Litany: Interview Archive

Walczak, René. "Skinny Puppy: It Ain't Dead Yet." Propaganda, Fall 1991, no. 17.

Music was dying - dying without dignity. it had become something weak and pathetic, as if punk rock had thrashed the hell out of it. it's very existence was unjustifiable. this was the beginning. and there was nothing. the year: 1983. perhaps it was only perfect karma which brought together a disgruntled and unconventional Cevin Key and the imaginative Nivek Ogre (aka Kevin Ogilvie) at a certain party. a conversation sparked, both expressing mutual dissatisfaction with the airwaves. Cevin generated some music of his own, put out some sound, threw out a bit of random noise. and to this Ogre improvised a kind of lyrical random noise of his own, prancing about and no doubt, personifying a less developed Ogre-ish stage presence. this past month, PROPAGANDA visited our regal Canadian neighbor, the city of Vancouver BC, home to the infamous trio. Here Cevin Key and Dwayne Rudolph Goettel talked about the birth of a Skinny Puppy and its litter of bastard offspring, and touched upon the overhanging threat of its dreaded demise.

Cevin: We discovered as we were going along that we had fans even before we were a band, almost. we released a cassette and it sold out in like six days. it was only fifty copies, but for a band that didn't have anything out, that was really good here in the city. That was the BACK and FORTH cassette that everyone tries to get. there was only one series of that one. W never did re-release it. It's poor studio recordings. they're not like studio recordings. and so Nettwerk, the place we're sitting in now, which is now a legitimate company/organization, wasn't in existence at that time. Back then, they were just a bunch of people in a living room talking about what they were going to do. They said they wanted to release a couple of records, but they hadn't released any yet. and so, REMISSION, our record, was amongst three records that they released in the beginning. and from there, Nettwerk has grown into this, and Skinny Puppy has grown into what it's grown into and so be it...

Propaganda(P): and when did you find him (pointing to Dwayne)

Cevin: Dwayne came in in '86. First of all, we did the REMISSION Ep, and despite what everyone says, Bill Leeb (aka William Schroeder) from Front Line Assembly had nothing to do with it. Actually, he didn't have anything to do with much of the material on BITES either. At that time. we were teaching him how to play his keyboards. We had him for live shows, but often, he was turned off on the PA

P: there goes his ego

Cevin: Well, you see, he's a nice guy and everything...

Dwayne: But he hasn't enough work to distance himself.

Cevin: Every interview I've ever read, all he ever talks about is his Skinny Puppy stuff. I just wish he'd assume his own identity for obvious reasons and continue on his own path. The beginning of Skinny Puppy was a couple of records that myself and Ogre did, and we were looking for somebody that was dedicated to making it, because Bill wasn't. he wanted to quit the band about two weeks before a major tour, and he gave us all heart attacks. He ended up going on that tour, but we'd end up shutting him off about halfway through the night. So then came a major tour in '86. We did a 70-city world tour of Europe, North America and everything. We didn't want him to say, three weeks before, that he wasn't going to do it. So i asked him about three months before the tour, "Is there any possibility you might not go on this tour?" And he said, "Yeah, my girlfriend might not let me go." So I said, "Okay, then we're going to get someone else." And he said, "Okay." That's where Dwayne came in. About six months earlier, we had played a concert up in edmonton, which is where Dwayne is from even though he doesn't like to point that out. Actually, Dwayne was in a group, one of a bout five bands that opened for us.

Dwayne: and everybody in a small town wanted to open for Skinny Puppy. It was like, "We got to get in there somehow."

Cevin: the band was named Water, and he was like the only instrumentalist-lots of keyboards and stuff. i think his band was the only band we actually watched because they sounded pretty good.

Dwayne: ...for Edmonton

Cevin: He was handling a lot of stuff, and we thought, "Gee, now here's one guy whose handling a lot of technical stuff along the way." That was Dwayne. The first thing he ever said to us was, "Sounds like excessive 16k to me." He came down to Vancouver, and we started jamming the second day we met. And then, all of a sudden, we came across this sort of new technique of applying noise a little bit more radically than what we were doing, Before that, it was a lot different. there was a definite change with Dwayne. He came in about the middle of MIND (The Perpetual Intercourse), and ever since...

Dwayne: So that sort of disabled, in a way, the Cevin and Ogre thing. Not in so much as that Ogre and Cevin couldn't get along...

Cevin: it's just that we've not been able to completely see eye to eye all along.

