One of the most original and treasured progressive fusion bands of the 1990's quietly went their separate ways a few years back, leaving a huge void in the process. Now, Ozone Quartet has reformed, released the historical live CD Live at Local 506, and begun the early stages of putting together music for an all-new studio recording. Original member and Chapmen Stick player Wayne Leechford chatted with Sea of Tranquility publisher Pete Pardo recently to discuss these exciting new developments.
Sea of Tranquility: Can you give a quick chronology of the history of Ozone Quartet for our readers?
Wayne Leechford: Basically the band started back in 1992, which was when I first got a Chapman Stick, and basically I was really getting inspired to start thinking of a lot of different musical ideas. The original band was called Cloud Nine, and basically had the same format instrumentally as we do now. We continued as Cloud Nine for about 3-4 years, when we decided that we wanted to get a little more serious and get our name registered, but we realized that we couldn't keep that name because another band had already registered it with the government.
SoT: Isn't there a more commercial prog band called Cloud Nine?
W.L.: There's been several bands called Cloud Nine, and I think at this stage there is still plenty of them with that name. So that name seemed to be pretty common, so we decided to change it. I don't know where Ozone Quartet came from, I mean, I thought of it, but I don't remember where the inspiration came from for that name. Then we finally recorded a CD, called First Blood in 1995, but we didn't release it until 1997, and actually when we began the recording process we were still called Cloud Nine. After changing a few guitar players and releasing another CD, we played 12 or 14 shows in the span of six months, and tension seemed to build within the band, especially between Hollis Brown (violin) and myself over business issues. The touring part really caused a lot of tension within the whole band, even though you would think it would be the most fun part of having a band.
SoT: Do you all currently have families?
W.L.: Well, at the time, I think only two of us really had families, and the only one who had a "real" family was Hollis, she has three kids, so she had much more of a family commitment and everything that goes along with it. I'm married, but at the time both the guitar player and the drummer were not married, so that really wasn't the cause of the tensions.
SoT: A couple of you formed another group called Polydactyl after the demise of Ozone Quartet-what was that all about?
W.L.: Yeah, it was basically the same group minus Hollis, and we substituted a keyboard player, Jim Curry, in place of violin. We did that for a couple of years, changed guitar players there as well (laughs)- we can never seem to keep guitar players-and with a different guitar player and different drummer we eventually wound up playing ProgDay 2001, which was the only live performance of that line-up.
SoT: So you never recorded anything?
W.L.: Well, we started a recording, and maybe eventually one day we will be able to release something. We finished two songs with one guitar player, but we will have to get another guitar player come in and finish the other songs we recorded. It's possible, it's possible…maybe we can get Jeremy Shaw from Ozone to come in and finish up what was already started.
SoT: So what led to Ozone Quartet getting back together?
W.L.: I think that over the years we just kept thinking about the music, plus getting all sorts of positive responses all over the world through the Internet, and we just realized that maybe it wasn't such a great thing that we never took the band any farther and continued playing the songs. It seems like there are a lot people out there who cared about what we did and interesting in what we where doing, so if anything that was the inspiration to get us back together.
SoT: Well, we are glad that you are back!
W.L.: Yeah, we are too! We feel like what we have done is somewhat unique and we kind of have a special blend of influences. What we are doing is pretty original, and there's not really anyone out there who is doing exactly like we are.
SoT: That's funny you mentioned that, because that was going to be one of my later questions. When you listen to Ozone Quartet, you hear a little Dixie Dregs, a little Mahavishnu Orchestra, perhaps a bit of King Crimson, but for the most part you really don't sound like any of those bands. What were some of the bands earlier influences?
W.L.: King Crimson played a huge part in my early musical development, so when I got the Stick, that really kind of made us a little more solid and cemented Crimson as an influence. I learned how to play the Stick from watching Tony Levin on various King Crimson concert videos, and at the time there really wasn't much in the way of Stick instruction, other than one book, so video was basically the only way to do it.
SoT: Did you ever get to meet Tony and ask him any pointers?
W.L.: I met him one time when he was touring with B.L.U.E. down here in Virginia, and I got to meet him and shake his hand. It's funny because you are asking me if I asked him any advice, but he actually asked me what kind of amps I use! (laughs) The Stick is such an unusual instrument that finding the right sound can be difficult for some players, but I kind of told him what I was using, and obviously I knew what he is using (laughs) because I had just seen him play, so it was pretty interesting…
SoT: Do you play regular bass much at all these days?
W.L.: I play some regular bass, really more as a tool for me to get my bass concepts together a little better, because I never was a bass player before I learned the Stick, I was a guitar player. So I needed to get a better grounding in just being a bass player so I picked up the 4 string bass to work out bass lines and try to basically get it together. I don't perform on electric bass but I have studied it quite a bit.
SoT: Any other influences?
W.L.: Collectively, we've all had a classical music influence, particularly with Hollis, as her father was a composer and conductor in Oklahoma, so that's where a lot of her influence is from. I think all of us have been influenced by a lot of 70's prog and fusion bands, anything from the mainstream bands like Yes, Genesis, and Rush, to King Crimson, Allan Holdsworth, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and those kind of bands, so we all come from a pretty similar listening background.
SoT: Can you talk a little bit about the recent live CD that came out, and also about the gig itself that it was recorded from?
W.L.: When we recorded that show, we really didn't know that, months later we would be talking about breaking up the band and not playing anymore. It was the last show in a string of gigs in support of the Nocturne album, and it was the first performance where we actually brought out any professional recording gear. We had a lot of DAT recordings, but nothing we ever released, but this was the first time we had a real studio engineer come out and record us, multi-track the show, and after the fact, we would come back to it, but we didn't have any immediate plans to do anything with it. Really, I guess part of what brought the band together, besides for people contacting us to find out what was going on with members of the band, was that we really wanted to release this live material. With the recording technology now, it became a little bit easier to handle. We got our original recordings dumped down to a computer, and we were able to multi-track and mix things on our own time, and also Fran Dyer (recently departed original drummer) has a studio now so we were able do all the mixing and mastering in-house, which is the first time we have been able to do that.
SoT: Do you think the live CD would have been released if the band had not gotten back together?
W.L.: I'm not sure…
SoT: I'm sure the demand was there…
W.L.: Yeah! We set a goal of playing at one of the ProgDay festivals, and the goal was to have the CD out by then so really kind of putting a performance and CD release in front of us I think it what motivated us to get it together.
SoT: So what's next for the band-do you have any plans to record a studio album?
W.L.: Yeah, we do. We are actually getting together some improv material now that we have been working on the last couple of months, basically just the rhythm section of guitar, Stick, and drums. We are trying to organize that stuff to see what can be made into compositions and then we hand that off to Hollis to write some melodic material. We'd like to get a demo together for mid-to-late 2004. Also in the works in a retrospective CD of material we recorded as Cloud Nine, so be on the lookout for some new releases in the near future!