The House That Al Built:
An Interview with Ministry’s Al Jourgensen
Gail WorleySince New York City enacted a much maligned (but much loved by me) ban on indoor cigarette smoking, you really don’t even find people lighting up inside office buildings anymore. But Ministry front man Al Jourgensen, who is not overly concerned with following rules and regulations set down by The Man, is content to chain smoke obliviously, enjoying a glass of red wine as he holds court in the conference room of his record label’s NYC offices. You really can’t begrudge Jourgensen — who beat a nearly two decade-long heroin addiction just two years ago — this tenacious bad habit. Al can smoke ’em if he’s got ’em as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, it’s almost a pleasure to suck up second hand smoke in exchange for a private audience with the innovative musical force without whose influence Rob Zombie would surely be doing something else for a living.
Jourgensen is in town to do press for Ministry’s latest album, Houses of The Mole, significant not only for being the band’s tenth release, but also for the absence of Jourgensen’s long-time collaborator and partner in crime, Paul Barker. This time out, Al and company offer the listener a dozen very loud songs about being really angry with George W. Bush and the current administration. Frankly, I have no problem with that. In this very fun interview, Al gave me an earful of everything that’s rocking his world at the moment.
I heard you joined Skinny Puppy on stage the other night during their set at Irving plaza…
Yes I did and it was awesome. I didn’t know that Cevin Key would even let me back stage, but he and I buried the hatchet after fifteen years of standoffishness and shit. [That happened because] Ogre wound up being in the Revolting Cocks for a couple of years and Cevin got mad, so we weren’t speaking. I had always remained friends with Ogre over the years, so it was nice to let bygones be bygones. It was a lot of fun. It was also funny because the song I did with them was “Tin Omen” — which I produced, plus I have a writer’s credit and I wrote the guitar parts for that song. But the other night I couldn’t remember it [laughs]. They had to teach me the fucking song before I went on. It was kind of ludicrous, but it was fun. We’re touring together this coming October.
What do you think of the new Puppy record?
I think… it’s a different direction. I think Ogre is growing into his own. It’s a very mature record. We went in kind of a different direction [for Houses of the Mole]. We went into a very ‘juvenile delinquency’ mode [laughs] in a sense. I think they’re maturing, like a fine wine, and we’re just a twist-off cap wine, which is awesome.
I think Houses of the Mole is great… it just sounds like Ministry to me. Do you want to say something about Paul deciding to go his own way? What effect did his departure have on the making of this album?
It’s big time different. It’s a whole different way of working. Paul and I, as you know, were never really “hang out buddies.” We were friends in a business sense. We were business partners and we worked well creatively. Paul doesn’t like to drink and get rowdy and I’m more of a juvenile delinquent, if you know what I’m saying. I’m like a fifteen year old trapped in a 45-year old body. We never really hung much, Paul and I, but now with this band, I have Mikey Scaccia back — he’s like my little brother. We’re exactly the same people. We’re a band now, with [John] Monte in there, and we’re friends, we hang out, we jam. It’s not all programmed.
Paul was more like the experimental, cerebral, highbrow guy. I’m more like a ‘Let’s kill an ant with a fucking sledgehammer’ guy. Let’s drink three bottles of wine, jam ’til we puke, pass out, get up and do it again. Paul’s a different kind of person; we’re very yin and yang, and that worked well. After a while though, those differences get exacerbated. It’s like if you’re married for eighteen years; the sex might get a little boring. This record might be like I’m doing it doggy style or something now, you know? It’s a different sex position, and that’s always fun! I’m lovin’ it, yeah!
Change is good.
It was weird at first, [after] so many years [with Paul]. But I know I’ve done it. I mean, I am Ministry; I did it before he was in the band. But it was strange at first, like going without training wheels, so to speak. You need to kind of get your equilibrium but, man, once I latched onto it, it was like riding a bike. It was fucking great!
I can’t get over how good you look.
