While Skinny Puppy founder cEvin Key may not be reaping the rewards of electronica crossover appeal, he is content maintaining a strong fan base through word of mouth and college radio airplay. Record sales may not be counted in the millions but then again, what's the price of artistic freedom? Puppy is no longer, but Key continues on with several bands and projects (Download, Tear Garden, Doubting Thomas, etc.) And has recently released the eclectic solo debut Music for Cats (Metropolis/Outside). With Vancouver's typical midwinter rain accenting the outside world, Key's subCONSCIOUS studios provide a dry and warm sanctuary for discussion.
ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS ON MUSIC FOR CATS IS YOUR COLLABORATION WITH ASHOK SARKAR. WHO IS HE?
Well, he's a 74 year old gentleman originally from India. I met him through a friend who had told me that when Allen Ginsberg went to India in 1964 he met Ashok. He showed Ginsberg & Leary all around India for quite some time. Ginsberg brought Ashok to Canada & the US, where he was a regular on the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco in the 70s. He has been recording traditional Indian folk music & spoken word for decades. Ashok is quite the amazing person, full of wisdom.
WELL, I WOULD GUESS THAT MOST PEOPLE WOULD THINK THAT MUSIC FOR CATS WOULD BE A QUIETER, MORE RESTRAINED DISC THAN YOUR PREVIOUS OUTINGS.
Sometimes it is really quiet, but sometimes it will blow your speakers apart.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WHOLE ELECTRONICA SCENE? YOU WERE DOING THAT A LONG TIME AGO. MIND YOU, SKINNY PUPPY WAS MORE ABRASIVE.
My thoughts haven't changed much about what I'm doing. If Prodigy comes along and becomes quite popular, then maybe it's time that this style of music should break through to the mainstream. I think that it has been a gradual thing all along. What I've seen from the time I was a kid is that anything that once was alternative becomes mainstream eventually.
At the beginning of the 'wave' scene, it was very evident what music was not targeted for commercial consumption because it completely new. Simple Minds was the first band I heard that crossed over from what I thought was the underground scene. The whole thing morphed from that point on. Blondie, even the Clash, were suddenly acceptable on the radio. It just seems that when you get sucked into the mainstream hole, your shelf-life if finite. Eventually you get spat out for the next flavour. But there are a group of bands that are still striving to achieve goals, taking it to the next level. [People like] Basic Channel and Aphex Twin are interested in the right things. Prodigy is going in the right direction. They have a winning formula. Liam Howlett is brilliant at what he does. Nothing wrong with that.
IS THE MUSIC INDUSTRY WHAT YOU THOUGH IT WOULD BE LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED OUT?
The first experience I had with the record industry was in 1981. I had a deal with Warner Bros. I went through every wringer that was there to go through with them. I eventually went down to California to produce Images In Vogue with Gary Wright. [That was] a horrible band. I had, by that time, been making Skinny Puppy music on my own. I realized that I wasn't getting anything out of making commercial music. My hatred towards the shlocky side of music came out and made me want to form a real band. I remember when i was with Gary and I put on [Puppy's] "Smothered Hope". He couldn't believe it. Completely confused. He didn't know what to think.
DID HE LIKE IT OR HATE IT?
Well, he thought the sounds were amazing. But he looked a bit shocked. I though it might be better if I did my own thing. I guess it's been a battle all along, but 17 years later...I think I've learned all the good and bad in this industry twice over.
WHILE YOU WERE RECORDING THE MOST RECENT DOWNLOAD ALBUM, THE EYES OF STANLEY PAIN, YOU WENT TO JAMAICA. DID YOU COLLECT FIELD RECORDINGS?
Yeah, I carried a tape deck and video equipment. Jamaica is the best place I've ever visited in the entire world. It is very peaceful and the people are into the Earth. If it is true that the planet is God, then Jamaica is the face.
DON'T YOU GET HASSLED WHEN YOU GO THERE? DON'T THEY THINK THAT YOU ARE JUST ANOTHER TOURIST WITH DOLLARS IN YOUR POCKET?
They do, but if they show respect, you can even go into the poorer areas. If you show respect, they show respect. I think it helped that when I was 17, my parents sent me to Japan to go live with a Japanese family.
WHY, WERE YOU REBELLIOUS?
Well no, all I was doing was playing the organ, piano, the drums, smoking pot and listening to Genesis. I guess at that time I was just getting into punk and that worried them. It was 1978 and I think they were wondering what little cEvin was getting into. But going to Japan changed my life.
I lived with a family that couldn't speak English. I literally had to be their son. I had to call them mother and father. I had to learn Japanese. When you are that age, a whole new culture is a major upheaval. But for the better.
DO YOU AGREE WITH JAPAN'S ATTITUDE OF RESPECT AND SENSE OF "FACE"?
The whole aspect of face now is quite different than what it was in the '70s. Japan is very Westernized now. When I was there, I couldn't believe seeing older women holding doors for men, you know, the "business suits". But I must say that the system was just so rigid and so firma t the time that there was a lot of respect for what the system was able to maintain for so long. I just saw the tail end, but it was amazing.
