Ochs was born Cornelius Ochs in the East German city of Halle (formerly Salle) in 1979. By age ten he was a rock & roll fan enamored with heavy metal and began playing guitar. By 15, while still in high school, he was the frontman for local band In June, and over the next decade, he played and sang in several other groups.
As a member of Zombie-Joe in the early aughts, Ochs encountered the music of Woody Guthrie
. That discovery radically expanded and altered his musical vision. He found Guthrie
's ballads and narrative songs utterly compatible with his heavy metal vision. Under the moniker of Z-Joe and the Dustbowlers, he recorded the Guthrie
tribute A Woody Zombie Hootenanny in 2002.
He continued touring with Zombie-Joe, but began to play solo acoustic shows as well, discovering other singer/songwriters in the process. These included Townes Van Zandt
and Chris Whitley
; both would prove primary influences on his development. In 2009, Ochs helped form the band the Baby Universal. Their self-titled debut was issued in 2010. That same year, he self-released the solo acoustic album Raw Love Songs. It included all original tunes that had been composed in the previous two years. Exile on Mainstream
signed Ochs and reissued it in 2011.
The songwriter met Wino late that year while the metal icon was on tour in Europe. Impressed by Ochs' work, they began performing together as a duo. Cementing their partnership, the pair entered the recording studio and issued two albums in 2012: Heavy Kingdom through Exile on Mainstream
and Labour of Love for Latitudes
. The latter included several cover songs by Whitley
, Joy Division
, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
, and Van Zandt
. Subsequent duo tours were sell-outs across Europe.
In 2013, Ochs' second solo acoustic album, Black Happy, was released by Exile on Mainstream
. Its starkness -- which included metallic riffing on an unamplified guitar -- combined with his bleak yet poetic and open-hearted lyrics, captured the imaginations of critics. Ochs' concert audiences grew as a result. He received several invitations to open for doom and black metal acts. A three-track single entitled "Suiciety" was issued the following year.
He and Wino re-teamed to issue their third album, Freedom Conspiracy, released in 2015. Late in the year, he re-entered the studio with producer Thommy Krawallo (who had helmed the Black Happy sessions). Ochs shifted gears in his music-making. While his acoustic guitar remained the primary instrument in his songs and arrangements, he also made use of piano, drums, organ, bass, and electric guitars. The finished album, Future Fables, was released at the end of February in 2016. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi