Skinny Puppy: Still Defying Definitionin 1983, when Vancouver natives Cevin Key and Nivek Ogre saw few musical options around to suit their tastes, the two joined forces, setting out to produce sweet cacophony.
"We originally started doing it as anti-music because we were just really sick of everything else that we were exposed to," Key explains. "We were hanging out in art galleries late at night and wanted somehting more intense to listen to, so we had to sort of make our own stuff." From there, Skinny Puppy was born.
Starting with the production of their BACK AND FORTH album in 1983, Skinny Puppy won the attention of Nettwerk, which signed the band a year later and released their debut mini-album, REMISSION. In 1986, keyboardist Dwayne Rudolph Goettel joined Ogre (singer/lyricist) and Key (multi-instrumentalist), when William Schroeder left the band.
The same year, the trio signed a license agreement with Capitol Records, which issued MIND: THE PERPETUAL INTERCOURSE. However, Key insisted the major label hasn't changed them. "That always weirds me out," Key says, using what has become a Puppy catch phrase, "when bands get signed and change into something that they don't want to represent, and then complain about it later. I still feel, even though we've been signed to a label and everything, we've pretty well stuck to our original game plan all along."
In fact, one of Key's concerns is what he refers to as being "genuine, as opposed to just trendiness." Commenting on his pet-peeve, Key says, "I'm not too excitied about the whole sort of 'hype machine,' when something becomes bigger than it really is, just by the whole hype thing.
"There's a variety of bands out there that are going to make out regardless of the position they hold in the world of the media and the fan. I mean, there's a lot of people who make music strictly because they themselves are drawn to it, and it's their medium."
It is this group of people that Skinny Puppy believe they are a part of. "Everyday we get up. This is how we exist. We make sound. And we're lucky to be in that position, to be able to do this." Key adds, "We've gone through half our career of 10 years without any money at all, so it's pretty much from the heart."
In 1989, RABIES, co-produced by Ministry's Al Jourgenson, found all three members dissatisfied. Ogre had pursued work with Pigface and started a tour with Ministry, while Key and Goettel started up with Hilt. With business mismanagement and inner turmoil, a breakup seemed imminent. However, the three bounced back the next year with TOO DARK PARK, full of frightful visions of a diseased planet.
Since then, Skinny Puppy have had to overcome another obstacle, namely Ogre's struggle with drug addiction. Their eigth album, LAST RIGHTS, echoes with a dark, harrowing finality. According to Key, "We've just really to terms with ourselves in the sense that this LAST RIGHTS album was a bit like the final sort of frustrating tantrum of some dying dog. We foresaw it as the last Skinny Puppy album and really thought that Ogre would never make it to where he is now.
"I think with this album, it was our opportunity to just let the album create itself by the collective energies involved. But there was also alot of frustration and angst, and also a lot of anger and, without being too direct word-wise, we sort of had to come about and make a statement music-wise of how we were feeling."
Describing their song writing process, Key explains, "They were all written in the studio over a two month period last year. Dwayne and I wrote all the music, and then Ogre came in and picked up a bunch of songs and worked on them.
"Actually, I think [Ogre] probably intended to finish more than he did, but he thought he probably finished more than he did, but he didn't. He finished what we have pretty much on the album, and the rest of the album instrumental in the sense of wanting to include some songs regardless of lyrics or not. But it sort of emphasizes the way that we felt at the time."
For the trio, LAST RIGHTS was seen as The End. However, now it seems to merely mark the end of a chapter, as Key's outlook is optimistic for a beginning. "[Ogre]'s really about-face and straight, and that's good. So that puts the band back to a new beginning. Since this album-we recorded this album almost a year ago-there's been a lot of changes in our band, and it's made things possible for us to continue into the future."
While a number of things may have changed for Skinny Puppy, the band's uncompromising nature isn't going to be one of them. Known for their careful juxtaposition of violent imagery for almost cathartic effect, and testing the audience's perception of the bounds of reality and illusion, Skinny Puppy will most likely treat fans at the Cleveland Agora to a visual feast the Friday, May 29 . Their sound, sometimes referred to as "audio sculpture," is not easily categorized-a trait that they seem to prefer. When asked about "industrial" music, Key's immediate response was simply, "For lack of a better term?"
Skinny Puppy prefer not to be categorized, classified, defined or labeled as "industrial" or presumably any other generic stamp. (No, that would be too easy.) "I like to refer to this article I just read," Key explains, "where he was refering to things that defy definition, that confuse people. And when they finally seattle upon a definiton for something and they are able to classify certain things, it stops to entice them, and it stops to scare them, and it helps put things to rest because there's alot of confusion about where certain things should fit in.
"People find it necessary to have to put a moniker or a label or something to say, 'You're this, and you're that. And I understand you. Because, I don't want to have to take it further than having to go and define each and every one of these things. I just want to be able to label it all, oh, industrial... whatever it is that comes to mind.' But there's no depth in that."
Key further explains his philosophy, "I think that things that defy definition, such as intensity, and maybe abstract art, things that defy logic, are things that people are afraid." That probably explains why Skinny Puppy's often been described as "horrifying."
You really can't blame them for avoiding prepackaged categorizing. It doesn't seem right to put a box around a group that strive to defy conventional boundaries. "That's why we pursue the elusive sounds that make us tick," Key says. "Sort of what I'm referring to is, regardless of whether we were releasing albums or not, there's a certain sound out there that's yet to be captured, and I think that that's why we exist."