just what the doctor ordered
by Alex Reed
"Wanna hear a story?" asks the voice that any fan of industrial music should be instantly recognizable. Spoken softly, this is the opening line from the song "Down in the Back" by former Skinny Puppy lead singer Nivek Ogre and Martin Atkins, label owner of Invisible Records and sometime drummer for half the bands in the world, it would seem. Ogre's posed question deserves an answer to anyone who knows what this post-industrial icon has been working on since Puppy's last album, the answer is "yes".
"I had my doctor put me on Ritalin so i could get a better idea of what it's like." Ritalin, in addition to being a drug prescribed to treat Attebtion Deficit Disorder, was the original name for the spontaneously written music project. The name was changed at the last minute because of a trademark held on the name Ritalin by it's manufacture. Now called Rx, it could possibly become Ogre's main focus, rather than the wandering bit parts he has been performing, ranging from creating the soundtrack for the CD-ROM game Descent II to engineering for small bands like Diatribe.
About Rx's debut album, Bedside Toxicology, Ogre begins by declaring, "To hell with any expectations." The listener's anticipated fare is swept away in lieu of a very unlikely song for this team with the albums first track, "Scarecrow". There are no synthesizer sounds to be heard here, but rather "Scarecrow" is a folk waltz with acoustic guitar. The only traces of the Ogre that we have come to know are the layered and processed vocals.
The listener need not fear, however. The sound and the fury kick in after that and don't let up. The album has several potential singles, most notably is the second track, the almost Beck-like "K Y. Reamin". "The song is about someone who I strongly dislike, and it's not who you might think." he comments, ever wanting to dissuade assumptions and rumors.
Ogre's voice is less guttural and more grown-up on Bedside Toxicology then before, which owes a great deal of credit to Rx's other active ingredient, Martin Atkins, whose production experience is almost unparalleled in the genre. Here, unlike in Skinny Puppy, Ogre also played a major part in writing the music as well as the lyrics. "I wrote a lot of the music and played some guitar." The album has a more funky and superficially fun feel to it than Skinny Puppy ever did. This is prehaps attributable more to innovation versus formula then to lightness of content.
"there is a song on there called 'The Crackhead Waltz' which just swirls abound your head in this fucked up sing-song thing. It's really dark and bizarre. We did a cover of Petula Clark's 'Downtown', but we gave it a real dirty city drug feel. We made it into a heroin song, like the same vibe on Velvet Underground's 'The Gift'. There's effectively one pop song on there, and it's about a stalker. 'And When' is an avant-grade pop stalker song." Ogre chatters excitedly. He's happy and thrilled about his current situation, and he has Rx to thank for it. The only song about which Ogre is self conscious and unsure about is the aforementioned 'Down in the Back'. "The song was cut and paste process run on somewhere between twenty and ninety minutes of free thought and straight stream of consciousness into a microphone. It's like reaching into our brain and twisting around a bit. I really kind of laid myself bare on that track." Indeed, the song is a frightening and eerie with Ogre's voice fading in and out, always over a chanted mantra.
The albums title Bedside Toxicology, was a name Ogre had been wanting to use for six years but never had the right place for. "To go with the title, I had this idea of a syringe on the table, a man melting in bed with the world spinning around him, sexual intercourse." The albums art will be done by Steven R. Gilmore, who was Skinny Puppy's cover artist for years, and who has done work for Machines of Loving Grace, among others.
"There is no philosophy behind this album as a whole. It's more of a state of mind ... I think I'm much of a refined person than I was a few years ago. I've also discovered a sense of humor." If there's any common thread, it's the purging of the thirteen years he spent in his formal band, much of the time unhappy and plagued by unhealthy drug use.
Regarding drugs, Ogre clarifies, "I was obsessive and excessive, but that's past its time. It isn't as important a factor anymore. There are some things I know I can't do. You have Type A people who get hooked on things and loose control, and you get Type B people who can recreationally use and enjoy some drugs. I'm type A." Drug use was an issue that the members of Skinny Puppy have come to terms with in their last years together, and it ultimately killed one of the members, Dwayne Goettel.
After Skinny Puppy parted ways in June of 1995, Ogre felt that he needed to take some time off. "I had been neglecting to tend to the garden that is my mental health because it was a little out of hand. There was a time where I was questioning weather I wanted to do music at all. I started writing again though, and I recorded an album with Mark Walk for American Records, of which I might finally get the tapes back after a lot of legal crap."
The project to which he refers is W.E.L.T., which if and when it is released, will likely be so under a different name, as Welt is already claimed as a band name by another group. "Me and names -- it just dosn't work. Whenever I think I've thought of something great, it's already taken, so I have no idea what it will be called."
Ogre claims that he and Mark Walk will be re-recording substantial amounts of the album before it's released. "A lot of it is pretty old and outdated. We'll be working on some material as well as redoing and remixing some Puppy tracks. Mark is busy on the Ruby album though, so it's hard to find time."
For an upcoming Skinny Puppy remix CD, Ogre and Walk set out to simply remix 'Smothered Hope' and 'Dig it', when they discovered that the original tapes were missing or stolen. Instead, the team will likely be reconstructing the pieces entirely. "In 'Dig It', there were some pretty unintelligible parts. I was a Tuvan throat singer," Nivek jokes.
The remixes and remakes are the only Skinny Puppy projects on which Ogre plans to work. In regards to the net-based rumors of he and cEvin Key working on new material he explains, "cEvin told me that if we were going to do it, we'd do it differently, but for me, as far as doing stuff together, for now there's absolutely no possibility." Ogre goes out to point out his reasons for leaving the group and his feelings about the events surrounding the breakup.
"It was dangerous for me at that point. It was just not healthy. I still think about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions, particularly about Dwayne. A lot of wordless emotions." Does he miss being in the band? "No."
The last several months of Puppy's existence were chaotic for everyone involved, and their last album, The Process, was a testament to that difficulty. We couldn't have done another Last Rights. It would have killed us, and we wanted to do something new. I'm happy with how The Process turned out, but I guess there are a lot of people out there who had different expectations.
Since that time, cEvin has gone on to work on Download, among other projects. Ogre comments, ""The last Download I listened to was The Eyes Of Stanley Pain, which struck me because it was a lot of out-takes from the process coupled with stuff Dwane did back in '93"
Last fall Ogre toured with KMFDM after contributing vocals to their latest album. "i'd been friends with the band since Ministry's Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour, and because the Ministry camp is really chaotic, Sascha, Gunter, and En and I all ended up together. So they asked me to tour this time, and I agreed to. I'm not totally happy with the way my vocals came out on the album, but I was really nervous when I did it. The tour was fun though. The guys from Rammstein are really great. The whole thing was wonderfully organized."
Touring is a possibility for Rx, but Ogre states that he wants more material to work with than just one album, as it doesn't offer a lot of variety in there set list. If we were to perform, it would be as theatrical and visual as Skinny Puppy ever was, but not necessarily with that flavor to it."
Singles off the album are also plausible, but touring and further releases weigh heavily on the albums commercial and critical success.
From this critic's perspective though, Bedside Toxicology ought to have no problem accumulating the praise that its fabulously fresh and new sound deserves. Ogre thinks of this release as "The first record in a different direction," and a fine direction it is.