Interview with vocalist Ape De Martini, guitarists Juzzy and Johnny, bassist Peppi and drummer Mark Ruffneck
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 26, 2016
Finland's Heavy Metal veterans OZ have a strong reputation among Heavy Metal fans around the world. Whenever you ask a casual Metal music listener what an album like Fire in the Brain means to him/her, you can hear the excitement in the response regarding the band's second album from 1982. It is the most classic and well-liked album of their whole repertoire.
OZ went on hiatus in 1991 and returned to the limelight in February 2010 after nearly two decades away. OZ signed a deal with Germany's AFM Records shortly after reforming and the band's sixth studio album, Burning Leather which featured five new songs and six rerecorded classics, hit the music markets across many countries. Burning Leather was well received by Metal fans all over the globe and OZ played some festivals in 2013 and even a short US-tour in May 2013. A strange silence descended over the OZ camp after that and there really wasn't much news to be had. What happened?
The Metal Crypt had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing OZ at "The Ultimate Revenge of Heavy Metal" indoor festival in Helsinki, Finland, on March 4th, where OZ headlined the first day. The whole band was present backstage to talk about what OZ has been up to lately.
HERMIT LIVING IN THE WOODS
Luxi: As there has not been much news about OZ lately I guess it's wise to start by asking what OZ has been up to lately?
Ape: Well, basically we have been trying to get some new stuff done for our next album. It took a while to get started as we went through some radical line-up changes after doing a tour in the States and playing in Germany. We have 2 new guitarists plus a new bassist. We have enough new material for one full album and more.
Luxi: Can you tell us about this new OZ material?
Ape: I think you would do better to ask our new guitarists and/or our drummer Mark. I have been living an isolated life with my family in the middle of the woods so it's been tough for me to be involved in the songwriting process for the next OZ album.
Luxi: What was the tour in the States like?
Ape: It was very intense but definitely worth doing. Crisscrossing that continent from one gig to another was not much fun because the distances were ridiculously long. Just imagine guys our age sitting in a small van like a little sardine can, shoulder to shoulder. It isn't the most comfortable way to travel especially with Mark talking nonstop all the time. Just kidding, haha!!
All in all it was a nice experience for us to tour there.
Luxi: Have you gotten any requests to go back to the USA?
Ape: Yes, but we really haven't had the chance to accept any tour requests as so much has happened in the OZ camp. Both of our guitarists left shortly after we did the US tour in May 2013 ("Turn the States Upside Down" tour). As you can imagine when there's just a drummer, bassist and vocalist, it's obvious that you cannot do any gigs.
Luxi: Then again having sort of an "extended break" from touring has provided you a chance to put some new stuff together for your next release.
Ape: That's true. We still have our 1-album option with AFM Records so let's see what happens.
NEW GUNS IN THE OZ LINE-UP TAKING OVER THE SONGWRITING RESPONSIBILITIES
Luxi: You are the "new guys" in the OZ troops and, from what I have just heard, you have had a huge role in the songwriting process for the new songs. What can you tell us about this new material?
Juzzy: It's still OZ but with perhaps a new twist. We have tried to stay true to the OZ musical pattern without changing the band's core sound too much, of course. When you have totally new songwriters in a band it's natural that the music gets some new colors. At the moment I feel like the next album is going to sound very much like OZ but we still have a long way to go before the final product can be judged by the fans.
Luxi: I bet you have already demoed some of these songs and sent them back and forth to each other, right?
Johnny: Yes, exactly. That's what we have been doing indeed. We have material for more than one album ready, but no songs have vocals yet. We have to see which songs we will end up choosing for this forthcoming OZ album. That remains to be seen.
Juzzy: In fact, we have 16 songs ready for the next OZ album. It's just a matter of picking the best ones. This is an ideal situation and our creative juices have really been flowing which we are of course very happy about.
Luxi: How does this new OZ material differ from what is on OZ's previous album Burning Leather?
