Never one to rest for long, Ministry frontman and industrial-music visionary Al Jourgensen has spent his 60th spin around the sun dropping a blisteringly pissed-off and politically charged record (March's AmeriKKKant), playing a seemingly endless line of shows in support, condemning the global rise of fascism in interviews, and looking back on prolific periods in his career that continue to shape the way artists approach making music over three decades later. With a new wave of industrial-inspired acts like Youth Code, Uniform and HIDE gaining traction as Ministry-adjacent crew Nine Inch Nails play to sold-out concert halls across the country, now is a key time to reconnect with the man who helped light the spark that led the original industrial (music) revolution.
With the 30th anniversary of Ministry's The Land of Rape and Honey passing us by last month and the band's upcoming tour with Alien Weaponry and Carpenter Brut almost upon us, we talked to Uncle Al about recording his seminal 1988 album, why his approach to criticizing the presidential office has changed, and how shit has gotten even weirder and more perilous since his earliest brushes with activism in the 1960s. The famously opinionated yet jovial singer also shared some thoughts on Taylor Swift's voter registration upsurge and how he's trying to get rid of the "sausage fest" problem in Ministry mosh pits. His spirits lively over the phone, Jourgensen's voice exhibited the passion and charisma that have helped keep him relevant and active this far into the game.
HI AL! SORRY, I THINK I CALLED A BIT EARLY.
Hi! I'm actually very prompt so this is nice. It's kinda like a reaction towards living for so many years on dealer standard time where you're waiting for your dealer to show up to the studio and he was always two hours late so you actually set your clock. You're completely confused for about 10, 15 years there. I was like, 'Oh, he's two hours behind everyone!' so it's nice to be early.
I GUESS ADDICTION TAUGHT YOU ONE THING AT LEAST.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY! DID YOU DO ANYTHING TO CELEBRATE?
Absolutely nothing special — I went out to dinner as a matter of fact. I was almost tempted to use my AARP seniors' discount and go to a Golden Corral or something. I have dinner at 4:00 and then get a senior discount, a discounted a movie afterwards. But I just went out to a regular normal dinner and paid full, not seniors. I didn't want to shoot my wad so early and immediately start cashing in on the senior shit so it's all right. So I mean, I don't know. I feel better in my sixties than I did at 50, I'll tell you that.
DO YOU FEEL ANY PROFOUND DIFFERENCES NOW THAT YOU'VE ENTERED A NEW DECADE OF LIFE, OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT FADES AS YOU PASS 30, 40, 50, ETC.?
The only thing that, that I've noticed consistently over the last, like, decade, maybe two decades, is that you start hurting in muscles you didn't even know you had. Wake up and you're just like, 'What the fuck is that? I didn't even know I had that shit!' but nothing, nothing major or or permanent. It's the little aggravating things that I consider getting old. It's kind of like a cruel joke, humanity, where it gives you this supple, young physically fit body and shit for brains when you're young and then your body falls apart. You finally got things figured out just in time for your body to fall apart.
YOU PASSED ANOTHER LANDMARK RECENTLY WITH THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LAND OF RAPE AND HONEY. WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING BACK ON THAT, ARE YOU IMPRESSED YOU WERE ABLE TO MAKE THAT INFLUENTIAL OF A RECORD AND ALSO HAVE SUCH A DIVERSE CAREER BEFORE YOU WERE 30?
It's pretty freaky! I just recently was made aware of the 30th anniversary of that and, of course, your first reaction is, "Where did the fucking time go, man?" [Laughs] What's funny about that is that a lot of those songs were written about six or seven years before they were on the album. So it's kind of weird to think of them as 30 — that almost seems like 40 years ago to me! But you know? Good. I have something to crack open — a bottle of wine or champagne. I'll take any celebration I can.
WHY DOES THAT ALBUM IN PARTICULAR STAND OUT IN YOUR CATALOG AS A PERSONAL FAVORITE?
That one and the latest one — it's a nice little bookend. It's what I've been going on — my day job — for the last 30 years! It's interesting because of the style in which we recorded it, which I had never done before and it was kind of a crap shoot. Instead of being influenced by other bands or other production styles or other genres of music, I was much more influenced on that record by the cut-up method in literary works by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin [authors inspired by Dadaists who pioneered the literary "cut-up technique"] and how they just cut things up and randomly put them back together and still had some kind of universal meaning just through happenstance or chance. That's what I was doing with that record, which I had never done before, and I never really heard of, well, of anyone else doing that.
