Although the term “industrial” may have died in many people’s eyes several years ago, its somewhat nihilistic aura is one that Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker can’t escape. As the duo known as Ministry, these two have been credited virtually as progenitors of a genre even they refrain from acknowledging. But in a textual context, the I-word is still a necessity in describing some of the pummeling sounds heard on its ’80s and early ’90s releases.
Ministry’s first incarnation was just Mr. Jourgensen. Begun in the early ’80s, the tunes that were recorded were not music to Al’s ears even at that time. Case in point, the 1983 Ministry debut With Sympathy, pure synth-pop flirtation, which he states to this day was a label-forced product. It wasn’t until 1985’s Twitch that Jourgensen finally revealed his edgier side, with the help of producer Adrien Sherwood. An amalgam of arpeggiated melody, gravelly vocals, and hyper electro beats, Twitch set the stage for the brutal hybrid of sound that would define Ministry’s music.
Paul Barker entered the fold as the touring bass player during the Twitch tour. A musical partnership was formed during this time, one that has lasted nearly 15 years and over four other side projects. The realized duo of Jourgensen and Barker finally manifested on the 1988 punk-thrash-electronic assault known as The Land of Rape and Honey. A landmark in industrial rock, one that has never been duplicated, Honey was just the foundation for the increasingly brutal marriage of guitars and electronics which would be created on releases such as 1989’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and the 1992’s platinum-selling Psalm 69.
During this period, rumors of rampant drug use and debauchery, plus arrests and every other negative facet of rock n’ roll was hurled Ministry’s way. The ugliness and hype that rose after the Psalm 69 tour eventually led to the sludge-filled, bass-heavy monster that was 1996’s Filth Pig. Pauly Shore and his dreadful movie Bio-Dome probably received less harsh reaction. Once progenitors, now pariahs, Ministry absconded from the spotlight. But the original fire was yet to be quelled, as the duo has gradually returned from near has-been status to the full-throttle, well-oiled machine of yesteryear. With 1999’s Dark Side of the Spoon, the band recaptured its trademark sound, and with it, Ministry’s stock has once again risen in the music industry.
Now appearing as themselves, performing a new song all their own, in perhaps one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Steven Spielberg’s A.I., Ministry has seen a revival that was quite unexpected by most, even longtime fans. Add to that a best of collection just released entitled Greatest Fits, and you have a band that once again can live up to their own legendary status. The more press-friendly of the two, the kind and talkative Paul Barker, gave me the skinny on all the happenings via phone from his home in Austin, Texas.
Hey Paul. So, you’re in Austin. I thought you guys moved camp back to Chicago.
Our studio is still in Chicago. I never actually moved back to Chicago. I just spend tons of time there.
First off, don’t worry. I’m pretty well informed in terms of Ministry.
In all honesty, for the past couple of years, we’ve been hanging pretty low. We dropped our old management and got kicked off the Ozzfest.
What was that all about?
Yeah, what was that all about? Well, I guess what happened was that we changed management and the people at Ozzfest fired us [as] a result. I don’t really have anything else to say about that.
So let•s talk about A.I. This is probably going to be huge, especially for you guys as well. Who approached whom for this project? I heard it was Stanley Kubrick•
Yeah, I’m kind of worried that it will be huge. All I want to know is who gets the action figures. Is it Burger King or McDonald’s [laughs]? As far as who approached Ministry, I must tell you that we know that we were Kubrick’s favorite hard band. We never had any correspondence or anything. I know that Kubrick was actually very well informed. For instance, you know that “Come To Daddy” video by Aphex Twin? The video is so fucking fabulous. This will give you some idea of how informed Kubrick was. Apparently, he got a hold of the guy who did that video, Chris Cunningham, and had him do some pre-movie tests for A.I. He tapped that guy on the shoulder, and he presumably did some roughs.
The way that the film came about, I’m not really sure. I understand that Kubrick was a mentor of Spielberg. They were buddies. Let me see if I get this right. I heard that Kubrick had asked Spielberg to direct A.I. He wanted to know what it would be like to make a giant movie with a giant budget or something like that.
It’s just cool to see you guys in it and Haley Joel Osment talking about you guys in interviews.
