Call him a figurehead of the industrial genre, or merely just Uncle Al. Either way, Al Jourgensen throughout the years has wielded plenty of influence over much of the hard-edged, tech-influenced sounds emanating from radio, MTV and the like. Since Ministry’s inception 25 years ago, the man’s own sound has seen one of the most noted and startling transitions in history, veering from what he calls the “forced” synth-pop of his early 80s youth to the thrashing, sample-abusing, politically-charged opuses of today.
With his newest and last Ministry album, The Last Sucker, Al’s mission is complete, and his George W Bush-era trifecta ends in heavy, angry and excellent fashion. With members like Killing Joke’s Paul Raven and Prong’s Tommy Victor in tow, the riffs come fast and furious, but not frivolous, and Al’s vitriol and sample choices are just as potent. So as he retires the Ministry name, Uncle Al, now the founder/proprietor of 13th Planet Records, phoned Ink19 from his Sonic Ranch Studios sprawl in El Paso, Texas to let off some steam, touching on everything from his career to the political landscape, and proving himself just as informed and thoughtful as he can be volatile.
(Editors Note: This interview took place prior to the passing of Ministry bassist Paul Raven. Ink 19 extends our deepest sympathies to Raven’s family and friends. He will be missed.)
Is this really the swan song for Ministry?
It’s the last Ministry studio album, yeah. I’ve got a fun cover record coming out called Ministry and Co-Conspirators because we’ve got a lot of different people on it. That comes out in April, but this is the last studio thing.
What was the impetus for ending it all?
Well, I’ve already said it in the press a couple of years ago, so I knew it was coming. I think we’re at the top of our game now since we’ve got Paul Raven and Tommy [Victor] in the band and [guitarist] Sin Quirin on this last record. We’re doing really good work, and I just didn’t want to be one of them bands like the drunk at the party that stays too long and you can’t get rid of him.
A lot of these fucking bands are in it for the money. They haven’t had a decent song in ten years and they keep getting crappier and crappier and making more money. That just doesn’t interest me. I just figured it’s better to go out in a blaze of glory, especially since I’ve got so many other projects going on. Ministry just takes up too much of my time. I’ve got to spend 2-3 months talking to you knuckleheads, 6-7 months touring, 6-7 months in the studio and by the time I look up, it’s a year-and-a-half. In that year-and-a-half, I could be doing eight or nine other projects, whether it’s production or soundtracks, side projects or various things. I think it’s just really good, especially with old W leaving office, whether through retirement or impeachment, we’ll see.
Seems like it almost coincides with that.
Yeah, all the stars are lined up to make this the perfect time to stop. I think the record really hits the nail on the head and pretty much defines Ministry over the last quarter-century. So it’s just the perfect time to stop.
How did you get folks like Raven on the last couple of records? I know he was still with Killing Joke and what not.
Me and Raven have been talking about doing this for like twenty years. And when [Paul] Barker left, it was a no-brainer who I was going to get for bass. So, as soon as the schedule cleared up with Killing Joke, that [decision] was a no-brainer. Tommy and I have been friends for 10, 15 years and we kept crossing paths. We started out as rivals and then we just became friends. We work really together, the three of us. And then when Mike Scaccia retired–he’s working for Gibson guitars now–Sin was with the Revolting Cocks, he’s done some work for me so it was kind of like a seamless transition and all four of us work great together.
Is it difficult to maintain and manage the rotating lineups or has it been fairly solidified?
Well, I’m going to be working with these guys in the future, just not under the name Ministry. Raven has his Mob Research project, which is going to be on [Jourgensen’s label] 13th Planet Records. Prong is signed to 13th Planet Records, and they have an album out, which I helped mix with Tommy. It’s just one big family. It just won’t be called Ministry.
When and why did you actually become a full-fledged Texan?
Back when I moved to Austin, [before the release of 1996’s Filth Pig], that was the coolest scene I’d ever been to. That place was rocking. But it’s not anymore. Bush completely ruined it. It’s all corporate now, they moved a bunch of corporations down there and they drove up the prices. The college kids today aren’t exactly your 60’s radicals. They’re all studying for their MBAs in economics. They don’t want to protest, they don’t want to rock the boat. The whole town is just silly. They give you two nights of drinking and two nights in the slammer for it. They arrest everyone coming out of the bars. It’s like a fucking police state. That place is just gross now.
But what was the reason for leaving Chicago and the Wax Trax Records scene which you helped originate?
The Chicago/Wax Trax scene was starting to get real snippety with Touch N’ Go and Wax Trax, Steve Albini versus Jourgensen. It was just getting stupid and I’d go down to Austin and have the time of my life in the late 80s. So I said fuck it, I’m moving down here. And plus, it was really cheap to live there back then, but now it’s ridiculous.