It felt like it was a new frontier. Like we were really doing something that was really exciting instead of doing something that we knew how to do, we were doing something we didn't know how to do, which made it a lot more fun. When you go through a career like mine, you look back at all the records, and there's some records that may be technically better or maybe you'd have better songs are sold better or something like that, but for me, my favorites or least favorites always involved the process involved while recording it. That's what made that one special — the process involved with literally me sitting in a room by myself, splicing tape, not digital, old school tape on a splicing block.
I was culling from a bulk recording. We sat in the studio and bulk recorded for six to eight months on a lot of different songs, and some of the songs that we recorded during that time have spawned other bands like Pailhead and 1000 Homo DJs and Revolting Cocks and all these things. We just recorded a bunch of stuff because we wanted to and we're amongst friends and get good ideas bouncing things off each other. Then they just put it all into a room with me, aluminum foil over the windows, and a track machine, and just had me go crazy for three months and trust me: I went crazy for three months.
It was an interesting experience to do that record and I've never done anything like that since to that kind of extreme to where it's literally almost like sensory deprivation of just being in a room with a machine, and it wasn't really a room! It was more like a closet at my old house that barely fit a chair and the tape machine and all the stacked tapes that I had and putting that together was intense. It'll always have a very fond place in my heart because it really felt like we were doing something that hadn't been done.
I THINK IT'S SAFE TO SAY YOU ACCOMPLISHED THAT, AND IT SEEMS LIKE NOT ONLY WAS IT A CATHARTIC EXPERIENCE, BUT ALSO YOU WERE KIND OF SHEDDING THE LAST REMNANTS OF THIS REPUTATION YOU HAD FROM YOUR POP-CENTRIC CAREER BEFORE TWITCH. IS THAT ACCURATE?
In a sense, yes, but that's the funny thing is that all those songs were written, like, five or six years previous. Not all, but most of them were written and rejected by the people who signed me for the songs that we're recording we were playing live, back in like '84. They didn't come out until '88 when my second record label decided, "OK, maybe we'll take a shot on this." All those things were written before that first pop record [1983's With Sympathy], and all that stuff was rejected. Arista literally forced me to do the pop record by appointing writers, producers, all their people, even musicians for that, which is why I hate that first record so much. I really didn't have much to do with that except putting my name on it and they even got my name wrong!
When Warner Brother signed me, I moved to England and was basically tutored by Adrian Sherwood, who was a producer I really admired and demanded as part of the contract that I work with them and the reason I wanted to work with them because I wanted to learn from them. So I feel a lot of what I learned from him on so many levels and production strategies and technique, and brought it back and then reprocess these songs that we had done for many years earlier that a lot of them, like I said, wound up on Land of Rape and Honey. That process is also really different than other processes that I've had on all the other albums. That one was very strange because those songs were actually old, but with a little different production and different attitudes and a different record label and different kinds of support, they seemed to work then.
THE KIND OF "FUCK YOU" ATTITUDE THAT CAME WITH GETTING THESE SONGS IN ORDER — I ASSUME THAT ALSO CAME THROUGH WHEN YOU THREW A SEVERED DEER'S HEAD ON SOMEONE'S DESK AT YOUR RECORD LABEL TO GET YOUR WAY WITH THE COVER ART?
[Laughs] It wasn't quite that simple. When Warner Bros. heard this record, after I was done pacing it all together, they said, "OK, fine. Do you have artwork for it?" and I was so obsessed and single-minded and focused, not just getting this edited together in the way that I wanted to do, that no! I didn't have any actual artwork. So for that record cover, I got an old school Polaroid, with the old film and flash and the whole deal.
There was a holocaust documentary, I believe on PBS at the time because there wasn't a lot of cable back then — I don't even know if there was cable, I can't remember. But it was like a Holocaust program, I just paused it right in the middle of this whole thing and just took this really rancid picture of dead bodies in the ditch at one of the concentration camps. I believe it was Dachau. It was so blurry because a) It was a Polaroid, a) it was taken off of freeze frame TV, and so it was really abstract and I had to come up with something quick because we hadn't even thought about art direction.
