Over the course of his more than 40 years in the business, Al Jourgensen has created a lot of music, and maybe even more mayhem. But does the Ministry front man have any regrets?
What do you think?
“Nah!,” Jourgensen says dismissively when we put the question to him. “Fuck, I mean, what's done is done. I guess I'm not as grumpy as I used to be. You know, there was a 20-year period in my life under the heavy weight of heroin where tomorrow didn't mean shit to me. Nowadays my regret is that tomorrow isn't here already.”
Admittedly, Jourgensen has plenty to look forward to. He’s currently out on the road with Ministry supporting the band’s excellent new (and 15th overall) studio album, Moral Hygiene, and he’s already most of the way through the follow-up to that, which, he says, is something you’ve never heard from the synth-pop-turned-nerve-shattering-industrial-metal-juggernaut act: a full-on “arena rock” record.
“It should be done in August, and I’m really excited about it,” Jourgensen says. “So, yeah, it’s full-steam ahead.”
But before he begins cranking, Jourgensen took some time to chat with Metal Edge about Ministry, Mötley Crüe, Madonna, and even a few things that don’t begin with the letter “M.” Then he started to get antsy about that whole “living for tomorrow” thing.
“So get the fuck off the phone already, and let me enjoy tomorrow, today!,” he yells in mock exasperation.
Fair enough, Al. Just a few questions before we let you go…
You’re currently on the road in support of the Moral Hygiene record. What can fans expect from Ministry this time out?
Well, this tour has been canceled, I think, two, maybe three times. It was supposed to be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste record, so a lot of that material will be featured during the live set along with some other oldies-but-goodies from around the period of The Land of Rape and Honey and Psalm 69. And then after we're done with those shenanigans, we're going to do a pretty full encore of at songs from the Moral Hygiene album. But a lot of it will be kind of like getting into a hot tub time machine and going back to the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. You know, seeing if you can still fit back into your old ‘80s clothes.
If you're going to try to squeeze back into your ‘80s clothes, go for it. Just maybe don't go back to your ‘80s haircut.
[laughs] Yeah, that’s right. But you know, I remember I saw the Buzzcocks in Chicago on their first reunion tour, and it was so funny – I saw all the same people that I saw in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s… wearing the same clothes that they were wearing in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Except the buttons didn't quite button anymore. I hope we get some of that, but I also hope that we get a lot of our younger crowd too, because we’ll be playing the new material.
You’re just getting out on tour to support the Moral Hygiene album, but you’re already working on a new one. You’ve been calling it Ministry’s arena rock record.
It really is. We have eight songs recorded right now, and even my engineer went, “This is total arena rock, dude.” And I really feel like after that one, we have one more in us, which would be our 19th album. I don't think I'm gonna hit 20, but I'm pretty certain we're gonna have 19 by the time we're done. So we’ll see. I mean, who knows, man? The world is just in such a state of fucking flux. You don't know what's gonna happen next fucking week. But this new record, it’s fun stuff.
Back in the ‘80s, were you into any arena rock or hair metal stuff?
No, not at all. I didn't know any of... to this day, outside of “Girls, Girls, Girls” or something, I couldn't even name you a Mötley Crüe song. That's not something that I would listen to. I'm sure it's really great and all that, but when I say arena rock, I don't mean that this album's going to be a hair-band fucking album. I mean, it's Ministry, right? I'm just saying that the chord progressions and the sound of it is just much more… we don't go off on eclectic tangents as much. These are hard-hitting beats that are in your face, and that you could visualize 20,000 people knowing the lyrics to the songs and chanting along. So the music lends itself more towards a larger stadium atmosphere.
So you’re not a Crüe fan, is what you’re saying.
I've met them – we played with them in Australia and this and that, and they were a nice bunch of folks. But I listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff than that. I pretty much kind of quit listening to that kind of stuff back in… it shows my age, but back in the ‘70s. ZZ Top, Foghat, those were my hair-metal bands, if you will.
Bands where the big hair was mostly on the chin.
Pretty much, yeah, right. [laughs]
On the Filth Pig album, Ministry covered Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” Ever meet or talk to him?
Yes. He actually called me and said our version was badass. And we also debuted it when we did an all-acoustic set at Neil Young's Bridge School benefit concert [in 1994]. Neil told me personally, “You own that song like Hendrix owns ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ ” Even though Dylan wrote that one, too. And then I got this surprise call from Bob, who I'd never met, and he said, ‘Yeah, really good job.’ So that was pretty fulfilling considering that we only did it as kind of a dare between me and [former Ministry member] Paul Barker. He did not want to do it.
What was the dare?
We were gonna do a cover of [Glen Campbell’s] “Wichita Lineman,” and we were really excited about that. And then Paul and I were riding in a taxi, and we heard “Wichita Lineman” done by Urge Overkill. We were like, “Ah, fuck, we can't do that now…” And then the next song that came on after that was “Lay Lady Lay.” And I noticed that the chord progression was almost the same as “Wichita Lineman.” So I told Barker, “Okay, we'll do ‘Lay Lady Lay.’ ” And he said, “No way, this is gonna suck.” So he went on strike and I had to pretty much do that by myself in the studio.
You’re lucky the next song wasn’t, like, “Staying Alive” or something.
Well now everyone's doing Bee Gees covers. So maybe if that would've come on, I would've beat them all to the punch! But here I am stuck with Dylan.
Here's another artist from your past: The Police. Early in Ministry's career you did some dates opening for them on their Synchronicity tour.
Oh, that was very, very, very early. We're talking 1982, 1983. At that time we were a fucking product of Arista records. They wrote our songs, they dressed us, it was pathetic. And then they put us on the road with the Police. They also put us on the road opening for Culture Club, of all people. Obviously it was exciting playing in front of that many people. I mean, Ministry had done maybe 10 shows total, in front of, like, 150, 200 people. So it was kind of cool, but it was also just really, really bizarre because we weren't allowed to play the stuff that we wanted to play. We had to play what the label had provided for us.
You eventually moved from Arista to Sire Records.
Sire's signings... their very first signing was Climax Blues Band, out of England, I believe. Then they had Talking Heads. Around the same time they signed us, they signed Madonna.
Ever hang with her?
I met her once, literally on the night that I signed the Sire contract. [Label founder] Seymour Stein introduced me to Madonna at some show at Irving Plaza in New York. And I just remember every time she was around everything smelled like dogshit. Then she'd leave and the smell would go away. So I finally chased her down and I said, “Did you step in some dogshit or something?” And she thought I was an asshole. But I was just really curious. I was trying to warn her. Like, “Dude, everywhere you go, it stinks, you know?” I thought I was doing a good deed and instead she got all pissed.
What’s the worst gig Ministry ever played?
Our worst gig ever was probably the eighth or ninth show we'd ever done. It was in ‘82 or something. We were one of the last bands to play Studio 54, and that was fucking horrific because we were using a four-track reel-to-reel backing tape while we played. And our idiot roadie put on the reel backwards. So you hear a backward click track, and everything came in backwards. [laughs] That was a fucking nightmare.
Well some years after that, another issue with a tape machine led to Trent Reznor becoming a roadie for you. How did that come about?
We were on a Revolving Cocks tour, and one night in Cleveland we got all fucked up onstage and threw beer on the tape machine and kicked it over and this and that. Just the stupid, juvenile antics that the Revolting Cocks were known for. And then the next day we woke up, hungover, and realized, “Oh my God, how are we gonna play the next show? We don't have a tape machine.” And so some guy said, “Well, there's this kid in town, Trent Reznor, that has all this gear…” So we called him up and said, “Can we borrow your four-track?”
The funny thing is, he had been at the show the night before and saw what we did to our four-track. So he said, “No fuckin' way! You're not borrowing my shit!” And we said, “Well, you can keep an eye on it. Come roadie for us and come with us on tour.” He agreed to that. And he guarded that little four track with his life. So we made it through the tour, and we tortured him a little bit and we had fun. And then the next thing you know, six months later or whatever, he's on the cover of Rolling Stone!