It’s been a long time coming, but Nivek Ogre is finally ready to revisit his old haunts
It has been a long time since Nivek Ogre was last seen on a stage in Vancouver. In 1990, Skinny Puppy played the pre-renovation Commodore Ballroom on its Too Dark Park tour. The pioneering industrial-rock act soldiered on for another five years after that, but never returned to perform in its erstwhile hometown. (Ogre, though, came back in ’92 with Pigface). By 1995, it was all over: in August of that year, keyboardist Dwayne Goettel died of a heroin overdose, signalling the end of a band that had been on the verge of collapse anyway.
At the turn of the century, singer Ogre and drummer cEvin Key resurrected the Skinny Puppy name, and new albums and live dates have followed. So far, however, the reconstituted Puppy has never played our city. When the Straight reaches Ogre at his Los Angeles home, he says that he, for one, has never intentionally avoided this particular corner of North America, putting it down to issues of routing and border crossings.
The singer, born Kevin Graham Ogilvie in Calgary, Alberta, 45 years ago, insists, “It was never my choice. It was kind of more cEvin’s choice not to play Vancouver, for whatever reason. He’s more of a native there than I am, although I spent my formative years there in a really big way. I consider it my Canadian city in a lot of ways. You know, Calgary is kind of a place I ran away from. So I’m actually really excited about going up to Vancouver and revisiting all those ghosts.”
Ogre will get a chance to check out his old haunts—if any of them are still standing—when he returns to Vancouver this weekend to perform with his ohGr project. It will no doubt be a bittersweet homecoming. When he left the city for good in the early ’90s to head out on the road with the industrial supergroup Pigface, he was moving toward a new life—but he didn’t find it until things took a turn for the worse.
“I ended up in Malmö, Sweden, with Hepatitis A and a serious drug addiction that I was coming off of,” he recalls. “I had kind of thrown the towel in at that point. I remember leaving Vancouver on a bus, looking back and watching, as you cross the bridges, and just watching as the parts of my life up to that point just dimmed out like a scene fading in a movie. I didn’t know where I was going from there, because I was really sick. And I knew I was really sick, but I didn’t know how sick I was until I ended up in hospital in Sweden, then came back across and went into a treatment centre in Edmonton after about a 27-hour plane trip that went from Denmark to Heathrow to New Jersey to Toronto. And then a two-hour bus trip to a treatment facility that was more for biker alcoholics and shit like that. I spent a month there and then moved down to Los Angeles because a friend I had met in the ’80s was down here. And that started this phase of my life.”
It’s a distinctly healthy-sounding Ogre on the other end of the line, one who has finished his morning yoga when the Straight calls. The California lifestyle has evidently been good to him, but that’s not to say his journey hasn’t had its dark passages. In fact, it was a traumatic event that spurred him to create the latest ohGr album, Devils in My Details. Its predecessors, 2001’s Welt and 2003’s SunnyPsyOp, found Ogre, working with his long-time collaborator Mark Walk, making some of the most accessible music of his career, from the deliciously creepy electro-pop of “craCKer” to the burning-inside machine rock of “maJiK”. Devils in My Details is just as powerful but nowhere near as straightforward. It’s a collection of emotionally raw and sonically challenging songs, punctuated by spoken-word segments from actor Bill Moseley, whom Ogre met on the set of Repo! The Genetic Opera (a movie musical whose eclectic cast also includes Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton, and Sarah Brightman).
Understandably, Ogre is reticent to reveal the event that served as the impetus to the new album’s creation. “I don’t think it’s necessary, for once,” he states. “I mean, I’ve been so open about everything in my life. Suffice to say, I’m human and it is something that we all have to deal with at some point in our lives, and it was a very stark experience for me.”
He will, however, say that recording Devils in My Details was a cathartic process, one that benefited significantly from the symbiotic working relationship he has developed with Walk. The finished product includes a number of first-pass vocals and one-take instrumental parts. “We did it in a way that became very, very fulfilling for us, in the sense that we were kind of jamming stuff out in one Pro Tools session, and expanding on this idea and this emotion, and this need to expel all this stuff,” Ogre says. “We came up with close to 70 minutes of music and pared it down from there.”
Hopefully, Ogre can continue to work as quickly in the future, albeit under happier circumstances. If he keeps up the pace, maybe he’ll have time to visit his old stomping grounds more often than once every 18 years.
ohGr plays the Red Room on Sunday (November 23).