You look like you lost some weight…
I’ve lost like 35 pounds. That was a really weird adjustment period. When you’re a heroin addict for almost twenty years, and on methadone for fourteen, smoking $500 a day of crack and then cutting that out cold turkey? My body went into shock. I had no idea why, but I found out later, from going to meetings, that that’s the main reason people get back on drugs. It’s because they balloon up. The body freaks out. It’s like, ‘what is this…this food thing?’ I didn’t eat excessively but my body, my metabolism, freaked out. That was really difficult for me. I’ve never been fat before. Last tour it was really difficult to be sober, to not fall back, and for no reason to all of a sudden… I felt like Ann Wilson, you knows [laughs]? So in this last year I’ve got my equilibrium back, I’m very lucid, I’m focused, I’m happy and [from] just working out [the weight] just dropped off again.
With your anti-George W Bush stance, I must ask, is Houses of The Mole a political concept album at all?
No. We’re not fucking Close to the Edge with Yes or anything [laughs]. It’s not a concept album; it’s just a reflection of society. That’s what all good art should be. It’s a mirror reflection of your environment and your social interactions and what’s important to you at the time. In that sense, I guess it’s a concept, but life is a concept.
Why do all the song titles on the CD start with the letter ‘W’?
That was actually an accident. Until we got up to the eighth or ninth song [we didn’t notice.] Then we were like, ‘Whoa man, I think the planets have aligned here,’ because (laughs) every song title is a ‘W’ except “No W.” So we said ‘let’s go with it.’ You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Well, there is a school of thought that says there are no accidents.
Exactly. I’m a firm believer in that.
I was reading an interview with producer Mitch Easter and he said, “Radio has probably never been as unsatisfactory as it is now.” What are your thoughts on that?
Well, why would it be satisfactory when Clear Channel owns, what, eighty percent of the stations? It’s one voice and they’re controlling the message. There’s no choice or variety. There’s no thought. It’s all product placements and it has nothing to do with anything artistic. Nothing. It’s pretty creepy. Do you want to hear something weird? Fifty one percent of kids, up to twenty five years old, get new music through video games, not radio.
That’s wild, but so many artists are actually doing music for video games, you’re right. Bands like Fear Factory do it and I know Chris Vrenna is way into video game soundtracks.
We have a new game coming out on Activision on Halloween called Bloodlines and we wrote the title song specifically for it. That song isn’t on the CD, but they’re releasing a limited vinyl thing in Europe, of Houses of the Mole with the song “Bloodline.” It’s a Vampire in L.A. kind of game, like Anne Rice meets Escape From New York. It’s pretty cool, and I think they’re putting the band in the game, in the strip club, playing. The vampires will need to feed, of course, so I can kill myself in the fucking video game. It’s awesome! I’ve become a cartoon character. My fucking dreams have come true! I always wanted to be an action figure first, then a cartoon character. But now I guess I have to switch them around.
I’m surprised Todd McFarlane hasn’t created the Ministry Action Figure diorama set yet.
Soon… with Kung Fu grip! I promise you. RevCo has got to be action figures. Revolting Cocks action figures are like, anatomically correct, and anatomically enhanced [laughs]. And instead of Kung Fu grip each would have the ‘whack’ grip.
You were up at VH1 Classic studios filming a host segment for one of their new shows…
Yes I did! It was very fuckin’ cool. You’ll like it. I threatened to make out hard with the crew and basically got them very nervous. I was taping the premiere edition of the new [adopts affected voice] “alternative” show on VH1 Classic. For the next two weeks you’ll be seeing my mug on VH1 constantly because they’re promoting the new show’s debut — and I’m the premier host! The Host with the Most.
What’s rad is that Ministry is now considered “classic.”
Yeah. We are our own worst nightmare now. We’re a dinosaur band.
You know what’s funny is the first time I saw the video for “Revenge” on VH1 Classic, I did not know that was even you singing. I’d never heard you sing like that.
I’d never heard me sing like that either. It was those wacky producers, like Clive Davis, on the phone going, “I want this to be in the chorus.” They wrote the whole thing for me, I was just basically Al-i Manilli (laughs).
And when you compare that to the other Ministry video they play, which is “Stigmata,” it’s like, “what the fuck?”
Huh? Huh? Huh?
Backing up a bit, what made you decide to work with Mike Scaccia again?
Well Mikey and I were both fucking junkies. That’s why we split up. They called us the toxic twins…
I thought that was Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith?
