Skinny Puppy Returns At The 'Right' Time
In the winter of 1982, in an apartment in Vancouver, cEvin kEy and Nivek Ogre got together on somewhat of a lark to being recording and creating a reaction to popular music: something anti-pop, anti-cIn the winter of 1982, in an apartment in Vancouver, cEvin kEy and Nivek Ogre got together on somewhat of a lark to begin recording and creating a reaction to popular music: something anti-pop, anti-commercial and most importantly, new.
The experiment birthed Skinny Puppy, a heavily influential cult act in modern music. From 1982 to 1995, the group released a string of groundbreaking albums that were met with critical acclaim. But in 1995, the project came to a screeching halt when group member Dwayne Goettel died of a drug overdose. After the 1996 release of "The Process," the band fractured and remained dormant for years.
The band's principal members continued through projects such as Download, Ritalin, Plateau, Ohgr and the Tear Garden. Content with these endeavors, kEy and Ogre continued touring and releasing albums separately until the summer of 2000, when they were offered the opportunity to reform Skinny Puppy for a festival performance in Europe.
What was intended as a one-off appearance at Germany's Doomsday Festival sparked a new spirit of collaboration, leading to the recently released SPV album "The Greater Wrong of the Right" and a brief slate of U.S. and European tour dates.
Now based in Los Angeles, kEy recently spoke to Billboard.com about the reunion and what the future may hold for Skinny Puppy.
What was it like working with Mark Walk as a producer on this album as opposed to longtime collaborator Dave Ogilvie?
Really good! He brought a lot to the band actually. He acted as the middleman, so to speak, which I feel is a really difficult job with Skinny Puppy. And I was ultimately very impressed with his ability to look at both sides -- the way the lyrical content of the music takes shape and how it integrates in with the music and so on. [He] was very cognizant of all those angles. I would want to call it the hardest job of the album.
How did making this album differ from "The Process?"
We have all had quite a bit of time to develop ourselves in our own solo projects, and we have had a lot of time to have a look back on what Skinny Puppy has meant to us, and what we liked about years in between it. To have those 8 years in between was probably the best thing that could have happened to the band, getting to a stronger place and to be ready to collaborate as adults [laughs].
We went through a lot of really bad things too. I mean, losing Dwayne was one of the worst things that could ever have happened to anybody. Really, it was devastating.
I sort of said to myself at that point, "Well, I have to pick it up for both of us now." We were really at a fortunate place, where we had managed to build up our own studio and our own space. I wasn't too worried when Skinny Puppy broke up because I knew that we would be able to explore something and when we first started exploring the next thing, it was really very exciting. It just felt like we were on a path. Ever since [then] I have really just buried myself in music and study and computers, and programming and playing and really just not thinking about Skinny Puppy.
And then there were a couple of Germans who each year were just calling us up, and saying, "We would like for you and Ogre to play [the Doomsday Festival]." And I was saying, "You guys are crazy! Don't you know?," and they were like, "Yeah, we know, but don't you think that it would be a good thing?"
I hadn't been speaking with Ogre for years, and when I did run into him, I told him about these guys, and he thought that it was pretty funny too. And than he started talking about, "The next time they call, let's push the limit as far as we can." I detected some interest from Ogre, to potentially do it for real, which was also a shock to me. So when they did call, and I sort of gave a hint that this was possible, these two guys just went to the limit and basically made it happen. You can thank them for basically getting Skinny Puppy back.
It was more difficult for us to prepare this live tour than it was to prepare [for] Doomsday and I don't really know why. I don't know if there was some magical force helping us, or whatever, but somehow a show just came together and went off without a hitch. It was just one of those things -- we recorded it as a live album that evening and everything.
Since than we have had such a positive and genuine relationship with each other that we have really been able to move forward. When we were on the train to Prague after playing [Doomsday] in Dresden, [we thought] it was too bad that we did all that work for one show. So we conceived the idea to do a new album, to not be retro-thinking but more forward moving ahead, and not be one of those bands that always has to come out and play 10-year-old songs. So that's where we sit now.
Were there any of the old songs that you missed playing live? Did you ever think to yourself, 'Man, I really miss playing "Smothered Hope?"
