Thrasher interview with Ozma - September 2003

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"It's popular to hate emo 'cuz it sucks."

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, and kids, here is OZMA. Their songs span a stylistic spectrum from prog to punk to whatever's popular right now. Their vibe is low-voltage but they're edgy; they've been brought up on hardcore, yet their compositions weave wonderful melodic fabrics of happiness. So, just what the fuck are they all about? ---George Petros

It began in Pasadena back in '95. Brought together by compulsory high school attendance and internet networking, the future members of Ozma clicked: Daniel Brummel, vocals & bass, Ryen Slegr, vocals & guitar, Jose Galvez, guitar, Patrick Edwards, drums, and Star Wick, flute & keyboards. They recorded a demo with Weezer knobtwister Rod Cervera, and relentlessly toured Southern California's sleazy clubs. By '99 they had saved up enough scratch to record a full-length album, Rock and Roll Part Three. It attracted the attention of Kung Fu Records' honchos, who signed the band and released the album. A slot on 2002's Warped Tour supported their next endeavor, The Doubble Donkey Disc.

Ozma taps into rock's bounty of hard shit and soft textures, blending it all into their unique brand of power pop. A sonic history lesson covering post-Beatle ju-ju results. (In fact, Daniel Brummel says, "For us, the Beatles are still god.") And like a history lesson, their music seems detached, distant from its roots, as if the band built its sound from the past's abandoned archives. This is a good thing.

Now they've got another album out, Spending Time On The Borderline. Their clinical detachment also insulates them from their influences' anxiety-producing aspects: the anger, the druggy sloppiness, the overblown egos. Ozma avoids all that, recreating pop's legacy from a vantage point at once naive and bedazzled. It's almost as if one can hear them learning.

Bassist Brummel says, "Our first records were kinda personal and intimate about romance and relationships and things. On Spending Time On The Borderline we started wising up to other issues. Our first records were straight-ahead two guitars, bass and drums. We didn't vary our sound. On this record we got real creative with the arrangements and orchestration. We were listing to Electric Light Orchestra and Boston; we learned how to arrange to get bigger sound. We wanted to head in the direction of big orchestrated arrangements."

Spending Time sounds lush and full, flourished with cellos and violas (Brummel: "We spent about 45 grand on it, which is a lot for an indie label"). There's nothing funky or flashy, just sort of easy listening for jaded ears.

Like so many other bands, Ozma refers to their repertoire with distinctions often imperceptible to consumers. Although Spending Times's smooth production presents a unified sound, Brummel sees it as an almost arbitrary collection of styles. For example he says, "the second track ["Your Name"] is subdued and the harmony is jazzy. It's just a Rhodes keyboard and a jazz guitar and three-part harmony. Then there's an old country kinda song, I think the third track ["Come Home Andrea"]. I've been getting into folk rock, and I've been listening to Wilco, Sun Volt---things like that.

"On "Come Home Andrea" I wanted to take that stereotype of the typical bloated '80s rocks star who writes a powerful ballad for his girlfriend with her name in the title---I wanted to take that raunchy stereotype and go way too far with it... She dug it---it's not exactly her style of music, but it put a smile on her face." Kinda nice, ain't it?

The potpourri of styles presents the conundrum rock critics love: Who or what do these guys remind us of? Like a metaphor from quantum physics, any attempt to describe the music automatically changes its meaning. Guitarist and vocalist Ryen Slegr points out, "A lot of bands are restricted by the definitions they put on themselves." He's right. But then comes the inevitable self-contradiction: "We wanted every song to be unique."

Regardless of labels, the guitarist says, "It's important that a band be made up of people who don't have to follow one strict aesthetic guideline. Some people spend too much time trying to make things consistent. I've heard how the White Stripes talk about how they follow a strict aesthetic guideline. I've heard them talk disparagingly about bands that can't create that kind of uniformity."

So, what is Ozma? Daniel Brummel says, "the whole industry categorization of emo music just seems, you know---I know it's popular to hate emo 'cuz it sucks." Perhaps that means they associate themselves with the emo scene, whatever that is. Ryen Slegr: "I'm trying to get away from complaining. Like emo music---it's one thing to express your feelings, and another thing to complain about your problems." Great line! Brummel again: "We're going for the craft and the songwriting performance as opposed to just being annoying and inflammatory. Good punk music gets your blood going." What about bad punk? "Bad punk is bad. Bands like Good Charlotte, who just kinda cash in on it---I mean, I don't wanna name names---they take the years of hard work by bands like Black Flag and Minutemen, and just cash in on it."

Slegr offers an interesting observation: "You sing things over and over, so you have to be careful what you write. Sometimes you can hypnotize yourself into believing everything that you write."

Some rock is deep, some fun or frivolous; some, like Ozma, is simply rock for rock's sake. There's no bone to pick, no wound to lick, just a desire to kick out some cool tunes. Maybe that's the future. For now, their message is, "Keep the faith, rock onward, stay close to your morals, be vocal about what you feel, don't let anybody make decisions for you."♠


See also