Al Jourgensen is not slowing down.
On Oct. 9, the Ministry frontman and industrial provocateur turned 60. In his lifetime, Jourgensen has made a profound impact on heavy music, yet he is charmingly nonchalant about it as he preps for a new tour. Ministry has released 14 studio albums, including this year’s powerful AmericKKKant, and in the 30-plus years he has been recording, the prolific musician has created and participated in myriad projects including Revolting Cocks, Lard, Surgical Meth Machine and country project Buck Satan & The 666 Shooters.
Clive Davis first signed Jourgensen to Arista in 1982, and he began his career with Ministry playing slick New Wave synth-pop, as established on first album, 1983’s With Sympathy. Dissatisfied with the band’s direction, Jourgensen took the band in a completely different, darker one. Next signed to Sire by Seymour Stein, Ministry used electronic drum machines, tape loops and audio samples to create heavy dance grooves; it soon added aggressive, pounding beats and heavy guitars to cement its new industrial vibe. Within five years, Jourgensen had made a paradigm shift in sound that brought him notoriety and even greater success.
Interviewed days before his birthday, the industrial legend discussed topics as wide-ranging as the joys of AARP membership; seminal Ministry album The Land of Rape and Honey (1988), which turns 30 today; and the bizarre experience of remixing music by Baywatch legend David Hasselhoff.
Happy birthday! How does it feel to be 60? Is it significant to you?
Maybe someday, not right now. Right now, 60 feels like 59, which feels like 58, which feels like 57. It’s a good thing I don’t have hangovers anymore, because I’m sure they’d be harder to get over. You’re finding aches and pains that you didn’t feel in your 30s and 40s, and you’re wondering, “What the fuck is this?” Other than that, the usual aging ungracefully is happening. It’s all good, as long as my mind is still sharp.
Have you used your AARP card yet?
Dude, I got my first fuckin’ movie discount the other day! I didn’t know my girlfriend Liz was doing it. Oh, and it was a horrible movie, too! We went to see the new Predator, and it was terrible. But whatever. She came back from buying the tickets, and she said, “I did it!” And she had pulled out my AARP card and got me a senior’s discount. It was awesome, especially because the movie sucked and I would’ve demanded my money back if I hadn’t gotten my senior citizen discount! So that’s cool.
The Land of Rape and Honey turns 30 this week.
To this day, it’s still my favorite record. Especially because the process of making it was a learning experience, like when you’re in school and read that first book that actually makes a difference in your life. Doing all those cut-up bits, actually splicing quarter-inch and two-inch tape, for weeks in a room sequestered by myself with just those tape machines was monumental toward my upbringing, my thinking and my future vision of life in general. That was a real catalyst and the template of where I wanted to go. I completely ripped off the cut-up technique of William Burroughs and painter Brion Gysin by doing that with tape as opposed to having structured songs. It took weeks and weeks of editing, but it was a thrill to do and the possibilities seemed endless. Also, I was young and naive and steeped in the cynicism of being involved in the record industry. It was just done out of sheer artistic joy, so that record will always have a special spot in my heart.
How did Sire react after Ministry’s earlier work?
Oh, they fuckin’ hated it. (Laughs.) Of course! I was a pariah until the label played it around for some people who said, “Wow, this shit is fresh!” and then they took credit for the whole thing.
What is your favorite track or tracks on the album?
A lot of crazy shit happened during the recording of the instrumental “Golden Dawn.” There were a lot of weird electrical problems and ghost encounters in the studio. It was dredging up some really crazy shit that wasn’t just the drugs! Because we had straight-edge friends that were in there who said that the song and the room were conjuring shit that was making them feel uncomfortable. I was having so many problems: Azimuth meters were flying off where they shouldn’t have been, which they didn’t do on any other song. It was just a really creepy song to make, so I think it’s the most powerful song on the record…
But it’s unbelievable to think it’s that old. That album has actually outlived Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Pretty sobering thought, isn’t it? Especially considering we’re starting a new Ministry album on [Oct. 10].
