When last we heard from industrial-metal pioneer Al Jourgensen, he was working with the new project Surgical Meth Machine, a clusterfuck of experimental rhythms, curmudgeonly rants and tongue-in-cheek songs that included a Devo cover and a song with Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra, which seemed to resurrect their Nineties punk-metal collaboration Lard.
Surgical Meth Machine was a transitional record for Jourgensen that allowed him to reconnect numerous elements from his past. After all, resurrection, reinvention and survival are trademarks for the musician. Since 1978, he has evolved from a pop musician to a pioneer of scathing industrial metal, and in the process dipped in and out of numerous projects, including Revolting Cocks, Lard and most prominently, Ministry. The latter has survived numerous lineups, multiple hiatuses and a few near-fatal experiences for Jourgensen himself, and, sadly, in recent years, the death of key players including Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven in 2007, and Al's guitarist and right-hand man Mike Scaccia, who died onstage in 2012 while performing with his other band Rigor Mortis.
Scaccia's death hit the frontman especially hard, and Jourgensen vowed to record a final Ministry album, From Beer to Eternity, using guitar tracks Scaccia recorded before he died, and launch a farewell Ministry tour before putting the final nail in the Ministry coffin. The period was a dark one for the singer, who was drinking so heavily that by the end of the tour he was on the verge of collapse.
"First of all, when I said I didn't want to do another Ministry record, my best friend in the whole world — my brother, my comrade in arms Mikey Scaccia had just died and there didn't really seem to be any point," Jourgensen says regarding his recent decision to reassemble Ministry for their new and 14th album, Amerikkkant. "Back then it didn't seem like the right thing to do. It's like when I said I wouldn't tour anymore. That's because at the time I was throwing up blood and I was sick. Being on the road was literally killing me."
Taking a hiatus from Ministry wasn't the only major transition for Jourgensen. He divorced his longtime wife and manager Angie Jourgensen and moved from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles to start again. Only, instead of launching into yet another anger-driven whirlwind of self-destruction, Jourgensen turned his life around.
"Los Angeles has a history of being this den of depravity and I actually went there and got healthy," Jourgensen says, sounding energized and enthusiastic. "It's coming up on 15 years since I've done drugs and I've really cut back on my drinking, too. I ride my bike 20 miles every single day. I'm lucid. I'm ready to go on tour. It's kind of a better-late-than-never thing."
AMERIKKKANT IS THE FIRST NEW MINISTRY RECORD SINCE THE DEATH OF MIKE SCIACCA. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RECORDING EXPERIENCE THIS TIME AROUND?
AL JOURGENSEN I've worked with so many people over the years. There were albums Mikey wasn't on that were still Ministry. I'm not saying I didn't miss him. I'll always miss the guy. But this one was an interesting record. I worked with a new engineer, Michael Rosen, and it was a real learning process.
HOW WAS IT A LEARNING PROCESS?
All I knew was that on November 9 I woke up and said, "Yeah, it's time to make a fucking record." Other than that, I had no plan. I had no one to work with. I hadn't met Michael yet and didn't know who was going to be on it, I just knew I was gonna make one so I set about doing it. It progressed organically, but obviously, it was easily fueled by things that were going on in the world. I was never at a lack of inspiration for this record. But it wasn't stressful. I worked in a different way that was really chill. I did it in my house. Basically, a lot of different people came in and out, like [DJs], which I started using with SMM [Surgical Meth Machine].
I used two really good turntable geniuses. DJ Swamp, [who worked with Beck] and Arabian Prince from N.W.A. are both on there. And then I worked with Lord of the Cello, who I met at a flea market. The way that I got together with these people and worked with them was very natural and a lot of fun. And we had the time to make the record. There was no label, no pressure, nothing. If it had sucked we wouldn't have finished it, but it really started coming together, especially towards the end of it. And we still didn't have a label. By the time I started playing it for people it was already a finished product.
THERE IS A HIP-HOP INFLUENCE IN THE SCRATCHING AND SOME OF THE BEATS, BUT OVERALL, THE SONGS ON AMERIKKKANT CONTAIN ELEMENTS OF DIRGY FILTH PIG–STYLE STUFF, FULL-THROTTLE PSALM 69 INDUSTRIAL THRASH AND MORE PSYCHEDELIC EXCURSIONS LIKE THE ONES ON FROM BEER TO ETERNITY. DID YOU WANT TO CREATE A HODGE-PODGE OF EVERYTHING YOU'VE DONE WITH MINISTRY?
It was more a matter of me trying a bunch of different things all at once and seeing which worked. We also spent a week doing live playing. It was me, [guitarists] Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto [ex–Pissing Razors], [drummer] Roy Mayorga [Stone Sour], [bassists] Jason Christopher [ex–Stone Sour] and Tony Campos [Fear Factory]. We spent that week just riffing out on different types of riffs. After that, I went back to my house with all these tapes and me and Michael Rosen took ideas and expanded upon them to get the whole thing into shape.
