PunkTV.ca exclusive interview by Dixon Christie with cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy in support of Mythmaker.
* * * * *
Dixon: This is an interview with Skinny Puppy's cEvin Key in support of 2007 release of Mythmaker on SPV Records. Hey Kevin, how are you doing?
Kevin: I'm fine.
Good, did you get your stuff all taken care of? (We had a few delays in getting the interview on.)
Yeah, there's some major ordeals but I'm working around it. I'm releasing a new Vault series through our website. It's a set of 7 CDS, and the first 3 CDS are out today, and so we have like I don't know how many thousand packages that we had to pack and I thought I could do it in a day or two, but three days later I'm still just "pow, pow, pow, pow!"
Well, I'll send you my address because I would be honored if you could send us a review copy, that would be SO sick. (Ya, he did send out all 3 copies so watch for future interviews in support of those releases.)
Yeah I will, if we're not all sold out. I'm not too sure where we're at right now. Just craziness.
So it's been 20 years now, and this is your 13th album, Mythmaker. Did you ever think, looking back, that Skinny Puppy would have the legs that it has?
Um, not really. I just sorta have to give it to the old testament of doing what you believe in and having fun. And then luckily for us, the success more so followed the things we liked to do, and the harder we tried before that at other bands in more commercial situations, the more miserable we became. So it was sorta a blessing for us to find this space within this sorta free realm of our music. You know, this music is not really like what someone would have determined 20 years ago as to be something to follow. I remember many people saying to me, "You're crazy!" And then several years later those people started bands that were very similar like, Num and so on.
I was going to comment on Ogre's (or Ohgr) vocals and how completely, you know, weird it seemed to people that he could sing like that back in the 80's, and I mean now you look at what people are doing with music and what vocalists are doing, I mean, the whole world has caught up to what Ogre was doing over 20 years ago.
Yeah, I mean luckily we were exposed to technology at a good time, when it was still quite Martian, and so like when the digital delay first came out, the Lexicon PCM-41, or say one of the Korg SDD1000's, it was really your first sampler, it was really like the first thing you could take something you could instantly do and manipulate it into something else right away. So for us, there was an attraction to that, though at first, it seemed like all the knobs were doing different things then what they actually do, like for us because we didn't know what they were doing. You know we could never get bored, because we didn't know what we were doing. So essentially to become able to tour, and make albums, and to get signed and do all that stuff, while at that stage in our life was really a blessing, I look back on that now and see that.
I remember the first Mirage that I ever got had 2.2 seconds of sampling time at like 8-bit? Do you remember that?
Yeah, I still have 2 of those.
Oh you do, do you use them at all?
You know I haven't used them in years, but I'm thinking of hauling them out pretty soon.
Yeah, every once in a while, I come across some component of it, cause I had it totally macked out as best as you could with all these plug-ins, and there'd be guys in the back of Keyboard Magazine offering these do-dads and stuff that you could get for it, so every once in a while I'll be going through a box of cords and I'll pull something up and I'll go "Oh yeah, that was from that old Mirage." I think I needed an operating system because the last time I tried to get it going, it wouldn't boot up.
Oh that's a shame. I haven't booted up mine for years, I wonder if they'll still work. It's quite often the hard drive that runs those samples in the keyboard. I mean I tried to boot up an S-900 the other day, and it was like "See-Ya."
Yeah, I bought one, an 1100 actually, two years ago and instantly got Gigasampler and a bunch of stuff for the PC and honestly, I think I used that sampler like twice [laughing.]
[laughing] We use to use it pretty regularly all the time for stuff we did.
You guys had (Akai) 2000's and I mean most of that stuff can be handled in the PC realm, are you guys moving to mostly soft synths and do you see moving towards that direction?
Ya, absolutely. We've been there for quite a number of years as well. We work quite exclusively with Mac, so I don't like PC's [laughing]. But it's not because I don't know them; it's because I don't use them. I've never used one in my life and I don't even know how to turn one on--so that's why I like Macs. Basically, we've been working Logic Audio from version 1.0, and so I've been on there for 11...wait is it 11? No..14 years since I started with Logic, and I've seen Logic grow from a basic midi sequencing device, much like for 6 or 7 years previous to that we were working with Atari with the Pro 24's Steinberg program, which was designed by Gerhard Lengeling, who basically who went on to make Logic. So Logic was really an extension at that point, and then we see Logic incorporate digital audio recording and now the advent of virtual synthesis; the birth of virtual synthesis to me was like above and beyond what Dwayne and I use to joke about. We use to joke about being able to record into the computer and being able to sequence next to it, but we never thought about having soft synths or virtual synths, or CS-80, or any of these things. The world has become an ideal place to be for an experimental band, if you ask me.
