Article Courtesy of STUART WOODMAN.
Joe Satriani requested to jam with him, he has become a guitar god in the States and his music is as unique and different as his band's name. Gareth Smith finds out more about an unsung hero.
Ozric who? That is usually the first utterance from the larger proportion of the general public who are unaware of this band's existence, far less their offering to the musical world. It is fair to say that Ozric Tentacles are a listening experience. The music could be generously described as space rock. It's energetic, deep, hypnotising and at times frenetic music. Their fans love it.
Formed fittingly at Stonehenge festival in the early 80's the lineup quickly rose as high as 14, before levelling off at the five piece outfit they now are. Ozric Tentacles are very much an underground band, their success was nurtured on playing free festivals before making the transition to more esteemed venues. Recently they have toured the States twice in quick succession and received a very enthusiastic welcome both times. America has become very Ozric friendy. Not so user friendly are their album titles which highlight the groups strange appeal. With names like 'Erpland', 'Pungent Effulgent', 'Jurassic Shift' and the latest release 'Arberescence', the Ozrics have stamped their very individualistic music signature on the world.
Ed Wynne, the founder and leader of the band, has guided Ozric Tentacles from oblivion to near superstardom. Yet he is very much underrated and unheard of in the guitar world, something he not only doesn't seem to mind but actually encourages. On what can only be described as a 'magic' tour bus somewhere in the heart of Cambridgeshire his first comment was, "What magazine is this?" ~Guitarist~ came the reply. "i wonder why you are doing me...?"
With his talent largely unexplored it came as something of a surprise to the largely biased guitar playing public that Joe Satriani was in cahoots with him for a more mainstream magazine feature. But what is the real story behind this tale?
"The story about that?" He smiles, astonished by the question. "Oh my God that was really strange. I basically got phoned up and someone said, Do you want to come and see Joe Satriani. I was sort of not desperately into him, but he's good. So Joie and i popped along there and got to the backstage door, 'cause that's where we were told to go. And the guys meeting us said, Right have you got your guitar? And I went, Er, no, what's going on here then? And they said, Ah! well you'll have to use one of Joe's then. I was thinking, What are they going on about, and they said, Well you're going to have a jam with him. I looked at Joie and we both fell about laughing and wondered what was going on.
"I sort of got ushered up to this dressing room, it was an immaculately clean room with a bowl of fruit on the table, an amplifier and two of Joe's guitars there. They said he'll be along in a minute. I sat there for about 10 minutes in this really hot room, with all these cameras and lights being set up, and i really didn't know what was going on. I was totally thrown in at the deep end.
"Suddenly in he came and said, Hello, sit down, here's a guitar, get a sound on it and play! So - doooiiing! - I hit a chord, and he's like dum de dum de le la playing away over the top of it. I then thought, Okay, I can do this.
"He felt just as weird as i did. Then we had a bit of a jam, just two guitars. Halfway through I thought I'd see what he can do. So I tried a few weird chords and he played over them. He'd then do a few and I'd do a few and then we got interviewed, and that was it really.
"Somebody has a tape of it on a little dictaphone, doing the rounds no doubt, but it was really nice. He was a really nice guy. I wasn't in awe of him because I don't really know his music that well. The more time passes since that event the stranger and more momentous it seems." At the time the band were on a small jaunt around good Ol' Blighty, having just returned from their second visit to the states in the last 12 months. Reports back from that tour invite us to believe that Ed is becoming something of a guitar hero Stateside.
"Well, it's getting there," he affirms. "I realised it halfway through the tour. I thought I could get away with murder here. So I did this thing in the encore, coming on stage on my own, hitting a big chord - boooom - and all these people were cheering going crazy.
"Afterwards I felt a bit guilty and wondered whether I was taking advantage of the situation, but they do love it so much. So I thought I'd let them enjoy it, I enjoy it so why not. It's like going back in time to when you could do that here.
"From a musical and personal point of view it went brilliant. Financially it wasn't so good. We lost a bit of dosh, but from our band point of view it was amazing. People were coming from out in the sticks and being absolutely blown away, almost on a level that it was a bit strong for them to deal with. They were almost in tears about it. Some were saying, I thought music was dead, but here it is again. Some people did about six gigs in a row, which is a lot of mileage in America, what with aeroplanes to each gig and that. We made soom good friends over there."
For outsider's Ozric's music is hard to categorise, but things don't get much easier for the band. "I can't do that really. People put all these words together to try and describe it that's the weird thing. They might title it ethnic, psychedelic, space reggae, ambient, rocky, blah, blah, blah, you know. Who knows? Music of the mind, armchair journey music or whatever. It is escapist in a way. We do it for the pleasure of losing ourselves in a piece of music. That's what we try and do really."
