SKINNY PUPPY - CANINE CATERWAULING
A band? A performance group? A primal therapy team? Perhaps the real question is: If you pet a Skinny Puppy,
will it bite?
The Skinny Puppies are Cevin Key (whose real name is Kevin Crompton), Nivek Ogre (whose real name is Kevin Ogilvie), and new addition Rudolph Dwayne Gšettel (whose real name is Rudolph Dwayne Gšettel). Together they form a much adored, often maligned music-theatre-primal therapy collective meant to jar their audience out of its mind-numbing complacency.
From the office of Nettwerk Productions, now indisputably the reigning independent record company in Canada since signing a unique distribution deal with Capitol Records, Kevin Crompton explains the origins of Skinny Puppy and whether or not the beast will ever be house trained.
"It started out in 1983 as a joke," says Crompton, a onetime member of Images in Vogue. "Especially compared to the kind of stuff we were listening to." Although he claims that the music "couldn't have been much worse" than the European underground noise bands (like Nocturnal Emissions) that influenced them, the equipment that was then available limited their ability to make music that was essentially "just for the noises with no song structure." In the time-honored punk tradition they made their performance debut by breaking into a Vancouver art gallery in 1984, an act that met with avid curiosity (at least on the part of the local police).
Skinny Puppy's music, comprised primarily of rhythm tracks, white noise, snippets from film and television soundtracks and Ogre's maniacal caterwauling, is only one aspect of what the band hopes people will see as a more complete artistic adventure. "We're not just making music for music's sake," Crompton admonishes. "We're experimenting with a whole theme of theatrics and self-expression to the fullest extent. We'd like it to expand into all mediums."
But despite the lofty intentions of their canine capers, and much to their apparent dismay, the Puppies are primarily regarded as their hometown's trendiest band. No bushel basket of electronic gadgetry and theoretical experimentation can hide the fact that there are three cute guys up on stage shaking it up with the best of them.
Of course, a band could do a whole lot worse than being called trendy, but Crompton makes the point Skinny Puppy didn't set out to cash in on an already established movement. "We wouldn't be doing this type of music in the first place if we cared about what kind of audience we'd get," he says. "Fads and trends are the fabrications of people who want to fit in somewhere."
In the past their stage show had a B-grade horror movie atmosphere with gallons of fake blood and Ogilvie smashing plaster skulls agains his own (theoretically) real one. There was a heavy sense of doom and gloom to the proceedings, an aspect that is no longer prominent in the band's attitude. Because of the abrasive effect of Ogre's growling voice and electric physicality, many people misinterpret the meaning behind the madness. Even Crompton claims that he doesn't know what the songs are about until they are explained to him. He says in defence of his partner's lyrics: "People who get into examining the lyrics to get what he's saying quite often come away with the misconception that we're talking about something entirely different. A lot of songs on the first album (Bites) were actually about his ex-wife."
The new Skinny Puppy album takes the band farther away from the gothic antics of the previous releases, but closer to the heart of darkness that pervades their sense of irony and artistry. Instead of attempting any conventional commercial viability by writing a pseudo-pop single for radio airplay, the band's strategy is to invade the dancefloor first. To that end Nettwerk flew Toronto DJ Chris Sheppard to Vancouver to make a dance mix for the single "Dig It," and a remix of their previous club hit "The Choke," a perennial favourite on the Graffiti dance chart.
The latest version of the Skinny Puppy experience is one that offers up the myriad juxtapositions of humor and tragedy, reality and fantasy that confront their audience on a day-to-day basis. Elaborating, Crompton hopes that "what we're presenting isn't much different from what [the audience is] subjected to in everyday life. For instance, a commercial is a very plastic view of existence and reality. It's so weird when you're watching a TV show and you see a world with picture perfect endings, then all you have to do is switch the station and watch the news. And you don't have to see something like war to see the difference. You just have to see a bunch of fat old ladies who've gotten together to fight their school board. There's so much reality out there."
In their present reality, the Puppies are pleased with prospects for the near future, including their upcoming European jaunt. After meeting with Germany's Einstuerzende Neubauten and Britain's Test Dept. (two of the world's leading proponents of industrial/political music), Crompton reports: "They said there was a market for what we do in Europe in the artistic community instead of just the music community, which we're confined to here." As for Canada, "I definitely think that that the public perception of music and its acceptability is coming to terms with things that were, even a year ago, completely unacceptable. The more people get confronted with the sounds, the more they realize they can't always be living in a Bruce Springsteen-type mentality."
With any luck, he's not barking up the wrong tree.