Johnny: I would say it's slightly more technical as far as guitars are concerned. Plus, it contains more solos if you ask me. The bass and drums sound similar to other OZ albums; straight Heavy Metal without any compromises. It's the guitars that give a more modern twist without sounding too over the top. I would even go as far to say that the guitars bring some influences from the Neo-Classical Metal genre with more technical solos, which the Burning Leather album didn't have at all. But like Juzzy just said, once we have recorded this next OZ album, we will have a better idea of the actual musical style. We do have lots of stuff to choose from, so we are in a fortunate position at the moment.
Juzzy: I agree. This is how we feel about the new OZ stuff. Some devoted OZ fans may see these tiny "new musical nuances" as not so good things but we as the new guitarists of the band are thinking positively. Of course a song may naturally change quite a lot before it is completely finished.
Luxi: Understandably so. Basically it's been the two of you who have done most of this songwriting for this new OZ album?
Juzzy: Yes. We have both been involved with this very actively. We have been sending music files back and forth, contributing to each other's ideas the best we can. We did some demos at my place so we could introduce the rest of the band members to the type of stuff we have come up with.
Johnny: Generally speaking, Juzzy and I write lyrics for the band and our bassist Peppi and drummer Mark throw their ideas in. We do the ground work which is the modified by Peppi and Mark. The main and most important goal is to make a song sound like an OZ song.
Luxi: But it's your drummer Mark who has the final word on if this or that song will get the final "approved" stamp, right?
Juzzy: True. Mark swings the hammer of doom in Stockholm, Sweden, with respect to final approval or rejection. He naturally has the final word, which we totally respect.
Johnny: It's a good strategy because at times we may push the envelope a bit too much. When it starts to sound a little too much like Yngwie Malmsteen or even Megadeth it's good to have someone pushing the brakes and telling us "Now hold your horses. That does not sound like OZ to my ears!"
Juzzy: And that's completely fine because OZ should sound a certain way and not like Yngwie or Megadeth, which would be ridiculous.
Luxi: When did you actually join the band? I haven't seen any information about this anywhere...
Johnny: I joined OZ about one and a half years ago. Juzzy has been in the band longer, I guess about 2 years or so.
Luxi: How did you find out that OZ was looking for 2 guitarists?
Juzzy: We already knew they had positions open for guitarists. Peppi was already a friend of Mark's and I have known Peppi for years. Plus, I knew Johnny. It's a circle of friends and friends' friends that connects all of us together.
Luxi: In other words, OZ didn't arrange auditions for new guitarists?
Johnny: We just arranged a jam session in Stockholm and Mark told us, "Both of you are in...", and that's how it all happened. Mark was happy with the chemistry right off the bat. The rest is history, so to speak...
Luxi: Is there anything else that you'd like to reveal about this new stuff perhaps?
Juzzy: We do have the song titles and lyrics ready for all of them but we have been told to keep our mouths shut by Mark so we'll let him reveal some of these song titles if he's willing to do so.
Luxi: Okay, will do. Have you had any talks about when you might possibly enter the studio to get this new album finished?
Juzzy: We are aiming to finish this new album during the spring/summer of this year but we still have a few questions about when our Ape will be ready to do his vocals for the album.
Johnny: Yeah, it's mostly up to Mark and Ape and their schedules. They have the final say. Ape hasn't done any vocal lines for any of the songs so that's something that needs to be sorted out before we can consider booking a studio for him to do them. Hopefully it will be possible to get the recording finished during this spring/summer.
Luxi: Have you discussed with Ape which studio you might use for the recording of his vocals and where you might do the mixing work for the forthcoming album?
Johnny: The groundwork has mostly been done in Pori, Finland, where we are originally from. What's really important now is to get Ape to do the vocals and it's up to him when he has time to do them. He can basically use any studio. He's got a great voice so he isn't restricted to a certain studio; he can do them wherever he wants to. It's up to him really.
Juzzy: Mixing the album is another story. We have no idea where the mixing for this album will take place so we will leave this to Mark to be decided.
Luxi: What other gigs to you have booked for OZ after taking part in this "The Ultimate Revenge of Heavy Metal" happening here in Helsinki?
Johnny: Mark is the right man to talk about this because we simply have no idea about his plans.
Luxi: What kind of expectations do you have about the forthcoming album? How do you believe people will take it and the new line-up?