WELL, YOUR MUSIC ISN'T RIGID, IT'S OBVIOUSLY OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM AND THE MAINSTREAM SOCIETY OF JAPAN...
...yeah, but I'm a bit older now. I'm from the era of Pink Floyd and the birth of FM radio. I thought when I listened to Dark Side Of The Moon, I was hearing the voice of God. The world has changed a lot, let's face it. Even the whole history of modern music was traceable all the way up to about'88-'90. And at that point it washed into oblivion. I feel with music right now, we are accepting any flavour of the moment because it has the capability to tickle and tease. We then dispose and grab another and another and another. Think of Oasis; all they have is the ability to sound like what has been. Don't you feel that we are trying to remake what once were the great things? Even Titanic, which is a great movie, is simply trying to remake the feeling we got from The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Christ, I remember being kids, huddled before a black and white televisions cared shitless. Everything now is re-manufactured.
WELL, YOU'RE INTO TECHNOLOGY. WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET? CAN IT REPLACE TELEVISION?
AREN'T YOU WORRIED THAT WHEN BILL GATES TAKES OVER THE WORLD, THAT A SINGLE ENTITY COULD CONTROL THE FLOW AND FORM OF INFORMATION?
That's already happened. Before people had TV or the telephone, they couldn't imagine what it would be like. Now we are completely reliant on them. Once we can see people on the Internet instantly, every single person will have it. As soon as you can see people, instantly communicate with people...you bet that the big thrill everyone ever wanted is to sit in front of a computer screen and look at the other person and talk.
YOU FOLLOWED THE O.J. SIMPSON TRIAL QUITE HEAVILY. WHY?
I was in California when that happened. I remember the Bronco chase and thought, "This is surreal." It was quite obvious that he did it. I read a few articles on the case in Rolling Stone that painted a scary picture of Simpson. I guess I was interested in how these incredibly brilliant lawyers were going to handle and shape the evidence. I wanted to see how money and in this case, lies, could possibly buy someone's freedom. It was like the best book you could ever read on the legal system.
COULD THAT TYPE OF TRIAL HAPPEN IN CANADA?
It could happen anywhere.
IT'S NO SECRET THAT DRUGS HAVE BEEN A PART OF THE BANDS YOU'VE BEEN IN. DO YOU THINK DRUGS CAN HELP ONE TO CREATE MUSIC?
In some cases, I'm only pro-hemp, pro-legalization of marijuana in terms of decriminalization and a sensible method of not making everyday people when smoke herb feel like criminals. As far as other drugs are concerned, I'm completely not into those. I have had my experiences. With my own value system, I think there is a lot of damage done with serious drugs. Mind you, people that commit serious crimes should be sentenced to mandatory acid, MDA and mescaline experiences. Because that would shock them. That would make them re-evaluate everything. A couple of experienced with these drugs...you'll get a reaction out of them, it's more scary than any punishment. That would be the first thing I would do if I had legislative power.
DO DRUGS ACTUALLY MAKE FOR BETTER MUSIC?
I don't think it makes for better anything. I think it allows you to adopt a perspective which is a bit different from your normal everyday capacity. It makes you look at things in a different light. Overall though, I think moderation and inspiration from such things are only achieved through proper philosophy of life.
O.K., I',M A VISITOR FROM MARS, AND I WON'T UNDERSTAND. WHY DO MUSICIANS SEEM TO DO A LOT OF DRUGS?
Well, you are in an industry where things get introduced. Concerts, parties, backstage...It eventually happens that if you have a mind that like to explore you may want to take theses adventures. With Dwayne [Goettel, Puppy founder who died of a heroin overdose in 1995], he was a ranger and rover. He definitely wasn't a stranger to psychedelic experiences. He was endorsing acid all the time and everyone felt he was in control and didn't consider him a risk to hurt himself. How artists O.D. I think has a lot to do with how they feel.
ARE DRUGS AN EXTENSION TO CRATE, TO EXPLORE?
When you lose ability to write, when you lose ability to do what you want to do with your life because something is troubling you, you can feel lost. We can talk about heroin. It rally is the ultimate devil drug in that it fools you into thinking that you can try it a couple of times and you a re O.K. But chances are that you already are in need of recovery. The valve in your head doesn't operate the same way. The recovery from heroin is a really bitter road. It's like you have to get over the flu before you can walk. And I think Dwayne got stuck. He wasn't able to.
IS IT HARD FOR YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM IT, BEING IN THE INDUSTRY?
It's not hard for me. I've learned my lesson. July '94 was the last time I did hard drugs. There is no risk for me, you know; "oh, I'll just do one line." I know I'll feel like shit in the morning. I hate it. I don't even get drunk anymore. I just smoke pot. Thank God we have some of the best pot in the world here.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAMAICANS AND YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH THE JAPANESE?
I think what I strive [for] is culture and good-natured religion. In Japan I was exposed to Buddhism and in Jamaica, believe it or not, I was exposed to Christianity in all of its glory. I remain a neutral soul. I believe that earth is God. It all links: Buddhism, Shinto, Rastafarian. The earth has all the components and all the ingredients to keep us going. We just keep fucking it up.