by Bret Miller
Ozric Tentacles have been doing what they do for going on two decades now. What they do is hard to explain. Well, the fact that they play instruments in a band is easy to explain. What's a challenge is what to exactly say it is that they do with those instrruments. Let me try: They play rock'n'roll. There, that wasn't so hard. Except that the Ozrics play spacy, dubby, psychedelic sounds with an ear for rhythms and styles from other cultures. And you can dance to it, and you don't really need drugs, Ozric Tentacles will alter your state of consciousness with their music. The recently released Live: At the Pongmaster's Ball is a thrilling aural (and soon to be visual) document of the band's history. I talked with Ed Wynne, nominal leader, guitarist, keyboardist, producer and original member of Ozric Tentacles. Let's see if he can explain his band any better than me.
Is Live at the Pongmaster's Ball out in the UK?
It's been out here for about a month.
How has your audience responded?
Very good so far.
I saw Ozric Tentacles live at the Whisky in West Hollywood maybe a week after Pink Floyd played the Rose Bowl with a big stage setup, lasers, glass ball rising from the middle of the field, and I go see you in a small club and I was blown away. You had a DJ, a man juggling things under a blue light where all you could see was the paint on his face...
I was enjoying myself at your concert thinking that dollar for dollar yours was the better show.
That's great, thank you.
I was wondering what kind of band would even bring their own sound mixer to a little club in Hollywood.
That was one of the most amazing gigs we've done. We wanted to do it right because it's L.A., you know.
And then I danced my ass off when you played at the Variety Arts Center in Downtown. The balcony was vibrating with people dancing. I have good memories connected to the Ozrics. Schoo is your new drummer?
He's a great drummer really.
Did Blim do the artwork for your live discs?
Yes, and that's a video clip in the middle of the cover from the show that will be on DVD.
Blim signed our CDs when we were at your Whisky show. Do you still bring on stage the large analog synthesizer setup I saw you play years ago?
Yes, it's kind of a cross between analog and digital.
With the technology available today do you still like the true analog sound as opposed to the digital recreation of analog?
I like it, I think the digital stuff is getting so close to the analog sounds now that I don't mind. It does what its supposed to do.
How long has Ozric Tentacles been around?
About 19 years now.
Is there anything that you haven't done yet, like conquer a market?
I wouldn't mind hitting Australia and Southeast Asia, that neck of the woods. We've played America, we've played most of Europe now. We'd like to go further.
What were you doing before Ozric and what made you start the band 19 years ago?
I've been doing music since before I can remember and I wanted to get a band together. It began as just friends just playing at home, I had this little setup in the attic and we used to just jam away. We started going to these free festivals we had in those days. Somebody came out one day and said "What's it called" and we said "Ozric Tentacles" and it just stuck around and here we are 19 years later.
We can still buy CD versions of what used to be handmade cassettes from your early years. But as a primer, what are some of the early tracks on Pongmaster's Ball?
I think the earliest one is a track called It's a Hup Ho World. That was from one of those early tapes.
When you first started out what were the shows like?
They were outside festivals where you would just jam for six hours and then the sun would come up and we'd kind of curl into our tents and crash out. That's how it used to be.
That must be why you're so good playing short sets of a few hours.
We have all our tunes worked out, we know what we're going to play, because it's a lot more complicated than it was then. We didn't have keyboards, it was just guitars and bass and just keep going really, keep playing until the drugs wore off. [Laughs] But that was a while ago.
Live do you take off from how the songs are on the CD?
There all jams really. They're all different every night. There's about three or four where the ending doesn't end, we just carry on and see where we go. It's a nice way to do it, it stops us from getting bored. The thing I look forward to most in those gigs is the improv.
One of the things I was going to ask is what keeps Ozrics fresh?
Its the fact that we're not playing exaclty note for note every tune every night. Anything can happen really, and it usually does at some point.
I'm looking forward to The Hidden Step and the Pyramidion EP and of course the Pongmaster's Ball DVD. Will there be any extras on the DVD?
There'll be the guy following us around, catching us setting up and sound checking and little bits of us talking about what we're doing. And then there'll be the gig with the same soundtrack as on the CD. I saw a rough mix of the video and it looks really good, really clear. A little bit erratic, maybe but he calms down after a tune or two.
I think your music is psychedelic enough but maybe some fast editing would also add a dimension. The concert was recorded at the Bush Empire in London, but what exactly is the Pongmaster's Ball?
It was something that was concocted a few years ago after this character. The Pongmaster is a character that sometimes appears on our CD cover and the band thought the live CD would be good to named after him.
Be on the lookout for Ozric Tentacles releases in the next few months as their work from the last few years gets U.S. Distribution. Bassist Zia, who took over for Roly in 1993 has left the band to work on his own projects. Pazza is the latest addition to the band. Rounding out Ozric Tentacles is keyboardist Seaweed and flautist and wildman Jumping John, aka Champillon. Where do they get these names? Go to www.ozrics.com for more on this unique and talented group.