Interview with cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy

interviewed by GraySun Caligari.

Please describe the creative process that went into the new album HanDover.

It was a long process. I’ll call it four stages. In 2008 after the tour of Mythmaker, I started writing and I was thinking to myself that I was going to go back to Japan and meet up with my friends and family from ages back and see what that brought. I went with that and it brought forth tracks like “Wavy“, which is from that session.

Then there was a second period, a year later, I decided I was going to try and work with equipment that I wasn’t used to, so I started working with Re-Noise.

Then we started theorizing about making a sort of Lou Reed type Metal Machine Music record. Where we could give it to SPV and it would be designed to sink. More like a Noise record or something. We started making a concept around that and Mark said, “I’ll do five songs and you do five songs. Then we’ll meet up next week and see what it sounds like.”

We did and Mark’s five songs sounded a lot like OhGr, and I suggested that it sounded too much like OhGr, so maybe you guys should use that for a record.  That became undeveloped.  But “Brownstone” and “NoiseX” are from that concept. Then around 2010 we started writing more songs and there was a fourth period as well.

Could you talk a little about the evolution of technology and how that has affected your song writing process? 

We started in the analog world and have seen the whole world of MIDI and  computers. We started on an Atari in 1986. That was good because the guys (Gerhard Lengeling and Chris Adam) that invented the program we were working on (Notator) went on to invent Logic.

I didn’t feel intimidated by computers or technology, but I wanted to find a different method because I like it when it doesn’t sound right and perfect. These days with Logic you can achieve a never-ending palette of colours that make it almost too easy to go too far.

So Re-Noise is an amazing program if you’ve ever sequenced using that. It’s more of a Tracker style program. It’s more complicated. It was used for songs like “Ganbatte“. How I found out about it was through Aaron from Venetian Snares. I was asking him how he did all that crazy articulated stuff. There is quite a learning procedure but then doorways open up and it’s really fun. About half of the record was written using Re-Noise.

Are you now mostly using software or does hardware still play a role?

It’s a blend. The Studio that I have starts in one corner with my original Skinny Puppy set up. And then it progresses through time. I’ve got an ARP section. I think Phil (Western) did a Subcon virtual tour on Youtube, where he walks people around.

There was a large amount of modular synthesis used on this album. With the rise of Euro-modular synths a lot of companies started sending me stuff. So I build it into a sort of synth-o-saurus like Frankenstein. It provided starting points for ideas, it reminded me of the beginning of Skinny Puppy ‘cuse it was back to analog and that works well for us.

In past albums Skinny Puppy as referenced books such as Plague Dogs by Richard Adams and other political media. What were some of the influences on this album?

Life, the economy crushing the whole political structure, people becoming more aware, people crying about the undercurrent of society.  Where conspiracy theories were once seen as crazy, now I think people are now more willing to believe in conspiracy. More and more facts are coming to light and I think Skinny Puppy is a barometer of those conditions. We reflect this into our music.

There are other personal details, loss, death. You’re dealing with life and the essence of pressure, carrying on through despite all. Best intentions are great but reality doesn’t sometimes facilitate those wishes.

Could you describe your best memories of Skinny Puppy?

There were periods of time when we were all on welfare.  And I was thinking to myself, “How were we able to be creative when we had no money and there was this feeling of no hope?” I used to have nightmares about having to go back and work at Safeway.  I’m not sure how we were able to survive. The best memory is to look back and come through with something very unexpected. But we’ve been on the same path and it’s been an unusual one to say the least.

What are some of the most unusual points?

Probably one of the weirdest was being in Communist countries playing before the fall of Communism, and seeing the difference between say, Budapest then and now. It’s quite an amazing experience to have seen this transition and to have gone through the checkpoints of the Iron Curtain.

There would be six layers and guys with machine guns. The guards would search our vehicles to see if anyone was hidden in cases.  And we would go in and play and people would be crying, saying they wanted to leave and go to the West. It’s unusual to think how much the world has changed in such a short period of time.

Are there projects or ideas that you wanted to put into this album but were unable to?

You might want to check: and that explains what else is happening. OhGr has his project OhGr.  I have several projects, Download, Tear Garden, Plateau, and a label. I’m also releasing synthesizer modules now.

How did you end up meeting and working with Edward Ka-spel (Legendary Pink Dots) for The Tear Garden?

I was a huge Pink Dots Fan, and I’m talking thirty years ago. The label that he was on, we were sending communications back and forth because there was this other band Portion Control that was on there and we were going to sign with that label. This is right at the beginning and the guy sent me a Pink Dots demo, and there were tracks on the Rising From the Red Sands tapes, and the Elephant Table Album. The only way you could get their stuff was on cassette and some how I ended up communicating with the Pink Dots to get some material, and I managed to collect quite a bit of shit.

Later there was this club in Vancouver that was really game on flying him (Ka-spel) over and having him do a solo set.  He asked me by mail if I would be interested in doing the sound for him. And we did three shows in Vancouver and one in Seattle. Then we went into Mushroom Studios and did (the song) “The Center Bullet”, which was an instrumental that I had kicking around that he had heard, and wrote lyrics for on the plane on the way over. It just gelled very early on, and each time that we got together we would theorize that we could make a record, and the group of people that would be around when we would make them just grew and grew. … and it has been going ever since twenty five years ago. We’re still planning on getting together this year and making some recordings.

Copyright 2012 GraySun Caligari
Special thanks to Ira at Absolute Underground for setting up this interview.

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