Rx - Back to the Future
What does it mean when two of industrial rock's major personalities release a collaborative album in the hopes of giving their designated genre a proper Viking funeral? Ogre and Martin Atkins cast off their past to make room for the present. Jason Pettigrew files the obituary. Forensic evidence: Brad Miller.
Before the music press made him "industrial rock's drummer extraordinare" Martin Atkins was raising hell in Britain's 1979 post-punk scene with Public Image Ltd. When he wanted to have fun, he and his mates would get drunk and record goofy pop under the name Brian Brian. Shifting gears was no problem for him.
For over a decade, Ogre - The Artist Formerly Know By His Mother As Kevin Ogilvie - dazzled legions of industrial-rock fans during his tenure as frontman for the pioneering band Skinny Puppy. He handed over everything in the name of his art, but years of theatrical pratfalls; drug-induced psychosis and control issues within the band took their toll on him both mentally and physically.
The first full-length collaboration from these two alt-music icons, Bedside Toxicology, offers a sense of closure o their past and a glimpse of where they are going. The duo originally planned to use the name Ritalin, but their farsighted lawyers sensed trouble along the way, so the duo adopted the universal symbol for prescription medicines: Rx.
But inevitably, Bedside Toxicology will be filed in record stores under "Pigface" or "Skinny Puppy". Maybe even in the second marked "Ministry". After all, if you listen to the rock press, you'd think that Martin and Ogre got their industrial-rock merit badges participating in the Ministry tour that spawned the 1990 live album In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up.
"I was playing drums with Public Image Ltd. When I was 19." Atkins explains in-between flights at a New York City airport. "I am not interested in a career that says, 'Hey, how's my drumming 20 years later?' And although I do explain to people that my involvement with Ministry was only with that one tour, it's not like I regret the experience. After all, that's how I met Ogre."
Bedside Toxicology was borne out of frustration, depression, suspicion and rage. Ogre was still reeling from the psychological trauma he'd endured while making the final Skinny Puppy album, The Process. The singer then discovered that WELT, his collaboration with producer Mark Walk, was being shelved by American Recordings. In the meantime, the industrial-rock underground was brimming with "new" bands that were unapologetically lifting from Puppy's storage of processed sounds. Bands such as Marilyn Manson usurped Ogre's stage persona and theatrics. Depression was inevitable.
" I was talking to Martin about everything that happened, and a few days later he sent me a formal letter saying that (the collaboration) would be a good thing to do," says Ogre. "There were very loose terms, and it wasn't a binding contract, but I was still nervous. Where would the project be coming from conceptually? What would it represent? Is this going to represent me? It was my first complete output since the end of Puppy. I was terrified."
Since the record was going to be released on Atkins' Invisible imprint, time was not an issue. The duo would work on material then separate. The time away would allow them to exert quality control over what they had completed.
"When we first started, Ogre said to me, 'Wouldn't it be great if you weren't you and I was somebody else?' And I'm usually willing to give anything a try - give me that trombone! We went down that road. Then I called Ogre one day and I said, 'Y'know, I like you, and I like me. And I want to do what I do and I want you to do what you do."
By discarding the past in which every idiot with some extra megs of memory and a severe haircut lives, Ogre and Atkins made a record that you can't dance or mosh to. The best reference points for Toxicology students are Ogre's previous contributions in Pigface, particularly "Insemination" (from 1992's Fook) and "Aspole" (from 1994's Notes for Thee Udnerground). The duo spin a lot of electronic textures, and Atkins' patented thump is still in top form. Many of the album's vocals are free from effects. For the first track, Ogre covers Syd Barret's "Scarecrow," sounding as if he were sipping tea in the English countryside with 14th-century aristocracy.
Listen: Hear that clinking? That's the sound of piercings falling out of shocked industrial-rock fans' faces.
"I think that the best thing about this record for me is that it's built to jump out from behind preconceived notions that people perceive my character to be," says the singer. "I wanted to take those risks and not give a shit. There are no stakes with this record."
"People's preconceptions don't really interest me," says Atkins. "I know there is some sort of expectation about this record - for it to sound a certain way - but I think it would have been boring to make a safe record. I could've sat down, listened to the entire Puppy catalog and called in one of 200 industrial-rock programmers to guarantee that sales base."
And much of that countercultural fanbase of which Atkins speaks celebrates things that have already been assimilated into the mainstream anyway. These days, KMFDM aren't that much different from White Zombie. And Axl Rose has retained the services of former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck and booked a year's worth of studio time to record the next Guns N' Roses epic.
"What the fuck is that all about?" Ogre questions. "By the time that record comes out it will truly be dated."
"I'd like to license some dub albums," Atkins says of his plans for his label. "I want to put out the first Slits album on Invisible. I want to do my part to set fire to the coffin of industrial music. I used to think that industrial music was about freedom. It's not. It's about half of a shoebox worth of freedom. There are so many rules.
"I hate the technology race that all those guys are involved in," he continues, before sliding into the imitation of a studio geek, 'Oh, you're using the 16-bita version of two-point-fuck-off.' It's all a smokescreen for people who can't make good music. (Sheep on Drugs guitarist) Lee Fraiser is making music that is totally tomorrow on a computer that's a decade old. It's usually not technology that's lacking. It's something else."
"A clue," he snorts.
With Toxicology having affirmed their creative decisions, the duo are on to pursue other projects individually. For his next venture, Atkins will produce the debut album from Pigface collaborator Meg Lee Chin ("She made me cry on the Pigface tour," Atkins reveals. "She's so fragile, powerful and sweet.") Ogre and Walk are working on a new record, possibly with input from Terry Bozzio, the Frank Zappa/Missing Persons alumnus. ("He's the Drummer from Another Universe," quips Ogre. "His independent limb coordination is amazing.") Touring jaunts with Pigface and KMFDM have raised Ogre's enthusiasm for stage work, but just as he was cautious about recording again, he wants to let touring plans unfold slowly as well.
"I really want to go out on tour again, but I'd like to make it more visual and theatrical, but not like Skinny Puppy." He pauses to laugh. "But I don't ant to end up looking like the new singer in Van Halen, either!"