With a legacy of three decades and counting exposing the truth and calling on the masses to get educated about the injustices around them, Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre speaks with ReGen during the band’s Shapes for Arms tour.
Part 2 of an InterView with Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy and OhGr
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
For over 30 years, Skinny Puppy has been one of the veritable signposts by which many identify the blanket term of industrial music. Renowned for a vicious juxtaposition of nightmarish ambience with driving rhythms and innovative sound design derived from clever manipulation of samples and synthesizers, the duo of cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre – along with numerous collaborators over the years – has created some of the most intricate and disturbing music ever conjured. As well, Skinny Puppy is revered for producing some of the most spectacular live performances conceived, employing a high range of theatricality and technical proficiency to further the band’s message to expose the injustices and hypocrisies of the world with lyrics touching on the horrors of war, animal cruelty, drug addiction, and insanity.
Few bands have been as embraced and as feared as Skinny Puppy, so it is perhaps to some little surprise given the unorthodox methods employed by the Canadian act over three decades the amount of mainstream media attention given for the band’s latest album, 2013’s Weapon. Calling into question the proliferation of the defense industry and bringing to light the use of the band’s music as a means of torture in Guantanamo, Weapon itself was Skinny Puppy’s invoice to the US government, resulting in a game of telephone and a media blitz at the start of the band’s 2014 Shapes for Arms tour… it was an opportunity Skinny Puppy could not ignore, with major news outlets reporting on the band’s activities of finally sending the government an invoice for $666,000.00, as well as Nivek Ogre appearing with Abby Martin on Russia Today’s Breaking the Set to clarify the circumstances behind the invoice and touch on the band’s 30 years legacy.
Shortly after that interview, Ogre took the time to speak with ReGen more about Skinny Puppy’s music and message. In this second part of the InterView, Ogre touches on the band’s music over the years, along with his forays into film.
With Weapon, you updated the song ‘Solvent,’ and I recall on the Insolvency tour, you performed an alternate version of ‘Addiction,’ the Dog House mix as opposed to any of the more well known album or single mixes. Are there plans to do a similar treatment with any other songs on this tour or on a future album release?
Ogre: No, I mean, we’re like playing a little more off of Weapon and mixing that up. I think the flow of the set is really good. You always have people that come out and say, ‘Oh, why aren’t they doing this?’ Or, ‘Why aren’t they doing more off of Too Dark Park?’ or that. But cEvin put the set together and I think he did a really good job and, you know, it was good.
What is the thought process in choosing a set list, especially since you have so much material to choose from?
: We have a lot of material. It’s just that we, because Nettwerk has all the tapes, we tried to go back and get our tapes, but they’re very… yeah, they approached us with re-mastering everything, but the problem with doing that, we came back and said sure, we’ll do that but… we’re into doing that as long as we can control who re-masters to keep the costs down. And we have a new line item in our statements and our additional costs. So if we did that right now, we’d be back in the red with them because they would just jack everything up. They’re a horrible company. They’re an obscene company that really is not interested. What they did, basically, was started a company in the States and so all of our music goes through the States as a third party licensor and then it goes back to Canada, gets split again, and then we get a split of that. So they created a third-party license and won’t renegotiate that with us at this point now that we’ve recouped and give us a fair deal. They’re not interested at all in even talking about it. And yeah they’re interested in re-mastering and polishing everything up and charging us for it, obviously, and then we’re back in a place where we have to recoup again. And so cEvin and I are pretty adamant about that, you know, because then they’ve never honored… You know, for those albums we made a mistake. We were young. We did a seven album deal that was basically a 360 deal, at least in today’s terms back in the ’80s, which was our fault, our bad. You know, I take full responsibility for it, but we built that company and you would think there’d be at least a tiny bit of respect coming back, but when the biography… I don’t know if you read that biography of Nettwerk Records, Nettwerk: 25 Years of Music We Love
. And the chapter on Skinny Puppy is Terry McBride’s remembering how we treated him on a bus and then saying we were spoiled because we wanted this 12-passenger bus. We had every bunk filled. It was a crew bus. We had every bus filled with the person working and, on top of that, just because it was a 360 deal, we should have been… we were paying for that bus. You know? And so it was just a slap in the face and he was complaining about how we were running around in the bus, kind of being really loud that night. You know why we were doing that? Because he was fucking on the bus. We were fucking with him. We wanted him off the fucking bus, so we were all just doing shit to piss him off that night. You know, I remember it. And then in the last sentence he goes, ‘He saw that night this band with such promise,’ because he was talking about, like, lines… young girls were being brought on, and we’re snorting coke in the background. And yes we were doing drugs, yes we were doing drugs, but it was just like, you know, ‘Fuck you. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on’ and the last thing he said was like, ‘That night… I saw that night this band that had so much promise just falling.’
