Getting the go-ahead to interview the legendary Nivek Ogre, a k a Kevin Ogilvie, of SKINNY PUPPY and ohGr fame, did make me giddy with nervous excitement. The reformed SKINNY PUPPY, industrial / EBM / electronica / what-have-you pioneers that called it quits in 1995, are not only one of my absolute favourite bands ever – they're also as relevant as they ever were, with a brand new album – "Mythmaker" - to be released by the end of January 2007. The follow-up to 2004:s reunion album ("The greater wrong of the right") is the third big SKINNY PUPPY release this decade – the second being the DVD "The greater wrong of the right - live". All three of excellent quality, I might add.
"We're a working band, you know?" (Photo: SPV)
In short, SKINNY PUPPY are back, in a big way, and as relevant as ever!
I gave Ogre a call in Los Angeles, over a somewhat weak phone line, to discuss the new album, the past few years of reunited PUPPY-dom, and... second-hand stores.
Hello, is this Ogre?
Hey, how're you doin'!
Good; how're you doing?
I'm doing very well, actually! My name is Claes, and I'm calling from Sweden...
...and I'd like to start off by asking a few things about the reformation of the band. Going back in time a bit, to the Doomsday gig [one-off reunion festival show] you guys did in Dresden - I understand that was something that mainly happened because, you know, they kept asking you to do it over and over again, and that it was supposed to be a one-off thing, and cEVIN [Key - synthesizers, electronics, percussion] was touring with you as part of OhGr the band at the time. How was it decided that you were going to record a new SKINNY PUPPY album in the first place? I mean, you must've thought about it over the years, but what clinched it?
Well, I think it was the experience of Doomsday – we actually did Doomsday before I did the OhGr tour; I did the OhGr tour in 2001, and I think the experience we had at Doomsday kind of opened up the idea of possibly recording a new record.
Do you think the Bush era kind of made the climate right for a new SKINNY PUPPY album?
Yeah, there was a little bit of that too - I think the good times are definitely kind of over, in a lot of ways... And that was kind of a dark thing and an interesting thing - a lot of fodder for ideas.
And there were a lot of bands rallying behind that cause...
Oh yeah, absolutely.
"The greater wrong of the right" (2004) album, was that something that was initially intended as one-off thing?
No, we signed a deal for two, I think with an option for three records, maybe three records, so we knew we were kind of getting into it for a longer run than that, with (record label) SPV, so we kind of used that as a way to develop, work on the writing, and just kind of develop the whole idea of the band again.
So you felt comfortable enough with each other to sign a deal like that?
Yeah, at that time definitely. We were in a really positive place with the whole idea, and the spirit of the band and stuff like that.
What's it like touring as SKINNY PUPPY again, considering that the legend of the band continued to grow even in the band's absence, which I guess Doomsday kind of proved...
It's a challenge, you know? The last tour was pretty exhausting for me in a lot of ways physically. Although I enjoyed it, at times I wish I hadn't created such a monster...
(laughs)... but I'm glad I did, ultimately. It's a challenge to try and keep things fresh and interesting, and try and do a show that reads "big", in a lot of ways - and then doing it on the budget we have is always a real challenge.
Oh yeah, because your stage shows are always something extra, so to speak...
Moving on to the forthcoming "Mythmaker" album... I guess the Bush regime was a theme on the last album and tour, and I guess you touch on that in some songs on the new album. Now, I haven't actually read the lyrics of the new album, but from listening to the CD, it sounds like the lyrics are a little bit more personal this time, as far as subjects go.
Yeah, I think so. I think I've tried to peer away from going on a really hell-bent political rant again - in a lot of ways, on the last album, enough was said. I've tried to turn a little more inwards, and found myself in a really difficult place, because I was dealing with a lot of pretty intense personal issues at the time - so it became a really difficult thing to not make it overtly too personal...
But still not making a "Greater wrong of the right, part 2"...
Ogre has a nagging feeling he's forgotten something this morning... (Photo: SPV)
...Right, not doing that. But at the same time, I eventually had to let go, because... again, the album, "Mythmaker", is probably one of the hardest records I've ever made...
