Litany: Interview Archive

Garcia, Sandra. "The Guiltman Cometh." B Side, October / November 1992, pg. 38-43, 54.

It takes one to know one. Over an early dinner in Chicago Ogre enthuses about Los Angeles performance artist Linda Sibio, detailing how she created such a intense atmosphere of dense horror through her portrayal addiction and madness during her show that it frightened him. As his girlfriend Jessica nods agreement he recounts, “Everyone walked out with this really stressed look on their faces; you didn’t want to be there after a point.”

Now Ogre knows exactly what it feels like at a Skinny Puppy show just after all the air gets sucked out and you can only think that nobody can hear you scream. If they did they’d probably think you were part of the show. At least you’d get some applause.

After a period of uncertainty the Pups cement their growing legend with a tour that takes them further into darkness while pulling back from the violence. In this newest sonic experiment the variables are numerable: the control remains three dynamical members of this mad, bad and dangerous to know band.

And as usual, rumors out of control around the Puppy mystique. Last year I got it straight from Ogre during the Pigface tour that he felt Too Dark Park could be the last for Puppy: but this wasn’t for public knowledge. The same tension that contributed to their manic edge threatened the band’s existence once more, taking them beyond the brink of oblivion. Dwayne Goettel and Cevin Key had watched Ogre hurl towards self-destruction for too long: enough was enough. After their lyricist finally made the right choice between life or death, Puppy broke back in triumph, releasing the frighteningly caustic Last Rights. Cuddle up and join in our little talk conducted across three time zones and as many cities. But first remember there would be no tour without a new album: and the brutal Last Rights was the first Puppy album I couldn’t listen to the first time through. Not second time either. “Knowhere” stopped me dead three times. With the fourth try I realized it really was listening to someone going through hell. What had they done here? Ogre frowns before couching his response, murmuring, “I think… the period that I was going through at the time was very unmistakable as to what was needed to be said. So the album captures a harsh period of time, and it’s the end all, say all about that kind of personal crisis strategy and not falling into the pit. It’s more of a personal crisis album. Of course Alex is farting a lot on that album,” he laughs, directing this at their drum tech who has wandered past. He gets serious anew, “With all the blood and chaos that happens on the album, it’s all very reflective of that time period and the crunch of it all and me personally I’d reached the apex…” as Cevin Key begins to laugh, causing Ogre to grin again, “I use that word a lot… that top point of my functional drug addiction.”

Even the final track screws around with brain cells without lyrical prompting. “Download” is audio death. “It’s best compared to a flat line almost,” agrees Ogre.

“I think in ‘Riverz End’ there’s this swim in this lake,” describes Cevin, pausing for unintended laughter, “and then we get out again and shake off and go back in.” And ‘Scrapyard’ that’s one of the most exciting songs for me. I wish we were attempting to play it live but unfortunately that was really a difficult one. We worked a lot on post production on that. Actually, we worked a lot on the whole album in post production, more so this time then any other time. So there was this new opportunity to take things further by means of our new digital editing. Like ‘Download’, you can’t play that through. You just can’t sit down and play that. That comes around through composition in the editing department. Dwayne and Antony sat up for like 14 hours just editing, and that’s not including the manufacturing of the sounds they did. They had collected that over a period of two months. So there’s a lot of work where people might think ‘oh, that’s just a synthesizer or a patch.’ But it’s actually several hundred synthesizer patches.” Cevin’s not about to be lumped into the music by numbers school conducted by so many Puppy copyists.

So what’s the true intent of the Last Rights tour? Ogre explains, “I was doing an interview with someone from Houston and she had heard that the show was softer and she wondered if we were trying to make it more palatable to the mainstream… that’s what she heard. And it’s true in a sense… the visuals are just as insidious, but they aren’t as blatant. And the show, theologically, is dealing more with the internal issue.

That’s been a difficult thing for me in just hoping that this is what people want to see. And the fact that I’m not all fucked up on drugs, I’m not as crazy this year and I feel things a lot more. When I feel my knee start going down I have to take it easy on it, I’m not really into doing that. There’s no point, that was for the first two rows anyway, all that mutilation. It didn’t read past there. So I’m finding my way around on stage.”