The last time we spoke when you released The Greater Wrong of the Right, you had indicated that you felt Dwayne would be in his heyday? (Dwayne was from Edmonton, Alberta.)
It would be interesting to know how he felt about, like you said, the music and the writing and the way you can write music these days.
He would have been in his, like I say, he didn't even make it to the point of where he actually began to record audio into the computer. We actually got to the point where he left off at Studio Vision, with his last sequencer he liked to use, and then we worked together on Logic -- very first version you could record audio on, but he didn't really like the technology to record [laughing] I don't know. If it was something that he didn't understand or what. But he use to like to...he thought the K-2000 was the greatest piece of equipment ever invented, and so he'd use to say "You don't need anything" -- except he had a bad time with the S-1000... and the K-2000 -- he didn't want anything else. So basically that's the world of Dwayne, and I think that if he had a better round to see where it had all gone, I would have loved to seen what he would have gravitated towards, because who knows what he would have liked.
You told me about the live show rig that you took out for the last tour, and I'm talking to a lot of people that have moved from Logic, Live, to Ableton Live.
I use them both. I will go on record saying that Ableton Live is probably the most greatest achievement in music making, since the Mini-Moog.
That was my next question, which was what is the greatest technological advance in music in this decade?
Have you at all pissed around with Acid?
You know I haven't. I just went straight to the real McCoy as far as I've heard. You know, typically Acid, I've heard too many people say "When I found Ableton, it's a lot better." I tend to not...it's sorta like I don't try Digital Performer, and I don't try Cakewalk, or I don't try all these other companies that are probably working hard at great products, but it's just because if you don't get right into your gear -- you can't even learn to get above the gear, and that's what you really need to do to make good music I think.
Ya, totally, and you spend all your entire life writing patches, or programming intricate bass-lines, or actually writing songs, and finishing songs?
So you have to decide what is it that you do in whatever capacity -- writer, programmer, filmmaker, or director.
I think with technology and the way that it comes so fast, and it changes so fast...if you try to keep up with everything instead of, as you said, finishing and keeping busy, you're going to spend your life reading manuals and reading updates. There's nothing worse than that. You gotta sink into what you feel comfortable working with and not thinking about the technology and just using it as an instrument. That's why I like Ableton so much, I don't really think it's a great product to make an entire song with, unless your really into the -- the sequencing page -- there's a few things that I would change about it. So that's why I use Logic and Ableton together, synched on two systems and then record the results into digital audio and Logic and then additionally work with it again there. That's what I find as your an incredible strength, cause you can keep on going back to Ableton -- look at it like your Mirage, or drum machine and just take your tracks and not get bogged down by its limitations.
So do you have tons and tons of loops and sounds and samples and screams and explosions and industrial sounds and everything that you pull up into your Ableton and get rocking your beat out, then use Logic, to say, record an Arpeggio line from this keyboard...or pull this up from this soft synth, how does that all work for you these days?
Ya that's pretty much it. I mean I use Ableton almost like a giant SP-1200 or a Studio 440 drum machine. It is like a digital-sampling-rhythmic-sound-making factory. And I also like to use sequence elements in there for say working with the Korg virtual stuff, I really dig that. I like to work more so with Ableton for the Korg stuff than in Logic. I don't know why...and then in Logic I like to work with a lot of the native instrument stuff like Reactor 5 is pretty sick. I mean I could go on all day about which plug-ins and the stuff I like, but I think Logic is a more powerful area to gather all your information and put it into one playable format. And ultimately in the end, I also really like Pro-Tools for editing albums. Between those 3 programs, you basically should be able to make a great record.
Fortunately enough, I got to talk to Bill Lee a couple of days ago, and also to Clay Worbeck who is remixing The Ministry and the RevCo new albums, and I know that they have a different approach than everyone does, but I found it interesting that at this stage of the game, that you've got an entire mix with all of the effects and everything in Pro-Tools and now when you give that to a re-mix artist, you're basically giving him your bible of everything that you've done in the past 25 years and all your skills/techniques and everything, you know it finally got to that final point. That's kinda an interesting place to be, wouldn't you say?
And some of these remix artist must find it really inspiring to get a hold of those tracks from guys like you and Bill (Leeb, FLA) and obviously Al (Jourgenson, Ministry) and all those people, and look at the intricate ways that you guys create the music.
Right. Right. Well you know. We're all getting old [laughing].
[laughing] Well, I meant, this is it. It's nice that you guys and the other bands are taking on younger players when you're going out on the road too.
Ya, it's true, we have to. I mean I don't know if we would if Dwayne was still around, we'd probably still be old guys up there, but you know.
Tell us about Mythmaker and the pressures of creating this album following up to the Greater Wrong of the Right and your creative inspiration going into the project?
We toured the Greater Wrong of the Right for 3 legs and had some shows around the world, and got in touch with our fan-base and had a chance to sort of play the old songs quite a bit of times, so it was nice to come back into the studio and at that point I sorta just let go and just let it be what it would be. I didn't really think too much of writing an album, as much as I was just venting out all this creative energy. We thought we would do the album sooner; we thought we were going to wrap it up in March and have it out a few months later after that, but the album carried on for another 6 or 8 months past that, which isn't a big deal because we didn't want to rush something, nor did we want to miss a proper period to come on tour in something, so we just said "Let's stretch it out." What was nice about that, was it gave me a chance to write about 40 ideas, and out of that I gave Mark (Walk) 25, and out of the 25, Mark was able to look at 10 that he really liked. So he worked with Ogre on that and sent them back to me, and when they came back again, we were starting to get a good system going to work together where I know when it comes back, all I have to do is re-look at it, and get re-inspired to change about it what I might not feel yet or see in it. So really, almost like working with yourself and somebody else which is quite cool. In the end, I end up feeding Ken Marshall into the mix system, and we come up with the final product. We just went with our gut-ideas, gut-instincts, and not anything about following up after any albums like Greater Wrong of the Right. Mainly because Greater Wrong of the Right was really more of a conceptual record in discussion, and it wasn't a practical record as far as making it was concerned, so therefore, it was more like a super group, in the sense that we had many players and people who were into Skinny Puppy who were really just sharing an idea, and thus, we made sorta a collaborative Skinny Puppy album. Mythmaker, I think, is more of a return to maybe the more closer-knit sound that comes out of Ogre and myself, when we're together. I think Mark said that to me once, he said "You know, I think a real Skinny Puppy record is one that should focus on you and Ogre very closely. That's where the sound is, between you guys." I think with that approach on this new album, it sorta tuned into it. The more pure album...that we are still growing. I'd like to see album #3 take more steps in that direction, but for the better part, Mythmaker -- at some points I was thinking "I don't know what this albums going to be and I sorta like that," and then when it gave birth to itself, when I listened to it the first time I was like "okay, that's what it is." So it was a little bit about letting go.
Well obviously giving a lot of the power over to Mark (Walk) to make those kind of decisions on your behalf.
What was nice was that I was able to freely write ideas that were just exactly what I was feeling, and when I gave them to him, they weren't really arranged into a Skinny Puppy format. What I like about working with Mark is that he can see two ideas that might be a little more out there, and then pull in something that he work with, with Ogre, and then I can see what he's seeing and thus get re-inspired.
Which basically puts the band back into Skinny Puppy.
That's exactly right!
You had said you felt like you found your stride with this album. Obviously you're referring to so many years away from the process -- you know with these fellows; getting back to that process...maybe the future of Skinny Puppy in this Mythology?
Well I think it's the only choice that would be logical, because we don't have any other choice that would be any more better. I mean, sure we'd like to work with Rave (Dave "Rave" Ogilvie – I also got to interview Dave this month, check out what he said, yes, I had the audacity to tell him what Kevin said as follows...dix) again, but Rave's not on his tangent. I don't know where he exists or where he gets his peace because most of the people I know like their long term situations that they've achieved in life. So Ogre and I are both at a place where we have a great amount of respect for each other and a great amount of respect for everybody whose worked for us. What they've put in and what they've brought; I just find that the only way we could go any deeper is that if Rave were to say ‘I really appreciate what I did in the past and I would like to come back and be involved.' But unfortunately, he's sorta a bit jaded, I don't know why, where, how, who...and that's sorta why we stopped working together is he said to me one day, "I'm far too big for this." -- Basically it's a shame, but what I feel is that's about the only way that we could become probably even more in-tuned of what Skinny Puppy would be, is if Rave would feel some affection for what he did in the past.
