The industrial metal band Ministry began in 1981 and has since released 12 records, racked up 6 Grammy Nominations and set the bar incredibly high for the genre. Ministry has always been a band that has done things their way, usually in the most controversial fashion with scathing attacks on political figures and those in the public eye. With such a storied career it is a shame to see them call it a day but the band is preparing to release Relapse a disc that is indeed going to be their latest and unfortunately last album. I recently had the good fortune to speak with Ministry front man Al Jourgensen about the new record, his health and his career. Here is how it went.
Hey Al how are you? Al: Hey man, what’s going on?
You doing okay? Al: Yeah I'm doing good. I am just glad to be finally done with this record and now I have to deal with you knuckleheads for the next week or two. I have been yapping all day today and I just got done yapping with this guy from MTV because they are doing a book about me. I got done with this record right before Christmas and I am still doing press for it. So here we go, what do you have for me?
Now that your new record, Relapse is complete how do you feel about it and are you satisfied with the outcome? Al: Yeah I am totally satisfied. I really like this record. I am really surprised because I got roped into doing this record that is why it is called Relapse. When me and Mikey Scaccia were doing the Buck Satan country record we would jam on metal riffs in between songs just to get the country out of our head because we were freaking out on country stuff. We recorded everything and Mikey started calling me up and telling me we had to release the stuff. He wanted me to come in and do vocals on it but I didn't really want to do another Ministry record. We already had like six or seven songs and I went back and recorded vocals on it and it is what it is. I think it is a really good record.
I agree and as a longtime Ministry fan I think this one is a bit heavier and more aggressive than your previous work. Was this done intentionally or is that something that just sort of came about? Al: We always go into the studio with a blank canvas. We never have any kind of agenda and whatever winds up winds up, you know. There was no particular agenda but events in the world do dictate what you sing about. I did three albums about George W. Bush because he is an asshole, so now we have the Occupy Wall Street stuff and fuck the system and fuck the republican candidates. It made sense to do it. I am healthy and I haven't been bleeding for over a year so it just all made sense so why not, fuck it Mikey you asshole way to go getting me to relapse back into Ministry.
You mentioned the 99 Percenters and you have a song about them on the new album. Do you think they are going to be able to make a difference? Al: No. Because it is a grass roots movement and their demands change every week and they are not going away with the cold weather. I think they are going to have some staying power, but even if they don't it is a moment in our history that has not come around since the '6os with a lot of the protests that were going on then. I remember them because I was around back then. This reminds me of that because it is so grass roots, it is not like the Tea Party with their buses that say "Tea Party Express" or something. These people are out there just because they are pissed and well they should be. It doesn't make a difference if they direct it at Obama or the Republican Party, they are just pissed and I can relate to that.
When you write do you do so with the live setting in mind? Al: No man, I wish I did. It is a pain in the ass to recreate these songs live and I am pretty much a perfectionist. It is going to take some extra rehearsal time when we rehearse for this tour. First of all we have programmed drums so we have to get a drummer who can play like a machine; that is the first step. That is well after we have already written the song with 64th note triplets on the kick drum; we obviously don't think about that much.
So my next question then is how hard is it to translate these songs into the live setting? Al: No we will do it. I think we are only doing four songs off of this album. We are mostly gonna do the oldies and the oldies for the kids because we are doing mainly festivals. I can’t play many new songs and I certainly am not going to do any Buck Satan on this tour. It is very hard to even get four songs to transitionalize into a live setting. It is the last thing and it is the most frustrating thing because after I am done with the record I think my job is done. But then I have to immediately start thinking about you knuckleheads in the press and getting my shit together for the live show so it is perfect and sounds like Ministry and not some garage band. It will all work out in the end…we will get it done.
