Litany: Interview Archive

Greene, Jo-Anne. "???." Permission, 1996 (?).

The distance between L.A. and Vancouver, BC is meaningless, for Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key are separated by not mere miles but a chasm of grief, anger, and pain. The two remaining members of what was THE most influential industrial band are still coming to terms with the demise of Skinny Puppy and the death of bandmate Dwayne Goettel. The two are not speaking, at least not to each other, but neither can stop speaking about Dwayne, the past, the record that brought Puppy to its knees, and the slights, hurts, and bewilderment of just how this all came to pass.

Today, the two are like the traumatized survivors of a seriously dysfunctional relationship--desperate to start new lives, but not yet reaching closure with their old destructive patterns. And, in reality, that dysfunction was part and parcel of Puppy; the volatile relationship between the members was, in a way, the band's core.

"The essence of Skinny Puppy was that it was a triangle," Ogre explains. "There was always two people polarized against one, to a certain degree." The result was like an abusive marriage; both parties suffered, but neither could walk away, each trapped within a relationship of despair.

It didn't start out that way. In 1983, cEvin saw Puppy's future clearly. "I wanted to do nothing that was designed for AM radio." That was a reaction against his former band Images in Vogue, a New Romantic group. Ogre was friends with another Vogue member, and even though he never imagined himself a singer, he'd been writing poetry for years.

cEvin already had the band's premise--life as seen through a dog's eyes. One self-released tape later, Puppy were signed to Nettwerk. They were joined by Vogue fan Wilhelm Shroeder (aka FLA's Bill Leeb), who had a similar interest in the more experimental side of electro-music. But things began to go wrong very quickly. The recording of Bites was overshadowed by a number of deaths in cEvin's family, while Ogre struggled to translate his poetry into lyric writing.

Puppy's first tour went well enough, except for Bill, who suffered injury and illness. But as Ogre says, "Bill was never really there anyway. When we played live, he had to be turned off, because he'd just go off and play his own thing."

Bill made clear he wouldn't tour their next record; thus entered Dwayne, whose band, Water, had previously opened for Puppy. Tensions had already begun eating away at the group, but Bill's departure smoothed over the cracks.

And Dwayne's arrival opened up new Puppy vistas, which are hinted at on Mind, The Perpetual Intercourse. Ogre recollects, "Here's this person coming in who's classically trained, learning techniques that Skinny Puppy are using, and adding a twist to it. I think the biggest growth came after Mind."

The Mind tour went off with none of the technical hitches that plagued Puppy's first tour. By this time, their performances were already firmly centered in performance art. The whole point of this tour was to create confusion, and lower the perceived boundaries between the audience and band. It worked.

And perhaps that's what gave the band the self-confidence to produce Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate. cEvin, the technician, comments that this was the time of Puppy's move from analogue to MIDI. It is worth noting that they were one of the pioneers in this field, although in these early days, they were syncing together analogue and midi.

For Ogre, it was the beginning of "looking at other issues besides my own internal problems." And thus the start of Puppy taking strong stands on the state of the world, something that became integral to the band.

The Ain't it Dead Yet tour would also cement Puppy's reputation as a live act. This was the first tour where the group would use the ominous superstructures that eventually filled their stage shows. Puppets, sillouettes, and, for the grand finale, an exploding baby carriage, all made an appearance in the course of the set, leaving startled fans absolutely overwhelmed.

Ogre's stance and Puppy's stage show reached a culmination with VIVIsect VI. "This was the time we were all the most together," cEvin happily recollects. For Ogre, it gave him ample opportunity to bring to the fore his views on animal rights, while the tour's theme was sparked by experiments of a most hideous nature.

"In the Philadelphia experiments, rhesus monkeys were used to try to find out what takes place when a sudden impact head injury occurs. The animal was restrained in a headlocking device, which of course blows the whole experiment, and the animal's head is snapped back really hard, like a nut against the ground. Afterwards, the animals just sat there drooling, because they were absolutely brain dead.

"We've a photo of one handler in the 'Testure" video, she's holding a monkey up and laughing. It still makes me cry when I think about it; it was really, really ugly. And so with the VIVIsect tour, I tried to pay homage to that. I wore a mask that was half monkey/half me built into a helmet. During the last transformation, the person becomes the experiment."

Recreating the sheer horror of these experiments on stage, Ogre was strapped in a large medieval style chair, which was spun upside down, as blood splattered the stage. A model dog was also used, and the show was so upsetting that they were actually arrested for animal abuse. When the police discovered the dog wasn't real, Puppy were fined for being a public nuisance instead.

Like cEvin, Ogre also remembers VIVIsect VI as the "most fun Skinny Puppy album to make." But then, this was during what the singer refers to as his "sleep deprivation period," as his drug usage began spiraling out of control. But it was also during this time that Puppy met Al Jourgensen, who would play a less than salubrious role in this story.