This tour is hardly soft. Unless you consider a mental bullet to your psyche soft. Ogre describes on previous tours just getting up in the morning could invite pain. “I’d fall down and the back of my head would take it and I’d wake up…” he grimaces in remembrance. Working out, planning for this tour and being clean may save Ogre’s life in many ways. But don’t worry, even in the balcony you can still hear the loud thud when Ogre hits the stage. “Cool!” he grins in acknowledgement. It’s your body, not mine!

When the discussion twists towards the effect each club has on their performance Cevin comes up with a hysterical analogy. The man has a knack for provoking unintentional laughs. “Doing a Skinny Puppy show is like playing golf, in the sense that every course you’re on you have to have different sand traps and different handicaps. Once you get out on the course and you’re going to take your first shot you know from that point on how it’s going to be.” “And then you have eleven other holes!” laughs Ogre.

Cevin’s really into this analogy, he claiming, “It takes us a while to swing into it and once we swing into it there’s this period where we analyze it for a while and then we all figure it out and it’s there. Montreal was one of the first nights where I knew it was really together. In New York we weren’t allowed to use the PA that we so meticulously went through all the detail of putting together…” No hole in one at the Ritz, eh? “Yeah, they made us use their house PA,” Cevin grumbles. “And the house system doesn’t do nearly what our system does. The reason we travel with this is because we love sub-sonic level bass and extremely high frequency things that don’t hurt. And unfortunately we really couldn’t do what we wanted to do in New York. So… I’m not trying to give excuses but everything has been standing in our way to say that this show should be it…” his voice dropping in frustration. “It’s a drag.”

With Puppy working in older material requires more thought than just scribbling out a set list every night. “We toss around a bunch of suggestions about what songs we want to attempt to do the new put it all together in the sense of practicality of what we can do,” explains Cevin. “Each year we try to grab a song from old and try and do it this year.”

“We’re not doing too much from Too Dark Park, I realized that and it’s freaking me out,” murmurs Ogre.

“We’re ready to do it but we’re concentrating on songs that last year people said we were omitting that this year we’re conscious of trying,” Cevin claims.

“Like ‘Second Tooth’ we tried that years ago and it was awful,” laughs Ogre with a shudder. “We tried it at one soundcheck and then buried it! And now it’s come back and it’s probably one of the most difficult songs to do this time. It can fuck us up!”

“We’re trying to recreate a feel that we had for a whole album, like 1985, that was seven years ago and we’re in this headspace and we know the realm which with we’re dealing with. Now we’re dealing with three, four albums since then and we’re taking five steps backwards but our heads are still in the present. So we have this weird time machine feeling,” Cevin muses.

“Some songs like ‘Smothered Hope’ have been done by Ministry and ‘TFWO’ was done by Pigface so we don’t use those. But the hardest thing for us is going back and doing songs from Bites,” Ogre notes, “because that period was fully romanticized about as opposed to experienced.”

“The thing about Skinny Puppy is that all along we’ve been a studio band, and we’ve tried best we can to present our stuff live without going onstage and playing a tape and merely playing along to the tape. That would be pretty unexciting to us. We have to try and redo it all live, in the sense of sticking to the basics, or the sequence, and cinching it to the visuals, then trying to play the rest of the song. So for us some nights… we spend two, three days coming up with melody and rhythm ideas for a song, and now we’re recreating fifteen of those ideas all within the span of an hour. And…,” as Cevin’s eyes widen, “some nights it’s working in our favor, and some nights it’s working completely against us, just saying, ‘no, we’re not going to give it to you!’ It just goes further away. And the harder you try, the further it goes. I think our hardcore fans realize that, that there’s a certain amount of chance that they’re going to see something that’s more human than what they hear on the record.”

