Love him or hate him, Ezekiel Ox is indeed a veteran of the Australian rock world, no matter how you spin it. Over the course of his 20 plus years in music, Ox has played countless shows, a consistent activist, and as many will know, he has sung for many a band too.
Full Scale, Mammal, The Nerve, Over-Reactor, Superheist; Ox has fronted each of these acts. On top of that already extensive CV, the Melbourne-based vocalist added ‘solo artist’ as another feather in his cap with his first two solo singles in 2014. Last November also saw the release of his debut five-track EP, ‘Proper Gander’, an EP that fully embodies what his work is really about, both musically and politically.
With two solo shows in Melbourne and Sydney coming up over the next month, his EP still being relatively fresh, and with a real history to pull from, I recently jumped on the phone with the ever-busy Ezekiel Ox to go in-depth about a great many topics. Our discussion ranged from: politics, Ox going solo, the ‘Proper Gander’ EP, the many bands that he’s fronted, playing shows on his birthday, Superheist, when people attack the artist instead of the art itself, the media, music reviews in 2017, and being in it for the long haul. For real, this is a mammoth interview, and you can read it in full below!
So tell me, Ezekiel, what have you been up to today?
I’ve just been catching up on some politics this morning. Just been catching up on the recent Fair Work penalty rates cut and the homeless ban that’s happening and seeing what over activists are doing regarding it. It’s all a fucking disgrace, man. It’s like when you had billions of dollars being ripped off from Coles and Woolworth’s workers. Someone should have gone to jail for that, for ripping billions of dollars out of workers hands. That could have been the difference between a single mother being evicted, someone getting their phone cut off and losing out on work. That’s what they don’t realise is that these things are very real for a lot of people. I think that the only way forward is to strike, to withdraw our labour.
Striking often sends a very big message when it’s done correcetly.
Yeah, and look, the higher ups can run their cafes, they can run offices and they can run their clothing shops if they wanted to, but they can’t, and that’s the point. I think we need to argue for more pay, not less.
True, and the argument that on Sunday, the shops will be open longer. I don’t go and do big shopping trips on Sunday. I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, of course, but I use that time to chill out at home.
I think that for a lot of people, the fast food industry will see an increase due to working families getting fast food at the end of the week. But the biggest thing with that argument, that it’ll create more hours, comes from the bosses. But what we know from history, and not from the media or the Liberals or the ALP, is that unless we struggle and unless we fight, we don’t get anything extra. With those in power, kids used to work in mines and they’re not not doing that now out of the goodness of their hearts. The racist school system didn’t decide to de-segregate it out of the goodness of their hearts; it took years of determined, hard-lined activism. Every gain that Aboriginal people have had in this country has been won on the back of activists work. History shows us that if we don’t fight, we lose.
…Which is probably a good segue into the solo EP!
Yeah, that’s actually what I was going to touch on after this political discussion! On the ball, mate.
Well, the second song on the EP, ‘History’, is discussing those moments when we fight and we win, and when we’re going to win. I tried to write something that honoured that history, particular with that song. I don’t know if you’ve heard the EP, though?
No, I have, and I liked it – easily my favourite body of work from you. I remember when you and myself last had any contact was for the ‘Know My Name’ premiere back in June last year, and when the EP dropped come November 2016, I definitely checked it out. So I know the song you mean.
That’s great to hear! We spent many an hour in the studio honing the sound and getting it to where we wanted it to be. It’s in some standard tuning and some Drop D tunings and we also wanted to harness that classic rock sound with the funk stuff and the like. The way we wrote the EP too was really interesting. We had the drums set up in the studio, I would get a microphone out and we’d put on a click track through our headphones and we’d just freestyle for ten minutes, with different drum beats under different vocal patterns. We’d then go through those freestyles and edit the drums and the vocals down to an arrangement of a song and sometimes go back in and record a bit. With the vocals and the drums, we’d then insert the guitars, bass and the synth parts over them. It really started in a way that was as if you went back a few thousand years, where music would have started with just rhythm and voice; just hitting stuff and chanting. Before technology and even pre-language, dance and music existed and it’s an effective form of communication.
With this EP, there are influences ranging from Stevie Wonder, Rage Against The Machine, there are old hardcore influences like Dead Kennedy’s and The Sex Pistols. I was certainly trying to create something that came from my culture and what I had grown up on. We’re still stoked on it and I’m proud of what we did politically on that EP. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I think it’s still a fun, funky listen at the very least.
