Litany: Interview Archive

???. "Dog Day Afternoon." Melody Maker, 21 May 1988.

There are all these words to choose from, yet none seems quite right. It can’t be conveyed by a solitary word, or even by a series of statements. Its meaning is beyond the realm of any language. The idea is understandable enough, but the rest well… well, the rest is interpretive.

“The word you’re looking for,” explains Skinny Puppy singer Nivek Ogre, “is NEARCG! Cos that awful howl is far more descriptive than any word could ever be.”

He’s talking about pain, the thing that’s at the heart of Skinny Puppy. And the word heart is chosen only after careful deliberation.

There are two distinct schools of thought on Skinny Puppy music round these parts. David Stubbs sees it as machine based, metal on metal grind. A mashed up lump of electronics, monkey wrenches, unspoiled planets and radio transmissions. For me, however, it’s a more human and tangible thing. A disinterring and dissecting of, for want of a better phrase, “the human condition”.

It’s not a clanking and clanging, rasping machine that can be shut down when the needle flicks into the red. It’s a churning of the mind that can’t be ignored or even vaguely calmed with any drug or therapy. Quite simply, it’s out of control. Perhaps it’s the sound of madness – the deranged howl Ogre lets fly. Maybe it’s the collective and unimaginable pain of birth, life and death, captured in digital purity all at once and held on the record button in one seemingly never ending, mind wrenching instant.

“I agree with you.” (Up your David!) “It is a flesh and blood thing. We’ve always been very people oriented and hands oriented. For example, the exertion of my voice against the exertion of Cevin’s extra percussion.”

“I think it’s to do with being directly attached at the nervous system,” say Dwayne, Skinny Puppy’s main keyboardist and sampler. “Too many people are still uncomfortable with machines and technology (televisions at home are in wood boxes to make them warm and palatable). We’re turning it around so you control them, not they you.”

Skinny Puppy left the cushioned sanctity of the womb one summer’s day in 1983. It was a traumatic birth. Kevin Ogilvie, or Ogre, as he’s known, was at the worst point in his life. His father had died, his wife had left him and the record distribution company he’d set up had gone bust. The Samaritans were engaged so he sat down and wrote a song called “Canine”. It was a dog’s eye view of the world seen at knee level, but applied to his own state.

“I wanted to see if this dig would turn against its master after seeing all these perversions that went on behind closed doors, or whether he would stay subservient. There was a little bit of myself in it,” he admits.

“It turned into a concept for us,” Cevin continues. “We were trying to convey the inability to speak up when your tail’s trodden on, the inability to say anything bar barking and growling.”

Was it a reaction against the human race? A disillusionment with human life?

“No,” say Ogre. “I’ve always found that it’s one of the things that make me react the most. You know, I can see people shot and killed and I fell sympathy but… but if I see an animal under restraint who doesn’t have the ability to communicate or understand why this is happening, it really shocks me. On a bigger scale you can apply it to what happened in the Second World War, but those people still had the ability to rationalize what they were going through.”

Maybe this is the key – to replace rationale with instinct, a Gretowskian bent. Certainly, when faced with such oppressively ugly music one is almost tempted to not try and understand, to not want to see good or bad, but merely to experience.

The experience in question is like being sucked down into a cold black whirlpool filled with the carcasses of dead animals, rotten teeth and smashed up bones. Where if there’s any warmth it’s the warmth of human secretions or the savage charring of the cattle prod. Where there’s any perfume, it’s that of decay.

In 1987, Skinny Puppy purged their collective psyche and expelled every bad though they ever had into the grooves of two LPs, “Mind TPI” and “Cleanse Fold and Manipulate”. Both albums took their cue from Lautreamont’s “Maldoror”, a classic of Nineteenth Century surrealism, bereft on any sense of restraint be it physical, mental or moral. Skinny Puppy are taking Lautreamont’s subversive delirium into the Twentieth Century and onto the dance floor.

The are bypassing the egocentric ranting of most Eighties hip hoppers, showing them up for the small time street thugs they are, and achieving their goal of confrontational enlightenment through shock tactics. A force feeding of the facts. Skinny Puppy don’t celebrate violence. They mould it into a murderous surge of musical bumps in the night.

“I think we used to celebrate it,” say Ogre. “But now we’re a little more delicious about it. With the issue of vivisection I try to tell people something, but it doesn’t work cos you can’t tell people things they don’t hear. But if you can try and shock them and put images in their mind, they might do something about it.”

It’s an idea that has already caused two of their videos to be banned in their native Canada. The bans have come about not, of course, through any intelligent reasoning, simply on the all-encompassing grounds of “suspicion”. Suspicion of what?

“Suspicion that we were using subliminal images from the Stock Exchange and snuff movies. It’s just ridiculous. Nothing we’ve ever used has been subliminal. We used an ADO which is basically an effects pedal for video and we warped the images completely so that no one could make out what was going on.”