For that's when it all went wrong. "Ogre deserted us," and even six years on, the emotion is still plain in cEvin's voice. It's the sound of a scorned lover; baffled, angry, but mostly cut to the quick. "They pretty much shoved me out the door," Ogre's quick retort is equally etched in pain. His is the sound of the rejected; leaving, but not of his own accord.

At the center of the separation lies Al Jourgensen. "We thought that Al would kind of join Puppy, and come tour with us," cEvin recollects.

"It was kind of like an exchange student thing, Rave (producer Dave Ogilvie) went to help Al, then Al came up to help him," Ogre adds. "It got to be really, really gross in the studio; Al locked everybody out and did his mixes, then Rave responded by spending three days in the studio doing his. The competition was kind of good in a way, but it opened up all these wounds."

By the end of the recording session, there'd be no tour, at least not for Puppy. For as Ogre says, "I was really fed up, so I went out on the Ministry tour, which was just as horrible if not worse. Rabies was a real dysfunctional record, and I think that's how the group got to the point of absolute dysfunctional behavior." With this, cEvin whole heartedly agrees.

So, it's perhaps surprising that the trio came back together to record Too Dark Park. And equally surprising that Ogre sees it as "a great experience, it's when we started doing shiftwork." For once, his voice isn't tinged with the slightest hint of sarcasm. So even though the band didn't record as a group, both members were satisfied with the results. "It's a pretty abstract album for what Skinny Puppy is known to be," is cEvin's comment.

But what made Park possible was Rave, their producer from their earliest days. As Ogre notes, "Rave became the offical psychotherapist of the band, the psychotherapist-producer."

Almost from the beginning, Puppy seemed to divide into two camps, almost always with Ogre being odd man out. Both cEvin and Ogre claim to have disliked each other from the start, but still something held them all together, although neither can say what. And although both are obviously still angry, neither is quite willing to place the blame fully on the other. The truth is they're both decent people, who just see the world very differently. And after so many years, they knew each other so well there wasn't a button left they hadn't pushed.

Which is why, as cEvin says, "Last Rights really was (our last rites). Ogre was almost inchoherent at times. He went out of control, and we went out of control trying to work with him."

The singer was lost in drugs and a pattern of self-destructive behavior that has left him with scars that remain to this day--the time he shot up coke and went into convulsions, the night he was so fucked up he burned his leg so badly that a dime-sized scar still can be seen, and more.

Last Rights was completed by a totally polarized Puppy. As always, cEvin and Dwayne wrote the music, but now they handed the tape to Rave, who'd take it into the studio with Ogre. Then Rave would return it to the other Puppys, and so it continued. After the album was completed, Ogre went off to Europe, ended up in a hospital in Sweden, came back to the States, and finally cleaned up. Only then could Puppy's last tour take place.

With Ogre finally sober, the band attempted to patch up their

broken relationship. And at first it seemed like that would actually happen. It was a new dawn. With their contract with Capital fulfilled, Puppy excitedly signed to American. The label encouraged them to enter the studio without Rave, and the band agreed. They wanted to start fresh, try something new. The trio rented a house in Malibu where they could live and work together.

Things were fine until the arrival of Roli Mosimann. Used to Rave's sturdy hand and direction, Roli's freer style and lack of technical knowledge created immediate problems. And when Puppy had external problems, internal ones quickly followed.

Roli was replaced by Pigface's Martin Atkins, at Ogre's request. Within 24 hours, the band immediately polarized between Dwayne and cEvin vs. Ogre and Martin. After Martin finished, Rave finally came on board. But the damage was already done.

Dwayne was literally cracking under the pressure, and his behavior now rivaled Ogre's former ways. Meanwhile, American was losing patience. The band were at each other's throats. Dwayne wanted to go more techno, much to Ogre's disapproval, while Dwayne accused Ogre of turning Puppy into a rock band. Time dragged on.

In disgust, American began renegotiating Puppy's contract down to one album; in other words, they were dropped. Dwayne died of a drug overdose a month later. By then, Ogre had already quit the band, and signed his new project Welt to American. This negated Puppy's contract, leaving cEvin infuriated.

At the end, we're left with The Process--a testament to what was, and what could have been. Stitched together by Rave, after Dwayne's death, it's everything that Puppy was, and was becoming. A brilliant amalgamation of Puppy industrial and Dwayne's techno beats, where Ogre sings without the aid of a multitude of effects on top, it's their most accesible and commercial record to date.

cEvin started Puppy in order to no longer write radio-friendly music. Last night, my local "alternative" commercial station played cuts off the album over an hour special. Puppy somehow survived despite its members; the band seemingly consumed them all.

Yet, no matter how they twisted and turned, the members never compromised Puppy, and Puppy never compromised them. For it was always the most uncompromising of bands.

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