Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie) on how ohGr differs from Skinny Puppy and the death of Michael Jackson
ohGr (due tonight at the Bluebird Theater with Left Spine Down and Orbit Service) is a project involving Mark Walk and Ogre (aka Kevin Ogilvie), the legendary frontman from influential and pioneering electronic band Skinny Puppy. During the '80s and '90s, Skinny Puppy created one of the templates many industrial artists followed. But, perhaps more significantly for the current era, the musical DNA of Skinny Puppy's experiments in sound collage and moody atmospheres can be heard in the more adventurous electronic music artists of today.
Dan Santoni Ogre of ohGr
With ohGr, Ogre is able to make an organically visceral music with strong narrative lyrics delivered in the way only a veteran of one of the darkest and most visually arresting bands of the last thirty years can.
Currently on tour in support of its latest album, unDeveloped, ohGr continues to explore the psycho-social perils of the world around us today in creatively poignant ways. We recently spoke with Ogre about the new record, his friendship with Forrest J. Ackerman and his unique and charming sense of humor. As always, Ogre's wide-ranging interests and intellect are on full display below.
Westword:In your press releases, there is talk of characters developing from Devils In My Details through to unDeveloped. Who are these characters, and do you approach their development in a literary and cinematic way?
Dan Santoni Ogre of ohGr
Ogre: More schizophrenic, probably. It's more dealing with, I think, cognitive psychology than anything. Devils in My Details kind of recounted an experience I went through in downtown Los Angeles that probably changed my life forever. I wrote Devils as I was going through it, in the midst of it.
unDeveloped became more focused, like if you were looking through a telescope, as with Devils, through a microscope. I focused in it a bit more and came up with an alter-ego named Brownstone. Not Brownstone in the sense of heroin but in the sense of a brownstone building and tying it in to a lot of the cabals and conspiracies and twisted bits of human development we're going through right now.
So he became a character that was basically a military intelligence officer who is involved in a lot of surveillance and stalking, basically, of people -- Cointelpro. Things went bad for him when he started seeing the underside of the coin he was playing. So he went rogue and basically lives in downtown Los Angeles in the streets, and he has a little hovel that he goes to, and he dresses in various disguises, and one of them is this hunchback street person.
He goes around collecting various objects, and he's obsessed with electronic devices and wires and things that are wired up and goes back and pontificates about how he's been used and abused by the very intel agency he used to support. Then he writes all this stuff on a pre-Depression-era typewriter called the Oliver, which was the typewriter that was used in Naked Lunch. It's a beautiful, Princess Leia-eared typewriter.
He types these things out, scans them and loads them up to a Facebook page. He doesn't deal with any kind of electronic devices, because he sees the downside to all of that and prefers to use a typewriter and that's he communicates everything. So that character came out of all of that stuff. It's ever evolving and I want to develop it more. These kinds of things come and go like the storms in my mind.
In what ways did the death of Michael Jackson affect you, and how did that inform "Crash"?
I kind of saw the death of Michael Jackson, in the context of the song, as an analogy for what we were going through at the time with our record label, SPV, when they went through insolvency, which is basically the same as someone dying. You stop paying your bills, you stop spending and you just take money in.
I kind of also equated Michael Jackson's life, because he was in the music industry, to how the music industry was run, in the sense that it had created an environment that was completely unlivable -- you know, opulent, full of the idea of success and stardom and something that's more social conditioning. You see these people working in this business that has no tether to reality or to how most people live their lives. It gives kids, I think, [a false sense of what it means to be a musician].
The way I see it now, because I've been a musician and you see the restrictions that you have on what you do, even though you're allowed to say whatever you want to say, you become a foil for the idea of freedom. In the sense that musicians are in a way ineffective dissidents.
They're not in the streets doing anything. They're not causing dissent and destruction, but they can be political and say anything they want and represent freedom in America or in Canada or in the Western world, but are we really free? We've become this Joseph Campbell, mythological archetype for kids to look up to and aspire to be. That's both something I embrace because I see it as important but at the same time I see it as a manipulation.
