Parts of the Interview with the SKINNY PUPPY-member Nivek Ogre and the ZILLO Musikmagazin, from the
current issue july/august 2000 :
Return of a legend?
There are few bands that can truly be regarded as cult, and in the realm of electronic music - alongside names such as Kraftwerk, Front 242 and DAF - certainly Skinny Puppy can lay claim to the title. When cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre decided in 1983 to set their vision to music, they had no way of knowing what the following years would bring. Revolutionary albums like “Remission”, “Bites” or “Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate” are only part of their impressive portfolio. The combination of hard electronic rhythms, theatric elements, horror scenarios and deep emotion excited fans throughout the world.
The band inspired a veritable horde of other artists who attempted to imitate their idols, making Skinny Puppy’s 1994 breakup and the tragic heroin overdose death of Dwayne R. Goettel all the more unfortunate. The final studio album “The Process” was finished only after his passing. The last real sign of life came in the form of the remix compilation “Remix Dys Temper”, which featured the likes of Rhys Fulber, KMFDM and others paying tribute to the Canadian industrial legend. Even then in 1998 there were rumors of an imminent concert in Germany and possibly a reunion. As a fee for the show figures as high as $100,000 were being discussed. What was denied at the time has since become reality: on August 20th Skinny Puppy will perform a single concert in Dresden, which will also be captured as a live recording. The news hit like the proverbial bomb. Reason enough to sit down with Nivek Ogre for a nice long chat, in the course of which the charismatic singer proved himself to be an extremely open and honest conversationalist. Along with his “soul searching” and reasons for the comeback he had several interesting tidbits to relate regarding the history of Skinny Puppy. Unfortunately we were unable to get any kind of statement from cEvin Key, as he was on vacation at the time. It would be quite interesting to see if the two members agree on some of the points....
Zillo: The announcement of the reunion show hit like a bomb. What are the reasons for the comeback?
Nivek Ogre: I was afraid that this would be the first question. The reasons are very diverse in nature. From my side there are some very valid and personal reasons to do this show. I can only speak for myself; cEvin’s reasons could be of an entirely different nature. My life hasn’t been particularly good recently, a lot of negative things have happened, I’ve had a lot of health and financial problems. And then came this offer. cEvin and I started to discuss things in February. At some point during this extremely dark and hopeless period I agreed to do the show (laughs). It’s also a chance for me to get away from here for a while and get some distance from some things that have happened. Other than that...you only have a certain amount of time in your life to do so many things. A lot of money and the chance to realize our ideas have certainly played a role.
Zillo: Can you go a little more into your personal reasons and the financial circumstances?
Nivek Ogre: Well, I don’t really want to get any further into my personal reasons, it would simply be too painful at the moment. As far as the financial side of things is concerned, I actually don’t really know how much we’re getting for the show.
Zillo: OK. Neither your nor cEvin’s side projects have been particularly successful. Is that possibly another reason for the reunion?
Nivek Ogre: I don’t know exactly. You could certainly come to that conclusion. It depends on how you define success. If you just look at the sales figures I am definitely not a successful person. Due to rather adverse conditions I haven’t released anything other than Rx in the last several years. However, I am really satisfied with the things I’ve worked on in the last 5 years, and that’s gotta be worth something too, right?
Zillo: Certainly. The question on everyone’s lips has certainly got to be whether this show is a one-off or if it’s the beginning of a Skinny Puppy reunion?
Nivek Ogre: As far as I’m concerned, at the moment there’s nothing else planned beyond this one show, that we’ll record for a live album. Right now there aren’t any plans for the future or even for a new Skinny Puppy album. A lot of people around us have died, and that makes it really difficult to start over from the beginning. But never say never. We’re going to play this one concert, see how it goes, and then we’ll see what happens after that. In this regard I’m like Klaus Kinski, you never know what’s going to happen next. I’m totally unpredictable.
Zillo: What can we expect from this concert?
Nivek Ogre: I hope that it’s a real spectacle. It’s definitely a very special show, it’s been conceptualized for this location. The whole thing is a very theatrical and visual affair. There will be some pretty crazy stage sets. The guy doing pyrotechnics is the same guy who does Rammstein’s show. The story that the multimedia show is based on was developed by me. I’m sort of the author. It’s very emotional. I’m very good at building things up and then destroying them. It’s like a nightmare on every level, paranoia, my own fear and the search for myself all play a role.
