MINISTRY’S AL JOURGENSEN: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
The first time I met Al Jourgensen was under rather suspect conditions nearly twenty years ago. I had spent the day drinking margaritas with his fellow Revolting Cocks members Paul Barker, Trent Reznor, and their sound man Critter, and swimming in the godforsaken icy cold water of Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. Revco was on a national tour supporting their latest release Beers, Steers, & Queers and this particular stop in Austin would prove to be a pivotal date in the band’s (and Jourgensen and Barker’s other band, Ministry) career.
Barker and Reznor dragged me up to Jourgensen’s hotel room near Lake Austin, in the heart of the city, to extend the party. We walked into Jougensen’s room to find the man splayed out on his hotel room bed with a huge baggie filled with mushrooms. The psilocybin kind, not the Whole Foods Market kind.
Al looked up at me, grinned, and simply asked, “Want some?”
Ever the nerd, I begged off, citing a Criminology final exam the following morning (truth) that I needed to study for before the Revco concert. Jourgensen laughed and said, “Cool. More for me,” and that was it.
Nearly two decades later, I contacted Jourgensen via phone at his El Paso, Texas “compound” to talk about the intervening years, drugs, guns, conspiracies, Mayans, Pantera, voting, and a hell of a lot more. After all the stories of Jourgensen’s drug usage, megalomaniacal persona, and disdain for humans in general, I thought it may be a complete disaster of an interview.
I could not have been more wrong.
2012 – the alleged year of the apocalypse – finds Al Jourgensen feeling healthy, making great new music, and, of course, speaking his mind. I started off with something light, mentioning to him that I have been working with Philip Anselmo from Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, et al. on his autobiography. Philip is good friends with Ministry members Mike Scaccia and Casey Orr (GWAR) from back in their early Dallas days in Rigor Mortis.
“I fucking love Philip,” Jourgensen chortled. “That guy is the coolest motherfucker. But I’ll tell you a funny story. We were in Europe, right after the beginning of the first Gulf War and Pantera was on tour there as well. We were probably the only bands over there due to the tension during the war. They were fairly new, on an international level at least, and having a great time. They had a reputation in later years as a serious party band, but they were still green behind the ears back then. I think it was Philip and Dimebag who decided they wanted to show us how to drink. Mikey (Scaccia) and I just laughed and said “Sure” and proceeded to drink those two motherfuckers under the table. We were going to make ourselves die before we lost to those dudes. We must’ve had a $2,000 bar tab. They were puking everywhere! It was a fucking riot! Great guys.” Jourgensen added, “I sure as hell miss Dime. What a beautiful soul.”
Jourgensen added another anecdote. “I almost forgot, but that same weekend with Pantera, we ran into the dudes from Winger. I don’t remember what kind of drinking contest we had with them, but I remember we won because I got to shave Kip’s fucking hair!”
I asked Al about his autobiography he has been working on. “Oh man, my part’s already done. I had this guy come out to the compound and record me for a week. It’s coming out in March 2013 on Harper Collins. It’s just my stories, man! I think people will dig it.”
He then added, “I do have a funny story about this one girl who wanted to write a book about me. I invited her to the studio years ago and she gave us a pound of MDMA (ecstasy) and we be trippin’on this shit,” he said with a silly accent and laughter. “She wanted to write a book on the making of the record so we let her stay there the entire fucking time. By the end of the record I asked to see her notebook that she had been furiously penning notes in during the recording. She handed it to me and it was nothing but pictures of fucking stick figures and trees. She had also invented several words and scribbled them throughout, but that was it!”
Al Jourgensen’s life has been full of enough fantastical material to span the breadth of multiple tomes. Pop electro-wunderkind tells his major record label to suck it, changes his musical style to a crushing, mechanical from of metal industrial that sets the standard for such sounds in the ’80s and ’90s, gets hooked on drugs and allegedly terrorizes the world around him, creates multiple side projects to express his vast musical tastes, crashes and burns repeatedly only to resurface, nearly dies, and subsequently retires from the music biz only to return with a one-two punch of his long-awaited country album (Buck Satan & The 666 Shooters) and a new Ministry record, Relapse, after a five-year hiatus.
I asked the 53-year-old Jourgensen, “Is Ministry still relevant in 2012?”
“Absolutely!” he answered without hesitation. “Relapse is our socio-political analogy, on record, of the current state of our government and our society. The Buck Satan record is much more personal, but this new Ministry record is where my head is at in regard to my place in the world.”
