When Al Jourgensen formed Ministry in 1981, no one could have predicted the incomparable evolution of the band. After releasing a slew of industrial-dance singles on Wax Trax! Records, the band signed to Arista and released the synth-pop album With Sympathy. Since then, Jourgensen hasn’t released anything that even remotely resembles that album. In fact, Ministry became less palatable to casual listeners with each subsequent release. What’s most surprising is that this trend away from pop-music resulted in increased critical acclaim and a rabid worldwide fanbase. Ministry’s 1988 LP, The Land of Rape & Honey, was a game-changer that would go on to influence everyone from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) to Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) to Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory), to name only a few. In 1992, the band would earn the first of their six Grammy nominations for the single “NWO” from their breakthrough album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed & The Way to Suck Eggs. Rather than following up the success of Psalm 69 with a similar sounding album, the band would instead release 1996’s Filth Pig – another sonic about-face.
Jourgensen and Ministry continued through the mid-aughts with a succession of albums that were lyrically focused on then-President George W. Bush. Known as the Bush Trilogy, these albums leaned closer to thrash metal than the industrial metal they popularized in the 1990’s. Just when it looked like Ministry was done for good, they returned in 2012 with Relapse and 2013 with From Beer to Eternity. Jourgensen would take a breather from the Ministry machine in 2016 and release a project called Surgical Meth Machine (aka SMM). Part speed metal, part dub-dance-noise pastiche, SMM showed that there was still plenty of creative juice flowing in Jourgensen’s veins.
On March 9th, Ministry returns with their 14th studio album, AmeriKKKant (check out our review). In support of the album, the band will embark on a North American tour (dates below), that will cover 26 dates across the United States and Canada. In addition to the usual touring lineup that consists of guitarist’s Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, bassist Tony Campos, and keyboardist John Bechdel, the band will also be joined by Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, and turntablist DJ Swamp (Chemical Brothers, Beck).
We got the chance to talk to Al about the new album, experimenting with new instruments and sounds, and what the album would’ve sounded like if Hillary won the election.
From Beer to Eternity was supposed to be the last Ministry album. When going into this album, was there less pressure involved since it didn’t have to be the final album?
Al Jourgensen: No. It’s a really weird story and winding road about how this came to be. When Mikey (Scaccia) died I had some one call me literally within 20 minutes of him pronounced dead for some magazine that wanted a scoop. And I’m still reeling and in shock and they wanted to know about tour dates and what Ministry’s wanting to do after Mikey’s death. My best friend of 25 years, and my guitar player of 25 years, and I was just like “Fuck it, I guess it’s over,” you know? I was still trying to process it. And they’re asking “What’s going to happen with Ministry?” and this and that. And I was just like, “Fuck, I don’t want to talk about Ministry.” So, that became “Ministry will never do another album.”
After that happened, I decided not to do another Ministry record and I did a solo project called Surgical Meth Machine, with just me and an engineer. And about half way through the recording I found out that our ex-booking agent had booked an entire tour, a world tour, as Ministry without Mikey. And if I didn’t do the tour I would be sued. So, I went into this tour kind of kicking and screaming and putting together some new band members and shit and we wound up in Europe. And about half way through the European leg of the tour, I was going, “You know what, man? We sound pretty good.” What would happen, maybe, if after this tour was over we rented…we blocked off like one week in a studio to see what we would sound like creating new music instead of playing old Ministry stuff?”
So, when we got off tour we went into the studio and within one week we had basically gotten about 75 to 85 percent of this entire album written…musically, not all the layers and stuff, not all the vocals. But, the basic bones of the record was done in one week…playing organically with the band in the studio. Which I haven’t done since the album Filth Pig. That was the last time I was ever in the studio with a full band actually jamming. This record was made really organically because of circumstances that happened after Mikey’s death. It’s kind of a long story, but that’s how this came to be.
This is an interesting album. It sounds like a Ministry album, but it does sound different from the last few releases. I guess what I’m identifying is that it’s a little less guitar driven or riff-centric.
