By Naughty Mickie
Mmmmm.... coffee... good coffee from a spot off the beaten path in Pasadena, California. Now there's one smart way to lure a journalist out of the office to hear your tale. The members of Ozma, vocalist/bassist Daniel Brummel, vocalist/guitarist Ryen Slegr, drummer Patrick Edwards, vocalist/guitarist Jose Galvez and keyboardist/flute player Star Wick, are all bright and are focused on a longterm musical career.
I sat down over some steamin' java with Slegr and Brummel to find out what it's like to be signed (to Kung Fu Records) and still hitting the streets to keep your name out. Ozma formed in 1995 and within two years, was playing shows all over.
"We had nothing to do on Sundays when we were in high school, so we kept practicing every weekend and writing songs, practicing covers and dreaming about playing a show and then one thing led to another. We met in high school," Slegr begins.
"Me and Ryen, Pat and Jose met in middle school and high school and played in bands together," Brummel picks up. "They actually met me over the Internet. In 1995 they were looking for someone who played bass in Pasadena. We've had one keyboardist who left the band and we met the one we have now over the Internet, Star, she was a fan. She came to practice and it worked."
Ozma has since traveled across the United States, into Canada and over to Japan.
I ask them about their early musical experiences.
"Probably piano lessons like at 5 or 6 and then I quit those at 12 or 11," Slegr replies. "I played guitar around the time I quit piano. My mom played guitar and there was a guitar around the house and I just started playing it one day and then I started taking lessons and that was it."
"What about your singing?" I prod.
"Singing?" Slegr looks at me incredulously. "I'm not really sure I can sing. I sang for a band in junior high. I was never like the lead singer because I don't have a good voice. We played a party at my house and my sister said I sounded like a frog. Then after that I just sang. Then Daniel, a long time ago, was still going through puberty, so it was just whoever could sing."
Brummel takes his turn, "My dad has a huge music collection so he got me listening to music very young. I had first piano lessons too when I was in first grade and got a guitar when I was 10. I played a lot in school."
Brummel played in jazz band at Los Angeles County High for the Arts, but his father likes all kinds of music; jazz and rock.
"Bob Dylan's the first thing he got me into," Brummel explains. "I took one year of instruments here and there, like violin and trumpet, but lead guitar and piano were the only ones I stuck with."
I wonder if different instruments helped you to be a better player.
"Yeah," Brummel nods. "Maybe not experience on different instruments, but just being around lots of different types of music my whole life."
But these musicians aren't your average slackers, Slegr has a degree in history from UCLA and Brummel is attending UCLA for music composition. This leads me to ask them about their approach to writing.
"I think what happens most of the time is somebody will bring in a melody that's not fully formed into a song and we'll either match it up with parts that other people have written or we'll just work on it as a group," Brummel answers. "It's not usually like one person brings in a finished song. There's usually at least some collaboration. Sometimes there's songs where Ryen and Jose and I will all write parts for a song and you'll get a song that feels very multi-faceted because everybody's got their own perspective on how the song should sound and thinks that's what makes for good songs and good music is a little variety. But we've gone through all the possible combinations, I wrote lyrics to one of Ryen's songs, he wrote lyrics to one of my songs, just tried everything out."
Slegr and Brummel write most of the lyrics for Ozma's material.
We discuss the music scene.
"I think it's pretty healthy and kicking," Slegr offers.
"It's good on the local level, the underground level. A lot of the commercial stuff isn't as creative," levies Brummel.
"I think you still have your pockets of regional individuality where certain parts of the country have their own style. You will have the same sounding punk band or emo band in every corner of the country and they don't know that there's a band on the opposite side of the country that sounds exactly the same, that kind of thing," Slegr concludes.
"OK, so what about your sound?" I ask.
"We're leftovers from 1997. Those scenes called power pop, we branched out of that category," Slegr admits.
"We faced that head-on when we did the Warped Tour, there were tons of punk bands and then us. We didn't totally fit in and it was kind of a challenge to get the audience into us," Brummel agrees.
