Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 17, 2014
I still remember well when OZ, Finland's true Heavy Metal powerhouse, released Fire in the Brain back in 1983, because I was instantly blown away. Fire in the Brain's 8 songs of catchy, powerfully played and violent Heavy Metal was done right and that was right up my alley. Even Tony Jasper, who wrote a book called The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock & Heavy Metal in 1983, described OZ's debut album with the following words; "OZ play extremely violent Heavy Metal, like a cross between Motörhead and Black Sabbath without any superior production. Recommended".
It was OZ's second album, Fire in the Brain, which took the Heavy Metal world by storm and made a name for the band. By the time Fire in the Brain was released, OZ had already relocated to Sweden where they felt they would have a better chance to make it big. They nearly got to play with bands like Slayer, Venom, Motörhead and so on, but being a relatively young, inexperienced group in a new environment, things weren't always easy and OZ suffered from insufficient promotion.
However, nothing can take away all the beautiful, nostalgic and cool memories from people who got to hear Fire in the Brain when it was first released in 1983. 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of that well-played and totally worn-out record and it gave me the idea of asking one of the founding members of OZ, drummer Mark Ruffneck, about his memories of the album. The Metal Crypt asked and Mark kindly shared his thoughts and memories about that special album he was a part of, some 30 years ago...
Luxi: It's unbelievable to think that it's been 30 friggin' years since OZ's groundbreaking second album Fire in the Brain was released. You were a part of creating an album that has become a classic. How does it feel and what are some of your thoughts about that classic album nowadays?
Mark: I'm feeling great about that! It is wonderful that our music still holds up after so many years. I have only good memories of the time when we were recording that album, but back then we never thought about the future. So, I'm happy about that album and about the fact that I'm still breathing...
Luxi: Musically, the songs were quite a big improvement over those on the self-titled debut. What changed between these two albums?
Mark: Yes, these two albums are different from each other and the main reason was the different line-ups and songwriters. Of course, we were also growing as musicians, so there should have been a difference between the first and the second albums. When we got the new line-up working and back on the road, the chemistry was good. At that time, we just did things without thinking if it was right or not. We were young and rebellious and just like to play Metal music on stage. I think that is the best way to get good results; if you like to be creative you should be busy.
Luxi: OZ's landmark release, Fire in the Brain, was recorded at Elektra Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. Did you make your way to Sweden to record your second album because there weren't any suitable recording studios in Finland in the early 80's, not to mention no producer that would have understood how to handle a band like OZ?
Mark: We had a record contract with a Swedish company, Tyfon Grammofon AB, back in those days and the decision to record a new album in Sweden was easy. We produced it together with Börje Forsberg, the owner of the record company. We never talked about the possibility of recording the album in Finland. And, of course, Swedish recording studios were better equipped and more professional than the Finnish studios back then.
Luxi: Your bassist at that time, Jay C. Blade, was the main guy behind the songs on Fire in the Brain and he was undoubtedly a driving force in the band when you were writing the songs. Do you believe that without Jay's input, the album would have sounded a whole lot different?
Mark: He wrote all the lyrics and most of the music on that album, but it isn't accurate to say that he was the driving force in the band. At the time we were testing all the songs in our rehearsal studio and we were not using any recording equipment in the writing process. We were playing live together and listening carefully to see if it sounded alright to us. It's a primitive way to write songs, indeed. Each of us was putting something into all of the songs when we played together in our rehearsal studio, but of course Jay had a major impact on OZ's music back then. I guess, without him, that album would have definitely sounded a whole lot different, for sure.
Luxi: Do you remember how much the other band members contributed to the songwriting process for Fire in the Brain? Or did you fully rely on Jay's ideas and visions?
Mark: As I wrote before, everybody was involved in the songwriting process in some sense and everyone was responsible for playing his instrument well during the recording sessions. So, in other words, a lot of the details about how we were playing depended on every person in the band. There was only one song, "Megalomaniac," that was ready to go when Jay joined the band, but we also changed that song quite a bit from where it started. Jay had a lot of ideas we all helped him to get those ideas to reality. Fire in the Brain, as a whole, was a true diamond of that period and the new line-up was working better and better.
Luxi: Were the eight songs that appeared on Fire in the Brain the only ones you had ready when you entered the studio or were these some others that ended up on future albums?
Mark: I believe that we may have had some additional song ideas at that time, but when we entered Elektra Studio, we only had those eight songs ready to go.
Luxi: How easy or difficult were the recording sessions for Fire in the Brain? Can you still remember some of the details from the sessions and were there any fights?
Mark: The recording sessions were not easy at all. We were playing live in the studio, without any song or guitar solos, but the recording process was actually quite simple. We knew how to play all the songs, from the beginning to end. We knew how we wanted OZ to sound, so we communicated that to Börje and our sound engineer, Seppo Johansson. Together, they got the OZ sound the way we wanted on the record. At that time, all the recordings were done with a 24 channel audio tape recorder. We started by recording all the drum parts, then the bass and both guitars at the same time, just one take from the beginning to the end. No corrections! If we were not happy with the first try, we made the whole recording a second time. And the old version was gone when the new version was recorded over it. Then we added the vocals and more guitars and the album was ready to be mixed. We mixed right after the recording and, in total; we were probably in the studio for 2-3 weeks to record that album. One funny recording detail just came to my mind; our sound engineer, Seppo Johansson, had a young child at home when the recording took place, and because of that he could not work late. We had some extra free time in the evenings, and all that free time was used for drinking beer. Those were truly funny but there were hard times, too. I remember that we did indeed have some fights, but we were still able to talk to each other after the fights, and the recording work was able to continue.
