definitely would have wanted to play more. Right now the plan is to start songwriting again and hopefully we will be able to get some new OZ songs done during this winter, plus perhaps even do a few one-off gigs here and there 'coz that's what we enjoy doing; Performing on the stage in front of loyal OZ fans. What could be any cooler than that? I just love playing live.
Luxi: By the way, can you still remember the exact date when you got this brilliant idea for OZ's reunion plans?
Mark: It was the Midsummer Eve, 2009, when this idea flashed in my mind; to say "the force was with me" got me really working for the reunion of this band and from then on some cool things have been happening for us, which I am grateful for.
Luxi: Burning Leather, OZ's 6th studio album, in order, could be considered the first fruit from all the crazy ideas you may have had in your mind when you started collecting your troops back together again. Did you have second thoughts at any point, like being a bit skeptical as to whether Metal fans would still remember the band and start coming to your gigs?
Mark: Not at all. To be honest my only slight fear was whether I still knew how to play drums. I practiced hard with my drums, trying to remember all the beats, rhythms, fills, etc. for our old songs, and just then realized that I am still that very same guy who played on our previous albums. It wasn't easy from the start as I hadn't touched my drums after we broke up in 1991. Ape had had some other activities that had made it possible for him to use his vocals, so that wasn't any problem. Our bassist, Jay C. Blade, joined a Finnish Pop band (called Yö) after his New York trip. He had been with them for 11 years now, so his skills with a 4-stringer were unquestionable. I asked Jay if he had some ideas for a possible new version of OZ and he told me that he had his own studio nowadays where he has recorded some songs on his own. Then he played some of his songs to me and I was absolutely amazed by them. Jay is a true songwriter, so I was happy I got him back to do some new songs for OZ. As for Burning Leather, we made it primarily for ourselves without thinking too much at all whether people would like it or not, or whether people would come to see us at our gigs or not. We are of course very thankful that we made the right decision and got OZ back on its feet again.
Luxi: Burning Leather had 6 new OZ songs, along with 5 re-recorded classics, and as a whole, it was what OZ is all about; straight, uncompromising, honest and catchy Heavy Metal, following that old recipe that you have had with you since the beginning of the band. Now, when the time comes to record a follow-up for Burning Leather, I guess only an idiot would change that recipe to something else...
Mark: We are what we are. I have to say that our musical spectrum is wide, and we would be able to do almost any kind of music with the recording line-up that we have. I think Nicke Andersson, who produced our comeback album Burning Leather, put it into words the best way when describing us. He said to us; "You are just what you are. And, most importantly, you guys have some history supporting you, and it's one hell of a history. If you want to do something else music-wise, then don't use OZ's name to ruin your legacy." Amen to that. But yes, I do agree, we have our own thing, our own sound and style that makes OZ what it is. There's not much sense to change that recipe, as you put it yourself. If you are looking back, and listen to our old records, you can recognize that familiar OZ sound from all of them. But I would still say all of our albums sound slightly different when comparing them to each other. I may be repeating myself but OZ is what it truly is, so people don't have to be afraid that we would make some radical changes regarding our sound. If we did, then we certainly would do it under some name other than OZ.
Luxi: Burning Leather was released on the German label AFM Records. Supposedly your next release will also come out via this label, but would you say that you are completely happy with all the support and promotion that they have done for OZ thus far, or are there some things that they could do better for you?
Mark: All in all, we are happy how they have treated us thus far. However, I think I am not the best guy to ask whether they could do some things better for us because I neither have much interest nor idea what's going on in today's music business. I have been such a long time away from anything that is somehow related to this biz, you know. I know that OZ is not the only band on their roster. They have so many other bands on the same label as well but I understand they have done lots of promotion, for which we are, of course, grateful to the label staff. As some sort of reference, I once remember saying this as a joke; "There's no way Udo (Dirkschneider) can be wrong." Udo has been one of their top artist for years so obviously AFM Records is doing some things right there for the bands on their roster. In fact, I travelled to Hamburg to meet one of the representatives from AFM Records and, according to what we agreed about with respect to things that are related to OZ, I can say, without hesitation, that we should be in good hands. It's, of course, sad that record sales have radically gone down globally over the years due to this downloading thing and so on. I still believe true Metal fans want to hold the real thing in their hands, with the lyrics and album cover artwork, more than just getting satisfied with free downloads straight from the Internet. Therefore I have also got some faith in our label. I believe when we get a mastered version ready for our next release, and hand it over to AFM Records, they won't be disappointed.
Luxi: What things do you think AFM Records could do better for you? Is there anything that, if they improved a little bit, your respect for them would grow to a higher level?
Mark: Of course things could always be done better. You can never be 100% satisfied because the fact is people tend to drive for perfection all the time, you know. Like I said earlier, so far AFM Records has treated us really well. When Ape, Jay and me got our collective minds together for this OZ reunion, we didn't have any idea what to expect from anything but just started doing new material for OZ. It was sort of our own "after-burner" type of thing and I honestly think that this specific chemistry that connects the three of us, after doing music and being close friends with each other for more than 25 years, made it all possible for us. When we started jamming and doing music together again, we thought if this OZ reunion thing was not meant to go anywhere or wasn't of interest to anyone, then we would not give a flying fuck. At least we could do the kind of music we wanted to do for ourselves and that was all that really mattered to us in the very first place.
Luxi: What about guitarists Costello Hautamäki and Markku Petander? What's the story behind their involvement with Burning Leather?
Mark: When we first started our songwriting process with OZ, both of our guitarists, Costello Hautamäki and Markku Petander, wanted to be a part of the whole recording process of OZ's comeback record; from the actual rehearsal sessions all the way up to the studio sessions of Burning Leather. Jay C. Blade had known the guys personally for many years, so it was his idea to get both of them with us to record Burning Leather. I had met Costello a couple of times in person but never met Markku before. I had heard things about him that he was the most hideous person on the face of the Earth during the 80's. Who knows, maybe even my own dear lil' brother, acting like I did during my wild years of that golden decade, ha-ha!! After OZ split up, Jay moved to America and I wasn't in contact with him for years after that. Jay got years of musical experience during his absence from OZ. He played and made music with several other musicians and I can do nothing but admire him as the professional musician he has truly become over these years. He has changed quite a lot as person, too, for the better, I must say. He's more mature, more of everything really, and most certainly not from this planet, that's for sure. The past years have absolutely been good for him in my sincere opinion. Our whole chemistry is on a whole new different level nowadays than it ever was when we were doing OZ during the 80's.
Luxi: What about the three new faces in the OZ live line-up? Who are these somewhat young Swedish fellows that have been doing gigs with OZ since the Burning Leather album came out?
