Interview with drummer Mark Ruffneck
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 22, 2020
Originally formed in the small countryside village of Nakkila, Finland, with a population of less than 5,500 inhabitants, in 1977, OZ relocated to Stockholm, Sweden, in the early eighties due to Finland's minimal music market at the time. OZ's engine may have aged over the years, but nothing had stopped it from running. In one form or another, OZ has always been there for the only original member left, drummer Mark Ruffneck. He has firmly believed in the band since day one and made it his life's work. Not even major lineup changes (like original vocalist Ape De Martini stepping aside in 2016, which seemed to be a big blow for many fans) did not shake Mark's firm love and faith in his band. He has faithfully kept the band running, always finding the right guys to carry the torch.
Seven studio albums later, these semi-legendary Heavy Metal veterans are preparing to release their eighth studio album on May 22, 2020. The album is titled Forced Commandments and continues the band's musical legacy with some new tricks and spices.
The Metal Crypt contacted Mark to discuss their forthcoming album and what is planned for the ongoing year as far as playing around the globe...
Luxi: New year, new tricks and threats. What is on the table for OZ for 2020?
Mark: The new OZ album, our eighth, will be released on the 22nd of May. Later on, OZ will be touring here and there and everywhere.
NEW ALBUM: FORCED COMMANDMENTS
Luxi: As we have previously discussed via email, there will be a new album coming from OZ sometime in 2020. What can you tell us about this new album, like perhaps the title and how many songs it will have?
Mark: The name of the new album is Forced Commandments. The vinyl will be released in three different colors; black, red and blue. The vinyl will include eight songs and the CD will have three extra bonus songs.
Luxi: OZ has never done a concept album before and I assume this forthcoming album is not that kind of an album, right?
Mark: No, we haven't ever done a concept album and it's true this new album won't be a concept album. We haven't even thought that way, but maybe in the future we could do that kind of an album.
Luxi: How different was it working on this new album compared to your previous album, Transition State, released in 2017?
Mark: Well, mainly it was the same process, but this time I asked the OZ sound wizard, Lars Chriss, how he wanted us to record different tracks before we started. So technically, we had more knowledge on how to make different recordings and that's why the mixing work was more fun for Lars Chriss. Just like with the Transition State album, everyone in the band was given a great freedom to make their own recording as they wished. As a retired researcher, I control OZ as long as possible as a research group. Everyone has a great freedom to do what they want, but at the same time we show a great respect for other members of the band and also for the band OZ.
OF GETTING A REAL FIGHTER'S MODE SQUEEZED INTO OZ
Luxi: What were some of the biggest challenges with this forthcoming OZ record?
Mark: The big challenge was getting everyone in the band in "fighting mode" and also continuing to work in different places. But in general, there were only minor problems during the recording and only minor problems with the mixing. Working on this album and making it ready was probably more shadowed by the fact that the album must be better than the album Transition State. Making Transition State was the biggest nightmare I've had over the years, so doing this album was overall a really easy task.
Luxi: You told me it was a long process getting the album recorded and finished. Obviously getting all of your personal timetables to match was something that delayed the process due to jobs, families, etc. Were there other obstacles that prevented you from finishing the album any earlier?
Mark: Creating an album is always a time-consuming task, but in this case we had no time limits, no deadlines, because we put quality before quantity. The fact that I live far away from other band members also means that we had different work schedules compared to other bands or when all the members of OZ lived in the same city in the '80s. And, of course, there is always the pressure from the record label and the fans to produce new music with good quality. During my life, I have learned that there will be other things in life than creating music or playing on stage with the band. And there will always be things that happen that change your plans, but you have to learn to live your life with some kind of reservation for unknown events. So, improvisation and rapid changes are a part of the reality of the music industry and you just have to learn to live with them.
Luxi: How many songs did you enter the studio with and how many of them ended up being on the new album?
Mark: As with Transition State, Johnny and Juzzy wrote many new songs and made a massive number of demo tracks. We all listened to the demo tracks and chose the songs that suited the album. We chose a total of 12 songs for the recording work. From the recorded songs, eight will be available on vinyl, another three will be used as bonus material on the CD and the rest will be used on the future releases.
OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW SCHOOL
Luxi: How much of the band's well-known old school material can be heard in these new songs?
Mark: I think there will be some of the old school material and feeling to the new songs, but we also like to modernize the OZ sound, because the current technology offers a great opportunity to do many things in the studio that we only dreamed of in the '80s. I don't look back in the '80s and remember that time as a some kind of dream period when recording in the studio. I have recorded several albums in Stockholm in different studios in the '80s and during that time, these studios were the top of the line. I still remember how complicated it was to record different instruments the way we wanted. Working in the studio is a completely different thing today. Everything is much easier with the new technology and it makes life much more fun to live. And finally, the only interesting thing is the end product, not the recording or production processes. We will use, if needed, all types of modern technology available in the recording work. We did it in the '80s and we will do it now. The real hard fact is this, if you do not have a good song, the game is over, because there is no technology to make a bad song into a good song.
Luxi: Both the band and Massacre Records have apparently been going through some serious discussions about the final release date of the record? Has there been any realistic release month in your discussion so far?
Mark: Yes, there have been discussions about a release day and also other things. The album's release day has been cemented; Forced Commandments will be released on May 22, 2020.
Luxi: What are some of your expectations from your new label, Massacre Records, regarding promotion, marketing and all that jazz?