[Laughs] That’s funny. I have to tell you that Al and I are going to man the MTV microphone during the red carpet treatment going into the film in New York. [Laughs] It’s like, “Oh man, that’s a fucking recipe for disaster.” On the one hand, you would think MTV would want to have unseasoned professionals so there was a certain degree of spontaneity. If MTV is willing to have band members — of all people — to do this, you know they expect it to be not slick, let’s say. They might have to do some editing on the fly. I guess it’s supposed to be live. Anyway, that just went down. Al and I don’t know whether it’s going to be funny or cool or absolutely ridiculous.
I•m just trying to imagine like some celebrity walking up and seeing Ministry interview them.
[Laughs] As far as I know, we will not be dressed to the nines. We will be rock n’ roll. That reminds me, I don’t know who all is supposed to go to this thing. The only people I know are Haley Joel Osment, who I spoke to one time. There is Jude Law, who I spoke to many times, very smart, interesting guy. Spielberg and the producers are going to be there. They are also going to be having an opening in LA. We’re going to go to that one, too. Hey, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I think it’s going to be resurgence for Ministry.
We can’t help but look at it that way. Warner Brothers dropped us.
I was going to ask you about that.
You know, Warner Brothers dropped us. Fair enough. We weren’t selling a lot of records. Dark Side of the Spoon didn’t sell what they wanted it to sell. Contractually, the amount of money for our next record was more than they were willing to give to us. It wasn’t as if the label didn’t want Ministry. It was just the bean counters, you know? The problem is that those five major labels that are left now are all about shareholders. That’s a big problem.
In spite of the actual people who respected us and wanted to continue working with us, we still know them. We’re still decent acquaintances or whatever you want to call it. So the irony of it was, they still had to pay us to work on this movie. But by the same token, I’m sure nobody’s upset about it. To us, it’s just ironic. It’s like, “Okay, if you really wanted to keep us, why didn’t you come back and ask if we wanted to re-negotiate our contract?”
It just seems like business as usual in the world of major label politics.
If you look at the way a major label operates, the problem is you have five percent supporting ninety-five percent. In all fairness, the way the whole industry is set up, they have to constantly put out money whether those acts are going to do anything or not. It’s like fucking sifting for gold. So they have to spend all of that money in spite of themselves. That’s why there are decent independent labels. They just know how to control costs. They’re not interested in having the biggest fucking act in the world. They’re not out to stroke their ego. They’re just interested in having decent music and having it perpetuate itself.
What happened with the Ipecac live releases? [Ipecac co-founder/Mr. Bungle/ex-Faith No More singer] Mike Patton told me his version•
What is his version?
He told me that the CDs were basically ready to go at the plant and they put a stop on it.
That’s right. We had artwork. We had everything together. We had mastered tracks and everything. In all fairness, the problem was Ipecac was pushing the project through, and we didn’t actually have a final OK. There was a verbal OK. It didn’t get any farther and then they rescinded it. The problem was that yes, it was politics. I think that hopefully this fall, we will be able to negotiate to get Ipecac to be able to release those. That’s my plan. I talked to [Ipecac co-founder] Greg Werckman about a month ago, and told him that I’m going to pursue it on a personal level with those guys at Warner Brothers.
The other thing is we have new management now. We have a new attorney. We discovered afterwards that nobody really liked our old attorney. We had this guy for like eight years. People would do stuff for us in spite of him and not because of him. Now, we have an attorney and a manager who everybody knows and loves. Stuff is happening for us. By the same token, we’re carrying our end of the bargain as well.
I heard a rumor that you guys signed to Maverick. Is that true at all?
[Laughs] No. I suppose that rumor probably came about as a consequence of having “Bad Blood” on The Matrix soundtrack.
Is there other label interest right now?
[Sighs] Yeah, there is. But what’s stupid and once again ironic about all of that is that even though it’s somewhat of a major label; in the United States, how many of those “majors” are actually distributed by Warner Brothers? [Laughs] I mean, what have you got? You have Seagrams and Universal. There are only five different major labels in the world, in spite of all the different names and shit.
It’s good to see things are brewing at least.
