Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 13, 2017
OZ, originally based in Finland but relocated to Sweden early in their recording career, are not new to the readers of The Metal Crypt as they have been interviewed not just once for the site but four times. The band's second and third albums, Fire in the Brain and III Warning, were international successes and made OZ a household name among metal heads around the globe. The band's next two albums, ...Decibel Storm... (1986) and Roll the Dice (1991), weren't as popular as they lacked the hit potential of the previous releases. This affected the band so much that they decided to call it quits in 1991.
In February 2010 OZ collected their troops back together with vocalist Ape De Martini, bassist Jay C. Blade and drummer Mark Ruffneck left over from the band's original lineup. They released their well-received comeback album, Burning Leather, via AFM Records in late November 2011 and played a bunch of shows around the world, including a short US-tour in May 2013 (OZ's first time in the States).
After that US tour, some troubles started slowing things down for OZ but it's better if we let original drummer Mark Ruffneck enlighten us as to how they eventually got back on their feet again...
Luxi: It's been a long roller coaster ride for OZ to this point. The band's previous album, sort of a comeback, Burning Leather was released in November 2011. I assume many different things have happened since then. Can you kindly tell us about those "mountain-moving" things in the band's recent history?
Mark: Let's start the roller coaster ride! After the US-club tour that ended in May 2013 we flew back to Sweden and faced the worst reality shock of our lives. Our family members were fighting against cancer and they were losing their fights, so we were forced to put OZ on hold. After a time, we started to get our lives back on the right track in some ways and we started thinking about getting OZ back on the road again and there were even plans to do a tour in Europe.
The American tour lineup was gone and we needed a new lineup around Ape De Martini (vocals) and myself (drums). Luckily, we had gotten in contact with a young wolf pack in OZ's old home town of Pori, Finland. We organized a band meeting with Johnny Cross (guitar), Juzzy Kangas (guitar) and Peppi Peltola (bass), made some plans for the future and started rehearsing together. The new lineup sounded great and the feeling that would be back on the road started to grow.
We also realized that we had to release new music after being out of the limelight for so long so both guitar players started to write some demo songs. The first demo songs were ready soon and sounded great, so we were on the right track again. It was time to hit the studio and after two sessions the drum tracks were ready and we were ready to record the other instruments. After a while, we had 14 songs ready, including drums, bass and guitars.
At that time, we were offered a headlining slot in Helsinki at The Ultimate Revenge of Heavy Metal festival in Feb 2016, which we did it and it was great to be on stage again with OZ. Soon after that we realized that singer Ape De Martini was in a family situation where he would not have enough time for recording or singing in OZ, now or in the near future. We were forced to find a new singer to finish the new album. Luckily, we got in contact with Vince (lead vocals) who is also from OZ's old home town Pori, Finland, and with him we were able to finish the new album, Transition State.
OLD VOCALIST OUT – NEW VOCALIST IN
Luxi: How do you think Vince has fit in with the band, filling the big boots that Ape De Martini left behind?
Mark: I think he works well as OZ's vocalist and front man. In the studio, he sang all 14 songs in a short time and he was phenomenal. On stage, he is more than good. He is exactly the kind of front man that's needed in OZ. He is also a very nice person, but at the same time full of energy, so we are just really happy that he is now a part of OZ. In the future, when we start to tour, people will see that his performance on stage will be good. He is also an actor and standing on stage is a natural thing for him.
Luxi: For many, Ape De Martini was "THE" voice of OZ as he had a very recognizable and distinctive delivery. Are you afraid of how people will accept Vince as the band's new front man?
Mark: We were in that kind of situation when we realized that Ape couldn't continue as the singer of OZ, that we just needed to finish the album and take the next step after that. We knew that Vince would fit as the singer of OZ, and in reality, I'm not afraid of how people will react. I'm afraid of completely different things, such as spiders and snakes. Probably some people will be disappointed when they realized that Ape is not singing in OZ anymore, but there was no other option. We had to take a new singer or just stop playing with OZ, and for me that was not an option, so here we are. And I think this was the best thing that could happen to OZ. Clean the whole house and let the old dogs go out and take a new wolf pack instead.