Mark: They were hired to play live with OZ because Costello told us he simply has no time to play live with us because he already had other commitments with his other band, Popeda (a highly popular Finnish Rock band that started out as a Punk band in 1977 – Luxi). It's very understandable that he couldn't stretch his time for playing live in OZ anymore. OZ is still a hobby for each of us more than anything else really. Then one unfortunate incident happened for our 2nd guitarist Markku. He broke his leg, leaving us in a situation where we didn't know what we should do as, all of sudden, both Costello and Markku were out of the game. We were counting on Markku's leg completely healing by the time when we would hit the road to do the Sweden Rock festival, Muscle Rock festival and some other festivals last summer. Well, it was just wishful thinking 'coz our wishes didn't come true. Also, Costello quit OZ quite soon after that. Then my good friend Tony Roy Taylor, who was a vocalist in a Swedish Heavy Metal band called Trash, told me he knows one guy who might be a candidate to join the OZ line-up. Michel Santunione was the name of this young Swedish guitar playing fellow, and actually his uncle, Franco Santunione, also plays guitar in this Swedish Funk Metal band called Electric Boys. Tony knew them all. So, Tony suggested Michel to us and we knew that we needed to find replacements soon for both Markku and Costello because we had just got the wheel rollin' for OZ. I remember we were in the middle of the actual recording sessions of Burning Leather when Costello stepped aside from the band. Now if you allow me to scroll my memory forward a bit, both Tony and I were going to see Glenn Hughes who performed at Cirkus, Stockholm, one night. We walked next to this mixing desk, which was located in this dark corner of the venue and within 10 seconds or so, Tony raised and pointed his finger toward one long-haired fellow, while at the same time saying to me: "Look Mark! There's the guy you are looking for OZ...". I gave him our 2-song promotional disc "Dominator", and asked him to check it out if he'd like to join OZ as a second guitarist. During those days Michel was also playing in that Queen musical in Norway and he will be traveling to Basel, Switzerland, in the fall of the year because he will be doing some shows there with this Queen musical thing again. Brian May presumably wants to keep him for good, ha-ha!!
Anyways, it was pure luck that Tony decided to suggest Michel to us. When we were in the studio and recording Burning Leather, without our guitarist Costello, I started talking to our 2nd guitarist Markku about Michel while we were having a lunch break, whether we should try him just to find out if he was the type of guitarist we were looking for. Then I just gave him a phone call and asked him to pick up his guitar and come over to the studio. He walks in the studio in no time, having his guitar box behind his back and I introduced Michel to our producer Nicke Andersson. They gave warm handshakes to each other, and after a few minutes I was telling him that we were in the middle of recording the Burning Leather album, and would badly need a solo or two for some of our songs on that record. He was like "alright, let's see what I could do for you." Just imagine; He came down to the studio in such a short notice and was ready to play this one solo just like that. I think that shows what an amazing attitude he has. He hadn't even heard the song which he was supposed to play a solo for. Nicke asked him if, perhaps, he wanted to hear the song a few times before he grabs his guitar and starts soloing. But no, he was ready to play it right off the bat. Markku, Jay and me were just watching him; a guitar in his hand and there he was playing this solo for "Enter Stadium" like he had already played the same solo millions of times before. Jay even said, "Why on earth can't I have a kid like that? He's just phenomenal." But indeed, Michel is a real guitar virtuoso and we are glad to have him as a part of OZ now. And we are also glad to have John Berg as a 2th Guitar Player on OZ and Johannes Sandberg as the stand in on stage for Jay C. Blade on bass.
Luxi: Talking about that particular song, "Enter Stadium", it's quite a different song compared to the others on Burning Leather. It is kind of a sing-a-long type of song that sounds like it was made to be played at bigger stadiums. What more there is that we should know about "Enter Stadium"?
Mark: It was me, actually, who came up with this idea for "Enter Stadium", to make it sound like it was made to be played in places like big stadiums. I think this song is a good example of how we can sometimes get some creative juices flowing whenever the whole band is in the right songwriting mood. I visualized this song in my head how there's going to be all kinds of people; people in wheelchairs, older people, younger people and so on, all at some big stadium. I have even thought that it would be cool to shoot a video for this song because I really like the idea behind "Enter Stadium." The idea is simple; everybody wants to enter that stadium. Just to be there and join the sing-a-long chorus part together with us, just to get this specific feeling to be a part of something bigger, you know. If the idea was mine, it was Jay who built up the song piece by piece in Tampere. I traveled from Stockholm to Tampere to hear the song for the first time. He asked my opinion about it and I thought this song is exactly how I wanted it to sound and even more. I played drums for the song, and we got it finished real quick, I think.
The whole point of this song is all about wanting to be together at that stadium. Just think about a little 14-year-old kid who plays football, for example. Which is that place where he wants to play football when he (or she) grows up? The answer is a stadium, of course! Who for example wants to play guitar in a basement for all his/her life? I guess nobody. They want to play their guitars at big stadiums someday. That's what everybody dreams of. Everyone's ultimate dream or goal is to have a chance to enter those big stadiums and be something. Like little kids that start playing hockey in their backyards. I am certain they don't want to play hockey there anymore when they grow up. Their goals get a bit higher than that, eventually: they want to become NHL stars and play at big sport stadiums in front of tens of thousands of people. But then again, for us as a band, it's not something that means the world to us if we only played at some big stadiums 'coz we can play either in small clubs or bigger festivals and get our kicks from them. It's funny that many people have mistakenly thought that we made this somewhat easily digested song, "Enter Stadium," because we wanted to get more mainstream acceptance, which wasn't the case at all. The song turned out the way it did because of this core idea behind it to reach something far greater that many of us dream about our entire lives. This is what this song is all about; having those dreams of being the center of attention at a big stadium someday.
Luxi: Let's travel 30-something years back in time if you don't mind. OZ originally comes from a little town called Nakkila, Finland, where you started the band back in 1977. If we talk about the very first OZ show ever, I am wondering if you still have some hazy recollections about that specific gig to share with us?
Mark: It happened at the community hall of Nakkila around 1978 or something like that. I remember that we had carefully planned that gig beforehand. Being the young new band that we were back in those days, it was very difficult for us to get that gig booked. We, of course, didn't get paid for that gig but instead got like 10-12 beers for playing. There were some people from some youth sport team that had arranged a disco for that place and they were truly a bunch of morons, some kind of a self-important group of people that basically decided which bands they allow to play there and which not. Somehow they still allowed us to play there that night. All of us were like 16-17 years old at that time which made me think I formed OZ sometime around in 1977. Back to our first gig though, I will tell you a funny story. Back at that time, we really didn't have any type of show at all. No pyros, bombs, lots of lights and so on since we had just started our band and got our first gig booked. However, being the young kids we were at that time, we wanted to look like big rock act even at the first gig. We were figuring out how we could get a really cool and impressive show. Gladly, some of us had some older friends doing their military service, so one of those guys brought us some smoking torches that they use in the Finnish army. These cans were naturally meant to be used outside but we didn't care about it one damn bit. When it was our time to go on stage, some of our friends had set fire to those cans on the stage and the smoke started spreading everywhere. The smoke was so thick and there was so much of it inside that eventually it became nearly impossible for the crowd, and us, to breathe. Where this all is leading is we played a show for an empty place, as nobody could stay and watch our show any longer due to these badly smoking cans or torches, whatever they may have been. Undoubtedly, it really looked like hell, yet cool and funny at the same time. We were given like 40 minutes to play our set but since nobody was there anymore, I think we played nearly 50 minutes. They even told us that because we played a longer set than was agreed, they would take a couple of beers away from us or something stupid like that. These are some of the reasons I will remember our first show forever. Since our first ever gig we did many other shows, some of them I remember better and some not at all. But the most memorable gig was of course our first show ever at the community hall of our home town, Nakkila.
Luxi: Finding past OZ releases as originals is kind of a tough job nowadays especially the first 5 albums on vinyl. Hence I'd like to know if you have ever seriously discussed getting them re-released someday, maybe making a luxurious, hand-numbered box set that would include your first 5 albums and the Turn the Cross Upside Down EP?
Mark: That would be one heck of an idea but I am afraid that's something which is out of our hands. This one unnamed record company, whom we signed our recording contract with, with this one Mr. Börje Forsberg, he's nothing but a true asshole. Due to this, I don't think these types of plans will ever be possible for us at any level, unfortunately. As I see it, I could probably be in the very same room with him nowadays, but some years ago, I would be the only one leaving if both of us shared the same room. I would have probably killed that motherfucker and went to jail. This is how much I love that guy, seriously, you know. He has ripped us off so bad over the years, probably even paying for his own house with the money that he still owes to us. When we made this contract with him, we were so young and naive that we didn't know what kind of contract was offered for us. Now looking back, of course, we are wiser and more careful with what we do with OZ. We don't want to get ripped off like that anymore. I also happen know that people are constantly asking us where they can find our early releases. Unfortunately I don't have much of advice to give them. After this major rip-off I don't think we will start discussing anything with him any time soon, if ever at all. I also have to mention in here that one of the reasons why we decided to re-record some of our old classic OZ songs for the Burning Leather album, is the fact it's very hard come across any of our earlier releases these days. At least the OZ fans are now able to get something from our old days.
Luxi: It was my understanding that your debut album, which came out with 2 different titles (The OZ and Heavy Metal Heroes), were not part of your deal with Tyfon Grammofon that went badly wrong.
Mark: Actually you are wrong about this as they, in fact, also belong to that stupid deal that we made with Mr. Forsberg, despite these records coming out through different labels. Before our debut album was released we did some demos tapes for it, and sent it to some record companies in Finland around 1979-80. Back in those days there were 3 or 4 potential record labels in Finland, so we tried to get a deal done with them. The sad thing was, nobody understood our type of style at that time, turning us down completely. After failing in Finland, we focused on the Swedish music market. We already had some good contacts to Sweden, so we tried our luck with some of those Swedish companies. The only downside was, it was Börje Forsberg who snapped us up for his label (Tyfon Grammofon, which later became Black Mark Records). We should have known better. Anyways, he released our first album in Sweden, under the Heavy Metal Heroes title, and made a license deal for it with a Finnish label called Finnlevy. The album came out in Finland under Finnlevy's sub-label Kräk!, and the album title was changed to The Oz. It came out with a different album cover in Finland. Mr. Forsberg also ruthlessly ripped off Finnlevy with the license deal that he made with them, by keeping all the royalties himself. He became a greedy asshole who didn't care about anything else except himself and making money at the expense of other people. That was his strategy and, sadly, it seemed to work. After we moved to Sweden and signed this unfortunate deal to Börje's label and said "fuck off!" to our home country basically because nobody was interested in OZ in Finland back in those days, I am sure Börje got the widest grin on his face as he realized OZ would be his property from then on. He got control for our debut album in the Finnish music markets too, although the licensed version of our debut record didn't sell as much as he was obviously hoping for. That was good for this low-life prick.
Luxi: How was life in Sweden, in general, when you decided to move there from Finland and started to "Swede-nize" OZ's career, hoping for better results, success-wise?
Mark: When our debut was released both in Sweden and in Finland, ironically we got an opportunity to perform on Finnish TV. Before we entered the studio to record our 2nd album, Fire in the Brain, our guitarist Kari Elo and bassist Tauno Vajavaara left the band. Their positions were taken by guitarists Speedy Foxx and Spooky Wolf and bassist Jay C. Blade. The album got recorded at Elektra Studio in Stockholm, Sweden, and we were really happy about it, firmly believing that we made the best move of our lives when we relocated OZ from Finland to Sweden. We really didn't care for anything else but doing new songs and getting some records out. We were probably just thinking that it's great to have a label behind us that is finally releasing OZ albums and that's all we cared about, I really don't know.
Luxi: You also decided to cover one of Abba's biggest hits ever, "Money, Money, Money." Ahem, that's kind of an interesting cover song choice for OZ, to say the least...
Mark: Yes, indeed it is. We made a cover version for it sometime around in 1990, as far as I can remember, just before we recorded out 5th album, Roll the Dice, the last OZ album before we called it quits. At that time we played at some Rock club in Stockholm when we got this idea of covering "Money, Money, Money" by Abba. I think this was again one of those crazy ideas that we had in our mind back then and of course we wanted to do something as crazy as make our own cover version for this song. I think some Swedish music people thought that we are out of our minds or something when we grabbed this idea and just went for it. As I have been living in Sweden for more than 30 years, I know for a fact that they sometimes think Finnish people are actually kind of crazy. They don't necessarily know if some things that we do are meant for jokes only and not to be taken that seriously at all. So, whenever I open my mouth with them, I say that the next story that I am going to tell you is just a joke, so take it as a joke. This has nothing to do with reality, got it? Also, after I have told this joke to some Swedish people, I repeat myself and remind them that it was only a joke, just to make sure they got it right, ha-ha!! So, yeah, that aforementioned Abba song was only done for a kind of joke, that's about it. Damn, I think I should take a piss now. Or I can piss on my pants, if that doesn't disturb you too much?
Luxi: Ha-ha... please don't do that. Let's have a pee break instead.
Mark: Nah, let's continue this interview instead. I still can hold my pee for a while. To continue where I left off just 30 seconds ago, that Abba cover "Money, Money, Money" was meant just for a joke and nothing else. We had moved from this poor wasteland called Finland to Sweden to become rock stars there, but instead of that we found ourselves doing all kinds of shitty jobs in Stockholm, just trying somehow to make our living and to keep OZ alive. Gladly we are blessed by a good sense of humor, at least that's what I think, and like a thunderbolt from out of sky, we get this idiotic idea to make a cover version of one of Abba's biggest hit songs, "Money, Money, Money". At that time, having been doing all kinds of shitty jobs in Sweden, we felt like it was fun to do this cover. Some got the joke but some didn't. Our vocalist Ape has once said that we have always been lousy at making the right decisions and using the right tactics, which is a statement to which I can also fully subscribe. We have never understood that we should do things this or that way. We really haven't had any eye for any business related things that would benefit OZ.
Nowadays we are more relaxed about these types of things; what is about to come to us, comes eventually. So fuck business tactics, or whatever they are that would enable us to make some profit with this band. We do things our way, without giving a shit whether that's the best way to do things. If we changed that method, we would start kissing other people's asses, because OZ is OZ. We are what we are and nobody can tell us what we should do in order to be a more profitable band. We don't want to be considered as a band that follows all the current trends just to bring in more money for labels. Also, I want to still mention one thing about this cover song of Abba's "Money, Money, Money", which probably got its most powerful kick-start in our heads when we were under the influence of alcohol, I believe. To be honest, it was also quite a challenge for us to make it sound right. The original version has so much keyboard sound in it, which we had to replace by guitars. To make it sound as identical to the original version as possible wasn't that easy to do as one could expect, but we got it done alright, in my opinion. To say, sarcastically, we wanted that song to be our sort of statement to the whole world that we need money, money and more money for ourselves because at one point we realized that we didn't have any. We were all totally broke and our label, at that time, didn't help our situation that much either, as it has become very clear during this very interview. As for the video that was also made for our version of that Abba cover, some people who have seen it have said that Ape sounds quite different vocally in that video. The reason for that is there are no effects used on his voice. I can tell you that Ape's voice, without any effects, is raw as hell and at times even horribly annoying to tell the truth. He has an indescribable high-pitched and loud tone in his voice that isn't that beautiful to listen to. Hence, his voice needs to be softened a bit by mixing, otherwise his raw voice simply pierces ruthlessly through your head, and that doesn't feel so great, I can tell you.