So, getting back to "Crash," all those things wound into the making of that in the sense that I saw Michael Jackson as somebody who created this life for himself. This house that was completely unlivable. That crosses over into the way I see how we've shepherded the planet and a lot of aspects of the various bubbles that we've been through at least in my short lifetime. Various bubbles that are completely hot air and vacuums.
If you look at the Stock Exchange right now, basically you have 1.3 trillion dollars in speculative trades every day. Every day on exchanges around the world. That's fifty times more than the value and the worth of all the exchanges in the world. It's ludicrous. People making money off of nothing. Speculating that you're getting colon cancer by age thirty-five. I don't know how old you are.
Older than that.
I've lost a bet, then! My derivatives are gone! You're still alive, damnit! How did that happen? My investment officer said this wasn't going to happen. You're supposed to be dead, sir. Yeah, all that stuff played into "Crash" and a slight inspiration from Pink Floyd.
How did you meet Mark Walk, and what does he bring to your collaboration that compliments well what you bring?
I met Mark during the recording of The Process. We had gone through two producers or one producer. Roli Mosimann came in to work, and it just didn't work out. So we brought in Martin Atkins and we may have brought in somebody else before that. Anyway, Martin Atkins had worked with Mark Walk on Notes From Thee Underground and Fook on the Pigface records.
That's kind of where Mark first heard me, on "Insemination." Then we met down in California. We just bonded immediately. He's a person who has no judgment but an incredible amount of skill and a very strong ego but not an ego that puts people down. He tends to bring people up to his level.
It was an incredible learning experience for me because I was, or was then, I think I'm a lot tougher now, sensitive and it was a bond based on those sensitivities that we both shared. It just developed over, I think, fifteen or sixteen years that we've known each other. We've been involved in each of our relationships and breakups of relationships. He moved down here from Seattle at one point and left a woman and a house behind. So we just know each other.
It's a different relationship than Skinny Puppy in the sense that Kevin and I are very good friends, but we don't necessarily share the same kind of connection. I guess within Skinny Puppy, when I was working with Rave, Rave and I kind of shared that. We have the same mindset, and in a lot of ways, he has taught me to free up a lot of the restrictions I've placed on myself, in terms of the industrial code or whatever, the noise code, that I grew up with -- the dissonant part of my brain. So he kind of opened that up to all sorts of possibilities. It's been a wonderful relationship for exploring.
There are aspects of sound design in a lot of your music. Do you find that approach to be especially suited to your songwriting, and if so, why?
More so in Skinny Puppy -- it's all about sound design. Skinny Puppy started as a sound design project where the voices are even an element of the sound design. We were making something that was so distorted and otherworldly that it became almost an instrument.
The music in Skinny Puppy, even if you listen to the new Skinny Puppy album, the vocals aren't really driving the music. The vocals are almost a distended accessory to the music to give it some context. But it's still very much the compositions. Because the writing style is like that. The compositions are done beforehand and the vocal fits over the top.
Whereas in ohGr, we tend to start with a vocal idea and base the music around that. We kind of deconstruct a lot more in ohGr and really explore something out to find what's best and what pushes the vocals. Again, one pushes the vocal more, and the other is kind of creating more of what you're saying with the sound design. Although within ohGr there's still a shitload of sound design that goes into the music. I think with ohGr we tend to use less sequencing and more straight takes -- just performance takes. I think we use a lot more bass and bottom end, less synthetics but things that are emulating synthesis, if that makes any sense.
When we're performing live, with ohGr, we strip back a lot of the electronics and the stuff that doesn't need to be there. Whereas I think you'll find that on Skinny Puppy tours, there'll be drums on tape, for example, that Justin [Bennett] is playing along with. We strip most of that out on ohGr -- all the guitars out, all the bass out, when it's played live, and a lot of the keyboards are played live, too.