Dwayne: Skinny Puppy has still been able to go along, but now that Cevin and I have been able to put together these other projects because we combined resources. Cevin sort of taught me what i know. When i first came in, i had all this musical theory stuff, but i had all, the wrong ideas. i could jam and that was great, where you're free-falling and not really thinking this which is all musical theory teaches you. And so, throughout jamming and watching the Skinny Puppy process, I didn't know anything. I didn't even know anything about a regular process, but watching that, and being submerged in that and doing it all, eventually I've been able to build a really good working relationship, so lots of work gets done.

(P): How many other side projects have you put out?

Cevin: We have Doubting Thomas which is myself and Dwayne's real soul project - just the two of us - and that's yet to come out (on Wax Trax). And then, of course, The Tear Garden. And then Hilt, which is now recording our second album. and we did this project with Bill...(laughter)...sort of to say. Well, we've gotten so many letters asking what would Skinny Puppy sound like if we still worked with him. But, needless to say, it's not something we're totally proud of or happy with. It was something that answered a lot of questions for a lot of people and Wax Trax put us in the studio to do it. It's actually put a lot of things out of the way and behind us now. Now we're able to move on. But anyway, we're also avidly doing soundtracks. We're in the process of doing a soundtrack for a dance group from Montreal called La La La Human Steps which is really quite popular in the arts/modern dance world. The music is a combination of us, Einsturende Neubauten, and, i think, John Cale has a couple of songs, and them. We have lots of other plans to do Plasma Films, which is the company that does all our videos. it's planning to do a series of movies. i hope they get it off the ground very soon, but it's in the planning stages right now.

[Talk of the band's videos leads quite naturally to the sub-natural imagery achieved through lyrical content, and live performance and film. Rumor has it that the words are a product of Ogre's psychotheraputic babble. Having come to dispel a few of the far-too-many unverified reports, we inquire as to their actual meaning]

Dwayne: There's a lot of different ideas and there's philosophies going on inside the band. It's not the kind of thing that's discussed. there are things that we meet on and they are pretty blatant as Skinny Puppy Philosophies - things about just making up your own mind about something and not shying away from the world, confronting things and coming up with your own ideas. I mean, not being a passive watcher of everything that's gong on. it's getting crazy. I mean, it sounds like a cliche when it comes out of my mouth. I'm not the spokesperson for this sort of thing. I hope it's somehow Ogre's words and the music and the whole thing together, so the message gets through.

Cevin: It's hard to convey what we have to say in physical terms.

That's why there's music. Because we say things that are on that level. They aren't easy to say with words. To redefine with words would mean that we should assume some other art as well, like maybe poetry or stand-up or whatever. that's not the way we are. For us, words and those type of feelings don't really exist as much as sound, music and imagery does.

P: in your earlier works, M:TPI and CLENSE FOLD AND MANIPULATE, you have some specific points you are trying to project.

Cevin: Well, as time goes on, their meaning gets less and less clear. At the beginning, it was largely Ogre talking about his relationship with his ex-wife, so i mean, it's not really much more than that. The subjects have since expanded into more worldly issues, more ecology-minded issues. and generally, the stress that we live with and the world that we live in. It's hard to always stick with one ting. Once you've said something and made you point clear, then you've got to move on to something else. There's always an area in which we can find a problem.

P: for example?

Cevin: For example, what Ogre said in PROPAGANDA MAGAZINE (looking over the Ministry interview in the Spring 1991 issue). Ogre is saying something like, "Oh, me and Al, we just locked everybody else out of the studio." He knows that's total bullshit, that's a lot of malarky. What makes him say stuff like that?

[The conversation continued to rehash mixed feelings of frustration and concern over Ogre's present condition. We asked about Skinny Puppy's progress. Did they feel they were making any?]

Cevin: I'm not happy with the personal stuff. I mean, I;m not happy at all with it, and i think that Dwayne and i are willing to pursue it in a constructive and honest sort of way. But Ogre is a different person from what i first knew, and i just can't bare to deal with it. it's something that i have to walk away from. So unfortunately, i can probably see the record we're working on now as the last record we do because there's just no change. Every year there seems to be a promise and hope that we'll be able to talk, and we'll forget about all the things that have a lot to do with ego. Forget about ego and get into the studio and do something we originally wanted to do, which is just to make music that we'll listen to and be genuine fans of. it's almost impossible to get excited about recording when you say, "Okay, let's do another album." It's almost impossible because of the personal relations that have broken down within the group.