Juzzy: That's a tough question; expected the unexpected, eh? I mean, the question is will the fans accept and approve of these new elements that both Johnny and I have brought to the new songs or are they expecting us to reinvent the wheel and record Fire in the Brain - Take Two? There is a big question mark hanging above this new album as to whether the fans will get excited over the new stuff or not. Also, how will the die-hard OZ fans approve of the new OZ line-up? Do they accept us a part of the band even though we are not original members? I won't speculate because I personally believe we have a great album in the works which has some of the primal OZ elements.
Luxi: I believe what really counts is that when this new OZ album has hit the stores worldwide, people judge the album based on the songs and not who's in the band. I would think they could not care less if the music has the power to blow their minds, right?
Johnny: Considering OZ's past reputation, their discography and their fans, we as the "new guns" feel a little nervous about whether we can pull it off in a way the OZ fans expect. It's really hard to be objective regarding your own stuff and if the fans will enjoy and accept it the same way I do. It's hard for me to listen to this stuff from the perspective of an outsider. However, the fans should not worry because I believe all the basic OZ elements can be found in this new material. It's just some extra ingredients - "the spices" - that we have thrown in here and there. I have faith that the fans will like this new OZ album when they get to hear it. That's what I am hoping for at least.
Juzzy: We haven't tried to reinvent the wheel. The next OZ album won't be categorized under any artsy-fartsy avant-garde shit or anything like that, that's for sure. It still sounds like OZ; all the basic elements are definitely there so people should not worry. There's no point of starting something musically radical under the OZ moniker as it would just ruin the name. We are better off sticking to those known OZ elements that have always been in their songs and I believe that's what we have done. Think about it how irritating it would be for the fans if AC/DC started incorporating synth sounds all over their songs for their next record? That would not work at all. I am sure their fans would be furious and undoubtedly half of them would abandon the band immediately if that nightmarish scenario happened. So yeah, the bottom line is that we need to follow the familiar musical formula of OZ without ruining the band's past reputation with radical stuff that does not belong.
Luxi: Some bands use different live musicians for different reasons like families, work, etc. My question is, are you available when the time comes and OZ is ready to hop on the road again?
Johnny: Absolutely! We are ready to show our faces both inside and outside of Finland when the time comes. We are fully dedicated to OZ and making the band successful. We are looking forward to playing gigs with this band.
ABOUT NAVIGATING THE OZ SHIP TOWARDS FAVORABLE WATERS
Luxi: I just found out from your new guitarists that they have composed 16 new songs for this forthcoming OZ album and they told me that the new songs pretty much follow the traditions of OZ's musical formula but with a twist of something new. Do you agree?
Mark: Yes, pretty much I do. For our previous album, Burning Leather, ex-bassist Jay C. Blade wrote most of the material. Johnny and Juzzy have a different approach to writing new stuff for the band. People should not worry too much because the OZ sound is still there but it has some tiny new elements that we haven't had before. Everything else is done except the vocals.
Luxi: You are, however, the main filter in the band, the one who has the final word on whether this stuff is useful to OZ or not, right? There are certainly limits regarding what fits OZ and what does not...
Mark: That's true. Both of our guitarists, who are active songwriters, have sent me loads of demo files and some of their stuff hasn't quite meet the standards of what makes an OZ song. When that happens I tell them straight away that they should not put any more time into those tracks because they don't sound right. Why waste time on something that just does not work? But Juzzy and Johnny are great guitarists and gifted songwriters. During my long history in OZ I have felt like people should be given a chance to prove what they area capable of doing and not be told they should stick to a strict musical formula, otherwise they have no room in OZ. It's always better to allow them to show their skills first rather than start dictating what can and can't be done. This band just doesn't work that way. Now we have so much stuff for the next album that we will have quite a positive dilemma as to which songs we will pick. None of these tracks are fillers. We have already filtered away all that stuff that doesn't fit OZ. If I recall, in the beginning of the songwriting process I got half-done songs from them but quite soon they started sending me full songs that had even some solos. When we gathered together in Pori, Finland, for a rehearsal session, some of the song structures got modified a little bit simply because programmed drums obviously don't sound the same as real drums. When I played real drums, the songs sounded better and more natural, of course. As a result of this practice session, we managed to refine and shape these new OZ songs quite a bit, putting them into the right mold. The only things still missing are Ape's vocals. His voice will undoubtedly put the final topping on them.
