It’s a big deal to interview your hero. It’s another ball game entirely to interview your hero’s hero. Three years ago I was following Nine Inch Nails around the tri-state area and publishing a Nine Inch Nails fanzine, SIN, with two partners. It was SIN’s intent to cover not only Trent Reznor’s every move but to inform NIN fans about those artists and bands we could trace as his influences: bands like England’s Industrial/ Performance Art pioneers, Throbbing Gristle and the Canadian aggro-dance band, Skinny Puppy. I’d known about Throbbing Gristle as a teenager, when their song, “Hamburger Lady” (about a burn patent so badly charred she looked like a meatloaf) freaked me out so bad I had nightmares for a month. But I had no exposure to Skinny Puppy until I got into Nine Inch Nails: then they were unavoidable.
Every NIN fan I encountered cited Puppy as a favorite band. Every other journalist or musician knowledgeable about or involved in Industrial music revered Skinny Puppy as godhead. I was always aware that the chances of interviewing Trent Reznor were slim to nil, but carrying on an hour-long conversation with former Skinny Puppy frontman, Nivek Ogre, is the very last thing I thought I’d ever do. (Coincidentally, on the day we spoke, Ogre had just returned from taking his close friend, Throbbing Gristle founding member Genesis P. Orridge, to the airport. Small world: getting smaller.)
Skinny Puppy (Ogre, cEvin Key and Dwayne Goettel) were together from 1983 to 1994. The band’s final studio recording The Process, was completed after Goettel’s 1994 fatal overdose, and released in 1996. At the age of 35, Ogre (real name: Kevin Ogilvie) has already seen and experienced his share of tragedy and triumph, both personally and professionally. The surprising thing is how totally unjaded he is. “I’ve been lucky to have a lot of things happening in my life that have startled me into awareness,” Ogre reflected as he spoke to me from his home in Los Angeles. “The funny thing I’ve come to realize about life is that you tend to alienate yourself from who you really are when you’re younger, ’cause you’re going through all these stages of separation to apparently find yourself. I’ve always tried to be honest with who I was, even when I was a drug addict. I think a lot of people tend to cover and hide away those things that they’re really sensitive or insecure about. They just get more layered and convoluted. Then it’s tougher to strip those down and find out who you really are.”
Ogre has a new project now called Ritalin, which is a collaboration between him and Martin Atkins. “Bedside Toxicology” the duo’s first CD, arrived in stores in May. In this interview, we talked about the rich history of Ogre’s career in modern music:from Skinny Puppy to Pigface to Ritalin. And having the opportunity to find out who Ogre really is was a pleasure.
Thinking about the history of Skinny Puppy and all the musicians who claim that band as an influence, how do you see yourself in the big picture as far as your accomplishments, and as far as maybe opening doors for people like Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson?
It’s a bit hard to place myself within the history of what’s happening with music now. Skinny Puppy was a project based on a lot of emotional output and a lot of raw nerves. To a certain degree, you see bands taking elements of what you do and applying a different polish to it — making it more palatable or whatever. If those people make note of that to their fans, I guess I’d be appreciative. If they don’t and try to — how should I say — bury the name or have no association to it, which is obviously a lie, then that’s a bit strange.
I’ve seen that happen throughout the history of music, throughout the history of art. It seems to be commonplace. I think for me, the biggest joy of doing what I’ve done is that I’ve been able to connect with some people who have enriched my life. Those people are dear friends now. Gen (Genesis P. Orridge) is an example of that. That’s really as far as I’d like to go with it, as far as my associations with the music business. I think people who are really involved in the music business, from an artistic level, are usually very cold and indifferent. I don’t tend to spend too much time with those people.
How did you first hook up with Martin?
We met on The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour with Ministry. He saved me from a possible fight breaking out in the latter days of the tour, when — I don’t know if we couldn’t afford buses or what but — we did three of four dates in a Winnebago (laughs). We had to drive up to Detroit and the freeways were closed due to weather. There’s a blizzard, basically [that] we were driving through and we had to get to Michigan. Everybody was on acid and there was this fascist guitar player on board, a bit of Nazi — he was like Al’s pit bull. [In the vehicle] there were two sections. Bill Reifland and Paul Barker, who were reading, were quite cordial and it was calm up in the front. And in the back it was a chaotic, crazy world. Al sent [the guitarist] up to the front, to be confrontational and I replied kind of sarcastically to this person. He was ready to start fighting at that point. That’s probably what certain other people wanted him to do. Then Martin jumped in and stopped [a fight] from happening, and shoved him into the back again — put the dog back in the cage, though I hate to give dogs such a bad name.