Yeah, I noticed the various influences on it too. Also, I think it’s really interesting how you began the writing and recording process, with just the drums and your voice. As I find that’s such a core part, of not just music in general, but also of your music, in particular. Groove and vocals is really the your bread and butter across all of your varying works and the bands you’ve been in.
Yeah, and it was a conscious decision too. With these upcoming live shows, we’re playing Mammal songs, Full Scale songs, and The Nerve songs, along with this new solo stuff. What we’re trying to do is create a musical space where we could put all of those projects together on stage and it’d made sense. This solo project is my legacy and it was informed by my previous works. As you said, my bread and butter is what gets people coming to the shows and we saw some successful shows last year too. It is different from my other band but it fits those styles and genres really well.
Well, if you give the people what you want, they’ll love you for it and they’ll keep coming back too!
That’s right, and it’s good because it’s what I want too [laughs].
Now, I thought it was very interesting that this EP is something like your 18th release overall, and is your first release as a solo artist. With the two upcoming live shows you have, you’re playing material from this solo EP, Mammal, Full Scale and The Nerve, as you said, but none of the Superheist material. I take it that’s because that band is now active again and you wish to keep your solo work and that band separate entities so you don’t cross the streams, so to speak?
Yeah, pretty much and hey, nice Ghostbusters reference!
But definitely. Full Scale is still an active band, we’re actually writing for a new album now. I had a chat with Jimmy Tee if he would mind if we played Party Political and other songs for these solo live shows, and he was happy to, so there is some crossing of the streams. With Superheist and Over-Reactor, they have their own unique sonic space that they work in, which is separate to that of my solo work, Mammal and Full Scale. I also think that it comes down to the different technology involved.
The four bands that I represent are four-piece lineups of vocals, guitar, bass and drums. But Superheist has keyboards, two guitarists and it’s all tuned down to F sharp with seven-string guitars. Where Over-Reactor is more of a blend of stuff, and is much more of an alt-hip-hop act, and there’ll be a new Over Reactor album out this year. So it was important that we kept things on the same sonic level, as you don’t want your live show to be a dog’s breakfast.
That you don’t! I’ve done more interviews than I can count and I’ve heard from many bands that they like to tailor their live shows like a movie act, moving from act one to act two to the finale of act three. Just so it’s all cohesive and as you say, you don’t want it to be a dog’s breakfast.
Yeah, exactly, and with these live sets, we’ve achieved that. It’s exciting. Plus, the best thing about this solo project is that it’s called ‘Ezekiel Ox’. So if I need to, I’ll just get new members!
That’s a very good point too; it only ends when you do.
That was the whole reasoning of moving that sound over to something that can’t be compromised by member and lineup changes. It also gives me full musical control and it gives me a full range for what this project does and says. I’m still taking advice from people around me, as that’s part of the fun, but it’s much more focused than it’s ever been in the past. This project will be going on for another 20-25 years, right until I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Sounds good, man. It’s clear that you’re in this thing for the long haul.
Too right mate! I’ve been doing this for twenty years now. I am not going anywhere.
Now, with these upcoming shows and specifically the one on March 24th in Sydney, that show is on your birthday. Have you ever played a show on your birthday before?
Yes, I have actually. It’s something I really like to do. I think I’m up to five years in a row now. My booking agents are all very well aware of the fact that I like to be booked to play on my birthday. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday with music and my friends and having the ability to sing. It’s my favourite thing to do. It’s the best birthday present that I could give myself. This year will be great as I’ll be spending it with some friends in Sydney, and it’s the first time that I’ve gone interstate for my birthday.
Sounds good! Now, with all of the acts that you’ve been in, I’m wondering if you ever feel like you’re ever repeating yourself in your various bands or that you’re spreading yourself artistically thin?
I wouldn’t say that, as I’m constantly having new ideas, but I think it’s for other people to decide. I feel the need and the urge to create constantly, and I’ve been lucky enough to constantly stay employed and work with some fantastic producers and musicians. When you look at Elvis Presley and James Brown, even though I am not politically aligned with either of them, there was a tendency back in the day to just work. Billy Joel used to put out a record every six months and even Korn in the early days would release a new album each year. I’ve always been drawn to the work and I have a strong work ethic, which informs how I work.
