Litany: Interview Archive

Shurtluff, Kevin. "Skinny Puppy." (?) 1988.

Skinny Puppy is not just wondering there really is other life out there, but what you'll find when you actually have to see what it is. Like the existence of certain points in space where so many things coalesce that you may just prefer not to pass through them yourself. Listening to Skinny Puppy is the wish to take a dive into their music, a self-rinsing aural experiment with its own abstracted boundaries - a thousand people concealed in a small room with a single flickering light - and the longer you stay depends exclusively on your own internal submergence. The fermentation of their initial chas has produced an indefinite control mechanism of richness to the point of a weighted anxiety, resulting in an untitled mechanical 3-D collage.

The group was founded in Vancouver in 1983 by Nivek Ogre (vocals, voice synthesizer, varied treatments and noises) and cevin Key (drum programming, percussion, keyboards, and treatments). They began as an experiment of viewing life through a dog's eye, seeing the world as an imposed foreign entity comprised of a series of unredressable occurances which seemed only loosely stapled together. They synthesize it as a dream-like aural sculpture of concentrated looping instants, at first panic, and evolving into a sort of obligatory cultural oppressedness. As cevin Key explains, "Everything that we put down, we try to flavor with some pieces of a fragmented world, with fragments of this society - there's a lot of planets we explore."

This explanatory sense has carried them from the initial heavy industrial sound of their first two releases, REMISSION and BITES (on Nettwerk Records), to a more channeled and complex, skewed urgency in transition on their third LP, MIND: THE PERPETUAL INTERCOURSE, into 1987's, CLEANSE, FOLD, AND MANIPULATE LP and culminating in VIVI SECT VI, their latest release. "We're a lot more directionalized now than we were then," says Key. "We were dealing with something that we really didn't know ourselves, and dealing with the sort of styles that we let take us over in a sense - and that in itself was the experiment - led to a permanent state of mind, which now goes about these procedures on its own, and comes up with a different technique."

Their first two releases dealt largely with the internal negation of the individual in a functionally decrepit social system, and, as in their first college radio success, "ASSIMILATE", speaking when being told to speak. A sense of excellerated tonal groping over shards of metallic cracks and verbal cameos, all united by an incessant single-minded drum machine. Searing with Ogre's distorted vocals, ablaze from a fan-sized blowdryer, the songs blurt from from a tottering waterhole. Ogre seems rushed to perform, scowling too many most-necessary words to be taken in consciously.

And just at the moment of some sort of emotional truce that was the end of the "experiment", or BITES, came the realization that the effects of this state of domain had become a continual, distorted view of life, externalized not only by the emerging style of the group's music, but also their rising popularity and exposure to the outside and to a larger audience. At once they were seen with both curiosity and criticism by people who were affected by their abrasive sound and theatrical shows. Key explains that their originality isn't force fed or techno-trendy. "We're not trying to impress our audience. These people coming along now, like me, like anybody who's born onto this planet, takes a certain amount of years, a certain amount of time to come across something they have to more or less discover. Not everything is put in front of you on a plate to take in and you can pick and choose the things you like. You have to go out and find things occasionally. For myself, I know I did that in the late 70's with the industrial movement. Once you find that, you tend to latch onto it as original. So I have to look at the people that come out as the people who have been listening to the hype or the people who believe they've found something that they've been looking for."

D. Rudolph Goettel, formerly of Psyche, joined the group in 1986 with the release of Skinny Puppy's third LP, MIND: TPI, which also marked their LP manufacturing and distribution by Capitol Records. Key says that with the group's beginnings with Key largely as a drummer and self-taught keyboardist, and Ogre as a surrealistically minded lyricist, the addition of Goettel added the flavor of a classically-trained keyboard player, and stretched the composition of the group to the point where this fusion would cause a further exploratory sound.

The group's musical path gurgled to externalize and take notice of the outer world without compromising their own manner of portraying it. The group expanded its technological array and began to take in many more sparks of everyday life, with the necessity to speak a bit loader. Among the three, there was a musical unity and a more complexx sound, at times chained down and growling, and at times, as in "BURNT WITH WATER," like imploding winds through a keyhole.

