Q&A With Ogre of Skinny Puppy, Performing with ohGr at Culture Room Friday
As half of Skinny Puppy, Nivek Ogre (or just Ogre, or Kevin Ogilvie) created, in the Eighties, a much-imitated, arresting blend of industrial and hard rock, belched forth amid bewildering onstage theatrics. A showman from the beginning, Ogre quickly used his theater of the horrifically absurd as a platform to rail against injustices like chemical warfare and animal testing. So as Skinny Puppy waned, the first time, it was no surprise he would take the reins of his own project, the every-so-slightly softer ohGr. A shifting collective whose only consistent members are Ogre himself and pal Mark Walk, ohGr draws from a more varied musical palette than Skinny Puppy, dipping further into electronic sounds on one side, and some metal on the other.
The group's latest album, Devils in My Details, was released this past October, and was originally, Ogre says, inspired by his discovery and adoption of a mangy, abused dog in a park. That focus soon shifted, however, as personal demons reappeared. The resulting music, an abrasive but tuneful collection anchored by the keyboard and studio alchemy of Walk, is the closest thing to his original emotional experience, Ogre says. He hopes to transmit some of the experience of that sturm und drang to the band's live show, as well.
New Times caught up with Ogre recently by phone, as he took a break from rehearsing for his current tour. We chatted about Devils in My Details, the concurrent tour, and Ogre's burgeoning acting career. Read the full Q&A after the jump.
-- Arielle Castillo
ohGr performs with the American Memory Project and the Children of
the Plague, Friday, December 12. Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy.,
Ft. Lauderdale. Doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets cost $19.99 in advance.
New Times: How long have you been rehearsing for this tour?
Ogre: The whole rehearsal time is about three weeks total. It is a little longer than usual because we have some time, and we're doing a little bit of a different show. It was more assembling the physical rehearsal space and two weeks with the band.
What exactly had to be assembled?
Let's say, we're trying to stay kind of in the spirit of the conceptual idea of the album.
Sounds like you're trying to be mysterious.
Yes. (Laughs). I'm sure people are going to find out by the time we get to Florida. We're trying to be as conceptual as we can with the live show as with the album. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that there's going to be a lot of flash and theatrics, because that's more of a Skinny Puppy trademark. But there's more of a weirdness, and a different way of presenting ohGr for sure.
So what was the concept, then, behind Devils in My Details?
The album kind of sprung up out of more of an immediacy, because there was an event that happened in my life that took precedence over everything. Originally it was going to be about a dog I found - because I found this dog completely demolished in a park, emaciated, shedding, and on the brink of death. And anybody finding that dog would have cast it aside, and she would have been destroyed probably immediately. I'm kind of a person who takes an extra step, and I wanted to use her as a vehicle to show that dogs like that, maybe throwaways, can turn out to be the most amazing companions.
That was the original idea. And then it turned - for the worse or the better, depending on which side you sit upon - and I had to kind of deal with something profound in my own life. And that became something that was transcribed via my friend Mark Walk, who I've worked with a long time. And through his collaboation we were able to put something down on hard disk, and press something to hard disk that's the closets I can to get the original emotional experience.
When did you originally start work on the album?
I actually kind of started - I found this dog about three years ago, and we had just resurrected Skinny Puppy, and that was going in a certain direction that was going on when I left the band in 1995. We weren't sure if we were gonna look at [the original ideas for Devils in My Details] again... The opportunity came up [to release ohGr material] with SPV [GmbH, an imprint of the German label Synthetic Symphony.]. And we had had some ideas of trying to release something on our own, and we'll probably be doing it on our own, along with the SPV deal, because there's a strange deal with SPV. You have to bend things around certain deals. But in this case, the deal with SPV opened us up to a more avant-garde route with OhGr.
There's a certain time and place, and a certain meaning when you make records for whoever you're making them for. When we were making the other two [ohGr] records, we were making them for a major-label system. With SPV, based on what we saw with Skinny Puppy, there was a lot more room to present something that a major label would have looked at and gone, Awww.
