Vancouver April 1991
Mushroom studios is where virtually all Skinny Puppy records have ever been recorded. It is a very small place but has a great atmosphere, an impressive home-made mixing desk and a lot of great musicians working there. On one day in April 92 we find two-thirds of the infamous Skinny Puppy, kings of the realm of industrial, cevin Key(drums/synths) and Dwayne Goettel (synths). They were recording a second album under the name Hilt.
The two were not at all what I expected from their press. cevin Key is tall with long brown hair and would probably be very imposing if not for the fact that he has an air of calm about him, an instant charisma which is quite amazing. Dwayne with his impressive dreads and ripped jeans is very different, nervy in a Woody Allen kind of way, energetic and lively. Not quite the monsters the music conjours.
So how did the legend begin?
c: We used to hang out in this one place, this guy had a couple of keyboards and a drum machine and we were all hanging out one day, and we were high. This was like eight years ago. We sat down and composed this little fast thing. I knew how to operate most of the stuff from helping out with another series of bands that were progressively using more and more keyboards and stuff. But I wasn't really finding that I was getting anything out of it, other than what Dwayne was saying " oh you can use the machines " sort of stuff. At the time I was working with a band that was a little too commercial for my own liking and I was just revolting with this sort of anti-music. At the time Ogre was with us there and he started making some verbal noises along with us, I said, sounds great, lets put it down, then the next morning I sort of woke up and I looked at this tape and it had the name Skinny Puppy written on it already because the song we had done was life as seen through the eyes of a dog. That was the concept for the song, oh boy what a great concept, how dogs interpret life.
How did your involvement in the anti-vivisection movement come about?
There has always been some sort of animal play going on in the group. It was realising all along that we cared about animals, but we never really had a stance on it, up until the point when we were exposed to a lot of infor-mation and imagery from PITA, and Citpress and a lot of the pro-animal rights group. At that point we made a tape, it was like a 30 minute tape, we must have sold about 50 copies around the city. At the exact same time Nettwerk was starting out of this guys apartment, I knew him from the record store and I gave him a tape. He said that if we were going to be doing any more recording then give me a copy. He released 3 records at the same time and one of the them was Remission. From there every year we have more or less gone back to Nettwerk and said are you ready to do another one and they're like yeah and it built up from there. We started hanging out with a friend of ours who probably started out as our biggest fan called Bill Leeb from FLA, at our first gig he was at the front screaming " yeah skinny puppy! " even though it was like the most minimal show. He didn't really have any musical experience at all, but because he was so hyped out and everything he would make a good addition at the time and we would teach him how to do everything. He had good rhythm in him. We started to teach him how to play Bass synth. The first tour we did which was a North American tour, after that we went through `Hell tour' and I think when it came to do the second tour, I asked him months ahead of time how he felt about it and I don't think he was willing to go on `Hell Tour II', or what he thought was going to be `Hell Tour II', actually it didn't turn out to be so bad. So we wanted somebody who would be interested in touring and at that time he had just got a new girlfriend or something so we left company at that time and he has pursued his own thing ever since. Dwayne opened the show for us in another part of Canada, with another band, a two piece band, he had keyboards all the way around him and he had controllers and this great sound and he had some girl singing Cocteau Twins style, but this was like six or seven years ago,really good, so we called him up and said what are you doing and he came to Vancouver and sort of joined us half way through Mind TPI and the rest has just been constantly touring and recording. We are working on our eighth which will be May or June this year.
How did Too Dark Park come about?
c:We make the music, and we hand him a full song and give him the opportunity to lyrically express how he is feeling on top of the music, there isn't really any interaction between what he is going to sing about and then applying it to music. It's like trying as hard as we can to come up with music which seems to be the logical step forward or an expression from our own minds in musical terms and then he comes in and lyrically applies the same amount of input. To us the writing procedure itself is an experimental step, each time we are treading into ground which we have yet to tread into for trying to deal with it as an influence. Trying to deal with Random sounds, trying to capture random sounds that are already out there in the universe and regurgitating old sounds that fly about on radio waves and putting rhythms to it and making a song out of it.
Hence the evolution of the music
It is the whole learning process of dealing with the technology and once you've that and get bored the complacency of fitting in with the limitation of it then you go and try to find ways to abuse the equipment that was supposed to be used one way, that was the whole thing with Midi technology and the development of digital and FM synthesis. We had to figure out `How do we misuse this' to get a sound that we want to get. The first three albums were mostly analogue, it was a matter of changing our ethics figuring out how we can screw around with this stuff.
d: The way the products come out and the way that other bands use equipment, when you are a musician yourself and are familiar with the equipment and you hear somebodies stuff and you'll go ohhh! I know that machine or I know that sound! and you yourself because you are so critical about your own music you often want to try and hide that, you don't like that, especially with the way that all the machines hook up together today. If you can hook up a few machines today then basically you're a band and you go into a studio and you make records which prove that you can hook the machines up together and they are all working. But really it sounds more like a demo of the machines and not the people, `yep, that there's what you can do with that!'.