That said it is still not immediately obvious who influences Ed. He leans more towards the rock style of playing, but couldn't be classed as an out-and-out rock player. So where do all these intricate guitar lines stem from? After a few seconds pause he explains. "When i hear an amazing bit of guitar I'll listen to it a few times and think, Well, at some point I'll work that out. Then maybe a month later I'll be in a gig playing and then suddenly there it is. It's a little bit subconscious. Things burn themselves in there, and I think in my subconscious I'll work out how to play it and then out it pops. So it's not like consciously sitting down there with a tape playing it and rewinding trying to learn something. I have learnt tricks and licks from people I probably couldn't even name . In the old days i used to listen to heavy metal radio shows, Tommy Vance and so on, and I used to sit there with my cassette deck with my finger on the pause button, come the middle eight, off comes the pause button and away it goes. So i ended up with all these solos one after another. Consequently I don't even know who half of them are."
What guitars do you use? "I've got two Ibanez guitars. One is an old Artist which is different to all the other ones it seems. I've never seen another one looking like that, because most of them have the staggered cutaways like a Fender Strat, but this one is more symmetrical, a bit like a Gibson SG. It's the only one I've ever seen like that.
"The other one is a black Steve Vai Jem which has got a nice tremelo unit on it. I'd like to get on to Ibanez and get them to design me one that is a cross between the two, because swapping guitars is a real hassle in a gig. I always break strings if i don't change them everyday. It's a lot of stuff to do and I don't have a guitar tech, I don't know why. I probably haven't got round to it yet. If I had a guitar tech I wouldn't see my guitars until I walked on stage. That would be a bit weird. I like the contact with them. They're friends to me, I like to change their strings for them and all that.
"There is a lot of tonal difference between the two guitars. The old one is really powerful. It has an active circuit, one of the very early ones before they tamed them. A weak amplifier doesn't stand a chance with it because there is a switch that you click and if you have it all on full it's too loud, and blows amplifiers up. So I've got a gadget which has bass, middle and treble boost and i just take the treble off and boost the middle and that's my sort of lead playing switch. When I switch it in, it doubles the output of the guitar.
"So if I had that capability on a modern guitar with a locking tremelo unit, that would be great. I'm going to give it a few years and then talk to Ibanez and say, Make me this.
"I've also got this thing about the stone Malachite, which is like green marble. I'd like to get some of that on it. I know somebody who wants to make me a guitar with a Malachite fretboard, which should be interesting. That would be an ultimate guitar. It's just a dream. It will probably never happen. It's the same for me with synths. I wish somebody would incorporate all my synths into one and make the ultimate synth, but they won't".
And for amplification? "I'm using an old Marshall which I bought when I was about 15. That's what people were using in those days and I wanted one. I went into a music shop and said, I'll have that one please, I struggled cross the road, put it in the back of the car and it has been mine ever since.
"I've bought another one since then. It's like a master volume/super lead thing, because I thought that it would do as a backup. In America my number one amp actually stopped working, so I swapped it for the new one, but it sounded so horrible compared to my usual amp. It sounded as if it had something desperately wrong with it. I think I was just lucky when I bought the first one, or else I've just grown accustomed to it.
"It's amazing that my number one amp is still going actually. It's had it's time of being left out in the rain at festivals and being forgotten about in the mud a number of times, but it still works. At one time there used to be a plant in a flower pot on top of it. And once when somebody was watering the flower, they overfilled it so the water ran into the amp. So for a few years whenever I switched it on there was a rumbling sound, but that sort of dried up and it still goes. It's amazing really."
Often equally confusing are the song titles which, along with the album names, are hardly conventional. "We've got no lyrics, so they're free to be called whatever they like," Ed explains. "It's a bit of a last minute panic actually naming them, because doing a piece of music the way we do it's not like, Here's the music, it goes like this, put some lyrics on, there you go it's finished. It's a journey of discovery, a two week very wide musical journey to put things together. So what could you call that. It's like going on a journey and having to think of a title for that. Usually we go for the mad option calling it something weird, partly so people have no preconceptions of what it is going to be and they can start from point one with no preconceived ideas, which is partly the confusion of the titles. That is the main idea."
Is this the same approach when writing songs? "Well a lot of it is actually to do with buying a new bit of equipment and hearing what it does, and going, Wow, imagine that going into that. I mean the writing is very organic with us. Things suggest themselves, almost as if the track is writing itself. We're just the people that are putting it on there. It's like the bit of music is telling us what to play. It all sounds very mystical, but it's just suggestion really."
Ed has a very distinctive playing style that is peppered with weird and wonderful scales. "Unfortunately I don't read music and I don't have any musical theory, so I couldn't name them. They're probably hybrids. There are about 10 different eastern sounding scales that I use, depending on what type of rhythm is behind it. I don't know what they are called, but they are very ethnic sounding. I do like the eastern scales. A lot of what I listen to is very, very raw ethnic music. People out in the middle of nowhere staying on a campsite clonking bits of wood together and playing home made violins and stuff. I'd much prefer to listen to that than anything in the Top 10 singles chart.