Luxi: The basic OZ elements are still there...
Mark: Definitely! There's no point in doing anything besides what people have become used to hearing from us. Every time new band members are involved with songwriting it's natural that they also bring their own spices, you know.
Luxi: You have another little advantage on your side and by that I mean Ape's very unique vocals. It might not matter so much if OZ tried some totally new elements because Ape's voice has always been a very strong aspect of OZ's sound. It's very recognizable so that allows OZ to move out of its comfort zone a little bit. Do you agree?
Mark: You are right about this. Ape's voice gives us some extra room to do things within our music. Plus, both guitarists and our bassist Peppi can sing background vocals, so we are very fortunate to have them in the band. I have been changing guitarists in OZ more often than I change my underpants lately because I have always tried to find guitarists that are able to write songs for the band and not just show off as guitar wanker heroes. The world is full of them nowadays. I remember watching this clip from one guitar guy on YouTube who played really well while skateboarding at the same time. Obviously he's a skilled kid but that's not something I care for or want for OZ. Therefore, I appreciate all the skills that our new guitarists, Juzzy and Johnny, have. They have talent to write good songs from start to finish and that's one of the reasons they are a part of OZ. To write killer songs, being able to write lyrics and even sing are things not everyone can do. You can be a guitar hero and play your guitar on the top of your lovely skateboard but with those kinds of credits you wouldn't have any room in OZ, that's for sure.
Juzzy: Making music for a band is a whole different world. You need to learn to write songs, understand how to write them and experience in songwriting doesn't hurt if your main aim is to join a band. Being a skilled guitar hero does not necessarily give you the opportunity to be in a band. I may be wrong, but I think I am not. You have to have passion for the music you do and not for things like how many views you can get on the Internet when playing your guitar while making eye-catching tricks with your skateboard at the same time.
Luxi: It may be cool and all that if you can do a 15 or 20-minute solo in the eyes of some people but that does not prove you can be a decent songwriter as well...
Juzzy: Indeed, you nailed it right there. It does not prove a thing about you as a talented musician if that's all you can do. Playing solos is extra but they don't make a song.
Mark: I have noticed over the years that it's really tough to find good songwriters for the band. Many of these musicians have the skills to master their instruments but that's not enough. They need to prove themselves as gifted songwriters to catch my attention. If they don't, my interest dies out very quickly. Both Juzzy and Johnny are the whole package from start to finish with lyrics and stuff, so I am really lucky to have them in the OZ line-up. The songwriting process is on a whole new level with them. You can always try to prove to me how you have learned all the songs off some Judas Priest record but that does not impress me, not at all. I am impressed if you are skilled enough to bring your own work to the table, proving that you are capable of writing some decent songs, too.
LIFE'S SUCH A TRICKY THING
Luxi: What things have delayed getting this album out any earlier, from your point of view?
Mark: Besides finding new members since all the Swedish guys left, lots of things have happened in our personal lives as well. Not only has Ape has had some difficulty finding time for OZ due to his family life but some of our loved ones have passed away, people have been seriously sick and all kinds of other shit. It hasn't been easy and sometimes you just need to leave all this music behind and focus on more important things in your life, you know? Ape and I have known each other for so long already. We formed OZ back in 1977 so we have a very long history together in this band. We are like best friends to each other and are wise enough to leave some room for each other when needed. There's life out there for both of us without OZ, you know? I am somewhat optimistic that Ape will be able to record some vocals for this new stuff relatively soon though. 16 songs is a lot for him to handle but we are still hopeful regarding this matter.