There was some controversy about the album Rabies and Al Jourgenson, what and why?
That sort of happened because on one of the road tours we were doing we ran into Al Jourgenson through our road manager at the time and there was a lot of hype at the time and he said why don't we do a song together or something, Ogre went down to the studio and sung on this song that Al never ended up releasing, it actually ended up in the movie Robocop in the disco scene. It was a great song actually, one of the best songs that I ever heard him do. It was just that there was a great deal of cammeradery between the whole thing and we saw Al Jourgenson's style change like that after it around the time of Twitch. It was pretty strange actually, before his music was really different, really disco oriented and then he became more hard edge. And Ogre and Dave Ogilvie being involved with the Revco's and Ministry, we said there is so much sleeping around going on that why don't we do a Skinny Puppy album and basically have a good time, a party time atmosphere, we sort of wrote on the basis of having a different type of situation. It's not like we were concentrating on what we would normally do when putting together a SP record, it was more like what should we do to have a hell of a good time so we wrote stuff like Tin Omen and Fascist Jock itch and stuff like that and it was sort of at the breaking point for a lot of people at the time when we actually started doing the record we were actually not as focussed as we were previ-ously and a few people claimed to have nervous breakdowns and stuff like that, we ended up just walking away from it after that and being distanced from the whole thing. Then came the period where we had done so much of SP that we needed to do a whole bunch of different things, so we did a whole pile of side projects, which was great, it was really expelling a lot of these pent up desires to do something different. After that happened we still have SP to deal with, by that time we felt that we could come back in and really concentrate on doing a follow up album to the last real Skinny Puppy album which was Vivisect VI, and that to us is Too Dark Park, Rabies was more of a departure.
Dwayne, how did you feel when you first joined Skinny Puppy?
d: I was scared, it was so loud, I came into the studio and everything was just blasting.
c: Dwayne used to hold his ears all the time.
d: As soon as I was around I was on a tour which lasted 3 months. These guys were definitely a different lifestyle and I had to make it, or be expelled.
c: Dwayne and I discovered that we could work together really well. The first day we met each other and we just sat there with two banks of keyboards and all of a sudden we were jamming stuff that we had never done before and thus came those albums . It was really quite exciting to meet someone and two minutes later be jamming.
d: cevin has that ability to bring that out in people and that's what he brought out in Al in Hilt. cevin goes around and he is like a gardener, he'll cover you in shit and make you grow.
c: We like to pull people right off the street, if you play an instrument we'll let you play a solo on one of the tracks . We have done that on a lot of songs. Dwayne when he started with the group, it didn't matter how far away he was, it was that whole process of having somebody so far away, and two people who are always at odds with each other. I have always been at odds with Ogre, there has always been that tension which put us in a very awkward situation in the band which created the music in itself. If this is the last SP album that we do, it will be the last one, we won't do another Puppy album without the people who are linked to the project. It is not worth dragging through the mud. We might as well let it die when it dies.
We just finished our most successful North American tour playing to over 4000 people, in some gigs, and we thought, `Gee, how is it that Skinny Puppy are playing to 4000 people, I just can't figure it out'. It was never designed for that, it was never designed for live work.
How did Skinny Puppy become linked with performance art?
We said back at the start that if we do play live there was no point in just hammering out the stuff the same old way as before so Ogre got a real incentive to go out there and do something completely different. His shows are still very bizarre and strange and completely the opposite of some of these techno groups that get into the machoism of the whole thing. It is a very disturbed vision of what Ogre is presenting. But his first shows used to freak the shit even out of me standing on the stage. He used to use a lot of bloodletting type situations where he would use straight razors and stuff like that.He had it all rigged up and it looked so real and I couldn't figure out whether it was real or not. Quite a few times he would fall into a crumpled heap on the floor and I never knew if he was actually serious or not. There have been a few times when I went up to see if he was OK and he said `fine'. It's a question of him wanting to project an image of more than what he is doing on stage. I really admire him for what he has done, he has certainly made it more interesting for us to be able to tour like that and to be able to present shows which really freak the shit out of the audience.
We are die-hard horror fans and this whole concept for the stage has just been extracts of very intense moments taken from very strange movies and put together rhythmically and in a similar pattern to the way we construct our music, taking random sounds instead taking random images and creating a rhythm, a movement with the whole thing.
Did you encounter any problems with censorship as a result of this?
There were a couple of nights that they threatened to throw us in jail if we showed our backing films and at some of the shows there were warnings that the content would be witnessed by the people in charge who would throw us in jail depending on what they thought.
d: We're presenting X-rating images to people who are under age and I am surprised that we don't get in more trouble. We were definitely stepping over the line.
c: We did get hauled off to jail once from a show in Cincinnati. They believed that we were torturing animals up on stage because we had a stuffed dog which Ogre would do a mock vivisection on.