The video for last year’s dance floor hit “Stairs and Flowers” also fell foul of the Canadian Censorship Bureau who objected to the scene of an excrement-covered woman being beaten by soldiers. It was Ogre and it was mud. No wonder the singer has vaguely Mustaine-like views on A.I.D.S., regarding it as a technological superstition invoked on the populace by government to turn us all be to a puritan way of life. The band’s stage show (which includes the portrayal of a series of vivisection experiments, some of which are mind numbingly horrific) has also come under scrutiny.

“There’s this experiment that they used to do which has actually been stopped now,” Ogre explains. “It was to reproduce high impact head injuries on apes. They had a special encasement for the head of the ape and it generated 15 times the amount of pressure needed to cause human brain death. The most incredible thing about it is that it’s impossible to replicate a sudden impact head injury. If you think about it, it would require that ape going from completely normal behavior, feeling fine, to WHAM! And they restrain the ape’s arms and they’re moved around so they’re frightened for a start. Their hands are gripped tight and they’re releasing all these endorphins so it’s completely invalid.

“There’s a video of this and it’s so shocking to watch because these people have just lost all track of what they’re doing. After they take the encasement off and the ape is completely brain dead they’re holding it up and laughing at it and there’s this bastard that looks like Clark Kent and he’s holding it up higher and higher. Then they take chisels and hammers and start rapping its head so there’s no gauging the amount of force they’re applying. It’s just complete torture. They’re sick f**ks—just very articulate psychopaths who, if they didn’t have the brains would be out killing people or setting fire to cats. Because they can articulate themselves to the government they get a grant to do it.”

“The saddest one,” Cevin continues, “was where a baby monkey is put into a cage and given a device to replace its mother. The device changes temperature from extreme heat to massive cold. Sometimes so cold it would freeze its skin and sometimes so hot it would burn the skin. Then these copper spikes would flick out and jab into the monkey to make it go away and sit in a corner. They call this a love experiment. The monkey died a couple of months later. They say it died of heart-break.”

If the world was a pressure cooker, Skinny Puppy would be one of the spouts. They are first and foremost a mental release.

“Yeah,” says Ogre. “There is a lot of physical aggression but there’s always a turmoil within your own mind to come to grips with things and deal with the things around us. I think when we first started the band there was a fear that we would be swept along with all the electro stuff. Then we realised we wanted to do something that was visually stimulating and it’s progressed to being a very mental thing.

“I was too young to know what I wanted to do with it at the start. It was a lot more gothic. I was very self destructive. I was doing things that could quite possibly kill me—taking great risk onstage with things. We didn’t know about any pyrotechnics, we still don’t really, but we built a chest-plate with flash pods on it loaded with meat and blood in condoms.

“We had all these explosions linked up, but earthed to the wall, which was our mistake, we should have used just a little battery to fire these charges. At the end of the show I had this chest plate on and one of our roadies came out of the back of the audience firing a gun into the air as he walked through the crowd. Everyone turned around, saw this guy and cleared out of the way, and he was swearing ‘Fucking Skinny Puppy’ as he came to the front and shot at me. The chest plates blew off, the meat and blood flew into people’s faces and there was screaming and pandemonium as the lights went out.

It worked well but as soon as I hit the ground I shorted the circuit and it became all too real. I was electrocuted and my hair was standing on end. I was saying, ‘This is a good effect’ and this girl came onstage and was screaming ‘I wanna fuck you, I wanna fuck you’. It was great aversion therapy!”

A Skinny Puppy show is somewhat akin to loading yourself with every drug ever manufactured, plugging yourself into the Orgasmatron, then having the most horrendous screaming bummer of a trip imaginable. It is just so intense you have to turn off to prevent sensory overload and possible brain damage. Depending on your tolerance level there comes a pointwhere you become punk drunk, this is when the fun really begins. Cevin doesn’t profess to understand it, but adores it all the same.

“The process we go through is that originally the music is spontaneous improvisation and live we’ve come to terms with the spontaneity so every time the spontaneity goes one step further and it gets real intense.”

“I try not to look at the crowd when it gets like that,” Ogre interrupts. “It can put you off, but it’s a great way of learniing the tools of your trade.”

Skinny Puppy probably learn more about the psychology of social violence from the reactions of their audience in one night than a squad of police do in a year. If not exactly cerebrally nourishing, it seems touring can at least be sociologically enlightening.

“Actually I think I learn more about myself. Violence is something that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand or come to terms with. That’s why I keep dealing with it, cos I’m hoping I will come to terms with it and truly understand why certain people have to resort to those means to achieve vertain goals. We’re trying to achieve the opposite with it and although other people are trying to get peace through violence its not working. We’re trying to install through our theater of violence a feeling of peace – the opposite coming from that negative stance.”

The stageshow is an excellent example of this. After they’ve worked you up to Kill Factor Nine at the end of the show they let fly with this horrific act that leaves you deflated, sickened, humbled and with a real desire to be left alone. Ogre agrees.

“Our audience might be hyped up but they’re also releasing a lot of things. We never have fights at any of our shows. They push and shove, but if someone is getting squished I’ll say something and they back off – all of a sudden you become very real for a second.”

Nivek Ogre becomes Kevin Ogilvie again?

“Yeah.”