Yeah, it was... It was a really tough goal for me... At the end of it I had to let go, and let whatever came out, come out - and it did, kind of, all in one big ball... Then I kind of found a lot of meaning within that, and it went from the internal and interpersonal to the externalized world, in a lot of ways. I kind of saw a transition of the work in that way, and so... I shouldn't double-guess myself, and just let be what it is, be what it is...
It's interesting that you say that though, because "Mythmaker" sounds, I shouldn't say "mellow" ‘cause it's still kind of intense, but it does sound a bit more relaxed than the "Greater wrong" album... That one was more of a punch in the face, whereas this one's a bit more reflective...
Yeah, it is a much more reflective album, just based on the experiences that I was going through, personally, but some things (on it) are actually pretty angry, (laughs) I mean, "pedafly" has some pretty nasty stuff on it... but I think, overall, it sounds a little bit more settled down.
Now, about your lyrics... Especially in the past, your lyrics have had a kind of "stream of consciousness" feel to them, particularly the older stuff, and I guess especially the "Last Rights" songs. Did everything you wrote back then have a particular meaning, or was it ever a case of just putting something on there because there had to be lyrics?
You know, there was always kind of the idea of putting things on because there had to be lyrics; that was a job that I kind of took on myself, but the ironic thing was that the band kind of morphed into more of a testament of my own inner demons and confusion within and unique perspectives on things. I found that kind of pattern, I saw things that I wrote five months before that made more sense to me than they did upon completion, and I really went for that as a way of writing. And "Last Rights" kind of twined around my neck, and almost killed me in a lot of ways. Just because I put so much of that into it that it became a really hard record for me... I kind of found myself in that position with this record ("Mythmaker") a little bit.
I guess in a different way, though? ‘Cause I read somewhere that the vocals fading away on "Knowhere?" (off "Last Rights") weren't fading, but a (drug related) seizure...
I did – I had a seizure when I wrote some of the track. Pretty spooky! (laughs)
OK, regarding the music on the new album – like I said, to me it sounds a little more reflective than "The greater wrong of the right" did. Was this something you consciously tried to achieve? What was it like, creating this new album?
No, I think that's just how we wrote the album stuff. When we started I wanted it to be much more reverent than nasty. One of the first songs we worked on was "ugLi", and I was kind of hoping that it was going more in that direction, but a lot of stuff kind of ended up being, you know... just kind of took on that vibe. I think that within it there's a certain sense of aggression that's more controlled and more brooding than an all-over assault...
Yeah, I'd say brooding is the word I want...
There's a lot of bubbling-under-the surface kind of anger, and the idea of controlling it, or being controlled by it, or (laughs) having people control you with it, and that was definitely a big part of that. And then me, (I'm) at a point in my life where I don't wanna be just angry all the time. I've realized, in the last four years, that I had my own inner anger that I hadn't dealt with, but I didn't realize how prominent it was in my character when I was younger. You know, I was yelling to get it all out, and I was angry, but I didn't realize to what depth it went until later on in my life...
Would you say that was something to contributed to your own problems with drugs, like on the "Last Rights" tour?
Totally.... Totally. It still haunts me, in a lot of ways. I tend to turn my anger inwards. I externalize it in music, but the focus is more inwards, you know?
Yeah. I guess it's a matter of harnessing it and channeling it in a, heh, positive direction, so to speak...
Yeah. That's one of the great things about being in the band, you know, it's an outlet for that, but at a certain point in your life you wanna put it down and go do something else. That means you have to work through it and deal with it... and I'm still trying to do that (laughs).
Guess it's a life long process...
I guess it was something I was born with, and that I'll take to the grave with me (laughs).
OK. Your live shows have always been very impressive. How do you go about creating the visual stuff like the shows on the live DVD? I heard you worked with some guys called "The Dirtdealers"...
Oh yeah, that was a group of people who are friends that helped and contributed to the last show. It was nice of them to do it, ‘cause it really helped us out in a lot of ways.
