Kevin Oglivie (or Nivek Ogre) has been at the centre of alternative-electronic and industrial music for the past 26 years with Skinny Puppy and his ohGr project. Now, in 2011 with ohGr’s latest release, ‘UnDeveloped’ about to get its European release, we chat to the mastermind about the project’s development, his inspirations and ideas for the future…
“I am just a victim of my own choices”
S] Where are you today? Are you doing anything exciting?
O] “I’m about 20 minutes up north from Los Angeles. I’m getting ready to go to the Chiller Convention this weekend in New Jersey. And we just finished up the Skinny Puppy record and the ohGr records have been delivered. The new ohGr record is coming out May 10 here, and May 20 in Europe.”
S] Cracking on to the new record, how has your approach to writing changed and developed since ‘Devils In My Details’? It’s the last record you released as ohGr, how’s that changed and developed over time for this new record?
O] “Well, I think ‘Devils In My Details’ opened up a whole new mode of recording for us. In the start, we were taking one Pro Tools session and then began to write themed ideas with characters in a story mode. Everything I’ve ever written has been semi-autobiographical. In a way, I also started living in the moment, you know, to express who I was, however I was definitely at a certain period of my life and within that context, I was trying to end the struggle with Devils and so, with ‘UnDeveloped’ it’s just been this process of moving away. It’s also been about moving away from the struggle that is recording as well. With Skinny Puppy, it’s always been about fitting a vocal over the top of music that has already been written for the most part, whereas ohGr starts from building on a vocal melody. We go through a lot of abstractions within oGhr that are not present on Skinny Puppy. The latter is more challenging though, because it’s already hard to work on and then add to something that is already nearly done; so, ohGr is a release from 26 years of that style of recording – we have really found a passion for the process. Anyway, ‘UnDeveloped’ is a kind of exploration moving on from the work on Devils and saw us trying to create immersive music instead of just picking tracks and going from 1 to 8 to 7.” [laughs]
S] Can you talk us through the cover artwork as well that you worked on with Steven R. Gilmore? What did you enjoy about that process?
O] “Steven’s always been a friend of mine, we were mates from Calgary in Alberta, Canada. So we actually grew up about a mile away from each other. We went to the same high school but he was five years ahead of me. We didn’t actually meet until before Skinny Puppy formed. Back then, he was getting in to so much trouble with the law, and I was in-between I was in to sports but I was also doing a lot of acid. We really met as part of Vancouver’s drug and party scene in ’81 and ’82. Now, we just have a chat and catch-up when it is time for me to do a Skinny Puppy or oGhr album. I give him the main points of what the album is about, like the concept for ‘UnDeveloped’ and he takes all that and ends up doing something that I wouldn’t expect but that is perfect for it. He went for something that was more foetal and undeveloped – not that we are pushing pro-choice, but more the idea of the energy of the soul and the pollution of it.
S] What did you want to achieve with the introductions to ‘Crash’ and ‘101’ on the album, ‘UnDeveloped’?
O] “”We wanted to give the album more context than before with musical interludes that are built in to segue and give the tracks a bit more power or background. For the intro for ‘101’, there’s obviously two differences that were based on Michael Jackson and the 911 call; those are haunting experiences within themselves. At the beginning of the song, we are asking: ‘who is the witness?’ and then at the end, where the last lyric is ‘who then holds the gun?’ we want to ask who it is that holds the gun at these events – metaphorically or not, and who is responsible. We wanted to look at a lot of these conspiracies and things about people dying mysteriously. ‘101’ was more of a spontaneous introduction that we started recording when Mark [Walk] called me on the phone with Pro Tools running.” [laughs]
S] What inspired the tracks ‘Bellew’ and ‘ScrewMe’?
O] Well, ‘Bellew’ was such a joy to do. I love that pure synthesis of really crisp tones that create these sad and introspective moods. They are very simple, but very dark lyrics. The voice in the second verse had to be this gentle one to ‘soldier’ one through to the next shift. I have dealt with a lot of depression in my life, but I have been able to ‘soldier’ through it, and look back to reflect. There’s something about when one comes to face sadness or depression that’s liberating when you let go. With ‘ScrewMe’ and on the album as a whole, there are these themes based around sexual ideas whether it’s in the lyrics: “who do I have to f**k or ‘blow my mind’. That song had these ideas of self-mutilation and explored what we put ourselves through continuously in this world. There seems to be a voice inside us all that says, ‘oh, I am used to this pain now, so I will just continue on.” That track is probably the poppiest song on the record – I hate to say it but it’s almost Nirvana-esque.” [laughs]
S] Where do you find inspiration from? Do you go to a specific place? Do go sit down somewhere and look at people or places? Where do you find your main inspiration?
O] “I’m a bit of an isolationist. I have been for over 26 years now. I have a skewered perspective already of right and wrong. I have a perspective not based on the normal machinations of one life and so I think, for me, inspiration comes from a lot of places. I’ve always been a keen observer, ever since I was a child, before I really understood world politics or things going on, I watched people. I was so persistent and obsessed with watching people and their characteristics. It was a bit voyeuristic I guess, but it was out in the open, so it wasn’t like I was peeking through windows or through doorways. I also became fascinated with news and CNN when it first came on; I was amazing because what I thought was going to be this huge channel of 24 hour information that would open all of our eyes, just turned in to something that played on three or four stations and produced soundbites of propaganda. I was fascinated with asking ‘what is the truth?’ and ‘when does the truth function as a lie?” All of those things fed in to what I am now, and now I am just a victim of my own choices. I used to automatically write and I was amazed at what I would come up with as a kid, and so I think a lot of that has segued into what I do now, as far as the more ‘freeform’ stuff, and then from that it becomes a more focused lyric.”