It’s weird. It’s always nice to be doing this, to be doing some interviews, because we live in a fucking vacuum. Unless we’re on tour or are out there in a world where we see the effect that we’ve had on people, we don’t know what’s going on. Honestly, it’s nice to hear that people are anticipating what we’re doing.
In all honesty, you put out a record. Some songs are good songs. Some songs you think, “well, it’s a finished song and we have to turn in the record.” You’re not really pleased with it. Or there might be music that you are pleased with and then later, you’re just thinking, “Oh my god, did we think THAT was a good song?” The funniest thing is that you’re out on the road and you meet people and they say, “Gosh, why didn’t you guys play blah blah blah?” [Laughs] You look at them and think, “Oh my god, that’s horrible. I’m embarrassed that we even did that song!” The cool thing is that you never know what people are going to get turned on by.
Exactly. One man’s “Tonight We Murder” is another man’s “Just One Fix.”
[Laughs] Uh huh. So, are you trying to tell me that you don’t like “Tonight We Murder?”
That’s not one of my favorites. On Greatest Fits, you’ve spanned the last five albums. Was the track listing ultimately up to you guys?
I suppose ultimately, yes. If were to have a hissy fit or whatever, we could’ve had everything that we wanted. The thing is that being the new, improved Ministry with new management and so forth, what we wanted to do was see why they wanted to put out a “best of.” We wanted their perspective. When we first looked at putting together a “best of,” Al and I came up with a list that was like two and a half-hours long, including unreleased shit. So we thought, “well, duh, this isn’t going to work. So what else could we do?”
We thought, “let’s see how long a record would be if we put [on] all of the A-sides of our singles. That was like a good 90 minutes or something, because A-sides for singles are an extra two or three minutes long. A lot of these songs seem to be over five minutes anyways. You can fill up only 74 minutes. So I asked the guy at the label for suggestions. That guy said, “you should probably just put album cuts on there, because part of the idea as we’re looking at it is as a result of A.I., we want to ride the petticoat tails of that movie.”
They said there were going to be new fans exposed to Ministry. So if they are interested in the song from the movie, they would buy this collection. So we just blew that out of the water by putting a ten-minute version of “So What” on there, and God knows how long that remix of “Supernaut” on it. Those are the only two extra tracks. We’ve got some really great live stuff and that’s why we want to try and get that together with Ipecac.
Is there any plan, when you go on tour next, to go all out like the Mind is a Terrinble Thing “fence” tour?
OK, look. What we want to do with this Greatest Fits record is we want to go out in a support role. We want to go out and play 45-50 minutes as an opener for somebody. We don’t know who that’s going to be. That’s part of our plan, to play in front of people who normally wouldn’t come see us. That’s the only way you can do that. That’s what was so great about Lollapalooza. There, people didn’t know what to expect, perhaps because they heard the name, but didn’t know what we were all about. It was the perfect setting, man.
Be honest. What did you think of Ministry’s material before you joined?
Maybe you already know, but I started working with Al because he wanted to get a band together to tour for Twitch. So, yeah, I think Twitch is a cool record. Because in hindsight, I think perhaps it’s a cooler record than I thought when I first heard it. The reason I say that is because if you consider that it’s basically manicured pink noise kind of shit and that it was released on a major label, that’s kind of radical right there. I wanted to put “Over The Shoulder” on the [Greatest Fits] collection, and that’s the problem. We only had fucking 74 minutes, so what are we going to do? I wanted “Burning Inside” to be on there, as well. It’s like, “do we not put the long version of ‘So What’ or ‘Supernaut’ on there?” We thought, “well we have [“Over The Shoulder” and “Burning Inside”] on the albums already, and we want to give our fans something different. So that was our compromise. But I agree, I think “Over The Shoulder” is really cool. As far as I know, Al doesn’t dislike Twitch. He’s just not as fond of it.
What do you think of pre-Twitch material, minus With Sympathy, obviously?
Honestly, Twelve-Inch Singles wasn’t my cup of tea. The music that Al was doing at that time wasn’t really where I was coming from. So, for me, it was actually a huge adjustment and a giant challenge to work with Al. The way that he worked on music was 180-degrees from what I was accustomed to. The whole process to me was incredibly difficult. As a musician, I went from playing whatever the fuck I wanted, to playing precisely for five minutes straight. That discipline is really intense and daunting. If you want to play like a machine, it’s really difficult. I thought, “what am I getting out of this? [Laughs] What was my personal role?”