Luxi: When OZ decided to go on hiatus in 1991, did you lose your interest for all those things that were, even marginally, related to the (Metal) music scene, or were you still there and sort of checking what's going on in these circles?
Mark: I have an easy answer to this question: When we recorded our 5th album, Roll the Dice, we did some gigs in Estonia and were supposed to do a tour in Finland. As far as I can recall, at some point our guitar player told us that he had had enough, so he decided to step away from the line-up. After this I went through some frustrating discussions with our vocalist Ape, telling him that I have no interest or energy to start searching for new replacements. Back in 1991, there simply weren't any good guitar players to be found in Stockholm, not the kind of guy that we were looking for OZ, anyway. In between 1987-91, we tried to go through dozens of guitarist candidates to complete the OZ line-up, but without any luck on our side. Many of these our guitarist candidates were, in fact, very good at handling their 6-strings, looking like they could get any girl they wanted. But the problem for us was, when we invited them to come to our rehearsals and play with us, we unfortunately noticed relatively soon that they weren't the guys we were looking for, because they couldn't stay in the right rhythm with the OZ songs. A normal situation went like when they were playing a solo, and tried to end it, all of sudden they couldn't get back to the rhythm anymore. I don't know why. That was the biggest headache for us when we were looking for that right guy to join OZ.
As things failed to develop during those days and, after banging our heads on the wall long enough, eventually I told our vocalist that we should put OZ on ice for the time being. He agreed, and we decided to have this sort of (creative) break, which then seemed to go on and on and on. We never told each other that we would bury OZ for good; we just never did that but I am sure it looked like it. Eventually the break turned out to be over 20 years for us, ha-ha!! After we made this decision to break in 1991, I stored my drums in my garage for about a year and I started thinking that I wouldn't play music ever again so I sold them. Then I sort of panicked and decided to go back to university for several years. I graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy in biophysics. I went to live in Germany where I worked for 2 years as research professor and pretty much traveled around the world, due to my work. During those years of total absence from the music scene, I didn't have any interest in music at all. I took this all very personally because I felt like I was the father of our decision to relocate OZ from Finland to Sweden. All the band-related matters and decisions went through me first, so OZ was more than just a band to me. After we put OZ on ice in 1991, and me not touching to my drums for a year or so, I didn't even listen to any music on the radio for about 5 years, to be honest with you. I started OZ in 1977, so OZ felt like my first-born baby. If your own dear child dies, you surely aren't too keen on following what other people's kids are up to, you know what I am saying here? I didn't care whether OZ albums were being sold, how much they are being sold for, and so on. I just had no idea or interest for that at all. Even if I used the Internet on daily basis due to my work during those days, I simply wasn't interested in any OZ related things that the Internet is surely full of. My philosophy at that time was, if I close one chapter in a book, then that chapter is meant to be kept closed forever, you know. I find it kind of odd that I decided to open those once sealed pages at my later age.
I opened the book in 2009 when I came in to contact with Jay C. Blade after such a long time. He sent me his solo album to check out. For this, we can also thank Carlsberg, "probably the best beer in the world", as well as Nokia, "connecting people", as it was this combination that enabled Jay and me to find each other, after not keeping in touch for years. Now, when I think back on this, I am happy for the fact that we are working together again in OZ. The chemistry between the two of us is on the same level as it was in our best days. If we lose this connection or chemistry someday in the future, then I am certain it will mean the final very chapter, sort of the last deathblow, for OZ.
Luxi: Now that a new chapter in this OZ book has been started and new pages are open and readable, has it surprised you how this new generation of OZ fans have found you and that they like what you are doing in 2012?
Mark: Of course it surprises me when, every now and then, some young Metal fans tell us how much they like our band and so on. It's just amazing because some of them weren't even born when we did the Roll the Dice album back in 1991. What amazes me even more some of these young OZ fans keep on telling us that Fire in the Brain, our 2nd album, is the best Metal album ever made in the whole world for them, which is of course very flattering to hear. Like at our gig this evening, for example, there were many young-looking people in the crowd that obviously weren't even born when we recorded the Roll the Dice album. It feels amazing that these young people find your band after many years, especially when the band was unceremoniously buried the first time. People have to know that our comeback wasn't, in some way, a calculated move on our part at all. It just happened very spontaneously, without thinking whether or not the comeback would get any wind under its old wings. Therefore, we don't dream about making shitloads of money with OZ, or set big goals ahead of this band but simply try to do this as long as it feels good, or just feels right to do new music with OZ again. What is meant to happen to us will happen eventually, I believe.
Luxi: OZ's second album, Fire in the Brain, is considered to be the best OZ album ever. I don't doubt this at all because it is loaded with many classic OZ songs: "Search Lights", "Gambler", "Fire in the Brain", "Black Candles", etc.. What's your own sincere opinion about that classic OZ record?
Mark: When we recorded Fire in the Brain in 1983, naturally we didn't think too much about whether people would like it or not. We were, of course, happy with the songs on it, and were hoping that it would be well received by the fans. We were probably like many other young bands at that time; doing our best, playing as many gigs as possible and focused on becoming rock stars and earning ridiculous amounts of money doing this. We of course didn't have any idea back in those days that Fire in the Brain was destined to become that most classic OZ album that people would still talk about. Doing gigs, even if we didn't do them enough during the 80's, I think, was that thing for us that kept us alive. Going to a recording studio to record an album, was just a secondary thing for us, sort of 'necessary evil' that needed to be done. Nowadays it's a whole different thing. It is a real pleasure to enter the studio and to get your album done in there. Back in the day we always had a real tight recording budget. Most often we had to do the whole album within 2 weeks and that was tough. Therefore we hated being in the studio because the recording schedule was so tight. It always was painful to stick to those deadlines, you know.
But yeah, Fire in the Brain caught a lot of attention since it was released. As you said, it has become the most known, classic OZ album ever. This reminds me, just go to YouTube to see this one commercial from 1985, made by Combat Records. That commercial was done for the Ultimate Revenge video and there's this one clip in that commercial that mentions a couple of OZ albums: Fire in the Brain and III Warning that were. Combat Records decided to do this commercial to promote their bands just a bit more, plus promote OZ's undone US tour together with Venom and Slayer at that time. Tickets for this tour were already printed and everything was set for it and ready to roll over America. We, however, were in Stockholm, sitting on a balcony and reading from a newspaper that "Finnish Heavy Metal band OZ, living in Stockholm, Sweden nowadays, is about to start their US/Canada tour together with Venom and Slayer. The first gig will take place at Studio 54 in New York". Studio 54, which was a night club, used to be one of the most famous places in the whole world back in those days, and OZ should have played there together with the headlining act Venom. Both OZ and Slayer were supporting them on that tour. However, about a week before the tour was about to start, our American manager hung up the phone with us, and that was the end of this unfortunate story. If we were in a similar kind of situation today, I think we would jump into our own private plane (if we had one), and fly over there to do a tour with them. Back then we were just sitting there and looking stupid in Stockholm, sort of waiting things to happen for us, and accepting our own destiny, which was reading that kind of news in some local newspaper. Ironic? You bet it is. I also have to mention this when we got the Fire in the Brain record out; I heard a story that the Metallica guys were sitting on their tour bus and listening to OZ's Fire in the Brain album and sort of praising it to each other what a good fuckin' record it was.