You’re starting a new Ministry album? AmeriKKKant just came out in March.
Yeah. I mean, I have to get as many albums as I can done while Trump is still president. And then what am I going to do: write those crappy albums that I write while Democrats are president?
Can you share any ideas you have for it?
Well, yeah. The last album was not an anti-Trump album, it was like the “how we got here” album. It kind of touched on what I was talking about with the [self-titled Surgical Meth Machine] album, how society has changed so drastically since social media because ubiquitous. And in a Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker kind of way, examining the ramifications and permutations of what that entails. Trump is the perfect byproduct of the society we’ve created…
Society is really changing, but I do actually see hope, in a very cautious way, the same way I saw hope back in the late ’60s when I was first really becoming aware of politics and the way society works… I just hope we don’t make the same mistakes that turned a social movement into the latest fashion trend. If you look back on the ’60s, we made some nominal civil rights and gender rights gains, but generally what we have to show for it is LSD and bell-bottoms and Woodstock. I’m hoping we go a little bit further this time. And I do see the new album touching on topics like that.
You wrote three albums condemning the Bush administration: Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker. Is the new album going in a similar direction?
Three albums of bashing Bush… although the last one was almost like, I felt sorry for the guy as much as I felt sorry for us for having to deal with the guy. The Last Sucker was like, “We’re all suckers in this.” AmeriKKKant wasn’t completely anti-Trump. It was how we got to Trump, and I think this next album is going to be much more of a positive message of “How do we get out of Trump and keep it that way?” So I’m thinking about this in a structural sense. As far as musically, the stuff that I’ve been working on lately is far more Portishead than Motorhead (laughs.)… We’re getting a lot more into electronics again and scratching, as opposed to three chords and a cloud of dust and shouting as loud as you can through blown-out speakers. That’s certainly served its purpose for me for a while, but I think we’re getting into more heady material.
You’re starting a new tour in November.
We’re touring AmeriKKKant, and this time, we’re doing the album from top to bottom. Yeah, exactly what you hear on there is what you’re going to see live, with visuals and a light show — there’s an entire show that goes with it. And we haven’t ever really done that before, one album top to bottom. Then we’ll take a break and come back out and do what people actually come out for: to buy T-shirts and hear the old shit. They don’t want to hear the new shit. “You old fart! Quit playin’ this new stuff! Quit challenging us!” It’s like two separate shows.
Will you be featuring any songs from The Land of Rape and Honey?
Well, it would be kind of stupid of me not to. (Laughs.) I’m certain we’ll be doing “Stigmata” — which we haven’t done in over 10 years — and “Land of Rape and Honey” — which we haven’t done in over 20 years — and we’ll take it from there.
Who’s in the band now?
DJ Swamp — oh, I have to tell you this! Me and DJ Swamp — who worked with Beck — worked on a remix of David Hasselhoff doing a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” It was the most surreal project I’ve ever been involved with. I didn’t even have to take acid, and I felt like I was trippin’ balls. David Hasselhoff has a new album coming out, some originals and some covers — and for whatever reason — and this is the part that still perplexes me since I haven’t met David Hasselhoff yet — he decided I would be the perfect person to mix this. (Laughs.) So it’s like, “I’m game! I’ll take the challenge. This could be cool,” and sure enough, man, as soon as I heard it, I felt like I was on some of Timothy Leary’s best MDMA I’ve ever been on!
So anyway, he’s back. We have Derek Abrams on drums, John Bechdel from Killing Joke and Fear Factory on keyboards, Cesar Soto and Sin Quirin on guitars and Tony Campos on bass, and then there’s whatever it is I do. And there will be a lot going on besides. Unfortunately, with my past, I’m not able to pull pyro licenses as quickly as Rammstein, but I don’t want to end up like Michael Jackson in a Pepsi commercial: I’m fine with my dreads staying the way they are.
For a complete list of Ministry tour dates, go here.