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After a period of relative silence the Finnish metal mongers from Oz return to the front. Again. This band has been more or less active for almost forty years by now, and recently founder/drummer Mark Ruffneck recruited some young dogs again to pick things up after their latest sign of life back in 2013. The result of their shared labor was put out last November under the moniker 'Transition State', and since we pretty much liked this sucker we got in touch with Mark Ruffneck to hear some more about the album and the band.

By: Wim R. | Archive under heavy / power metal

What happened between 2011’s ‘Burning Leather’ compilation up until the release of ‘Transition State’? How was Oz kept alive and running?
From ‘Burning Leather’ album release 2011 to USA Club tour 2013 OZ, The Red Metal Machine was running well, but when OZ USA Club tour ended in May 2013 and we flew back to Sweden and faced the worst reality shock of our lives. Our family members were fighting against cancer and they were losing their fights. All core members of OZ were getting that kind of family issues, so we were forced to put OZ on the hold. To get control of our family situations was time consuming and we had no time for music. Our Swedish Guitar players Michel Santunione and John Berg and also Jay C Blade stand in Johannes Sandberg were focusing on their own music projects, so basically OZ was an empty balloon where the air was flowing out and there was no future plans to do anything more. Time went by and we got our lives back to the right track in some ways and we started to be interested in getting OZ back on the road again and there was even some plans to do a tour in Europe.

So, the Swedish boys were gone and we needed a new line-up around Ape DeMartini (lead vocal) and myself (drums). Luckily we had gotten in contact with a young wolf pack in OZ’s old home town Pori/Björneborg in Finland, so we can say that we were going back to OZ’s roots. We organized a band meeting with Johnny Cross (guitar), Juzzy Kangas (guitar) and Peppi Peltola (bass), made some plans for the future and started rehearsing together. The new line-up sounded great and the feeling that we will be back on the road started to grow. The new young vital members were always boosting the older members to give their best shots, so the feeling of the good future was in the air after our rehearsals. We also realized that we have to release new music after so long time out of limelight, so both guitar players started to write some demo songs for OZ. The first demo songs were ready pretty soon and these new songs sounded great, so we were on the right track again. After some time we had so many songs that it was the time to go to a studio and start to record some drum tracks. After two sessions in the studio drum tracks were ready and we could continue recording other instruments. And after a while all songs (14) were ready, including drums, bass and guitars.

At the same time we were offered to play a Headlining show in Helsinki in The Ultimate Revenge of Heavy Metal festival in Fberuary 2016 and we did it and it was great to be on stage again with OZ. Soon after that we realized that OZ singer Ape DeMartini was in a family situation where he had not enough time for recording or singing in OZ, not then and not in the near future either. What to do? What to do? The rest of the band had worked hard in the studio and did everything to create a new album, but the OZ singer had no chance to record any songs in the near future. Is this the end of OZ? Our guitarist Johnny, who also plays in his own band Rust n 'Rage, told that he could ask Rust n' Rage’s singer (Vince) if he wanted to join OZ. So, we booked the studio and Vince got there and started to sing some songs, just for the fun of it. Wow! It sounded great! So, we told him we would record some songs and we could talk later about what we should do? On the first evening 3 of the songs were recorded. After the first night in the studio, I asked directly if he liked to join OZ and he answered that if we think that he fits into OZ, he would like to do it. The next day we continued with more recordings and soon all lead vocals were done. Later we worked more in the studio with background vocals and after a while we were ready with all the recordings. The work was done! The recording of ‘Transition State’ album was the more challenging part and sometimes it was as like a roller coaster ride, but in the end we managed to finish this album.

Longtime singer Ape DeMartini is no longer member of the band, and you recruited Vince Kojvula as the new vocalist. Why did Ape DeMartini decide to leave Oz?
As I told earlier, OZ longtime singer Ape DeMartini did not have enough time to give for OZ and there were no changes to come with his family situation in the near future. We understood his situation as a father and respected totally his choice of how to spend his time, but his decision also forced us to take a new singer, if we wanted to continue to rock with OZ and get the new album ready. Jay C. Blade (bass, vocals) was also busy with his life and with various music projects he had and we also respected his choices with his life, but also here we were forced to find a new bass player. It should be mentioned here, that Jay C Blade briefly informed OZ shortly after the US tour, and before the planned European tour, that he has to focus on his other music projects, which are actually his main work. So, there were no hard words or fights with these old OZ members, they just didn’t had time for OZ.

Since when is this line up active? How did you find likeminded eighties metal heads? Are they friends of yours or did you audition candidates?
ThislLine up is active since 2015, but Vince (lead vocal) was entering 2016. As I told earlier, I had gotten in contact with a young wolf pack in OZ’s old home town Pori/Björneborg in Finland. This contact came to be with complicated connections of friends, enemies and other people that we knew. We organized a band meeting with Johnny Cross (Guitar), Juzzy Kangas (Guitar) and Peppi Peltola (Bass), made some rocking plans for the future and started rehearsing together. The new line-up sounded great and the feeling that we will be back in business started to grow. Soon after that we realized that OZ singer Ape DeMartini was in a family situation where he hadn’t enough time for recording or singing in OZ, not then and not in the near future either. So we were forced to find a new singer if we liked to finish the new album. So luckily we got in contact with Vince (Lead Vocal) also from OZ’s old home town Pori/Björneborg in Finland and with him we were able to finish the new album TRANSITION STATE. All new members are living in the same town and they know each other somehow, so there was no audition for candidates when new members to OZ were found. The jungle phone was working well enough. In my opinion, this line-up may already be the best line-up, and anyway it has a great possibility to be that in the near future. We will see what happens.

