Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre interviewed about his ohGr side project
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2008
Skinny Puppy frontman Ogre is back with “DEVILS IN MY DETAILS,” his third release with ohGr. In the following phone interview, he discusses the evolution of ohGr, how tit differers from Skinny Puppy, his appearance in the film musical “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” and more.
How does the working relationship with Mark Walk in ohGr compare to that of Skinny Puppy?
Ogre: It’s a little different in the sense that cEvin and I always worked together, but separately, in a lot of ways. On the last few albums, we’ve bridged that gap a little bit. But it seems like for the most part within Skinny Puppy there is a coalescing that goes on when there are sort of separate inputs, and we both respect each other’s work in that way. After a 25 year relationship, I think we’ve found a way of writing that works within the context of Skinny Puppy. That is more of writing music, in a sense, by committee. In a weird way, I’ve always worked with people and I NEED to work with people. It’s my process. And Mark is someone who I met when we were recording ‘The Process’ back in Malibu in ’96 – that Rick Rubin record. We just became friends more than anything. I think for me, some of the greatest voyages you take are with someone who understands you and is empathic. I guess I gravitate towards people like that. Not because I’m special, but because it’s what I need. He’s someone who can read and pull things out of me that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible. So within a creative world, having that balance is kind of what has gotten Mark and I to the point where we’ve created this record.
Has the return of Skinny Puppy had any effect on your work as ohGr? Has having that creative outlet back changed your approach to ohGr at all?
Ogre: They are like 2 utterly different projects. The writing styles, for sure. It’s like an alchemic equation in a lot of ways when you put people together to make music. Especially when you get further along in your life and you become a lot more cohesive in working, there aren’t as many emotional spikes. But there are still differences in working with people. For me, especially, Skinny Puppy started off as something that was very internalized, and became externalized. And ohGr was always this fantasy project that has veered a bit more into real life. I’m kind of deconstructing ohGr in a lot of ways in my own life, in my own head. I always had a bit of a disconnect with my idea of being perceived as something. For example, people from the military coming to see shows where I’m doing a theatrical bit on vivisection and coming up to me afterwards saying ‘Oh, it was great how you ripped that fucking dog apart!’ I’ve toured with a lot of people, like Ministry, and have seen a lot of things over the past 25 years as far as how rock and rock performers interact with their audience on all levels. And I’ve always been a bit twisted up in my perception over reality in a lot of ways. The way I’m perceived over reality, and my projection back is equally as confusing at times. And I think the ohGr project for me is at last a way of unmasking and showing a different layer. In a lot of ways, things that people saw as scary in Skinny Puppy were really just a projection of things that scared them, or me.
Could you explain a bit about what happened with the original incarnation of the project, WELT?
Ogre: Well my life has been full of … I wish I could say I was an amazing businessman, or even at times a functional and deliberate artist. But my life has been paved with a lot of pitfalls, and ohGr came out of the time when we were finishing ‘The Process.’ We’d made the jump to a major label, and made lot of mistakes. It goes back to being young and having management take control of a huge amount of money. All of that bullshit. That ended with me leaving the band. We all got put in a house [for the recording] – it would have made great reality TV! It ended up with Dwayne’s eventual decline and his overdose. I’d left the band and started working on a record for Rick Ruben – contractually, it was a ‘leading member’ clause. They had first right of refusal, and the record ended up being stuck in a drawer. They kept me on the label for about 3 years, and wouldn’t let me do anything with the record. I went through a serious depression, and it wasn’t until about 2000 that I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and went to see what was going on. I found out that all that time, I could have just walked away from it because no one was going to do anything. I guess I was just young and didn’t understand that no one was going to put the financial effort into stopping little ‘ole me from doing anything when it came down to it. I guess Glen Danzig walked away and got a new deal with Hollywood Records. We went back and actually re-recorded the first record, and then did the deal with Spitfire based on the 2 albums. They came with a bit of baggage. We were pursuing this more fantasy aspect as a differentiation from Skinny Puppy, which was more into audio construct / audio sculpture and creating environments as opposed to writing songs. That was the impetus – to get into more of a songwriting mode. We worked in more of a melodic realm, focusing more on the vocal than we do with Skinny Puppy, which is more about huge audio segments with vocals over top.
How did the re-recording of that album compare to the original version?
Ogre: Well, with the original recording we were using a lot of old modular synths. We went and played in the studio for almost a month, with a lot of found instruments and we went to thrift stores. At the time, there wasn’t a big surge on the analog stuff and we bought a lot of old analog keyboards. We played around with using that in Pro-tools with the idea of diminishing the latency that was inherent in the old 80’s analog music. We wanted to bring that sound back, but using editing in Pro-tools to make it snappier sounding. That was kind of the vibe we were on back then.
Many bands have come along using a similar vocal style and effects as you. How do you feel about that?
Ogre: Well I was influenced by people like Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire and Ian from Portion Control. Anyone who can listen to Portion Control will hear a huge influence on me. There were voices like that going on before. I don’t know where the differentiation is between what I was doing per se. It could be more so the effects put on the voice, which at time guide the song. I think the only thing that makes me smile is that if I can do it and can emote, then anyone has a chance. And you don’t need to be a vocal acrobat to get an emotion across. It’s cool that people are emulating it. It’s more of an instrument than it is actually a voice per se. I have to say that I think my voice has certain characteristics and tonal things, which again are almost atonal [laughs], which work within the context of the music that maybe people can’t duplicate.
How did you get involved with “REPO! The Genetic Opera?”
