Grabbed by the Tentacles: An Interview with Guitarist Ed Wynne of Ozric Tentacles
By Brian Knight
This past October, the newly reopened Paradise night club welcomed England’s Ozric Tentacles. A year earlier, the eighteen year old space-ambient-progressive world sounds of Ozric Tentacles made quite an impression on the New England. Due to the success of their 1999 tour, the Ozrics returned to the United States for yet another great evening at the Paradise. As they were 1999, Ozric tentacles are presently supporting a new album. This time around, their masterful effort is titled The Hidden Step, which was released by the always impressive label, Phoenix Media. The organization is already responsible for bring the public some of today’s great jam bands and rocking bands of the 1970s and 1980s. The Ozric Tentacles release is a testament to the fact that jamming is far from an American phenomenon.
Named after a mythical breakfast cereal, Ozric Tentacles came together during the 1980s and they have since evolved into a cult favorite throughout England and Europe. Ozric Tentacles are similar to America’s NRBQ, or England’s Jazz Butcher Conspiracy in terms of developing incredibly loyal fan bases, staying together for a long period of time and staying underneath the media frenzy radar. Throughout the years, the band has experienced numerous lineup changes but with guitarist Ed Wynne always as the helm.
For the concert at the Paradise, the band focused much of their attention on their new material from The Hidden Step while other songs such as “Vita Voom” and “Sploosh” from 1998’s Spice Doubt, and “Myriapod” was from 1994’s Arborescence. In addition to their many albums, Ozric Tentacles covered the vast array of styles that occurs on their albums. At moments, their music is riff driven and reminiscent of hard rockin' acid rock bands such as Hawkwind or Steve Hillage. At other instances, they achieve tight cohesive escalating jams like Phish. And then again, there music experiments with new age ambient grooves and other times, their music looks toward the techno-ambient grooves that are now so popular.
To help create this overwhelming sonic experiences, Seaweed uses a wide variety of electronics such as an Ensoniq SQ-R, Roland JX-8P, Roland W-30 Music workstation, -OSCar, Korg MS-20, Roland JP-8000 and a EMS synthi AKS. Watching Seaweed is like play is like watching a mad scientist hard work. Hunched over his vast array of knobs and dials, it is obvious that Seaweed is hard at work creating psychedelic grooves. Meanwhile Ed employs a variety of keyboards and synths such as Korg Prophecy, Roland D-50, Sequential Pro-1, OSC OSCar as well as guitars - Ibanez GEM, Ibanez Artist (woodgrain), and an assortment of stage echoes, WahWahs, overdrives, choruses, compressors, flangers and phasers. In comparison, the flute, drum kit and bass guitar played by John, Red and Roly show that it isn’t who has the most toys, it is how you use them. The Ozric musical experience goes well beyond the five musicians. Haggis is the wizard at the soundboard while Fruit Salad puts on one hell of a psychedelic spectacle with backdrops, strobes and excessive amounts of smoke. . Before their Boston Paradise show, The Vermont Review spoke to guitarist and band founder Ed Wynne while the band was amidst their UK tour .
Vermont Review: Where am I calling right now?
Ed Wynne: We are in South Hampton, which is in the south of England, along the coast. I am in the dressing room of a club where we are about to play tonight.
VR: Do you have a good following in South Hampton?
EW: We are about to find out. Usually it is pretty good. It should be fine.
VR: What kind of places do you play in?
EW: Yes, clubs at the moment. Medium sized clubs. It is nice with these intimate gigs.
VR: Do the Ozrics play outside a lot during the summer?
EW: Yes. Whenever we can. It does not happen in England that much. We have to go across to Europe for that.
VR: Which setting would you rather play in?
EW: Outdoors. I reckon. Outdoors on a sunny day or a sunny evening. There is nothing like it and the sound quality is so nice because it is outside. There is more energy because there is more fresh air, which is great.
VR: Do you find that you lose some of the musical intensity by being outside?
EW: That is the reason to go into the clubs because it is all intense. It is really nice to do both. The medium sized outdoor gigs can be just as mad.
VR: When you play in America, you have to deal with curfews. Do you get the same in England?
EW: Oh, yeah. In England we do. It is usually about midnight we have to stop. We get used to it. At festivals, it is a different thing. We can play all night if we wanted to.
VR: When you were lat in the United States, you were received pretty well. Did you have any expectations?
EW: We had a little bit of an idea of what to expect because we had been there before. It was pretty much what we expected. It was really good fun.
VR: You recorded Waterfall Cities in a 400 year old Castle. Is that where you recorded The Hidden Step?
EW: No. That was recorded in my new home. I moved from that place. Now, I live fairly near there but a different house.
VR: How do you come across a 400 year old castle to live in?
EW: Well, it wasn’t a castle. It was a mill house. An old…I don’t know what they used to mill there really but it had a big water wheel and a river going past it. It was amazing.
VR: Had it been updated?
EW: A little bit but the trouble is that I had gotten sick of the place because every time it rained, we would get flooded. My cats didn’t like waking up and finding their food bowls floating across the kitchen floor. It happened about ten times in five years.
VR: Old buildings have a lot of charm but their plumbing sucks.
EW: That’s right. Absolutely. Now I live in a newer place and its actually quite a relief.
VR: Your band’s name is derived from a mythical cereal. Have you thought about what flavor that cereal would be?
EW: No. It could be anything. Something nice I hope.
VR: No little magical charms or anything like that?
EW: Little things that people could find hidden in there. Tucked away.