But anyway, I think there’s a bit of emotional feeling from all of that. [Martin] called me up afterwards, when he was starting Pigface, and had me come down. We sang [on that record] and over the years developed a relationship, worked on and did some Pigface tours. We always stayed in touch. He was kind of instrumental too, as a side note, in a lot of ways in saving my life. When I was in Vancouver and I was a complete and utter, down and out junkie he was one of the few people who kept calling. Because people tend to slowly drift away, they don’t really want to see that kind of nastiness and I don’t blame them. But he totally stuck it out and pulled me out of the city actually, on a Pigface tour. I ended up sick in Sweden with Hepatitis A.
At that point, I made some choices in my life, and he was kind of the impetus of those changes, he was a catalyst of that. So there’s a lot of things [between us] and it progressed up to where we worked on this record together.
How many Pigface projects have you been involved in?
Eeee… I know how many records. I was on Gub, Fook, and Notes From Thee Underground. As far as tours go (laughs), we’re entering a difficult memory area. I think I was on quite a few, four maybe, I don’t know.
When you work with Martin, specifically, how is it different working, say, on a Pigface project and then working with him on Ritalin?
Well, from my perspective, obviously, you get your hands dirty when you’re working on your own thing. The Pigface records, for me, were one day in the studio and boom, I’m gone. Martin is the majority and all these other musicians are there to fill in gaps and do what they do. So there wasn’t that much of a real connection. I think we started working together a lot more closely, well, I mean we did a bit on Notes From Thee Underground with “Asspole,” and that was kind of a break-through thing, where we felt a real connection in that we sat down and really worked through something. Then on The Process, we spent some more time with Mark (Walk) and did the same thing.
With this record, it was wide open, a 50/50 collaboration. So it’s great, we can say what we want to, we can joke about it, we can be critical of each other and there’s no weirdness. I’ve always been in a situation where I tend to work a lot better when there’s criticism involved, and I’m totally open to it. I’m not one to stamp my foot down and go “I really like that, and that’s the way it’s going to be.” He’s quite open to that as well, so we had a good rapport.
In the way that you incorporate your own principals or philosophies into your art, do you think you‘ve grown out of wanting to shock people? What I‘m using as a reference point are some of the Skinny Puppy live shows, with the anti-vivisection films and you pulling entrails out of your shirt and such antics.
I thought at that time, the best way to deal with a subject was to bash someone over the head with it. Like with animals, with vivisection, was to actually show people what it was all about. I would do things like try and personify certain things. The unfortunate thing is that people do remember more the entrails being pulled out of the stomach or something that’s kind of maudlin and a bit excessive or comical, even. They don’t remember [that] we did a show in Los Angeles here, before I lived here, at the Roxy. We had a huge screen up behind me and we had a cow being koshered (bled to death). So this [film] was playing over and over. I had a Big Mac that I had filled with this huge blood bag that had elastic bands wrapped around it so it was very tight and it would explode, basically, once I bit into it. I’d show the hamburger while this was going on… and finally [I’d] chomp down on it and the thing would explode. It would just go everywhere. That day, in particular, 15 or 20 people came up and said they were becoming vegetarian. So there were moments when it really worked and there were moments when it was a little childish, maybe or not well thought out.
How do you think your Skinny Puppy fans are going to receive this Ritalin record?
I think that [reactions will] be mixed. There’s going to be people who are expecting aggro dance music, distorted vocals and the lot. There’s always time for that. This record, for me, is far more personal. I’m not really concerned how people respond to it, because I took a big hit on The Process with that, with people expecting a Last Rites. The irony and the hypocrisy of that is that people praise Skinny Puppy for being the type of band that, from album to album, changed drastically. So when we finally did this last record that was bathed in this controversy and internal problems — I mean, I’ve already taken that hit and I felt it, and I felt bad. The Process, even though there’s some flawed moments in it and some problems because of all the things that happened around it, I think it’s still a good record and it has some of my best work, personally speaking.
Whatever I do next, there’s going to be expectations because people are going to be going “Oh he hasn’t done anything since The Process, and that was recorded in 1993… ” and the expectations are going to be really high. At that point, I made a decision to really do something for myself. One of the things I did in that time period was I’d sit in this room here and play an acoustic guitar. I started learning a bunch of songs and was really interested in learning a bunch of Syd Barrett stuff. That kind of segued into wanting to do [the cover of “Scarecrow”] on the record, a little acoustic tribute, tongue-in-cheek, to throw people off a little bit. You want them to put the record on and go ‘What the fuck is that?’
I think it‘s totally cool. I‘m a huge Syd Barrett fan.
Yeah. And then [we] go into this whole other vein. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to do Skinny Puppy again, because Skinny Puppy was three people. Also, although I’m the same person I was then, certain things have changed. To try and reflect something that I was, just to meet up to market appeal and expectations, is absolutely insane from my perspective as an artist.
