Al Jourgensen Was Concerned Enough to Make Two Ministry Albums in 2021 – Interview
Al Jourgensen has made repeated attempts to lay Ministry to rest in the 21st century, but it's never long before we hear from him again. When Donald Trump took office as President of the United States in 2017, the industrial legend retaliated with AmeriKKKant, which put the now twice-impeached leader in his lyrical crosshairs.
Flash forward to the final year of his presidency, which was marked by a pandemic, overwhelming and shadowy uses of authoritative force against protesters exercising their Constitutionally-protected right while urging equality for all, increasingly negative impacts of climate change and an attempted violent overthrow of American democracy in an early 2021 insurrection, and it's easy to see how Jourgensen has come away with not one new Ministry record, Moral Hygiene, but another, which has yet to be detailed.
In our interview, which took place over Zoom, the 62-year-old visionary likens himself to world-renowned documentarian Ken Burns, using Ministry records as the vessel for capturing historic moments in, particularly, American current events over the last two decades.
The fire still rages within, but Jourgensen confesses he has become more reflective at this stage of his life, which is evident on Moral Hygiene, a record that mostly lays off the aggression and positions melody against overtly despondent themes and the usual clever splicing of audio clips — this time mostly of Trump and televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who gave a fiery and memorable, albeit befuddling, speech where he called upon God to destroy the coronavirus in the spring of 2020.
Our chat ends on a mournful but further reflective note as Jourgensen remembers late drummer and Slipknot icon Joey Jordison, who was Ministry's live drummer for a spell in the mid-2000s, stating he had a "golden soul."
Regarding the pandemic and the lockdown, it feels like you're somebody who has always been pretty comfortable at home, locked away in your studio. Other than music and the news cycle, what else kept you busy during this time?
I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining before I got crazy and tried to axe my girlfriend — "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy..."
Seriously though, there was nothing to do. We took weekends off, but for 52 weeks we just kept recording and we wound up with this album and also finished up a new Lard album. We haven't had a Lard album in forever and I'm still waiting on some tracks from Jello [Biafra]. We recorded here, then [Jello recorded] vocals in San Francisco and sent them back.
We also started working on a new Ministry record [to be released after Moral Hygiene] that we're almost done with. Until we can go on tour, I just keep working. What else am I going to do? If I stay in the studio, the local crime rate stays down.
Going into Moral Hygiene, let's start with "Alert Level." When the song was released, we all saw you in a photo wearing a gas mask holding a cardboard sign that read, "How concerned are you?" and, so, it's my turn to ask — how concerned you are?
Extremely! Concerned enough to do two Ministry records in one year — that's a lot of concern.
There's the civil discourse of a divided country that is obviously front and center because that affects everything from herd immunity and vaccination rates to agendas in school and our education. The planet is falling apart because we keep doing milquetoast solutions to a problem that is literally life-threatening to all of society on Earth.
Racism is a big problem. I don't understand borders or skin colors — we're all Earthlings to me.
We live on this planet Earth, which is now either on fire or flooding, governments are all dysfunctional and that's why they're being taken over by autocrats. Kleptocracy — you look at [Vladimir] Putin and Xi [Kinping] and [Viktor] Orban and [Aljaksandr] Lukashenka, and what Trump tried to, and did to a certain extent — they're all kleptocracies. It's just mafia families running pieces of land right now that we call countries.
But we're all Earthlings. We all inhabit the same planet and the only thing I ever agreed with Ronald Reagan on was his United Nations speech where he said, "Wouldn't we all come together if there was an alien force that came attacking us, then we would all be Earthlings?"
That is so true because [under that circumstance] we're not worried about minorities, or people with different skin color, or people with different sexual preferences or people of different religions — we're Earthlings.
Ministry, "Alert Level"
Over the last 18 months, it's easy to get wrapped up in the anger and the fury and the vitriol, which lends itself to aggressive music. To me, Moral Hygiene is your most 'California' album, if that makes sense.
What drove you to go in a direction that was less aggressive than some of your most recent albums? The last track is pretty intense, but, overall, the album a little bit more stripped back and melodic.
I'm getting to the age where I'm getting more reflective. In my 20s and 30s, I just shook my fist at the air and yelled at the clouds, but I wasn't sure of what I was mad about, but, God damn it, I was mad and you were going to know.
Then in your 40s and 50s, you start thinking, "Well, maybe I'm shouting at the wrong things," and now, in my 60s, it's an overview of the whole situation, looking at it analytically.
That tempers some of the rage, but I think this is a very smart record. I quit hard drugs 18 years ago, but now I've become kind of a pothead. So, that also influences the writing style and sensibility.
I think it's your best album since Rio Grande Blood.
Exactly! You nailed it! [claps]
Let's go back to Jello Biafra, whom you mentioned earlier. He sang on "Sabotage Is Sex." When did you first hear Jello's music and when was the first time that you two met?
It was 1979 when I first heard his music. I saw him in, I believe, 1981 in San Francisco and I think we first met in '83 or '84.
Politically, it seems like there's a lot of common ground to bond over. What else did you find that you had in common outside of politics?
