On an already long list of distinctions, Skinny Puppy recently added a new one, and not one that makes the pioneering industrial band very proud: The U.S. government has used the band's music as a torture device.
"We heard through a reliable grapevine that our music was being used in Guantanamo Bay prison camps to musically stun or torture people," founder cEvin Key says by phone from his Los Angeles home. "We heard that our music was used on at least four occasions. So we thought it would be a good idea to make an invoice to the U.S. government for musical services, thus the concept of the record title, Weapons."
So how did he feel learning his music was being used in such a manner?
"Not too good," Key says. "We never supported those types of scenarios . . . Because we make unsettling music, we can see it being used in a weird way. But it doesn't sit right with us."
Released in the first quarter of 2103, Weapon is a return to the early days of Skinny Puppy, when songs were frequently conceived, recorded, and mastered in a single night, an approach that Key calls "more on the spot."
"We decided to get back to that philosophy and that type of idealism," he says. "We spent an unnecessary amount of time on HanDover . . . The album took several years. That was not the way Skinny Puppy made records."
The band took the unusual step on Weapon, re-recording "Solvent" from its debut, Remission. It's not really an uncommon idea, but what's unusual is that Key followed the original recording and production steps without knowing what the modern results might be. The hard-edged, driving song that first introduced the concept of electro-industrial music also rekindled the old-school "on the spot" recording concept for Weapon.
"I had an idea how I originally made ("Solvent"), and I wondered, if I followed the exact steps, would it turn out the same? It kinda did, but in a weird way, because it obviously has a newer sound," Key says. "It set the pace for the whole record. [A song] didn't sound right if it didn't sound like something we had just made quickly, like in the old days. The goal was to make something fresh and quick, and if it sounded too complex — like we need to spend two weeks more on it — then it was like, 'No, this isn't where it's at.'"
Skinny Puppy formed in 1982 when Key, inspired by the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, left his band Images in Vogue to create music with "big sounds" beyond the current crop of New Wave synthesizer-forward bands. Working with singer Nivek Ogre, Skinny Puppy's industrial sound was an immediate club hit.
"All I did was take the ideas I liked about the underground sound and punk and put it with a heavier production," he says. "That immediately formed some sort of weird, night-clubby accessible entrance way for Skinny Puppy, because it started getting played in the dance clubs."
Skinny Puppy still garners club support, especially given the popularity of EDM. The hard beats and kinetic pulse seem a perfect fit for the genre.
"Luckily, Skinny Puppy has never desired to fit in," Key says with a laugh. "At the beginning, there wasn't a genre called industrial music. It was just a label. What we actually did and created was just what we felt. We were surprised and blown away that we were achieving some form of popularity. That wasn't really our thought when we started. That it went where it's gone has been quite . . . I couldn't have guessed."