Music for Cats (Metropolis)
An interview with cEvin Key
by Chris Best
Though this is cEvin Key‘s first solo record, he doesn’t see it as his solo debut. It’s a compilation of work he recorded between 1994 and 1997 that reflects his collaborations with others, as well as his digital editing skills. The record is very cerebral and a little difficult to get into at first, but it’s not bad at all. By the way, cats don’t seem to dig the album too much. Here, Mr. Key speaks about this album and some other stuff.
First off, I got your new album, Music for Cats, and was wondering how much the title should be taken literally.
Well, originally, it was a conceptual album in the sense that there was something intriguing to me about certain scraps that had been recorded over time. I couldn’t figure out a place for them, or I didn’t have an idea of what to do with them, so I came up with this concept of making an album that, theoretically, would be pretty collage-oriented in terms of cutting and pasting things together. I thought it would probably make a pretty unusual record, which might only be appealing to such animals as cats because of the frequencies I was thinking were probably contained. After I put it together, I realized it wasn’t that unusual, but it was off-kilter. It’s not an attempt to make something new, but to finish up a project I started four years ago.
So you put the album tracks together after recording?
They weren’t recorded at one time, they were recorded over different times. I constantly take parts from old tapes and try to fit them together with others. In a way, it’s like going through old drawers, or going through the trash.
Did you get that album cover from an old recording of Peter & the Wolf?
That’s right. My father gave me that album and I wanted to do a variation. Something different.
It does give the record more of a fairy tale atmosphere.
Yeah, that’s right.
Do you have any plans for this, or is it just a one-off project and not supposed to be seen as your solo debut?
All of us in Download have our own projects, and we all have our own things we like to do. It wasn’t really an attempt to say, “OK, let’s all do solo albums,” it’s just that we all did [make solo records]. Everybody [from Download] pretty much appears on this album, but there’s a lot of other collaborators on it as well.
You didn’t just have people come in and add to what you had already done, you really did collaborate with other people on this?
The songs were all improvised live, seeing what we could come up with using these old synthesizers. The rest was about editing.
So there were no redos?
Yeah, that’s right. Also, these are all stereo tracks, not multitracks. I was trying to just capture what was going on. In the end, I was able to arrange it the way I wanted to.
And is there a storyline to the album? Or is it all just abstract concepts?
With every album I’ve ever made, it was always an attempt to push the songs in a certain direction or theme, and that always forms the concept. What that is is something I sometimes don’t know.
So this is all just open-ended?
Well, I have my own interpretations.
What are they?
Some songs mean certain things to me. Like “Bird” is about me trying to help this bird out of a predicament in a parking lot, but I didn’t realize that he couldn’t fly and he got run over by a taxi. I felt incredibly bad about that. And “Meteorite” was, for me, a peak moment of improvisation I did with my former friend and partner Dwayne Goettel. Songs like that leave a lasting impression, and contain memories I can look back on.
Like an audio scrapbook.
Exactly. Like a momento.
As for Download, what’s going on?
We’re all doing our own things right now. As for Phil Western and myself, we plan on getting together later this month for some new recordings. Actually, I’m supposed to do a new Tear Garden disc, as well as some other solo stuff. There’s also going to be a new Subconscious sampler with a couple of unreleased Skinny Puppy tracks. We haven’t begun working on the new Download yet; we wanted some time away, but we are planning to tour this summer.
Besides those songs, do you, for the most part, try and leave Skinny Puppy behind you?
Not really. I have a huge collection of stuff I’m definitely anxious to go through someday and see what I can put together. It’s an ongoing thing… and I did make an offer to Ogre saying that if he wanted to do a new track, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
What was his response?
I haven’t heard a response.
What went wrong with Skinny Puppy’s relationship with American Records?
In the beginning, we thought it would be the best relationship we could have. We envisioned doing anything we wanted as Skinny Puppy, and to have Rick Rubin’s support. If we had the support and the ability to promote, I think we could have easily fallen into the steps of where Marilyn Manson is now. When we signed the deal, the company got very conservative. They wanted Skinny Puppy to do something that was very commercial. I don’t think they understood that you sign Skinny Puppy to get Skinny Puppy. You don’t sign Skinny Puppy to get INXS, Madonna, or Michael Jackson. There was too much manipulation, too much of an attempt at molding us. It’s funny because from my window, I can see the building where American Records was located. [During the recording of The Process] there was too much noodling, and then we made our best attempt to finish off what was there. Then we had too many personal problems between management, band, and the record company to really write any new songs or progress in any way. It was like, “Fuck this! Let’s just finish this the best we can.” It didn’t even get to that point, you know, because Dwayne Goettel died. At that point, Ogre and I went into the studio to just finish it. We didn’t want to change what was there. I mean, it wasn’t the most amazing album, but it was true to what we were. We finished it, and I very much wanted to put it behind me. It was not a good time. The first month of recording was really fun, that’s when we wrote a major part of the album. But when the producer couldn’t take it to the next level, and American wouldn’t let us work with our original producer, it became a big mess.
Do you think it’s ironic that after all the hell you went through to resist American’s urgings for a commercial album, you ended up giving them one anyway?
Yeah, you know it’s quite funny. I can’t understand what even happened. They gave us the best offer, they gave us the most interest, they really seemed like the right label, what with Rick Rubin there and some of the heaviest acts, like Slayer. We thought it was the way to do it. Even with Ogre wanting to sing clearly, without any effects on his voice, I don’t know where all that [the problems] came from. It just wasn’t too cool.
Tell me about the tension between you and Ogre.
There really was more tension between Ogre and Dwayne. They were the ones who were at each other’s throats during the recording. It was more of Dwayne trying to get Ogre to listen to new music, and if anything sounded like techno, he just didn’t want to hear it. Dwayne was on top of the whole rave scene and he wanted to open some new doors to the band, and it caused a lot of stress. As a result, I was boiling over. I think there was a phenomenal Skinny Puppy album inside of Dwayne that never got realized because of the way things happened. It was very sad, seeing how I started the band 13 or 14 years ago, to see it being whittled away by corporations and petty differences trying to rearrange what we were.