As for the titles of our new songs, I can reveal that one of them is called "Bonecrusher." This song is also the one I already have an idea to make a video for. It's 100% pure OZ from start to finish and if we played it in our set tonight, nobody would even recognize it as one of our new songs. It sounds like 100% OZ to the bone and we are proud as hell of it. What is also so great about these new guys in OZ is that even if they live in Pori, Finland and I have been living in Stockholm for many years already, we still have a very strong chemistry together. Fortunately, there's the Internet now. Sharing music files is easy and that has worked well, at least thus far. What is also quite an advantage for OZ is that our guitarists have played together before so they know each other's playing style. Plus, they are both almost fanatical about constantly writing new stuff 24/7, so I can hardly complain. They are really into what they do and that's really cool. Not only do they come up with stuff for OZ but they also have their own bands as well. I see it as a true advantage and asset for OZ. The more you practice and better your skills as a composer become over time. So far everything has worked out just great with these guys so hopefully this will have a long-lasting effect on us.
But yeah, we are proud of what we have accomplished so far with the new material. There's nothing to be ashamed of.
Luxi: What about the staff of AFM Records? Have they twisted your arm yet regarding this new OZ release?
Mark: Well, we still have the option for one more album with them but, then again it's up to them whether they still want to work with us or not. The interest still seems to be there but I have personally been in an awkward position because I haven't been able to tell them when we will have all our material completely ready for this next opus due to many setbacks in our lives. I do have such strong faith in our material that I firmly believe the label staff will get excited when they get a chance to hear it and are ready to use this option to get our new album out on their label.
Luxi: Let's hope so. As OZ has been around since there were just cassettes and vinyl, I bet the majority of fans would like vinyl, too. Despite music sales being somewhat lousy nowadays, will you try to get this next OZ opus released on vinyl? Burning Leather came out on vinyl via Germany's Metalizer Records...
Juzzy: As a music consumer through my entire life I would like to ask if a vinyl release for this next OZ album would be possible. It's still the best format for music due to its nostalgic values, I think.
Luxi: Vinyl has made a grand comeback as you may have noticed. Factories that still press them are fully booked for months in advance. They seem to have more orders coming in than they can handle these days. That is my understanding anyway...
Juzzy: I have heard the same thing and it's great about vinyl's comeback. Nothing can beat good old vinyl... ever!
Luxi: Dedication and determination to push this next album to the markets seem to be there I see...
Mark: OZ has been my life for these past 3 decades and since we have worked our asses off with this new OZ material it's important to me that we get these songs out. Hopefully we can continue OZ with the next album and so on, as we have the new guys in the line-up and they are all talented and hard-working musicians. However, the future is unwritten.
THE DECLINE OF ALBUM SALES
Luxi: Did you ever dare to ask AFM Records for some financial support for studio costs, just to get some of the expenses covered? Or did you choose to pay for everything from your own pockets instead?
Mark: Well, I believe the possibility of getting some money for these expenses would undoubtedly have been there, but our past line-up changes and all the turbulence that's been going around OZ for a long time has made it easier to pay everything from my own pockets. On the other hand, if we had borrowed money from AFM Records it would have been a long time before we would have started getting some money out of the sales of the album - if anything at all. It's tough to make money in the music biz nowadays. You really cannot get rich by making music these days, excluding some exceptions of course. We didn't get rich from sales of our previous album Burning Leather, but we didn't expect it to happen either. The sales of physical formats, CD and vinyl in particular, have been going downhill for many years and I don't see any change for the better in the future either. Mixing, mastering, pressing and everything else that is related to getting a final product out is very expensive, as you surely know. Even if you try to get some of the expenses covered by the DIY method, recording instruments at your own home studio, there are always extra expenses that you are not prepared for. Paying 300 euros for one song to be fully mixed means that your wallet starts screaming in pain very soon, you know?
Luxi: Did AFM Records give you any sales figures from how Burning Leather did in Japan for example? AFM Records licensed it to Japan's Spiritual Beast label...
Mark: I remember Burning Leather sold decently in Japan but not so well that it climbed up on any album charts or anything. People should also remember that we have never been as big a name in Japan as some other Finnish Metal bands.
Luxi: If promoting an album is done properly, little miracles can happen...
