Litany: Interview Archive

Tywoniak, Edward. "Skinny Puppy." Mondo 2000, (?) 1991, no. 4.

Located just over the United States/Canadian border is the major seaport city of Vancouver, British Columbia, home to the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks and on of cyberpunkdom's favorite musical aggregates, Skinny Puppy. Skinny Puppy's trio of visionary performance artists extend the boundaries of reality and surreality in their live concert performances. Their music had been captured on five Columbia Records discs with titles like "Rabies" and "Too Dark Park." Recently Mondo 2000's Edward Tywoniak had an opportunity to talk with two thirds of Skinny Puppy, singer and visual artist Kevin Ogilvie (who goes by the moniker Ogre) and keyboardist Dwayne Goettel. Following is an excerpt from that conversation.

DO OGRES DIE OF ELECTRIC MEAT?

MONDO 2000: When did the band get together?

OGRE: We had an idea in 1983 of doing this band where we could do strange things onstage in order to alter people's perceptions about what was going on-make them believe certain things were real and certain things weren't.

M2: What were you doing on stage to give this illusion-this warp of perception?

O: We'd hold things up like gooey duck-which had a phallic, hallucinatory effect on people. And we did a staged assassination where a guy came out of the back room holding a gun loaded with a primitive flash system. We packed the thing with condoms and meat and charges, and this guy came running through the audience shooting at me. I hit the floor, and the thing shorted out on me. I was getting electrocuted so I was vibrating pretty heavily. People just started screaming-it was cool! We've done things with breakaway bottles where a person would come up on stage from the audience, just to put a taste of reality in all the fantasy.

GUERILLA ELECTRONICS

M2: Have you been incorporating other kinds of more traditional multimedia-slides, film, video-into your stage shows?

O: Yeah. I've been learning how to video edit. For our last show we had an interactive stage show with video. We have an idea of using laserdisc players in a live situation where three people would be mixing laserdisc images together, almost like scratching.

DWAYNE: Ogre figured out which images he wanted to use for certain songs, then he and Gary Smith took all kinds of found footage-some of it from first-run horror movies. With a disc player they could shuttle the images forward and backwards with really crisp quality-you get a type of digitized motion-then make them into loops. They got some really cool stuff without using all the video studio effects. Our music also follows this philosophy. I hear so many records that sound like they just hooked a drum machine to a sequncer. We've had fifteen years of music that way and we don't want to sound like that. There has to be more illusion.

M2: How important a role does the computer play in your music making process?

O: Quite a bit actually. When we mix, we run everything through the board straight down onto DAT tape. So it's all coming live off the sequencers and computers. We haven't done any recording onto hard disc recorders yet, except for some editing on a Macintosh.

M2: What kind of computer are you using?

D: Just a plain old Atari.

M2: What kind of software are you running on it?

D: Steinberg Pro 24. It's pretty simple and normal. We want to move up to something that has digital recording-with the sampling and sequencing built in. I'd also like to see computers used more in the home entertainment market. I like having my VCR and my TV and stereo all hooked up together. It would be great to have a type of home entertainment center that would allow us to extend what we do now. I would like to be able to do my own mixing right there-add my own images onto the TV in a completely non-professional, home entertainment kind of way.

M2: Low-tech guerilla electronics.

D: I know these things are right on the edge of mass production.

M2: We're living in a pretty exciting time.

D: Yeah. But in terms of waste and planned obsolesence, it's also pretty terrifying. I mean, even those once-scary environmental cliches are starting to come true.

POP'N FRESH DOPE

M2: Yeah, I'm looking at all the technology around me right now and the waste of materials in it all...

D: ...and the stuff that came out only two years ago is already obsolete! There was this certain confidence that I had while growing up-watching movies in the classroom-that we had it all figured out. We never got the message that we didn't know what we were doing, so we continued to pollute. Hey, we thought that Man was a great success. But just like any classic story, there's the hope that somebody will be born and save everybody, It will probably be a technology thing-a technological savior. In a way, the most evil instrument now is television, and the savior will be the home video camera. Before only the richest people had control of the TV and they decided what you saw-including the disease of advertising. But now because of video cameras in the USSR and the video camera that caught that guy getting beat up by the cops in LA, the power is beginning to even out. Before, it was just information gushing out of your TV, and for the last thirty years we ate it up. And boy did we love it! Boy did we love those tits and ass. Did we ever love that Pillsbury Dough Boy. But when I watch TV now, I'm screaming at it, "Shut Up!" and "Fuck You!" I hope that people do the same. There has to be equalization within our media. We can't have all the information going one way. It has to go back and forth like in a conversation.

M2: What have the Puppies been working on recently?

O: We finished a record about eight months ago and we just finished our fourth tour through America in December of '90. We probably won't tour again until the next album is released because it's so expensive. But I'm going out on tour in April with Pigface with Martin Atkins from Killing Joke and some other guys. Skinny Puppy is just finishing up a video with Spazmolytic which turned out really well. We're in the on-line editing mode now. And we'll be touring the United States in the fall.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

M2: What influenced you to get into what your[sic] doing?

O: I really don't know. It was just kind of a jolt from life more than anything else. I think it was our need to not adapt to the norm.

D: Your magazine has had an effect on me. When I was coming up through the States last time, I ran into some people who were talking about this magazine, MONDO 2000, and this scene going on in Berkeley that I didn't know anything about. Basically these conversations were centered around LSD and other mind-improving drugs. When I went back to my home town in Edmonton, I ran into some people that I knew who said, "Hey man, you gotta check out this new MONDO 2000 thing!" After I saw it I said "I gotta get a subscription to this!" We're trying to figure out just what's happening in San Francisco. We have friends who say that there is going to be a new psychedelic explosion down there.

M2: Actually it's just a government plot to induce mass hysteria in the unsuspecting masses of Northern California.

D: I believe it! [laughs] Actually the thing with drugs is that you have to act responsibly toward them. Many people cannot handle the responsibility and go on to become alcoholics or drug addicts. M2: Part of the problem is that people look at drugs or even religion as a panacea for your personal or global ills. But really all drugs are, are brain amplifiers-it's like garbage in, garbage out. If you are a together person to begin with, already on the road, it may help you get there a lot quicker. D: But even for that person there is still the potential for going overboard. I think that pot, acid and hallucinogens are much better for you than coke, heroin, speed and crack-those are substances that don't give anything back to the user. They're a trip that I don't condone. Not that I condone alcohol either. I think alcohol is the worst thing. I could see people comfortably smoking up and never beating their wives, never running out and robbing stores to get a fucking joint. And I could also see emotional, social problems eased if you could go to your doctor and get a prescription for a hit of acid and then go home to your lover and have a good time. There is a whole part of society that is missing the magic. It's not there anymore. You go to a church to experience something and they don't give you anything real or substantial to deal with. People don't believe in anything anymore. They look at the TV and the whole world is there, created for you. But it doesn't really exist. It doesn't give anybody anything to hold on to. Nobody feels part of society anymore. I'm living in this building with perhaps one hundred other people and I don't know any of them. We're all putting up psychological as well as physical walls around ourselves.

M2: Speaking of that, do you guys live together in some kind of collective arrangement?

O: No, we have our separate lives. It would be crazy. We'd kill each other for sure!

DOGGIE TOYS

Skinny Puppy's equipment consists of:

an Akai S900
two Roland S330's,
a Yamaha SY77,
a Yamaha SY22,
an Emu Systems Emax keyboard,
a Prophet 5,
an Ensoniq Mirage
and an ESQ.

Back to Litany