Monster Of Rock
Industrial electronic pioneers Skinny Puppy paved the way for today's leading noiseinks like NIN and Manson. Now ex-frontman and founding member Nivek Ogre's latest project, Oghr, is again pushing the envelope of 'aural sculpture'. Mark Chapman asked him about the industrial legacy and the cleansing of metal.
Canadian industrial band Skinny Puppy never managed to achieve the broad appeal of contemporaries such as Ministry and Front 242; their combination of dense, dissonant noise and indecipherable, stream-of-consciousness lyrics being too intense for most. But for those that did get it, Skinny Puppy left one hell of an impression - especially when it came to starting their own bands. Many of NIN's early videos follow the Puppy template, and the uncharitable might say that Marilyn Manson ripped off their imagery wholesale.
The band disintegrated in a massive shitstorm of disasters and recriminations in the mid-90s, hardly helped by drug habits on a monstrous scale (which led to the demise of keyboardist Dwayne Goettel), just before the release of their most accessible album to date, 'The Process'. For much of the next five years, a stony silence existed between the two survivors, Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key, until 2000 saw a shock reunion for a German festival.
Under the name Ohgr, Nivek Ogre has now released his first post-Puppy album. 'Welt' which replaces the darkness of Puppy with a much more upbeat sound. So is this a deliberate attempt to distance himself from the hate and carnage of the Skinny Puppy sound?
"It's not a conscious departure, because I've been so far removed from Skinny Puppy in one respect since '92," drawls Ogre. "That was the last time I toured and really felt the pain of Skinny Puppy. Yeah, I could easily go out and make a record the kids would want - based on what they heard from Skinny Puppy - and do the whole dark, angry guy thing. But I'm a little older now, and that would seem more unrealistic, and way faker than what I'm doing with this."
'Welt' was originally going to be a project between Ogre and Ministry's Al Jourgensen, after the two of them worked together in Revolting Cocks. "Right before the 'Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste' tour, we decided to start recording," recalls Ogre, "but we were doing way too much heroin, and it just fell apart, like so many other wet dreams at the time." Ogre is dismissive of the idea that he's some sort of hero of the industrial scene, "Have I been a legend? I don't even know what that means!" But he is prepared to admit that Skinny Puppy's self-destructiveness and ultimate implosion held a strong appeal, "People love a tragedy, people love anger, they feed off that sort of thing."
The Macbeth-with-better-drugs career of Skinny Puppy definitely had an effect on the young Brian Warner, whose love of medical appliances and onstage blood and fire mirrors much of what Puppy were doing.
"I think at this point, I can look back and go, well Manson isn't really emulating me, but there was a time when there were certain things that were taken directly from my stage show," Ogre points out. "It's easy to set up petty rivalries, but he doesn't enter my mind that much. I don't really like what he does - I think it's a bit irresponsible in the sense that he's dealing with all these controversial subjects, and he isn't really showing any humanity behind it - I see more caricature than humanity." But responsibility is a bit of a minefield to get into, and Skinny Puppy certainly attracted their fair share of basket cases, "There all these stories about people who were influenced by Skinny Puppy - like Jeffrey Dahmer - so who the fuck am I to say?"
Skinny Puppy were always highly political, and never afraid to demonstrate how pissed off they were. 'Testure', for example, was a brutally graphic attack on vivisection, performed live, in a GWAR meets RATM way, by Ogre vivisecting a fake dog realistic enough to nearly get them arrested - ironically enough, for animal cruelty. But if you think time and sobriety have calmed Ogre down, think again.
"I'm still absolutely seething. There's one direction we're going in: we're a bunch of foolish sheep buying their way through life." So the Republicans getting back into the White House must almost seem like a gift to bands with any sort of political conscience, such as Ministry and Skinny Puppy, who thrived in the dark days of the Rogan/Bush era. "I'm actually almost happy - it's almost like 'woo-hoo, back in the 80s again'. I think the most disturbing thing is how they've got the media locked up so tight." The drugs situation in America also strikes a personal chord with Ogre. "Drug treatment in America has always been a bit of a ludicrous thing to me, cause so many people here that need help can't get it when they need it. When you do cocaine, you're supposed to have six months clean, and I came in two weeks after shooting up last. I think you need places for people to go when they're at that stage - it's not like I was violent, I just needed some place where I couldn't get access to drugs."
Last Summer, Ogre got back together with erstwhile partner in crime cEvin Key, for a one-off headline appearance at the Doomsday festival in Dresden, Germany. It must have been weird, nearly a decade later, to once again be hanging upside down from the scenery covered in blood, in front of so many thousand people?
"It was terrifying," he affirms, "but at the same time, one of the most liberating experiences I've had. I went out and found a part of myself that I thought was only manifested by drugs or by that state I got in during the years of being in Skinny Puppy.
"At the end, when the show was over, I felt water on my back when I was bowing and I thought people were spitting on me, but then I realised it was just rain. After six days of a little rain every day, it just opened up and fucking poured over everything, it was this really cleansing, cool experience."
So are there any plans to tour Ohgr, or do any more dates as Skinny Puppy? "What we've talked about was the possibility of doing something on the road where we toured as Oghr and Download (cEvin Key's solo project), and maybe saved Skinny Puppy for special events," he reveals. "To go and do a Skinny Puppy tour would be a little premature right now, I think, but we're definitely on good terms, there's no more bad vibes, so I guess anything is possible.
Transcribed by Jase.