Mankind is its own worst enemy, now having become the very weapons it wields toward a self destructive path. Nivek Ogre speaks with ReGen on the topics and circumstances that led to Skinny Puppy’s latest opus, Weapon.
An InterView with Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Skinny Puppy has never shied away from political topics, and as the new album is called Weapon and seems to approach the angle that human beings are the weapons themselves now, what spurned the lyrical concept behind the album?
Ogre: The Oppenheimer quote brings up one of the many concepts that I wanted to try to bring across, which is that midway in the last century, I think we made a horrible mistake by splitting the album in that way. I think Oppenheimer’s face when he makes that quote clearly shows how horrendous that decision was in his full knowledge of the Pandora’s Box that he opened. The idea for Weapon, although it might seem timely to people seeing it advertised as a new Skinny Puppy album, actually came into fruition during the tour in 2011. We’d met a Guantanamo guard, a kid who was an MP who was shipped off to Guantanamo to become a prison guard basically. He trained for two weeks, and he was a huge Skinny Puppy fan, but while he was there, he heard Skinny Puppy music being used to torture people. So the impetus of the idea was to use Skinny Puppy as a weapon and write a record called Weapon and write it in a way that it could be used as a weapon and used to torture people. We were going to do some information requests and ask for papers or references on what frequencies they use, what was most effective, and we were even going to go the full nine yards and even release an instruction manual with the album on how to use the album to torture people. That would be followed with a tour that will incorporate aspects of the interrogation techniques onstage. Our tour manager’s an amazing woman of all traits, but she’s a freak herself – she nails $100 bills to her breasts and such – and she has access to a bunch of interesting people; performers who were going to be tortured onstage. That concept got really pointed and big and a bit too focused. Then I stumbled on the more abstract idea about all the things around us that are weapons that are dormant, that are built to be safe. Nuclear power became one of those; it was a big elephant in the room topics to me, especially after the meltdown in Fukushima and the subsequent clampdown in the media about what’s happening, what’s going to happen, and the fact that we have 23 of those similar reactors sitting around the United States, which are holding in their spent fuel pools. They were supposed to be used to transport one fuel rod bundle at a time from the reactor core into the fuel pool and then into cold or dry storage. These things are just accumulating nuclear waste; the second or third floors of these buildings are just targets, and they subsequently become weapons themselves. So it got me thinking about how these reactors were created by people and those decisions made back in the ’50s and ’40s – there were two meltdowns in California in ’59 of nuclear reactor engines they were working on; the reactors melted down in the testing range, which has been owned by Boeing and NASA and has had no cleanup since then. So I started seeing people and their traces as weapons. The idea to bring a weapon system into fruition by telling people that they have unlimited power that they probably couldn’t even meter – it would be running off the dials so fast and so clean, and it’s anything but clean; 96% comes out completely dirty and so dirty that it’s foreign to our planet. It makes me look all around at everything and seeing that we are, in a way, evolved weapons.
It’s fascinating that the warning signs were there even when all of it was first coming to realization, and other musicians have certainly touched on it – Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns also revolved around the Oppenheimer quote, and Ministry’s The Last Sucker utilized quotes from Eisenhower’s speech about the military industrial complex – and yet, people didn’t seem to get it and now we’re paying the price. It’s even been a thread for Skinny Puppy since the ’80s. Is it ever a concern for you that the message is not getting heard or that it’s futile to try?
Ogre: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that have I seen anything change over 30 years of doing this? No. But even about this gun debate going on now is that we’re talking about something that won’t get shut off right away. For instance, it took me 20 years to get addicted to drugs and it took me a good 10 to 15 years to get my ass out of it. That’s just a good analogy for guns in America. It isn’t going to be an overnight thing. They’re not going to pass a bill and suddenly do away with automatic weapons and school shootings or mass shootings. That’s something that’s only going to take place when we create healthier mental environments. Until then, mood disorders and anxiety attacks and all of this kind of sociopathic violence will just keep on proliferating because that’s the path we’re on. It’s a generational thing. Having come from Canada and knowing that there’s a different way to live and being part of that environment meant that moving down here when I was in my 20’s, not scared but certainly aware of the difference, and seeing how that plays out down here over the course of my 20 years living here, I see it as a generational thing. That gives me hope and it also gives me the motivation to continue speaking about it. Honestly, the cold hard reality that not everything I talked about in the ’80s and ’90s came true – not that I was forecasting or that I’m Nostradamus – but a lot of that is happening. Maybe if people start connecting those things and with these cultural myths that Skinny Puppy propagates as reality, which is reality and the myth is being carried by the mainstream media, then perhaps over time, there will be a generational change. I hold out hope for that. It’s not going to happen in my lifetime. I’m happy to be past the point of growing and my cells are in decline, so radiation is not going to affect me as much as young people. I get asked by a lot of people, I got asked by this kid this great question. ‘Is anything different than how it as in the past?’ It was a question pertaining to the song ‘illisiT,’ which has the chorus ‘This is the criminal age.’ I’d have to say that yes, it is far different because we’ve actually adopted rules and laws by which we give the same rights to corporations that we give to people. Those corporations can have dummy corporations or dummy people attached to them, so it’s like hiring doppelgangers who can take the fall for any one of the foibles or the crimes we commit. We have now ventured into an age where criminality reigns and people are almost accepting of it. It doesn’t diminish the fact that our paths are equally as corrupt, but we’re exponentially increasing the weight on our collective species’ involvement with all of these choices that we’re making.
A case can also be made that it has to do with the advancement of technology – not just weapons technology. For instance, you mentioned the mainstream media, and there are now all of these methods via the internet and social networks and such whereby they can spread ‘the big lie.’ By the same token, it also seems to be the means by which people are waking up, at least in as far as more progressive and liberal outlets are popping up. What are your thoughts on that and how technology in music and media is helping to shape things in the opposite direction?