Mark: That is so true. It certainly isn't enough to get exposure on the Internet and get your faces on some magazines. You also need to tour in order to make it all possible for decent record sales. OZ will never reach the same popularity as Accept for example nor we can ever reach the success that a band like Judas Priest is enjoying these days. Those are the facts. There are actually just a handful of bands nowadays that are able to make some decent money by record sales. No band sells millions of albums any more if you are talking about physical formats. Those golden days are long gone. The only thing I really care about right now is getting this next OZ album finished one way or the other. Money means nothing to me in this case; I just want to get this album out. That's the most important to me at the moment.
Luxi: I hear you. Besides you have 16 new OZ songs ready; it would be a shame if none of them were released officially. So is it basically up to Ape now as to when he can find an empty spot in his personal calendar and get his ass dragged to the studio to do the vocals for these songs?
Mark: Yes. I believe we are close to the day when he gives me a call to say he's ready. I mean, the interest is definitely there already, so it is just a matter of time - and about making time in his schedule, you know?
Luxi: If we talk about today, OZ is booked as one of the headlining acts for "The Ultimate Revenge of Heavy Metal" event that takes place here in Helsinki, Finland. As we all know by now, Fire in the Brain is OZ's most classic and well-like work to date so I hear the main emphasis will be on the Fire in the Brain songs as far as your set list is concerned, correct?
Mark: You are almost reading my mind. Indeed, we are the slaves of Fire in the Brain and will also play a couple of songs off that record that we haven't done before. It's important for these new OZ members to play these OZ songs live and get some live experience with this band. They need to get familiar with the past OZ stuff too.
There's no question that Fire in the Brain is our most popular and well-known album of our repertoire. That's why we have to keep many of its songs in our set list as long as this band is alive and breathing. Both the Fire in the Brain album and the Turn the Cross Upside Down EP are still well-liked among our fans so we really cannot ignore them when playing live. None of our other albums come even close to them in popularity if you ask our fans. We have done six full-length albums that all contain some good songs. We have lots of songs to choose from and you just never know if we will re-record some of those old songs; rearranging some of them a little bit here and there and maybe adding some extra solos. Like I said earlier, everything's possible with this band as long as I live.
Once we get our new album finished completely and it's available in the stores, we'll add some of the new songs to the set list, making a mixed package of both old and new songs.
Luxi: Have you booked any other gigs for OZ after this one here in Helsinki?
Mark: No, not yet. Our main focus has completely been on this album and the progress has been very slow I admit. Once this album is out, hopefully we will be more active on the gig front. Many of the festivals this year are fully booked already so we are aiming to do some next year at least. It's more important for us to get this next OZ album released before anything else. Festival organizers are probably more interested if you have a new album out. The thing is we have been 3-something years away from the limelight due to many setbacks in our personal lives so it's a great thing to have something concrete for people to hear rather than just bragging about it nonstop without any evidence.
Luxi: It's kind of sad that your comeback album Burning Leather was released on AFM Records in November 2011 and now the band has lost some of its marketing value because of the time it's taken to get to the point where people can actually start expecting a follow-up album. Some OZ fans may even have thought OZ has descended below the horizon for good due to all this silence, as you can imagine...
Mark: Yes, it's kind of frustrating that it's taken so much time for us to come up with a follow-up album for Burning Leather. We know we should have gotten this album recorded much sooner but due to all of the negative things that occurred we just couldn't get into the songwriting and recording mode any earlier, unfortunately. We kind of went our separate ways after the US tour we did in May 2013. Jay C. Blade and I started writing some new material, but after a while, so much started happening in our lives that the motivation to concentrate on doing new stuff for the band wasn't there. When all this shit happened, I wasn't worrying much about getting new shit together as other things became way more important to me. It was very unfortunate for us when we think of how OZ was going and there's nothing you can really do when things start slipping in the wrong direction. Life just goes as it goes sometimes.
SWEDEN-IZED OZ GETTING FINN-ISHED AGAIN
Luxi: What I have noticed over the years is, for some reason or other, people mistakenly consider OZ as a Swedish act obviously due to the band relocating from Pori, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden, in the early eighties. Now you have a line-up that consists of 100% Finns...
Peppi: Indeed. Now we have returned to our roots, sort of.
Mark: We are a band whose origins are in Pori, Finland again.