We sent it in and they said, "Yeah, fine, this is great." Then later, there was a problem when they realized it was Holocaust victims covered in lime in a ditch. So they said, "Well, the record is going to be held up. We need another cover. We'd like to have our in-house Warner Brothers people do it." And I said, "Well, that's not gonna work at this point." I kind of dug in my heels and flew out to Burbank with a rotting deer head, threw it on their desk and said, "Make this your fucking record cover."
LET'S TALK ABOUT MINISTRY'S NEWEST RECORD, AMERIKKKANT, A LITTLE. YOU'VE SAID THAT IT'S NOT AN ANTI-TRUMP RECORD SO MUCH AS IT'S EMBLEMATIC OF WHERE WE ARE IN SOCIETY. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT A BIT — WHY IT REFLECTS A MORE GENERALIZED RAGE THAN YOUR ANTI-BUSH ERA ALBUMS DID?
Well, yeah, if you look at that trilogy that I did during the Bush administration, by the third record, The Last Sucker is as much about us as it was about him. It really can't be about the cult of personality of what do you like a president. The president is only able to go as far as the real money that the government, the shadow government. That's also reflected as far as where society is at at the time. So in a sense by the third one of the Bush trilogy, I realized we were all suckers, including Bush himself. That last album was that the more just feeling sympathy for Bush, as opposed to attacking him as I did on say a Houses of the Molé or Rio Grande Blood. I started realizing that there's so many other factors involved, and Trump is just basically our society personified this point.
In between those records. I did a Surgical Meth Machine, that side project, because I didn't know if I want to continue Doing ministry after Mike Scaccia passed, so I did a side project and that was really all about societal changes through social media and the impact that it's having en masse. We've never seen anything like this in human civilization to the extent that it's shaped societal patterns and behaviors. So I commented on that and I used a lot of a social media impact. Then, of course, we have a social media president and so it all seemed to fit. It certainly isn't just "bash Trump" because there's so many people in bands doing that. Even now it's all about Trump, all about Trump. This isn't about Trump, this is about us.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT KAVANAUGH SECURING A SPOT ON THE SUPREME COURT?
Well! First of all, it's illegitimate. From now on, his last name will immediately have an asterisk on it for everything he does. If he has to apply for another job, which I hope he will, he will have an asterisk over his name. Between McConnell's chicanery on getting Merrick Garland not confirmed, who is our legitimate supreme court judge as far as I'm concerned ... [The] right wing nationalistic takeover of mainstream government is really appalling because it's not just here, it's all over Europe, it's all over Asia, and it's an alarming trend that we haven't seen since the early 1930s. It's basically the rise of fascism and they're getting away with it. Kavanaugh is just symptomatic of the agenda that's being carried out right now.
YOU CALLED TRUMP A "SOCIAL MEDIA PRESIDENT." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A STAR LIKE KANYE WEST AND HIS PUBLIC FRIENDSHIP WITH THE PRESIDENT? DO YOU FEEL LIKE OUR CULTURE'S CURRENT LEVEL OF CELEBRITY OBSESSION HAS ALWAYS BEEN THERE, OR IS THIS ALL NEW TERRITORY?
No, I don't think it's always been there. Of course, celebrity has always, I mean, just even the term: "He's as popular as a rockstar! He shows up like a rockstar!" It's transferred over to athletes, like traveling with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it's just like traveling with a rockstar! Like there's this connotation that your profession superseded your character, your ambition.
We've had that, it's not anything new, but it's just amplified and on steroids now through not only social media but mainstream media, where it's always about the quick headlines. We're basically living on fast food right now for any kind of information. It's information fast food, that's our diet. All you read about is how if you just eat a fast food diet, it's not healthy.
Well, this is not healthy, the way that we process information and hear it through a filter of celebrity. Like, OK, Taylor Swift finally got political and 64,000 new voters register. We did like three different tours during the Bush era and hit the brick and mortar and went out and set up voter registration booths at each one of our shows and did so even right up through the last tour. We've done like four to five, six times as many registrations as Taylor Swift, but because we're not celebrities ... I'm not saying I want the credit, I don't want the credit for it. We were doing it for our own self-preservation and for obvious reasons, not for headlines. You see what I'm saying? So this is where we've gotten.