You have been in the industry for a long time and I noticed that you have a bunch of dates lined up this year. How do you keep up with the physical demands of a tour? Al: I think we have 20 dates in Europe and five dates in the States. I have literally been blood free for about a year or a year and a half I was puking up blood for eight years and two different records and I just thought it was part of being a rock musician. I would get off tour and the bleeding would stop and I just thought it was part of being on tour. But this time on the "C-U-La Tour" I finished the tour and didn't stop bleeding. I went to the emergency room then the ICU, I died and this and that…blah blah blah. I was shitting out blood, puking blood, blood was running out my nose, I was peeing out blood it was blood mania. It was like a horror movie and it didn't stop after tour this time. I stopped at the right time and I went to the emergency room and they fixed me up. I started to feel healthy and I figured that I had promised the kids that I would do a country record before I died because I have been talking about Buck Satan for more than 28 years now. As soon as I got out of the hospital I called up Mikey and said "we got to do this." We had worked on the back of the bus for years on this; it has been an ongoing project. We just started screwing around and the byproduct of Buck Satan was this Ministry record. We would do a country song and just to get that out of our head and cleanse the palate, like a melon ball in an Italian restaurant, we would start playing chunky metal riffs just for fun not thinking anything would become of this. But Mikey started calling me up because he had tapes of this stuff and he kept asking me to put vocals on it. I said no at first but he kept psycho dialing me saying we had to do the record so here it is… here is your new Ministry record.
The music industry has changed dramatically since when you first began. Do you think that change was for the better or for the worse? Al: Oh definitely for the better. I can't even listen to my early crap…that stuff sucks.
Really? You don't go back and listen to your early stuff? Al: No! No, why would I do that?
Because some of that early stuff is classic! Al: Yeah maybe for you. I lived it and I don't want to hear it again. That is how I know this new record and the Buck Satan records are good because I still listen to them. Buck Satan has been out for about a month and Relapse has been complete for about a month and I still listen to them. I usually do a record and listen to it for about a week and then I will never ever listen to it again. I can be at a bar somewhere and something will come on and I will be like "wow, that is kind of cool who is it?" and they will tell me, "that is you stupid."
If you had not become a musician what other career path would you have liked to attempt? Al: I would have been a teacher without a doubt. I went to a university in Colorado that specialized in churning out teachers and I have done guest lectures across the country at different universities. Some of them are cool and some of them are not but I can tell you it is a lot more intense than playing a festival audience with Ministry. It is way more intense because the people's eyes are right on you, they are watching you; you have to always be on you're A game. I can show up to a gig drunk but I can't show up to a lecture drunk.
Check out the song: "Just One Fix"
What subjects would you have taught? Al: Music business and finance, the basic way the music business works. I have done some political science lectures on the state of our government, which is not good, but I have done lectures on both.
What artists would fans is surprised to find on your iPod? Al: My iPod is basically the giant four of country; Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens and George Jones. I also have some ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Lynard Skyward. That is basically all that I listen to. Oh and then the occasional Ornate Coleman album which is kind of like a palate cleanser at the end of the night after you do a sparker. I put in some jazz and just mellow out.
In one hundred years from now what will the music history books say about Ministry? Al: I don't know I am not done making history yet, I have two more albums planned out. I have another Buck Satan album and then me and Mike are going to do a traditional blues album and that will end my career. I don't even know what it is called yet so I haven't started selling t-shirts yet. I am not doing another Ministry record at all; they are too labor intensive. The rest of the albums are easier because I just get drunk and jam with people and I am just part of the band. With Ministry I have to wear all of the hats; producer, writer guitar player and singer and I am getting a little too old and tired for this stuff. I am really interested in just being part of a band and jamming on country and blues that's it.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far? Al: It is a tie between blowing up my own bus with fireworks while it was going down the road and getting thrown out of the Grammys the only time I went. After being nominated 6 different times my wife Angie finally talked me into it and I was thrown out within an hour for being belligerent and heckling Beyoncé and Rascal Flats. I didn't know who these people were I just heckled them because they sucked.
Any closing words at all Al? Al: Buy my t-shirts and records!
Good luck with the record and the tour? Al: ThanksI really I appreciate you doing this. I hope you like the record. Listen to it stoned because it is total stoner metal. So light up a sparker put on some headphones and you will understand where I am coming from, much more than this interview.