[Laughs] Yeah, well, I don't know if you can say I missed playing the particular songs, but you know, when you get into playing songs that you know from the inner most deepest parts, its easier to do than to write new music. There's a part of you that knows what to do without thinking -- it is really weird. We've been rehearsing some really old songs over the last few days, and when I'm not thinking about it, parts come back to me that I used to play live like 15 years ago.
"The Greater Right" is a very live-sounding album. When you recorded it, were you all playing at the same time? Or was it a more clinical kind of recording with lots of overdubs?
With today's technology, anybody can fortunately have their own recording studio in their home. Ogre and Mark have their own studio, and all of the people that I was collaborating with have their own, so there was a lot of exchanging of ideas. Each of us would go back into their own lair and see what would come of these things.
It wasn't done like the records of the past, where we always had to be in the same room. We were all more comfortable with our own rooms and sounds in our own surroundings. It was really an advantage in that sense.
How has your work with Download, Tear Garden and Plateau influenced what you are doing on the new Puppy album?
Well, each of us had several years to go and take a direction or two or three and at least see what was there. And it was really good, because it gave us an opportunity to hone in on what we are and what we wanted to do.
Whenever you're in a band you always think about things like, "What would I do if..." Well, I call it Side-Projectitis. And we sort of got it out of our systems now, and now we have a greater respect for what we bring to Skinny Puppy as individual members, because no one can make Skinny Puppy on their own. It's not something that we can do by ourselves.
It's about owning up and realizing the magic that comes from working with somebody that brings forth this combination. You can't even wish for something like that to happen. Fate takes care of these things sometimes, and you either respect it or you don't. I think that we've found a way to in a healthy way to respect what we have far more.
What were some of your influences when you were approaching "The Greater Wrong of the Right?"
Actually, it was really about not looking to external sources as much as I was looking to internal sources. When you have a 20-year path where your looking at it and saying, "What did I like about that, and what would I want to hone in on," it was more about thinking on that level and then like even going back and using some of the old equipment. Like the 20-year-old equipment that we have to try to go and integrate [with] the original pieces as well as the headspace. I'm a fan of what we do, and I wanted to be true to Skinny Puppy by bringing in all those elements, bringing in a synth that was used on "Remission," pieces from everywhere. People may not pick up on it, but I pick up on it.
What do you feel is the role of noise in music?
When we first started, I was in this other band that was just completely commercially minded and we were all about making music that was sort of designed, like "American Idol"-style. And I really had my fill of that -- it started to really irk me. I was working on an album down here in L.A. in 1984 with Gary Wright, the guy that made "Dreamweaver." We made an album in his home studio, and the studio was full of all of this great modular analog stuff and I had already made "Remission," and I was still in this other band as well. It just made me ill to think that if I was gonna be a musician that I was gonna spend my life making music that I didn't like.
I came back and the first thing I did was to start making music that was sort of anti-music, or anti-commercial music. It wasn't so much about grabbing noise for noise's sake, but I sort of gravitating towards things that just on a personal level. Because I like Throbbing Gristle, I like more noise-oriented stuff, and I always felt like people didn't take it very far as far as rhythm was concerned.
So I just wanted to take what I like about certain things, and than turn it around so it's a new take, which was at the time over-production of drums. And then Ogre was really at the right place at the right time. At the time we really didn't know each other very well, but I knew that just from the time that I had known him that he was quite literate and that he was into a lot of the same music.
But I never really considered making music with him or anything like that up until I was just sort of sitting around in this room making the tracks for what is now "K9." He came in, and I said, "How would you like to do some vocals on this?" just out of the blue. He was like "sure," and I said, "OK, you write the lyrics for it, and I'll come back later and record you."
So he took a lot of time writing his lyrics, and it was just like that. The way we progressed was kind of without a plan. People would ask me, "Well, what's your plan? What's your marketing idea?" I always said, "We don't have any plan. We don't have a marketing idea. We just do what I want."
The shows were largely about just partying and being crazy. And getting together with people that had like minded ideas, building some piece of weird staging, or some theatrical stuff including films and stuff. It was always about doing something that wasn't cheesy. How noise got worked in there, I'm not sure, other than going back to the concept of being anti-commercial.
