Ministry to Record Two Upcoming Los Angeles Shows for Live Album
Ministry mainman Al Jourgensen was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. For more than 35 years, he's been a driving force in industrial music and is one of heavy music's most politically outspoken artists. Here, he discusses Ministry's involvement with engaging the youth vote, how his lyrical aims are different when a Republican President is in office than a Democrat, how his stance on touring has changed, an upcoming live album and the next Ministry record. Check out the chat below.
Criticizing misuse of political power is obviously a driving force behind Ministry. What's the source of that civic responsibility?
Well, we're citizens. Just because you're a musician doesn't mean you stop being a citizen and as a citizen, I'm pretty concerned with the events that have been transpiring over the past couple of years. People say it's not your place to talk about it but then whose place is it? Everyone's a citizen and I mean a world citizen and as they say in homeland security 'If you see something, say something.' That's pretty much what this band does.
Your life has been upended lately over the last few years with death, divorce and leaving Texas. In what ways is the personal side of your life reflected in your music?
Right now, I am putting all personal stuff aside. I usually save that for Democratic administrations. People generally think our stuff sucks when I start talking about my personal trials and tribulations. Right now I am pretty focused on getting people aware and getting people out to vote on this mid-term and it's a real focused energy.
I can sleep at night when there is a President that isn't taking us to various wars or just doing really stupid stuff and I sleep at night and start reflecting on more personal stuff whether it be like drug addictions or love life and this and that and you start reflecting on that. I think they're good records but a lot of people get kind of stunned that all of a sudden I can be introspective when there's a Democrat in office and when there's a Republican in the office I just go ape-y. I just start flinging feces at the wall and biting people and freaking out so right now I'm in a freak out phase. All the upheaval has to wait and I'm sure I'll internalize it and then verbalize it.
You touched on getting people to go out and vote and I feel like it used to be more of a thing that artists got involved with the Rock the Vote campaign that existed. A lot of artists do talk about their political views but I feel like it's an important point - everybody can say whatever they want but the whole point is, you gotta go out and vote. Otherwise, you just talk about it. Right?
Right, and now they're trying to bastardize that and saying that your vote doesn't matter because it's all rigged and everything else like that. Well, you're not going to know it is rigged unless you vote. So, when it becomes pretty obvious that with polling and everything else that we have to gauge the barometer of social anxiety - it's pretty obvious if all of a sudden the results come in when you have 70-80 percent polls in favor of something and the votes come in and say its 80-20 the other way. Then you're like 'Okay, there's a problem here.'
We won't know unless we vote so it's imperative that at least your voice - that you raise your voice. Whether it's heard - obviously we have a Congress that's just beholden to special interest and so they don't really hear your voice but they do see your voice. When people get out and march 800,000, a million, a million [and] five [hundred thousand] strong, when people go out and vote and set new records of 70 or 80 percent youth participation which is what we're shooting for and things like this, they have to take note.
All of a sudden, it becomes like either I vote on behalf of my benefactor which owns me for their particular agenda - lobbyists and things like this - or do I owe my allegiance to the people that voted me in? This is really important that you get out and vote. We've been doing voter drives and voter registration since Obama first ran in 2000. Ministry have been really affiliated with groups like MoveOn.org and things like this. We make it part of the rock 'n' roll experience. I think it's your civic duty - if you really want to be a rebel and graffiti anarchy signs everywhere then you have to vote too. You can't just do one or the other. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
The new LP was made in a reaction to the 2016 presidential election. Politically or otherwise, what else inspires you to make music?
I really don't know how to do anything else. [laughs] My other jobs have been Denny's, Lowes, a few record stores a few stray DJ gigs and this. So, I think I found my niche in what I like to do and what I'm good at. So it's inspirational just in the sense that the magic to me, is... I'm much more of a studio guy. Although I'm starting to come around to this live show thing because we've done some things to our live show that now it's starting to make it okay. Its something to remember. It's not just another band that's loud that you go see. Between the visuals and the props and the band members that we have, the flow and the pace of the show and all that, I can understand the appeal to that, now.
I'm still much more of a studio rat. There's no better feeling and that includes sexual orgasms or winning the lottery or anything that hearing back the final playback of something that you're really happy with. You know the work that went into it and the circumstances surrounding your inspiration and when it all comes together and you hear back loud, one final time, it's all worth it. Then after that, I generally don't listen to my stuff after that one final time in the studio and you listen back to what you've done for the last six months to a year of your life and it all makes sense and then you move into the next project. [laughs] You just have to keep going forward. It's like a salmon swimming upstream, it's like a metaphor for life.
Do you ever go back and listen to previous stuff, though, and get hard on yourself in terms of like - I wanted to do this different or I wanted to do this better?
That is why I don’t listen to the stuff — you don’t poke a stick in a hornet's nest especially a hornet's nest you can’t do anything about it. It is already done, it’s water under the bridge.
I don’t listen to the old stuff at all. It is really the paradox because then you go on tour and everyone wants to hear the old stuff and you haven’t listened to it in years. It is almost funny to have to learn songs you are associated with literally from scratch because I haven’t heard it in 20-30 years. It is like, 'What do you mean you don’t know this song? You wrote it.' I am like well I haven’t listened to it in 20 years, I don’t know it just happens at the time.
Do you remember when McCartney? There were a couple singers that just went viral and that he didn’t know the lyrics to a song during an interview and he was like 'Dude, we have written over four to five hundred songs it was 30 years ago. I don’t go to bed humming my own song.' It is just ridiculous.
Ministry have always incorporated elements of so many different musical styles. What typically attracts you to music that's removed from what you normally do?