The heavier, more stylized beat and rhythm got them mislabeled by many as an industrial dance band. "We mix the song for itself," says Key, "and you'll notice on the albums that the songs are well mixed. A lot of people would term it as dance music. Now, I don't know if it's people's intent to see it that way with ignoring the content of the music, or the actual finished product. But whether we're mixing for an album or a 12", what we're really doing is making a product, making a statement. These rhythms come from me in a sense that I've been playing now for 20 years and rhythmically, my influences go a lot further than just a disco beat of straight 4:4 time." He attributes his style to interests in Latin and African percussion, noting also his beginnings with early 70's rock to industrial and to rap. He's anxious to separate Skinny Puppy's music from groups such as (the example I posed) Nitzer Ebb, which he says are all beat and no music with lyrics that don't capture what Ogre does. It seems that Skinny Puppy is not out to captivate the generic alternative dance floors of the world with sugar cubes, but to wield their own danceable music which places itself apart not by its wrenching musical turns or distorted lyrics, but by its mere originality.

As the group began to see more of the world, its internal musical disequilibrium expanded to a larger scale of seeing the world as a body fighting against itself, as Vancouver became less of a mainstay, and cevin Key eventually moved to Toronto. "The technology now is allowing us a lot more time to spend at home which is where we've written almost everything. But the group seemed to now be relying on the outside world even more as their creative source of ideas - the group at one with the world, but plagued by large scale strife in the same way as with their own individual aspects of before. With a concrete down driving richness comparable to the Butthole Surfers, CLEANSE, FOLD & MANIPULATE, Skinny Puppy's fourth LP, brandished an entrancing ripped-edge sound, sealed with decline lyrics and a literal zoo of sonic apparitions stepping in and out of both channels and enveloping you with unescapable conviction. The result was a coalescence of the pairing of screw-like vocals, concerning the AIDS issue in "FIRST AID" and the psychological traumas of postwar Vietnam soldiers in "SECOND TOOTH," with a heavy splattering sound, and the externally musical grey wave washing in "ANGER" and "EPILOGUE."

With their latest release, VIVI SECT VI, Skinny Puppy is a long way down their developmental trail, conceptually, and especially stylistically. Key says that vivisection, or live animal laboratory testing, is a natural conceptual evolution of the group. An alliance. "We have a really strong liking for animals and always have had. Myself with cats and dogs and birds and fish and all that kind of stuff growing up. I still have three cats. Lately, over the last year and a half, we were exposed to some real and shocking footage and reading information upon vivisection and testing on animals. It came largely from Ogre, and it was presented to us and we talked about it as a theme and we all realized that we had been coming toward this, like how Skinny Puppy has always conceptually dealt with the inability to speak up when your tail's being stepped on." This is backed up musically in that they composed some 40 to 50 songs, of which, their nine favourites were chosen for the LP.

Amidst the persisting criticism that Skinny Puppy is somehow too unbelievable or too trendy, they are still on a major record label (Capitol) and tour extensively in North America and Europe. Key replies that the heightened criticism of the group in their circumstance is "today's way of saying that this band is semi-popular. There's always hype and anti-hype and there's always love and hate. So where we fit into that is up to the individual." He sys that the band can't fall victim to trying to please their newer audience before their own musical appetites. "We're not trying to push anything down anyone's throats, but if they're willing to step with us on this journey, we'll take them a little ways and try to show them what we've learned along the way, and then drop them off safely at home in front of the door."

The group especially hopes to create the ambiance of their world in concert. They overcome the dangers of techno-monotony in concert through spontaneous creations of soundscapes and a musical world in which their studio music can exist and thrive live. They seek to give a sort of ultimate musical experience by mixing music, film and theatre. The theatrical influences come from the band's heavy interest in film and video, and is inseparably present throughout all of their music. At times some songs, like "FRITTER," are actually more ambient and akin to atmosphere-creation film music than any sort of 'generic dance music'. This could result in future musical scores for the group as they have already been in touch with film makers Clive Barker and David Lynch. Key says that he hopes to eventually expand the Skinny Puppy project into doing 'some sounds for some films.'

With VIVI SECT VI, Skinny Puppy has created a site of union of so many beats, notes, words, samples and an uncountable number of miscellaneous noises, that it's unavoidable to become lost in the mentally visual crossfires. At times, it's not even music, but some strange stuff which incites the imagination to somehow try to get all this into your own braille. You're hiding out inside the border amidst the Iran-Iraq War in "VX GAS ATTACK" and then you're getting nauseated from breathing flesh heavy humiditiy while standing by, watching, in "HOSPITAL WASTE."

Skinny Puppy is a well-outfitted machine that's hasn't lost its grit. Their music doesn't haunt as much as it unrelentingly harrows and with your ok, they will explore again the next one hundred durty corners. Life through a dog's eyes wiggles through the air, like a worm, and someone's boot has your name on it.

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