Zillo: There are certainly a lot of Skinny Puppy tracks that would fit really well into that concept. Which songs are you planning to play?
Nivek Ogre (meditatively): I don’t know exactly, because a lot of it depends on how the multimedia show turns out, and I still haven’t seen any of it yet. I’m really excited to see how my ideas will be realized. We’ve talked about a few songs already. I definitely want to perform “Smothered Hope” and “Hardset Head”, that song has such unbelievable power. cEvin wants to play “Love In Vein”. It totally depends on what fits with the concept. Basically we’ll decide after the rehearsal sessions, which will last two days, what the set list will be. But we’re fully aware of what people want to hear.
Zillo: Will you possibly have a few additional musicians on stage with you? Have there been any thoughts of asking Bill Leeb (Front Line Assembly) to come along?
Nivek Ogre (laughs): Well I can tell you that Bill Leeb will definitely not be there. Never! Other than that, we’ve been in contact with a few other people, but there’s nothing too firm there yet.
Zillo: While there is probably no longer any basis for collaboration with Bill Leeb, your relationship with cEvin must certainly have improved. How would you describe your relationship with him? Have you been able to reconcile the musical differences of the past?
Nivek Ogre: Our relationship has really gotten a lot better. There was this period of about 4 years when we didn’t speak a word to one another. There was a lot of negative energy there, a lot of mutual reproach. Which comes as no surprise really, considering all that went on in our past. It was really horrible. And then at some stage we reached this point where we’d both sort of calmed down and could start communicating with one another again. We exchanged emails at first, before we actually spoke to one another. Since then, you could describe our relationship as ok and fresh. In some crazy up way we belong together, and hopefully the artistic differences are a thing of the past. We’re both working on different projects that have very little in common, but with both respect each other’s work. That’s a big step forwards.
Zillo: That’s certainly good to hear. Do you believe that Dwayne in Heaven, or wherever his soul might be, would agree to do the reunion show?
Nivek Ogre: That’s a really difficult and good question. But first you’d have to decide if there exists something like Heaven. Do you believe in it?
Zillo: Sometimes, it depends on the situation. But I am convinced that death is not the end.
Nivek Ogre: I believe in some sort of greater spiritual power as well. Whether Dwayne would approve of the reunion, no one can say. I hope he would. I think that for some people it’s like total blasphemy that we’re getting back together under the name Skinny Puppy. Unfortunately we can’t do anything about it.
Zillo: Skinny Puppy was always defined by equal portions anger, political motivation and very strong emotion. How much of that remains today? How did the band change in the course of your careers?
Nivek Ogre: I think there was a lot of anger in the band, and there still is. In my own head at any rate. It’s filled with aggression, fears, nightmares and depression. Anger was always a good basis for our music. I’ve never really seen us as a political band. I mean, sure, as younger people you’re filled with ideas about changing society and destroying things, I think that’s totally normal when you’re younger. Some of that spirit has remained as well. I still do what I think is right and don’t concern myself with what anyone else thinks about it. Emotion was always what we were trying to get across. Dwayne, cEvin and I were or are very emotional people. The evolution of the band was very much tied to our evolution as individuals. When we started making music in 1983 we were very much influenced by the art and literature scenes. Electronic music like SPK had the biggest influence on us. And we combined all these different elements. My personal goal was always to live out my self-destructive side, it was like personal exorcism. Especially live, I could just go completely crazy. Musically things changed when Dwayne and our producer Rave Ogilvie came on board, the music got more complex. When all the drugs came into the picture, there was another change of course. Everything that happened was somehow another part of my own self-discovery.
Zillo: You just mentioned a couple of very strong themes. But before we get into the drug use and its effect on the music, I have another question. Above and beyond everything else, you were known as animal rights activists. Are you still today?