VR: After eighteen years, how has the Ozric Tentacle’s fan base evolved?
EW: It is a very wide cross section as it always has been. From old to young. It has stayed like that really. It really depends on what country we are playing in. One of our biggest places to play is Italy. It is amazing there because you get loads of people coming out. Its really good. But they are from all walks of life.
VR: Italy seems to have a tradition of embracing improv rock or progressive rock. Is there any reason behind that?
EW: I really don’t know but I am really glad to have found them because we fit very well into their idea of what a band should be. I really don’t understand where it comes from.
VR: When you play a given song on one night, will it be completely different at the next performance?
EW: It depends on the song. Often what we have is the tunes that we have recorded and than at the end of the tune, we let it go off into a jam. The essential music is pretty similar but the solos are usually that night’s versions.
VR: Do you use set lists?
VR: Will you use the same set list night after night?
EW: In the states, no. In America, people do come and see us for more than one show so we are going to try to vary it. We are going to keep it fluid. We will hopefully bend and twist things about a little bit.
VR: Progressive music is often criticized for being orchestrated and overindulgent. I would think quite the opposite with your sound.
EW: I don’t really think we are progressive. It is hard to define what people mean by the word progressive. I know what you mean – it has come to mean intellectual music, which most people can’t understand. With us, we go to these places in our music but we try to lead people there along a pathway so they can understand it by the time they get there.
VR: In America, your music would fall more into the jam band scene.
EW: That sounds better. It sounds less pompous than progressive.
VR: Are you the only guys doing what you do over there?
EW: No really but we are the only ones with our particular flavor. They are a few other bands doing similar stuff.
VR: Where does the ethnicity in your music derive from?
EW: It comes from the music that I listen to when I am not recording and gigging. Eastern and Indian and Arabic and stuff like that. That is my favorite kind of music.
VR: There is presently quite a movement of combining American jazz with Middle Eastern/Balkan/Mediterranean music occurring in New York City right now.
EW: Is there really? That is interesting. Maybe they will like it when we play it.
VR: I am going to name some names of musicians. I would love to hear what you have to say about them. Steve Hillage?
EW: Yes. Best experience of my life. He completely changed my outlook on the guitar.
VR: David Gilmore?
EW: I like some of his solos. He is a very relevant guitarist but not my favorite but I do appreciate what he does.
EW: Never listen to them.
EW: I went and saw them once. Again, not my cup of tea but I was highly entertained watching them. I was also amazed to see them all swap instruments and make tune without a break.
VR: Porcupine Tree?
EW: Toured with them once. Find them a little bit slow but again, I do appreciate what they do. Very influenced by Pink Floyd.
VR: Brian Eno?
EW: Very good. I liked what he did then when he did it.
VR: Dave Brock?
EW: Good old Dave Brock. Thank him for all that. That was fun.
VR: Jerry Garcia?
EW: An amazing soloist.
EW: Yes. I like them. I find a have a little of a problem with the actual sound of their music. It sounds a little bit like a rehearsal with a tape deck in the corner of the room. There is one album called Sole Delight, which I really do like.
VR: Do you use a lot of production when you are in the studio?
EW: I suppose you call it production. We just go in there and I sit behind the desk and orchestrate what is going on there.
VR: Is that production hard to translate into your live performances?
EW: No. Thanks to samplers, we can get most of the sound and play them live.
VR: Do use a lot of sequencing as well?
EW: Yes. Quite a lot.
VR: How long did it take to record The Hidden Step?
EW: Hard to say because it was on and off for about a year. Each album is a year’s worth of tunes and then a mad rush at the end to get it all finished. All in all, about four months.
VR: Do you look at your albums as an elaboration of the previous one or do they stand alone?
EW: Again, it is hard to say. At the time, we do the tunes as they come into our heads. We just see what comes out.
VR: Where does an Ozric’s song come to life – on the stage or in the studio?
EW: Usually, in the studio first. When we do it on the stage, it is quite interesting. Mainly, it starts in the studio but some times the jams turn into tunes.
VR: Do you try to keep up with technological advancements?
EW: Yes. Definitely. When a new synth comes along, it is a nice excuse to make a new tune.
VR: Would there ever be a chance of hearing Ozric Tentacles unplugged?
EW Well! That would be tricky. We would have to pick the tunes very carefully. But I reckon that I could probably hold it together if it was the right tune. I am actually starting to play acoustic guitar on stage now. So, I am getting used to that. It is a very interesting thing for me. It is a very nice thing to be able to do.
VR: It seem that your light and sound men are integral components to the Ozric experience. Would you consider them members of the band?
EW: Very much so. Jasper, on the lights, knows the sets as well as we do. Haggis, who does the mixing, is also the same. He also knows the tunes. It is a whole tight little unit that works.
VR: What has been keeping you going for the last eighteen years?
EW: The music. That fact that I never tired of doing it. I love it so much and it is great to perform. And when you have done enough performing, it is great to go into the studio and do that. It is a really nice cycle of life. And it seem to work………for me anyways.
VR: Has the media been a friend or a foe for those eighteen years?
EW: In England, they were a friend for about three weeks and than it has been pretty derogatory, really. In the States, people are much more honest and very friendly and helpful.
VR: With the English critics, don’t you think that after eighteen years that maybe they have had it wrong, and you have had it right all these time?
EW: I think that they are about to come around to that. We didn’t go way. They tried to make us go away, we didn’t do it. Here we are still. Maybe they will come out then.
Find more information about Ozric Tentacles at http://www.execpc.com/~mwerning/