Sure, it does all sound like me in some way, even though each band has a different sonic space. I don’t let it really concern me and just get on with the job of making every song as good as it could. I’m very proud of my back catalogue and that’s definitely why I’m bringing it back for my solo shows. I’m here to sing, it’s what I do, and whilst I’ve been creating all that music, I’ve been in musicals and theatre, I’ve been umpiring football, which I still do, and I’m also an activist. There have been times when my health has suffered due to spreading myself so thin but I don’t think that my music ever has suffered for it. Life’s very short and I want to leave as much of an imprint behind as I can.
I love the act of creating a new piece. Even when I direct my own film clips, there’s a vacuum of space when you start creating and I love finding that vacuum and filling it up and watching it become clearly defined. You know, there’s no reasoning to create anything. I always try to give my music a point politically but no one needs you to create a song. But it’s hard to imagine a world without Stevie Wonder or Tool but at some point, a group of people had to sit down and say “Let’s make this!” And I think that’s more important than me trying to reflect on how successful or how not successful I’ve been.
Well said. Even if the other people don’t like what you, they can’t really take away your own love and admiration for your work.
And there’s always the case of negative feedback about your music, which doesn’t come often for me but I’ve definitely had bad reviews and people not like my politics. The Herald Sun isn’t a huge fan and Andrew Bolt has written two articles about me, saying that he doesn’t like me and my politics, and I’m quite proud of that fact [laughs].
But if you’re going to put yourself out there, you’ve gotta accept that you’re not going to please everyone. What I do love is that when Bolt talks about me or when an album or EP that I release gets a bad review, it means that they listened to it and it is in some way relevant. It’s okay that people will comment, that’s the life of being a public figure. The fact that someone bothered to sit down and listen and share their thoughts is very gratifying. The worst thing that could happen is that you put out an album and people don’t care and you don’t get any reviews full stop. It leans towards relevance. I’d be most disappointed if I put out a CD and people just went “Who?” [Laughs]. I’d have a lot of work to do in that case!
So you gotta take the good with the bad. One of the most pleasing things about social media – and there are many things that aren’t so pleasing – is that it gives fans the opportunity to comment, and you’ll get people defend you. And when you put out a good review, people will say they disagree with it. There’s a certain democracy to that which allows you to find out how it’s going on a percentage level. People are still coming to my shows, still digging what I do, and the people that don’t like my music have developed a begrudging respect for what I do as its ongoing for 20 years. If anything, I’m busier now than I was in my 20’s and I hope people understand that I’m doing this for the right reasons and that I’m trying to forge a career as much as I am forging an artistic pool of material to fall back on.
Social media is a great tool for that kind of thing I find as well. As you say, you’re basically a veteran of the Australian music scene now with a lot of music under your belt and many people respect in some way.
Yeah! Some of the music I’ve released I listen to now and think, “Geez, I don’t think that’s as good as I thought it was at the time”, but those are often the songs people want to hear the most. It’s a very subjective universe, and it’s not science; we’re not dealing with provable facts. I could say to you that I think that Metallica’s black album is a great album and you could argue with why it isn’t. Both of us would have a reasonable stake in that argument. But if I said that the sky was blue, it’d be much more difficult to argue that point. And Alex, it would be a very boring world if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?
Oh, too right, man. It’s funny you bring up that Metallica album, as that’s one of the very few Metallica records that I actually like… so good pick!
[Laughs] I love that album. I’ve got much love for the stuff on Load and Reloaded but then they went off-track for my tastes. But their newest album is a real return to form. And that’s the thing, being relevant. You couldn’t ignore that band as they were constantly doing what a band is meant to do which is explore and experiment and releasing material and then touring that material. That’s the job, that’s what we’re supposed to do. So that’s why I’m always happy to get a review, as it gets my name on sites and in the paper and it gives people a chance to check me out. I’ve been lucky in my career that people have responded to my music mainly in the positives. That’s my bread and butter, to use that term again.
Glad to hear man, we’ll go through more on that topic soon. But with the idea of social media and the internet being large-scale public forums, did you hear or see what happened to Bec Sandridge regarding her recent Like A Version performance of ‘You’re The Voice’?
Yeah! I actually saw that video when it first came out.
