Interview with N. Ogre
Movement Magazine, Jacksonville, FL (1992?)
By: Kali Webb, Max Michaels & TAK
My knees are knocking. My teeth are chattering. I have the worst case of clammy palms since my date, and my one desire is to find a nice place to hide. Classic symptoms of a nervous breakdown ? No, I'm about to come face to face with Nivek Ogre, that's all. The Movement crew-- Max, TAK, and I --sat sown with the incomparable Ogre and got the low- down on his recovery from drug addiction, the state of Skinny Puppy and much, much more.
As nervous as we are, he seems completely at ease with us and more importantly, with himself. Even with all he's been through he doesn't come across as jaded or suspicious. I study him carefully, noting every detail as he talks. His boyish air and bright blue eyes belie the harsh reality of the years he spent as a junkie. His skin is surprisingly clear and unlined. Something about him makes me think of Jack Kerouac. Maybe it's the way his words flow out in long unbroken streams, almost automatically, as if he has no control over them. He chain-smokes cigarettes he bums from all three of us. Picface's tour manager Jolly Roger (who has also done Puppy's tours) jokes. "That cheap prick has never bought a pack of cigarettes in his fucking life !"
Ogre is amazingly candid about his past drug use, often going into hair-raising detail. He existed in the desperate vacuum that is an addict's life for so long it became a part of him, something that never will completely go away. Although he claims to have been clean for almost a year now, it's obvious that the memories of those times when he pushed his mind and body beyond the limits of sanity are still vivid. But perhaps talking about it is a form of exorcism. Like when Max asks what "Killing Game", the haunting yet powerful near-ballad off Last Rights, is about. Ogre answers without fear of Infamy:
"Killing Game is about one weekend in my apartment, it got very crazy. I was basically trapped in my apartment, only escaping to get more drugs to sustain the delusion that was going on. I was having massive amounts of hallucinations, there were lights coming out of the walls and I was under the impression that I was being watched by people very closely, and that there was a demonic force that was slowly closing in on me and just harassing me until I committed suicide, basically. It wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't stop doing drugs because it was too painful to stop doing drugs and face what I'd become. And whenever I did drugs, as soon as I put the needle in my arm and injected the cocaine into my body, it was like turning on all the sound, all the vision, all of the hallucination...this was something very twisted and very real. And at the time I was being harassed by some people who knowledge with occupying different transient fields of energy, which I believe they did. And so perhaps I believed and manifested that myself. But yeah, I've got a much stronger belief in alternate universes and the ability of people to manifest and occupy these different magnetic fields and cause damage to other people, if you allow them to."
He goes on to further recount what some people might refer to as a "drug-induced psychotic episode". But to Ogre it was much more. He relies on his spiritual belief system to explain what he refers to as "a haunting", where the real and the imaginary exist in the same world.
"I had really broken the bell around myself, the bell jar. I mean, if you consider your body a vessel, there's lots of experiments you can do with the vessel but just don't crack the vessel. And I cracked the vessel and I had really broken down the aura, the protective aura around me and I allowed lots of shit to come in. And I wasn't able to deal with it, I wasn't prepared to banish it, I wasn.t prepared to redirect it, I just took it all in. So basically what "Killing Game" is about is a haunting--- I was being haunted on a number of different levels. I was living in an apartment that was at street level in the back alleys so when I'd go and tell my friends what had been going on with me, my true friends decided to take it upon themselves to try to get me off drugs by realizing these delusions. So they'd come and freak me out at my apartment. And there was another group of people who were far more malevolent who didn't like me, who were on my girlfriend's side, who came and fucked with me really hard. And then there was the real thing that was going on with this alternate dimension, or this alternate dimension in my mind which I had somehow tapped into quite strongly. So it was very, very confusing, and that's what "Killing Game" is basically about."
As he matter-of-factly relates these personal horror stories, I have to turn away several times so he won't see the tears in my eyes. He doesn't want pity, nor is he pushing the "Just Say No" message to his fans. But it's obvious that he sees now, after facing his addiction, the pain and heartache he caused himself and those closest to him. During the making of Last Rights, as Ogre spiraled rapidly downward, he and bandmate cEVIN Key were barely speaking. Rumors of Skinny Puppy.s imminent breakup ran rampant. The lyrics on Last Rights are born from this inner turmoil, a chronicle of his waking nightmares. Due to their intensely personal nature, the lyrics were not included as they have been with past Puppy albums. Ogre explains this break with tradition:
"It was kind of a personal time in my life where I was messed up, I was in my own hell basically. So I'd like to leave that very interpretive...I didn't include it because at the time I lashed out at a lot of people that were around me and very close to me, like my ex-girlfriend and a lot of song.s are based upon what I thought I saw her do, which may or may not have been true. At the time it was very confusing and in retrospect now I see that I was basically lashing out at myself, I could probably turn each one of those words back at myself and go 'yeah, that was more about me than anybody else'. I'd be more willing to publish the lyrics now with subtext saying 'this is all about me', a little bit of a disclaimer"
The breaking point came during his first stint with Pigface, when he decided he had to clean himself up. He describes the physical ruin he inflicted on himself as he hit bottom.
