Portland’s Tony Ozier On Staying Woke And Blazing Trails

From Bootsy to MonoNeon, the Oregon artist is working to make a difference.
Portland’s Tony Ozier On Staying Woke And Blazing Trails

“With social protests, lean pockets, and a divided nation back at the fore, socially conscious music has returned in everything from hip-hop to EDM,” wrote NAACP award recipient, scholar L. Michael Gipson in a review of Portland artist Tony Ozier’s latest music video, “Wake Up,” for the soul music monitor SoulTracks.

A singer-songwriter and prolific studio producer, Tony Ozier has worked with everyone from Bootsy Collins to MonoNeon, Lifted of Kanye fame, and beyond. His latest album, AutoTone, enters the socially conscious landscape through a blazing collaboration with fellow Portland artist, MC and lyricist Rasheed Jamal. Together, the two deliver a song hoping to prevent the masses from being quarterbacked into oblivion.

Gipson continued: “Slickly produced with spectral elements and cityscapes at night sounds, the productions juxtapose against a nasally, gritty cornerboy vocal delivering less a cohesive call than a poetic litany of mused upon evils, misdeeds, losses and corruptions.”

Hailing from Freeport, Texas, transplanted to the Northwest and yearning to learn more, Tony Ozier sat down with High Times to chat about legalization, his music and the Portland cannabis community.

High Times: You headlined a show at the 2nd Annual Oregon Cannabis Association Summer Fair in Portland, on the Pachecos Stage. How was performing at the event?

Tony Ozier: It was incredible. Eco Firma Farms put on a great show and completely took care of us. There were several aerialists performing in front of the stage, SlimKid3 of the Pharcyde was the DJ and we had a lot of fun. It was great to see the growing cannabis industry in Oregon come together in one place. And frankly, it’s incredible to see so many different strains and products achieving such a high level of craftsmanship.

HT: While writing and performing music on your new album Auto-Tone, did cannabis play a role in the creative process?

TO: Cannabis plays a major role in the making of most of my music. In the studio, I find that cannabis allows me to get out of my own way mentally and be more fluid as I play with the possibilities of music. My writing partner Key2C and I partake during writing. Mary Jane is a storytelling muse.

While the creative and inspirational aspects of cannabis are definitely a part of my process, I also have severe and chronic back pain from being a very tall man in a world that does not fit me, as well as having a spinal deformity. Cannabis plays a very important role in my ability to control and manage my pain, which in turn, frees up that part of my mind for the artistic to flow.

Portland’s Tony Ozier On Staying Woke And Blazing Trails
Video still from Tony Ozier’s “Wake Up”

HT: Since cannabis has been recreationally legal for the last few years in Oregon, you’ve probably had a lot of experience experimenting with different delivery methods. What’s your favorite way to consume cannabis? Favorite strain?

TO: I like all the ways of consumption. There are a lot of great edibles and concentrates on the market here in Portland. My favorites are Not Your Granny’s Hard Candies (strawberry and mango chile) and Cascadia Herbals (Sour Diesel and Cannatonic). But really I prefer spliffs the most (70/30 flower to tobacco). My favorite strains are Sour Diesel and Dogwalker OG.

HT: “Wake Up” is poignant. Tell us about the inspiration behind that.

TO: “Wake Up” is the first single off AutoTone, my new EP. I wrote “Wake Up” shortly after the 2017 inauguration. As the reality hit me of the journey this country is embarking on for the upcoming four (or more) years, I wanted to include my voice and perspective to the movement. I grew up in Texas. The relationships I made with all types of people there opened [up] my mind to what America is, and can be, at both its best and its worst.

“Wake Up” is a reminder to my brethren that we have to change how we treat each other first—that all the systemic injustices that we have experienced may never be eradicated completely, but they certainly won’t change if we continue to be complacent and give up our collective strength.

HT: Rasheed Jamal’s feature on “Wake Up” is excellent. He’s making waves in the Oregon scene…

TO: “Wake Up” was one of those songs where the energy that was in my head just flowed through me, and I cut it in two sessions, freestyling most of my parts. When I was playing it all back for the first time, I immediately knew Rasheed Jamal was exactly the right cat for this joint. As soon as I called and told him what was up, he literally came right over and the song happened to fit what he was writing earlier that day. He cut it in about 30 minutes. Magic.