Al Jourgensen: That’s funny you say that, because like I just said this is the first time that we’ve actually done it as a band. And I’m actually playing more guitar on this album than I have in probably 25 years on Ministry records. Maybe because of Mikey’s death and all that, but the point being is that this is a real organic album. There’s not that metal…there’s one song on there that’s metal sequenced, riff-driven, kind of like what you’ve come to associate with Ministry and the rest is just really organic. We gave it space to breathe.
I know the song you’re referring to, “We’re Tired Of It.”
Al Jourgensen: Right! Yeah, that is classic Ministry right there. But, the rest of it…yeah, it’s because for once it was like a real collaboration between real musicians in a real studio…all exchanging ideas. It became this kind of like free-form jam. Which was really refreshing. Because, you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over, because…why bother?
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about your music is the way you incorporate instruments that would probably be considered atypical for the genre. Over the years you’ve used mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, etc. So, there’s a couple of firsts on this album, turntables and cellos.
Al Jourgensen: That was trip, right? (Laughs) That was trip for us doing it. But, I think it works for us within the context of the album. I met this Lord of the Cello guy. He’s about 65-years old, some ex-MIT…like physics and math professor that plays at a flea market that I go to…just to buy used furniture and artwork and stuff. This guy was there busking. He’s never been in a band before and he just goes by “Lord of the Cello.” And I listened to him playing stuff and I just went “Wow! This guy’s gotta be on this record.” So that happened.
And then the same thing with the scratchers we have on this record. We started out with Arabian Prince from NWA. I met him at like a trade show for musical equipment. It’s where we go and sign autographs and they give us free shit. Like, menial monkey work for like your corporate overlords who supply your instruments of war. We started talking and we were like “Wow, we’re on the same page.” So, Arabian Prince came down for a few sessions. His schedule was that he was going to be on the road for a year. It just so happened that Beck and DJ Swamp had parted ways right at that time, and he’s a close neighbor, so he just happened to come by and start scratching on the rest of the record and we decided to incorporate it. What’s funny is that these guys are telling me, both Arabian Prince and DJ Swamp, it’s like… “we wouldn’t have been scratching like this if it wasn’t for the samples of Ministry and bands of your ilk did in the 1980’s. That formulated our scratching technique.” So, here we are following back from them, who were influenced by us, and so it all worked out. It was one big happy family. I’m telling you, this record was a gas to make.
It’s funny, when I read you were going to have these guys on the album, many months ago, I just had a wait and see mentality about it. Like, sure it could work. But, when I listen to the album it really works. It sounds natural.
Al Jourgensen: That’s my point. These scratcher guys told me that without me they wouldn’t be scratching the way they did. Now here they are. That’s why they fit right in. Because, they were influenced by what we were doing 20 years ago. It was really cool, man. It reminds me so much of the time when I first met Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. We were playing at Numbers in Houston and the club owner goes, “Oh my god, Billy Gibbons says he’s going to be here in 20 minutes and wants to pick you up and take you to dinner.” And I’ve never, ever talked to Billy Gibbons before. I didn’t know what this was about. At first, I thought it was a joke. But, here comes Billy in a ’49 Merc. Pulls up, he’s wearing a white suit, his beards hanging out, and he’s just like “Get in, boys!” So, me and Mike Scaccia went to dinner with him. We were speechless. About half way through dinner, I finally got enough balls to ask him, “Billy, no offense. I mean…I’m your biggest fan and all this, but why are you picking us up and taking us dinner?” And he goes, “Well, we kind of hit a rough spot in our career after the fourth album, so we started sequencing drums and we got…” you know, all their hits after that, like “Legs” and all that shit. And he’s saying “What we did was we sampled Ministry records and got our drum samples. So, I figured I owed you guys a meal.” (Laughs) So, you know it comes back to roost, once again. You know what I’m saying? It’s really cool. The same thing happened on this one where these scratchers were just like “dude, that’s all we listened to when we were kids and now we’re playing on it.” Even though it’s a completely different style of music. But, they understood what we were trying to get at. So, it’s really fulfilling that way.