Mark: I have pretty similar expectations as with AFM Records. Both companies are owned by the same people and both are German companies with German workers, so their work philosophy is probably quite similar. Of course, there are different people working for Massacre Records and they probably work in a slightly different way, but so far I am happy with the feedback I have received from Massacre Records. There will be similar promotion and marketing as with other artists and bands signed to Massacre Records. I believe I could probably answer this question a lot better after a year or so. However, it will cost money for Massacre Records to release the Forced Commandments album, both on vinyl and on CD, so they will apparently do a good job with OZ, because they naturally want their money that they have invested into us back. The music business is like all other types of business; money talks and people and companies like to get paid for their work. Of course, we like to sell as many albums as possible and we will also work hard to make that goal to happen. We will do what we have to do and also give our helping hand to Massacre Records. PR and promotion for the new OZ album, Forced Commandments, is also a part of our work.
BECOMING A WELL-OILED MACHINE
Luxi: Making new material is always challenging. Do you think it was a little easier this time to get all the material together for this new opus because you were already aware of what each member can contribute to the songwriting process? I mean, all the "new members" of OZ joined the band between 2015 and 2016, so obviously getting to know each of them and what they could bring to the band was kind of a learning process, right?
Mark: Making new material was not a problem for us this time. Both Johnny and Juzzy wrote so many new songs that we had a lot of material to choose from. Of course, the whole recording process was easier this time because we got to know each other better since the new lineup finalized in 2015. Quality before quantity was the main idea with this album and everything had to be perfect and sound 100% correct, nothing less was accepted. With the strict orders from Lars Chriss about how to records different parts made the recording session longer, but at the same time the results were great. The mixing process took more time, because the final result had to be as good as possible. I believe all of us (OZ, Lars Chriss and Mike Lind, the mastering monster) together made such a great sounding album and we can all be really proud of what we did to do together.
Luxi: You already mentioned to me that you are about to make some lyric videos to promote this new album to the masses. Have you nailed down which songs?
Mark: Two lyric videos are already finished and they have been sent to Massacre Records. They will be used during the PR and promotion works under the release procedure. The two lyric videos were made for the songs, "You Goin' Down" and "Break Out". We will also make one or two normal videos, and if needed, one or two more lyric videos as well. Everything's depending on how the PR and promotion work develops. We will do what is needed. Failure is not an option at NASA and it's the same rule with us, too.
Luxi: When you worked on your previous album, Transition State, was it surprising how productive and creative the "new" OZ members were as far as the songwriting process?
Mark: Yes, I was surprised by their writing capacity back then and it's been great for us that the songwriting for both has still been on a great level. I hope that they can continue being creative and come up with more and more ideas for new songs. Their creativity and writing is a great asset for the band. But, of course, we will have to see if it stays that way in the future. Fingers crossed.
NO SHIT, SHERLOCK, BUT THE LIFE GOES ON...
Luxi: Some die-hard OZ puritans have said that it cannot be OZ anymore if there's just one original member left, and this only original member of the band happens to be you. Do you have any message for them?
Mark: Yes, I do. The message for these people is go and listen to some other bands, if that makes you happier. OZ isn't a competition where the audience can vote who plays in the band and who doesn't. I started OZ many years ago together with OZ's first bass player, Tani. Now I'm the only living founding member, because he died several years ago. In other words, OZ as a band was born with me and will also die with me. I already know running this band won't last forever, but OZ will not be over this year, so we still have some time left. We are focusing on doing things with the band and not listening to some people's wishes about certain things that are not possible to solve without a direct contact to God.
Luxi: Are you still in touch with some of the former OZ members? What have they thought of this new incarnation of OZ if I can be this curious?
Mark: No, I can't say that I'm in touch with any of the old OZ members, and why should I be? When they left the band, they showed me they weren't interested in cooperating with me, so the game was over for them. I hope they are living a good life, the kind of way I like living my life and doing all those things that I like to do in my life. I am always focusing on those people who I like to work with together, not with the people who tend to leave me and my different projects.
IMPORTANCE OF PLAYING LIVE
Luxi: What plans have been put on the table as far as conquering the world by playing live is concerned?
Mark: Yes, we will go out and play for people for sure. It is a big plan after the album has been released and we are working on it and will inform the world as soon as we begin to make some progress in that area. I never talk about our plans much in advance; I only talk about them when something really happens for us. As it's been the case with so many other bands around the world, a lot of plans never happen or move forward.
Luxi: Are you aiming to arrange some sort of club tour at some point in the fall of 2020 as I believe both this spring and summer are pretty much dedicated to festival shows if I am not mistaken...?
Mark: As I mentioned before, yes, we have our plans and hopefully some of those plans will be happening and OZ will surely go out and play for our fans. I can see that we are moving now in the right direction with the band—and we just have to continue with that momentum and let the engine run hot. You get a lot done in this world when you work for it, but if you just wait at home and hope that something happens, you are certainly doomed to stay at that point forever.
Luxi: Well, I think that was it. Thank you, Mark, for your time once again and making this interview happen. May there be a rewarding and successful road ahead of the band in 2020! Stay heavy and keep on rocking! Last comments are for you, so just be my guest... ;o)
Mark: Rock on, folkz! I want to thank all the people who have supported OZ for all these years. Check out OZ's new album, Forced Commandments, released by Massacre Records on May 22, 2020. Who knows, maybe it will be something that you may like. And check out the latest news on OZ's official website: www.ozofficial.com.
|Other information about OZ on this site|
|Review: Burning Leather|
|Review: Burning Leather|
|Review: Transition State|
|Review: Transition State|
|Review: Fire in the Brain|
|Review: Forced Commandments|
|Review: Forced Commandments|
|Review: Forced Commandments|
|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 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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