interview with cEVIN kEY of Skinny Puppy
The New Puritan ReView; Autumn 1991
This is the raw, pre-edited, conversation / interview.
Another part of the process that connects performing artists with writers and readers alike.
As with so many of those transcripts, the finished layout for the complete article as it appeared in 1991, was either lost or destroyed over time. The floppy disc with the original interview was the source for what appears here, before that too, gave way to the ravages of time. Keeping tabs on the past is a lot of work.
How difficult do you find it to convey your ideas through these visuals? Do you see any sort of conflict between the imagery and your ideas, or does it all boil down to sheer entertainment?
Well, we're not really trying to just to turn it into entertainment. Without a jolt to the system, people are gonna stumble along on their merry old way, for the rest of their lives. All we're trying to do is open eyes, so that people will grasp a different sort of viewpoint on a couple of issues, and the only action that will ever come from that is through self-realization. I guess we just try to expose that to people, and that's not to say that we're here to drone totally on negativity. I think it's just part of the processes of music. Music is one of the most powerful things in the world of communication; statements, whatever - you can say a lot through music.
Firstly, there's three people in the group and we each all have our different sort of reasons for being here, and all of us have our different sort of skills and different sort of things that we put into the band. When we play live, we have a message that we like people to try and explore the world a little more and make it a better place; but first and foremost, when we come together, it's a matter of sort of playing the scientist or the lab technician or something. When we go into the studio, it's not like, "Gee, let's make a statement so that everybody can listen to this and learn more about the earth", it's like a two part process. At the beginning we have, like, this sort of experiment that goes on, and we play around with all these formulas and try to come up with something that is hard-edged and moving enough to move us as individuals. It has to work on us - it's sort of like, we're a Dr. Jekyll + Mr. Hyde type situation. It's like, one minute we go in, and the next minute we're subjected to our own ideas, and if it works, it's gonna show up on us first.
Are all of the themes running through the albums improvised during the writing process?
Yeah, 'cause there's so much improvisation, and so much sound work, we just try and get the most hard-hitting music and sounds first. Once Dwayne and I have done that, we pass the tape on to Ogre, we give him a tape of all these songs of instrumental music that pretty much resemble the songs off the album ,without lyrics or without any sort of message. It's a musical experiment that Dwayne and I go through. Once we get to that point, and Ogre starts laying down lyrics, it's a whole new experience for Dwayne and myself. We get this opportunity to walk away from these things that we've created, and come back later and hear the result of somebody who can interpret these songs differently.
Ogre doesn't simply go in and start singing; he seems to get really inside them and find meanings for something that we ourselves were a little lost on before. For instance, in "VX Gas Attack" - when we wrote that song, we used radio voice fragments saying stuff like, "Bethlehem", so we sort of set up a theme for him, and then he zeroed in on the whole Iran / Iraq thing - before the whole Gulf War.
You hadn't really constructed that much of a concept on your own?
No, we really just put together a whole bunch of ideas with our sound bytes, like the spoken word stuff - it just so happened to fit into the right topic, that he could utilize that sound.
When you employ "found" sounds or samples, do you have a preconceived idea as to the theme of the song itself, or are they just sounds that you like?
Quite often, we put those in before Ogre writes lyrics, and he uses those voices to get some sort of an idea about how he can fit them into his song as his lyrics.
Are there any methods of composing material that you have not been able to experiment with thus far?
Over the last couple of years, I think that we've been trying to re-refine our sort of ideals about what Skinny Puppy is. We had a lot of distraction with Al Jourgensen wanting Ogre to join Ministry - we were nearly history until that whole thing came about. We survived that, but I think what we wanted to do at that point was to redefine our style, as to not be confused with Ministry; as to not be confused with other bands that - not referring to Ministry - were stepping on our our coattails, and almost copying exactly what it is that we had done up to that point. You know, I think that what we wanted to do in reality was taking things further, and in order to do that, we sort of had to confuse ourselves into working beyond our present means, and just sort of delve further into the sound of the planet and all that sort of feeling.