That's much in the same way as the movie I'm in, Repo! The Genetic Opera. That's the same story of an uphill battle in a lot of ways. We're talking about a measly amount of money with music as compared to film, but people within both systems take a more hands-on approach. SPV has always let us - we have kind of a personal relationship with the people there, and they've let Skinny Puppy stand back and do what we wanted.
I was just looking at the web site for the album, and there's a section that says "pimp," and you click it and it's this slideshow with random pictures from South Park, or like, Michael Jackson in an ohGr mask from the album cover. What's the story behind this?
Oh, that was kids. One kid sent us in a picture that had the mask superimposed over something. So we were like, that's cool, so we posted something on the web site. That became a viral thing. They were putting masks on everything. It wasn't us.
Oh, okay. Becuase I noticed Marilyn Manson's in there too with the mask, and you're kind of famously not a huge fan of his.
No, I don't think I'm a huge fan, but at this point I'm beyond a lot of that. [Those photos on the web site] really had nothing to do with me. I think it was kids taking icons that maybe have some relationship to me in the past, or topics that we've been interested in, or current topics which happen to be the election at the time, and just ran with it.
And with regard to the other film clips on the site, we actually use a lot of the film clips we found on a free, public domain site, and we wrote a lot of music to pictures when we were jamming, and basically did the whole album in one ProTools session. Unlike most people who would take separate files, and music files, and at the end sequence them together. We actually started with one session, and we'd find ourselves jamming a lot, and some of the jams remained with their original sensibility, and some we'd work on doubling vocals or whatever. It continued to be more or less one piece of music. All of the transitions between tracks are actual musical transitions.
So that was the inspiration. Like there are helicopters in one, and we'd cut something together and actually do a jam, online, live, to a bunch of kids that were streaming it in the chat room, or a video chat room. It was a bit choppy, but it was kind of an interesting experiment because kids really gravitated towards it. And I guess that's us trying to explore this immersive world of technology that we live in. For me, I'm coming from a time when there weren't these experiences, it was more of getting a long-playing record and trying to immerse yourself into that...
We actually streamed the record before it got leaked. We watched for the leaks, and the moment the leak hit, we'd do a live show and then stream the album. In a weird way, I've watched year after year, and the leak kids are the ones who want to be the first to review it, and they listen to it diligently, so the moment the release date happens, they can put up this review that's been written over and over. We maybe took the fun out of it for those people. We didn't get a lot of leak reviews this time, everyone came more in time with the actual release. It's all been a bit of an experiment for us, as far as marketing that type of experience. It's been pretty cool, we have rabid fans.
Were you able to trace the source of the leak?
You never really can. You have the mailed copies, and we send out 400 or 500 of those, and invariably, someone is gonna post it. So it usually happens at least a month before, sometimes two months before. It's just something that happens. The genie's out of the bottle.
You can't really head it off, but it's more of just embracing it, embracing the fact that it's gonna leak, and don't go against it, do things in your own way, involve people to be the leak in a way.
What I was hoping would happen did kind of happen: We got people acting in the same vein as I did when I was a kid and I would get a tape of something. I would be like, I can't wait until I get the vinyl so I can hear how it sounds!
I think the problem is that the leaks sometimes are high-quality, so you have a high-quality copy right there, so I'm sure it's tempting for kids to just keep it. So you had all the good intentions, but you may have listened to it a lot and burned yourself out. I think because we did do the stream and create something that was special, hopefully, and intimate for the kids, it took away from that, and then they're still anticipating hearing the disc. Whether the psychology works or not, I don't know.
Who is playing with you on this tour?
Bill Morrison is joining me again, and he's been with me through a good part of Skinny Puppy visually, and he plays in ohGr. Then we've got Justin Bennett, who's the drummer of Skinny Puppy, and my friend Jeff Smith is doing keyboards.
