INTERVIEW: Ezekiel Ox
Compelling, defiant and larger than life - the enduring presence of enthralling Aussie artist Ezekiel Ox is one that has undeniably shaped and challenged the music industry over two decades, and also one that is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Fronting an eye-watering array of iconic Aussie groups throughout his career, including Mammal, Superheist, Over-Reactor and more, Ox's creative bow is also strung with acting, publishing and, of course, his own solo musical career that has most recently culminated in the blistering release of a brand new EP (and 23rd overall release) 'Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs', as well as some explosive live shows ready to roll starting in late May and continuing well into June.
Renowned for his innate ability to spark the dancefloor as easily as a political debate, there's many facets to this wildly talented individual - and to get to know a bit more about the man himself ahead of his next adventures, we grabbed Zeke to chat trust, topical relevancy and the defining moments that sealed his life in the spotlight. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Zeke! Thanks for your time today, let's kick things off and chat about one of potentially the most exciting recent developments in the land of Ezekiel Ox...your brand new EP and I believe 23rd cumulative musical career release 'Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs'...firstly congratulations on such a killer release, and secondly can you talk me through how this EP came to life - and how on earth you found the time to make it?
EZEKIEL OX: Well, thank you, first of all! I'm glad you're enjoying it, and I'm glad you think it's good. But...look. The time thing is...I mean, I don't know, how do single parents do it? How does anyone do it? But I'm very passionate about my career and about my music and I've spent a lot of time on it. And I kind of come from that "sleep when you're dead" school of thought - I really don't stop creating, and I try not to stop coming up with new stuff. But the solo thing is also driven by other people, my management were very keen for me to continue to pursue this. And then everyone around the project, including Dave (David Krebelj) who made the film clip - everyone was really enjoying making it. It was fun! It was a really fun process and I had a lot of support. But, as far as time goes...I treat this like a job - but a very fun one! You've gotta put the hours in! And also my vocals and stuff, while I work very hard on them, they came together reasonably quickly; I write in the studio, I use a lot of freestyle, we write lyrics on the spot. And just keep going until it's right! It wasn't a ridiculously time-consuming process, it was quite a tight process. After 20 years and 23 releases I'd like to think I kind of know what I'm doing. So it was good!
MEGALOMANIA (EZEKIEL OX)
TIANA: And you have certainly fit a hell of a lot into a very short space of five tracks on 'Cheering Bombs'...there's seemingly the typical sonic hallmarks that do seem to accompany you stylistically over your career. But I feel like this time round you've especially embraced the snarling alt-rock with some tasty smatterings of the funk and the punk...did you find yourself drawing inspiration from any unlikely places this time round as opposed to previous releases?
EZEKIEL: I think inspiration-wise what we tried to do is...Steve (Steven Smith - Muscle Mothership Productions) who is my producer from Muscle Mothership Productions, who are also my management company and my record label...I said to him at the start of the process: "I want you to make my voice shine". I lack objectivity, I have no idea. I might want to scream, I might want to rap, I might want to sing - I like exploring all sorts of different vocal ideas. That sometimes isn't the best way to approach making a release, so I try to be subjective. But in this case I said to Steve: "Can you be very tough on me, and make sure we're getting results that are actually going to make my voice shine as much as it can on a production level". So Steve led what it sounds like, in a lot of ways. I think it's come up great, and it was great letting go of control and having someone say "well, I hear your voice sounding like this and I hear the music around it sounding like this". I still had a say in it, but I was very open to Steve's choices because he listens to me! Whereas I'm kind of creating. So I think it was more about trusting the people that I'd chosen, and letting them do their magic! I've got some amazingly talented people around me.
TIANA: That trust is so paramount and yet so rare. It's an awesome place to get to, congratulations!
EZEKIEL: Oh yeah, I worked hard to get to this point, as far as choosing the right people. And that can be hard to navigate at times as well because I'm quite naive in a lot of ways. I generally see the best in people, and that's certainly something the people who are reading this would also have been through, times when they've given a lot of themselves and found that they haven't gotten back what they wanted in return. I've certainly, definitely been victim to that in the past. And over the last two or three years I've put a team in place, as far as my management goes, who have been able to protect me from that stuff. Which has been great!
TIANA: It's a hard road, but somehow if you can come the other side and still be that person who sees the good in people and not be afraid to be a bit vulnerable...it speaks volumes about who you are as a person...