Reverting to that back catalogue, what was the motivation in the aggressive change of sound from Twitch to Land of Rape and Honey? Were you bored with the industrial-dance movement?
A little bit of that. Twitch was produced by Adrian Sherwood, and that was the last thing that wasn’t produced by me. After that, I was in complete control of what I wanted to do starting really with Land of Rape and Honey. Since that time, we’ve gone through slight changes, but it’s pretty much been the same sound since then.
I’m sure looking even further back at your early 80s new wave tracks, that there’s still a big audience for that in clubs. There was the early Trax re-release of that material in 2003. Did you have anything to do with that?
Well, I wish I could take credit for it but the label wrote [that material] for me. Basically, I was like Milli Vanilli before Milli Vanilli. They told me what to sing, told me what to wear, told me what to do and that’s pretty well-documented.
What was the reason for Paul Barker’s departure?
You’d have to talk to him. I don’t comment on Paul Barker. I have nothing to do with him and I haven’t talked to him since he left. I don’t want to talk to him. I have no need to talk to him. Good night and good luck to him.
So let’s switch gears then and talk politics. What do you see in the political realm with 2008 coming up?
Well, I think we’ll have a Democrat. But what does that mean? A few cosmetic changes, a little less dependency on foreign oil because people want it. We’ll probably scale back in the Middle East although we’ll still have a presence there. We’ll probably get cheaper iPods and the stock market will do better. There’ll be a little less money for the pharmaceutical companies for healthcare, so they won’t gouge us near us much. But these are all cosmetic changes. The system is still broken. I mean, Hillary Clinton is owned by the same fucking people that own the Republican party, and Barack Obama will be, too. Whoever is elected president has to play the game that way and sell their souls for a preconceived agenda by the same people.
We’ll get some cosmetic changes, so in that way people won’t riot in the streets and protest like they’re fixing to at this point. We’ll pacify everyone with cheap iPods and everyone will be happy. But that doesn’t fundamentally change the system. There is no chance of getting elected at all if you have ideas because those ideas are already bought and paid for. The whole system’s broken, so yeah, that’s great that Democrats are going to be in but it’s not a [paradigm shift]. The whole system is still based on greed.
Is there anyone who’s your dark-horse candidate?
Not in this election, no. I would say this, though. People that just throw their hands up in the air and hate the Republicans and what they stand for, but think that the Democrats are equally as evil but not quite, and they vote Democrat because they’re not as bad–you know what, if you have a person that you like, vote for them anyways. Of course they’re not going to win, but you know what? The more people that do independent voting for the future, it sets up alternate parties than this one-party system under two names. So go ahead and vote your conscience.
Don’t just vote Democrat. Everyone’s all mad at Ralph Nader, well you know what, that guy’s been busting his ass for the public through thirty years, whether it be for car safety or whatever. If Gore had some ideas at the time and espoused them correctly and wasn’t completely sold out as the inevitable pick, he might’ve won. He already did win, actually, but that’s not the point. No one should be mad at Nader. He has the right to run and it’s our right to have alternate choices, so vote your conscience.
Back in 2004, it was more the mantra of ‘anyone but Bush.’
It’s down to picking somebody just so they won’t overturn Roe v. Wade or something. It’s not because they have any ideas or anything that’s earth-shattering. It’s just the lesser of the two evils and that’s no way to run a democracy if you even want to call it that anymore. Democracy is run by the people, but right now, it’s only run by a few certain people that buy the candidates, buy the whole election process and possibly rig it, too. This is not a democracy anymore–although, oh yeah, I forgot, that’s what we’re fighting for over there. Over here, fuck it, it’s gone.
You’ve said Ministry makes its best records when Bushes are in office, and those two are addressed plenty, especially the latter. Compared to previous records, what does The Last Sucker have to say in the end?
On this one, I’m not really railing on Bush per se. I’m really railing more about the system. The first couple of records [in the W trilogy] I really railed on Bush because you’ve got to remember, I was living in Texas when him and Karl Rove dethroned Anne Richards, who was the most popular and effective governor we had in Texas. They ruined the state of Texas and he got in office by completely devious means through Karl Rove by saying she was an alcoholic and making the people afraid. It was the whole same election.
So, I was really pissed on a personal level being a Texan and thought this guy sucks. So, I really railed on him and Rove for the first couple of records. This time, I have to say I almost feel sorry for Georgie. Now, he actually thinks he’s President, he’s in charge and he’s the decider. Yeah, my ass. (laughs) Between Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater and the Carlyle Group, those are the people that run [things]. Now, I feel sorry for him because he is the last sucker, the last one to realize he’s not in charge.
13th Planet: http://www.thirteenthplanet.com/ministry