Is Oz the number one priority for all members? Are there any other side projects of activities going on we should know of?
OZ is the number one priority for all members, but all members of OZ have also other projects running on the same time. Johnny and Vince have together they own band Rust n’ Rage and other members also playing on other bands, except me, I’m just involved with OZ and nothing else in the music business. As I told earlier, OZ is the destiny of my life. I still like to make new music and with this new line up, we have a great chance to do the kind of music we haven’t done before with OZ and that’ll be our goal with OZ.

band image

Are you still in touch with the old crew or did they completely vanish from your radar?
No, I always focus on members, who are currently in the band, not on members who have left the band. OZ is like a hockey team, the first line is playing and that line-up is getting all the focus.

As sole remaining original member of Oz, are you in charge of decisions. If not, how does it work with Oz?
People don’t know the fact that I started OZ 40 years ago with our first bass player Tani, (R.I.P. He had his funeral on the same day as Lemmy.) and now I’m the only founding member left. I have always been the driving force in OZ, making the band move on, but writing music hasn’t been my piece of cake. Well, I have been co-writer in some songs during the years, but right now OZ has two superb song writers (Guitar Players Johnny Cross and Juzzy Kangas), so there is no need for me to start doing that and there is so much other things to do, so I think that right now we have a good working flow in OZ. I also made my mind in early years that I will never play in any other band than OZ, so this was the reason I had to continue with OZ or stop playing drums for good. So, I think it’s good that this background is coming public, so that people will know why I and the new line-up are doing this the way we are. And this was also the reason for the name of the new album ‘Transition State’; we are heading to the future with new songs and a new line-up. Because of me and because my idea of OZ as a band was also accepted by the new line-up, we were able to find a new path for OZ and continue to do new music, which is the best thing that has happened for this band.

What was your contribution to the songwriting and process of ‘Transition State’?
The new guitar players Johnny Cross and Juzzy Kangas showed quite fast their ability to write great metal music, so this time the songwriting wasn’t a big issue. We started out like this: both Guitar Players started to write demo songs and then those songs went through listening period and modifying period and in the end they were ready for the studio work. We all were involved in this prerecording period. When Johnny and Juzzy started to write these songs we discussed about style, but in the beginning they were just sending some of the songs they had made for me. I took the songs I thought were made for OZ and also they got an idea of style for writing new songs. So we chose 14 songs that we started to work with in studio; there were more demo songs than these 14, but we chose not to work with those songs. I can say that I slightly used my position as the founding member of OZ to choose the songs, but there were no hard discussions about any of the songs that we recorded. I think that we all liked those songs we chose to record for this album.

Johnny, who wrote all the lyrics, asked which kind of lyrics he should write and I told him that any kind, but we also discussed that new lyrics could have a little darker style compared to old OZ lyrics, so we moved more to the dark side, with these new stories that we will present. So, for songwriting I think both guitar players have left the biggest input and for lyrics Johnny is the man. As I said earlier, we all in the band have been satisfied with all the songs and everybody had a quite big freedom to play the way everyone wanted and also there have been discussions about what we wanted to do. So I’m a democratic dictator: as long as things work well, there is no need to stop anything, just keep on working, but when the direction needs pointing out, I will do it. The same way as a scientific research group works: freedom with own responsibility and respect to all the others in the group.

How is the feedback on the new album up until now?
The reaction from the metal community has been just fine so far, but of course there have been some people who have asked about the line-up changes. There have also been some, who have missed Ape De Martini, but I have told the whole story, why he is not with OZ anymore and also the fact that he will never be with OZ in the future either. I have also told that I wanted to continue the band together with the new line-up and the new singer and that was totally my decision after meeting with other members in the band. So I stand by my words and decision. I don't think so much about that fraction of OZ fans who aren't satisfied with the changes of line-up.

Now that ‘Transition State’ is out, what are your plans (Touring? Videos? Other activities?)
Right now we are doing promoting work for the new album ‘Transition State’. 2018 we will play on stage here in Europe during summer at some festivals. We are planning to start the recording for the new album soon and also make some videos, so we will be quite busy during the year 2018.

I noticed that you are hardly visible in your video for ‘Bonecrusher’. Is that a coincidence or intentionally?
I think both of those. I gave quite free hands to Antti Kyyrö from Miaco Cinema for doing and editing ‘Bone Crusher’ video. I just told my idea of video to him as ‘a big picture’ and what kind of feeling we were looking for it. And I told him that we will focused more the new line up on video and keep me on background, and I think he make a good work on that video. Probably on the next video I will be more on line. We will see what happens when the new video is ready.

And to finish the interview, are there any last words of wisdom you want to share with our readers Holland? The space below is yours.... Thanks for your time and good luck in the future!
Thank You for a cool Interview. I’d just like to say here what I usually say at the end of interviews… I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our loyal fans out there, and also welcome new fans into our fold. For more info, please check out our website and keep on rocking.

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