IN MINISTRY, YOU'VE SOUGHT CREATIVE INSPIRATION FROM VARIOUS SUBSTANCES OVER THE YEARS. THERE WERE YEARS OF HEROIN AND COCAINE, PILLS, PSYCHEDELICS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DRINKING. A LOT OF AMERIKKKANT SOUNDS PRETTY TRIPPY? HOW DID YOU TAKE INTO THAT SPIRIT WITHOUT LOTS OF BOOZE AND RECREATIONAL PHARMACEUTICALS?
I've done this for such a long time now that I pretty much know how to generate the sounds I hear in my head without hearing them through this haze of narcotics. I do smoke pot all that time, though. [Laughs] To me, that's not a drug, it's more like medicine. It's helped my ulcers because I don't drink as much now, and it helps me sleep. It's good for anxiety. Just about any medical problem you have, I highly recommend pot.
THE FIRST SINGLE FOR AMERIKKKANT WAS "ANTIFA," WHICH IS NAMED AFTER THE ANTI-FASCIST MOVEMENT THAT'S WILLING TO USE VIOLENCE TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS. DID YOU WANT TO START THE ENGINE WITH A JOLT OF CONTROVERSY FOLLOWING THE VIOLENT PROTESTS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, BETWEEN NEO-NAZIS AND LEFTIES?
I wrote that song way before Charlottesville, obviously. People are just tired of being called snowflakes and being bullied. The bully culture has seen its final days. I just find that once you stand up to gangs or bullies, they crawl back under the rocks they came out from. All these fucking right-wing trolls hiding in their basements making threats — people have just had enough. I've had enough. I'm not looking for violence and nor is Antifa in their credo. But if you're going to meet us with violence, we're going to return it in spades. You can legislate and take the high road, but at a certain point, enough is enough. We are not snowflakes. I'm not afraid of bullies. You gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TRUMP'S COMMENTS ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE — THAT THERE WERE BAD EGGS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE CONFRONTATION?
He's racist through and through and he knew he couldn't just come out and take one side. The man is a full-fledged bigot and bigotry stems from not being educated. I don't care what schools he went to — President Trump is not educated. He's very similar, in a sense, to Bush. Does Bush really seem like he would have passed with honors at Yale, just in terms of his vocabulary alone? The two things Trump is missing that make him not even seem like a human being are his lack of any kind of intellectual curiosity and his lack of empathy in any way, shape or form.
DID YOU FEEL THAT WAY BEFORE HE BEGAN HIS POLITICAL CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT?
Well, look at his past. It makes sense, too, because of the upbringing he had. And his father Fred was a fucking full-blown KKK member. That, basically, is the hallmark of the entire alt-right movement.
COULD AMERIKKKANT HAVE BEEN A SURGICAL METH MACHINE ALBUM OR DID IT HAVE TO BE MINISTRY BECAUSE OF ITS POLITICAL CONTENT?
Trump's election helped push it in the direction it went. The way our society is headed, I thought that Ministry would be a voice that was more than appropriate for the times.
WHEN GEORGE W. BUSH WAS IN THE OVAL OFFICE, MINISTRY WAS THERE TO PROVIDE SCATHING COMMENTARY ON THREE SOLID ALBUMS, SO IT MAKES SENSE THAT YOU'VE RESURFACED TO BE THE VOICE OF RESISTANCE.
Yeah, I get the joke. Everyone says, "OK, we have a Republican president. It must be time for Ministry to do an album." Well, I'm happy to oblige.
IT'S NO JOKE. HISTORY HAS PROVEN THAT REPUBLICAN ADMINISTRATIONS INSPIRE MUSICIANS TO CREATE POLITICAL ART. THAT HAPPENED THROUGH THE REAGAN PRESIDENCY AND THE GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's a known constant in the universe. So I would tend to be worried if Ministry didn't do a record after Trump's election. It's like, the universe is in order again now. All is well [laughs].
WHILE YOU WERE MAKING THIS ALBUM, DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE IT'S ALMOST TOO EASY FOR YOU TO WRITE A RECORD ATTACKING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION?
Actually, this is not an anti-Trump record, it's an anti-us record. It's more a commentary on the kind of society that would elect this maniac. We'll take it for granted that he's a maniac. That's low-hanging fruit. I didn't want to take the same approach as I did with my anti-Bush albums. That was much more specific, and by the end of it, by the time I did The Last Sucker, it wasn't so much against Bush. We were all the last sucker, including him because of the system we had created.
HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT?
Now, it's even gone beyond the system. The system has molded the society into something that's unrecognizable. And when I say "system," that means everything from social media to dark money to — you name it. This is the society that either we have created or have allowed to be created, and that's what I'm railing against on this record.
THE ALBUM ART FOR AMERIKKKANT FEATURES THE STATUE OF LIBERTY BURYING HER HEAD IN ONE OF HER HANDS. THAT'S PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THEME AS EMINEM'S NEW RECORD, REVIVAL, ON WHICH A SHOT OF HIS HANDS COVERING HIS FACE IS SUPERIMPOSED OVER THE AMERICAN FLAG.
