Weal Life After Skinny Puppie's acrimonious end following years in the wilderness fighting record labels and his own inner demons, former Puppy vocalist Nivek Ogre is back in the saddle with a new label, project and album, 'Welt'. Daniel Lukes picked up the phone in L.A. in an attempt to grasp the entity that is ohGr.
Despite a brief one-off collaboration with Martin Atkin under the Rx (Ritalin) moniker in 1998, Nivek Ogre has been largely silent since things went tragically askew for the mythical industrial beast that was Skinny Puppy. Whilst former bandmate cEvin Key has, and continues to put out a plethora of material under a variety of guises, wrangles with American Recordings (cheers, Rick Rubin) have meant that only recently has Ogre had the opportunity to rework, re-record and add material to the shelved WELT project he had going with Mark Walk upon leaving Skinny Puppy in 1995. While the word 'comeback' has unavoidable connotations, anyone expecting a Puppy rehash will be in for a big disappointment, as Ogre has largely turned his back on the whole angst-industrial scene both musically and conceptually.
"I've definitely matured", he rattles off, speaking at about twice the speed of you and me. "I'm no longer one foot away from living in the gutter basically. Things have changed quite a bit since I was a junkie, yeah. I'm still kinda really young emotionally inside. I've never been a wild and crazy motherfucker, I've never been the type to stick my dick down three girls' throats after the show and shoot a load all over the manager. I've never been that kind of character. Skinny Puppy was never really about anarchy and lashing out against anything. I'm not so much about trying to fix or define what is wrong outside until I've figured out what is wrong inside."
A strangely accessible and intriguing affair, 'Welt' is an intimate and very personal album, which explores the weird and wonderful inner landscape of Ogre, the man, reaching parts that Skinny Puppy shunned like rabies. The whole new working arrangement between himself and Mark Walk, ("kinda the man as far as polishing turds") has encouraged Ogre to embrace musical solutions previously repressed in the polarity, hierarchy and self-imposed exile of his former band. Like actually singing, for one.
"Mark Walk took me to a point where I was really questioning everything that I was doing and took me back and got me used to singing without effects and simple things like that, and so that was the turning point. I see where people make a commercial perception based on the fact that it has a lot of pop elements, but underneath it all that's where I wanted to go. I think this is an opening and entry point to this new way of me representing myself."
Pleased rather than disconcerted with the fact that many a Puppy fan will be amazed by the groove-based sound of the new material, Ogre acknowledges his love of vintage electronic music, happily admitting to constantly listen to Eno and...Roxy music. Ahem.
"I think synthetic music at first was all about pure tones and those maybe sound cheesy now to some people and that makes total sense. I thought it was important at this point to reach back to a part of my life that was before Skinny Puppy and so yeah, those elements are there on purpose."
As important as his new music is the much mutated Ogre persona, no more the "dark brooding" Ogre of old "scraping his blade against the glass as the coke goes up his nose" but a playful and whimsical devil, as mutedly melancholic as he is bemusedly puzzled by the world around him, just like the Roman 'Lenore' Dirge-penned 'Dog Boy' which graces the album's cover.
"It's easy to manifest anger and all those things but I'm not there any more, really. I'm still angry, everybody's angry and everybody's got the angry beaver but for me to represent myself as the way I was would be a lie. Yeah, I'm still really confused about life. I think anybody would be a fool to say they're not. I guess I'm trying to address that without yelling as much," he laughs good humouredly, a tone maintained throughout the interview.
If there was ever true bile and bitterness in the past against those who ripped him off without giving him due credit, Ogre is much more interested nowadays in exploring who he is.
First single and video 'craCKer' goes: "You think you're evil but you're not/ Still sucking life from the mainstream/ It's so deluded give it up/ It's unoriginal". A dig at one Brian Warner, sir?
"craCKer works on a whole bunch of different levels and is just as much about myself as about anybody else in the music industry or the entertainment industry that really thinks they are evil, especially in a world that's so full of evil. I'm kind of attacking those fašades because they truly are fašades. It's totally illusionary; at the end of the day they all shit, eat their breakfast and pay their bills like us. The magnitude of the theatre, especially the darker theatre, is something that really takes peoples minds off the real nasty stuff that's out there, and that to me maybe isn't that beneficial in the long run. It is a cathartic rush but it's not real."
It's refreshing in this age of shiny surfaces and quick fixes, to see an artist like Ogre reaching into and beyond the sugar coating, replacing aggression with compassion into the bargain.
"It was never real for me to humiliate people and run down that road. The idea of obscuring yourself in darkness, the end result of wasn't to get darker, it wasn't to gain power. It was to kind of find a way out of that darkness and try to be a decent person, because I've always been a decent person."
Welcome back, big guy. We missed you.
Transcribed by xonxone.