Luxi: Uh, such amazing and great stories indeed from those days. Also, you can find one of these vintage concert tickets on the Internet, With Venom, Oz and Slayer printed on it. This concert ticket was for your show at the Hollywood Palladium, Los Angels on April 19th, 1985.
Mark: You can only imagine how I have must felt realizing those shows never happened for OZ. Whenever I see that particular concert ticket, I feel like squeezing my fist but try to stay as calm as possible, ha-ha!! Damn, if we just had had a better manager back in those days, I think OZ would well have done that ultimate tour for sure...
Luxi: What about your plans for next year? Perhaps sorting out some unfinished business together with both Venom and Slayer in the States...?
Mark: Ha-ha-ha... now that would be something really cool to do. To be more realistic with you, we are planning to record some new stuff this winter and also play some gigs, possibly. Also, as I told you earlier already, our guitarist Michel Santunione will be involved with this Queen musical from which he'll probably earn a sack-full of money for himself. One of Michel's team has been doing this production in England and the other half in Germany and, from what I have heard from Michel himself, he'll be there for 4 months, doing this Queen musical. Also, there's been some talk about a possible gig at one festival in Chicago but if that's going to happen for us, then we may even try to get some other shows booked for us over there as well, not just this one-off gig. Anyways, things are still at very early stages, so it would be better if I didn't say much about this yet, if you don't mind. At this age and time, you have learnt to respect serious gigs offers and it's easy to fly to different places for gigs if all the expenses are being taken care of for us. We love playing for people so, if someone wants to see OZ playing live, book us for gigs. It's as simple as that, really. The OZ line-up that we have these days is determined to play gigs and all the gigs we have done, thus far, have gone just great, I can tell you. Back in the old days I was thinking that the core of the band, our vocalist Ape, me on drums and Jay on bass, who made most of the songs for us, could not be replaced but others were. If I look at the line-up that we have nowadays, my thoughts about it have changed quite a bit because I think one cannot do without the other. I could even say that we have 100% perfect chemistry going on in the OZ line-up of 2012. I want to keep this line-up forever, if that's possible, or am I sounding completely crazy with my thoughts now?
Luxi: Not at all, and I can understand your point about OZ's new line-up, having seen you guys play a couple of times this year. Your crowd is truly digging the band and naturally, for some of these older guys in the audience, seeing OZ playing live again after many years of absence may be a pretty nostalgic experience, after all. It's your music that truly does all the talking...
Mark: Indeed. However, even as we offer, or create, those nostalgic moments for our fans, we are pushing forward and creating new OZ stuff the best we can. As for the gigs we have done thus far, honestly, I think we haven't rehearsed much for them. We are just trying do things kind of spontaneously and that's what really amazes me about this new line-up. It is like all this vibe and desire to get things done with OZ comes straight from everyone's spine so effortlessly, that it allows us to make certain things happen. We don't have the biggest crew with us doing a massive stage shows for us with pyro effects, bombs and shit but apparently, like you already said, it's our music that seems to be doing all the talking. That feels great, of course!
Luxi: Talking about life after Burning Leather, what's next from the OZ camp, new stuff-wise? How do things stand for this new OZ stuff at the moment? Have you already some ideas ready for them; like half-finished songs, riffs and shit like that?
Mark: Jay has some riffs and stuff written for 3 or 4 new songs, and that's all we have at the moment. Jay wrote those as-yet-unfinished OZ tracks after the recording sessions for Burning Leather, and I have to believe he has more stuff for the next OZ release by now. That guy seems to be in a constant songwriting mood. He's like that horn of plenty that is presented in the Donald Duck cartoon; churning out lots of material whenever he's in that mood to write new stuff again. He's got his own studio and all that, so it makes it relatively easy for him to be that productive guy. Of course the rest of us, our vocalist, guitarists and me, try to contribute to the songwriting process with our own ideas as well, because songwriting is a collective thing to do and everyone is free to contribute the best they can. At the end of the day, it is all about making new music together with the whole band, right?
Nicke Andersson told us, when we produced our last album, Burning Leather, that some magic starts to happen every time we gather to play together, that we have a certain OZ sound and we should keep it the way it is. We told him that he doesn't have to worry about that at all because there's no way we would use keyboards or add choirs or whatever 'coz it would not sound like OZ any more. Also, our principle, in the songwriting process, has been the same since the very beginning of the band; we should be able to perform the songs exactly the same way live as they sound on our albums. In Japan, for example, the gig organizers always ask what percentage of your music comes out as playback when performing live and what percentage of it is played by the band. Nightwish is a good example of this, nowadays. They cannot perform all of their symphonic elements live; hence, a big part of their stuff comes straight from a CD. We don't want OZ to be a band like that. It's really important for us that if we do something in the studio environment, it also must sound similar in a live situation. Otherwise we would not only fool ourselves but our fans, too. Besides that, we have always tried to have our songs as close to ready as possible at our rehearsal place so that we don't have to start re-working them anymore once we have entered a recording studio. Weren't recording studios originally meant for recording and not for your band practices? I think so.
Luxi: The music business has changed quite a bit over the last 2 decades or so. The Internet has become an important and vital tool to the music business. It has made many things possible - both good as well as bad, for bands and the whole industry. For instance, bands get their stuff promoted more easily via the Internet, replacing tapes and CDs as tools of promotion. However, a major downside is the vast use of the Internet for free downloading, which seems to be highly popular especially among this new generation of kids. If something is not available for them completely for free, then it sucks for them because they are not ready to pay for anything, you know.
Mark: It sucks, big time, when these kids are not willing to pay for the music they want to listen to. In my opinion, anything that one is able to get absolutely for free cannot be THAT good, by any means. I mean, do you go to see a dentist who tells you that he/she fixes your teeth just for free? I don't think so. Do you reserve an appointment with a doctor who tells you that he/she can fix your leg for free, trying to convince you at the same time how professional he/she is at cutting your leg? Hell no. I wouldn't give my precious legs for that kind of operation. I think many of today's kids haven't quite realized it yet that quality is something that may cost you a little bit but you should be ready to pay for it. I have always been used to paying for quality and quality costs some money for us. I would never accept a free offer from any dentist who would tell me something like "let me install luxurious teeth for you, made of 24-carat gold - and all this absolutely for free."
So, these kids should open their eyes someday and realize that you pay for quality, and, if you don't, don't expect any quality. It's as simple as that, really. This whole free music downloading straight from the Internet is, however, something that cannot be wiped away completely. It is here to stay and there's not a strong enough cure available for that at the moment, I am afraid. I know that the film and music industry have been fighting against this the best they can, to protect their businesses against piracy and all that shit. Metaphorically speaking, it truly is tilting at windmills; there's not really much one can do about this. The point really is everybody in this business tries to cheat at something in the end. Look at the Pirate Bay that advertised themselves as a legal company. They were the cheaters of the worst kind, actually, and when they finally realized that for themselves, then this poor fuck raised the question, "aren't we still allowed some social support from our government?" Hey c'mon, what the fuck were they thinking!? You belong in jail for offering free downloads for the masses, at the cost of others.