S] With all your experience with Skinny Puppy, with ohGr and with your other various musical projects and collaborations, do you still learn about yourself?
O] “Oh yeah. I think even more so now. Well, when I was younger I thought I was too dark, too scared, too tentative or too darn cocky maybe. But I’ll certainly say, the more one gets, the more one sees. It’s like ‘the more you know, the less you show’ which is a Robert Smith [The Cure] lyric! I have always been very humble and I am appreciative of the fact that I get to do this, and coming from the background that I did. I made a first record thinking that I would never make a second one. I would ask myself: ‘how do I make this work up until I am 40-years-old and here I am now, at 48 and it’s still going strong. It’s amazing. The path in life isn’t always what you think or hope it will be but that’s the fun of it. You will continually evolve and change. The idea of hypocrisy is a good thing because if we realise we are being hypocritical then we can change. That’s the same for all of us, because as we get older we can sometimes stick to certain beliefs that don’t work for ourselves and those around us.”
S] As an extension of that question, you have a long time musical partner, Mark Walk, do you still find yourself learning about him and how to work with him on ohGr and other projects?
O] “I haven’t had a relationship in music like I have with Mark, where we became friends, close friends, when we started on the process with Skinny Puppy in ’94 and as the relationship has gone on, we’ve been very supportive of each other through various kinds of break-ups, you know; me with my marriage and me helping him when he sold his house and moved down here and with his break-up. And as life goes on you discover a lot more about that person. It’s a very unique process. I guess we kinda both just ‘know’ each other. There’s an unspoken part to it, a trust. It’s always evolving for sure.”
S] You’ve been able to tour occasionally here [in the UK] with Skinny Puppy. Is there anything you’re looking forward to most about coming back to the UK? Is there anything you plan on doing apart from performing? Any places that you want to particularly see or anything you really enjoy while over here?
O] “Well, I was up in York in 1973, when I came across on a school trip and I remember reading horror stories in a little hotel that was quite foreign to me! I think I was 12. I really like Britain, I really actually quite enjoyed London. Last time we were here, we were in Bermondsey. It’s not a great area but it was a great stop-over for us and then we went up to Scotland. I am an Oglivie, so I have Scottish and English in me. I got to play for the first time in Glasgow which was amazing. You travel a lot in 26 years, but you don’t get to see a lot. I keep seeing things that make me want to come back. Every time we do a lot of crossings at Dover, I realise just how beautiful your island is.”
S] Back to music for a second, how has your attitude changed as someone who has been at the centre of the genre and the style for so long? How has your attitude to industrial and electronic music changed, particularly over the last decade?
O] “Well, I’ve never really felt at the centre but at a personal level but I know a lot of people look to Skinny Puppy as that cult offering from that genre and we never stuck to one style and I think that’s been our guide work to a lot of our albums, to continually move and change and mutate. I know Cevin [Key] picked up on one of the dance styles but we’re trying to stay away from any kind of cliches and try the best we can with electronic music. It’s hard to set yourself apart. I never got the big wave or attempted to do what other bands have done before us. There’s definitely a longevity to this. I think that my focus has got a lot more focused and tight. Hopefully, there’s still some good material left in me. You know, doctors told me, after an injury I had when I was 17 and playing football, that I would be on crutches by the time I was 40. I was horrified. I went through my 20s feeling an intense pain, and I was really depressed about how my life was going to turn out. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way and it gave me this perspective that not everything that someone tells you is always going to be true. I use that in music too – I want to just keep moving and seeing where that attitude takes me.”
S] What is it that fuels your passion for creating music?
O] “I mean first and foremost is the fact that it’s all I can do. My skillset is limited to a certain degree. I embraced this back in my 20s and never turned away. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me, as I have been able to go into acting as well. It’s also allowed me to do things that I was scared of when I was younger including writing prose or stories. That is changing! That keeps me going. I have worked really hard for 26 years without patting myself on the back, so now that I am starting to do that, it really has helped me to keep moving forward.”
S] How are you expanding the ohGr concept for this record?
O] “Well, I developed a character for ‘UnDeveloped’ called Mr. Brownstone. Mr. Brownstone is layered digitally at ohgr.com. He has an alter-ego who used to be an ex-military police officer. He’s been involved in dark and serious things. He only communicates through a typewriter. He types on this and then uploads these rants online and to a Facebook page. That character is one of the aspects of this new album within a virtual world. In terms of performance, I love using masks and things like that and constantly changing. We have started using live projectors and we have refined that over two tours. We are always working on trying to bring out the most visually with the funds that we have. Back in the 80s when I was with Skinny Puppy, we were spending money that we didn’t have! [laughs]. We were carrying a big backline for much bigger shows in our heydey for then and the early 90s at the band’s peak. But yeah, now we are all about doing more and being creative with less. Skinny Puppy is much more of a spectacle than OhGr which comes across as more of an all-round band performance. But, for us it has always been about finding different ways to get across the same live experience and making sure that the quality is always there.”
S] I think you referred to his album as the next stepping stone in your journey. So what is next?
O] “We can never fully say what the next step is in life. There’s a Skinny Puppy record coming out in fall, I believe. And then we’re getting this tour together for ohGr and you know, we’ll just keep on going!”
S] Have you got a message for the fans in the UK who are looking forward to the next tour?
O] We had a great time last time in a little club in Manchester [Moho] and the fans in England have been like super f***ing cool. People always come up and have a chat and it’s a great time. We’ll hopefully be bringing ohGr over there soon!
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