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Barking Up The Right Tree

by Missy Hendrix
from High Times January 1993

OCR'ed and touched up by Gabriel Millerd/AFM

It's 4:20, and I'm getting stoned with my favorite band, Skinny Puppy. As Dwayne Rudolph Goettel (keyboardist), cEVlN Key (percussionist), and Rave (producer) toke and pass, cEVlN explains that every song ever written, produced and performed by Skinny Puppy has been created under the influence of THC.

"Pot is definitely a part of our music in more direct ways than any other thing," says cEVlN.

"It plays a big part in accentuating the music -- listening or playing," adds Dwayne. "After smoking a joint, there's usually a rush of thought processes that give you an abundance of ideas or directions. Not that you can't come up with those ideas without it, but you may act on them more instantly. You have an idea you like and you go for it."

Dwayne's been tokin' since he was 13 years old (he's 31 now). "Pretty much every day," he says. "I don't regret it for a second. I wouldn't have it any other way. Even if I were to die of lung cancer tomorrow I would say, 'Oh well, at least I saw the things I saw.' It's just been too amazing. I'm able to scan, and place myself within a, sort of unlimited time zone. I watch life like a movie.

A few hours later, I get to watch Skinny Puppy's outrageous stage show. Touring in support of Last Rights (Nettwerk/ Capitol), the ninth and latest release from this Vancouver-based trio, the Puppy pull out all the stops with an amazing array of props: the alter-ego cast worn by lead singer Nivek Ogre with not only extreme facial expression, but with an arm that lunges, grasping; the guilty suit, a masterpiece collage of what both Tim Gore (the creator of these fine pieces) and Ogre deem, "A manifestation of guilt and emotion. Things you hide in your closet"; and the virtual-reality gadget prop Ogre propels himself in and out of in total synchronicity with the large video screen behind the stage. cEVlN and Dwayne, both hidden behind stacks of equipment, pound out industrial dance music that is both disturbing and visionary. Especially noteworthy are the spectacular light show, the incredible sound system and the encore of "Testure," a song about the horror of vivisection.

Traveling from Columbus, Ohio to Cincinnati for the next show, I pick up the interview where we left off in an Indian restaurant. cEVlN offers this story about the birth of Skinny Puppy:

"The first song we ever did was called 'Canine': a vision of life as seen through a dog's muted eyes, unable to speak up except for a very loud bark. From the very beginning, our whole concept was to write every song from knee level. We figured eventually people would figure out that we're like a dog. That's how we see things."

As for their musical inspiration, he says, "So many bands exist because they're inspired by another band. We talked about what it would be like to take these crazy ideas of making sounds out of things that we all take for granted and putting them together and actually reflecting all those sounds back onto a record just screwed up a bit. At first, we only got parts of it here and there. For us, it was a need to finish it off and take it all the way. We put music on tapes and, through a worldwide network of people exchanging tapes, our music with the name Skinny Puppy got out." In 1983, Skinny Puppy signed with Nettwerk and released their debut album, Back and Forth.

After dinner, Dwayne and I return to the tour bus to puff some herb. The conversation shifts to the war against marijuana. "There hasn't been a single overdose on marijuana ever," he says with conviction. "The number of people who OD on heroin or cocaine in one year in the US is in the low thousands, whereas the number of people who die from cigarettes and/or alcohol are in the hundreds of thousands. For the government to say, 'We're trying to eradicate drugs because they're bad for you' is complete bullshit!

"If you're smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, your processes are limited. What people are really scared of is the information you can find or the joys you can have experiencing, learning and expanding yourself. The more that we, as individuals, do that, the less likely we're going to fall prey to the robot game of product consumption.

"I hope we can overcome years of propaganda," Dwayne continues, "and the truth can be exposed for what it is. Otherwise, fifty years from now we'll be sitting around saying we blew it."

Following another peak Puppy performance, I finally get an audience with Ogre. I want to talk about his battle with coke addiction, about what drew him to the drug.

"I romanticized about being a drugged-out individual and it just kind of took over," Ogre says rather honestly. "When you romanticize something, the reality of what you're romanticizing about sometimes is very different from what you romanticize it to be.

"All of the pleasant things about drugs, like smoking a joint, were gone. All of my friends around me said, 'Smoke pot, just smoke some pot,' but I was gone. I had entered another world totally. I was really in a bad state, both physically and mentally. I suffered four seizures and still wouldn't stop. Finally, I bottomed out. It took getting really sick and a long period of healing for me to snap out of it. When I got out of the hospital this tired, fragmented shell of a person the first thing I did was get some pot and chill out. There haven't been any problems since then."

And what does Ogre have to say about the War on Drugs? "I think that the government is trying to shut down the American marijuana trade in order to push cocaine. Pot growers are busted, while cocaine runs rampant in our streets. Poisonous cocaine is far easier to find than good marijuana. It wasn't so much the cocaine that was killing me, it was what they cut it with. A couple of times my arm bubbled up. I got so asphyxiated, I couldn't breathe."

Ogre would like to see all drugs legalized. "In the long run, you'd cut down the black market and the violence. Obviously, we have a certain percentage of our society that is going to be interested in drugs. It's impossible to tell somebody 'don't do drugs.' It's ignorant too. If we could legalize things there would be a lot more money to go into programs for people who are in the hellish state I was in. A guy I knew in LA who's quite talented and did a lot of work in movies had the same problems that I did. I was lucky, I got help. Somebody was watching over me. This friend of mine tried to get treatment, but all the programs were full. Two weeks later he jumped out a window."

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