It’s interesting how there are always discrepancies and differences of opinion and memory in these various biographies, and the way fans will read into them. Many will say, ‘That’s not what happened,’ or ‘That’s not how it happened.’
Ogre: I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t written anything yet and I have a lot to write, but the way that I wanted to approach any kind of a biography, along with my own kind of take on things, was to go back and try to get as many interviews as I could with people that knew me at the time, especially during times I don’t really remember and just be very honest with their memories because they were more lucid than I was. And however painful it was, I was kind of going, ‘Well, you know, take it as that.’ I actually want to rediscover my history in that way; not embellish upon it with memory, which can sometimes be an elusive beast at best.
Regarding your film career, what are your plans as you seem to be getting more involved in it?
: I am. I haven’t pursued it as much as I should. When I get back I’m actually going to start digging in. you know, Darren Lynn Bousman, who did Saw II-IV
and did Repo!
, wants to do some five minute rants – kind of Max Headroom-y things on esoteric topics like UFOs, us or them, interdimensional beings, kind of crazy stuff. Because when he heard about this Guantanamo thing, he wrote me right away. He goes, ‘Dude, this is fucking amazing.’ All this stuff, you know. ‘I want to do this.’ So, Darren’s always been a wonderful supporter of independent art himself. When I said, ‘Are you going to the show? I’ll put you on the guest list.’ He goes, ‘No, I’m not put on the guest list. I’m buying a fucking ticket.’ So, I mean, he’s a good guy and there are film projects that I have some connections in that I’m looking at right now and when I get back I’m going to really try and pursue that a lot more cause I have a lot of fun doing that. I think I just have an internal fear of rejection, obviously, from my first audition for The Crow
, but then, you know, it’s a hard transition too to make. And, again, I haven’t really spent a lot of time pedaling the pavement until I make it happen. I had an agent for a little bit, but that fell by the wayside. And then I just kind of took what came along and there was 2,001 Maniacs: Field of Screams
and The Devil’s Carnival
. I have a great kill in that too. I got blepharitis and pharyngitis from that. I went to this doctor. I came home and I had been sprayed with blood at the end of this. You know, this girl was cut in half from the crotch. And the effect went wrong, too. I don’t know if I told you. It was 2:00 I the morning. We’d filmed all our blood stuff, the blood spraying, and reacting to it. And they wound this thing up and it was a real silicone body. They tested one. They had two of them. It cut through like butter because it was a real saw. It was the real deal. And then they put blood tubing in the crotch area and so 2:00 a.m., I’m watching the monitor right here and they’re going ‘Clear!’ and it goes ‘WRRRR!’ And then it just starts grinding through and it gets caught on the blood tubing and it’s just going crunch
and then you see this big piece of pubic hair flip up right into the monitor and slide down, and then it stops. And they try again and it’s not cutting through the blood tubing. And so I’m going, ‘Oh, that fucked up.’ And so I went and took a shower, which was either my big mistake or the blood had been sitting out all day in a fire extinguisher on the Missouri River in 90 degree temperatures. Or it was the water in these trailers that you go and shower in. So I got home, my eyes turned pink and I started to get a sore throat. And then about four days later, I woke up one night and I threw up this fetus, this purple, weird fetus of… I don’t even know what it was. And I knew I was sick and I had to go to the doctor. I don’t have healthcare, so I went to urgent care and there was this old Eastern European doctor and he was like, ‘So, what happened to you?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I was on a movie set and I got sprayed with blood.’ ‘Real blood?!’ And I was like, ‘No, no, it was fake blood, but I somehow got an infection.’ And he looks at me like… he gives me this look and then he goes and he turns his back to me and starts writing me a prescription. And he turns back and hands it to me with this look. And I just got this feeling that I’m a male porn star and I took a shot in the face. I took multiple; like I was in part of a gangbang or something. I took multiple shots everywhere. He was just looking at me and I just left there feeling really dirty. But it was a great experience. It was a lot of fun and I’ve been lucky enough to work with you know, my pal Bill Moseley, who you know I grew up seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
and I was just amazed by his performance of Chop Top
and Otis (Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses
and The Devil’s Rejects
) and I worked with him on Repo!
and Devils in my Details
he came on and he still wants to do more stuff. And we might do a radio show together, and we talked about an album of campfire songs, too – like twisting the lyrics. But he’s an amazing writer and lyricist and he loves to sing, so, you know, I want to do that with him. I have so much fun with him at these horror conventions. That was one of the best things that came out of that. And there’s a group of kind of people that I’ve met now that, you know, it’s just people that when I was a kid I looked up to. And I’m sitting there going, ‘Wow, man, I’m having dinner with fucking Gunnar Hansen.’ Like, that’s fucking awesome, you know? You know what I mean?