HT: Award-winning writer and advocate L. Michael Gipson recently likened the video for “Wake Up” to Spike Lee and the Black Arts Movement…

TO: The video was filmed by Todd Strickland in Portland. I’ve known Todd for about four or five years and he shot and directed my first video ever, “Funk’d Up” back in 2015. A month after laying tracks with Rasheed, Todd called me out of the blue one day and said, ‘We need to shoot the next video.’ I told him I have just the song and came to him with two specific visuals I wanted, ‘protest footage’ and ‘The Mystery Boat from my hometown in Freeport, Texas.’ Todd took it and ran with it. All the protest footage was from here in Portland. The location scouting and visual design was all Todd’s mind. He’s a beast.

HT: Other songs on the album explore relationships and love. Tell us about one of those songs and the inspiration behind it.

TO: “Save’em” is a song that was inspired by years of experience in this industry. It’s about the energy that a lot of people find themselves dealing with as they become more popular. People are seduced by music and seek out the artist. “Save’em” is my offering, words of wisdom for those who need it. When you’re in a cannabis mind-state, your ability to observe the scene heightens, and you see a lot of relational dynamics go down. You can be gracious with people without feeling compelled to “Save’em.” Really, it’s enough to just handle your own life so you can be steady and still have something to offer the world creatively.

HT: “Save’em” was produced by Lifted, who worked on Kanye West’s “Mercy”…

TO: It was. He’s a genius.

HT: You’ve collaborated with some talented artists like Bootsy Collins, members of the Mayer Hawthorne Band, Janice Scroggins, to name a few. Care to share a cool memory?

TO: The cool memory about the Bootsy experience is that I didn’t actually work on the song with Bootsy. It came about as a connection through Mike Phillips [jazz saxophonist on Hidden Beach Records/Brand Jordan] who heard my song, “Keep the Funk Alive,” and thought it was a dope song. He hit me up and asked me what I thought about putting Bootsy on it. Who would ever say no to that?

Time went by and Mike hit me up after he was on the Soul Train Awards to tell me Bootsy was down. We gave the track to Bootsy, and he went in. Full Bootsy. Mike and I listened and we were completely wowed. It’s always amazing when technological and interpersonal join together and you can get creative with collaboration. That was galactic. 

HT: What’s the Portland music scene like?

TO: The Portland music scene is really thriving right now with veterans like Cool Nutz and Vursatyl dropping new albums along with other emerging artists like Mic Capes, Rasheed Jamal, Tyrone Hendrix, Johnny Cool, Easy McCoy, Steve Swatkins, P.Hustle, Arietta Ward. Aminé and Young Shanty both hit the Billboard Charts this year. Being an engineer and producer, I have been front and center watching the energy in this town grow and develop over the past decade.

HT: You helped produce The Portland Black Music Festival…

TO: A great learning experience—pulling amazing artists together to honor and recognize the strengths that we have as a community. My hope is that our local music business scene—promoters, managers, event coordinators—join this momentum, and we build something that attracts people from all over the world to explore and learn about our local artistry.

HT: And you work with youth music programs, too…

TO: There are a lot of musicians here giving back to the community. One of the programs I am honored to be a part of is Beats Lyrics Leaders. This program happens every summer and brings Native American youth from all over the Pacific Northwest together for a week of songwriting and recording. It’s incredible to watch the power of storytelling, especially songs, transform the group through the creative process. There’s a “reach one, teach one” mentality in the Portland music scene. I really appreciate that.

HT: Do you think the legalization of cannabis has enhanced the music community? If so, in what ways?

TO: That’s a really thought-provoking question. Legalizing cannabis has greatly reduced our overall anxiety levels—members of our music and artistic community have had to carry that weight for so long. A lot of artists rightfully self-medicate, and cannabis definitely has what many of us need to help transform our experiences and our stories and our truths into art. Knowing how well it works, it’s difficult to be at ease when utilizing cannabis carries all sorts of unnecessary legal ramifications. Legalization takes that worry away. It’s also amazing that now when we do our West Coast tour for this new album; we can travel easily through the Wild Weed West.

HT: What’s next for you?

TO: The album just came out, and we’re finishing up a new video for “Yearnin.” We just dropped the video for “Real1s Day1s.” We have a West Coast tour, “The Harvest Tour with J.Ross Parrelli,” coming up this month!

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