"It wasn.t until the Pigface tour (in 1991)---they thankfully took me out on the road and got me to where I'd bottomed out, I'd blown about $25.000 in 2 months on cocaine. I was doing 2 grams a day and I was, like, perforated, I was like a sieve. I'd shoot up here (points to area on arm) and it would all bubble out, I was bubbling all the way up my arm. And I'd get maybe 1/10 of a shot because I was just so perforated. I'd start down here in the morning and work my way up each arm throughout the day, up to about 30-35 shots a day---I'm surprised I'm still alive. It's miraculous in a way. It's like a second chance for some reason...It's still something I have to overcome, you know, it's not going to go away for my whole life. But when I got on tour with Pigface, I'd kicked basically. They really helped me out."
Ogre's involvement with Pigface, the so-called "industrial supergroup", is a source of relaxation and enjoyment for him, a chance to cut loose from the intensity and artistry of Skinny Puppy and just rock and roll. Ogre contrasts the two:
"It's a challenge too because it's a whole different kind of music, it's a regular band. It's guitar-based, drums, it's a group of people going out, it's a minstrel show in away, and so there's a specific around of need to try and do something different than what you normally do in the confinement of what you've laid as being your course and your direction and you know with me, it's performance art in a way, or whatever it is, it's garbage can art, or dumpster rock, and Skinny Puppy is like building something out of nothing, but making it very performance-laden and using guises to kind of mask your real self or get through the performance by breaking down all exterior shells. (Editor's note: this was an actual sentence, printed exactly as it was spoken, in one long breath). And within Pigface it's just basically raw, there's no mask, there's no colors, there's no film going along with it. What you see is what you get, basically."
After seeing Ogre perform with Skinny Puppy covered in blood and gore, spilling organs and flinging around in a frenzy, it was strange to see him on-stage with Pigface. No blood or guts or cyber-spooky stage props anywhere in sight. The only things he brings with him are his surprisingly strong undistorted voice and unmistakable Ogre intensity and stage presence.
I ask where he draws his inspiration, from within himself or from outside, from things he sees happening around him. He replies, "I was very involved with myself and my own delusions for a long period of time and now I think I'm far more interested in what's available and accessible in everyday life that's just around the corner. You know, like the house around the corner and the little girl getting ass-fucked by her old man and shit like that. All those sick, twisted things that are available in normal everyday life. That's by far more twisted that my own like, self-masturbating, excursions and delusions sometimes, you know. So I think it's gone from a point of romanticizing about these things to experiencing my own masturbation, mental, as it may be, to now trying to apply that towards how people act in everyday life, which is far more insidious and heinous than most of what we can create in the underground and the so-called 'alternative lifestyle' scene..."
Speaking of the horrible and horrific, Ogre, a big horror-movie fan, is trying his hand at acting. (Well, he does live in LA---it was just a matter of time!). He excitedly describes his part in Second Coming, a "virtual reality vampire film" possibly directed by the director of cult favorites Cafe Flesh and Dr. Caligiri.
"I play a pimp for this machine that gives people what they want with no moral, legal or medical implications as far as their sexual fantasies go. But the catch is, it's kind of a 5-step program and the program causes you to self-destruct. You basically gives your soul to the machine, you cast off your whole life. It's like a drug, it's like everything that was important becomes no longer important because you're able to realize you most ultimate fantasy. So I'm the pimp for this machine."
He supposedly tested for a part in the film adaptation of the J. O'Barr comic The Crow, but didn't take it. Good thing, what with all the mishaps and "accidents" on the set, including the death of the star, Ogre'd probably be dead by now!
Does he have any desire to make movies on his own, as a writer or director ? He says he's written a few short treatments, describing them as "very surreal, very hard to put into the format of what today's movies would be". He mentions his interest in making short films with people in Vancouver, but this remains to be seen. Also on his list of upcoming projects: he wants to reactivate WELT (When Everyone Learns the Truth), the musical project abandoned due to legal squabbles and personal differences, just go back and basically start over again.
And of course there's Skinny Puppy. At the time we spoke with Ogre, the band was shopping around for a new record label after years with Capitol/Nettwerk, not all of them happy. According to Ogre, "We don't want people that will say, 'Well, you need a really good metal riff, you need a really good dance track', we want somebody who will say, 'No matter what you do, if it's good music, I don't care how long it takes, if it takes until 1995, as long as it's good music we can work it.' That's the kind of label we need behind the band because we haven't gotten that type of support. We've gotten no support." Negotiations are supposedly wrapping up, but no one's talking until the ink is dry.
All these things lie in the future for Ogre, a future he came so close to sacrificing for the temporary rush of a needle in his arm. But he seems to have picked up the pieces and built them back into a stable foundation: music projects, acting and film interests, a house in LA he shares with his girlfriend. After all, as W.B. Yeates wrote, "Nothing can be sole or whole/That has not been rent".
My nervousness is gone now (it disappeared when the shabby green Bic lighter Ogre was relentlessly flicking throughout most of the interview caught fire. He freaked out and threw it across the room, throwing us all into hysterics and putting us totally in ease.). As he leaves the room I think of a million more questions to ask, a million more things to say. Now that I know he'll be around for awhile, maybe I'll get another chance. And next time I won't be nervous---I promise!