I grab the bait and ask how today's scene affects Ozma.
"`The industry has its own ideas of what's going to make it big because whatever they say is going to get big, whatever they pay radio stations to play, gets big. That's probably the fault of A&R at major labels for not seeking out individual talent," Brummel responds.
We move on to the Internet.
"It's a very useful tool for research. I don't know where the music aspect of it is going to go. I know Macintosh has the 99 cents a song, but I don't really see that going anywhere," Slegr laughs. "It might, you never know. But as far as giving potential fans a place to try things out and listen to a bunch of different music for free without feeling pressured, like a CD store, I think it's great. It cuts down on the amount of used CDs that you find of your own band in the bin because they bought it because they heard it was good and didn't like it. This way you know that every sale that you make really counts."
Ozma has played their share of big shows.
"Our first real big break, the first time we played outside of California was with Weezer," Brummel recalls. "We gave them a
CD at one of their shows and they liked it and called us back the next weekend and asked us to do some local shows and those went well, so we did a whole tour and actually ended up doing another tour. Now we're trying to help out bands we like and take them on tour."
Ozma has opened for Save Ferris, Jimmy Eats World and Superdrag. They're signed to the Vandal's label, Kung Fu Records, which allows them to develop over time, creating the music they want without the pressure of a major label.
The future is simple.
"More records, more touring," Brummel tells me.
"We're just thinking of where we want to go musically right now; working on new material while we have a chance," Slegr adds.
Having done stints in several bands, I wonder about the guys' perspective on having a woman in Ozma.
"I think it keeps us healthy; it keeps us polite," Brummel grins.
"Some bands are all guys and they just turn into debauchers and their jokes get out of hand. When there's a girl there you can't joke about certain things too much," Slegr assents.
"What's it like touring with Star?" I ask.
"It's tough for her, she has to change in the van," Slegr says.
"We usually try to bring at least one other female on the road with us to sell our merchandise or help out," Brummel adds.
"That way she has someone to talk to about her woman problems or whatever," Slegr explains.
"For us, she's a good friend of ours and we look out for her," Brummel goes on.
"She's a smart one and she's got her own fans," Slegr smiles.
As always, I offer my "victims" an opportunity to speak their minds before we part, "Is there anything we haven't discussed that you think we should?"
"The acting on soap operas is really horrible. I like to watch those when I wake up sometimes, it's really bad," Slegr quips.
"Hillary Clinton should run for president," Brummel catches on. "I think now would be the perfect time, I think she would win if she ran now."
Slegr disagrees, "I think she'd lose."
"Why would Hillary win?" I play devil's advocate.
"I think there's a backlash against George Bush," Brummel volleys back. "I think it would be time for a woman president, there's so much testosterone in our approach to foreign policy. She seems like a real honest, organized sort of person."
"Being in the public eye even a little bit gives you understanding," Slegr offers. "It's like being scrutinized constantly and having to worry about what you say, it must be the hardest job."
"Do you put your politics in your music?" I query.
"No," Slegr replies.
"We write all sorts of different types of songs." Brummel admits, "A lot of them are about our personal..."
"Neurosis," completes Slegr.
"Yeah," agrees Brummel. "But there's a few, it's subtle, it's not overt. We try to slip a little bit in there."
"Rock music always hints at some deeper meaning, but it's never very specific. It's like Spinal Tap, you get whatever you hear," Slegr states.
"Oh, and what about the Internet?" I remember to ask.
"We have a Web site that we do a lot of things through," Brummel says. "I think the Internet's really helpful for bands who are just starting out. Bands who have problems with Internet piracy are all bands who are selling millions of copies and who's records sales are really going to hurt. But for smaller bands, who really want to get the word out and record a song and have as many people as possible hear it, it's invaluable right now. You can bypass the stores, bypass the labels and anyone who wants it can download it for free. That's really helped us to have a fan base when we tour without having tons of label promotion behind us."
Go perk up some of the ol' beans and sit down for a look through Ozma's site.
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