People should really wake up and think a bit more that everything isn't available for free in their lives. If you are able to give something to someone, paying for their services, whatever, then you are also allowed to get something back from them. This is how it works and that's how the system works. As for a more positive note related to the Internet, by using it to get in touch with gig organizers for arranging shows around the world or simply promoting your band in so many other ways, that's something which has made things much easier for bands these days. These kinds of things were more of a pain-in-the-butt to accomplish in the 80's when there was no Internet.
Secondly, I believe that even if many people enjoy their music digitally nowadays, there still is a big bunch of people who want to get a physical copy from some album added to their own private collections. The Internet allows bands and labels to let their releases be available and enjoyed as streams from start to finish, usually within a week or so. If music consumers like something, they will gladly buy an album the official way, either digitally or in a physical format, which is great, naturally. However, having all of your music stored in your computer's hard drive may be risky business if it crashes some day (unless you remembered to store your previous music files somewhere else, too). Hence, if you prefer a physical copy of an album over a digitally downloaded album, you are always walking on stronger ice. Plus, there are always some labels out there that specialize in making something a bit more fancy looking and exclusive for the music listeners (special box sets, limited, hand-numbered vinyls, etc. etc.). It's hardly likely that you'll see any rare OZ vintage wine available at any fancy wine store some day because we are not big fans of wine. If something collectible will ever be available from this band then let it be raw OZ booze or something like that (*laughs*). A commercial slogan for it could go like this; "Share a shot of OZ's burning liquid with your very best friend. It burns slowly, and even slower with a lousy flame. 100% guaranteed". Every band nowadays, seems to have their own brands of wines or other liquids, like Slayer having their own brand of red wine called Reign in Blood Red. Just try to imagine one of their wacko fans cranking up Slayer while calling demons and at the very same time drinking this fancy tasting Slayer red wine for the honor of the band... Now give me a fuckin' break! It sounds so unreal and darn idiotic if you ask me.
Luxi: (*laughs*) Also, Slayer isn't alone in this as there are so many other bands that have a pretty wide and certainly wild collection of different merchandise items; just like Motörhead having their own brand of both wine and booze, for example...
Mark: Yes, I've seen that, too, and, unfortunately, if I could add in the very same breath, first there was this Motörhead red wine (which was called Shiraz) available for their fans and, later, this even stronger thing called Motörhead Vödka. For me this is kind of low from money-making, greedy people to cash in on their fans like that. You fuckin' enjoy drinking some Motörhead red wine, seriously, I mean? It's very hard for me to imagine a toothless Lemmy, almost in his seventies, who has been using heroin and cocaine through all his life, pouring some Motörhead red wine into this cheap-looking Motörhead wine class and taking a sip of it, just to say: "Ah, what a fine and fruity taste my wine truly has but, in my honest opinion, this might need just a bit more of black currant flavor to it..." Jesus fucking Christ. Now come and suck my dick, collect your last pennies and pass away A/S/A/P, if possible at all, please! If Motörhead had only been selling some whiskey then they would have had a bit more credibility left for me. Please spare me from all this crap, seriously. The same with Slayer; they have this exclusive red wine for sale, boxed into a special coffin shaped box, which is just pathetic. You take bottle of red wine out of that Slayer box one night, and say to your wife or girlfriend: "My dear and sweet darling, I was just wondering whether we could enjoy a romantic, candlelight dinner together tonight. Look what I have here; a bottle of deep-flavored Slayer red wine. Let's have some with this fine, expensive cheese imported straight from Paris, France. Isn't this just wonderful, my dear..." Good grief! I feel like puking now. I swear to you that you'll never find any OZ wine anywhere; even the idea of putting something like that out for our fans makes me feel sick. No, never. In fact, I think a better, and way more credible idea, would be to release a miserable tasting OZ beer, or some OZ booze, now that we are at it. "You can also use OZ booze to warm up your house, or start up your car engine during a cold winter... what a wonder this OZ booze really is! Ain't that just awesome?" Ha, if there ever was some OZ booze available for sale, it would be enjoyed only while you are somewhere in the middle of forest, timbering big fuckin' trees with your giant-sized chainsaw. That would be it.
Luxi: Now, as I remember, there used to be a Lordi Coca Cola for sale some years ago after Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006...
Mark: Yeah, another lousy attempt to steal money from the music fans. It's simply ridiculous how different people try to make some extra cash in this pathetic way only using the success of certain popular bands as their tools, trying to scratch their heads hard to sell stuff in the name of something that's popular among the fans, you know. The business side, how to make sacks full of money with millions of different products of highly popular artists, sucks big time, in my opinion. I really hate all that shit. Should OZ have some wonderful OZ AirJump inflatables for sale for kids some day so that we could buy new cars for ourselves? Nah, I don't think so.
Luxi: What about plans for 2013? What kind of things do you have planned for next year?
Mark: Well, 2013 means it's going to be 30 years since the Fire in the Brain album was released. Some people have already asked me whether we are going to celebrate it some special way. Probably we are going to play the whole album, from start to finish, at some of our gigs, who knows?
Luxi: Hmmm, how about celebrating the release of Fire in the Brain at the same community hall in Nakkila, Finland where you played the first OZ show?
Mark: Wow, how come this didn't come to my mind right away? Now that you said it, that would be one hell of an idea!
Luxi: I think it would, so why not? Anyways, OZ relocated to Stockholm, Sweden in 1983, just like Hanoi Rocks did in the beginning of the 80's...
Mark: That's absolutely correct. That was something that we had to do as I told you earlier.
Luxi: Since you moved to Stockholm, and have been living there for the last 30 years or so, would you tell us how the Swedish music circles are different from the Finnish ones, based on your opinion and on your own experiences in the music scenes of both countries?
Mark: First off, when we tried to raise OZ's head in Finland before we packed our stuff and moved to Sweden, the Finnish music scene was nearly non-existent, to be honest with you. When it comes to the Swedish music circles, I think Swedes can give lots of credits to their super-band, Abba that made other things possible for many other Swedish bands and the overall music culture back in those days. Abba started a whole new era in Sweden during the 70's and that made them a well-known international Swedish act and after that the rest is basically history. Now you have Live Nations and stuff that are the strong forces behind the Swedish music culture, keeping it strong and rolling forward from one year to another year.
Believe me when I tell you that the Swedish music people know exactly what it takes to become a successful international act, unlike the Finns. Also, one other thing is that most Swedish people are able to speak very fluent English, which I can understand because their own language, Swedish, is so close to English. The Swedes have always been more internationally orientated while we Finns seem slower to warm up being more internationally accepted by everything that we do. I think the biggest curse of the Finnish people has always been a very sort-sighted view of what is or can be popular and successful in Finland isn't necessarily going to be popular outside the borders of their home country. The Swedish people have a whole different approach to this; if this is good and works in Sweden, how could we make it work and be successful internationally, too. The Swedish people seem to have this sort of an inborn ability to also think a bit further, if something is liked is Sweden, why it couldn't be liked outside of their country, too. Also, nowadays they have so many known and successful musicians and songwriters and the high technology and pro studios in Sweden that are used by big artists like Madonna, for example. In short, the Swedes, in general, have always been right at the very top in the music business whereas the Finns don't have the same tradition.