The press reported that one of the films you showed was an actual `snuff' film, true?
At the time when they were using certain scenes for the backing film they were scared by a show that seems all too real. But it's damn shocking. It just a film which we later found out through the editor of Fangoria magazine that it was part of a six part series from Japan.
It's a bit like the scene in Videodrome where you see the Videodrome world and it draws you to it because it is so fuzzy and distorted and where's it all coming from. Then the exact same thing happened to these guys when they made the backing film, is it real? Is it not real? So it ended up in the stage show as a response to `gee we don't know if it's real, you decide'. Is this what death is really like, is it some crazed Samurai dissecting a girl slowly. This is again where differences in the band members come into play. I didn't really find it necessary to have something like that it's all a matter of how some people deal with it, and some people put up with it.
d: There is always the chance that there is going to be confusion, misinterpretation and with that word going around `snuff', there are a few people out there who start believing that that is where it is. We are taking a risk by trying to provoke people with a very startling image.
c: Someone sent back their cassette tape saying I protest this because I heard that your videos in your show are snuff. I can respect that. If someone wants to send back their tape because they don't believe in it, that's cool.
Have you ever exhibited self-censorship and said `whoah, that's too much?'
We can't really because that is what we are really standing up for, even though I don't believe in it and another guy in the band does then so be it.
d: We can't serve up, this is what we think, you should think it too. That's another thing that Skinny Puppy has always been. Our reaction to the world, and you see me react to it and you react the same way don'tcha? But not so much ` here is the way I see it, and you'd better see it the same way too.'
There happen to be very fundamental difference between all of us and we are still trying to find that place where we can meet. It's a worthy place to go to, but you sure do pay the price.
How did you get together with Jim Cummins (I, Braineater)?
He has been a Vancouver artist, musician for like, a long time, 15-20 years. But I have known him for at least a decade. He has been a guy who we have always admired as far as his artwork is concerned. All our apartments walls are covered with the stuff. It was just a sort of natural progression. I mean, Steven Gilmore (who did all of the covers up to TDP), the excitement was there at the beginning. He went out and actually designed a cover even before the record ever existed. For the longest time I really thought that we were really getting what we wanted out of Steven and then it came to a point that he became so complacent with what he was doing that he didn't really have anything left inside of him to take him to the outskirts of town. He just wanted to sit in town and produce generic sleeves which everyone else in the world was producing by this point. It was just all that computer imagery and stuff, we just got really bored of it. We felt that we were not giving the art the same amount of time and space as the music and the show, and there's an opportunity for expression but there wasn't any life on the cover. So we thought, we have to rectify this and so we wanted to work with a guy whose painting we all had on our walls, it's a surprise it didn't happen sooner. However, we didn't and don't want to offend Steven Gilmore for what he's done, he's helped us in designing six out of seven albums. So now we're working with Jim and will probably continue working with him.
What is the future of Skinny P?
c: It has always been teetering, it has always been a band that was at the edge, personally. Dwayne and I have always worked together on every project we do but when it comes together working with Ogre there has always been a great deal of tension and that sort of made the music that way.
d: There is a lot better atmosphere today doing a Hilt session than there would be doing a SP session, how you approach things, what sort of space you can get into. In a way with Hilt we've had a lot of rebirth experiences in a band with the kind of things that are joyously fun to do.
Likelihood of another album?
c: yeah there is probably going to be one more album then our contract with Capital records / EMI in europe expires, at that time most bands would scout around looking for another contract, but we'll wait and see if Ogre takes any steps to rectify his situation. It's gotten to the point that we can't work with him anymore.
It's just the drugs situation. His concept for the last album was that it was his dabbling in Heroin and we thought gee that's great considering that it was his side of the story. There are 3 people in the group and stuff has been said in interviews and everything is coming from this one perspective. If he was able to sort that out and become much more of a regular individual then I can see us going on and getting a contract after this and supporting it with more tours and stuff. It's become really hard to do a tour.
Well with any luck Skinny Puppy will be with us for some time to come, however their various solo projects are worth a listen. Look out for Spasmolytic, featuring a remixed Shore Lined Poison out on import. Cyberaktif : Tenebrea Vision which is a Puppy/FLA joint venture. The other spin-offs featuring Cevin and Dwayne are Hilt, Doubting Thomas (whose album 'The Infidel' will be available in January from 3rdMind) and Tear Garden. Nivek Ogre is playing with Pigface who comprise of WIlliam Rieflin from Ministry, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, and Martin Atkins from Killing Joke.
Recently in the U.S. SP released a live video and album called `Ain't it dead yet?' you might be able to get a copy from Nettwerk U.K. if you are really lucky. Also look out for the film `Chunkblower', Skinny Puppy may be doing the sound-track (see FLA interview).