Cevin’s not only responsible for sonic creation but for co-production along with Dave “Rave” Ogilvie. His keen sense of rhythm and melody has always been a huge factor in keeping Puppy listenable for all the chaos being brewed. The strong aural assault provided by the two men just out of the spotlight is the overwhelming sound that turns your body to jelly. They demolish the physical sound space much the way Ogre demolishes himself. Cevin gives another wide-eyed look, mockingly proclaiming, “Well, I’ve never actually seen us perform before, so I don’t know how we come across,” he laughs.

Honestly, Cevin, you gotta try harder to catch one of your own shows! “That’s the one drag,” he sighs. “You never experience it, you never know what it is when it is. With a video I can get an idea because of the mix, if you turn it up real loud on a PA you can almost get the feel of the concert. But we change so much, and every level of our concerts has been different. Each year it’s been a different show, and it seems that each year at the very beginning when we start it seems totally foreign to us, and at the end we’ve finally managed to grasp the idea, like learning the show,” as he gives a little laugh. “The show… it sounds like Broadway or theater! You learn it!”

That’s why the idea of this tour being softer is ridiculous as mentally this Last Rights tour has a more impressive emotional impact than anything Puppy’s ever done. It’s more mature in scope. Ogre nods, smiling, “That’s good to hear. It’s hard for me to judge at this point. But this is much more of an internalized show, dealing with a person who separates from his insides and is left onstage floating around going through all these changes, and actually turns into this creature of this most ultimate guilt, and then he shakes that off and the ending is left for you to decide.”

“I think it has a positive ending,” interjects Cevin.

“It does have a positive ending. There is a rebirth of sorts, with the casting off of all this personal carnage,” agrees Ogre.

You do expect a darker ending judging from past Puppy shows. A more “abandon all hope all ye who enter” approach. “Last years show was totally nihilistic,” Ogre admits. He also agrees that last time audiences were far more interested in the gruesome effects then the music. “Exactly. That’s why I am afraid of people expecting that. I hope people don’t expect the effects to be the same or even more intense as the years go on. It’s still intense but there has to be changes in everybody’s life and this gets reflected in what goes on onstage.”

And even an experienced vet like Ogre fears that all important opening date. “God, I thought I was going to barf those first two shows,” he nervously laughs. “I remember I was thinking back and Gid, the anxiety I felt back then to now has lessened ten fold. It was awful. But you have to go through that every time you start a tour. At any moment it can teeter off the edge.” Like crashes at car races, Puppy shows have the same warped attraction. I’m sure there’s sick voyeurs in the audience just waiting for something dangerous to happen. But voyeurs of danger had to be watching this tours offstage action to get their satisfaction. That’s when this tour crashed into those retaining walls. Cevin describes, “Breakdown of some people’s bodies, not any of us in the band, thankfully, all of our crew have had more of a tough time than any of us. It’s unfortunate that with each tour things happen.”

And then there’s the Boston show. Cevin’s forbidding brow darkens but before he can erupt Ogre scoffs, “Right from the beginning people were jumping up and grabbing at the masks, and security was just standing there! [Tim] Gore kept telling them to be aware. One mask got taken, and it was given back, and at the end of the show some heads got taken. Gore went down to get them and instead of the security guards going after the people that took them they turned around and punched Gore out. The only time these guys did stand up and do something it was against our guy!”

“They saw Gore freaking out. He was trying to get to the door and they told him to settle down. And of course he said, ‘Fuck I’m going to settle down, my props are going out the door and I have to make my way back there!’ So they laid it to him. They were going to carry him outside and beat him up,” snaps Cevin.

“They fired that security guard which was good,” rumbles Ogre adding, “Our manager almost had a heart-attack, War of the Roses style.”

Cevin describes, “He pulled some muscle tissue in his back and had a problem breathing. So he had to go to the hospital.”

“He was all white, we thought he was having a heart-attack,” continues Ogre.

“Of course that was after he already spent four hours in the hospital with our drum tech guy who had just been taken to the hospital with a broken thumb,” deadpans Cevin. “All in one day!”

“It was all interrelated too! Gore was playing with Alex, Gore kicked Alex, Alex broke his thumb, Gore got punched out. And in the resulting chaos of all that our manager almost went flatline,” as Ogre can’t help but laugh in disbelief.

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