Litany: Interview Archive

Woods, Karen. "Hilt Intermission." Alternative Press, (?) 1990, no. 33.

Imagine if you will, a homeless shelter on Park Avenue, a McDonald's in Baghdad, a Mapplethorpe in Jesse Helm's living room, a PMRC trip to see The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, and George Bush as president of the United States.

Now imagine a band that is the sonic equivalent of this kind of non-sequitur. You would probably come up with a conglomeration of opposites, something mangled with the absolute clarity of madness. This concept exists as an album called Call the Ambulance (Before I Hurt Myself). Hilt is the name of the band: the players are people you may have heard of previously in another context called Skinny Puppy.

Hilt is the first of three Skinny Puppy side projects recorded in the past year. The other two Cyberaktif, and Doubting Thomas will be releasing albums early next year. Hilt mainly consists of Puppies cEvin Key and Dwayne Goettel, favored producer Dave Ogilvie, Don Harrison of the Sons of Freedom, and vocalist Al Nelson who was in an earlier incarnation of Hilt with Key called Flu.

Key says that each of the three vancouver-based side projects was necessary in a way. " Each of them was like a bloodletting, like getting something out of your system. We've always had this huge stockpile of stuff lying around, not necessarily anything that deserved vinyl, but eventually it adds up."

In a sense, Hilt is the culmination of years of growing up together for the members. " cEvin and I have known each other for a long time," nelson explains. " and we just started playing together and writing songs when we had nothinf to do. Basically we were playing with whoever was in the room and using whatever instruments were around; one guy would play drums on a phone book and one guy would play acoustic guitar and someone else would bang pop cans together, and that would be a song. And if there was a tape recorder around we'd tape it."

Nelson laughs. " The Hilt album is a bit different, because when you go into a studio and you're spending someone's money, you kind of have these commitments. The album is a bit more serious, I guess, without being serious."

Goettel's induction into Hilt came when he and Key temporarily relocated to Toronto for a change of scenery last year. " Al was living there too," he explains. " So we'd have our Skinny Puppy set-up going and we'd be writing songs, and then every once in a while we'd want to do something off to the side that was either not allowed in Skinny Puppy or... not so much as not allowed, but even more spontaneous and more reckless than Skinny Puppy, like let's see how fast we can record a song."

The spontaneity factor is something to which they all rather gleefully admit. Listening to Hilt, you get the impression that it was done more for fun than anything else; apparently that impression is dead on. " It was just boys jamming together, switching instruments, like everyone has to play a different instrument today, that sort of thing," Goettel says. " So when that kind of energy was introduced in the studio, we didn't know what to do at first. It kind of wore us out until everything fell into place. We ended up recording twenty five songs, and having more freedom even than we have in Skinny Puppy to just take off and go wherever we wanted to take it."

" They're all experiments in different directions," Nelson says, and its pretty easy to identify the directions. Some of the crash-and -burn tracks echo his early days in the Vancouver punk scene, some are parodies, some take a good idea and intentionally disort it. What ties it all together is something that you don't see a lot in Skinny Puppy: a truly warped but developed sense of humor.

And Al Nelson is probably more responsible for that than anything else. His vocals vary from mumbled ramblings about God-knows-what to sly, menacing, and surprisingly pleasdant to having a realy bad hair day pissed off. Then there are the lyrics, sex, death, girls, going to grandma's, going to hell with a suitcase.

" A lot of the lyrics were made up on the spot. It's really spontaneous, a lot of the stuff we do is first take," Nelson explains. " It stems from a jam, then I'll turn the mic on and just start singin, and if we like it we'll keep it. A lot of the time the lyrics just come off the top of my head."

He doesn't take complete responsibility however. " I write a lot of the lyrics but Hilt is like a conglomeration. Anybody who wants to do anything can. So lots of times we'll just have a piece of paper and a pen on the table, and anyone who wants to write lyrics can write lyrics. I'll start a song, and it will just sit there, and if someone wants to add a line, they can. If I don't like it, I won't sing it."

