Litany: Interview Archive

Lanham, Tom. "Shock-Rockers Take Taboos To Their Heart ." San Francisco Chronicle, 12 April 1987, 41.

IN 1869, the French surrealist Lautreamont introduced a book to the public with the warning, "I set my genius to portray the pleasures of cruelty." Little did the author suspect that the soon-to-be infamous "Maldoror" - rich in the perverse imagery of taboo tortures - would be taken to heart by a Canadian musical troupe over a century later. But Vancouver shock-rockers Skinny Puppy not only respect the tome ("It's a masterpiece, my bible," hisses lead vocalist Kevin Ogilvie), they've built a modern-day parallel to it - a grotesque theater revolving around pain and its infliction.

The group boasts a violent act that, drenched in fake blood, often climaxes with Ogilvie's committing mock suicide. Though such tactics may smack of sensationalist showmen like Kiss and Alice Cooper, the gore is actually meant to edify. Ogilvie, whose self-conceptualized rock videos have been banned in his homeland, brews nasty visual shock treatments to hammer home his socio-political lyrics that, he feels, otherwise might be overlooked.

"The things we do might scare or disgust some people, but we'll always leave them thinking," says Ogilvie. His confidence seems justified: Skinny Puppy's two albums of industrial noise/funk have scored well on American college charts and also generated three dance-floor hits. But it's still an uphill climb for a group that's often taken for a special-effects sideshow.

Ogilvie, 24, performs in makeup and black toggery as "Nivek Ogre," and is now accustomed to being reviewed in the Canadian press as "sickening." He was genuinely surprised that a recent Skinny Puppy dirge is a nightclub hit in San Francisco, but crowds have found no trouble moving to the hypnotic "Dig It." The track is a spooky stretch of clanking percussion, white noise guitar, jumbo jet synthesizers and Ogilvie's hideously guttural growls and grunts, all Skinny Puppy trademarks. The "singer" summarizes "Dig It's" almost indistinguishable lyrics with, "It's a fight to rise above in the work force/ which can turn into your early grave."

If Hell were hiring a house band, Skinny Puppy would be a shoo-in. In the Bay Area last year, on a stage littered with janitorial drums and other makeshift percussion, a gaunt Ogre made his theatrical entrance sheathed in a plastic bag. For several numbers he struggled to free himself from the confinement which, he says, symbolized "a body condom or the womb, another fight to get out of something."

Illusionist Ogre has also been known to repeatedly stab himself with apparently real knives ("I almost cleaved my entire leg off one night," he laughs) and even slit his own throat and wrists with, of course, a tandem torrent of "blood." And these tricks' relevance to society?

"We're anti-violence," Ogilvie responds. "A lot of people are ripping themselves apart on the inside while pretending they're cool on the outside. We're a release, and I like to get the audience very much involved, but not too involved."

All of Skinny Puppy's multimedia gifts begin with Ogilvie's "idea of a dark time." It was his most trying period that brought the radical trio together: In 1982, the would-be entrepreneur was crushed when a record distribution company he'd started with borrowed money fell apart. At the same time, his wife left him and his father died of cancer.

"But I purged my demons and resurrected myself," Ogilvie says. Skinny Puppy was whelped in 1983, named after some emaciated dogs the group's keyboardist, Cevin Key, saw in the street one day. "We even built a philosophy around that in our first song, "Canine," he says. "It was about a dog watching his master beat his wife and then questioning himself - should he be loyal to the man or rip his head off?"

In 1985, Skinny Puppy's first droning long-playing record, "Bites," was released on the tiny Nettwerk label, and it climbed higher than any previous independent Canadian disc on the U.S. rock charts, among others. The Capitol Records conglomerate has picked up Nettwerk's radical roster of artists and "Dig It's" parent album, "Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse," for worldwide sales, but Skinny Puppy has already toured Europe and has what Ogilvie warmly refers to as a "scream cult following" there.

Ogilvie is happy to be leaving Vancouver to tour again, and promises a whole coffinful of thought-provoking aural and visual assaults this time out. But he apologizes for one hair-raising trick he may never repeat.

Granted, being "shot" point-blank by an angry "stranger" at the end of your show would be an exciting spectacle. But Ogilvie accidentally used a higher-wattage current than his chest-mounted flash pots and electrically activated meat-and-blood-filled condoms required last year.

"I was sweating profusely, and as soon as I hit the ground I shorted out against it and was electrocuted," he shudders. "And there was this girl fan who kept trying to carry on a conversation with me while I was being shocked.

"It was some very stimulating aversion therapy."

`-------------------------------- Skinny Puppy plays The I-Beam in San Francisco tomorrow night.

PHOTO; Caption: Skinny Puppy, from left: Nivek Ogre (nee Kevin Ogilvie), Dwayne Goettel, Cevin Key: Nasty tricks to bring home lyrics Back to Litany