Luxi: Was it easy to determine the order of the songs on Fire in the Brain?
Mark: If I remember correctly, we set the song order during the mixing process. I think that we were "just lucky" when talking about the song order on Fire in the Brain.
Luxi: Fire in the Brain was produced by Boss and OZ. How was he to work with, and did you have mutual ideas about how the album should sound? Did you make any compromises related to the actual production of the record?
Mark: We had an idea of the OZ sound and we knew how to play all the songs from the beginning to the end. I think that we made some slight changes in the studio, but not many. Working with him was just fine. We were thinking about certain things on the same wavelength almost the entire time, so there were not many radical compromises or discussions needed.
Luxi: The album artwork on Fire in the Brain has caused much speculations and debate among certain circles with people trying to determine if it's really Quorthon's (Bathory) hand holding the plastic skull on it, or not. You told me once that you actually met Quorthon through his father, so the big question is, how did it come about that he sort of designed the album cover for Fire in the Brain? By today's standards, the album cover of Fire in the Brain may look a little silly, I guess...
Mark: Yes, it really is Quorthon's hand holding that plastic skull on the cover of Fire in the Brain. The idea for the album cover just popped up somewhere and he told us that he could do it, so why not. Art is art, even if the album cover does generate separate opinions among people; some people liking it and some people not so much. It is that way with most things in this world. We had a really good relationship between each of us at that time and if someone needed any kind of help, he got it. We were actually living a nice, simple life back then, the way it should have been.
Luxi: When did the name Fire in the Brain come up? Were there any other working titles for this second OZ release? Quorthon himself would have gone with Black Candles or something like that I guess, quite obviously... ha ha!!
Mark: When we entered Elektra studio in the summer of 1983, we didn't have any album titles in mind. During the recording session, we started to discuss the album title, and eventually ended up choosing Fire in the Brain, which came up during the mixing process. I can't remember any other names that we talked about at that time, but there were probably several options.
Luxi: What about your "stage names" on the Fire in the Brain album? Who came up with Ape de Martini, Speedy Foxx, Spooky Wolff and Mark Ruffneck? Did you go with stage names to better sell OZ to the Metal fans?
Mark: We came up with those names for one particular reason; when we were recording Fire in the Brain in Sweden, we realized our Finnish names were not so easy to pronounce for people other than Finns. That was the reason we started to use more international artist names. Of course, it was more fun and cool to use artist names, too. When we released Fire in the Brain, we didn't have any idea where the album would be released. Only Sweden was ready to go, and the rest of the world would come later on. So our new "artist names" were not originally created for selling purposes, but they may have helped in selling the album a bit better, who actually knows.
Luxi: When Fire in the Brain was released back in 1983, it received some ridiculously amazing reviews all over the world and created some important gig opportunities for OZ. The biggest was undoubtedly the opportunity to open for Slayer and Venom in the United States. Studio 54 in New York would have been the place, but unfortunately things didn't quite work the way they were supposed to...
Mark: Yes, we should have been there, playing together with those two bands, but we were not there after all. Back in those days we were also talking about touring with Motörhead in Sweden, Scandinavia and Europe, but those plans sadly never happened, either. Now, many years later, I learned that our Swedish record company really didn't push hard enough to get us on tour. Quite weird, but back then so many weird things happened to us.
Luxi: Were there other gig opportunities for you at the time Fire in the Brain was hitting stores?
Mark: Yes, exactly. As I said before, we were also planning to tour with Motörhead, and there were probably other opportunities on the table for us, but for some reason, we were always waiting and waiting and eventually ended up staying in Stockholm, letting these all opportunities dry up. It's very true that our Fire in the Brain album was opening up possibilities for both OZ, as a band, and for our Swedish record company, which, unfortunately, did not have many international connections back in those days.
Luxi: What are your personal thoughts about the Fire in the Brain album nowadays, 30 years after its release? How well has it stood the test of time, in your opinion? Fire in the Brain is truly something to be proud of, right?
Mark: Yes, it's really great to realize that Fire in the Brain did have a pretty big impact on a large number of Metal fans. When we were recording that album, we didn't realize we were creating something that would last for a long time. It was our second album, and the first album with the new line-up. We just wanted to record some killer songs for that album and, after that, just go out and play our new stuff for people. Playing on stage was our driving force back then, and to keep the band going.
Luxi: Just out of curiosity, is there anything, anything at all, on this legendary OZ album that you'd like to change? Or do you think that if you touched or changed something on it, it wouldn't be as great?
Mark: No, we were relatively satisfied after mixing the album in 1983 and we still feel the same way today. Back then, albums were presented more as a piece of art; you paid more attention to the whole package. Remember listening to the A side first and the B side right after that. Nowadays, albums have lost that, in my opinion. Albums are not holy packages, you know. People just listen to the songs without really appreciating the whole package as art, as they did in the good old vinyl era.
Luxi: Do you have any tips or advice for young musicians on how to make something classic or semi-legendary, like Fire in the Brain?
Mark: That's a really tough question. If I knew the answer, I would do it myself, ha ha!! Probably the only thing that I can say is try to be yourself when you make your own music. Believe in your music and you are doing and never try to copy other artists too much.
Luxi: I think that is it, so I want to thank you, Mark, for taking some time with my questions related to the Fire in the Brain album and I hope it lives as long as this doomed world still exists. Just to conclude this interview the right way, any closing comments?
Mark: Just do it... whatever you like to do!
|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 vocalist Ape De Martini and drummer Mark Ruffneck on September 19, 2012 (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)|
|Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck on September 30, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: Hey You|
|Video: Burning Leather (Live)|
|Video: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Live)|
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