Ezekiel Ox On Surrendering Creative Control & The Politics Of Music

Melbourne journeyman Ezekiel Ox is hitting the road in support of his new EP, Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs. Engineered and produced by Steven Smith of Terracotta Pigeons, Cheering Bombs is by no means an intimate, stripped-back affair. Heavy funk and rap rock sounds dominate while Ox’s vocals are central in the mix.

Ox could never be accused of indolence. Over the last 20 years he’s fronted Full Scale, Mammal, The Ox and the Fury, Over-Reactor, and The Nerve and continues to tour with the reunited Superheist. On the sidelines, he’s campaigned against racism and police violence and shown support for refugees and First Nations people.

Music Feeds speaks to Ox about his various responsibilities, surrendering creative control, and his political stance.

Music Feeds: You’ve had to juggle a lot of projects over the years. Though, none of your bands have remained active for that many years on the trot. Has it felt like a stop-start career?

Ezekiel Ox: Full Scale stood the test. Next year is 20 years since Symptoms of Chaos came out, which is the first album me and Forrester Savell ever made – Forrster’s gone onto make Karnivool’s records. Me and Jimmy [Tee, Full Scale guitarist] have been in that relationship for 20 years. So that’s had continuity. Apart from that, bands are volatile, inherently. Artists are volatile, they’re passionate. So I think it’s part and parcel that if you want to be moving forward and moving ahead and maintaining your dignity and your pride, then people are going to come and go. That’s how I see it at 39.

MF: Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs is riff-heavy and armed with bulky bass playing and in your-face vocal performances. You worked with Steven Smith at Muscle Mothership Studios. Did you want it to sound like a band?

EO: Steve created all the music you’re listening to. I’d really given him full control. I was still offering ideas and writing. Steve was producing and I was being as enthusiastic as I normally try to be, and as present and on time and in tune. But Steve was making the decisions about what went on in the record and what the artwork looked like and how it sounded overall and what aesthetic we wanted. That was a decision we made at the start of the record and following that process gave me a lot of confidence as far as the choices we’ve been making.

MF: What made you want to hand over control to such an extent?

EO: It’s 2013 and no one’s calling me back. I was busking on the street, because no one would call me back after The Nerve. Then James Mangohig introduced me to Steve, then Steve took me into Muscle Mothership and here we are. But hitting the street was great. You’re back on the street busking and actually getting paid as a muso. Phenomenal idea.

MF: Have these songs all emerged recently or were the two of you building towards this record for a while?

EO: Steve wrote a batch of about eight. That was five months ago and then we’ve been steadily chipping away at the studio on all facets of that. He wrote the basis of what you now hear, but there’s been so much that’s changed.

I was thinking about it: “How do I have a solo project?” That’s the last one you want to have any control over for me. For this EP, it’s got my name on it but the music and the video clips, I haven’t actually directed or I haven’t produced or I haven’t had as much of an aggressive say. I’ve actually said to other people, “Can you tell me how I should sound? Can you tell me how I should look, because you love me?”

MF: Outside of music you’ve always been politically active. You’re a strong anti-racism campaigner and promoter of socialist values. Did your political views influence this EP?

EO: It’s 2019 and we live under late capitalism. It’s just a ball of conflict, cognitive dissonance, anxiety, stress. Those things are so present for so many people I know under this system and that’s also what the EP’s about. I still had a big hand in writing the lyrics.

MF: The opening track ‘Megalomania’ centres on the lyric, “The dollar will keep you fixated.” It’s a sarcastic rebuke of capitalism and the destruction it spreads. Can you tell us a bit more about the inspiration for ‘Megalomania’?

EO: That song is written from the Devil’s perspective. So when you’re listening to that song, imagine I am the devil or capitalism or whatever the devil represents to you. So it is dripping with irony, but at the same time the dollar is keeping us fixated, because rent pressure is so high and penalty rates have been cut and you’ve got to get new shoes and you’ve also got to pay that electricity bill, which is going up and up. That’s the practical economic reality for workers in this country right now.

For the lowest paid workers in this country, they’re being asked to sell their family out basically, and sell out their ideals of humanity to earn a buck. In that song that is the devil saying, “Fuck all that family shit. You’ll be the winner. Who cares how anyone else feels?”

MF: What affect does capitalist pressure have on the decisions you make in managing your career as an artist?

EO: I make sure that where the cash flows and what goes on with the banking is centred around people that I know and trust and people that I know want better. That comes down to who prints your t-shirts, comes down to who’s making the music with you, what studios you’re working in. That’s what I emphasise in my contracts – that they’re as open to change as possible.

I just try to understand my worth as a worker. What’s my voice worth? How much do other people earn? How much rent do I have to pay and then how much can I get away with doing free shit for refugees and free shit for black mob?

Ezekiel Ox’s new EP ‘Cheering Bombs From Deckchairs’ is out now. Ox will kick off his national tour this month. Head here for dates and details.

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