Dwayne: There's things that happened. In a band, sometimes it feels like you're in a marriage. You're going back to the same married person all the time. the trust isn't there emotionally, but at the same time, somehow you manage to get the work done. I know that Cevin and I will continue to make music and we can do that. But what Skinny Puppy looks like on the outside and what it looks like from the inside are two completely different things. Only the three of us know what it looks like from the inside and nobody else does. It's strange.

Cevin: It's deteriorated rapidly over the past two years. i mean, we didi the tour and we thought the tour would bring us all closer together. and it should have. it realistically should have. That's what we were game for. That's what we were hoping for.

Dwayne: As i said, on the surface everything looks fine. You look at the record and how the tour turned out and all those things from the outside, and it does all look great. After RABIES, we came back from the dead. We were at the point at the end of RABIES as well. And here we are, at it again. But from the outside, it all looks wonderful, and makes you think it's great inside also. cevin and I are off doing out projects, and Ogre's out on the toad somewhere (touring with Pigface and beyond), and it's time to finish up the new record. How can a person get so out of it and still expect to handle the whole stress of the world? I mean, even not taking on all those things and leading a normal life is enough to drive most people crazy. How can you expect to live one of these kinds of lifestyles?

Cevin: He has been quite a nice guy at certain points of his life. We have been great friends at some points and it's sad to see what's happened because there's on way to approach someone who's that far gone and say, "hey, you realize you're that far away?" You just can't say it. It's something you feel, like if you're trying to talk. it's like a relationship. if you're trying to convince somebody to be somebody that you once new them as, you just can't. They make their own decisions - which road they're going to take.

P: And does all this have anything to do with the back row position taken by those who generate music?

Cevin: We're on stage and we're there. We're exactly where we choose to be. We don't choose to be out front. we've given Ogre the ability to go out and do what he chooses to do and give him the entire stage - no problem. We're there because our interests lies in the creation of the sound and music. Our interests lie in the stability of the people involved, too. We'd like to put everybody into a postion and s ay, "Hey, if we could just maintain this." This is another one of our goals. It could be great if we could just maintain the individuals involved in a constructive kind of way, but there isn't any maintenance. I don't mean to be so negative, but letting out negativity can also be a positive thing. It's like getting it out of your system - it's a healing process. If i can read all this bullshit in the newspaper and get angry by it, the we should just vent how we feel.

[And vented is very much the aftermath sensation one feels after being exposed to Skinny Puppy's signature imagery, especially the private nightmares of their videos and live performances. Who's visions are they, and are they meant to be as offensive as they're sometimes taken]

Cevin: The videos come largely from ideas Ogre and the video department come up with, but then Gary elaborates a bit on them. In "Spasmolytic's" case [their newest video], Jim VanBever, who we got in Dayton Ohio, directed and wrote the video based on some ideas Ogre had given him. And "Worlock" is largely Ogre and Gary's infatuation. They wanted to put together a lot of scenes that had been taken out of some of their favorite horror movies [mostly the slice and dice variety.] and put them together with music. that was their concept. It's a pretty offensive video when you think of video. i mean, we're not a regular band and we don't make videos for commercial airplay. We make them for the fans of our music, of fans of horror movies, or whatever. People define videos as how commercial they are in so far as airplay and how successful they are on TV in selling their product.

Dwayne: People who find those videos offensive are only looking right at the very surface of the video. That's all you see on the airwaves right now - videos with a surface only. They show a lot of skin and a lot of nice cars, and it's very digestible. But if you analyze them, if you look deep into what they're all about, it's really offensive because it insults you. It's like food without any nutrition. Whereas, if you look deeper into ours... I mean, I'm not gonna stand around and say, "Yeah, our stuff's really got the meat." Of course there's good videos out there. On the surface your going to say, "That's all blood guts and gore," when you see "Worlock". But, if you go into the song and go into the video, then you're going to find something more than just slasher films.

[The stillest waters of Skinny Puppy run deep. And though turbulent the waters of both external and internal forces, death by drowning may yet be avoidable. After recommending several musical tributaries - Germany's P-16, B-4, Zoviet France and Barry Adamson's "Moss Side Stories"-Cevin keys treads water with the hope of keeping the dear bitch afloat.

Cevin: Who knows? Maybe this year we'll do a Skinny Puppy tour. Who knows? And maybe we'll be alive and well forever.[...and ever, amen]

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