EZEKIEL: Yes, you have to be! Otherwise with my politics - I'd be a hypocrite! I preach the politics of unity and I preach the politics of revolution, and no one person or one group of friends is gonna make that happen. We need people to understand and to turn away from the dead-end politics of racism and sexism and homophobia and come towards the politics of unity and how we're gonna beat the bastards that are actually creating that division, you know? I think people inherently are good and you only have to look through the long history of people fighting back against oppression to see that. That's running against the stream, so to speak, in today's society; anyone who protests is pushing it uphill. I've got nothing but respect for the human race's history of saying: "nah, enough's enough, fuck off, you can't treat us like that!".
TIANA: Well you've delightfully pre-empted my next question a tad there because you don't strike me as an artist who compromises or cajoles for the sake of critical acclaim, and yet the majority of reviews and general reaction beyond the media that I've seen, especially for 'Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs' has been overwhelmingly positive...is it heartening for you, despite the bittersweet narrative relevancy, to have this creative outlet that is able to maintain meaning and still somehow strike a critical chord?
EZEKIEL: Yeah, it is. I think whilst my politics in this day and age when you've got Scott Morrison as prime minister and you've got Donald Trump, and you've got Brexit, you've got all this chaotic political polarisation that's going on around the world...you've got fascist parties in Greece making a move on the parliament again, you've got fascists like Fraser Anning sitting in Australian parliament right now. So that's the kind of climate that we're in. I actually think that maybe what's happening is that people are...well, first of all, they're listening to the music and going "well, this is fun! This is leaning pretty heavily on some 90s influences and some early 2000s, which for me are my favourite periods of music, that's when I was a teenager". And we're doing what we do, we're making it sound good - but the politics? I think people are actually starting to look at what I've been saying for 20 years and are going "oh shit! The fascists are back in the parliament! Oh fuck! Pauline Hanson's back! And maybe Zeke and everyone else who's been inciting this are right?!". And I'm not surprised. Because I think the conditions that people are living under with penalty rates being cut, children being locked up in off-shore concentration camps, Aboriginal land continually being stolen, incarceration rates for Aboriginal people and where they're at...rape culture permeating every part of mainstream male culture, and the whining and the sooking of men and racists whenever they get called on it! I think people are getting to a point where they've had a fucking gutful! And so, what I try to do is to put that into something fun. Part of it is saying the right thing, but part of it is also showing people...like, how much more fun is my EP that a Pauline Hanson press conference?! You know what I mean? So, basically what I'm saying to people is (laughs) it's not only right, and it's not only the humane way to behave. But you can fucking dance to it! We're the ones having the fun! The anti-fascists, those that are fighting for a better world - we're the ones who having a good time. So come join our party! Don't join the dead-end, loser politics of Hanson and her ilk. Come over to an Ezekiel Ox show and: have fun, discuss ideas, but also just get loose! Have a drink, shake your ass like your mama showed you! It's definitely a good time for dancing.
TIANA: On that note of dancing, actually...you are infamous for your formidable live performances. I can safely and anonymously quote a friend of mine, actually, who once said to me: "I thought I was a good frontman - until I met Zeke".
EZEKIEL: (laughs) Wow, that's very humbling!
TIANA: You are a seasoned performer beyond just the musical realm, but do you draw on any particular performers, or was there a game-changing moment you recall when you were younger and that light bulb just came on and you thought: "I have to be onstage"?
EZEKIEL: Yes! I was chosen to be a soloist for a choir that I was in. I started singing in choirs when I was in Grade 5, which I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to start making music, and doesn't know where to start. Just join a community choir. Because then you get to sing in a group, so you're not exposed, you can grow in confidence. And it'll really help your ear. But that's secondary to the answer to the question. So I was singing in a choir, and I got picked out to do a solo, I was singing the beginning of 'Silver Bells', the Christmas carol at a Christmas concert. And I walked out in my little red frock with the white bib, you know the choir outfit - with my shiny black shoes! I walked out. And I completely shat myself when I was confronted with 800 people in this large theatre in Geelong called the Ford Theatre. And I did it! I got through it! And I sung it well, and I sung it in tune. And I saw the video of myself later and I was...I could tell, even as a child, that I was clearly scared (laughs). But I did it! And it was a thrill, it was a rush. And then I wanted to continue! But the moment I remember was when I was doing a musical production in my first year of high school, just after that first performance, and I had a line - and I got a laugh! I got a laugh every night, and I thought: "fuck, this is all right, isn't it?!". Just being able to move 300 people to laughter, I found that exhilarating. And the other thing is that it's incredibly challenging, and I have a very active mind. When I'm on stage, I like to make it look as effortless as possible, but it really is like a million ideas and thoughts going through my head at once. It is a deeply analytical process, something I trained very hard at to achieve at uni in the course I did at WAAPA. I try to be a diligent professional, so I'm really humbled by that comment from your friend. It's something I work really hard at, so to get good feedback on it is great. And, yeah - fuck it! I'll own it. I guarantee you, if you come to one of my shows - you're gonna be entertained. Even if you don't like the music, you're going to look up onstage, you're going to have a laugh, you're gonna enjoy the dance moves. And I'll get you on your feet, and I'll have you moving by the end of my set. That's a guarantee!