Yikes, was he drunk when he said that? (I was joking, being facetious and surprised as to why Rave was not involved.)
Ah no, he said that to me when I asked him to be involved with some Download recordings. He said, "No, I'm far too big for that--couldn't afford me." We went from being like friends to this really...I-can't-really-put-it-into-words situation that I'm not really impressed with, so I went my own way and been very happy about that choice, because since then I feel like I've just gotten better from myself as far as all the things I needed to do.
Just so people know...you're talking about Dave "Rave" Ogilvie's who has remixed Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and everybody else but maybe what he was saying in that comment, was that it was Download that was too different from Skinny Puppy, and maybe he might feel differently about Skinny Puppy then he may have at the time about Download?
Well he did get involved with Download. He did actually help us mix 3 or 4 of the songs on the first album, but he said "I refuse to be credited on this." So that's why it all started to get a little bit weird, it's because he had said, "if you're going to credit me on this, it's gotta be under a different name," and "I'm far too big for this." It just really sorta hurt us.
Doesn't he realize that without Skinny Puppy, there could be no Marilyn Manson? (Or White Zombie or KMFDM, Rammstein, and so on...just my opinion, of course...dix.)
No, I don't think he does realize that. I don't think Dave Ogilvie respects what he did with Skinny Puppy. I think he is looking to become successful as being known as Dave Ogilvie -- the guy from Nine Inch Nails. That's really what I truly feel.
Ya, there wouldn't be any Nine Inch Nails without Skinny Puppy either. (Again, my opinion.)
I mean, whether or not that's the truth or not, I just think when you don't embrace what YOU are, then all your whole life you'll go looking for something that you want to be bigger, better, or whatever like that. I just saw that in Dave Ogilvie with Nine Inch Nails, and a few statements that he said to me and he derailed our whole possibility of getting deeper because there's just not enough respect to each other for what we do.
And if this finds its way into his lap, the main message of this part of the conversation is that it would be wonderful to have him back. (And it did happen, read the interview I got later that month with internationally acclaimed producer, Dave Rave Ogilvie.)
Absolutely, there's a great amount of love and respect for where we were, and what we've achieved, and I just wished the feeling was more mutual from him because we've extended many times -- little signals his way, and the signals we get back, it's like he'd rather hate us. I just think that's complete bullshit. I just wanted to put this out into the press, just because of that.
Thank you for your generosity and sharing that with PunkTV.ca. Let's talk about the evolution of Skinny Puppy as songwriters. Do you think you could have written such multi-dimensional songs, not only is the complexity and intricacy of the programming evolved, but the songs are bigger, better, grander, more epic, more complex, more harrowing -- the production values, the lyrics, the integration and cohesiveness of the piece; what you know as ‘songs' is so much clearer than what you guys were doing 20 years ago?
I think we've gotten better at being Skinny Puppy. But at the same time, I think that the lesson learned is to be yourself and to follow your intuitions, and not let something get in the way of that idea. Just try and flesh it out as much as you can and then walk away from it, cause chances are the next day, you'll come back and listen to it and 1 out of 5 of the ideas are going to do something for you later. They trigger something that you feel about, and that's what I look for in music and when I handed it off to Mark -- those ideas are in there, and when they come back, then I can get attached to it. That was more so happening on this record, then say, obviously the last record in many ways more so than the process, even though I really liked that album the way that it turned out now. It has been a while since we have gelled. I think the next album, with the way that Mark and I have been talking about doing things, I think it could be an even better collab, so we'll see.
You feeling about what I'm saying about the epic quality of some of your songs though eh?
At the same time, "Haze" was an idea that's been kicking around. When I sit down on piano and start playing something, I always end up playing 3 or 4 of the same melodies until I end up recording them. And then once I record them, it's like their good, see-ya! "Haze" has been like...oh my God that song has been around for at least since the process. For Mark to finally help me develop that, and to develop it into the song that it is; has been like letting go of something in my head, and I have to thank him for that, because I don't think that would have happened without him.
Interview by: Dixon Christie, PunkTV.ca
* * * * *