I'm not familiar with his work, but I'm sure a lot of people have the same sort of embarrassment quotient that's going on right now. Put your head in your hands or shake your head from side to side going, "What the fuck?!?" I think you'll see a lot more of that kind of sentiment. It's kind of cliché just to use all fury and no thought — just raising your fists in the air and yelling, "Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump!" You see some bands doing that, but this goes far beyond that. As I found towards the end of my Bush trilogy, the issues are so much deeper than railing against one person. And we will keep repeating the same mistakes if we don't get to the root cause.
WHAT IS THE ROOT CAUSE?
Well, that's not a black-and-white, concrete thing — like a magic bullet will put us on the proper path of sociological progression. But the point is, we're still railing against cosmetic things — not that that's all bad. We proved in the Sixties, at least when we get cosmetic things done, you can stop wars temporarily. The underlying cause means there'll be another war ten years down the road. There was the pushback against Iraq. That really didn't stop it, and now these people are emboldened. It's the same old shit, but now they're brazen about it. All the policies on the environment have gone to hell. Are they just expecting that people don't remember that in the Sixties Lake Erie caught on fire? And deregulation and stripping down the EPA is a good idea? And they're just brazen about it. This tax cut that they're pushing through. Does anyone remember the Occupy Wall Street protests that went on five or six years ago? They're just sticking their middle finger in the air and saying, "Yeah, yeah. How'd that one work out for you? Fuck you!" They're basically going, "Go ahead. Put your little girl in front of the bull. He's just gonna crush her." They have no conscience, no morality and it's in the open now. It's disgusting.
IF THE TRUMP TEAM AND CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS ARE LAYING DOWN THEIR CARDS AND SHOWING WHERE THEY STAND, DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE WILL BECOME SO DISGUSTED THERE WILL BE SOME MAJOR SHIFTS IN THE HOUSE AND SENATE IN 2018?
Yeah. You can't heal a boil until you pop it. And I think it's popping now. People actually know what they're railing against now, and it's going to become even more evident as economic disparity widens, as the environment completely goes to shit. These things are evident. These things are not just far-flung theories. This is day-to-day reality that you see in your everyday life. Something big is going to happen, and soon.
IF "THESE THINGS ARE EVIDENT," LIKE YOU SAY, HOW DOES SOMEONE LIKE TRUMP WIN IN THE FIRST PLACE?
It's a multi-pronged issue. First of all, they're counting on people having short attention spans. These voters either never learned about or don't remember trickle-down economics from Reagan, which I was railing against in the early Eighties. Trickle-down economics never worked and that was quite evident, especially when Wall Street triggered all the complete excesses in the Eighties. We don't view that in a good light now. We really think that it was gross. And yet we're voting on policies that are going to cause the exact same situation. They just promise us a different outcome. It's like that old definition of insanity. You keep banging your head on a brick wall and expect different results.
It's the same shit that's going on right now. They're pretty much banking on A) apathy and B) short attention spans. Furthermore, they completely underfund and cut all education budgets, make Betsy DeVos [the Secretary of Education] — who can't even read and write, herself and just wants to segregate and make schools for profit. So they want an uneducated public with a short attention span watching remake after remake of Marvel comic movies. There's no art going on in that. It's just complete regurgitation. They just numb you to the point of submission, where you go, "OK, fine. This will become the excesses of Wall Street again, but what can we do about it? We're powerless." They're banking on an uneducated, unmotivated, apathetic populace so they can do whatever the fuck they want. And it's time for people to wake up. It has to happen otherwise there is no human race.
CAN A RECORD LIKE AMERIKKKANT HELP PEOPLE SEE THE LIGHT OR IS YOUR ILLUMINATION TOO DIM FOR THE MASS CONSUMERS?
You have to start somewhere. Other intelligent people who can see through the bullshit or have any sense of history are starting to speak up as well. The women's movement is a prime example of that. Things are coming to a head. There are some sacrificial lambs, like Al Franken, but overall, I think it's a really positive step forward. This needed to be done millennia ago, let alone centuries ago and it's finally happening and I hope this record is a snapshot of what's taking place right now.
MAJOR FIGURES IN POLITICS AND HOLLYWOOD HAVE TAKEN HUGE BLOWS FROM THE #METOO MOVEMENT. YOU SAW FIRSTHAND THE DEBAUCHERY OF THE EIGHTIES AND NINETIES. DO YOU THINK THE MUSIC INDUSTRY WILL BE THE NEXT TO FALL APART FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS?
You can apply that to every single industry, from the service industry and restaurants. All entertainment, all sports. You know something? I'm not proud of a lot of the things I did when I was younger, but I grew and I learned from that. And the main point is there's now a discussion about sexual discrimination and things can't change until people are talking about them. Yeah, we did the whole groupie party scene 20, 30 years ago, but you grow out of it. And it's good to hear a different perspective so you can see why this is wrong — not that you were wrong. It's not a gotcha fucking movement. It shouldn't turn into that. It's an educational movement. Society cannot progress until we discuss these subjects, whether it's sexism or racism. Right now, people are becoming aware of so many ways they were fucked. They didn't think they were being fucked; that's also education. And you can't be educated until there's a discussion.