'2018 Is Eerily Reminiscent of 1968': Ministry's Al Jourgensen Returns With More Skewering Social Commentary on 'AmeriKKKant'

Phil Parmet
Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

In the mid-2000s, pioneering industrial-metal act Ministry released a triptych of albums protesting the George W. Bush administration. Then, founder-bandleader Al Jourgensen retired the Ministry moniker.

Apparently, though, he still had a lot more to say with the serrated electro-thrash style that inspired a generation of bands (Nine Inch Nails among them) to use synths and samples as harsh expressions of angst. In 2013, Ministry released From Beer to Eternity in tribute to late bandmember Mike Scaccia, and with new album AmeriKKKant (March 9, Nuclear Blast), Jourgensen brings Ministry out of retirement again, delivering his own State of the Union of sorts.

Billboard caught up with him for a lengthy chat.

You decided it was time for a new Ministry album the morning after Election Day 2016. What was going through your mind as the election results were coming in?

I went to sleep at about 6:30 p.m. I knew what was going on at that point … I woke up the next day and decided, “OK, that’s it. I’m no longer looking at politics for about three or four months. I’m going to gather my thoughts on what I’ve just seen.” I was literally in a news blackout for the first three months of [Donald Trump’s] tenure.

This album was done more collaboratively and organically than anything I’ve done since we made Filth Pig in 1994. That was the last time I sat and jammed with a band in the studio and didn’t do it with an engineer and computers in some windowless room for six months. This time, we still had the engineer and computers and the windowless room for six months, but the main skeletal template of the album was written in one week coming off of a tour in Europe. That must’ve been in September. So I had these tapes of some really good jams but didn’t really know what to do with them. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a Ministry album with them or do something else. And then Nov. 9th happened.

You said in 2016 that Trump wasn’t frightening and that he was an “idiot.” How much of a chance had you given him to win?

I really didn’t. I still think Trump is basically harmless. What’s harmful is the system that keeps producing Trumps and putting them out to the public and the public agreeing that it’s a good idea to keep voting for people like this. That’s what this album’s about. It’s not about Trump.

Watch Jourgensen apologizing to Europe about Trump winning the election below:

You went to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago at 9 years old.

I was tear-gassed! (Laughs.) That was my first tear-gassing. I wear it proudly.

How does a 9-year-old end up there?

Me and my friend had already tried pot, and we decided that we wanted to be like, “Fuck our parents.” We hated our parents. So we took a train downtown just to scope it out. At first, we got off in Oaktown, which is the hippie enclave in Chicago, and it was empty. So we were like, “Where do we go?” We walked forever and finally got to Grant Park and immediately met with tear gas. So we licked our wounds and got back on the commuter train back to the northwest suburbs. We were late and got grounded, but it was a trip, man! (Laughs.) It’s one thing to read about it in the paper, but then you get tear-gassed as a 9-year-old and you realize, “This shit is real.”

And 2018, to me, is eerily reminiscent of 1968. Everything from Russian tanks rolling through Prague to Woodstock to the protests in the streets, women’s rights, the embryonic stages of gay rights. But it got trivialized. Out of the ’60s, we made some legislative inroads with civil rights -- and [President Richard] Nixon, of all people, started the EPA! There were incremental changes. But as the plutocracy and globalists always do, they figured out, “OK, we can’t just send in troops everywhere, so it’s better to trivialize and buy out a movement.” So we’re reduced to these trivialized visuals of the ’60s -- free love and things like that. We’re trivializing everything now too. Everyone’s distracted by trinkets. We get cheap electronics. That’s why I think this album is joined at the hip with the TV series Black Mirror. On this record, I actually feel more like a photographer than a producer or musician. I just took a snapshot of what direction we’re going in the near future: “This is where we’re at, and this is where we’re going -- is this where we want to be?”

AmeriKKKant features scratching from N.W.A co-founder Arabian Prince and DJ Swamp.

It’s really funny how what goes around comes around. My meeting with Arabian Prince was very reminiscent of my meeting with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top years ago. So here I am in Houston in 1988-89 or something like that doing sound check at a Ministry show, and the club owner says, “Billy Gibbons wants to take you out to dinner.” And I’m like, “What?” I go out to the parking lot, and there’s Billy Gibbons and his driver. He’s dressed in an impeccable white suit with his long beard. This is, like, complete Twilight Zone for me.

He takes me to this Italian restaurant, and I finally get up the gumption to go, “This is really an honor, Mr. Gibbons, but I don’t understand.” He goes [imitating Gibbons’ Texan accent]: “When we started, we were considered a pretty hip band. But we realized that times have caught up with us, so we decided to get into this new computer shit. Frank Beard, our drummer, started programming, and all the samples that he took for ZZ Top’s ‘Hot Legs,’ which resurrected our career, were taken off Ministry albums, so I just wanted to buy you dinner and say thanks.” (Laughs.)

This time, somebody at a music conference said, “That guy was in N.W.A.” I really didn’t know much N.W.A music, but we started talking and we were like, “Whoa, we’re on the same fuckin’ page.” We live pretty close to each other, so it was like, “You want to jam up?” He told me that when he first started scratching, [DJs and hip-hop producers] were using vinyl the way industrial bands were using synthesizers. When the Fairlight synthesizer first came out in the early ’80s, I was doing my “scratching” on a computer. These people couldn’t afford a Fairlight, which was like sixty thousand fuckin’ dollars. I didn’t have that money either, but I conned Sire Records into buying me one. [Arabian Prince and his peers] were interesed in how we were formulating spoken-word texts and other samples and collaging things together. They weren’t all buying Technics 1200s, so they applied our ideas to cheap turntables. There’s that old saying, “Pop will eat itself.”

And now you’re incorporating something that was influenced by you.

Right, I’ve become my Billy Gibbons! (Laughs.)

Except you were probably cheaper -- you probably had Arabian Prince pay for drinks!

(Laughs.) I think I ordered out from some cheap Greek restaurant that delivered gyros. But in all seriousness, that meeting really lit a lightbulb over my head.

You turn 60 this year. How challenging does that make it for you to be onstage?

Well, I’ve never liked being onstage. I’ve always thought that playing live is re-creating, not creating. Outside of maybe one or two people, everyone I know loves playing live. They love the instant gratification of it. And it’s funny, because I loved the instant gratification of opioids for many years, so you’d think I’d be prone to that. But over the years, as I’ve gotten older, it’s no longer a getting-your-teeth-pulled scenario when I go onstage now. It’s comfortable, kind of like an old shoe or robe you wear around the house.