Transcribed by E. Michael Hall
"In retrospect, it's a damn good record, and if the kids don't like it, fuck them." Ogre, the stubble-faced ex-lead singer for the now-defunct pioneering industrial trio Skinny Puppy, kicks back another shot of sake before he continues. "It isn't, in my opinion, the best record we could have done…but in a lot of ways, it is."
An explanation is forthcoming. The making of Skinny Puppy's final album, The Process, is a tragic story that pales in comparison to any of the disturbing visuals and music the band has managed to conjure up over the last dozen years. Two days after returning to LA from the last Pigface tour, Ogre, recovering from the flu, jet lag, and months of touring, is ready to finally open up and discuss the horror of the last two years. And he does so in the comfortable safety of his favorite sushi bar in the San Fernando Valley-far from the congested streets of Hollywood.
"The last record's been a hellacious experience," begins Ogre, ordering me sake. "I lost someone I care very much about at a time when we both weren't the best of friends." On August 23, 1995, Skinny Puppy keyboardist Dwayne Goettel was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose at his parents' home in Edmonton, Alberta. He and cEvin Key, the band's guitarist, drummer, and programmer had been working on the album in Canada since May 1994.
But the tragedy that is The Process started shortly after signing a three-record deal with mega-producer Rick Rubin's label, American Recordings. The band moved into a historic Malibu residential recording studio named Shangri-La to record together for the first time-previously they'd always recorded separately. The same day they moved in they had to evacuate due to the close proximity of the raging Malibu fires of 1993. Shortly thereafter, their lives were again threatened, this time by the Malibu floods.
But the forces of nature weren't the only factors working against the band. Internal conflicts were tearing them apart and further delayed the production of the record. After a considerable amount of time, American, weary of losing on their investment with Skinny Puppy decided to renegotiate from three records down to one.
"What cEvin wanted to do was hold out and get paid for the other two, almost a half million dollars," Ogre says between chopstick-borne bites of cold fish. "It would have been tied up in the courts forever. I don't want to be held up in legal battle like Trent [Reznor] was with TVT for, like, two years. That's the reason why I just left. cEvin begged me not to say anything about this to anybody. I was like 'No, you haven't told me about anything that's going on. You haven't even relayed to me all these things about how Dwayne was having problems with drugs.' I knew something happened in Malibu."
"What happened in Malibu?" I ask naively.
"At this point Ogre becomes very quiet. He puts down his chopsticks and reaches for the sake. After a quick swig he puts the short glass down and stares at the table for what seems like hours. He leans forward and implores, "please treat this with the utmost of care, what I'm telling you." In a choked up voice he continues. "My girlfriend and I were in our room. I heard this bang on the door. The door was blown off the hinges. There was blood all the way down the fucking hallway. He'd wrapped barbed wire around his arms, shaved his head, his eyebrows were gone, and he'd pulled a fucking stunt like Pink Floyd's The Wall.
"After two days of him walking around very uncomfortably, I went up to him and we talked. This is why I'm at peace, in a lot of ways, with Dwayne's death. But in a lot of ways, there'll be a welt on my soul about it because I saw it happening then and I wasn't around. We talked and we hugged and kissed, 'cause we could do that, and the rest is history."
After another brief pause, Ogre collects himself and tells of a similar incident that he'd heard about in Canada, where, afterwards, Goettel was sent home, only to return and get sent back home again because of heavy drug use. Five days later he was dead.
Ogre flags down the waiter and orders some prawn heads and after throwing back a few more sakes they are laid out in front of them. He shakes off the moment's sadness by singing "roly-poly prawn heads" and downing the critters. He'd rather the fans of Skinny Puppy shake off their sadness as well. Skinny Puppy has put out a lot of groundbreaking and innovative music during their 12-year stint, and that's what they'd like to be remembered for.
On 1989's Rabies, the Puppies joined forces with Ministry's Al Jourgensen, who co-produced the album with their longtime collaborator Dave "Rave" Ogilvie. "Al was recording The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and we'd done The Land of Rape and Honey tour with him. Al's a great guy, though I wouldn't want him as my next-door neighbor. I haven't seen him since we were at that P show at the Viper Room, when River Phoenix overdosed." More tragedy. More death. More sake, please. Ogre starts up about Skinny Puppy's live show.
"We've always lost thousands of dollars touring because of the amount of gear we take and the amount of production we take," he continues. "We had a Labrador retriever that was basically this big stuffed armature. It was built by an artist who was an animal rights activist. She built this thing so when it was moved properly by me, it looked like a real dog. In the live show, we wanted to say that almost every second of every day, an animal is being mutilated in this fashion or in a similar fashion in a lot of laboratories around the world," Ogre explains. "Somebody called the police and they busted in on us and didn't show any badges and we were quite pissed off at that. They were looking for a dog and we showed them the dog. And with their resulting embarrassment of that and not finding drugs, they took us downtown for disturbing the peace or something. They took cEvin and myself down and Dwayne hid in the road case." Ogre begins laughing hysterically, "I think Dwayne was the only person that probably had acid or something on him."