Well, you have to be true to yourself and you have to grow.
I think so. I’ve always wanted to be more melodic, and I’ve spent thirteen years dealing with a huge insecurity about my voice and a confidence level of a small puppy who’s just been born and been attacked. So, I spent the last three years doing some work, and of course you want to show that. You want to show that things have changed. It might not meet up to people’s approval, who will expect this distorted, unintelligible voice, but there’s thirteen records of that (laughs). I am really thick skinned but, at the same time, the reason you’re doing this is that you want people to like it. You’re not doing it because you want people to fucking hate it (laughs).
Whose idea was it to cover “Downtown“?
It was both of our ideas. That was a bit of synchronicity. I wanted to do it a year before with Mark (Walk). When that whole deal went sour it was still in my mind, because it’s a song that I used to listen to when I was very young.
It was totally played off this old radio on top of our fridge, this old 50’s fridge. I have really incredible memories of that, and it always struck me as being a really odd, sort of creepy upbeat song. I don’t know why, but it made me feel really weird. It reminded me of the winter, for some reason, maybe because there’s more lights during Christmas or something. I have no idea what it was, but it sent this chill through me, for some reason, and I mean a really excited chill: like, oooh, anticipation!
When I was talking to Martin about it, he had the same kind of thing happen. It was definitely from his childhood, too. So we went that very moment to transcribe lyrics and work something out. The first version was very straight and was a bit vaudevillian or something (laughs). It had this burlesque aspect to it that didn’t really work. So we went away from it for a few weeks and then came back and Martin had rerecorded some new music with a whole different vibe to it. The whole intent, too, was to give it kind of a drug twist or have a drug metaphor with the whole thing. Because ‘Down town’ is a slang [for scoring drugs].
Like “Waiting for the Man“ or “Mr. Brownstone.“
Exactly. So we removed one verse at the end, the resolution, and left it kind of dark and dirty. I really like it. There’s moments in it that make me laugh (laughs).
What are the sources for other samples you use on the record?
Well, there’s only one vocal sample on it.
It seems like more.
There’s a lot of stuff that’s just me. Whenever there’s voices, it’s me, except for that one voice, “This album is a condensation of a 389 page book.” Martin probably pulled that off one of his swap meet record buys. We were actually determined at the beginning not to follow that route. There’s a little voice on the end of “And When” that’s going ‘Are you home? Are you there? Are you home? Are you there?’ because that song is about any kind of obsessive disorder when it comes to a person with another person. That [voice] was taken off the Invisible phone lines with somebody calling up, a prank call. Or maybe it was Martin and I’m just telling you a story. (Laughs)
I heard that you‘ve done some work on the latest KMFDM work in progress.
Yeah, I did two songs. Well, one full song. It’s this little gothic, weird ballad that’s totally twisted and very sad. So it totally fits into my mind set and the way that I write. Then I did verses on another song where Nick (En Esch) did the choruses, and that turned out really good too. It sounds really fresh and crisp and electronic.
The KMFDM record that was released last year, with the Symbols for a title, was that the first time you‘d recorded with them?
That was the first time that I worked with them, and you can probably tell by the vocal performance (laughs). I was totally nervous going in there and doing that. It’s hard, man. I tend to work with people I really connect to or have a friendship with or have spent a long time with — like Rave, [who] I spent how ever many years with. When you step out of that, you’re in this little room with your pants down, and there’s a wall between you and you’re watching people talking but you can’t hear what they’re saying. It can be a bit disconcerting sometimes.
You‘re wondering ‘Are they saying that I suck?‘
Oh totally. Then you’ll see somebody laugh, and they’re probably laughing about something totally unrelated but of course you just embrace it all and take it all in. So, it’s a little thing I’m slowly working out. That was really good for me to do because it gave me a lot of confidence. But I know I could have done better. This time around I went in, and there was a history. We’d been on tour and it was really relaxed and comfortable. Although, the first night I was in there, I did the vocal and there were some magic moments of things I could never repeat.
I was doing a lot of vocal mults (recording a vocal and then recording the same vocal bit on top of the first vocal), and there’s times that you’re singing along with yourself, and instead of going up in a certain place, you go down, and it creates this beautiful swell. That happened a few times. Then at the end of the night the whole session just disappeared off the computer. It was gone. So I had to redo the vocal the second day, but it was better in the long run because I was totally familiar with the song by then.
I saw you on that KMFDM tour, it was an amazing show.
They’re really professional and I have nothing but good things to say about them as a touring entity and as a creative entity. They’re one of the few [bands] that have lasted and rode out the hard times. The tour was so well organized and really professionally done. There were a lot of women on the tour, Sascha’s wife and Tim (Skjold)’s wife and we had two crew people who were women. They were all really super cool people and it just took the edge off that real macho kind of guys tour.