Great. I found it very interesting how the discussion came up about artists needing an “online safe space” and especially how attacking the artist instead of the art is misguided. Now, I didn’t like that cover, and it’s totally fair to not like the song, but attacking the artist and the band personally is just wrong.
Exactly. As we said before, it’s not a science… but that cover was objectively not in the spirit of the song. I thought it was incredibly poor, the actual musicality of it. That comes from someone who is a huge fan of that song and from someone who has performed that song live and I have my own version of it. I don’t think that ‘You’re The Voice’ is untouchable but it’s an anthem and it has to be treated as such.
I’m with you on that. It was an odd direction for Sandridge and her band to cover it that way, and it just didn’t work. Attacking the song’s fine but attacking her personally isn’t.
I only saw it very early in the process and as you can imagine, I’m not there for the comments. But I had a brief look and went “Shit, this isn’t going well for her.” Personal attacks should be reserved, if they’re to be used at all, for people of power and personally degrading comments are politically expedient. But when it comes to someone who’s just making music or even just someone at the pub sharing their opinion, I think we need to be kinder in general. I certainly don’t like hanging out with people who use personal attacks to win an argument.
I agree with you, the art should be critiqued, brutally if need be. Because we can’t just have low artistic standards – we’d just end up with One Direction everywhere. As artists and as the media, we should be honest in our praise and feedback. But hey, she had a go and the consensus is that it failed but that doesn’t mean she failed as a human being. Hopefully, she can use this to come back and prove everyone wrong. If I was managing her or her publicist, I wouldn’t have played the victim card as much, but it’s her career – she can do what she wants.
Spot on, and look at it this way: I didn’t know who she was until The Music and the like started running articles about the backlash to her cover. So publicity works in many different ways.
For sure. What I found though was that there weren’t any screenshots of the actual abuse. Did you see any?
Yeah, they were all quoted without any screenshots. But if you go onto the YouTube comment section, it’s stuff like “If her eyebrows could sing, this is what it’d sound like”, “You can’t just grow your hair out, put on lipstick and expect us to not know it’s you, Julian Assange”, “If John Howard had a daughter…. This is the product”, with some people calling her a “tranny”, and other such comments.
Oh, Jesus, that’s just ridiculous. Those people are just dealing with their own trans and homophobia. If that’s what you pick out, is someone’s gender, and that they’re not conforming to your gender guidelines, get a life. It’s 2017! But that’s just the internet; it can be brutal. And sadly those backwards voices get a platform to say all that, even though they wouldn’t say it on the street. It’s this amplification of buffoonery.
Exactly, those dickhead comments stick out far more than the ones that simply critiqued the song. It’s sad to see.
I’ve copped worse than that online. I’ve gotten death threats from Nazis, and my family has been threatened too. The Internet as a carriage service has many different options. There are laws put in place but there not usefully put in place. I hope that she’s got support from the right people and that people still support her so that she can move on.
I hope so too, it can be rough! I’ve gotten a lot of shit in my time as well, from people saying that I am a wanker who doesn’t know what he’s on about, that I’m a shit writer. Hell, I was once even told to kill myself cause I didn’t give an album an amazing, “perfect” score [laughs]. Like, the fuck?
Oh wow. But don’t kill yourself, Alex.
I won’t, don’t worry mate. Some people just go really overboard!
Yeah! And hey, my publicist mentioned to me that you were interested in talking about comments of a former Superheist member made about this very topic. I’m more than happy to talk about that.
For sure! I was actually using this Bec Sandridge subject for selfish reasons to lead into this discussion actually.
Yeah, I picked that about five minutes ago. I was quietly admiring your segueing abilities there. Good interviewing skills, mate [laughs].
[Laughs] Cheers! But yes, let’s talk about my Superheist review for ‘Ghosts Of The Social Dead’ and the comments that the band’s former drummer, Benny Clark, made in regards about people in my line of work. Basically, as you’re still the singer for Superheist now, Benny was the band’s drummer at that time, and as I’m talking to you right now, I’m really keen to know your thoughts on the comments that he made about writers and the media?