What can we expect for the next tour, as far as visuals go?
I'm not sure. I'm kind of working on that right now, trying to find a filmmaker. Bill, who's worked with us on the last couple of tours, he's a filmmaker, besides being our videographer, is off to Italy, working on his own project, called "The American Memory", with Justin [Bennett], our drummer. So he's not gonna be able to come out and do it this time. So we're trying to find a videographer right now to work on it.
‘Cause I guess you start touring in March or something like that?
April. Mid- to end of April.
The live show – does it ever get to be a drag after a while? I mean, fake blood all over you, and all over equipment, and I guess you've had your fair share of onstage injuries?
Yeah, it does (laughs) – like I said, I created this monster. Yeah, coming off stage every night and being completely filthy... you can't really sit around, you can't really stay around and talk to people or have a beer - you're kind of really uncomfortable and really just wanna get into a bathtub! There was a time when I let it stay on and go out and do whatever, but... It's just not as comfortable anymore. It's a bit of a drag, but ultimately, it's totally worth it. I mean, the one thing about the mud and the blood is that it does put one into a certain mindset.
Yeah. Well, I guess it's more fun for the first couple of shows of the tour than -
Ogre, cEVIN and co. plan on playing Scandinavia this summer. (Photo: SPV)
Well, no, it's actually better once you get into the groove! The first couple of shows you're like, "Oh my God... How am I gonna do this (laughs), there's 60 more shows..." But you get into a groove with it, and then by the end it becomes something that's... very hard to clean, and you're trying to keep your clothes clean, and you're trying to keep everything clean, and ultimately the blood gets on everything, no matter how hard you try. And injuries are a drag, too - like I broke my hand before we were actually supposed to come and headline Arvika...
Oh yeah, yeah...
How's it pronounced? Arvika?
I broke my hand, and got some bad advice from a surgeon who's a friend of mine, who said, once it healed, it was gonna be stronger than ever. So I went out a couple of years later on the SKINNY PUPPY tour and accidentally smashed my hand into a mike stand, and then it broke again in a different place. So I had to go through, like, six shows with a broken hand... That was a bit weird. Not as painful as I thought it would be, but still... The body gets a little weaker as time goes on.
Yeah. OK, I'd like to ask you a few questions on the issue of illegal downloading, and how it has, particularly over here in Sweden, become a poltical and politicized issue. We had election year last year, and there was this one party called the Pirate Party, basically advocating making illegal downloading legal. And they snagged about 34 000 votes...
...and their cause wasn't just the downloading of copyrighted material, the whole thing was also closely related to the issue of how much the internet should be allowed to be used for collecting info on people by monitoring online activities. What's your take on that?
I think the top is off the lamp and the genie's out... Collecting information on people, whether it's to market something, or to steal their identity, or whatever - it's all there, and it's all very vulnerable.
I think the idea of intellectual property was the first thing to be stolen in a lot of ways. I think it comes down to that kids nowadays have only certain options, with the money they have. I mean, when I was younger, we didn't have to worry about cellphone bills and total designer clothing... We got our goth clothing from second-hand stores, and the only clothes we bought was maybe a pair of Dr Martens boots that we saved up for - everything else was thrown together from, like, second-hand clothing stores. So I think there's just a lot more pressure on kids nowadays to stay with the crowd - or with the herd. You know, "I just bought the hardware - what am I entitled to get?" And the easy answer would be music, and once broadband started happening, and DVD – that was when people first started taking notice of it; when movies started getting burned.
I don't really know what effect it has, ultimately - I think people will always download, I mean, we had tapes before, of albums, and things like that...
Yeah, in a way, but I mean, that wasn't...
...yeah, that was also a secondary copy...
