Litany: Music News Covering Skinny Puppy, Download, ohGr and Related Projects

Justin Bennett

Skinny Puppy's touring live drummer Justin Bennett, who first joined for the Greater Wrong of the Right tour, was gracious enough to grant me an interview via email so that we can get to know the newest member of the ensemble a little better - Corey

- How did you first get involved in music? What made you first pick up the drums? What were the first bands you were in?

Well, music was a part of my life from the start. My father played drums when he was younger, so as far back as I can remember I was hearing music both at home and in live situations. I saw my father perform a lot in venues and at home, and I've seen photos of me as a baby behind his drumkit, so I guess it's in my blood from the beginning. As a teenager. I initially wanted to be a pro skater, and had developed a work ethic geared towards really trying to master that. One of my good friends that I skated with happened to be a guitar player and he eventually asked me if I knew any drummers he could jam with... I kinda always knew how to play the drums a little, so I started playing with him and before I knew it I was playing music more then skating. My first live gig was at school during the lunch break, and after that I was hooked... The intensity I had been putting into skating all moved into practicing drumming after that. I also got my first studio experience while still in school with the same group of friends, we actually had an industrial type band and recorded an EP funded by someone who thought our sound was totally new (of course it wasn't but we didn't say anything!) After school I moved into a rehearsal studio run by some friends and started playing with as many bands as I could. I played a lot of different styles but I always seemed to like more electronic styles of music the most, and it seemed easy for me to play along with sequences and clicks, so.... My first real tour gig was with a band called Penal Colony that was on Cleopatra Records at the time. Their original drummer couldn't leave to go on the road and I knew some of the guys from living at the studio so I jumped at the chance to take the seat. Another player added to the band for that tour was Paris Sadonis who was also playing with Christian Death, so after that I became involved with them in EXP, and eventually started playing for Rozz Williams and Gitane Demone as well. Around that time I started to get into a lot of experimental noise, and actually Paris and I branched out from EXP and put out an all ambient noise album under the name Face. Thats when I really got serious about sound design and programming. Eventually the concept behind Face evolved into my present ambient project The Implicate Order... which is still my outlet for all things not related to the drumset...

- How did you get involved with TKK and Professional Murder Music?

A friend had contacted me about jamming with PMM back in it's early incarnation in 1998... it was a side project of the then rather popular L.A. band Human Waste Project, so I jumped at the chance. At the time Rozz had just committed suicide and I was pretty shaken up by it, so I needed something to take my mind off of that. After about a year of playing around L.A. PMM started to get a huge local following, and major labels started sniffing around... which at the time I thought was great. We signed with Interscope in 1999, and I got a lot of touring and recording experience from it, but also learned what the industry was like on the inside, and found that dealing with major labels and having the goal of a band to be to make a lot of money was just not for me. The band became the victim of labels all clamoring to find the next Manson or Zombie when we were more interested in sounding like an industrial version of The Cure. As it turns out though, PMM at one point toured opening for TKK, and so I had met the guys and we became great friends. The next time TKK went out on the road they called me and asked if I wanted the gig, and I've been with them ever since, and was happy to not look back at the major label music world. The guys in PMM are great people and musicians though and I always wish them the best and support them.

- Were you a Puppy fan before joining for the last tour?

Actually, there was a time when I thought I was the worlds biggest SP fan (until I saw Litany!) I came in rather late, the first album I heard was Too Dark Park (I think I was on LSD at the time... mmm, what a combo...) but immediately got the back catalog, and was later stunned by the brilliance of Last Rights. I have always cited SP as my favorite band ever... it's just too damn innovative, original, and just plain genius not too... unfortunately I never got a chance to see the band live, and after the break up I was quite saddened that I would never get to.....

- How did you get the gig with Puppy? Tell me about your audition.