How do you think I feel right now?
Ogre: It’s just super cool and they’re just nice, down-to-earth people and they’re kind of like the monster family now and I’ve been kind of brought into that. So that was really fucking cool. So if I can do more of that, you know, I’m fully down for sure.
It’s interesting how there are the musical connections inherent in all of that; as you’ve mentioned working with Bill Moseley, and Emilie Autumn had a starring role in The Devil’s Rejects, you auditioned for The Crow, which has many roots in music, and it had a rather prominent soundtrack.
Ogre: We had a song on that soundtrack that Brandon Lee liked and I have to say that I was the one who made that not happen because it was kind of a techno-y track.
Wasn’t that a track that was later featured on a Download album?
Ogre: It may have. I don’t know where it went. You’ll have to ask cEvin that. But I was poo-pooing, and I so regret that now. And actually Brandon Lee heard it and said he fucking… he was like, ‘This is the coolest thing.’ And I was just like face-palm, total idiot.
Yes, that would probably be the track ‘Outafter’ on the second Download album, The Eyes of Stanley Pain, which is dedicated to Brandon Lee.
Ogre: That could be it.
And now cEvin has come out with Scaremeister, which collects his soundtrack pieces.
Ogre: Yes, cEvin works Ken ‘Hiwatt’ Marshall and Ken works with us and with OhGr sometimes. So that’s the cross-pollinating there. And yeah, we like definitely listen to each other’s projects. I think. I think he listens to mine. I can’t tell. I always try to listen to his stuff. A lot of times, a lot of tracks are tracks presented to Skinny Puppy at first, so I hear them first and they’re tracks that we end up not using so they, as has always been the case, they get shopped out to other projects. In that case of Download, Phil will take them and turn them into something else and stuff like that. So, you know, I hear them in different forms along the way, in different ways.
How would you define Mark Walk’s role in Skinny Puppy, now that this particular configuration of the band has been in activity for the past 10 years?
Ogre: Mark Walk is probably the critical glue, at times. Mark’s a multi-instrumentalist and an amazing songwriter and he works a lot commercially and I met him… well, he met me without knowing me on ‘Asphole.’ He was working with Martin Atkins, and then he went on to do Notes from the Underground. He basically did all the mixing, engineering, and coproducing of that album. And then he went on to do Ruby with Leslie Rankine, and so he started doing a solo project with her and we met on The Process. We were falling apart, literally falling apart in this house in Malibu and he came into a shit storm and he was the nicest guy and didn’t judge me at all and we became best friends. For me, he’s one of my best friends. He’s traveling right now. They’re skiing up in Vail. They’ve got their bus and he’s just kind of become a bohemian. But he’s critical in the sense of kind of keeping… He’s a true producer in the sense of performing everything together and making tracks work in a different way. I mean, there’s more freedom within Download and kind of just flow within Skinny Puppy. There’s more of a concentration on making songs work that have arcs to them and he reinforces a lot of stuff underneath with his own musical parts and along with Ken… Ken is integral as well. I mean, the team is myself, Mark, cEvin, and Ken when we’re making the records. So, you know, we couldn’t do it without him. Ken would say the exact same thing. But he’s a renaissance man when it comes to what he does for us within the creation, production, and end result of Skinny Puppy.
So, what’s next for you? Do you have any immediate plans after the tour?
Ogre: We’re working on new OhGr. That’s going to be coming out when it comes out. I’m not going to give any dates because I always fuck off. I’m here now. The show’s a blast and I hope people come out to see it.
When you released UnDeveloped and HanDover, there was a Mr. Brownstone thread that was running across the two albums and the two projects, OhGr and Skinny Puppy. Are there any plans to continue pursuing that?