Luxi: What I have seen about this musical superiority of the Swedes, from different media, TV and so on, is that it all starts in their school system. Musically talented kids, at a very early age, are being noted, encouraged, guided and supported by a bunch of people that see this tiny spark of talent coming through. Eventually, when these kids grow up and start gaining some experience with the musical talent they obviously have, they realize that they can use their skills for entertaining, maybe even large masses of people, if they have that passion and determination to succeed. Do you understand what I am saying here?
Mark: Yes, definitely. I think it's only a part of the whole picture, actually. The Swedish system around any musically related thing is heavily connected to the same, high-profile international standards that are the key elements that make things happen for them. They really differentiate between succeeding as a Swedish act or succeeding as an international act because those are synonyms to them, you know? Of course the Swedes have some genres or styles of music that are still considered typical Swedish music but, generally speaking, they have this strong, inborn attitude sort of downloaded into the people of their nation, saying that the world is ours. That's a very powerful ideology in the music biz these days, in my opinion. To say "lets break straight into the heart of the whole world and get this band rolling" is why I believe the Swedish people, as one nation, constantly produces internationally artist.
Luxi: What about OZ then? Is OZ still considered a Finnish Heavy Metal band or have you been stamped with this "Sweden-ized" stamp, keeping in mind the fact that OZ relocated to Stockholm over 30 years ago?
Mark: Ha-ha... we are neither of those two; we are a Scandinavian Heavy Metal band these days. We came up with this tag when we moved permanently to Sweden in 1983. What was funny back then was we didn't realize, at the time, the Swedes don't like the Finnish people too much, for some reason or the other. We moved to Stockholm with all our Finnish flags flying high in the air but quite soon we got some cold water straight to our faces when we realized that we really aren't their best friends. I think they were thinking about us as a bunch of idiots who have grown up in the middle of forests, having no idea what's it like to live among them, a more civilized and better-educated people, ha-ha!! Hence we kind of decided to call OZ a Scandinavian band after relocating to Sweden, just to get rid of our strong tag as a Finnish group.
As far as I can recall, Hanoi Rocks also went through some identity crisis when they moved from Finland to Sweden back in the day. In my sincere opinion, if OZ would have advertised themselves as a Finnish Metal band in Sweden in 1983, we wouldn't have sold nearly as many albums in Sweden. Nowadays it's happily much easier for us because the world has been changing so much, in a more open-minded and accepting direction, even if I still feel like The Swedes don't like the Finnish people so much. Nowadays they try to understand us (the Finns) at least a bit more than in the past but there's still quite a gap between us. I cannot change the fact that I was born in Finland. I could only say the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland is deeper than one could at first imagine. When I was born, nobody came to ask me which country I would like to be raised and live in, which country my parents would come from, etc. I born and raised up in Nakkila and even in my early teens, if I drove to Pori (a city located on the west coast of Finland) with my cheap moped, I normally got beaten up there because these other young gangsters didn't like me too much over there either, ha-ha!!
Luxi: I hear you Mark. Living in a small place must be tough sometimes, especially if you have nothing better to do than go out and then getting your ass kicked, ha-ha!! If we speak a bit more seriously again, when you get emails from OZ fans all over the world are there still people out there who mistake OZ for a Swedish Metal band?
Mark: Well, some of them see us a Swedish band and some as a Finnish band. Those people that sort of keep on advertising where they were born, and even make a big deal out of that, are just silly. Of course, everyone can be proud of their roots and stuff, and I have absolutely nothing against that, of course! But, when these people keep loud-mouthing about where they were born, that's when they start to make fools out of themselves, in my opinion. I can say that I am a proud Finn; I was born in Pori but I was raised in Nakkila and yes, I am proud of all that but I have no reason to make a big deal out of it. Everyone should be proud of what they have accomplished in life, or are about to accomplish, and not that my last name is Mark or whatever. I have nothing to do with my last name; I automatically got my last name when I was born. Let's be a bit philosophical here now and let me give you an example, if you don't mind. When you were born in Finland, and your beloved parents gave you both your first and last names, are those two things your accomplished? Being born in Finland and being baptized with the first and last names that you got for yourself? Nope, I don't think so. Why? Because you had no choice in where you were born or which names you would have preferred? Then, let's say, you moved out from your parents place, got married, changed your last name and moved from Finland to Sweden to live your life there. Are those last two things mentioned considered real accomplishments? See, there's a huge difference there.
Anyways, these last things are the kinds of things that you can be proud of, if you feel like making a big noise about it. It is not simply where you were either born or which names you got from your dear parents when you were born. That's not something that is worth much advertising, you know. I, for one, am proud of my dual nationality nowadays. I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1983, and I was able to get Swedish citizenship 2 years later but, at the same time, I lost my Finnish citizenship. The bottom line is that I got Swedish citizenship when I was working hard for myself. After Sweden became a part of the European Union, they accepted these common laws that allowed people to have dual nationality instead of just one. And when this became possible, I also bought back my Finnish nationality, which I was fully entitled to. I still remember it cost me 250 euros to get my Finnish nationality back, so now I am officially a citizen of both countries. I had to pay this amount upfront so that they could not have even raised their little hands (authorities) against my application to become a citizen of Finland again. I have gained both nationalities by working hard both in Sweden as well as in Finland. Neither of them is something that I would have got completely for free, and this is what I am proud of. I have this dual citizenship these days because I have worked hard to obtain them. If you want to be in the same position that I am, then you should know now by now that being an official citizen in two different countries is not something that you get automatically just like that, for free, I mean. You have to work for it, and you have to pay for it, too. To become a citizen of Finland is easy, if you are ready to work a bit. It's well known that it is very expensive to live in Finland. This is just one example where you can allow yourself to be proud of something, and I am now proud of the fact I have earned my dual nationality through my hard work. It didn't come to me free, just like that.
Luxi: And you are naturally proud of OZ, too, of course, and all of your past and present accomplishments with the band, right?
Mark: Yes, I definitely am because this band was started over 30 years ago and it still exists. It's been a long road thus far and, happily, there's still some road left for me...
Luxi: Lastly, every Metal fan who has been following your career with OZ should know some of your long history in this band. I was wondering whether you might have some advices or tips for all these younger musicians who are about to start their own bands. Things like how to survive in this tough music biz and make things really happen for a new band?
Mark: For this, I have one very good piece of advice in my mind, not only for these youngsters that want to form their own Metal bands, but in general for everyone who somehow wants to be involved with music making; never give up. It doesn't matter if you have bad days and feel that you aren't going to go anywhere with what you do. We gave up in 1991, with OZ, because we didn't believe in what we did with OZ anymore and our hearts were not into it anymore. If you do something with all your heart and you believe strongly in all that you do, and you never feel like giving up, then you'll be rewarded for all of your hard work, either as a single artist or as a member of some band. It's very important to believe in yourself, otherwise you can be certain that there's no way that you will ever have any kind success.
