“Sometimes there’ll be a weird, splatty noise that comes flying through the sound spectrum… children seem to really enjoy that”: Ed Wynne doesn’t know or care why Ozric Tentacles are reaching new heights

Ozric Tentacles
(Image credit: Glenn Povey)

The arrival of a new Ozric Tentacles album is always something to celebrate, but arguably more now than ever.

When Ed Wynne’s untameable psychedelic warriors rose to something approaching prominence in the early-to-mid-90s, the UK was a hopeful and optimistic place. Fuelled by the energy of a thousand free festivals and delighted by their own fearless musical cross-pollination, they experienced what Wynne now agrees should be known as an “accidental commercial peak” and, against the odds, fit neatly into a flourishing British music scene that was increasingly comfortable with itself.

Three decades later, Ozric Tentacles have released a new record, Lotus Unfolding, into a much darker and less hopeful world, with financial trauma, political turmoil and environmental disaster all weighing heavy on our post-Covid brains.

“In a way, I’ve always felt that the music we make is an escape from people’s angst about politics and the environment and the world,” says Wynne. “For me, it’s an escape from that when I’m making the records. I can hide from all the trials and tribulations of the world and just swim about in these tunes.”

Even in a catalogue as long and broad as theirs undoubtedly is, the six-track follow-up to 2020’s widely praised Space For The Earth is a particularly uplifting and immersive piece of work. It has hazy but unmistakable echoes of the music Wynne was writing in the early 90s, when albums like Pungent Effulgent and Jurassic Shift captured many imaginations.

Welcoming the comparison, he notes with an embarrassed chuckle that he remains unsure exactly what kind of record Lotus Unfolding is (“It’s too recent!”) and that throughout his band’s 40-year existence, he’s written music in a purely organic way. “It’s intuitive, completely,” he states. “I never really have too much of a concept of what a song is going to turn into.

“The starting point normally happens in the first part of the day when I get in the studio. I’ll go in there with my morning cup of tea, switch on the keyboard, see what’s coming through. Then some little tune will come out, and I think, ‘Okay, here we go...’ and I will at least get the initial germ of the idea done. So many tracks have been started like this, with a clear mind at the beginning of the day.”

With all due respect to Ed Wynne, he has never struck Prog as a typical morning person. “Yeah, I’m a morning person – I’ve just been out since the night before! But I do like the mornings. My routine normally is that I start as I just described, and things evolve gradually during the day. By the evening, things can be flying pretty high, so I just climb about in the ideas for a bit.

“It all starts clear, gradually gets more hedonistic into the evening, and then all the weird stuff goes on late at night. In the morning I sort through it all and try to make sense of it. But there’s rarely a concept for an album. It just organically forms, almost in front of my eyes as I watch. Weird, but it seems to work for me.”

On Lotus Unfolding, the efficacy of Wynne’s approach is writ large across some of the most wild and expansive music Ozric Tentacles have ever released. With numerous contributions from the current live line-up (which includes daughter Brandi Wynne on bass and Tim Wallander on drums), sprawling opener Storm In A Teacup and epic centrepiece Crumplepenny sound just as timeless and audacious now as revered forebears such as Ayurvedic (from Pungent Effulgent, 1989) and Sploosh! (from Strangeitude, 1991) did all those years ago. 

Meanwhile, Wynne’s son Silas has become increasingly essential to the creative process, bringing extensive knowledge of bleeding-edge music technology to bear on his dad’s eccentric flights of acid-rock fancy. “The thing about Silas is that he’s very clued up, more than me, on the technology side of things,” Wynne admits. 

“I’ve been doing this a little while now, as you know, and sometimes the newer tech can be a little confusing. There are certain tricks, little knacks and production techniques that Silas has learnt, and which I haven’t attempted to learn because I can’t be bothered! Silas has got really good ears as well. His ears have still got their tweeters. The top end is still there!”

On a wonderful streak of top form since 2015’s opulent double set Technicians Of The Sacred, Ozric Tentacles are still casually messing with their own trademark sound on Lotus Unfolding.

In particular, the new album’s title track is the sonic equivalent of taking a long, relaxing bath while tripping one’s merry norks off. Languorous, meandering and blissful, it has seemingly become an unexpected highlight of recent live sets.

“The title track is a very blissy track and it’s funny to play that live,” says Wynne. “In amongst all those crazy bits of music, suddenly there’s this one. Sometimes I feel a little tentative, and I worry that people will think it’s too light and too spacey, but people absolutely seem to love it. It’s a little break from the madness, really. It’s unusual to have a track with that amount of bliss, in with all the heavy songs, but I’m really happy with it.”

When it comes to the superbly titled Crumplepenny, Wynne recalls that the entire, 10-minute caboodle began as an experiment with unfathomable old-school synths. “That was fun, that track. It was kind of an anomaly, in a way. It was myself and Silas jumping in there, plugging in a few synths.

The title track is a very blissy track and it’s funny to play that live… I worry that people will think it’s too light and too spacey, but people absolutely seem to love it.

“Silas has this modular synth set-up that I don’t understand at all. It’s a load of knobs and wires all over a bit of metal, you know? But he got it squelching away there; we just did this backing track and I spent a lot of hours turning it into an unusual bit of music! It is a good title, isn’t it? I was so happy with that. I’ve wanted to use it for years. I imagine Crumplepenny as some Dickensian character!”

Since forming back in the lysergic mists of 1983, Ozric Tentacles have carved a laudably singular niche for themselves, attracting all manner of open-minded listeners along the way. Much to Wynne’s ongoing delight, his band are more popular now than at any time since their supposed early-90s heyday.

That new, slightly expanded audience will obviously include many of the same pot-huffing weirdos who followed Wynne and his comrades around during their early days; but who else does he think is coming to an Ozric Tentacles show these days?

“Well, our fans are still pretty weird!” he chuckles. “But no, there’s a younger, newer load of people that didn’t have the upbringing of the free festivals and all of that. To them it’s just a lot of fun. We’re getting 13, 14-year-olds sometimes, because their parents have told them that they should come along to see us, and they seem to love it.

“One thing I’ve heard is that the younger audience like us because there’s a lot of stuff going on. They’ve got a slightly shorter attention span. Sometimes there’ll be a weird, splatty noise that comes flying through the sound spectrum and children seem to really enjoy that.”

As leader of a band that formed accidentally, became accidentally popular and have now survived, in various forms, for 40 unlikely years, Ed Wynne is right to trust his own intuition. From jamming beside a campfire at Stonehenge in 1983 to overseeing Kscope’s recent reissue series and lavish box sets, the story of Ozric Tentacles is enough to cheer anybody up.

“It all feels absolutely bloody wonderful,” Wynne concludes. “We’ve never really pushed ourselves too hard, because we enjoy it so much, whether it works or not. If it financially comes together or not with this band, I’m still going to be doing it either way, because it’s what I do and it’s my thing!

“But to suddenly have it making sense after 40 years, it’s just great. I’m very happy about it. I’m still getting away with it somehow!”

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.