Spotlight interview with Ozma - Spring 2015

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GETTING BACK ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
Story by Matthew Kiewiet + Photos by Ryan Kevin -

Playing sold out arenas, touring the globe, possibly suicidal bus drivers, getting robbed on the streets of Pittsburg while looking for a pot connection… what’s not to miss?

“After we had been broken up for a while, we looked back on it and were like, ‘Hey, that was cool, let’s do that again,’” remembers bassist Daniel Brummel.

After tours with the likes of Weezer, Superdrag, and Nadasurf, super-stardom and headlining tours seemed to be the next step for Ozma. However, after years of “slave tours,” circling the country an estimated 23 times, and tension with drummer Patrick Edwards, the band was burnt out.

Ryen Slegr and Jose Galvez, both 16 years old at the time, were students at La Salle High School in Pasadena when they met 14-year-old Daniel Brummel via AOL Profiles. In their early years they modeled their “progressive geek rock,” as Slegr would call it, or “melodic power pop,” as Brummel would say, after the likes of The Beatles and The Kinks.

“We started incorporating elements of 80s and also 90s music while it was still happening,” said Slegr. “Then 90s retro beginning on January 1st, 2000,” added Brummel.

“We had two demo tapes produced on four tracks,” explained Brummel. “Those were called Cuatro and Ocho. They had four songs and eight songs on each of them.”

Those demos included a yellow two-track cassette single containing “Loraine” on one side and “Los Angeles” on the other. The two tracks were both on their debut album and were the only two songs recorded using two-inch analog tapes.

There was only one more thing they had to do before they could get their name out, and that was actually think of a name to call themselves.

One day while taking a break from rehearsing at Edwards’ parents’ house, Slegr randomly grabbed a book off one of the book shelves. It was one of Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz books. He pointed to an arbitrary spot on a random page that read, “OZMA.” The name stuck, and it was time to show the world who they were.

Star Wick was first introduced to the band in 1998 through Galvez’s second cousin, whom she attended high school with.

Wick joined the guys for a jam session and they hit it off right away. By 1998 Ozma released their first self-produced album, “Songs of Inaudible Trucks and Cars.” Slegr and Galvez were both students at Pasadena City College. Going to city college made scheduling easier because they could plan their classes around whatever was planned for the band, whether it was gigs or recording sessions.

“Songs of Inaudible Trucks and Cars is sort of a hybrid between four track recordings and live studio recordings,” said Brummel.

Then Weezer came along.

“It [Weezer] feels like it was a paradigm shift,” laughed Slegr. “It erased our minds of everything else.”

Ozma released “Rock and Roll Part Three” in January of 2000 and spent the next year touring Southern California before their CD ended up in the hands of Brian Bell, a Weezer guitarist. He relayed the album to lead singer Rivers Cuomo.

“I ran into Rivers and tried to give him a copy of the CD and he said he already had it,” Galvez said with a grin. “And he was like, ‘What? You’re in Ozma? Give me your phone number.’ And the next weekend we were on tour with them.”

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. One moment, Brummel is smoking his “one a day” cigarette, living in Hedrick Hall with Slegr at UCLA, and working with his band mates on finishing their first studio album. Next thing you know, one cigarette turned into several, the album is finished, and they are going on tour with their favorite band.

Over the course of playing roughly 20 shows over the next month, the guys were hauled around in a van and paid $500 a night. Instead of spending their earnings on hotel rooms, they found fans to stay with by posting on their website.

After putting up with shit all day, including actual human shit in one case where someone decided to take care of business in the middle of the floor at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, the band members’ number one priority was sleep. The only problem was that their hosts were usually trying to get their own party started.

“There were some interesting sociological specimen on that tour that we got to observe first hand,” said Slegr, laughing.

Their sleeping quarters would range anywhere from college dorm rooms to the home of “working class heroes” in Houston, TX, who had a house full of just about any item you could order on QVC after 2 a.m. This family even set up instruments and insisted on playing an audition for the band before they hit the hay.

After little to no layover, Ozma began a club tour across the U.S. with Nadasurf in September of 2001 before another huge tour with Weezer in 2002, where they played huge venues such as the Meadowlands and hockey arenas.

Unfortunately the band disbanded in 2004 before getting back together in 2006.

“Touring as hard as we toured is unsustainable,” said Brummel. “Especially for kids as young as we were out on the road in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type scenario.”

After being in such closed quarters, night after night, for months at a time, it is both unfortunate, but completely understandable that tensions between bandmates could arise.

“We broke up because we couldn’t see any other solution,” remembers Brummel. “Looking back, I wish we hadn’t!” They released “Pasadena” in 2007 with a new drummer named Kenn Shane (formerly of the band Addison), and hit the road opening for bands such as Shiny Toy Guns and Yellowcard.

“Bands whose fans could give two shits about us,” Slegr added.

As it turns out, three years is a long time to be out of the spotlight. Ozma had come to the realization that quite a few people had forgotten about who they were.

During their time apart, the band members explored different career paths. Slegr has worked at the Art Center College of Design for the past 10 years. He also went back to PCC in 2005 to study music theory, and again from 2008-2011 to study equal interval harmony. Galvez has remained on the road doing lights for various bands, and Brummel works as a music instructor, which is essentially the same role he had in the band, Slegr jokes. Brummel has also recently started touring with Weezer as a fifth member.

In 2014 the band released their fifth studio album titled “Boomtown.”

“The name “Boomtown” was almost symbolic for the state of our band when we recorded the album,” explained Slegr. “We were in a state of disrepair and neglect, and wanted to symbolize resurrecting the standard we had before.”

The start of the new-year looks to bring yet another fresh start for the group. Ozma will be playing a show at the Bootleg HiFi in early January.

Beyond that, touring is currently “only a vague idea,” according to Slegr. “We’re starting to come up with some basic ideas about cities we want to play, asking fans where we should go and thinking about logistics like cost and transportation.”

One of the band’s songs includes the lyric, “After the last dance, you lose your last chance.” It is hard to say whether or not Ozma has had their last dance with stardom, but the members seem to be content either way.

“Whatever happens, everything will probably be alright in the end,” Slegr concludes.

Images

See also