And on top of this, Justin and Bill have a project called the American Memory Project, which is their project that they're gonna be opening with. It's a 25-minute piece based around high-definition video, delving into the Library of Congress. They've made an incredible montage of images, dealing with things like when the settlers came in, when the army came in and redistributed the reservations of the Lakota Sioux, and the Lakota Sioux started gathering together and doing this dance called the Ghost Dance. And it so intimidated and angered the authorities, it led to the massacre at Wounded Knee. After that point, a number of tribes across the country started doing their own Ghost Dance, and it became more apocalyptic, because the story was that if they did this dance enough in time, there would be a time when a great rain would wash the continent and would take it back to the place it was in before the settlers.
So it's just exploring tidbits like that in history. There's a song they did last night called "Raggedy Man," and it's based on a lot of the stereotypes that black people have had been held under for years and years. Visually, it's incredible. It's dark, but not in a sensationalist way; it's really thought-provoking. It's very electronic and soundtrack-y. It should be interesting.
For this album, do you have any plans to do a video again with Bill Morrison?
We did this record for a very small amount of money, and I think SPV's expectations of the album were different from what we actually delivered. So they are in the process of taking one of the singles to radio. Depending on where that goes, it's a bit of a building process. It's an uphill battle in a good way. So we're doing this tour with smaller clubs and seeing where we're at, and then we'll see where the single takes off. That could definitely open up the realm for a video.
One really cool thing is that Darren Bousman, who directed the Saw movies, has expressed an interest with Jim White. They have a bunch of hand-cranked 8mm and 16mm cameras, and he wants to do something really avant garde and twisted and weird. And he loves the record, so he's mentioned the possibility of doing something for very little funds, basically donating his time, which is super, super nice of him. But I'm not gonna say yes, for sure, about that, because htese things tend to slip through my hand while I'm looking at them.
Speaking of Darren Bousman, you were in his musical film Repo! The Genetic Opera, which has been the subject of a struggle over distribution. Are there still plans to release the film on DVD in January?
It played for a week recently in theaters, in nine cities - or was that nine theaters? Oh well, but it did really well its opening weekend, so it may expand into more theaters. We'll see. I hope it does for Darren, because he's really championing this film, and he's really fought an uphill battle against a real Goliath in a lot of ways. It's a situation I would not want to find myself in, which is a changing of the guard at Lion's Gate, where the new person didn't get the film.
With the movies, it's like an executive comes in, and he's saying, This movie's going direct to video. And a punchy little brother comes up with a lot of balls says, No it's not, you promised me something else. And the first guy says, Okay, but it's still going direct to video. So it tests, and does better than it did before. But you still have a person with this ego who's high up, and that's the basis of what it is.
We were sitting there watching the movie, and it's being flagged by the critics. Bill Mosely and I - Bill turns to me and says, Anybody who thinks this movie is a piece of shit is a fucking asshole. I'm not saying it's not without problems, it was a low-budget film. Just for how many songs needed to be filmed, and how adventurous of a project it was.... The way Darren put his money on the screen, it works on a lot of levels. There are a few things like editing and connecting things, but it still works, it's still got a lot of heart. It doesn't deserve the utter thrashing it's getting.
Looking at the list of ast members on some of these songs, it seems totally crazy. Like there are tracks listed on the soundtrack where you perform along with Bill Mosely, Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, and Paris Hilton! How did that work? Were you all in the room at the same time?
I think Bill and I recorded everything together. I can't say for the rest of the cast. Bill and I did all our parts together, and we had fun right form the start. And Bill was so gracious for me that he took me under his wing, and said, Let's develop a relationship, and gave me an invaluable amount of information. We were all together a number of times doing readings, but the actual recording proocess was done behind closed doors.
Actually, I was in the room with Paris, we were actually in the room for - I can't remember the song. But the way the rest of the plot was, the Largo family, of which most of us play members, was off doing its separate things, so we didn't have as much commingling.
So is acting something you want to pursue further?
Yeah, I've been an actor my whole life! How I've pulled this charade off with Skinny Puppy, I don't know. (Laughs). There's a lot of theater in Skinny Puppy, and a lot of hyperbole and great gestures and theatrical moments. Repo!, especially, was an amazing transition for me, because I didn't have to worry about dialogue. The parts were sung ahead of time so I only had to worry about the movement. So yes, I would love to do more acting. It's an incredible experience.
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