No, that’s me and Mikey. Aerosmith ain’t got nothing on us, baby. Anyway, we just really bottomed out, both of us, and needed to get away from each other. Independently of me, not knowing what I was doing — because we didn’t talk for four or five years — he got clean. And guess what? I got clean. All of a sudden we’re the Detox Twins. It’s just fucking great. Mikey is doing so well. He’s so positive; he is like, literally, my alter ego. It’s a lot of fun these days. All of these guys in Ministry now are friends.
Yeah, I noticed you don’t have [drummers] Max Brody or Ray Washam in the camp anymore.
The drumming thing is really great for this record. Houses of the Mole is kind of like our punk rock record, in a sense. The beats are pretty relentless, fast and furious. We needed a special kind of drummer for that. Ray is an amazing drummer, but Mark Baker is a punk rocker. He’s from Dallas. He toured with the latest incarnation of Fear, but he’s not an original member of course because he’s only twenty-five years old. It’s really good new energy and he rocks his ass off. He plays really well to click tracks and mixes the man-machine thing that we do quite well — he took to it like a fish to water. He’s young and hungry, and that’s good because I feel like I’ve got a second lease on life, seriously. Every day above ground is a good day.
The day that Paul left, John Monte called me. I’ve known him for fifteen years. He’s somebody that wants to do this, not [somebody] that’s like “I don’t know. I have so many commitments… I want to stay home and raise my kids…” which is great. That’s what Paul wants to do. You could tell he was winding down and wanted to do more experimental stuff and didn’t really want to do the rock thing anymore. It was boring to him and that attitude prevails after a while. Now I have all these guys who are like “this is my dream job! I can’t wait!” Do you see what I’m saying? There’s a huge influx of new energy. It’s fucking cool!
Maybe when you were having your drug problems, Paul kind of ‘held you up,’ so to speak, and now that you’re clean you can let him go. What do you think?
He held me up like “propped me up,” yeah, sure. He was a stabilizing force, without a doubt. I started putting more and more responsibility on him when I was in my coma. The thing is, I saw this angst and hand wringing on the website over Paul leaving and I was like, eh, I was doing this before. I hired Paul six years into this band. I think I know what to do. I think I know what Ministry is at this point, probably more than anyone. There shouldn’t have been all this hand wringing, and I’m glad that this album is a real vindication.
I admit that when I listened to the record, I didn’t miss Paul’s input all that much. And I love Paul…
Yeah, I know. I was worried about this interview because I know that to you, Paul is the Walrus [laughs].
It’s obvious that Ministry is your baby.
It is, yes.
But people become attached to the members of the band and when any one member leaves, it’s slightly traumatic.
[Lowering his voice, like he’s confiding in me] Do you know that track [on the CD] #69? Do you know what that is? It’s backwards masking of me saying, “Paul is not with us. Paul is not with us.” I didn’t want to say, “Paul is dead.” I didn’t want to start that rumor.
“Turn me on dead man.”
What is the deal with re-releasing the back catalog, the side project stuff?
Ooh, you heard about that did you? You’ve done a lot of homework. Yeah, Rykodisc is going to be re-releasing all the old shit this fall. [For those] I have found golden little nuggets that have never been released before. I’ve got maybe five unreleased Ministry tracks, four unreleased (Revolting) Cocks tracks and shit like PTP. PTP was my project that did the song from Robocop and we got the licensing back to that. It’s from that scene where he goes into the bar and pulls the guy out, that’s our music on there, with Ogre singing. [So there’s] lots of good stuff, including stuff that became Tackhead. Do you know the Tackhead story?
Tell me the story.
Tackhead was basically shit that I wrote that was recorded with Adrian Sherwood [during the sessions for Twitch]. I didn’t want to put [that material] on Twitch, because on the second side of that album I wanted to go in more of a noise direction. I wound up having all of these songs done and I traded Sherwood five [of those] songs for three [others] — I’m not going to say which ones, which I used later on various side projects — [plus] an ounce of speed and some engineering lessons. Then Gary Clail did his shit over what I had already done, and took my vocals off. So, I had the original Tackhead tracks with me singing, which are basically Ministry tracks, because I wrote them. Keith LeBlanc and Doug Wimbish — guys from the Sugarhill Gang — are on those. It’s really a cool thing.
That’s crazy. I remember somebody trying to convince me once that Tackhead was Trent Reznor’s thing.
