Al Jourgensen sounds a bit like Dennis Hopper when he talks. If this is even possible, he’s a MORE sinister sounding Dennis Hopper. Jourgensen is learned and respected in the ways of studio production and musicality in a similar fashion as Hopper was revered in film work. Much like Hopper, Jourgensen had a penchant for indulging in copious amounts of narcotics in his younger years, a tale well documented in his biography Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen. Al’s long-standing Ministry project bottomed out in 2012/2013 with the death of his long-time friend and co collaborator Mike Scaccia, who died suddenly performing at a birthday party for Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt. Saddened and disenfranchised with Ministry, Al decided to pack it in. That is until Donald Trump got voted in.
Al, quite literally, decided to make an album on the morning of November 9th, 2016, when he awoke to find out that Trump had been voted in as President. It wasn’t just the state of the nation that was bugging him this time around, but more of a microscopic scrutinization of the things that are tilting the world off its axis at the moment. Politics, for sure. But also the treatment of women in the world, the watering down of the educational system along with the level of vacuousness and distraction present in this current world of social networking and cat videos.
Now signed to Nuclear Blast Records, Ministry’s 14th studio album, AmeriKKKant, is set for release on March 9th, 2018. With a revamped line-up (that includes Burton C. Bell, DJ Swamp, Arabian Prince (NWA) and Lord of the Cello). The album was recorded in a collaborative fashion, and yields some of the most diverse sounds Ministry have attempted in decades.
Jourgensen took some time to chat with PureGrainAudio about many things in this phone interview on January 19th, 2018. Ministry touches down at the Opera House for a sold-out show on April 14th, 2018, and promises the show will be a memorable one.
Here’s the band’s brand new “Wargasm” lyric video.
I love how bad presidents seem to stimulate some of your finest work. That’s just awesome.
Jourgensen: (laughs) It does seem to go like that, doesn’t it? It’s actually kind of a shame. But OK, we’ll go with that.
I remember actually watching Trump being voted in and thinking “Well, at least there’s going to be another Ministry album now.” So I’ve got that to look forward to.
Jourgensen: A lot of people have felt the same, mate. It’s the way it is. I seem to get my fucking hackles up when we have some fascist dictatorship pointed to us for us to accept. And they just kind of keep pushing the boundaries of how much can they get. They sent us a senile old Hollywood guy with Regan. They sent us an absolute entitled Texas dolt with Bush. And now they’ve sent us Trump. Which is beyond the pale. So, of course, I was going to do an album. But the way that this album came about – what was the interesting part about it – it’s not an anti-Trump album. It’s an entire anti-system album of what keeps giving us people like Trump. So Trump is inconsequential. It’s like if you went to the doctor and you found a cist on your neck, and they removed the cist because it obviously looks and feels unhealthy. And then they find the cist is malignant. So your real problem is the cancer, it’s not the cist. Donald Trump to me is a cist. So this is where we’re at. This is what I’m singing about.
Really, Trump is just so blatantly obvious that it’s almost like it’s too low hanging fruit. I’ve seen so many bands over the last year through songs or whatever saying “I hate Trump! He is Orange! I hate Trump!” Whatever. That’s not the problem. The problem is what keeps giving us these people and what keeps making people think that it’s a good idea to have him leading a government. This boils down to so many complex issues of things like education; what makes us think that this is a good idea? Obviously, the education system has failed. Because any normal person will see that this is not a good idea. And here we are. So I’m singing more about the institutional practices that led us to a Trump presidency. This album is very similar (to me) to a series like Black Mirror. Or Electric Dreams by Philip K Dick, which is talking about a dystopian future where people have been duped into thinking this is the right thing to do. That’s more what this album is about and what I’m kind of hollering about.
I like the Black Mirror comparison. That’s good. I like that.
Jourgensen: Oh, I did that the other night actually. A friend of mine arranged a listening party for me, which was great. And just put Black Mirror episodes on with this album playing alongside of it. And it seemed to work perfectly. I mean, it makes sense to me. So that’s why I bought it up, because of this whole private party thing.
There was no Obama-themed Ministry album. Does that mean that you were OK with Mr. Obama?
Jourgensen: Well, I’m not OK with the system. But what the system does, if you look at 2018, it’s really shaping up to be 1968. If you look at 1968, it was shaping up to be somewhere around 1939. Every thirty years or so, we get this wash of fascist tide that comes up. To me, fascism is very similar to herpes. Once you actually contract the gene that is herpes through unprotected sex, it really doesn’t do much. It lies dormant for much of the time. But every so often you get a flare-up. And when you get a flare up, you go to a doctor and he prescribes you something and you drink a lot of cranberry juice and refrain from unprotected sex for a while.
I think we’re in the middle of that phase right now. Very similar to like the 1930s just before the rise of the Fascists. Franco Mouselinni, Hitler. This and that. It’s very similar to herpes. So right now we are in a herpes crisis as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot of people who are actually kind of like the street level doctors who are saying “OK. Maybe you should drink some cranberry juice. Or get some medication. Because right now were in for a little bit of a rough ride for a while, but it can be taken care of.” Fascism is not terminal, it’s just an annoyance.
I kind of feel like right now is the really lengthy q-tip up the tip of the penis point of that STD that you were talking about.
Jourgensen: Yeah. This herpes outbreak is probably the worst one that I’ve seen, or heard of, since the 1930s. This coming right after the 1929 influenza where it killed 26 million people. And then you’ve got the rise of fascism and all that. Look, it all boils down to systematic failure. Trump is just some appointed clown, just like Regan or Bush were. Or (Silvio) Berlusconi in Italy at the time. Or all the new ones like (Rodrigo) Duterte in the Philippines or even (Vladimir) Putin, which is so calculated and so good at what he does. It’s the system that provides these people. And the system preys on people that are divided amongst themselves on this planet.
For instance; white hates Mexicans, white hates blacks. White hates Muslims. Everyone hates whites. You know, everyone hates each other. So divide and conquer and then keep people living in fear and make sure that you are sure that the person that doesn’t look like you who is a potential threat to your existence. And then, on top of that, “C” on the fascist playbook after the divide and conquer chapter and people living in fear, then “C” would probably be: just give them trinkets and they will calm down. Trivialize every potential ground changing movement whether it be the “Me Too” movement or anything. Make it all trivialized. Make it about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey instead of the fact that women earn 73 cents on the dollar to a man for… forever.
Things like this. Also, divide them with this wonderful thing that was provided for us in the late eighties and early nineties called the internet, and the dawn of the age of information. Well, now quickly turn that around and make it the age of disinformation. To where people are more concerned about how many ‘likes’ they get on Facebook for sharing a video on YouTube of a cat playing piano rather than paying attention to pension funds evaporating into thin air; education being slashed; healthcare being gone. All of these different things that matter in our day to day lives are superseded by the fact that we are distracted by cats playing fucking piano!!
I like that you mentioned the Hollywood sexual misconduct charges. How is it that a crotch-grabbing President is staying afloat when everyone else is getting thrown under the bus?
Jourgensen: Well that’s the thing. It’s all distraction. It’s all normalization of the system. This is systematic, man. This comes from the top. If you throw enough shit against the wall, and you see it enough times, you are finally like “Oh, whatever, it’s bad again.” And you don’t care. We hold it to a different standard. Our moral standard has devolved systematically on purpose. So the people that are in charge, the ruling class, the faceless ones, they appoint these leaders like Trump and all this shit. Do you want to know who rules the world? Go no further than going to Davos, Switzerland in the next couple of weeks. That will tell you who rules the world. Monitor a Bilderberg conference. These ‘leaders’, they really don’t matter. This is how much contempt they have for us. That they think we’re so stupid because they’ve cut education funding and also titled the actual curriculum of educations to the point where we’re chasing our own tails, chasing a celebrity culture, to where all of this seems normal. And it’s not fucking normal.
Very true. I’d love to know what you love about America, Al. Because I think we’ve, over a number of albums, heard about what you don’t like about it. What do you like about it? Besides pot.
Jourgensen: (laughing) Well, I’m in my perfect place. I’m in my comfort zone. Because I have great weather where I live. I have legal pot without fear of repercussions. I’m trying to expand myself on a cosmic level as opposed to an educational level which is slanted towards us. So, I love the opportunities of America. I love so many things about it. Especially where I’m at, I love the climate. On a real trivial matter, I love my Chicago sports teams. (laughs) You know? I’d live and die by them. It’s kind of a tribal thing – I get it. But it’s like my guilty pleasure. But there’s many things I love. But I could be anywhere. I could probably support some soccer team in the Bundesliga in Germany and be quite happy there except for the weather, obviously. Because when you get 60 years old anything below actual 32 degrees Fahrenheit freezing, your bones don’t take to it kindly at my age. So, other than that, I could be anywhere in the world and I would be happy. I would also see how we’re being oppressed and how we are being manipulated. It really doesn’t matter if I’m in America or anywhere else.
Let’s talk about the new album. How do you pronounce it? Is it “America – KKK – can’t?” Or are you just calling it “Americant.”
Jourgensen: Americant. Because we can’t keep going on this road. The fascists have provided me with the extra two “K”s. actually, three “k”s grammatically speaking. But it all kind of ties in man.
Check out the band’s official “Antifa” music video.
It’s a different sounding Ministry album. It’s got some scratching by DJ Swamp. And you’ve got Arabian Prince in there. And there is an underlying medley of circus music that I hear underneath a couple of songs. Which I quite enjoy, given the theme that you are sticking to on it.
Jourgensen: Well, it’s the most organic album that we’ve done in the writing process. It’s probably most like I would say Filth Pig, in ’93/’94/’95. Somewhere around there. And only in the sense that I say organic because it was a collaborative effort with a lot of people that were put together in the same room, literally in the same room. Instead of me doing a record like say, my last record Surgical Meth Machine, or say the last few like Last Sucker and Relapse, it’s just basically me with an engineer and a computer station programming my thoughts out. With an occasional interlude of organicness by Mike Scaccia. And he’s passed.
So, this was an actual band. We sat in a studio all in the same room on headphones. We haven’t done that since Filth Pig. To where a band actually collaborated and came up with shit. So I’m thinking 70 to 80 percent of this record was organically created in one week. The skeletal bones, the composition of this record was done in one week. And then I spent about five months doing my little computing thing – conjuring up orchestras and DJ Scratchers and shit like that coming in and Burton Bell coming in and pitching in. They were all neighbors. They all live really close to the house, and they were interested in my process, so they came by and contributed. This is the most collaborative effort, like I said, that I’ve had since Filth Pig.
And did you enjoy it? It sounds like you did.
Jourgensen: Big time, man. And I may actually try this again sometime.
Just today, somebody sent me a list of the best heavy albums of 1988. And Rape and Honey wasn’t on it. Which kind of surprised me, because I think that was the heaviest album of anything that came out in that year.
Jourgensen: Um, well I have no comment because if I remember the eighties, that would be news to me because I was kind of under the influence. We just did what we did. It came out like it did. And if people noticed it, that’s great. But I certainly can barely remember those days. Because of the psychological condition I was in, which is no longer a problem for me. So, that’s good.
I’ve always wondered what Ministry’s music might have sounded like in the late 80s and 90s if you’d stayed off drugs. Do you feel like your music was fueled by drugs and that you’d be a different musician had you not gone down that path?
Jourgensen: I think this album is kind of the Petrie dish of your wildest imagination; what would Ministry sound like without drugs. And you’ve got this album doing the same format that produced those records. Only with a much more stable environment. And I think it holds it’s toe with any of that shit.
The first date on your upcoming tour with Chelsea Wolf to sell out was Toronto. I’m kind of proud of that because I’m Toronto-based.
Jourgensen: Yay, Canada.
We love you up here, sir. Maybe you should move up here. Pot’s going to be legalized soon.
Jourgensen: I know. Very soon. It’s just too fucking cold. But you know what? With global warming, there’s a chance I may move to Canada soon. (laughs) I just need the climate, man. I’m a climate whore. What can I say?
I drove down to Chicago and did Riot Fest a few months ago. Primarily to see you and Reznor on the same stage. That was wonderful, by the way.
Jourgensen: Trent is a funny man. We hadn’t spoken in years. That was a great little reunion with him. That was fun.
Check out a clip of Ministry writing the songs on AmeriKKKant.
That photo that popped up online of the two of you together was one of my favourite things of the weekend. I was hoping something like that would happen given that you were going on one after another. It was cool. I hope that was a good catch-up for you both.
Jourgensen: Yeah. It was great. We had a good time. Yeah. I’ve always felt that he’s probably the most talented fucker on the planet. It’s just that he had better managers and shit than me. (laughs) He made a lot more money and a lot more headlines. But I think we both have an understanding that we are both in the same boat together. And good on him, man. I think he’s great.
It was cool for me to see you in Chicago as well. I’ve always associated you with that city, certainly on Wax Trax back in the day. I was into all of that stuff. It was kind of neat to see you in that city, even though it was on a big stage outside.
Jourgensen: Well, yeah. It’s always good to go home. Like I said, it’s another one of those places that I absolutely adore. Like Toronto. Chicago even more so because of my tribal tendencies to support all of their loser sports teams. But, like I said, I’m a climate whore man. I just can’t help myself. My bones just enjoy the warm weather. I love those two cities though – to death. But that’s what would happen if I moved there. I’d be dead because I don’t function below 32 degrees.
Now if somebody – some record-type guy – was to lift a single off of each of your commercial albums and made like a compilation, it would make one of the most eclectic assortment of music styles this side of heaven. I personally love how varied you’ve been over the years. And I think it’s interesting that some of your fans have followed you along through 35 years, given the different styles of music that you have put out.
Jourgensen: Well, actually, you should give me the name of the guy that’s thinking about doing that, because I think that’s a great idea. And I don’t want to cut him out on the royalties of it and just do it myself. That’s actually… I’ve never thought about doing that. That actually makes sense because I don’t purposely try and be diverse. But the times that I live in, purposely, are diverse. What I do, I consider my job in the band is not like producer or guitar player or singer or whatever. I consider myself more like the photographer. I just take snapshots of what’s going on and then hold them up to the people and say “OK, this is what I saw on my summer vacation! It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?” And then everyone responds.
I mean, that’s basically what I think of myself as. I’m more like the chronologer or the photographer of what was going on at that period of time. Sometimes it’s really politically-centric, and other times it’s more like inner demons and things that are affecting me over a six or seven month period, or a one year period. However long it takes to do a particular record. To me, they are just snapshots. It’s like going up in your parent’s attic and finding some kind of weird photo compilation that they had of you when you were growing up. I go up there and look at that and go “Whoa. That’s pretty fucking weird.” You know? It’s like I really don’t think about it when it’s done. I just move onto the next period and I think I need to take some snapshots and chronologize this, you know? Just take pictures and see. This is what’s happening, and I’m aware right now, so that’s kind of like my job in the band.
Tell me this, if you can. What is your idea of a perfect rock album, Al? Do you have one? Is there something that you always play that puts a smile on your face?
Jourgensen: Um, nooooo. I think the closest thing to a societal and a global perfect rock album would have to be like, say, some of that mid-seventies Pink Floyd shit. I think that captured the moment and the possibilities and the enlightenment of any album that I’ve heard. So I’m a big Pink Floyd fan. And also, it was really heartening to hear from a lot of journalists that I’ve spoken to over the last couple of weeks calling this album ‘punk Floyd’. (chuckles) I mean, that was the biggest compliment I’ve ever had in my life on any record that I’ve ever done. “Oh my God, I’m reaching punk Floyd status.” That’s pretty good. Just drop the pink and here we are.
Well, “Victims of a Clown” is pretty groovy. There’s some interesting stuff going on there. It’s eight minutes long too. It’s a dirgy song.
Jourgensen: Um, that one took me back to like the nineties more than anything. I remember literally having some kind of deja vu flashback during the recording of that one. Watching Arabian Prince scratch on that one. And Tony on bass just boom-boom-boom, just this constant almost Revolting Cocks / early Ministry dirge going. This repetitive cycle. It was really cool. it kind of made a few hairs stand up on my arms and neck.
If you can, do you have a story that you can share with Ministry’s music impacting a fans life? Something that has stuck with you that you’ve heard a fan say to you over the years?
Jourgensen: Oh, not only have a heard a fan say it, I’ve stayed in touch with her over all of these years. This was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The year was like around 93 or 94. She was a fifteen-year-old that ran away from home and was so disgusted with her parents and the system and everything else that she just said “look. I’m under-age. I don’t care. I’m willing to go on the road with you. Do whatever you want with me. Anything’s gotta be better than living with my parents. And I’m here.” I just looked at her and went “Dude, you’re like fifteen. You really need to call your folks and get your shit together, then when you are eighteen, call us back and say, “Ok, I’m going in this direction or that direction.”
But right now, you have not enough life experience to fucking make a life-changing decision like that. You should take in more information. I had a long talk with her. Eventually, I talked her into calling her older sister who was 18 who came and picked her up. So she didn’t get in trouble with her parents. And she didn’t run away on the band bus or anything like that. And to this day, what is it, like 25 years later, we still talk two or three times a year. She’s married. She’s happy. It was almost like a person that was willing to commit suicide, and we talked them out of it. So, I think that’s the most heartening one that I’ve had in all of these years. Yeah.
We wrap up with a bit of social banter. Al mentions that on the upcoming tour he’ll have DJ Swamp, Burton C. Bell and possibly Lord of the Cello (pending Canadian customs) on tour with him – everyone who contributed to the AmeriKKKant album except for Arabian Prince – playing the album live from their hearts.