I must now pursue the line of questioning where I ask if you are aware of your position as a huge sex symbol?
No. Wow, Ogre the sex symbol (laughs). I tried really hard through all of Skinny Puppy to cover myself in enough mud and blood to where it wasn’t an issue, but I guess it didn’t work.
How would you respond if approached by PlayGirl about posing for their magazine or about being chosen as one of their annual crop of the “10 Sexiest Rockers?“
How would I feel about that?
Yes, after you stopped laughing.
(Laughing) I don’t know. God, I think I’d just consider it some publicity person doing their job. (Laughs). It’s so far removed from what I thought I was doing with the music and with the persona. I mean, [on] the Last Rites tour I made a point of ripping apart pornographic magazines every night and sticking them all over me because I was obsessed with pornography for awhile.
Obsessed in what way?
Well, pro-porn in the sense that it excited me and probably anti-porn in the sense that it tends to maybe alienate you from real people. Like when I was young, I think seeing women [who] are airbrushed and perfect tends to put you in a position of always looking for perfection or maybe picking on women because they’re not perfect. Do you know what I’m saying?
I know what you‘re saying.
On the other hand, occasionally there’s good pornography that gets you really hot. At the same time, I tend to find myself in the lower, base category of the Club Hustler variety as opposed to the soft-focused Penthouse kind of thing. I’m a bit more animalistic in my preference(s) (laughs). I’m not looking for the pretty, um…
You just want to get to the point.
Right. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I would certainly not want a culture where there is no pornography, because I think it acts as a form of Prozac for certain sex offenders, who maybe would take action on their thoughts. Then you have people like Ted Bundy who say that pornography was one of the reasons why he did kill so many people. Which is a last ditch attempt at some sort of salvation before he gets fried. How did we segue into this?
Oh yeah. It’ll be “One of the 10 Sexiest Men. Number 10: Ogre. Likes: Pussy.” (laughs).
I imagine your wife is wondering what they hell we‘re talking about.
She’s rolling her eyes at me, and rightfully so. I digress.
Last question; How will you be promoting Bedside Toxicology besides doing great interviews like this one?
There is some talk of In Stores, but I think now is kind of premature. I think In Stores tend to appeal only to the fan base that’s going to buy the record anyway. Like, there’ll be a kid with a Ritalin record but [also] with 400 Skinny Puppy things for me to sign.
Like “Ogre, will you spit on me?“
Exactly, and I’ll be going insane. The one problem with this record — and it’s not a problem, but the only weird thing we’re up against — is that we have to rely on press and people spreading the word, because we’re dealing with a small label that doesn’t have a lot of money. I don’t know if you’re aware of what the record industry has become, when it comes to retail and things like that. When I used to work in record stores, we would rack the product that we felt looked right in the right place. It was all an aesthetic and it was what you liked and the managers would decide that, and it would float or fly, depending on how many sales there were. Now you pay for rack space. This record is on Invisible, and Invisible is distributed by Caroline. So it’s a bit of an uphill climb. I’m hoping that the reviews are going to take it to that next level. I’m certainly open to doing whatever.
How about touring or videos?
I think what we are going to do, and what I’m interested in doing, is [making a video]. Brian Dressell, who works for this Post (Production) house in Chicago, has offered us full access to all of this stuff to make a video. He’s talking about using this type of Xray that is shot on film basically. You can see veins, you can see (laughs) everything on the inside. He’s got access to a hospital where they’ll do this for us. He also has access to [this facility that is] one of three in the country.
[This facility has] a grid that they designed and a big seamless blue room, where all the corners, and where the floor meets the walls, are curved so it looks like it’s going to infinity once you film on it. It’s based on Israeli targeting technology. Then they have this big grid, and it’s all crossed lines. In another room is a computer and it has a smaller version of the grid, with a camera. So you can go in, and you can create a totally digital environment. Where it’s being used right now is on Date Line. The control room that they’re in on Date Line is totally virtual. The coolest thing about this grid thing is that you can have people in the room, and they can be looking at a monitor seeing this virtual environment that they’re in. Then a person can come into the room with a hand held camera and do hand held camera moves that will move in the virtual world the same way it’s being moved in the room. So, to make a long story short, we’re going to do a video. I’m really excited about that, because the possibilities are absolutely endless.
That sounds like it‘ll be an incredible adventure.
And he’s talking about a Jacob’s Ladder sort of vibe, which I’m totally interested in.
That movie scared me to death.
Yeah, it’s awesome. One of the best films of the last decade, without a doubt.
While Ogre is between projects, he is reading Beowülf.