Having dealt with your own set of addictions in the past and with it seeming like people are more attuned to pharmaceuticals, everybody being on mood stabilizers or whatever medication is available, what are your thoughts on the effects of that?
Ogre: As I’m sure you’re aware, I’m no stranger when it comes to borderline psychological issues, mental illness, using drugs, using prescription drugs, and also using mood stabilizers for a certain period of time. Mood stabilizers were honestly the least amount of time in my addiction to self medicating. I got really weirded out by that. More importantly, I think what scares me is that people use those drugs as a crutch. We don’t even know what the life lifespan outcome of using those drugs is. Serotonin, inhibitors, psychotic medications – we don’t really know the end results. The one thing I’ll say about my various jaunts in and out of the netherworld is that every time I stopped using something, my brain reset in a different way. After every traumatic event, and I’ve had some traumatic events in my life not based on drugs, there is post-traumatic stress and then there is a reset. The body is an amazing thing and the mind is an amazing thing and I think that our ability to heal is preeminent in our species. Mind over matter is a lot stronger than we give it credit for. I think these pills are a way of disassociating ourselves from an innate sense that we’re being detached from. Obviously, there’s a hard fight in the world with all of the toxins in the environment, but there’s something to be said for the mind/body connection when it comes to healing and the placebo effect and all of those things. There’s a whole lot of room for people to take a break off of what it is and see where they are now. I’ve learned that nothing stays the same; everything is in transport. Everything is constantly changing, reawakening, reattaching, reconnecting, and sometimes you just have to sit with yourself for a little bit and see just where you’re at and you’ll be afraid to do that. That’s kind of the one thing that I would like to say to anybody having emotional problems. Nothing is fixed; your brain isn’t fixed in that place. There’s malleability and flexibility and there’s also the ability to rewire yourself. The bottom line is that whatever you go through, you might be feeling those things for a reason. That’s one of the things they leave out in modern living is that there might be a reason why people are feeling depressed, neurotic, full of anxiety, and like they’re going off the rails, because look around you. You know? The veil is coming down a little bit. I think that’s hard for a lot of people. I can speak for myself; I live a very bohemian life. I’ve never really felt disenfranchised because I’ve never been wealthy. I’ve never felt that kind of feeling that people would in that situation. I’ve always kind of lived my life in a bohemian way and always moving forward a little bit at a time, but also sitting back. I’ve never been inundated with having to go after these lofty goals. I used to beat myself up for it, like I had no ambition at all – you just want to exist, just to be. But that’s kind of cool.
On Weapon, you reached all the back to Remission and did a remake of the song ‘Solvent,’ and the last tour was called In Solvent Seas and you were dealing with insolvency with the previous label, and wasn’t there an album in limbo at that time as a result of that?
And amid that, you moved to Metropolis and released the official bootleg live album and there was the fan made DVD that was made available through torrents, and while it wasn’t an official Skinny Puppy release, the band actually endorsed it.
Ogre: Those guys are from Hungary, and they were such cool people that we totally embraced it. They’re super nice kids and they just did a good job; I’ve nothing but nice things to say to them. But getting back to the song ‘Solvent,’ we had looked at our history after this whole deal and said, ‘We’ve got to figure this out because it doesn’t work to our advantage.’ We looked back at our deal with Nettwerk, and we did seven albums for Nettwerk under the Capitol banner. Those albums we don’t own – we signed a shitty deal when we were young because we thought we were going to do just one album and that would be it. We signed a seven album deal in perpetuity, so we don’t own those records. We had the idea of going back and rerecording all of Remission. We may totally look at something like that in the future, but we thought that it might be a little cheesy, so we thought we’d experiment with one of the songs. ‘Solvent’ was the choice just because it was never fully realized when we did it back in 1983. I can’t speak for cEvin, and musically, it’s pretty good actually. From my perspective and thinking about my earlier singing, because I wasn’t a great singer back then – I didn’t have the range I do now, I didn’t think I did the song justice. I’m sure the vulnerability and the fragility in the voice is what gives it its magic too. We were experimenting with the idea of redoing songs, and whatever the feedback from how people feel about that will determine how to move forward with that.
You had done that before when the Remix DysTemper release came out; you and Mark Walk redid ‘Smothered Hope’ from scratch because you didn’t have access to the original tapes to do a remix, right?
Ogre: We actually did that on purpose because we were pissed off over how much we had to pay for our own tapes. (Laughter)
What are the plans to tour for Weapon?
Ogre: We just fired our management before this album and delivered Weapon with no management, which was an amazing realization that we probably didn’t need management and that it may have made things more difficult. We thought we needed a mediator. We found out while working on this album that it went by so smooth and so quick, the questions between cEvin and I were so simple and so easy, and we delivered the album even before the deadline. It was stunning to think, ‘We don’t need handlers. Wow!’ At the same time, we’re looking at new agents for touring. We’re kind of looking around to see who and what’s out there just to kind of rebuild the beast. We’re looking at October/November for a possible window for the United States.
Anything you wish to add to close out?
Ogre: There’s more OhGr stuff on the way – we’re working on new OhGr stuff right now and we’re looking at a possible summer release. I’m working on film stuff and doing another Devil’s Carnival. Jennifer Lynch, who I’m super stoked to work with, is doing a horror film next year called The Monster Next Door. She just released a great movie with Vincent D’Onofrio called Chained, which if you haven’t seen it, rent it because it’s fucking amazing. I’m looking forward to working with her next summer on this kind of dark comedy called The Monster Next Door.