I’ve heard that Al is quite meticulous in the studio. You guys have scrapped songs through virtually every recording process. Will that happen again?
Well, I hope not. We know that we have to complete this music that we’re working on now. We’re really pretty happy with it. We’ve got eight really solid ideas that I guess just need vocals and arrangement. We’re doing it here at my house in Austin, with all the pre-production. I’ve got a compositional studio here.
Well, I must say congrats. I never thought I’d see the day when Ministry would be on VH-1, but you made it on the “100 Greatest Hard Rock” bands list. How does that make you feel?
Oh yeah, I know. That’s cool. My neighbor’s kid is 17, and he’s into all of that shit. He comes running over yelling, “Oh God, you guys are on VH-1!!” A month later, he’s yelling “Al’s one of the top 50 badasses of rock n’ roll!” It’s like, “oh yeah, that’s great.” [laughs] Al just kind of said sarcastically, “yeah, that’s so awesome.” I mean, what do you do? The other day, it occurred to me while doing an interview, that when we’re on stage and when we’re rock n’ roll, that’s what we are. But we are not necessarily like that 100% of the time, maybe 90% of the time.
Past articles have built up this dark myth and persona about you two, but this is quite the fun interview.
It happens in Europe much more than here. What happens is we’d go do an interview. Then, at some point in the interview, the person’s looking at you and they’d say, “how is it that you, the person I’m talking to right now, can make music like this?” I say it’s easy. This is the kind of music we want to do regardless. We’re not a fucking stereotype. We are not one-dimensional. We love all kinds of music. Fuck man, why do you think our music doesn’t sound like everyone else? We’re not in a fucking limbo line chasing each other trying to do the same shit. We’re not interested in that.
You’ve definitely nailed your sound down. It’s hard for a band to get to a point where people call it their sound.
You’re absolutely right. I might not like a particular band, but if they have their own sound, you have to give them credit for it. That is one of the most difficult things to do.
In that case, what do you think about bands like Static X and others, in my opinion, making money off your sound?
Oh, I don’t really care. I don’t really pay attention to that shit. I mean, I’m busy. That’s another question we get all the time, like “what do we think of these bands?” I don’t care. They know what they’re doing. At least they have the balls to credit us. At least they don’t think they’re doing something that they’re not. I like Static X. I think they’re funny. I think they know what they’re doing. I don’t think they’re trying to be something that they aren’t. You know what I’m saying.
Let’s talk about side projects for a little bit. I hear that Revolting Cocks was recording some new material.
We’ve played around with some ideas. But basically, what we have to do now is really concentrate on Ministry. Pretty much everything else is on the back burner. I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff here at home. There is some material around, but I’m not really sure what’s going to happen to it.
What album to this day have you been the most proud of, output wise and recording wise? Or do they all equal?
Having to go back and listen to our music in light of trying to assemble this “best of” record, I just kind of discovered to my pleasure that Land of Rape and Honey is a good album. [Laughs] Of course, I’m not going to listen to that stuff. I’ve got other shit to listen to. But I really felt that it flowed very well. Although it is kind of quaint because it’s over ten years old, I still think it had lots of fucking attitude. For me, it’s kind of like listening to the first Public Image Ltd record. I feel like, “Wow, this is so awesome! These guys are saying fuck you to punk rockers.” It’s so bad ass.
For instance, I think that [Land of Rape and Honey‘s] title track is what it is. It’s like a baby picture, a time capsule or whatever. Looking at it that way, I think that it’s really cool. It has its own sensibilities. It was impassioned at that time. I guess we might play it again in the future. But for me, I think the record that had the most impact and gives me the most satisfaction today would be Filth Pig.
Oh really? I think that record had the most backlash of all your releases•
It sure did. As far as we’re concerned, it was a catharsis or whatever you want to call it. We were just fucking burned out after doing Psalm 69. We thought that this music is cool, but it’s not that cool. I guess we were kind of tired of that formula.
Well, I think you’ve re-energized yourself in the last couple of years.
I certainly feel that we have. You’ll see.
Greatest Fits is out in stores now.