YEAH, BUT I GUESS IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA AGE, TAYLOR SWIFT IS MORE EASILY DIGESTIBLE THAN SOMEBODY TELLING YOU AGGRESSIVELY, "YOU NEED TO DO THIS SO WE'RE NOT FUCKED." PLUS, SHE CAN DO THIS BECAUSE SHE'S ALREADY SOLD ENOUGH NEW ALBUMS.
Exactly. It's the weirdest period in my 60 years on this planet, and I did live through and was very cognizant and actually surprisingly active for a 10 year-old during the '68 convention that was in Chicago. I was down there, got tear gassed when I was 10. I ran away from home and actually went — not so much with a complete laser-focused agenda of "I need to protest" — more like I was curious. So me and my other 10 year-old friend ditched school, took a train from the suburbs into the city, and walked around. After we got tear-gassed, I think I was grounded for two months by my parents.
I remember those turbulent late Sixties times, even into the early Seventies, and I'm telling you: I've never seen anything like this. This is cataclysmic. People are still elevating the Sixties to this great promise, a land of change and all that. Yes, we did get some, some gender equality and some pay equality and some race equality. Some! And really, exclamation point some! Just enough to cosmetically change it and make it a movement. To me, all the Sixties gave us is basically LSD and bell bottoms. That movement sold out. It could have gone so much further.
I see these Parkland kids and everyone getting a real at this point, but I just hope that they stick with it and it doesn't become a trend in this day and age. How can it not just become a fad or some kind of social media, viral byline that goes away in a couple of years? This is what worries me: that they're doing the right thing. Trust me, I'm not slagging them. I'm with them 100 percent, but can we just keep it from becoming just like some "fashion of the month" protest, and continue through with some things that started in the Sixties and got incorporated into mainstream culture, bought out, and marketed instead of deployed. I worry about — let's sa, especially in the age of social media — that this could just fizzle out. So it's a nice trend. We'll vote the Republicans out of the House and everyone's gonna be happy with themselves and patting themselves on the back. No, no, no, no. That's the beginning of the work we have to do. That's not the end game here.
The main difference between now and the Sixties movements across the world: If you look at Czechoslovakia '68 and Hungary in '56, these movements started and fizzled for various reasons, but this one we can't afford to blow simply because we've put the actual ecology, the planet itself to a stress test. So we can keep doing these grand little movements that are popular for a while and we get incremental little cosmetic changes and in cultural advancement and this and that, and then four years later they come up with a new marketing way to like get the right wing back in power. Then the left wing swings back, etc. The planet doesn't have time for this bullshit! That's the main difference is that the planet was not in peril of 1968. The actual planet is in peril here in 2018. There's a big difference as far as the importance of making sure this movement actually sticks. Basically they're saying by 2040, we're gonna genetically have to grow gills to survive on this planet, man. [Laughs]
IT'S TERRIFYING. SINCE WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME — BOTH ON THE PLANET AND FOR THIS INTERVIEW — LET'S SWITCH GEARS TO SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE POSITIVE: YOUR UPCOMING TOUR. YOU'VE GOT CARPENTER BRUT AND ALIEN WEAPONRY OPENING. DID YOU HAVE A DIRECT HAND IN CHOOSING THE LINEUP?
Absolutely. We've been doing this purposely for the last few tours. We've been offered so many tours where we just go out and we'd play basically a sausage fest of a bunch of metal bands with, you know, a bunch of guys with tattoos, moshing, being violent in the pit, very little inclusion of anything other than a white male gender in our crowds, and we got sick of it. So we started out by putting Death Grips a couple of tours and started noticing a lot more minorities showing up to our shows and they agreed with the message that he had to say, and that was very fulfilling.
Then we followed it up last year with a tour with Chelsea Wolfe and started seeing a lot more female participation and they also agreed with our message but didn't know! They just thought we were a sausage-fest band like all these other metal bands. So we're continuing that, but bringing over a French band and a New Zealand band, and one of them is basically EDM. Pushing the envelopes of what EDM is, that's what I'd say about Carpenter Brut.
It may fall flat on its face, I don't know, but I doubt it. I just know people want something that's relevant and that's testing their own sensibilities as well as society's, so we just keep pushing forward instead of taking the easy way out.