Luxi: Why did Ape want to leave the band?
Mark: Family reasons. He had no time for OZ, so there is no drama behind this lineup change. We waited for him a long time, but he never showed up or answered our phone calls, so we figured that he had no interest in OZ anymore and we were forced to move on with a new singer.
Luxi: As the band has a completely new lineup, do you see it as a new beginning with new and cool opportunities ahead of you?
Mark: Yes, I see this as an opportunity to do things a little differently than we had done before. And the new lineup is always boosting me up, the old dog. We all got a new start and there is a good energy and feeling in the rehearsal room. We get a lot of things done now, so the future seems to be bright.
OZ GETTING FINNISH-ED AGAIN
Luxi: All in the band are Finns now. Do you see it as a big advantage as there's no language/culture barrier between any of you?
Mark: Well, I think that it was in the beginning more like a disadvantage. I have been living in Stockholm, Sweden since '83 and I haven't been in a close contact with Finland or Finnish people so much. I can still speak some Finnish, but on the other hand my contacts with Finland are quite rare. But now the situation seems to be better and we all understand each other quite well.
Luxi: The aptly titled new album, Transition State, features 13 new songs. How would you describe them compared to the songs on Burning Leather? What's new? What's old - and what's possibly "borrowed"?
Mark: When guitar players Johnny and Juzzy started to write new songs for OZ, we discussed that they should have the old OZ spirit but there was some freedom concerning the new material. We talked about using new colors when creating new songs but at the same time they should have an OZ feeling. What's old? We are still making 80s Heavy Rock but with new fresh tones on it. What's new? There are more guitars and they have more space on new songs and I think that's a natural development when we have two great guitar players in the band. And what's borrowed? Well, nowadays there is so much music being made that we probably have borrowed something from somewhere, but we have not borrowed anything on purpose. If such a thing has happened it has happened without our knowledge and probably that kind of thing happens to most bands nowadays. When comparing Transition State to Burning Leather, it is probably a more mature sounding album, because we are now older and maybe also wiser, but we haven't compared those albums ourselves. I think that kind of analysis is for other people to do; we just make music that we like to make.
Luxi: How did you share the songwriting duties on the new album? Did each of you contribute something to this album? Whose input was the most significant?
Mark: The new guitar players, Johnny Cross and Juzzy Kangas, quickly showed their ability to write great Metal music, so this time the songwriting wasn't a big issue. We started out like this; both guitar players started to write demo songs and then those songs went through a listening and modifying period and in the end, they were ready for the studio work. We all were involved in this prerecording period.
When Johnny and Juzzy started to write these songs, we discussed but in the beginning, they were just sending some of the songs they had made for me. I took the songs I thought were made for OZ and that helped them get the idea of the style I was looking for. We chose 14 songs and started to work with them in the studio. There were more demo songs, but we chose not to work with any of the others. I can say that I slightly used my position as the founding member of OZ to choose the songs, but there were no hard discussions about any of the songs that we recorded. I think that we all liked the songs we chose to record for this album.
Johnny, who wrote all the lyrics, asked what kind he should write, and I told him that any kind were fine but they could have a darker style compared to old OZ lyrics, so we moved more to the dark side.
So, for the songwriting I think both guitar players had the biggest input and for the lyrics Johnny is the man. As I said earlier, we are all satisfied with the songs and everybody had freedom to play the way they wanted. I'm a democratic dictator; as long as things work well, there is no need to stop anything, just keep on working, but when the direction needs pointing out, I will do it. The same way a scientific research group works; freedom with responsibility and respect to all the others in the group.
Luxi: Were there any particular topics that inspired you to write such songs as "Bone Crusher", "Drag You to Hell" or "In a Shadow of a Shotgun", for this new album? Are the lyrics just fictional or partly based on real life stories?