: I would like to. I’d like to keep Mr. Brownstone alive and you know what we were doing with kind of the intelligence officer gone rogue thing and playing around with redacted… I mean, I had a blast doing that with the puzzles and I was amazed by how kids could take something seemingly so abstract and obtuse and find the answer to it. It was amazing. It kind of gave me hope that the next generation is going to be a lot smarter than my generation, you know? Well, I think in between there’s a generation that’s lost, but I think this next generation coming up that are being raised by these kids that aren’t active in their families are going to be the polarized opposites of them. Again, they’re not going to have tattoos; they’re going to be… for better or for worse… hopefully, they won’t become little fascists, but you’re seeing it is just cause for case. I was raised by a very strict family so I deviated and I have the tattoos and freedom of expression and all that kind of stuff and then you have a lot of families now that are having kids that don’t even know what elementary school they’re going to. They’re just not involved at all in their kids’ life, and their kids know that and they’re not going to let that happen to them too. So it might be a good thing; it might be a bad thing. I think it’s going to be a good thing because I’ve noticed in younger people, whether or not I’m just getting too old, but I’ve really noticed there is a politeness again and I think even in service industry jobs, I’ve noticed there’s a politeness. There are people caring about their jobs again a little bit more; not across the board, but again, you see somebody who like when that Golden Corral expose with the kid who went around… you’re seeing people like picking up on the whistleblower thing going, ‘Yeah, this isn’t fucking right.’ So, who knows? Maybe that will change and rewrite things in people’s minds and then the pendulum will shift back over to a more responsible human being, hopefully. I’m just saying that’s some hopeful… that’s the best I can throw out there, hopeful-wise. But there’s a lot people are up against. I mean, I was shocked because I left the country – I always use this story as an example – the night before 9/11. I was on one of the last flights out to Amsterdam and I arrived with my girlfriend and her dad’s brother said, ‘America’s under attack.’ I stayed for two months over there and we went to Italy and I spent a lot of time in Holland and I was amazed by the education system and how kids knew about the sectarian violence, the Sunis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, and we had no idea about that until it was appropriate for the government to turn that on as a civil war and have to get out now and… it was just like, when I came back here there were just flags on cars and I was shocked. There was this nationalism going on that was bordering on, I mean… patriotism and nationalism were kind of flipped around and yet nobody knew a fucking thing about what was going on. It was just like, ‘Why are they doing this to us.’ It’s just like, ‘Weeelll, it goes back to colonial times when somebody came in and they found the minority group and they gave them all the power. It’s been done time and time again. And then the rest of the people kind of got fucked and now that this has kind of all been laid to waste, you’re going to have blowback.’ But they’re all hip to that over there. You know, kids, young kids. And so, you even go to England. They know all of our politicians. They know everybody in congress. They know all the senators. It’s like the BBC with this game of telephone with this Guantanamo thing. It finally got to the BBC, and the BBC got in touch with the Pentagon and found out. The big question was did we invoice? When did we invoice?
Skinny Puppy invoices for $666,000.
Ogre: (Laughs) We did, though. We did. But the BBC finally came back and got a response from the Pentagon. They were the only ones to go and get a response because they’re still kind of a legitimate news station, you know, next to Canada. And they got a response from the government and the response was they could neither deny nor confirm whether they got and invoice. And I was like, ‘Yeesss!’ It’s been really good and, again, it wasn’t something that we had planned or tried to put out there. It happened to us. We got caught up in it just as much as everyone else, but it’s been great because it has brought people out of the woodwork for this tour, I think. Like I said, last night in Charlotte, I was shocked by the amount of people there considering that, you know, a few years before, it was like fucking we could barely sell a ticket there. And we’re like selling, again. I don’t know what it is, if it’s the merch, or the way that Autumn from Lip Service, who we were lucky enough to get to do it, does things. She did a great design on the whole package so it all looks really good from a compositional point of view. But we’re selling more merch than our guarantee some nights, which is, you know… we completely underestimated it to where we were seven shows in and we sold everything out; based on road reports from our last tour. So, people are buying stuff and obviously, this Guantanamo thing is something good because it does bring attention in a good way. And again, if we can bring that story forward, that’s great. It’s not really us and we’re not the center of the story even though I guess we were the only ones that didn’t ask politely if the government would stop using our music to torture. We kind of went to the extreme. And maybe that’s a bit of a hyperbolized thing, but it was a concept that we had back when we first heard. It goes back to 2011 and the idea was to make a weapon, make the cover an invoice. All that stuff was there. And to see that manifested into reality, it’s pretty fascinating, you know?
It certainly speaks well to the sense of artistry and people finding ways to use different media to supplement and augment the music.
: And the bottom line too is we have an amazing audience. You know, we have a very loyal cult based audience that both spread the work, argue it, you know, just speak their mind and to hell with any bullshit. Speak your mind. So, even sometimes I’m miffed by some people online who are like, ‘Why do we have to see one more of these Guantanamo…’ Because it’s fucking awesome! It’s like a game of telephone that’s going everywhere and it’s real and it’s a viral thing. It’s just something you would always want from us. But I mean I can see, because we’re being mislabeled, but that’s fucking half the fun too, isn’t it?
There is no such thing as bad press.
Skinny Puppy Website http://skinnypuppy.com
Skinny Puppy Facebook https://www.facebook.com/OfficialSkinnyPuppy
Skinny Puppy Twitter https://twitter.com/skinnypuppy_
Skinny Puppy SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/officialskinnypuppy