No, it’s me. I wrote all that shit. We wrote it when I was living in Berlin. I traded it for [laughs] some drugs and some other songs, but the main thing was that I got some production and engineering lessons. [Adrian] was my mentor in the studio. It was like one of those Gram Parsons trades: “Wild Horses” [traded] to the Rolling Stones [in exchange] for a gram of coke, right? But now you’ll get to hear the original songs, the way they were intended to be, with me singing, because Gary Clail had taken the vocals off and did some scratching on them.
Will this be like a box set or many separate releases?
I think they’re releasing the Cocks albums as-is, with new unreleased stuff, or different mixes — bonus tracks. Like Beers Steers & Queers and Big Sexy Land and You Goddamned Son of a Bitch will all have bonus tracks, B-sides of 12-inches or whatever, to complete the album. They’ll be released with the same artwork and the same format. Then I think they’re doing a two-or-three-disc box set of Ministry with twelve or thirteen songs [such as] “Halloween,” “Nature of Love,” and “All Day” in all their various incarnations and mixes. Plus [there’s] all of this new stuff that I found. That’s one disc. Then there’ll be a disc of PTP and Acid Horse. The PTP will have the Robocop song. Then another disc will be Pailhead and 1000 Homo DJs. That’s all coming out in September.
Holy cow Al, that’s insane. The new album sounds more akin to The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste than previous Ministry records. How much of that was a conscious effort and now how do you feel about the previous few albums in comparison?
I’ll tell you what; it’s not a conscious effort. It’s almost a result of the circumstance. With Paul leaving there’s a lot less programming. The last record that we did, as a band — playing, without programming stuff out beforehand — was Psalm 69, with Mike Scaccia. We went up to Wisconsin, secluded ourselves in the studio — which was at the time called Royal Recorders — which we eventually bought and moved to Texas. At the time we were in the middle of nowhere and decided to go out there and jam. That’s the same method we used on this record, so of course there’s going to be more of a similarity to that era or that record. Not so much Mind…as much as it being really like Psalm… in that sense. When we started jamming and realizing [what was going on], we starting putting in jokes in there, like doing a TV song, doing Psalm 23, and making fun of it in our own ‘poking a finger in your chest’ Ministry way. But it’s more of a matter of circumstance, that’s what we were left with. We were jamming.
Ministry played “We Believe” sporadically on the last tour. Are you finally acknowledging your past and will we see you go further back into the catalog for this tour? Some fans believe you really need to diversify the set list.
Well, I don’t give fuck what fans want. I’m not a fucking jukebox [where] you put a quarter on my tongue, twist my ear and I spit out a song for you. Fuck that. The point is, if it’s an interesting thing for us to do, we’ll do it. If it’s boring or if we don’t like it why bother doing it? Why go through the motions to please someone else? You’ve got to please yourself first before you can please anyone else, period. But… yes… this tour we’re breaking out the fucking helmet and my little towel and we’re going to do Land of Rape and Honey this tour. That’s as far back as we’ll go.
The first time I saw Ministry live, there was something going on with you and a towel. It was at the Seattle Center Arena in… 1996.
What is it about Seattle? There has not been a good Seattle show in the history of Ministry. Milwaukee was the only other place where we always had bad shows. But even on the last tour, Milwaukee came out okay. For some reason, I have no fucking idea what happens. Our equipment blows up on stage, the monitors blow up, the PA blows up, guitars fry, strings break. It’s a fucking fugazi, snafu, fuck up, man, every time we go there. I realized that I need to do some research [when we go there] because the last Seattle show fell on the ‘first harvest moon’ or some shit. It was a full moon and everything freaked out. Now I have to go back and see, for every Seattle show, did we play during a full moon or what? I have no idea, I feel really bad. I’m going to work my ass off to make sure Seattle gets a good show this year. I do feel bad. People pay good money and we try and do out best, and shit fucks up that’s beyond our control. Every other city we’ve had a lot of magic moments…but in Seattle it’s always horrible.
I don’t remember it being a bad show; but I do remember the towel. The interesting thing about that Seattle show was that’s where I met Dave Grohl. He was there with Tad Doyle.