What can audiences expect? Are you bringing out Drumasaurus, the big drum module?
I'm not drumming on this tour
You're not drumming on tour?
Ha-ha! Surprise surprise! As a matter of fact, I am back to the first days of Skinny Puppy, back to the electronics. I do have drums in my setup, but it's more back to the beginnings again, back to the two-tiered keyboard player with the effects and noise and drums.
Our friend Justin is playing drums for us on this tour. And to be quite honest, he's bringing a lot to this, because he's really nailing the parts. We even kind of look similar to each other, so people might just think it's me [laughs]. He's really blending in seamlessly -- he does all of the fills and all of the parts and it's really great.
[We're] also working with William Morrison, the guitar player from Ohgr. So now it's a four-piece live, maybe even a five- or six-piece, depending on if we can convince a couple of friends. If Otto VonSchrock or Omar or someone shows up, we'll drag them up there and chain them to the setup.
How long are you going to be out on the road?
Forever. Let's just say that we are going to tour this album more than we ever did originally. Right off the bat [we did] 17 shows in the U.S., six festivals in Europe, then to Japan and Australia. Our initiative, then, is to go back and repeat the entire thing, only bigger. This fall, there will be another U.S. tour.
How have technological advances contributed to the way you write your newer songs and perform your older songs?
Technology has certainly changed quite a bit since we started. We've seen the advent of MIDI and even computers coming into the framework. It's just unbelievable how much times have changed. We used to joke about having a computer with instruments in it and being able to record audio into it, like, "Yeah, one day it'll happen." Of course now, that day is already here and passed.
What's funny though is that we still go back and pull out the older equipment, because really, there's never been anything that's just come along and wiped out everything else in a sense.
The older things still have their attributes. The older instruments have a greater depth of sound most of the time. That's why we utilized a lot of that stuff on this album, there's a lot of analog stuff.
[But] when it comes to live and being able to tour around, you have to get something that's more reliable, and there are more reliable things going on today. I don't want to give a direct endorsement, but I will say that the Access Virus KC is a great synth. It's as good as a mini Moog possibly, but it has effects and all kinds of other abilities to be able to travel and tour and everything.
This is the first time that we are going to carry more of our studio as well. So we are multi-tracking live. Before in the past, we used to rely on backing sequences that were already mixed down to a stereo element. This time we are bringing the sequencers on the road so that we can carry the ability to actually flesh the sound out more at each venue. The sound will be above and beyond something that you may have heard before. There have been lots of great moves forward in technology in Skinny Puppy land, no doubt.
Skinny Puppy has always been very political. Were there any particular political ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across on this new album?
Certainly, I think that Ogre is always delving down into the depths of what we are as people and what we think about and dealing with it in a way that is suggestive in the sense that it could touch base with just about anybody, but maybe not the same subject matter. So, you never want to point the finger and say, "This is the definitive meaning of this track," because sometimes, people develop their own meanings for tracks that go deeper.
But when it comes from Ogre, that's not his path, to be unclear. He is very articulate about himself in a way that leaves a mystery of something but also, you can get in there and really figure out what he's talking about if you really look.
Being Canadian and living in the United States for quite some time -- certainly it's a learning experience every day to have witnessed the goings on of 9/11 and since. I think that there are a lot of opinions going around, and certainly Skinny Puppy has our share of political opinions which are somewhat hidden within our music. So yeah, we're making points about everything. I'm not going to go into direct detail because I think that those questions are more answered by Ogre. But yeah, certainly you are right, we are trying to touch bases.
At this point, what does the future of Skinny Puppy look like for you? Are you going to continue making albums?
Sure. We have the support of a label right now, where I don't know how it happened, but somebody out there in label land blessed SPV with being smart. They are really cool. They really came to the table like a fan.
They were trying to get us to make six different versions of the album. That was something we couldn't even do. [But] they want to release it in all sorts of styles and formats, [and] I believe that it's going to come out on double-vinyl as well as a nice six-panel digipak package as the standard release. We could have never talked to Nettwerk about stuff like that.
[SPV is] making a video for a song off the album, "For Protest." Also we will be making a DVD movie, which will be all about the tour. It's going all the way.