I let Al know that I have been a fan of Ministry since the With Sympathy days.
“Oh, fuck. Not that piece of shit,” he dismisses my praise. “I appreciate you saying that, but I fucking hate that record.”
The reason I brought it up though was to let him know that I believe Relapse covers all the phases of Ministry’s recording history from the electro-pop days as featured on the “Relapse Defibrillator Remix” to the heavier industrial Twitch sounds on “Freefall” to the classic industrial metal sounds the band is best known for such as on the new song, “Double Tap,” and the more recent thrash sounds such as on “Kleptocracy.”
“You cover my favorite S.O.D. song, “United Forces,” on Relapse,” I mentioned. “How did that one come about?”
“Man, I’ve known Billy (Milano, lead singer for S.O.D.) for years. Really well. He’s a great fucking guy and I believe that that song is even more fitting today. It’s the perfect song for people to rally around these days.”
“I caught you in San Antonio at the Sunken Gardens Theater with Anthrax way back in the day and they played ‘Thieves’ with you.”
“Oh, hell yeah!” Jourgensen recalled. “I was dating Sean Yseult (White Zombie bassist) back then and Zombie was touring with Anthrax. I just hung out with her on the road for about a mont and the dudes in Anthrax told me how much they loved my music and asked me if I wanted to join them on stage to play a few tunes. Of course, I said yes.”
Jourgensen then told me Yseult broke up with him because he peed on her laundry and broke into her neighbor’s house.
We then spoke about politics. “The song, ‘Get Up Get Out ‘n Vote,’ was written by your wife?”
“Yeah, she just had this great idea for a song that would encourage people to get off their lazy asses and vote,” Jourgensen answered. “That’s what I want people to do. Get up, get out, and vote. Now, if they had any brains, they would hit the “D” button. I mean, c’mon, look at these Republican knuckleheads. It’s like a goddamned clown car with more goofy ass clowns coming out each week. They’ll probably be having their damn primary though the summer at this rate (This interview took place in late January. The Republican presidential primary currently still has four main contenders for the nomination). It’s a fucking joke. I hate Republicans.”
“Why are you back after allegedly retiring five years ago?” I asked Al.
“I had been puking up blood for eight years while I was out on the road,” Jourgensen replied. “It was always on the road. I’d come home and it would stop. So I just thought it was a road thing and that I’d be fine. Then I had a massive flair-up, almost died, and was told by the doctors that I had thirteen ulcers. Irony, huh? (13th Planet is Jourgensen’s record label.) I even had one on my esophagus. I had laser surgery and cleared it all up. Now I can make it through the day without barfing blood.
“I had still been working in the studio during my ‘hiatus,’ but after the surgery I told Mikey that I had to finish the Buck Satan record. I’d been talking about it for twenty years and I wanted to make sure I got it out before I croaked. While we were recording that one, Mikey kept bugging me, saying ‘Check out these riffs. They’re perfect for Ministry.’ I kept blowing him off, until I couldn’t any more. He was right! They were amazing riffs and could only work with Ministry. I said fuck it and we decided to go ahead and record Relapse.”
“Will there be another Ministry record?” I followed up.
“No, fuck no. This is the last one. We’ll do our tours this year, maybe next year, and then I’m done with Ministry.”
I decided to end the conversation discussing SXSW, the annual music festival that takes place in Austin every March. “I don’t think they’d ever have me back there,” Jourgensen chuckled.
“I don’t remember what year it was,” he continued to chuckle, “but I had been tapped to present the award for Best Country Music Performer to Junior Brown (he of the git-steel fame). I had been smoking crack (after I had quit shooting up dope), and some guy says to me, ‘You can’t smoke back here.’ I was backstage at the Austin Music Awards or something. I smiled at the guy, stuck a wad of chaw in my mouth and slapped him on the back. I smiled, swallowed the tobacco, and proceeded to turn green. I then had to go onstage to present the award. By the time I got to the podium, I threw up all over the stage. Junior Brown refused to accept his award because he said it was tainted! HAHAHA!! I felt bad.
“No, I don’t think they’d want me back.”
I am, however, ecstatic that Al Jourgensen is back.
RELAPSE wil be released Tuesday, March 27th, via Jourgensen’s own 13th Planet Records and AFM. You can stream the entire album now via Metal Injection.