Ogre: I came back from the last Skinny Puppy tour and met my friend Joe Bishara, who was working as one of the producers on the project. He’d asked me what I wanted to do. One of my childhood fantasies was to be like Lon Chaney Sr., wear a lot of makeup, and be that kind of character actor. So it’s a first step to something like that. When I told Joe that, he said ‘Oh, we’re working on this film right now and there’s this one character that hasn’t been cast.’ It was Pavi, the face stealing serial killer rapist. And I said ‘Awesome. And it’s a musical? Even better!” It was a bit of a boot camp for me, in the sense of being on set and learning the etiquette and that whole realm of working, and the terminology. It was a great experience for that, because I didn’t have to worry about actually delivering lines per se within the context of blocking shots, because we’d recorded all the music a month beforehand. So it was a great experience, I had a gas. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Were you aware of who else would be in the film?
Ogre: I didn’t. In my audition, I had to do a monologue, and I came up with a character analysis. I had heard that Paris Hilton was doing an audition, but I wasn’t sure when or if she even was. It was just a rumor. So I was called in late one night. I think I was the last of two or three people to come in. I was sitting there, and I’d worked out this bit where I’d say to the director ‘Eh, do you want to see who fucking Pavi is? I’ll show you fucking Pavi.’ I had this mirror, since Pavi has a mirror. He’s very vain and narcissistic. I cut out a picture of Paris’ face and I put it in the mirror. That was my schtick. I was going to turn the mirror around to everyone and show them who Pavi was and who he wanted to be. So I was sitting outside practicing my lines and nervously waiting. I heard all this commotion. There were two sets of doors before it went outside, and I was in a hallway between these two sets of doors. One set opened and out comes this person, and I had the mirror next to me, and it was Paris. She went out the main door and there were all these camera flashes going off. I was just like, this is so fucking surreal. So I was like, do I do this thing or not? Do I do this bit? And I ended up doing it, and I think it’s what got me the part. I got to meet Bill Moseley, who actually did a bit on this record. He did a lot of the spoken word dialog and did this amazing one pass thing that we cut up into short segments. He did three or four poems in one pass, there were no additional takes. It was amazing. And then course Paul Sorvino, and Alexa Vega. Anthony Head from Buffy… it was a really cool cast. And the coolest part about the movie, bad or good … I’ve seen a cut and I like it, but I could be biased … but I think the coolest part of it is that it wasn’t really co-opted by a big movie company. It’s being done by the people who were actually involved with the street version of it, when they were doing 10 minutes shows in clubs and stuff like that. So it was kind of a cool family.
Would you like to do more work like this in the future?
Ogre:Yeah, for me what is really fun is going under intense prosthetics. Skinny Puppy has always been about mask work. It just opens me up in so many ways. I’m kind of an extroverted introvert, and that is the trigger that opens the door. If I could do more stuff like that … I can’t tell you how much fun it is. It’s a bit tough in the sense that your hours are longer, but I love to do stuff under make-up.
Have you ever considered doing a Skinny Puppy musical?
Ogre:There have been ideas. cEvin has had dreams, he’s told me, when he was younger, of some show on stage where there is this three-dimensional floating dragon. He’s had that kind of surround sound outlook of the future. And I’ve had ideas of taking something and doing more of a show. I was a magician when I was a kid, and I like the idea of the Chaos Magicians. Something in that realm might be interesting with scripted dialog. We’ll see. We have to start thinking about things like that now.
Was the use of spoken word recording specifically for the album meant to be a variation of how Skinny Puppy would use samples from films and other sources?
Ogre: It was. When it came to pass, we thought that it would be amazing if it worked out. There’s always that serendipity, the risk that it might not work in the context of the music . I was up in Toronto working with Bill. We’d hung out a little bit and become friends. He would read my his poetry. He wrote something each day, it was one of his many exercises. And some of it was just amazing. He wrote this one for myself and my new girlfriend. I asked him if he wanted to do it [work on the album], and he said ‘yeah.’ So right at the last minute, he came in just kind of spilled some things out and again it was just that kind of moment where it just all melded together. In retrospect, I think that it’s absolutely perfect how it turned out. The spoken word is something that definitely gave the album a few layers of icing on top. I’d love to work with Bill again … you talked earlier about expanding our show, and we’ve definitely had some conversations about things like that.
What did you chose to go under the name ohGr for this project?
Ah. It’s 2 syllables and again it’s an abstraction. The idea of apathy and anger, the long ‘oh’ and then ‘gr.’ That’s really all it was, an idea in my own mind of splitting apathy and anger.
What can we expect from the upcoming ohGr tour?
Ogre: We’re doing something that’s a little different, in the sense that Bill Morrison, who’s played with Skinny Puppy, he’s done a lot of video work – he did the “Too Dark Park” backing tapes, he did the “Last Rights” backing tapes, did “Killing Game,” did both of the Ohgr videos. He’s been a friend of mine forever. He’s a filmmaker, along with … he’s a renaissance person, but as a film maker he’s been working on all of these projects like a documentary on The Process Church of the Final Judgment and he’s been on a television series as well – an extreme cooking show! It’s a great show, too, the guy goes and does like the Guinness diet for a week, goes to Arizona and fries eggs out in the sun, that kind of thing. Anyway, he’s working on a project called The America Memory project 8gc (americanmemory.net) with Justin Bennett, who is our drummer. He’s gone to the Library of Congress and taken things like the Lakota Sioux ghost dance, and the uprising that was squashed; it was basically a dance they were doing when their lands were once again subdivided to bring in homesteads. They would start joining in huge groups and doing the dance called the ghost dance. It scared the authorities and the military so much that it was the thing that caused the Wounded Knee massacre and the genocide of the Lakota Sioux. So he’s gone in, and he’s amazing with compositing and editing, graphic editing and special effects editing. He’s done this 3 dimensional looking show that is interactive, and so that show is going to lead into our show. It’s very intensely visual. I’m really excited about seeing it, actually.See all interviews →