Going as far back as Twitch, Ministry has always dealt with politics in one form or another. For your younger fans, they probably identify that with the Bush Trilogy. Now, this album is obviously politically-fueled, but unlike the Bush Trilogy, where it was…and pardon me if I’m distilling it too much, but it was kind of an attack on an individual. But, on this album it’s dealing a little more with the social climate and the political atmosphere that brought Trump to office.
Al Jourgensen: Dude, you nailed it. You just nailed it. Everything you just said is exactly correct. This is exactly my line of thinking. I started thinking that way on the third album of the Bush Trilogy, The Last Sucker. I started almost feeling sorry for ol’ Georgie, man. He’s just as much of a sucker as we are. So, it wasn’t like this venting against an individual. This is more like the series Black Mirror on Netflix. This is the audio version of Black Mirror, where you just hold up a mirror to society and go “Hey dudes, this is where we’re at and this is where we’re going. Do you want to be there? Because I sure and the fuck know I don’t.” You know what I’m saying? So, it’s more of a sociological purview of what’s going on as opposed to just like venting against an individual. Because it’s systemic. The whole thing is systematic. I’m reeling against the system as opposed to the individual. So, you nailed it.
I’m curious, when you were writing the lyrics, was that something that you naturally challenged yourself to take that approach? To address it in that context? Or on the other hand are you challenging your listeners to think about it in that context?
Al Jourgensen: It comes out in the wash to be a little bit of both. But, you also have to understand I had guest artists on this, too. It was a real collaborative effort. And so, for instance, a song like “We’re Tired Of It.” Burton C. Bell wrote those lyrics. Burton was around our studio, like twice a week for the entire making of the album. Because we’re neighbors out here. Same thing as DJ Swamp and Arabian Prince. We all kind of live in the same community, so they would just hang out. And everyone knows that when you come into my studio you’re not just there to hang out and get drunk and throw up on my fucking mixing desk (Laughs). It’s like, “Make yourself useful!” And they did.
But, that’s the great thing about a collaborative effort. When you have people of the same ilk and the same mind and the same agenda, it all just seemed to fit seamlessly, like hand in glove. And so Burton wrote some of those lyrics. As far as my lyrics, I mean, I really don’t see any difference outside of that I’m just older and wiser. So, you get different contexts on the way that you write, the older you get. If you’ve lived enough life…I remember talking to Lemmy from Motorhead about this…it’s just like if …you know, basically Motorhead sounded like Motorhead from record one to the day he died. It sounded like Motorhead. But, if you really get into his lyrical content and context, it changes over the years. That’s just a natural progression. You have different view points of what’s going on and what’s affecting you.
It’s interesting because The Land of Rape and Honey turns 30 years old, I think in October.
Al Jourgensen: Oh, God! (Laughs)
And I thought it was interesting because on the title track to that album you sampled the “Sieg Heils.” And you’ve remarked before that it was misunderstood by so many people. Now, on this album you’ve got the song “Antifa.” I know you’ve got the promo video where you explain where you were going with the song, but there’s already…there’s fan’s who don’t get it. They’re just like, “Oh, he’s pro-Antifa? Fuck that guy!” I suppose as an artist you just have to take an approach of “take it or leave it.” But, compared to so much music that’s made today, you’re really challenging your listeners. How do you feel about people possibly misinterpreting that song?
Al Jourgensen: The people that misinterpret…well, first of all if an artist tries to cater to what they think the listeners want to hear then you’ve really defeated the whole purpose of art. Second of all, is the people that are railing against “Antifa,” trust me, I know all these robot trolls are out in full-force against that song and calling me devil-incarnate and this and that and blah, blah, blah. But, the point is they’re not even like aware, educationally, of the history of Antifa and what it represents. Or maybe they are and they’re just down right Nazis (Laughs). Point being, Antifa started in the 1930’s as a movement against fascism all over Europe. Whether it was Mussolini or Hitler or Francisco Franco in Spain. There was an entire fascist movement. And fascist movement starts when the people are afraid. The people are divided. In the 30’s, the people were blaming the Jews. Now we’re blaming the Muslims or the Mexicans or the African-Americans…as usual. And it’s the same thing over and over and over. And I think in this country all of our leaders, if you will, have been fascist – I’m pretty sure – but, at least they’ve been in the closet.