Do you have to make a very dicernible point to yourself through the name, have to realize it is just a character to stop you fucking up your head?

“Yeah, I would fuck my head. Ogre is a very real part of me but he’s not all of me. But onstage it is Ogre and I’m still Kevin and Kevin has to continue beyond Ogre. If Ogre becomes Kevin, when there’s no Skinny Puppy, Ogre becomes a very fucked up person.”

“Sometimes I don’t know if he’s really been affected by something that’s happened or if it’s still part of the show,” laughs Cevin.

“There are times when I carve myself up with the knives cos I squeeze too tightly. I lose touch with the theater and go too far. That’s really scary cos I never know what I’ve done till I come off stage.”

It all seems to be geared to that loss of reason and the delicious promise of intuition. The wat the lyrics are chosen and especially sung, the wat the synthesizers, percussion tapes, sequencers and punishments are all stretched taut over the glinting edge of Ogre’s inhuman scream. It all seems like a David Lynch movie – it doesn’t make complete sense, but it conveys atmosphere.

“Yeah, it’s a very much a texturing process,” say Cevin.

It’s all so densly populated, how do you know when the canvass is full?

“It’s very much a gut feeling. We work very closely with our producer, Dave Ogilvie. A lot of it is his fault. Sometimes he’ll plead to put an acoustic guitar on in anger.”

“One of the musical highlights of last year was Adrian Sherwood’s remixes of “Addiction” and “Deep Down Trauma Hounds”. Sherwood instinctively understood the beast they were creating and rather than give it a wash and brush up, grafted on an extra set of arms and legs and a whole new set of teeth. Cevin is looking forward to working with him again.

“His way of working in the studio is unparalleled. He’ll work an 18 hour session at max volume. He has this way of shaking his head when he works which is really inspiring to everybody. When he finished working on ‘Addiction’ he said ‘Do you like it?’ When I said yes he collapsed on the floor. We had to call him a cab to get to the hotel.”

The nice thing about Skinny Puppy is that when they’ve finished sweating it out on the dance floor they’ll walk you home. This, of course, necessitates going through a badly lit and secluded alleyway. They let you get halfway through, let you see the light at the end of it, let you think you’re safe then… POUNCE.

“The Mourn”, the penultimate track on “Cleanse Fold and Manipulate,” is a case in point. Even now I still can’t bring myself to play it if I’m alone. There seem to be noises on it that bear no relation to anything, anywhere in this world. At the end, a voice intones the mystery of the Turin Shroud in a tone more chilling than an entire Bejam score.

“That song was inspired by a film. I think it was the closest we ever came to seeing what we would consider real snuff and as soon as we realized what it was we both ran like little children. It came from Japan and consists of this woman walking home from work. She gets chloroformed by the four guys. Up until then you can tell she’s acting. Then suddenly the film cuts to a laboratory and there’s this guy dressed in full Samurai costume. He proceeds to grug her, than takes a knife and draws it across her wrist and cuts her hand off. The hand just slowly folds up on the table and we were thinking, ‘oh well that’s probably just Japanese technology’.

“he then moved to her upper body which was bare. As soon as he put the blade in her neck and you could see her shoulder we fled. It was incredible. We were watching something so pure, a perfect picture of something that you should not see. Apparently the people that did it sent four copies to the government and newspapers. They’ve never been traced nor has the body been found. It isn’t done for money and that’s the scary philosophy – there are people out there who don’t just do that, they want to film it as well. That’s as close as I ever want to come to it.”

Are you, as artist, able to be intrigued by happenings, that as humans you would be sickened by?

“I dunno,” says Ogre. “Human violence intrigues me, animal violence makes me cry. I was researching things before we came on tour and it did intrigue me. I didn’t get off on it or anything like that, but it’s just a bridge I haven’t gapped yet. I think how can someone go away and exist after doing something like that. How can we perpetrate this after years of history history have shown that it doesn’t work?”

Despite his research, Ogre doesn’t exhibit the passive neutrality of the scientist and was moved enough to write “Deep Down Trauma Hounds” after a spate of teenage suicides swept America.

“It seemed very scary to me that all these kids had such a bleak prospect on their future. I was on the tail-end of the generation that grew up with Walt Disney and ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Bambi’ and all those things that were so beautiful and important to grow up with. You need those things to perpetuate you through the years when you become cynical, instead kids are just growing up into this dark world.”

He admits that like everybody else he’s still looking for a “Fantasia” in the Eighties. He’s dabbled in paganism and has even had a trans-terrestrial conversation with his father soon after he died, but is still no closer to the key.

“I don’t feel as repressed as I used to. I used to think that I was quite stupid because I couldn’t articulate things I wanted to express, I also used to stutter really bad when I was younger. I was very introverted as well and by forcing myself out through the band I’ve given myself a lot of strength. I’ve always fought from the inside and I probably always will.

“I don’t know what’s ahead and that’s gonna be another turmoil. There’s a lot of things I know I’ll have to overcome. It’s always been a fight for me, I’ve got a lot of doubt, paranoia and, well… the lot basically!”





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