Sure. Superheist – as a band – were all very disappointed with those comments. We counselled about it at the time and we counselled that member about it, and it was dealt with internally. Also, my publicist was privy to Benny’s post, as she’s not only a publicist for Beehive PR but also a music journalist for The Music and Heavy Mag and she writes many reviews also. So from the internal perspective of people that I am working with, who I know intimately and who I share wonderful working relationships with, I was very disappointed with that post. And many friends made vocal their disappointment about it. Then that post was naturally, in the age of social media, screenshotted and it moved over to Twitter, where we had more comments coming in from the Melbourne music community.
But yes, as for that member, we decided to move forward but in the end, some other things came up and Benny was asked to leave the band. Which also lead to Drew [bass] also leaving on his own terms. Now we have a new line-up to keep playing shows and we have a new album worth of material and Superheist is stronger than ever for having made those decisions. I mean, you just don’t want to be like The Amity Affliction that are just constantly whining about reviews, like, suck it up, mate! They didn’t threaten to burn your house, and they didn’t have a go at you for your race or your sexuality; they had a listen to your music and they didn’t like it. It’s all a bit… fragile. There are things to be offended about and things to be upset about and I don’t think that’s one of them.
[Laughs] ah, good ol’ salty Amity. Also, how do you honestly feel about music reviews these days? Because, as you said, it’s incredibly subjective and writers like me are simply covering music; not war, not politics, nor economics.
From my perspective, music critics are not only a key part of the marketing and publicity of a release or a show or tour, but they’re also people who work really hard for no money or for very little money. They’re people who are working in my industry, and I respect them. But you can get positive criticism and negative criticism. Sometimes in a review, I can find that they’re telling me something about the work and it resonates with me, and while I won’t discuss details publically, I may take it on board to improve myself. I think that’s a much braver perspective than simply throwing a tantrum, as it’s not very grown up. My son, he’s seven, and he doesn’t throw tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. Of course, I won’t share the bad reviews, like, why would I propagate that? [Laughs]. But I’ve got nothing but respect for the music media and its symbiotic, our relationship. I like to know the people in my industry and have adult discussions with them.
And I’ll go back to what I touched on before, I’m just glad that you listened to the album, Alex, and I’m really glad that you were able to talk at length about it. As you can see, I have no problem that you didn’t like that album. Obviously, I disagree with you; I think it’s a brilliant record! [Laughs].
But it speaks to the relevance of it all, and it was simply a personal analysis. It’s better than there being nothing said about an album that we went to LA to record. It proves to me that Superheist is still relevant and it pleases me. For there are bands out there that people won’t write about it or who won’t be downloaded. Oscar Wilde said there’s only thing worse than being talked about and that’s not being talked about.
Yes, very true, man. At least people are paying attention then.
And it’s also interesting as what we’ve done with this new Superheist stuff; you should listen to it, as it’s a real shift. It’s got a new emotion and aggression behind it all. I think that the next stuff is well worth a listen!
Oh, I will! At the end of the day, I did enjoy some of those songs, but overall wasn’t a huge fan of ‘Ghosts Of The Social Dead’. I will be checking out this new record when it drops… and hopefully, once I hear this new stuff, I can say that I really dig it.
Yeah, great! One interesting thing about the Superheist thing that helped me personally was that it gave people the chance to compare my vocals with previous singers. I’ve always come back from a background were Full Scale sounded like me, The Nerve sounded like me, Mammal sounded like me. New and old fans then got the chance to see how I stacked up which brought out a lot of great discussion. Which was great for me as an artist, both for my vocals and my live performances. It was a unique circumstance that was only going to happen for Superheist for that brief period and I was happy to step back and witness that. It’s given me a rich bank of information that I wouldn’t have gotten unless I went and joined a John Farnham tribute band.
That’s great to hear man, that you could step away from your wider work and see it in perspective. Not every singer gets to do that. I think that that makes for a really good bookend for this massive interview. We’ve covered a lot here and it’s been a real journey. Thank you very much for your time today, Ezekiel, it’s been a journey for sure!
No worries at all Alex, anytime! Thank you to you and KYS for the continued support and I look forward to the good and the bad that comes from it!
Ezekiel Ox’s latest single ‘Eyes Up Hearts Full’ is out now, and you can stream it below. Pick up the ‘Proper Gander’ EP here. Be sure to check out Ox’s upcoming live dates below.
Friday, March 24th – Factory Floor, Sydney, NSW
Supports – TBA
$20+bf – Tickets here
Saturday, April 1st – The Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Supports – TBA.
$20+bf – Tickets here.