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Still Crazy

Skitzo turn 35 and turn it up

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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.

UNHINGED ORIGINS

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."

THE VOMITORIUM

"We were 11, talking about getting a band together," Ozanix says. "We loved KISS, and we loved what Gene Simmons did. I was also a huge fan of The Exorcist.

Ozanix also discovered that when he drank something foamy, he expelled it. Sure enough, Ozanix one day waited outside a store for an elderly couple to come strolling by and at the right moment he chugged some root beer and made like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

"I rolled my eyes back, threw my hands up, and they freaked out and ran away," he says.

"I saw the shock in them, and thought we could do this for the band."

Thus, Ozanix made vomiting neon green foam and slime a staple of Skitzo's live set.

"We wanted to just have people remember us, that was our goal," Ozanix says. "'Have you ever heard of Skitzo? Have you ever heard of the band that puked green?'"

"My first recollection of Lance was when I heard about this metal band puking in school colors," says Tom Gaffey, Phoenix Theater founder and manager. Ozanix had become known for playing high schools in the area and brewing color-appropriate tonics for his signature finale.

"That's when I realized, 'Oh man, I've got to get these guys on our stage,'" Gaffey says. In 35 years, Ozanix estimates that Skitzo has played the Phoenix well over a hundred times.

In the '80s, Skitzo became infamous locally and throughout the West Coast for this upchucking undertaking.

"People paid to come see us, I'd puke, they would get scared and leave, then they would trickle back in for the encore," Ozanix says. "They paid to get the charge, it was like a ride."

Though the 1980s was a conservative time, by the '90s, Ozanix started getting requests for the green goo. Then, either wanting to be a part of the show or fulfilling a fetish, people starting asking to get puked on. One time in 1999, Ozanix says there was a line of people at a show, "like it was Communion time."

"It's like a downward spiral over the years," he says. "When YouTube came out, people started getting desensitized by gross stuff, so now I get more of a reaction at a show when I don't puke because people are expecting it, as if it's a trick."

Though he rarely spews anymore, Ozanix says he has something special in store for the Nov. 12 show at the Phoenix. Bring a tarp if you're going to be in the front—or even the middle.

THE AX MEN COMETH  Lance Ozanix (right) shreds alongside newest Skitzo member Jason Wright at the band’s rehearsal space. - MICHAEL AMSLER
  • Michael Amsler
  • THE AX MEN COMETH Lance Ozanix (right) shreds alongside newest Skitzo member Jason Wright at the band’s rehearsal space.

FROM WEIRD TO WEIRDER

Things took another turn for Ozanix in the late '90s when television shows like The Jerry Springer Show and Judge Judy came knocking.

Ozanix was on Jerry Springer four times, as a nonviolent sweeps week ratings catch. On Ripley's Believe It or Not! he made vomit art. And on Judge Judy, he was sued for ruining a young woman's dress at a concert.

Was it real? "Well, I signed a contract saying it's real, and it's real," he stresses intently and smiles.

Was it exploitative? "No, the money was good," he laughs.

Ozanix never let national exposure go to his head, and through it all, Skitzo have remained focused on their ferocious, pummeling music. Since forming, the band has first and foremost been a force of thrash metal, a lightning fast and double-bass-blasting form of heavy metal that features Ozanix shredding on guitar and shrieking like a demon on songs about Ted Bundy and Dungeons & Dragons.

With his long hair flowing, Ozanix keeps the sound old-school, and Skitzo still rock an abrasive and rhythmically uncompromising sound that exudes pent-up angst and aggression with cathartic, complex, head-banging intensity. Skitzo's latest album, 2015's Dementia Praecox, is one of its best yet, featuring an array of reimagined '80s death metal and hardcore classics with accomplished metal guitarist Tony Rainier, best known for his work in San Francisco's Blue Cheer, guesting on several tracks.

"The thing about Lance is he was playing metal then and he's playing metal now. There's no doubt about it," Gaffey says. "That guy is the preeminent metal player in Sonoma County and the Bay Area. He's an incredible player and so dedicated to his craft."

"He's also one of the nicest metal heads you'll ever meet," Gaffey says.

"For me, Lance is the real deal when it comes to metal. He has managed to surround himself with solid players. He's been through several iterations of Skitzo, and I've liked them all. He's always been able to put together one hell of a metal band. And, boy, is it in his blood."

SKITZO AT 35

Ozanix and Skitzo have gone through an estimated 175 members in 35 years. The current five-part lineup is a strong mix of old friends and new collaborators. Bassist Nate Clark has been in Skitzo for 15 years, following time in cult band PCP. Sherri Stewart also plays bass, an on-again, off-again Skitzo insider since 1997. Drummer Liz Say cut her teeth in the all-female metal band Outrage throughout the '90s and 2000s. Lead guitarist Jason Wright is the newest Skitzo member, a Sacramento native who is also a flamenco virtuoso.

"I think he's a genius," says Wright of Ozanix. " I think if you look at the timeline, he was doing first what people like Rob Zombie would do later on, mixing in B-movies and using theatrics to that extent to promote music."

Clark met Ozanix in 1989 while he was still in high school. He says that seeing Skitzo perform live was surreal. "I was a fan from then on out," he says. Now a full-time member of Skitzo, Clark describes it as a working-class band. "It's been quite a ride, to say the least."

Clark also says that Skitzo is currently creating a new wall-of-sound. "I think that we're going to be coming out swinging in the next year. We're going to tear people's heads off with this sound."

"Lance is a pariah," Clark laughs. "Really, he's the most non-egotistical person in the world, and he really deserves so much more. But he's also a practical joker; he doesn't take himself too seriously. It's a very endearing quality."

Ozanix credits Clark in particular for keeping the band on track the last time he thought of hanging it up, in 2010. Clark, a towering figure whom Ozanix compares to actor Gunnar Hansen—Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—had just gotten a huge Skitzo tattoo on his leg, and simply had to show Ozanix the ink.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to quit now," Ozanix laughs.

DON'T MESS WITH JULIE

Through three decades of shows and tours, one of Ozanix's favorite concert stories happened only a few weeks ago, when his current Black Sabbath cover band, Electric Funeral, played a lounge in Santa Rosa.

"We cleared the place out almost immediately; people there wanted to boogie and we freaked them out," he says. "So there are 20 people of our friends left. There's Julie [not her real name], who comes to our shows all the time, down in front. There's this guy in camo shorts and a titanium leg, one leg, coming up to her twerking and humping on her. And she's pushing him back, and we see it from stage and know it's not going to end well.

"The third time, that's it. We're looking down; they're the only two on the dance floor. She bends down and rips off his titanium leg. She takes his leg, she's playing air guitar on his titanium leg like Chuck Berry," Ozanix says. "My band falls apart, we cannot function. She gives him back the leg, he runs off. The manager comes over to us, and goes, 'Here's your check, get out.' I think it was the best gig I've ever played."

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