What happened was, we started doing a bunch of side projects around the time the Ministry thing happened, and I see it as being the best thing that ever happened to us; because we were able to dispel a whole bunch of conflicting ideas that would have never fit in Skinny Puppy's world, but nevertheless existed in us as individuals. So, we were given opportunities to express ourselves in a guitar sense, more instrumental, more electronic, a more sort of cyber-electro-punk-disco feel, more cyber-active, in a way, more Pink Floyd-psychedelic jamming kind of feel, with The TearGarden [cEY's collaboration with Legendary Pink Dots vocalist Edward Ka-Spel].
We didn't tour last year - we spent the whole year in the studio. We did four albums, and after that we did the Skinny Puppy album. We finally realized that doing all the rest of that stuff really clarified what it is that Skinny Puppy is, because if we had any ideas that were somewhat strange, somewhat out of the ball park for Skinny Puppy, we could just say, "oh let's just leave that for something else."
How have you managed to keep such a strong relationship with a major label, when your music is decidedly non-commercial?
I don't know, I guess we're lucky. We continually sell more albums than the year before with each album, and each year we continue to record pretty economically. We never lose money on our budgets - we more than break even. The record company definitely makes money from us, because they shell out a small amount to us, compared to what they regularly put out for an album. They don't have to put a big promotional budget behind it because the fans pretty much pick up on it anyway, and they get street credibility - or at least they feel as though they do - for supporting a band like Skinny Puppy. In a way I do think that it has probably helped them out a lot. At the very beginning I felt like, "god, how do we fit into this", but we've been together with them for like six years now; they realize that we're one of these records that they just put out.
Do you have any concerns as to how your fans regard the band, or how they might interpret your ideas?
Yeah, all the time. There must be a certain percentage of the audience that gets the feeling we're celebrating violence, and looking forward to the destruction of the earth. I get that feeling a lot, but I think that those people have yet to discover what it is - for them - that will unleash themselves from that sort of shell. There's an interpretation left open at the end, but I think that if anybody knows anything about our band, they'll know that we don't exist within that area. It's pretty straightforward. Anybody that wants to know more about the group, really - there's plenty of opportunities up to this point to read or to understand that we - like scream therapy - are there for people that need some sort of venting, need some sort of real aggressive release; and then afterwards will have some sort of seed for positive change and results.
Does the constant suggestion of ideas that might be considered subversive or possibly violent cause much of a problem with the record company, or do they take it in stride? As opposed as you would appear to be to their whole corporate structure, do they ever ask you to tone things down a bit?
Never. No, we've never gotten anything from anybody, except for a few years ago we wanted to release a single called "Dogshit", and nobody would release it with that title. They made us change the name, we just changed it to "Censor". That's about the biggest hassle we've had. Other than that, we've had a lot of problems with our early videos, and people thought they were saying things that didn't exist. It was their fears and paranoias - of our messages and of our group - that put them on edge, and then people started seeing things in our videos that weren't even really there. So, we decided if our videos are never going to get played because of this suspicion, we might as well make a video and give it to them on a silver platter, and so we made "Warlock". Despite how hard-hitting that video is, we decided that we wanted to make videos our own way after that, because we basically had so much fun with that kind of concept and that sort of idea - of supporting the artist in the sense of that time. Supporting the effects artists that do all that sort of stuff in horror films as an artist and not as gore. So many people look at special effects in horror movies as just gore, blood, and muck, and they don't ever see the art that went to create that sort of thing.
It's obviously a big part of the Skinny Puppy experience. Do you intend to keep developing the visual aspects of your work?
Yeah, the whole horror sort of genre has a sort of collective group of filmmakers, technicians, and crews and everything. I think that the potential is there if we can keep getting Sam Raineys and people like that making films like Evil Dead II and something close to that - it just really opens up a whole world of art for the film's sake. I'm a little bit worried about that stagnating, from people taking themes too seriously in entertainment.
Have you ever decided that there are certain doors that should not be opened?
On the new video we decided to make a video that would be fairly tame, in the sense that it could be used for what the record company wants to use it for - on TV networks - so yeah, we made a video that was accessible to us. We just wanted to see what would happen anyway - if we did make a fairly accessible video, if they would just sort of let loose the clamps a little bit and maybe play it. That's not an important thing for us anyways. There's a bunch of people in the world that need spicy food, and there's a bunch of people in the world that need intense music. I'm one of those type of people, and as you know, I'm not gonna settle for anything that's any less. I can't settle for things that don't hit me with the right intensity. First and foremost, we make this music for ourselves.
