This is not a story for the faint of stomach. It will sound bizarre, insane and maybe unbelievable, but it's all true.
Skitzo is one of the North Bay's most notorious, longest-running musical dynasties, a thrash metal band formed in 1981 that has thrived in spite of an ever changing lineup for over three and a half decades. This week, Skitzo celebrate 35 years of thrashing with many special guests at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Nov. 12.
Even if you've never heard Skitzo, you've probably heard about them. They're best known for founder and frontman Lance Ozanix and his regurgitating proclivities, a spectacle that has become synonymous with the band's heavy metal music.
Yet over 19 albums and more than 2,000 shows, Skitzo has in all ways become an institution in the local metal scene and an underground sensation for fans around the world.
Ozanix was born in 1966 in a long gone hospital on Johnson Street in Healdsburg that looked like the Munster's family mansion. He grew up in a very different Sonoma County than we know today.
"I grew up very quick," says Ozanix, who started drinking at age five and smoking pot by eight. "Healdsburg was very drug-induced," he says, describing the bikers he used to see cruising around Dry Creek Valley.
Ozanix also describes his parents' divorce, a Vietnam-veteran stepfather coming into the picture and instances of abuse in his childhood. He says a desire to escape not only resulted in heavier drug use, but also inspired him to start a heavy metal band.
"It was just to shock the world around me, because that's what I was feeling inside: angry, confused, just messed-up," Ozanix says.
The name Skitzo came from a pair of drummers that Ozanix played with, Tom Akaze and David Bailey. Ozanix was originally leaning toward giving a Satanic edge to the band until he met Danish heavy metal singer King Diamond from '80s band Mercyful Fate.
"King Diamond told me what a punk I was," remembers Ozanix. "It was an in-store signing. I showed up with my yearbook, and I said, 'Hey King, can you put some spells on these bitches?' I told him we were in a band. He goes, 'Don't fuck with the powers of darkness. I see you as a crazy guy—go with the craziness, go nuts.'"
Ozanix still kept Skitzo dark, but wrote songs about horror movies and serial killers rather than Satan. Onstage, Ozanix's crazed persona never acted out violently, but always shocked the crowd.
In 1984, at the age of 17, Ozanix quit the booze and drugs, cold turkey. Actually, his whole family did; his mother and stepfather got clean as well. "For whatever reason, we all quit at once," he says. "We woke up and we didn't know who anybody was. It was the weirdest feeling in the world.
"I really wanted to get serious with my band, music, recording, hanging out with Metallica. That was the deal, and I went full force," he says.
Skitzo immediately experienced success after that decision. Ozanix gave a demo to a German tourist. Skitzo got a write-up in the German metal magazine Rock Hard and started getting mail and money from Europe.
Bands like Death Angel and Metallica took the band under their wings, and Skitzo shared bills with then-unknown bands like Tool and Buck Cherry.
At one point, in the late '80s, Skitzo had a manager, booker and groupies. They even took limo rides to Los Angeles to meet with record labels like Capitol.
"It was a good time, but it didn't last," Ozanix says. "Our time lasted about five years, and a lot of people say that's a long time."
Being totally sober amid the highlights of a rock-star life, Ozanix got his high from the music and friendships. "It was about being sweaty, being out there, it was just not sitting at home."
Over the years, Skitzo evolved from simply being a band to being a part of Ozanix's identity. He says he's tried to hang it up a few times, but got depressed on his hiatuses. Still feeling like a 17-year-old kid in his head, Ozanix has never lost his love of heavy metal and his driving desire to thrash about onstage.
At 50 years old, Ozanix says he's only now catching up on things like television.
"My wife recently said, 'Haven't you ever heard of Cheers?' I'm finally now catching up on Cheers. I think it's hilarious. I love Cheers! And now I'm going to watch this thing called Frasier that I've never heard of."