Nivek Ogre: I am still absolutely opposed to animal testing. Animals have the same feelings as people do. They know what’s right and wrong and they can love and hate. Genetic technology and all these pointless experiments are awful. We’ve got 6 billion people on this planet and that’s more than enough. A lot of diseases can’t be cured through animal experimentation. I just have a huge problem with it. No human being would want to endure that kind of torture. Who would want to be locked up in some sterile laboratory? I love animals more than anything.
Zillo: And as an animal rights activist it must be atrocious to you to see animals given drugs. But you performed many such “experiments” with yourselves. At what point did you start to think that the hard drugs could destroy Skinny Puppy?
Nivek Ogre: Each one of us had his own experience. The first time I felt that drugs could destroy the band was after Dwayne overdosed. That was really terrible. But I was too wrapped up with my own drug problems for it to really register at the time. I’ve caused a lot of people a lot of pain and trouble because of the state I was in, and I really regret that. But I just couldn’t escape that vicious circle. Dwayne’s death was and is a tragedy for me. I lost someone that I never got to know as well as I had wanted.
Zillo: Do you think you could have created similarly intense music without drugs?
Nivek Ogre: I don’t want to be promoting drugs here, I’ve had too many bad experiences, but I almost believe that it wouldn’t have been the same...(extremely meditatively) Just listen to “Last Rights”. That record is incredibly intense. But the price you pay is simply too high. Drugs just destroy you, they never help you, and I know that now.
Zillo: In regards to which we should talk about “The Process”. During the recording process you worked with several producers including Greg Reely and Martyn Atkins, you fled from your specially constructed studio in Malibu back to Canada, and a lot more happened besides. So now, with the necessary distance, are you still satisfied with “The Process”?
Nivek Ogre: When you look at it from the business side of things, definitely not (laughs). I mean it wasn’t worth it financially. We got this huge advance and there’s nothing left of it. I’d rather not talk about what happened to all the money. Whatever! It was certainly the first record that we put a lot of time into. A lot of “The Process” was Dwayne’s. The circumstances under which the album came about were not particularly happy ones. We spent a half a year in this house in Malibu, which was a complete nightmare. You could just watch everyone around you going insane. It’s like almost nothing but just crazy shit went on. Drugs. For me “The Process” is just as representative of Skinny Puppy as it was before, in terms of what the band stood for and stands for.
Zillo: Alongside these dark days that you’ve all experienced, there must be a few happy moments. When was the best time of Skinny Puppy for you?
Nivek Ogre: Unfortunately the dark moments overshadow the happy ones, but there were a few rays of light. The period when we were recording “VIVIsectVI” and “Too Dark Park” was really cool. And the first couple of years were really fun and exciting. I remember the early US tours very well, just that we didn’t have a tour bus and had to sort of slog through them. We did have a really good time on the first German tour. I have no idea if anyone had the slightest idea what we were about. We improvised a lot and my voice was so drowned in effects that it was difficult for someone who actually spoke good English to understand what I was saying. If I were to die and think back on Skinny Puppy, there’s one incident that will always stand out in my mind. During our first tour we stopped in at my mom’s in Calgary. The whole band sat at this big table, and my mother made us this delicious meal. It was a really peaceful evening, everyone was showing their best side, like a perfect “son” or “stepson”. If you ask cEvin, I’m sure he’d remember something else, but that was the best moment for me.
Zillo: I dearly hope that in the future you’ll have more positive than negative experiences. What’s going on with your solo projects?
Nivek Ogre: After the fiasco with American Recordings not wanting to release my W.E.L.T. stuff I found a new label that’s interested in my new material. We’ve finished two complete albums under the working project name O.H.R. My partner Mark Walk is mixing the material down right now. The music is very electronic with a little pop mixed in. If everything works out, there CD will be available for sale at this show in Germany. But that’s going to depend on how much time I have for my own things between now and August. This Skinny Puppy thing will certainly be very time-consuming and at the moment it’s our biggest priority.
So we’ll just have to wait and see how things go with Skinny Puppy. Hopefully cEvin and Ogre will decide to work on new material after the reunion show. They’re at their best when they’re together, which the reunion show will certainly prove.
Translation: Ned Kirby
All rights reserved by the ZILLO Musikmagazins. august 2000
Georg - Ohm - Straße 5
D - 23617 Stockelsdorf