If you really want to simplify it there are only two kinds of music. There’s good music and there is bad music. What encapsulates each one is basically the intent and their own artistic imprint on a certain genre. Dwight Yoakam didn’t invent country but I really like his imprint in what he did with taking country music and putting his own stamp on it.
I would think that is really good music and so that would be country. Then I would do a country album and I would put my own imprint on it. That is the most important thing is, is yeah it is fine to be influenced. It is not stealing although there is an old joke that artists rip themselves off all the time but, yes if you just do it as a blanket copy and you are a cover band for your influences then that is not good. But if you put your own stamp on it and make that genre progress with your own imprint on it that is just as satisfying as coming up with something that has never been done which is really really rare. There is only a certain amount of musical notes, there is only a certain amount of types of personalities. It is only a really rare complete genius that completely goes into uncharted territories. It is pretty much putting your own stamp on what is interesting to you at the moment or what genre of style is interesting to you.
Longevity isn't easy with a music career. What's the single most important thing that you learned about sustaining a career based on creativity?
You just said the keyword — creativity instead of productivity. You pretty much have to stay true to your inner belief of that what you are doing is pleasing you and all the external factors, if you are pleasing someone else or pleasing the record companies or a certain demographic. That should not enter into the equation. So the key to longevity is to really to be pleasing yourself. So, basically I have been masturbating really well for 35-40 years because I just try to please myself. I’ll just keep beating off then.
What is different about being onstage now compared to any other time in your career?
The reason I am actually liking it more is instead of back in the wild 1990s — the wild west we called it — touring was an excuse to, it was kind of like the TV series called The Purge. It was just like mayhem in the '90s. That was fun, it had its moments, but the number of headaches that were caused by those moments almost isn't worth it. I mean you might have fun doing what you are doing but the next six months in court and having to hire lawyers wasn't any fun.
Nowadays I enjoy it more and it's different in the sense that we really are more focused and there are none of these shenanigans going on and instead of the budget going towards drugs and parties it is going towards visual effects and enhancing the sound and things like this. It starts almost touching the beauty of the studio with its controlled environment where you can make the music that you really want, that you hear at night and you haven't put it on tape yet, but as you think about it and you have the time and the facilities and the technology to do it and to make it exactly as you heard it in the first time in your brain when whatever transmission came to you to do that sort of riff.
Nowadays you can almost start replicating that with the live show without taking out the danger of a live show or the other things that make it neat towards a studio thing that is going to be the same thing every time you hear it. Now I am starting to see the benefits of both different styles of actually being in the music business.
I really hated the lifestyle before the live shows because there are so many variables. The club acoustics could be bad. You may have sounded great the night before but then the next night it sounds like you are playing in a tin can. Those things used to drive me crazy being a bit of a perfectionist and being a bit OCD when I do my music.
In the studio, it was always so great because you are in this protective womb and you control the environment. I am really starting to come around to the live shows now and see that we can at least come close to that and still have a danger element left. Yes, shit might go wrong and yeah this may not be as good but on the same token, the audience may be better which offsets any monitor problems or frequency problems. I am starting to see the value in that and the validity in it and I am digging it. This tour is going to be really cool. We started it in San Francisco. We go all around North America in four weeks when we come back and we end it with two nights at the Fonda theater in Los Angeles. We will be recording both of those for a live record on the last two shows here in our hometown. So show up and make noise.
The Land of Rape and Honey turns 30 this year.
How does it feel looking back on that now, 30 years later?
Every time somebody tells me that that thing is 30, I have a new muscle or joint pain. I don't know if I am ready for adult diapers yet or I really have no idea what to think about it yet. It kind of took me by surprise. It was just mentioned to me about a month and a half ago and I have been trying to wrap my mind around that ever since. What the hell happened to the last 30 years of my life? I am not really sure. That was a good album and it was fun to make. Those were heady times for us.
How do you feel about where the business is today as opposed to where they were in the early days for you guys?
Obviously for people that grew up on a certain paradigm of what it took to be famous or heard or a record deal and this or that. Obviously, everything has changed and everybody hates this and everybody says, 'Oh the record business isn't the way it used to be' and all that.
I think that we are in a transition period and hate to be a person who is a glass half full guy considering I have spent the majority of my life being a glass half empty guy, but I actually think that once we sort it out, it has to be a collaborative effort between artists and companies and investors and things like that. And when I say investors I mean the government needs to invest in culture and arts in order to keep society going to where it's not as polarized as it is now. In Scandinavian countries and in Canada even to an extent, they have grants for artists. I think that that is important. I think we are kind of in this no-man's land right now but I do think it will get better because it can't get worse.
What can you tell us what you have planned beyond this tour into 2019?
Well we just started doing our research and development for the new Ministry album, as yet untitled. We just got our studio up and running. The way I do a Ministry album is that the first month or so was all gathering samples, gathering loops, gathering interesting ideas then formulating it all into a cohesive manner later. Right now we are just in the hunters and gatherers stage. We have actually started that. I am pretty excited. We are going to do one more Ministry record and see where it goes from there.
Also, I would like to do some stuff with an old friend of mine; we just kissed and made up — Chris Connelly from Revolting Cocks. I would like to also do some new RevCo stuff in the upcoming months whether it is just a song or an EP or maybe even an album. Either way, a lot of studio time after this tour. I am pretty much going to be out of life for about another year. I am going to lock myself up in the studio and have meals slid through a door, things like that. What crazy scientists do, whatever.
Ministry's new album, 'AmeriKKKant' is out now and you can grab your copy here. Follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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