In a way, it has an energy that gives us a complete feeling after finishing an album, and being able to sit back and get the feeling from it, just like the first listener will. I think there's some sort of mission inside us to do this every year. This is our art, we'll continue to do this without trying to mold ourselves any different for the general record buying public. Each year, we need to hear this album as badly as our fans do; each year I have this fix - I guess we're addicts to what we've created.
Much mention has been made that Last Rights marks a turning point in your relationship with the record label...
It's our last album with Nettwerk Productions in Canada, so we'll be moving on to another label. It is our last record for Capitol records too, but we haven't really sat down and re-negotiated or anything like that. What we're doing now is we're just entering into this tour - with the Last Rights tour we're just promoting this album. This album is still on Nettwerk and Capitol, and we're still working with these two companies on the promotion of the tour and everything. After the tour, we may see some changes or we may not, but definitely, with Ogre straightening up - he's been straight now for eight months - there's definitely a future for the band. We'd like to see Last Rights as actually the rebirth of understanding what it is that we've created up to this point.
As Ogre was saying, we've been working on this for ten years and now we're staring the monster in the face. We're looking at our creation some ten years later, and for Ogre... you know, he really stepped out of a cloud, and now he really takes a look at his creation from almost a distance, because he really was a different person in the sense of some parts of that. So, it's important for us now to sit down and visualize what the next step is, and I think that we're able now to concentrate more on getting inside the recording process. Doing an album like Last Rights is a long grueling hard process, but the outcome - I think that we're beginning to understand what we are as individuals, even more now than ever before. I think it's just the beginning, actually.
Regarding the piece that was deleted from the album, for containing a sample of '60s drug culture guru Timothy Leary, can you say what the fate of that piece is, or why it was removed?
The Timothy Leary piece was almost the ending, before Download. It was the tenth song on the album, and it was basically a spoken word from Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out. We had hacked all these pieces in there of Timothy Leary's sort of views: "If you're gonna take a trip, what would be the correct sort of headspace, what would be the correct sort of feeling, what's the right way to do drugs?"
We are not lyrical writers in the sense of writing lyrics, we write music. So when we sat down we really wanted to make some sort of statement on this, and we passed it on to Ogre and he sort of took it as a generalization towards him - which it wasn't; it's basically just directed at the world in a lot of ways. It turned into an argument on tape, it was sort of really cool. Leary says something, and then Ogre comes back on the defensive, and it turned out really cool. We obtained Timothy Leary's permission - "Yes. No problem, you have my permission", he even heard the piece, and everything. We were just about to release it and then the producer of the film, "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out", called up and said, "If you use that, we're gonna sue you." He said that Timothy Leary wrote that but he doesn't own it all, and so we tried for a few weeks to get this guy's permission, but he wouldn't even answer our phone calls.
Any idea what he was so concerned about?
I have no idea. In reality, we could have used it, and nobody would have never even known that it was from that, but because it's Timothy Leary, and he is sort of a guru of the artistic community, the possibility of him finding out that his voice was on one of our songs would be greater than the possibility of the producer of that film finding out. We took the direction of getting the permission from Timothy Leary, but then our publishing company found it necessary to call up all these numbers, even though we had got permission. They ran up against a wall as soon as they got into the film side of it - it is from a film.
Is it a dead issue at this point, or will it see the light of day eventually?
We've heard that bootleggers have already got hold of it from our original master tapes, and have printed up a seven-inch single. I don't know, because I haven't seen one, but I've heard that that's the case. But, we're also playing it live, too
Any fear of the powers that be challenging you on that?
I won't tell you whether or not we're using Timothy Leary's voice... but, we may be.
Did anything ever come of the alleged project between Ogre and Kat Bjelland [Babes In Toyland]?
No - I mean, that was said at the period where he was in his other world, and I think he has an intention of doing another project called Wealth, and that was the project with Kat, but he's also asked every other person he's ever met to be involved with that too. I'm sure he'll probably do it along the way; which members will be in it I have no idea.
© J. Free / New Puritan ReView; 1991