Absolutely nothing! [laughs] That's the beauty about human relationships.
Politically? No, we argue like cats and dogs. We're both left, but sometimes one of us is more left than the other and the other one tries to hold the board at center-left, so we go back and forth.
There's absolutely nothing that we have in common except that I just I admire his tenacity, his intellect and his humor and, apparently, he tolerates me as well for all these years.
He's not the kind of person that I would hang out with, necessarily. It's very similar situation to when I did Pailhead with Ian MacKeye — we're not hangout buddies, but we respect each other's point of view and intelligence and humor.
Many have said that between the election cycle and the pandemic, they don't want to write material that is exactly about what is happening now because it will date their album.
You, however, over the last 20 years especially, have done just that, offering time capsules of sorts with your music. How do you perceive the longevity of topical subjects on your records?
Ken Burns, the documentarist, makes out of snapshots of time and he does it well. Ministry albums are basically snapshots of that particular period — nothing more, nothing less.
I really respect [Ken Burns'] work. These things may not be popular at the time — they may seem either ahead of their time or dated — but at the end, if it's done right, you give an accurate picture of what you've been witnessing.
Those time capsules are important and we do it visually all the time, but we don't do it with audio as much and that's what this band has been doing for a while. Some people get it, some people don't.
Sorry, but I'm not going to write about a failed relationship with my girlfriend when there's a wildfire a mile and a half from my house, which is one of the alert levels. We were literally minutes away from getting the mix done and minutes away from getting evacuated from my neighborhood. That's a little bit more important to me at the time than, "Oh, I broke up with this girl."
There's a place for that amongst people that can relate to those situations, but my situation is more imminent — I need to get out of my house before I catch on fire.
There are always these moments in life that come up that are 'Where were you when...?' moments — Elvis Presley's death, the assassination of John F. Kennedy... Where were you on Jan. 6 as the insurrection was playing out? How did you find out what was happening throughout that day?
I was watching MSNBC at about 8AM California time. I knew that what's going to happen and I'm surprised it took until mid-afternoon to really get going. I thought it was going to be worse, to be honest.
These knuckleheads have been worked into a frenzy that history hasn't seen the likes of since the 1930s, so I was fully prepared for it. I sat there and watched all day.
How did you think that day was going to end?
I knew that [the riot] wasn't going to overturn [the election results] but I thought it was going to end a little bit bloodier.
These uneducated rightwing knuckleheads that stormed the Capitol on the premise of a lie, propaganda and the desperation on a despot going down... I've seen it all before through throughout history.
I just can't believe how stupid they were. Yes, there were some coordinated factions, but the amount of uneducated people that just went along for the ride just to go [carries on in mocking tone] "Ahhh! Hang Mike Pence!"
They wouldn't have done it. Well, some of them would have, but the point is that this fervor that builds up just like a concert mentality. I see it all the time — I put my hands up and [claps] and then everyone starts doing the same thing. That is a mindfuck. It reminded me of is like a rowdy concert with an out of control mosh pit that was dangerous.
These people didn't even really understand what they were fucking doing. What they were doing was an attack on the very life that they support — they're attacking themselves.
All these like rightwing southern states are so misinformed. They are voting against their own interests in every election. They are rioting against their own interests at every step of the turn. They are okay with taking away social services that other people are getting and then they get bitter about it and blame the leftwing for doing the right thing.
It's mind boggling that the stupidity that comes along with the rightwing. I'm sure I'll get hate mail and death threats. The death threats are so stupid to me. Just do it — put me out of my misery. Come on, you have an open invitation. I have cameras and I have weapons. If you really feel tough enough, come on.
All I do is record my opinions and put them out and make records. If that's worth killing a life for, then you have fucking issues.
If you don't mind, I'd love to talk about Joey Jordison, who played drums for Ministry on tour for a bit. It's a devastating loss for all of us.
Do you remember when you first heard his drumming?
I believe it was 1999 when Slipknot had just started and they opened for Ministry in Oklahoma and I met him and Corey Taylor and all of them on the bus. I was like, "Slip-who? Whatever, great! I'm happy for you!"
Down the road a couple years later, they're huge.
When I started getting my feet back on the ground after I quit hard drugs, we found ourselves needing a drummer. The first time I heard him play was in a rehearsal doing Ministry stuff and my jaw dropped, [laughs] "Okay, I think you're hired!"
Ministry, "Just One Fix" — Live at Wacken Open Air 2006 With Joey Jordison
We spent a good two to three years working very closely. He was just a sweetheart of a kid. The thing that struck me about him most was his desire to please, which was almost like, "That's going to get you in trouble, Joey."
He just wanted so badly to make everyone happy and that shouldn't have to be a bad thing. But a lot of people took advantage of that and it's a sad situation because he was a true salt of the earth kid with a heart bigger than his body.
What I saw was just spectacular talent, a wonderful heart and a good soul. I'm sure he's in a better place now than he was on this planet. Sometimes it just doesn't work out on this planet.
[Jordison's death] was the first time I've cried since Mike Scaccia died. Mikey was like my little brother and then I guess Joey would have been like my favorite nephew. I shed some tears that week.
As far as a soul, his soul was golden.