Mark: I think that there may been some particular topics for inspiration but generally speaking all lyrics are just smooth combination of reality and science fiction. In real life, it's not so easy as many people think; there are a lot of "bone crushers" and just "evil" people out there and somehow these lyrics include those parts of life on them.
ABOUT THE SYMBOLISM OF THE NEW ALBUM COVER
Luxi: I couldn't help noticing that there's some sort of death pendant on the album cover as well as a skull thing and two crosses, one of which is upside down. Does it symbolize an ongoing battle between good and evil or did you want this symbol to hint at your old "hit" song "Turn the Cross Upside Down"?
Mark: The album cover is connected to the name Transition State. There is the one-way path from one situation to other situation, similar to the one we are involved in now with our line-up change, but at the same time there is also the other transition state; from good to evil, or from evil to good. The two crosses are a sign of that kind of path. As you can see by looking at the lyrics of the new songs, we are probably moving more into the dark side with the lyrics. There will always be a connection with crosses and one of OZ's best known songs, "Turn the Cross Upside Down".
Luxi: AFM Records released this album at the end of October 2017. What has happened since then? Do you have any plans to go out to play some shows to support the album? What album a record release show?
Mark: Since the album was released, we have been doing promotion for it; interviews both for radio and magazines. We will also do some videos to promote some special songs and the whole album in general. In 2018, we are trying to go out and play as much as possible to present OZ's new lineup and support OZ's new music. We haven't planned any special release shows or happenings, because people need to know what our songs are like on Transition State music before we play these new songs on stage. I think it's totally a waste of time and money if you play a lot of new songs on stage and the audience has no knowledge of those songs. When an audience knows the songs you're playing on stage, both the band and audience enjoy them much more I think.
ABOUT TOURING AND TOURING PLANS
Luxi: At the end of September 2017 you played at the Considered Dead festival in Québec, Canada, as the headlining act. How did you get the invitation to play at such an extreme Metal festival? There were lots of Black and Death Metal bands on the festival's bill... Woah!
Mark: We were only headlining the first day of that festival. The first day was more like a traditional Metal day and the other two days included Black and Death Metal bands. We got an invitation because of OZ's history. OZ's old albums are well known by Black and Death Metal bands and the organizer of that festival was also a fan, so that explains a lot of why we were at that festival. It was really cool to be there and we had a chance to visit Quebec City. We probably wouldn't have visited that town without the festival, so it was a good experience for all of us.
Luxi: Does it really matter where OZ plays as long as you get to an opportunity play some shows and it does not kill your wallets?
Mark: We will always play in places where people like to see OZ. For the financial reasons, there must be a reasonable opportunity to make it without excessive financial losses. I try to combine work and vacation when we play somewhere and thus there are always better opportunities to travel and play in new places.
Luxi: How many songs off your new record and which songs from your repertoire will be a part of the band's live set?
Mark: We will have 2-3 new songs on the set list in the beginning, but we will add more new songs later on. We are some kind of "OZ cover band" but at the same time we are slaves of OZ's 40-years history, so there will always be some classics OZ songs on the set list. "Fire in the Brain", "Searchlights" and "Turn the Cross Upside Down" will probably follow OZ to the last day and there are also some other songs, such as "Burning Leather", "Stop Believing" and "Megalomaniac", that fit perfectly to OZ's future set lists.
Luxi: 2018 is not so far away, how does they year look for the band at the moment?
Mark: We will try to be on stage in the summer of 2018 at as many festivals as possible in Europe. One of the festivals is already booked. Pyrenean Warriors Open Air IV in France on 15th September. We are also planning to start the recording of the new album soon and hopefully this winter we will get some recordings done, but before the new recording sessions we have to make a new video for one of the songs from Transition State.
Luxi: Thank you so much for your time Mark. All the best for your future endeavors with the band. Those "famous last words" are yours...
Mark: I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our loyal fans out there, and also welcome new fans into the fold. For more info, please check out our website - www.ozofficial.com – and just keep on rocking.
|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 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 September 30, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: Hey You|
|Video: Burning Leather (Live)|
|Video: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Live)|
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