Oh gawd, how embarrassing, Dave Grohl shows up at one of the worst shows ever. I don’t know what happens; I’m really embarrassed about that. Honest to god, the whole band has talked about it. I think with all of this new blood maybe there’s new karma and new energy or something. With the Blackouts being from Seattle maybe there was a kind of stress energy, kinetic kind of shit that the guys were nervous playing in their hometown. Seattle is the only city in the world where we’ve never had a good show, ever. I broke my hand when we were there on this last tour. It was so bad; I just went out before the encore — which I don’t even know why we bothered to do an encore. I was so angry that I just went out and punched a brick wall. Doing a good show in Seattle is really a concern of mine. With this new record and the new positive energy, I think the planets will align and we’ll break the curse.
Amen. I think “Worm” is my favorite song on this new record. Is the title an allusion to that saying “You can’t bury a worm?”
I think that’s reading too much into it. “Worm” is just a derogatory term for somebody who’s just a fucking loser. Someone who’s not doing anything for himself and [is just] living vicariously through others. Like when psycho fans get your number and call you. And I’ve had those conversations. Getting woken up at four in the morning and going, “How’d you get this fucking number?” I mean, get your own shit together. If I can do it anybody can.
What’s it like living in Texas?
Sleeping behind enemy lines? It’s… interesting. The good thing is that I have my little Mexican escape route. I live on the border of Juarez and El Paso, so if shit flies down and the FBI start tapping my phones I can just flip across the border and do a reverse migration to Mexico. Plus I have the Canadian outlet too, because my wife is Canadian. We could sneak into Vancouver and live happily ever after. If Bush wins again, I’ve got to move to Canada.
We can’t let that happen. And it’s so good that you’re helping to rally the troops, so to speak, with Punkvoter.com.
I am helping because, look: here are the figures. Thirty percent of 18 to 29 year olds voted in the last election. We wouldn’t have this recurring Bush problem if the kids would realize that people power actually works and vote. Your vote counts! Okay, Kerry is no fucking messiah, but at least it’s new special interests. At least [it isn’t] the oil industry, which donates so heavy — $14 to $1 for Republican to Democrat in the re-election campaign. At least we’ll get a new special interest, because these people have been running it since Reagan. They even controlled Clinton. Kerry isn’t really affiliated with them. He has his own special interests. Pharmaceuticals, I’m sure, will probably own Kerry, but maybe they’ll fuck up and actually do a few good things. At least with Kerry there’s a chance that something good can happen. With Bush there is no chance. It’s all Enron, Exxon, Bechtel, Haliburton. The next person that says we have a ‘liberal biased media’ I want them to cut their own fucking head off and [unprintable], because that’s bullshit. It’s not factual, it’s all spin. CNN is supposedly our most ‘fair and balanced’ station and that’s just three minutes spin to the right and three minutes spin to the left. And Fox is obviously just like, ‘Zeig Heil!’
People seem to be interested in the upcoming Revolting Cocks album. Who is involved with new Revco?
The new CD is called Purple Head, which is “Purple Haze” with new lyrics; misogynistic, updated, delinquent, puerile lyrics — you gotta love that. Groovie Mann (Frankie Nardiello, My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult) is our new singer, and then we have the usual cast of characters… minus Paul, of course. It’s good energy.And the first single will be for a song called “Prunetang.” I do like that title.
That song is based on a theory which is in turn based on a dream I had. [In the dream] George Bush Sr. is in his WWII plane going down, ready to crash, like in real life in WWII when he ejected [from a crashing plane] and got rescued while the other two guys in the plane got killed. [That happened because] he made a Faustian pact with the devil. In the dream he’s saying [adopting dead-on George Bush Sr. accent], “Save me! I don’t care what happens to the other two, just save me and I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll let you impregnate my wife.” So, Bush is going down and he makes this pact with the devil: “You can impregnate my wife and give us the demon seed.” And Barbara Bush was nice looking back then, did you ever see her? Then all of a sudden she carries the demon seed, George W., for nine months and he’s so toxic, because he’s the spawn of Satan that he wrinkles her up and makes her gray, immediately — like she was microwaved. So they have the son of Satan, because that was part of the pact for saving Georgie on his little mission in WWII. And just like in The Omen, the son of Satan grows up to be President. Are we there yet? Barbara Bush is living proof that you cannot carry the demon seed for nine months and not get all microwaved. Right? It’s gotta be made into a movie.