"There are some scales which are not strictly allowed, but I've managed to bend the rules a little bit which is good fun. I wouldn't go as far as to do what matey boy Steve Vai did, put extra frets on the scale. Have you heard about this? He has changed the number of notes required to make an octave. As we all know there are 12 frets to an octave. He's had a guitar built that has more frets than that to the octave. I haven't heard it, but to me it would seem that he would be out of tune with conventional music. "I would like to try the extra low string at some point. I'm fascinated by the bass guitar five string of being able to get super low notes. Every time I hear a bit of music using one of those notes that is lower than E it does something realy nice to my brain. I think we've got to get ourselves a five string bass. There are a lot of tracks where I lower the notes and tune them right down. To make more things sound more ethnic I'll get a nylon strung guitar and tune the strings down really low, like five frets down so it's really rattling so you can hardly play it. When you mike it up and give it a strange sound it can sound pretty authentic, like a broken guitar in an Arabic marketplace somewhere."
Furthering the examination of his style, 'Dissolution' from 'Pungent Effulgent' is probably the Ozrics best known and loved song. the intro features some lovely delayed and heavily effected guitar. "The introduction is done using something that we call dots, although I don't know what Steve Hillage called them when he used them. It's like an echo thing. The timing of it works that you play one note then you play the second note and in between the second and third note the first note echoes. It gives you more notes than you are playing. I'm playing about half the notes that are there, using the echo to bounce off. I don't know what you'd call it really. Syncopated echo or something. Not many people do it now actually, and I'm still getting away with it.
"There is also some sort of phaser or flanger doing a slow sweep on it to give some movement. So it changes and it's not too still. I think on the recording of 'Dissolution' it was what is called a ping pong echo. It does one and then it bounces from side to side, and I think that is what we were using for that.
"In the mixing of things I really like to try and keep symmetry together, so something on the left I'll echo on the right. If it's in the middle I'll echo it on both sides. If there is some lump sound on one side I'll try and limit it on the other side. I'd love to know what Steve Hillage called them actually. We all know them as echo dots. "'Myriapod' off the new album 'Arborescence' is great fun to play as well. We do that one live and it's usually double the speed it is on the record, which is a bit scary because ther is a bit of nervous energy when we come to play it. It's an amazing feeling, but the tempo of the song is down to me. If I start the track too fast then it goes and I'm stuck with it.
"The track 'Kick Muck' from 'Pungent Effulgent' is one that I could play in my sleep, but it sounds really clever because there are loads of notes all over the place. When we play that track I can relax while everybody in the audience is flying around, feet sticking out and dust rising and all that." The artwork used on the album covers is just as strange as their music, with their character 'The Pongmaster' attempting to mirror Iron Maiden's Eddie's success. Not surprisingly Ed is involved with this as well.
"I draw the characters, something I used to do at school instead of paying attention. You should have seen my maths book, it was hideous. I've always done these little characters and then we brought out 'Pungent Effulgent' as our first album, so I thought i'd do one of them for the front cover and set a trend or whatever.
"Either unfortunately or fortunately people have started coming up to me with tatoos of them now, which is a bit of a weird thing. I feel a bit responsible for that really."
To play the music that Ozric Tentacles produce requires great understanding between band members. Is he happy with the chemistry at the moment?
"Well, there are a couple of new recruits in the band which was a devastating shock for a couple of days. Then I thought all there is is change in the universe that we live in. People try to keep things the same, but you cannot because it is the nature of things. Even if it's slow, things evolve and mutate. Looking back there have been so many different people in this band anyway, that it's just more of the same. So I thought, Come on, think positive and I got on the phone and found Rad (percussion) and Seaweed (special effects and synth) who are absolutely perfect for it. Rad knew all the tracks and could play them beat for beat on the drums. Seaweed had a complete consciousness to do with space rock music, because he has been doing it for the same amount of time that I have, but never in the same place. He looks just like Joie and has spent his whole life trying not to be Joie and now suddenly he has got to try and be Joie. Between those two it is all a big joke. It's all very friendly. There is no animosity to do with the split. It was just too much music for those two to cope with doing Eat Static and Ozrics.
"They've brought in enthusiasm like you wouldn't believe, especially Rad on drums who is screaming his head off while he's playing and loving it. And Seaweed's great. There is a whole other musical brain in there. All his own little things, as well as the things that are perfect for us. People at he gigs tell me it sounds great. A lot of people at the gigs have been shocked to see them walk on stage, and then halfway throught the gig go, Wow this is alright and get right into it."
So what does the future hold for Ed and Ozric Tentacles? "The next album's halfway finished, we're raring to go and it's just onwards and upwards really. Nobody should think we're splitting up, because we're far from it."