Peppi: I can understand why some people consider OZ a Swedish Metal band. OZ's home has been in Stockholm since 1983 so after time, people don't necessarily remember the origins of the band, which is pretty understandable, I think. There used to be more Swedish members than Finns back in the day, you know. Anyway, as you said yourself, the OZ line-up in 2016 is made up of 5 Finns so perhaps that fact will start to turn people's minds about us as a Finnish Metal band again, little by little.
Juzzy: I don't mind if people consider OZ a Swedish Metal act. For me it's the same really.
Mark: Well, I have been living my life in quite a few countries and I have lived most of my life in Sweden. Being sort of a liberal thinker, I have never cared too much which country a band might come from. It's pretty pointless. If we think of all this from a more philosophical point of view, you cannot choose in which country you'd like to be born and get raised in, right? It's your parents that do all that on your behalf. This whole Finland-Sweden axis gets to ridiculous proportions at times; Finland this and Sweden that (it's about this so-called "love and/or hate" relationship between Finns and Swedes - Luxi).
Back in the day, we relocated OZ from Finland to Sweden because of our deal with a Swedish record company and the fact we didn't have a market for our type of stuff here in Finland. I wanted to make a career in Sweden with OZ and now I am not so sure we did the right thing. What I mean is it wasn't an ideal situation for us to move to Sweden in the early eighties as we were a band from Finland. It wasn't any easier for our Swedish label to market us either. The label couldn't, or didn't want to, market us as a Finnish Metal band but, on the other hand, they couldn't sell us as a Swedish Metal band either. Hence someone got this "brilliant" idea to promote us as a Scandinavian Metal band which obviously sounded much better than trying to sell us as "that poor Finnish Metal band" to people in Sweden back in the early eighties. It wasn't easy to be a Finnish Metal band in Sweden back in those days. We realized this soon after we moved to Sweden, keeping our Finnish flags high while doing so. The Swedes didn't like us too much, I can tell you (*laughs*). After a while we were seen as a Scandinavian Metal band, which is kind of hilarious. We were like, "Okay, we are a Scandinavian Metal band from now on but hey, we are completely fine with it!"
Your roots or nationality, in the sense of global marketing, seems not to make much sense. People have been moving from their homelands to other countries for many different reasons. If you cannot, or don't want to be, a citizen of your home country, you can always move and try to make a better living for yourself in some other country. Since the fifties, as far as I know, people living in Scandinavian countries have been free to move within these countries without applying for work visas or any of that shit. Sweden has always had this strong reputation as a wealthy and well-organized society which has been a giant magnet for many people. Neither Finland nor Norway have ever been THAT attractive compared to Sweden. I also lived 2 years in Germany and that made me realize even more how much people move away from their home turf to live somewhere else. Life isn't just "Ok, I was born in Poland, now I just need to do my best out of living here." Naturally not all people in the world are in a privileged position where they have a chance to move away from the country they have born in.
Back to OZ again otherwise this debate will turn too political. Even OZ could have some members that live in Finland but are originally from Russia or Poland or whatever.
Luxi: Sometimes it's just that people tend to spread misleading information about bands as FACTS and those people seem to be lazy about doing their homework when they publish things about bands, you know...
Mark: That's all true what you say. Music journalists should know that we don't come from Finland, but Nakkila instead, ha ha!! That's where our origins are in. The very first line-up of OZ contained members that were all from Nakkila, Finland. After time, we noticed that some members need to go as they weren't what we were looking for. Shortly after, I moved to another city, Tampere, and met Jay C. Blade. With the help of Jay C. Blade, we found one new member from Rauma and another from Porvoo, Finland. We still arranged band practices in Nakkila with this new OZ line-up though.
After moving to Stockholm, we changed our line-up again and hired these Swedish fellows to play in OZ. Where we ourselves considered OZ to be from, after getting these Swedes in the band, really didn't matter to us. Now when I think of the whole lifespan of OZ, in a way we have come a full circle, returning to our roots. Now there are 3 guys in OZ in 2016 that live in Pori, Finland (Pori is close to Nakkila - Luxi). It's been quite a journey to come to this point and where we will go from here, nobody knows. The future is still unwritten.