But, now we have somebody that’s in a position of power that’s a blatant fascist. And we’re trying to struggle to come to terms with it. “Antifa” is just basically a history lesson. It’s just like…look we can’t stand for this shit. They’re the ones taking an aggressive posture, the right wing. And I’m just telling the left-wing to not be afraid to let your voice be heard. Now, do I also see some of the same similarities and some of the same tactics of the actual group called Antifa? It’s the same as their detractors. The same as the right wing. “Oh, let’s just go down the street and beat up the first skinhead we see.” That’s not cool. That’s exactly what they’re doing. That’s why I’m all about the movement…of like standing up for yourself. We’ve been called snowflakes, and wishy-washy, and libtards, and this and that. You know, the whole Alex Jones crowd. I say stand up for yourself, but you don’t have to take it to the point of becoming what you hate.
I know every artist has their own angles and their own muse, let’s say. But, for yourself do you feel a responsibility to bring these political issues to your listener?
Al Jourgensen: No. But, I feel comfortable in doing it. I don’t feel a responsibility in doing it. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with doing an album or something and just singing about like…your emotional or personal problems. I’ve done albums like Filth Pig, which was about my heroin addiction. Or Dark Side of the Spoon, same thing. They weren’t so much political, they were more personal. It depends on your comfort zone and where you’re at at the time. I feel educated enough in the subject that it’s not just me yelling about Bush or yelling about Trump. It’s something that’s important to me because it affects my life. However, I really don’t…like other people who don’t get socially active because that might not be in their comfort zone. Maybe they’re overwhelmed with either a break-up or a divorce or an addiction or something and they want to write about personal shit and that’s fine. Just write about what’s in your comfort zone.
Okay, well that’s kind of the perfect segue to my last question. If Hillary had got elected, would the new Ministry album be full of love songs?
Al Jourgensen: (Laughs) Dude. you’re cracking me up, man. I don’t know. I doubt it. Because if Hillary or Trump had been elected it’s the same system that underlies the entire thing. Which is based on inequity. So, I don’t think Hillary would have done anything different. It wouldn’t have been as immediate or as in your face, obviously, as Trump. But, I do think that I’m in the spot in my life, and in my brain, that I think it probably would’ve been the same type of record. However, it’s not as immediate. Hillary would’ve postponed the inevitable for a few years. But, I’m not a democratic. It’s not just like every time a Republican gets in I’m angry. And you know what? There was probably a time in my life where I probably could have said that. But, I think it’s much more systemic than that at this point and we need to address these issues.
No, I hear what you’re saying. I guess Hillary would have been an easier pill to swallow.
Al Jourgensen: Yes, it would. But, sometimes easy is not the best way to go. Sometimes you got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette.
– Watch the Video for Ministry’s Latest Single “Twilight Zone” –
Ministry North American Tour Dates
22 House of Blues, Anaheim, CA
23 Ventura Theatre, Ventura, CA
24 Brooklyn Bowl, Las Vegas, NV
26 Ace of Spades, Sacramento, CA
28 Roseland Theatre, Portland, OR
29 Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC CANADA
31 Union Hall, Edmonton, AB CANADA
1 Palace Theatre, Calgary, AB CANADA
3 Wilma Theatre, Missoula, MT
5 Bourbon Theatre, Lincoln, NE
7 Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
8 Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI
10 Bogart’s, Cincinnati, OH
11 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI
12 Egyptian Room, Indianapolis, IN
14 Opera House, Toronto, ON CANADA
15 MTelus, Montreal, QC CANADA
17 Royale, Boston, MA
18 Aura, Portland, ME
19 Paramount Theatre, Huntington, NY
21 Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ
22 Town Ballroom, Buffalo, NY
23 Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD
25 Center Stage, Atlanta, GA
26 Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL
28 Levitation Festival, Austin, TX