From Pup to Performance, It’s Magic!: an Interview with Skinny Puppy

Posted August 3, 2007 in
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All Photos by AHB

When pressed to share with his fans something that they may not know about him, Nivek Ogre wastes no time in responding “I’m a chronic masturbator.” Ogre, of course, is the vocalist and visual mad scientist for industrial music legends Skinny Puppy, who graced Salt Lake City with their presence for only the second time in the band’s 25 year history on May 29 at The Depot. “…but don’t base the entire article around that fact,” he continues.

cEvin Key, Skinny Puppy’s electronic mainstay and creator, is the only one in the room who won’t cop to occasionally pleasuring himself. He instead removes himself from the current topic of conversation, sipping rum through a Twizzler straw, and eventually attempts to give his own answer to aforementioned inquiry. “Those Litany guys (semi-official Skinny Puppy news site report everything I do, so that’s kind of a tough one,” Key says. He seems deep in thought for a moment, and then the light bulb above his head illuminates. “Every song Skinny Puppy has ever done was written while we were all stoned,” Key finally responds. Now, it’s no secret that these guys are aficionados of the dreaded marijuana, but every song sounds a bit overstated to me. “No, really. We are all at our creative best when we’re smoking.” When I press the issue, cEvin is adamant that he is telling the truth. And judging by the smell in the room we are in, I finally relent and begin believing what he’s telling me...a little, anyway.

Admittedly, the live show this time around wasn’t as stunning as the show from the Greater Wrong of the Right tour back in 2004, and even that was child’s play compared to the downright horror movie-esque performances of the Too Dark Park and Last Rights tours of the early 1990s. However, the set list this night couldn’t have been better. The opening opus “Anger” from 1987s Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate harkened back to the tour for said album that was captured on film in Toronto, Canada, and released as a live video and accompanying CD and cassette entitled Ain’t It Dead Yet? For fuck’s sake, it was even performed almost identically, with Ogre performing behind a large enclosure resembling a two-tiered sheet with strobe lights illuminating him from behind. What struck me from the beginning, however, was the sound. Every electronic note and every cymbal strike sounded as clear as day. “We started with roughly 35 songs. Justin and I got together every day and played through them, and I eventually whittled it down and chose the songs that sounded the best to me,” Key says of how the set list was decided upon. Justin Bennett, Skinny Puppy’s live drummer since 2004, agrees with cEvin, although to him all the songs sounded marvelous. “On the last tour, I was a bit of an outsider,” Bennett says. “I don’t think I was fully accepted by everyone until that tour was almost over. But by the time we started rehearsals for this tour, it seemed like I was actually a member of the band.” They admit that on this tour all the shows will have the same set list, but this is more than made up for by the songs they have chosen to play, with some of them never having been performed live before. Intermixed in the remainder of the night’s performance are tracks from 1989s Rabies (“Hexonxonx,” “Fascist Jock Itch”), 1988s VIVIsectVI (“Dogshit/Censor,” “Testure”), 1996s The Process (“Cult,” “Amnesia”) and their current release Mythmaker (“Ugli”). They have done an excellent job spanning their entire musical history, and even the songs that one would expect minor slips on sounded phenomenal.

“You know who’s gonna make a lot of money? The person that invents the CD that you can’t copy or burn,” says cEvin when pressed about his feelings on technology and music downloading/pirating. He begins spewing technical jargon about bit rates and download quality, but eventually touches upon something I wish more people agreed with: “I come from a different generation; a generation that grew up on vinyl and cassettes, when it was almost imperative to purchase a band’s release in order to get the whole package. Now it seems like more and more people are content with downloading their music off the Internet, and it almost makes the packaging of albums obsolete. To me, the packaging is almost as important to create an album’s feel as the music itself.” When it comes to Skinny Puppy, maybe moreso than other artists, this makes complete sense. For instance, the artwork and layout for 1990s Too Dark Park, credited to one I. Braineater, actually seems to complete the album. In fact, without being able to observe the different monsters contained in said layout, I personally don’t think the album would have had the same effect on me. cEvin goes on to say that he doesn’t necessarily mind people downloading his music digitally, provided it’s done so legally, but he would prefer that people continue to purchase the CD or vinyl release(s) instead. “To me it’s a matter of respect. People tend to forget how much thought goes into album packaging, and how it really is an extension of the artist’s creativity and the album itself.”

As we begin to wrap up our conversation, the discussion turns to something a bit off-centered: cEvin’s electronics rack. Strange, I know, but it is a rather fascinating setup, and goes well beyond your average, run-of-the-mill store bought setup. “The one I’m using now is a replica of my original setup, back when Skinny Puppy first started,” cEvin says. “My original one weighed close to 500 pounds, so we found out very quickly that moving it from venue to venue for live performances just wasn’t going to work. My current setup is much lighter- it’s made entirely of aluminum, and it’s quite easy to tear down and set up.” What is the point in reporting on a musician’s equipment rack, you might ask? Well, here’s the payoff: “Also, it was made by the father of the ‘Nirvana-baby,’” says cEvin. The…’Nirvana-baby?’ “Yeah. The father of the baby on the cover of that Nirvana album,” he finally explains. He then goes on to tell a story about someone standing on their head on David Letterman’s desk, but, in all honesty, this story goes right over my head because it seems like he’s having a conversation with three or four different people about several different topics at the same time. I take this as a sign that our interview is over, and I use the opportunity to express my gratitude to the band for allowing us to meet and talk to them. Skinny Puppy has made quite an impression on me since the first time I heard Rabies, and to have the opportunity to have a conversation with them is something I’ll never forget. Another thing I’ll never forget? The idiot in the audience who decided it was a good idea to “mosh” with a fresh tattoo covered only by saran wrap. Note to this idiot: that’s fucking wrong. Skinny Puppy, however, is not.