Doubting Thomas, like Hilt, has existed alongside Skinny Puppy for almost as long as there had been a Skinny Puppy. But it never actually solidified into an actual project until last year, when Key and Goettel had time on their hands, studio access and a label (Wax Trax) that was interested in putting the project out.

" Doubting Thomas is sort of like a smaller version of Hilt," Goettel explains ", in that Hilt has been cEvin and Al's band for the longest time starting as the Flu. In the same way Doubting Thomas has always existed on the side. If you look back at Skinny Puppy releases, for example VIVIsectVI, the bonus tracks were sort of representative of Doubting Thomas in that there are no vocals, and it wasn't as harsh. It wasn't just grunging around in hell and the earth, it was more like fooling around with flowers and ethnic influences and other little things."

" We wanted to release something that you could just let play, and let wander around from here to there, and the Doubting Thomas structures are a lot more like that," he adds. " If you want to start or you want to go, you can do that. When you have to conform to the kind of sructure where someone can sing over the top, you have to allow them the room; there have to be a certain number of bars, they have to go in fours or in eights, and they have to add up so they make sense, because someone else has to interpret it again. But with Doubting Thomas we didn't have to do that. We could just go along, and if we wanted to do something at this point, we could do it. There were no limitation."

" It's also," as Key says ", Dwayne's and my passion for what we used to call ' cryer music', like music in a movie- the way it can bring a tear to your eye, that sort of thing. It's weird. I can't really put a lable on it, because it's the most different of the whole lot. It sounds like it could be completely different people, there's a whole different aspect involved. In a way, its more serious. It's also some of our most favorite stuff." The Doubting Thomas album, The Infidel, will also be preceded by a single called " Father Don't Cry."

And then there's Cyberaktif, which takes off on another tangent, this time with Front Line Assembly's Bill Leeb (aka Wilhelm Schroeder in Skinny Puppy's early days) along for the ride. Cyberaktif recently released one single " Temper", a bitchy, beat-heavy slice of electronic agression with a guest appearance by Einsturzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld on the b-side, with an album Tenebrae Vision on the way. Cyberaktif sounds exactly what you would think a Front Line Assembly/Skinny Puppy project to sound: no new ground is broken, but surprisingly there are some good pop-oriented songs.

" Cyberaktif is sort of the experience of discovering the whole electronic genre," Key says. " I went through that with Bill, in the early 80's- Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire..." at that point, Key and Leeb became involved with a network of people who sent each other " These very strange, weird tapes, and we were getting all these things and going ' Wow, I've never heard anything like this before." So Cyberaktif is sort of like us exploring the enthusiasm we once had for that genre, like us saying ' What it was we really wanted, that was singling us in a certain way at that time." And it was their attempt to figure out what was missing " the missing link, and to sort of tie it up for Canada, because we had the Haters, which was like a total underground industrial band, and that was it. That's actually how we started Skinny Puppy, exchanging tapes with these people."

Cyberaktif is essentially Key's and Leeb's project, with Goettel helping out. Goettel readlily admits that it isn't his favorite of the four albums they've done this year. But he says ", Things we found in Hilt, and things we found in Doubing Thomas ended up filtering through into the new Skinny Puppy album. And I don't think that if we had been writing solely for Skinny Puppy we would have had the diversity in the [new] album or have been able to find the things we really wanted." He pauses. " Or didn't want."

Which leads to Too Dark Park the logical conclusion to the past year of diversification. With the new album, Skinny Puppy will be, in a sense, re-establishing the identity that was shed for a moment on the previous release, Rabies. As a whole, that Al Jourgensen influenced album tried to incorporate elements of what else was happening in the agressive electronic genre at the time. While in no sense it was a failure, it was an experiment that everyone involved admits didn't work as well as it might have.

" We have both the freedom and the ability to express what we want to express, and we've been able to do all of that this year," Goettel says. " So I don't feel trapped in any way by what Rabies did, or by what it set up. It may have been hanging around in the same territory as Ministry, but we were just crossing paths."

" Too Dark Park," Key says ", sounds more like Skinny Puppy on VIVIsect Vi. It's more electronic. This is, to us, the follow up to the last pure Puppy album. It's just us, under the same conditions that we recorded all the other ones."

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