Well... when I was in the studio for the first PMM album, the producer had hired an engineer that was savvy with the program Logic and with electronic music in general since that was the direction we wanted to go in with the band. At one point I discovered that this engineer liked to smoke marijuana as much as I do, and since I was the only one in the band that did, we started staying after everyone went home from the days normal session and getting patently high, then recording outlandish stuff that we could never get away with during the day. After an especially pleasing session of this, I asked the guy who he had worked with before, and one of his responses was Download. I kinda freaked out because that was my second favorite band to SP. We had been calling him "Fu", but it turned out his real name was Anthony Valcic. Not long after that, he took me to Cevin's house (he had just moved to L.A.) and he was working with Phil on an album. We hit it off and it turned out we had a number of mutual friends, so I started hanging out there as much as I could to jam, or smoke, or just hang out. Eventually a jam I was in on ended up in the track "Bob's Shadow" on Cevin's Ghost of Each Room album, which at the time I thought would be the extent of my chance to work with him. I remember also when the reunion show in Dresden came up... I was really bummed that I couldn't get out to Germany to finally see the band, but I did get to spend a couple of afternoons on Cevin's patio listening to him rehearse the SP set, which was at the time the most amazing thing I could have imagined being able to do. After returning from the show Cevin occasionally joked that when SP got back together for real I would play drums so he could play keys... and I just laughed, thinking that it would never happen.... Then one day out of the blue he called me and told me that it was really happening, but that they would audition drummers and he wanted me to try out. He asked me to learn Inquisition and Hardset Head (I didn't actually have to learn them, I had known them for years!) and I had a scheduled time to come to the studio and play each song once. After I did, I went back into the control room and he said he thought I would have the gig. I tried not to get too excited because I didn't know how many others he was going to be hearing, but later that day he called and told me for sure the gig was mine. I think I danced in the streets, or something akin to that....

- What was it like for you on the last tour? Any memories stick out?

As you can imagine it was a dream come true. Touring tends to all run together in the mind though, like one long unending day. I do have to say that it was a treat to have so many unique, talented, and like- minded people all in one group. Touring can be a mixed bag as far as the people involved, and you're all in such close quarters. But this tour was something special... to be pushing the limits of spectacle every night with not just the likes of Ogre and Cevin, but the main and longtime SP stage master Scully, the powerhouse Sasha ("Scooter"), Otto, Ken Marshall, and the list goes on... I do remember one stand out night in Budapest... we had played earlier in the day (immortalized in the fan made "The Freedom To Choose Is In Your Mind" ) and had the rest of the evening to enjoy the festival... and we did. The headliner was Nick Cave... and I was surrounded by some of the best people in the world on the side of the stage, all of us in a heightened state of consciousness and marveling at the wonders of the universe..........

- Can you give us any insight into how the set came together?

Well, most of the set itself had been worked out with video before hand... there were a few sections that were open, so we took advantage of that, especially between the first leg and second leg. The encores were really our chance to do whatever we wanted though, and literally we decided each night after coming off stage what we would do, which is fun. We would catch our breath a bit, and wait until someone through out a suggestion, 30 seconds later we would be onstage again and diving right in to whatever we just decided. Good times!

- You were in the live drum spot that had been held by cEvin for a long time now. Were you worried at all about how the fans would accept you?

Absolutely. Not only was I a newcomer, but the band had not toured in something like ten years... so I knew there would be a lot of people seeing a show they had been waiting a long time for... and many who would see Puppy for the first time. It was a lot of pressure. I decided that the best thing to do was to not try to show off or inject my style into things right away as I thought this might incite a backlash against the new guy butting in. I wanted to represent the songs the way they were recorded, and the way I remembered them... which is a bit of a task in and of itself. This also gave Cevin a chance to really show off in his position behind the keys. After the shows got going I found that the pressure melted away. In time I started to experiment a little here and there, and some of the songs took on a new life or form... which was inspiring, and a bit of a dream come true.

- Any thoughts on how the DVD turned out?

I think in many ways the DVD is a kind of definitive SP collection... such a great selection of songs spanning the career up to now. Also, for me it was my first chance to really see the show! It's kind of impossible for me to be completely subjective, since it's just exciting to see me up there playing with them... I understand how some would have preferred it a little less polished... but I attribute that to the label wanting a certain kind of product, and I think everyone involved did an amazing job of making sure they got what they wanted while keeping the spirit and magic of the show intact.

- Any hints as to what we can expect this time around? Have rehearsals started? Any setlist clues?

Well, for sure what I can say is that the show will be brand new from the ground up... and we start rehearsals around the end of April. I don't want to spoil too much of course. Bill unfortunately can't be with us this time so a new director will be working on the show, and we will be a three piece on stage. Cevin and I are looking forward to being less separated and being able to interact more, which means more brapping, more experimenting... also I've been given the green light to really lay into it this time... so the songs will potentially be a lot more interpretive and I'll be able to express myself more... really, I just can't fucking wait!

Thanks again for your time, Justin.

Thank you, and I hope to meet you this time around... until then take care, and keep up the great work on the site!

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