It's kind of sad that too many of today's musicians seem to be in hurry to get some recognition for the stuff they do. If they cannot get it the first time, then they may just give up and start doing something completely different like kissing the ass of mainstream music, just for the sake of getting their faces or names on the front page of some tabloid newspapers quicker. That's just pathetic and that kind of whoring has no balls at all, you know. The thing is, if your music is what you do, and which you believe in strongly, having your whole heart and soul involved with it will pay off one day. Naturally, your music must also be good and well done. If you do something that somebody else has told you to do, then you are already on the wrong road. I remember once one football player saying, "My heart is in this team and it is not for sale at the price of making me to play against my team." Generally speaking, many bands give up their dreams way too easily. Besides, there's always next time, you know.
Plus, another thing that you have to remember is that you should primarily do music for yourself and, if others like it, fine. Also, what I personally don't like much at all is this TV format called The Idols that seems to be popular in every damn country nowadays. Who really cares for that kind of "I-wanna-be-a-rock-star-now-and-not-next-week" type of crap?! I mean, fuckin' seriously!! The keyword for everything that you do in your life is a long-term plan to gain or become something. To me it looks like that's exactly what these young bands or musicians seem to lack most. If I don't gain something right away, then it would be better to give up. That's something I cannot understand. Look at the artists, bands, sportsmen or any other group of people that has gained something in their lives with their determined and hard efforts. Like Lasse Virén, for example, a famous Finnish former long-distance runner. He fell down on his knees in the 10,000 meter final at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich but stood up, and still managed to beat everyone because he never gave up. This is a very good example of never giving up. Life is full of ups and downs and whenever people have these down periods going on in their lives, they give up way too easily, I think. People don't seem to realize that the road of life isn't that smooth and nice all the time; it has its bumps, rocks and rough surfaces every now and then but that's how life is, for most of us anyway. Now here is the scientist side of myself, just to give you one other example. A dopamine level that gives us a certain feeling of joy in our brains must come down every once in a while because you cannot increase it all the time by yourself, otherwise your brain gets fucked up. What I am trying to say is when you are at the peak of your happiness, you need to come down from that feeling from time to time so that you are able to climb on that level again, allowing your dopamine level to rise in your brains again. Sounds complicated enough? I mean, for every negative situation you may find yourself in at some point of life, you should force yourself to get out from there, fight back and never give up on anything. Then again, you should also remember, if you are 150 centimeters tall, perhaps you should not consider a career as a basketball player or at least you should think twice about it. At times you really need to take the facts of reality into consideration, just to save yourself from some unnecessary pain, you know.
Of course, what I just stated previously, holds so much truth in it but there's always some exceptions, like this Swedish high jumper named Stefan Holm. All the statistics and physical rules work against him; he's simply way short for a high jumper. Anyhow, he's both the Olympic, as well as world, champion, so he's one of these few, super-talented exceptions. Logically thinking, he was not one of those guys who should have won something in his professional yet he had a very successful career as a high jumper. The wall of his living room is obviously full of all kinds of colored medals that he has won during his active years as a high jumper. And why does he have them? Because he never believed the hard statistics he was told but believed that he could do something remarkable in his life by never giving up. I'm sure he had his bad days just like all of us do. He wanted to show them all that they are wrong about him, that he could be successful just like everybody else, and he did even better. Too many people give up too easily and the very same goes for bands that lack this long-term plan and don't believe in themselves right from the start. If you don't work hard for your goals, how on earth you are supposed to gain the ripe fruits for yourself when the harvest time comes? I tell you; you won't. I think also our band OZ is a pretty good example of this. After almost 25 years of absence, we got to play at a big festival like Porispere (www.porispere.fi) today. We have worked hard for this band ever since we made our comeback, and it's paying off for us right now, which is cool. We do deserve this, I think.
Luxi: Some wise, thoughtful words there. Last, but not least, do you have any messages to give to the readers of The Metal Crypt? I am positive OZ has lots of fans in Canada as well.
Mark: For our Canadian fans I have to say that Canada looks like a nation that has, at least, a handful of people that never seem to give up either. What I mean is there's this one band coming from Canada, in fact one trio, which is much like OZ, never giving up one goddamned inch. I think you might even guess that name yourself...
Luxi: You are apparently speaking about the one and only Anvil...
Mark: Exactly. Anvil is the kind of band that has been fighting through their entire existence, without becoming that successful and big band that they deserve to be. They have had to deal with so many obstacles during their career that have truly pushed the band against the wall so many times that many other bands would certainly have given up. I met the guys at the Keep It True festival last spring. They are all nice people. Their drummer was standing in the same spot, wearing white shoes, for nearly two days in a row, and he was talking to so many people. I asked if he used those same white shoes whenever he was behind his drum set and his answer was, "Yes, of course." He seemingly enjoyed all the attention that he got from all those people around him. The same goes for Lips. When I watched the Anvil movie for the very first time, I felt really bad for them, crying and feeling deep sympathy for them because we have been there too, in that deep shithole, with OZ. Then, when I decided to watch the movie for the 2nd time, there was this one question at the beginning of the movie, which went like, "Why did these bands make it big but Anvil never did?" Well, as I see it, as rude as it may sound, Anvil simply didn't appeal to the masses the same way as many others did.
Let's take a band like Scorpions and compare them to Anvil. How many hit songs have Scorpions recorded during their career that have become well known and successful worldwide? Probably dozens or more even. What about Anvil? None. Zero. None at all. It doesn't matter, even if you played while upside down or standing on your head, if your songs lack punches, hooks, catchy choruses, etc. Your time on the road of attempting to gain some success for yourself will be short as hell. But this positive thing that comes out of all this is they never gave up but continued doing the stuff they believed in so much. For that, I have nothing but utter respect for them. I feel a great joy for them whenever Anvil is able to succeed at something because that allows them to enjoy those tiny but great moments after a well-done gig. Whenever they are able to do that, they look like a bunch of overly happy kids who have just entered the biggest candy store in the whole world. Their faces look exactly like that. But hey, that joy and happiness cannot be taken away from them. They are fully entitled to that success. Anyway, if Anvil's drummer uses white shoes at all the gigs that they do with the band, I use black shoes and a cross that is upside down (*laughs*)
Luxi: But, I guess, not for the reason people might think, that Mark worships the devil and burns churches down...
Mark: I use a cross that is upside down because I was born in Pori and grew up in Nakkila and, believe it or not, I lived for about 20 years next to cemetery. Every morning, when I woke up, the first thing I saw through my bedroom window, were those hundreds of crosses in that cemetery. And, since I was a rebellious kid, I turned my cross upside down because of that (*laughs*).
Luxi: Now that the cross has been turned upside down, I think this is a perfect spot to end this, to say the least, interesting conversation with you. So, thank you Mark for your time and for your thoughtful comments.
Mark: My pleasure. Thank you.
|Other information about OZ on this site|
|Review: Burning Leather|
|Review: Burning Leather|
|Review: Transition State|
|Review: Transition State|
|Review: Fire in the Brain|
|Interview with Mark Ruffneck (drums) on October 2, 2011 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck on January 17, 2014 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with vocalist Ape De Martini, guitarists Juzzy and Johnny, bassist Peppi and drummer Mark Ruffneck on March 26, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck on December 13, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: Hey You|
|Video: Burning Leather (Live)|
|Video: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Live)|
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