MY NAME (EZEKIEL OX)
TIANA: I can attest to that fact! I recall watching many crowds eating out of your musical hand last year on the road with Mammal. And I do love and agree with what you said about choirs, I actually met some of my most favourite humans because of compulsory choir at university actually!
EZEKIEL: Choirs are great!! They're really important. Even if you don't wanna become a professional singer or anything, they are absolutely such great ways to ensure good mental health! Singing in a group...that's the thing about church! Around 92% of people in the world believe in some higher deity, I'm not one of them. You're in a minority if you don't believe in god, right? But I'm a big believer...people say: "I went to church and I felt so connected to the spirit", or whatever it was, but it always involved singing in a group! And I don't mean to belittle anyone's choices of deity, I actually couldn't give a fuck what they worship. The fact is, I support your right to do it in safety and with whoever you want. But the reason people feel so connected to something higher than themselves is because they sing in a group. That's what Hillsong's big success is - they get people together in groups of thousands, and they have these amazing, well-produced bands. And they sing! And they sing together! And it's the same as coming to my gig, I'll get you to sing along, and you'll feel connected to your fellow human. And on a physiological level, your brain and your chest and all of your body will vibrate with resonance, and you will feel better! It's like jumping in the ocean!
TIANA: 100%!! It's quite sensational how music can transcend, and the nature of that shared collective moment. And! We are going to get that in person soon, because you are actually jumping on the road and coming to entertain all of us live, which is fantastic news!
EZEKIEL: Yes, I can't wait! I love and live for the stage! My mother once told me after seeing me perform in 'Tartuffe', the Molière play, at the Malthouse here in Melbourne...she said: "it's your home. The stage is your home". And (laughs) mum's obviously known me my whole life. I've been quite nomadic at different times in my life, I've actually been in the same house now for about five years! I'll be moving soon, but that was kind of really a choice made around parenting more than anything else. And my nomadic life leading up to me being a parent has meant that mum has analysed it and looked at it and gone: "the only place that you really, truly belong is on a stage". And I feel like that! The hour or hour and a half that I get each night when I'm on tour - it's the whole reason I do it. And you will get something really unique and special if you come to these shows, not just from me but the entire band. I'm lucky enough to have three musicians in my band who are also lead singers in other bands so the vocals and the harmonies are actually something that's really powerful to behold, so I'd encourage everyone to get down and check us out!
TIANA: Well, I'm so excited for the shows! And I'm also exceptionally grateful for your time, and for your music, I've been a big fan for a long time and it's really resonated a lot with me.
EZEKIEL: Oh thanks, mate, that's awesome! I love it! Always great to meet someone who appreciates what you're doing. Thank you so much for your kind words and also for your very well prepared and thoughtful questions! And more than that, you're welcome to my time anytime. Thank you for making me feel important by asking questions (laughs).
TIANA: It's a mutual, mushy appreciation, I love it! Well, thanks again, and I hope you get the chance to get a tiny bit of relaxation in before these shows at least!
EZEKIEL: Yes, I'll try to do that! I'm about to watch a bit of Brooklyn 99 I think with my girlfriend, and have a bit of a laugh!
TIANA: Stop it! You've just described my perfect day! Thanks so much Zeke!
EZEKIEL: Thanks, seeya mate!
EZEKIEL OX WILL BE HITTING THE ROAD TO BRING YOU HIS BRAND NEW SOLO EP 'CHEERING BOMBS FROM DECKCHAIRS' IN PERSON STARTING IN LATE MAY. TOUR INFO BELOW, TICKET INFO AND MORE, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER