Al Jourgensen Bids Adieu to Ministry, Not to Speaking His Mind
The mercurial frontman spares no one — least of all himself — as he looks back on a wild life in music
Spend five minutes on a cross-country Skype call with the verbose Al Jourgensen and you’ll realize why so many fans call him Uncle Al — or, for that matter, Alien Jourgensen. His “wife-ager,” Angie, has situated the 54-year-old electronic-metal pioneer by his laptop camera, which captures Jourgensen in his element: reclining in the backyard of his El Paso, Texas home with a beer and cigarette. From the neck up, all you can really make out of the man see are rose-tinted shades, eyebrow and septum piercings, the letter “A” tattooed on his forehead and braided dreadlocks kept in place under a beanie. Like with the Ministry mastermind’s musical output, his very appearance reflects the chaos of influences that shape him. But in conversation, he’s consistently two things: happily soused and refreshingly honest.
This all fits with the image cast in his rowdy new memoir, Ministry: the Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, which precedes Ministry’s 13th (and, Jourgensen swears, their last) studio LP, From Beer to Eternity (out Sept. 10 via his own 13th Planet Records), which capably stomps and swaggers across pounding industrial like “Punch in the Face” and the body-rhythmic “Enjoy the Quiet” while lyrically assailing corporate America throughout.
In between smokes, Jourgensen addressed his band’s impending demise and did his best to clarify any confusion over his stance on some touchy subjects — including his fondness for bad puns and worse language.
You’ve been hinting that this Ministry record will be the band’s last. Is that true? Or is that just a press angle?
Yeah, it’s done. I said that last summer for health reasons. I didn’t think I could perform another record. I had 13 ulcers, I was bleeding everywhere, and eventually got to where they had to defibrillate me for my third time. And as soon as I got out of the hospital, I called up [late Ministry guitarist] Michael Scaccia, my buddy who just died, and said, “Man, we better do this Buck Satan [country record] thing we’ve been talking about, because we’ve been selling T-shirts for 25 years and don’t even have a record out.” So we did the country record, and just to wind down at the end of a night or to warm up at the start of a session, we’d play some metal riffs. We get done with the Buck Satan record, and then [Scaccia] starts psycho-texting me — ’cause he had a CD of those riffs — he goes, “Man, we have to do this. You have to do the lyrics. You have to produce it. You have to do another [Ministry] record.” And I was really against it. So, if you like it, give me all the credit. If you don’t like it, blame Mikey, ’cause he got me to do this for ya.
You’re pretty candid in Lost Gospels about people you dislike, from your longtime Ministry partner Paul Barker to Courtney Love. Are you bracing for some angry phone calls?
What happens happens. Here’s how doing an autobiography works: You get the artist and the co-author in a room in my house and you get ‘em shitfaced drunk for a week and leave the tape recorder on. Then, he goes back to New York all hung over and does his due diligence on finding out if anything I’ve told him rang true. In other words: “Is this guy completely bullshitting me?” And he goes back and does four weeks of interviews with people who were there or whatever, and then we book him for another week, and he comes out, and we just stay in a room and we get shitfaced, and I tell him some more stories about what’s happened to me, and then he goes back for another four weeks, checks it all out, makes sure I’m not full of shit. Then, he sends that to the publisher, and then the publisher sends it to their lawyers, and then they do like six weeks of calling people and making sure this and that and the other thing. So in other words, this book is already really filtered down. This stuff I’m not sue-able for.
Isn’t hypocritical of you to discuss your open-mindedness toward gay people in the book at the same time as you use terms that could be deemed slurs? I’m thinking of your referring to your early ’80s “new-age fag” look?
Yeah, Jesus, I was a homo last night. I only drank like a half bottle of whiskey or something. Yeah, that’s a slur. But, ya know what? I learned this early: When I was put in an orphanage when I was 13, there was 10 whites in the building, about 90 blacks. And we got our ass beat every day by these black guys. And I always called [them] “nigga,” and I just understood, finally, as long as there’s in “a” at the end, and not an “er” . . . So, I use the term nigga, I use the term homo, fag, this and that. However unpopular that makes me, that’s not my belief, that’s just the social environment I grew up in.
Do you ever think people might overlook any serious messages in your music because of your reliance on silly puns for album titles?
I don’t really care, as long as they get something out of it. For instance, we have a new song, “PermaWar,” which is based on the Rachel Maddow book [Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power]. Maybe somebody will get something out of that and realize what she was saying and what I’m affirming. Other people may get, “Huh huh, From Beer to Eternity, that’s cool.” I can’t control what people think of me, and I stopped really caring a long time ago.
You openly loathe live performance. Don’t you think that’s alienating to your fans?
That’s the promoter’s worry. That’s not mine. I just tell you what I feel. I go out there, you put a quarter on my tongue, twist my ear and I’ll spit out some hit for you. And even if I do that, on the Web afterward, [it's], “Well, they didn’t play this one, they didn’t play that one.”
Well, do you appreciate your fans?
I appreciate their money. I don’t appreciate them. If it takes me to stir up their pot in their brain, then they’re already behind the game. Let’s get with it guys: You don’t need to hear a Ministry song to get political. You should be political on your own. We’re just a side project to society. So do I care what people think about me personally? No. I just do what I do.
Do you at least agree that you’re the godfather of industrial?
First of all, you are completely, 360-degrees wrong on this concept. ZZ Top uses sequencers and vocoders and stuff. Do you consider them an industrial band?
Industrial wasn’t a widespread term when ZZ Top were making the music you’re referring to.
Listen, man: I am not the industrial godfather, king, whatever. I don’t relish that title. I don’t like it. I think it’s limiting. I do country, I do blues. I don’t just go straight.
Does that mean there’s a possibility you’ll finally get behind With Sympathy, the synth-pop debut you’ve said you’ve hated for so long?
That’s a very interesting question, because I noticed on this new album, I have some of the same harmonies and stuff and background vocals as I did on With Sympathy. There’s some melodic texture to it, yet it’s heavy as hell. So I don’t think it’s gonna be a quick switch-around where my next record’s all pop, but I do think all the influences confluence into one certain sound, which is our band. I don’t know of other bands that could do that. Other bands are so great at what they do, and they keep doing it. We just kind of keep going a little bit here, there, backwards, forwards. We just try and make it through an album, man.