Juzzy: Could it be said that what you went to do in Sweden with OZ, we are doing the same thing here in Finland now?
Mark: Yeah, you could say so. I feel like we have done a full circle with OZ now. We started here and here we return. Life has some odd twists and turns. Returning to a place near our childhood landscapes is definitely one of them. To be honest with you, I didn't see this happening to us. But hey, tell you what; it feels good. Our new members are all easy-going, talented and nice fellows, they are also extremely devoted and dedicated to this band, which feels great. We didn't even try to find "known" faces to fill in the empty spots in the OZ line-up because that's not important. What I consider important is to have the right band chemistry and we have that now, which I am very pleased about.
40TH ANNIVERSARY IS LURKING BEHIND THE DOOR ALREADY
Luxi: It's a known fact that OZ was formed in 1977 and 2017 will bring OZ's 40th anniversary. Have you planned anything special for next year? If not, you should seriously consider doing so. 40 years is a long time, you know?
Juzzy: Wow, that hadn't even crossed my mind until you mentioned it. 40 years? Really?
Mark: It would be great to do something special with OZ next year but, for example, playing festival shows isn't cheap. The release of our new album would obviously boost our chances to get some festival shows next year, maybe 2-3 in Finland, the same amount in Sweden and so on and doing it in a way people would remember OZ's career just reached the 40-year milestone.
Luxi: If you got this next OZ album out next year it wouldn't be a shame to use this as a promotion strategy like getting some stickers on the album cover saying: "OZ still crushes...Even in its forties." It would not do any harm, I suppose...
Peppi: No, no...Not at all. I think it would have a contrary effect. Perhaps it would even stir up people's interest more...
Juzzy: I think for the younger generation of metal heads it would be a good idea since they obviously weren't even born when OZ made its first 4-5 albums.
Mark: After the 40th anniversary of OZ, I look forward to the 50th anniversary of OZ, if I still eat, shit and breathe. I would be 65, retired and OZ would have been 50 years as a part of my life. Just think about it. Celebrating OZ's 40th anniversary will be my personal goal, for now at least. I also have to say this; when we were at the studio with this new line-up for the very first time, we had truly a great time together. Our personal chemistry clicked right away.
Peppi: I agree. Overall the feeling was like we were a bunch of teenagers doing demos with OZ for the very first time. We reached the level of social cohesion at the studio that undoubtedly is very rare to reach at this age. It left a really good feeling on each of us, absolutely. We had many laughs together when we gathered at the studio and jammed as if we were teenagers, full of passion and excitement toward our stuff.
Mark: Besides having a great time at the studio with these new members, we also had a very creative practice session in which we managed to record quite a bit of stuff. It was a very stress-free and relaxed session all in all. When I remember back in time and think of some of our studio sessions with previous line-ups, they weren't nearly as easy and relaxed as the one with these new OZ fellows.
Peppi: Also, much thanks to new studio technology, which saved a lot of time re-doing things and adding bits and pieces to songs here and there.
Juzzy: And thinking of studio costs today, spending 200 hours at some well-equipped studio would obviously cost a small fortune. Fortunately we can keep these expenses low as it's pointless to pay small fortunes for studio time.
Mark: I remember one Mr. Forsberg, who has his own recording studio and record label, once said politely to us back in the day "Have you guys ever thought about how much this costs ME when you are using my studio for recording?" Upon first hearing this from him we must have looked like complete idiots but quite soon we phlegmatically replied back to him "have you ever thought about who wrote this song for your label?" I guess that sort of ended that conversation with him, ha ha!!
Luxi: So, what do you expect from 2016 as far as your comings and goings with OZ are concerned?
Peppi: We are hoping to get this next OZ album finished.
Mark: I also think it's relatively important to get some gigs this year, just to keep the wheels going and letting people know that we are still here, alive and making new music.
Luxi: Okay, I guess I got everything covered. Thanks guys for your time and all the best for tonight's gig.
Mark: Thanks also to you, once again.
|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 drummer Mark Ruffneck on January 17, 2014 (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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