For a moment, he's almost happy before he thinks of the tragic past. "I miss Dwayne. I totally miss Dwayne. I don't miss cEvin. I'm happy to not be in a band with him. He has his own problems, his own delusions of what American did to him, and they're valid to his perception, but that's not my reality."
But during the period that Skinny Puppy was together, they found their own realities in other projects. Some of Key's efforts were a collaboration with the Legendary Pink Dots called the Tear Garden, and two other projects, Hilt and Download, the latter of which released Furnace on Cleopatra Records in November 1995. Ogre has had several stints with the Revolting Cocks, Ministry, and Pigface, as well as an upcoming project called W.E.L.T.
"W.E.L.T. for me is something of an advancement and also a step back," notes Ogre. "Analog keyboards in a digital realm. We have the record done. It's really good. I've been into this project for eight months and it's all I want to do. I've run into nothing but blockages on the way because of the whole Skinny Puppy fiasco. It hasn't been an easy road to travel at all. And yet, after eight months, we're really proud of how it's turned out."
Even though W.E.L.T. is Ogre's new project, and Download is Key's, there is still a raging war between the two. Ogre tells me of Key's accusations of jumping ship from Skinny Puppy to W.E.L.T. and making a backdoor deal with American, the label Key believes destroyed the band. Ogre immediately gets on his soapbox. "The only thing American did wrong was right at the end. After I left, they cut off the funds for the record, 'cause that's all they could do. It was like two big dicks flapping against each other. Lap. Lap. Lap. This sword-fighting gimmick going on." Ogre uses his hands as visuals to choreograph what he's describing.
"Rick Rubin was upset. I don't blame him. It was out of control. No one was getting along. They gave us this shitload of money, and walked away from their investment for six months, came back, and it was like 'whoa, what's going on here?' Management's totally fucking up. God knows what management got away with. It's a bloody nightmare. It's out of control."
Disgusted and eager to change the subject, Ogre offers some of his sushi and talks of the earlier bands that influenced him, including Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire-the first bunch of industrial bands. But there's a crop of new bands that have come out. The next wave of so-called industrial like KMFDM, Filter and Prick. What about them?
"Oh, you mean them," Ogre says sarcastically. "Well, that's the new metal isn't it? It's been bastardized, but that's fine. Obviously it's not industrial music. It's not what I'm into, but if it's what the kids are into, that's fine."
Ogre drinks his last sake and looks around. We're the last people in the place. Like a gentleman, Ogre picks up the tab and apologizes to the staff for holding up the closing of the bar. As we walk outside, we converse about the overall sound of The Process.
"The album is kind of a retrospective of what a lot of Skinny Puppy is," Ogre says. "In hindsight, I can see it as a lot of what Skinny Puppy was over the last ten years." He stops and looks up as if he's having a revelation. "It's really weird, but the basic question has been answered for me about electronic music. A lot of people say that electronic music is so inhuman and that it's all machine driven. That's all a big pile of bullshit," he concludes, "because every time I hear The Process, I hear Dwayne. And when I hear one bass note, I know that's Dwayne. There's a lot of drama on this record, and whenever I listen to it, I cry."
"I actually had to hold Dwayne together for the last couple of months on the album," cEvin Key tells me on a long-distance phone call from Canada the next day. He is calling from the studio where he and the Pink Dots are working on the new Tear Garden album. "Dwayne and Ogre were becoming quite vile towards each other in the house and Dwayne started to become more physically vile against himself. At this point I think he just reached his limit and essentially fell off the deep end." His voice gets louder, either because he's trying to talk over the music in the studio, or because he's venting his frustrations about American Recordings and their part in the demise of Skinny Puppy. "Sometimes it comes out hugely bitter and sometimes it comes off strong as a result of all the bitterness," cEvin confesses. "I'm not spinning around on the floor drooling about how much I hate American…but I'd like to say that I think they destroyed the band. They've called me up and said 'Well, if you're gonna make comments like this in the press, we're not gonna give you interviews," cEvin chuckles, but quickly becomes serious. "I don't want to fill your pages with negative stuff about American, 'cause I promised a lot of good people there I wouldn't tie them in with any slag that I make towards the company."
With that, cEvin tells me that he's, for the most part, pleased with The Process. "I just know that was it. This was the last dying gasp of air from that collaboration of people." He pauses, then adds: "I've actually spoken with Ogre and said 'Hey, let's not be bitter and negative about something we should be positive and happy about.' We've all had some bad luck lately with everything imaginable. Fires, floods, earthquakes, injuries, deaths. My final result is that I feel positive about the whole last 12 years."