...that had much lower quality. And you still wanted to get the album, if you really liked it. And now, a lot of people won't do that. I think a lot of people will pass things by without giving it a second listen. There's so much available to download, that they're just onto the next thing. When I was younger, you bought a record that you listened to, and it was like "hmm, I've heard this was a really great record, but maybe I don't get it", and eventually that record could click in. So (I think) a lot of things get overlooked. And the other side of it is, kids have to realize that the music that they love, they'll have to support, or it'll go away. If you can get through to people that the music that they love will only exist as long as you purchase it, then maybe it'll make a difference. For us... you know, we have a brand, and it doesn't necessarily affect us that much, although we've seen droppings in our royalty rates and things like that.
But at the same time, you know, we're able to tour, and we have a brand name kind of thing, but I have to say that if we'd started NOW... we probably wouldn't exist. We would've been rolled over in this wave of music, OR we would've made decisions that wouldn't have been true to our hearts...
Speaking of the younger generation, "politiKIL" from the new album is appearing in "Jackass – the video game". How did that come about?
Our manager, who's part of the new management company... one of the acts that they're working on was the video game. The makers of the video game actually wanted "Tin omen"... They were at the right time, right place... Trying to get some start-up money for us to help develop the tour, and it all kind of went from there.
Okay. Speaking of songs appearing in odd places, I have a question here that I'm not sure you've been asked before... A friend of mine told me he had this SKINNY PUPPY bootleg, called "Land of technolgy" [sic] that was pressed in, I think, 1988. And supposedly there's a demo on it that ended up being the FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY song "Mindphaser", something like, five-six years later...
Is that something you're familiar with?
No, I'm not. (Laughs) That's the first I've heard of that!
Really? I think he actually bought it in 1988 as well...
So, it was a bootleg from one of our shows...?
I think it was a bootleg of one of your shows, with supposedly a few demo songs of yours.
So what are you saying; that Bill [Leeb, FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY, ex-SKINNY PUPPY] stole it from us?
No, no, I just, um, figured it was one of those questions that hadn't been asked before...
It was probably a misprint or something. Yeah, honestly, I haven't listened to that, so...
Okay. Let's see... there have been quite a few characters and specific props presented onstage throughout your years of touring, like the Guiltman and the V.R. Machine on the "Last Rights" tour. You had some kind of bird-man character on the last tour? Or perhaps it was a fox? Had a beak and big ears - the mask you wore for the first few songs?
cEVIN Key. The new album, "Mythmaker", is released on Jan 29 in Europe. (Photo: SPV)
A plague doctor... that was kind of where I got my inspiration from. How it appeared to everybody else; I've heard everything from Chickenman, to the Birdman, to... (laughs) It was just something that I kind of conceptualized. Again, I think things like that are gonna help me get into character.
It looked REALLY good!
Yeah, it was an amazing job. This girl put it together from a firehose that she got from an old animal experimentation research centre that had been shut down and abandoned. She pulled out this hose, and constructed it from that. Kind of an interesting thing - a bit tough to get into, and again, to clean - lemme tell ya... Tough one to keep clean! But it lasted - it lasted the whole tour. It was shredded by the end... it was a pale version of its former self! (laughs) But I love stuff like that, just because, it just gives me a farther reach... I've seen some pictures of that suit, and there's some great shots. And it was kind of an imposing image as well.
All right, what else [the assigned 30 minutes were up]... oh yeah, I was kind of curious, considering your past. I mean, you've been clean for a long time, as far as I know. Is staying clean still a hard thing to do?
Yeah it is, but... if I were to do that it'd just be a nightmare. A train wreck. It isn't even an option, really.
It must've been kind of hard keeping a tour together back in those days, I mean, you were still out touring?
Yeah, I mean, I was doing a lot of tours, with MINISTRY, and REVOLTING COCKS, and PIGFACE... and it was all pretty fuelled by all that stuff. I was lucky; I never missed a show, never late for a show... You know, I never fucked it up. But there was moments when it was pretty close, lemme tell ya...
Speaking of collaborations, didn't you do some song with Al (Jourgensen) of MINISTRY, in the early days of ohGr the band, that eventually became "The fall" (off MINISTRYs "Filth pig" album)?
Yeah, I think so... they took some excerpts from that and turned it into "The fall".
