Between massive creative highs and cold hard realities, it’s hard to believe Al Jourgensen hasn’t jumped out of his densely inked and pierced skin. In his 40th year as chairman of industrial-rock progenitors Ministry, “Uncle Al” is probing both sides of his yin-yang harder than ever. The light: Ministry’s politically bracing and sonically engaging new album, Moral Hygiene, was recorded under strict pandemic protocols in Jourgensen’s home studio in Southern California. These sessions also yielded material that could herald the return of Lard, his summit meeting with punk provocateur Jello Biafra, as well as the majority of a follow-up LP which the frontman describes pretense-and-irony-free as “the best music I have ever made in my life.”
The dark? The tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ministry’s 1989 hallmark, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste has now been rescheduled for a third time (with Melvins and Corrosion Of Conformity supporting) beginning March 6, 2022. Jourgensen had convened an A-team lineup of players consisting of longtime synth/sampling expert John Bechdel (Killing Joke, Fear Factory), bassist Paul D’Amour (Tool), drummer Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour, Soulfly) and guitarists Caesar Soto (Pissing Razors) and Monte Pittman (Madonna’s musical director). (Pittman replaces Sin Quirin who officially resigned in May for “health reasons” while being alleged to have had inappropriate sexual relationships before joining the band. Jourgensen had no comment on Quirin’s departure.) With COVID rates back on the rise and the anniversary of The Mind album eliminated by microbes, Jourgensen finds himself holding to his word, come hell or herd immunity.
“It’s still not safe until these fucking knuckleheads do what’s right so society can function and get their fucking vaccines,” he says down the phone from his SoCal home, sans sugarcoating. “There are some states on that tour where there’s less than 50% vaccination rates. [Travelling on a tour bus], you’re literally on a 45-foot long petri dish. You have 12 people with an average of three feet of personal space in an enclosed chamber, breathing all the same stuff. While at the same time being exposed to thousands of people nightly and their droplets. It’s a recipe for disaster and nobody felt fucking safe. So hopefully by March we will be at herd immunity.”
The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that one exists. To that end, Moral Hygiene is a continuation of Jourgensen’s stance. If there was a historical analog to Ministry this time around, it would have to be the late, hip-shooting comedian George Carlin. Carlin was painfully transparent to his audiences that he had no solutions to the societal maladies that plague America, but he didn’t shy away from ripping down the psychic curtain separating his fans from the truth. Like he has on previous records, Jourgensen continues to rail against the forces that conspire to push the gas pedal on the decline of mankind, from capitalism (“Broken System”) to media static (“Disinformation”) to COVID denial (“Death Toll”) to civil war (“Alert Level”).
“It’s just having any moral compass besides just thinking about yourself,” he says, summarizing the album. “We’ve become not only a nation, but a world full of narcissism and selfish values. There needs to be some responsibility towards your fellow earthlings in your community. The idea that empathy is uncool—just like it was uncool in the 1930s—is how fascism rose. The first thing [politicians] have to chip away at is your moral compass and your empathy. Once that’s gone, they can manipulate everything else.
“I think the right wing has overshot their bounds with these voter-restriction laws and abortion laws, which are being copycatted across the country,” he muses. “I think they are just so addicted to power and so used to being in the corridors of power that they forgot that [conservatives] are solidly a minority. I mean, about a third of the people still to this day think Trumpism was a good idea. I just think that they’ve overreached. So I have a positive outlook for the next few years. Because of their thirst for power in the overreach of the right wing, I do see better days ahead. You can take that and put it in the bank and say ‘Uncle Al said it.’”
Yet despite feeling both creatively stoked and jolted by what he calls “an art year” handed to him by COVID and emboldened politicians, Jourgensen is seriously looking at the end of Ministry. A byproduct of the experience of making Moral Hygiene was having enough songs completed to curate the final destination of the works. Similar to determining how his late-’80s sessions with Ian MacKaye, Cabaret Voltaire and Trent Reznor would manifest in the world (in Pailhead, Acid Horse and 1000 Homo DJs, respectively), Jourgensen has several pots on his stove. While recording Moral Hygiene, Jourgensen reached out to punk fulcrum Biafra to contribute vocals on a song he couldn’t nail down. Not only is “Sabotage Is Sex” a highlight on the LP (“To this day, I still really haven’t had a sit-down conversation with him on what that’s about,” he reveals, laughing), the experience kickstarted activity on a potential release by Lard, the Biafra-Jourgensen summit whose last manifestation was the 2000 EP ‘70s Rock Must Die.
But when Jourgensen describes the impending follow-up to Hygiene as the best music he’s ever made, you have to take pause. Considering the arc of his 40-year career and how much of Ministry’s aesthetic has been assimilated into the mainstream (Exactly how many of Al’s lunches did Rob Zombie and Wayne Static get to eat, anyway?), this is truly a stentorian proclamation. It will be sometime later next year when we get Ministry’s final bow (wait for it): an unabashed arena-rock record.
“I don’t see how I could top this one,” Jourgensen says stridently. “I think Moral Hygiene is a great fucking album. But the one that’s coming up is from the same genus, species and phylum—it’s from the same place. All done with the same musicians, same everything. The thing about these songs is the fact that as I listened to it in sequence, seven of the eight sound like arena-rock anthems. And I’ve never been in that position before. I put on headphones and listen to them and I can see 40,000 people doing call and response, wearing Ministry T-shirts in an outside amphitheatre. It’ll sound exactly like Ministry, but the way the songs are structured makes it like a fucking arena-rock album—they’re all anthems. And I’ve never [done] that before. I usually have one or two anthem-type songs on a record, but this is just one after the other after the other. It’s relentless. It has all the earmarks of Ministry.”
In the past, this writer has always characterized Jourgensen as a rock version of the classic cartoon character Popeye. Popeye’s gruff exterior was defined by his mantra: “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” Splice “and go fuck yourself” at the end of that, and you have summarized his essence. He has never sought out anyone’s endorsement for personal affirmation. Jourgensen does things and lets the results go out into the world in whatever way that they do. (Like that time he ended up on reactionary extremist Alex Jones’ show to discuss the context of “NWO” without really understanding Al’s politics.)
“It’s very simple,” he begins. “This is not rocket science. I’m not beholden towards pleasing everybody on this fucking planet. I am beholden to pleasing myself at some point because otherwise you’re not going to last too long. Just do what you know, and have a moral compass while you’re doing this. But by the same token, keep yourself happy, otherwise your moral compass is going to go crazy. And I’ve been through those years, too.”
But what if Ministry’s purported arena-rock anthem collection strikes a chord in listeners’ hearts—and wallets—massively? Like in a Metallica Black Album kind of way? Would he still sell all his gear on Reverb and fill up that space with something else?
“If [that album] does well, great. Then I went out on top. But that’s why I think I don’t want to do another Ministry record. After the next one, I will do an Al Jourgensen record. I might team up with someone else and do something entirely different that won’t sound exactly like Ministry. I would find some other interest in the music or literary fields or something to keep me out of starting a one-man crime wave in whatever community I’m in. [Laughs.] It’s just that simple: Keep me busy and crime rates stay down.”