I guess Al was supposed to play in ohGr in the beginning, but nothing really came of that.
Yeah, he did. At that time we were doing the "Mind is a terrible thing" [MINISTRY] tour... I think it all kind of succumbed to heroin and stuff like that (laughs).
You toured with them as vocalist on that tour, didn't you?
Yeah, I did. I did the whole thing. Quite a tour, lemme tell ya...
Heh, I can imagine...
What kind of stuff does Nivek Ogre listen to these days?
Kind of more spacey stuff in a lot of ways. I've always been a huge fan of Enos ambient records. You know... any kind of mad character, I'm into!
Do you feel like SKINNY PUPPY has gotten enough credit for the stuff you've done? ‘Cause you've been extremely influential throughout all these years... Do you feel like you've gotten your fair share of respect?
I feel really lucky to have been able to have done this for that many years. I mean, when I first started, after our first record, I thought, "well, that was a great adventure" - that was a fun thing to put under my hat, and kind of go, what a great experience. And as it progressed on, I went through a period of going, "this is gonna end soon! This is gonna end soon!", and never really enjoying it, the moment. And then I went through a period of losing my head completely, which was interesting, and challenging... and frightening. I went through a lot of different transitions with the band. And now that it's here again, it is kind of a multigenerational thing. The kids are kind of more into the (unintelligible) side of SKINNY PUPPY, and the old fans are coming back to the old... It's an interesting dichotomy in a lot of ways, and I find that really fascinating. The fact that a lot of people's lives have transcended from when they were in high school, I mean, their "black period" or whatever - and now they have kids that are into it now...
It's very surreal to me in a lot of ways. And gratifying - I mean, that's kind of the gift, in a lot of ways: to be able to reach out and touch people the way that certain bands touched me when I was younger, like JOY DIVISION. Like, wow, there are other people that feel this way, and think this way. I've had so many letters from kids saying - or from adults even, saying, you know, "you really helped me through this dark period of my life", and that's the things that I hold onto and embrace for the rest of my life. Props from other people? We've certainly got our share of props from other bands and things... Mainstream press? No, not really, but at the same time I think that's something that keeps us in this cult (unintelligible) that only helps us in a lot of ways. And I think that if we'd become a mainstream band, it probably wouldn't be as interesting as it is now - it's challenging still now, and it's something that you have to question all the time - we're a working band, you know? Do I wish that we'd gotten more props? Maybe...
Maybe, but it's not really relevant, you know? Because I don't know what that would be either - it could come with its own sets of problems (laughs), you know? I'm quite happy with where it is, and the fact that we've done this for 25 years.
Something I really like about the last two quote-unquote "reunion" SKINNY PUPPY albums, is that it doesn't really sound like a band re-uniting... It sounds very, very relevant still!
"[The element of surprise] is what SKINNY PUPPY's always been about." (Photo: SPV)
You're welcome. Hey, thank you!
It really doesn't sound like, you know, THE BIG COMEBACK!-type of thing, it's more like, okay, they haven't done any albums for a few years, and now they're back, and it sounds like a natural progression...
Yeah, I think I can speak for both cEVIN and myself in saying that - you know, we're still working through that, you know. We've been through a lot with this band, and certainly have had our share of ups and downs, all of us. You know, we lost Dwayne [Goettel, keyboardist, who fatally OD'd on heroin in 1995], and a lot of terrible things have happened, but ultimately, we're still kind of working through it. As long as we're not trying to re-create something, trying to do something for nostalgic reasons, or to try and sell something... It's all kind of selfish, instead of, you know... You're always trying to market something in a way, I guess, but we're just not trying to figure out what people really want, you know? And with the new record, we're kind of going into new areas that maybe no one would expect us to, and surprise them a little - and that's what SKINNY PUPPY's always been about.
When can we next expect to see SKINNY PUPPY in Scandinavia?
In the summer.
All right! OK, thanks a lot, and hope to see you on tour!
Thanks, Claes. Thanks for your support! Bye-bye!