Still one of modern music’s most revered and reviled figures, Al Jourgensen discusses with ReGen his new lease on life and music with the debut of his latest booze and pot fueled musical venture, Surgical Meth Machine!
An InterView with Al Jourgensen of Surgical Meth Machine
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
You have spoken about how this album was developed in a much more punk rock and D.I.Y. method than what you’d been doing in the past. What appealed to you most about this process, and how did it affect your sense of enjoyment?
Jourgensen: Sammy, my longtime engineer, and I – basically, how we record, and how I live my life is that I spend three or four months of every year in which I turn off all the devices and I just go into the studio. Our original intention, Sammy and I, was to just experiment with various tempos – faster, slower – and see what comes out of it. There was no band intention; there was no band name; there were no other musicians. We basically just said, ‘Let’s just go in and record for four months.’ At the end of the four months, what usually happens is I’ll listen back to the four months of work and say, ‘You know what? That one sounds like MINISTRY,’ or ‘That one might be good on RevCo,’ or ‘Joe loves this song; he heard it, so maybe we should put it on something.’ With this one, we didn’t have anything for it, but we did have some friends laying around here who had heard some of the stuff and would say, ‘Man, this shit’s dope! This needs to be released!’ And I said, ‘Well, okay. That sounds good to me.’ The next thing I know, one of those guys told somebody who then told somebody who then told somebody, and then some record company comes snooping in and writes me a check. I immediately go to the bank, and the check cleared! So at that point, we just figure that it’s just got to happen. And it all happened so quickly that in a sense, it’s not so much do-it-yourself as much as what did we do ourselves? What the fuck happened?
I just have to reiterate that this was not supposed to be a fucking record or a fucking band! Maybe other people should try that – just go in, don’t fucking think about whatever band you’re in; just experiment, do some shit, and at the end of the day, if it’s meant to be a band, I guess it’ll be a band. But there are certainly no preconceived notions or agendas with this; we’re just free-balling it, man, not wearing underwear. (Laughter) We spent four months in the studio, and at the end, ‘Whoa, shit! You have to talk to people, go on tour, dress funny, do photo shoots,’ and I’d say, ‘Whatever!’
Would you say that helped make the making of this album more enjoyable since you didn’t have any of those notions or expectations in mind when you went in?
It’s an interesting turn that the album takes because you’d been saying for some time that it would be the fastest record ever, and it does seem to start off that way with the opening track, ‘I’m Sensitive,’ which one might mistake for being representative of the whole album.
Jourgensen: Well, lyrically, yeah! I do keep ranting and raving about the effects of social media on cultural change that we’re experiencing. Songs like that and ‘Unlistenable’ are undoubtedly about an old white dude scratching his head and a dog hearing a high-pitched frequency, wondering, ‘What the fuck has happened to us, man?!’ My daughter periodically visits my house down here in L.A., and she was here during the recording, and I watched her completely unravel because somebody didn’t like one of her pics or someone said they liked her ideas or pictures of whatever food she ate that morning, or whatever… and I was like, ‘You’re fucking kidding me! This is what you do when you’re not at your job? This is your choice of entertainment?’ And I’m not dissing on my daughter; I love my daughter, but I was really confused. She says, ‘Dad, you’re so out of touch. This is just the way that it is.’ That got me thinking, and so I observed her for a couple of days, and I came up with ‘I’m Sensitive.’ That song is basically a love poem for my daughter.
As far as it being the fastest record ever… man, did we fail miserably! (Laughter) But it started out with the right intentions, where Sammy and I said, ‘Let’s try to go as fast as we can, and see if we can do a whole record like that. It’ll be fun!’ And it was fun at first. But about halfway through the making of the record, we got our medical weed cards, and all fuck broke loose! We failed miserably at being fast, but we excelled at being groovy. I did the vocals for ‘Invisible’ while outside, staring at clouds, and I could swear that one of those clouds was turning into a unicorn! Everything was all warm and fuzzy. That whole last half of the record was us ordering pot from the local dealer, which had a 20-minutes-or-less delivery service – legal! This wasn’t like a drug dealer on the street; this was a legal store, and you’d order like it was a Chinese takeout menu, and you’d get your order free if they were late. We just kept ordering pot to see if we could get a free one… and those fuckers were always on time, man! We never got any free pot! At the same time, we’d order pizza from Dominos, and we wound up on the last half of that record getting two free pizzas and no free pot! It was ridiculous! (Laughter)
Up to ‘Unlistenable,’ the album is pure speed and adrenaline, and then shifts to the groovier, more poppy direction, and that track ends with you saying that Devo ‘fucking rule!’ Was this shift in gears and transitioning into the Devo cover, was this all by design?
You have recently relocated to Los Angeles after living ‘behind enemy lines’ in Hell Paso.
Jourgensen: Yeah, I’m in L.A., but I’ve lived here before – I lived her for two years with Timothy Leary right before he died. I lived here for a couple of years in Venice Beach, and so I was always going back and forth between Texas and here. It’s not really very different for me; it’s not like a big lifestyle change or anything. I still hate the same amount of people as usual. The only time it really seems to have affected me is that on the second half of the record because that was when I first got my weed card – everybody seems loveable.
(Laughter) Damn pot; it’s hard to be hateful on that stuff.
Jourgensen: Yeah, absolutely! I mean, if you hate the last half of that record, don’t blame my sorry ass. Just blame the marijuana. I lived in Texas on-and-off for 14 years, and I can’t recall a pot delivery man being there in 20 minutes or your order is free. (Laughter) So, in California, that shit happens! What’s not to like? The weather’s great! You can get pot in 20 minutes or less. It’s stoner heaven here, man!
Are you saying you might actually be happy?
Jourgensen: (Laughter) Yeah! Totally, man, I’m glorious; I’m beaming. I mean, look… there’s a cloud turning into a unicorn out my back window right now. It’s all rainbows for me, man. I love life!
How has your relationship with Nuclear Blast been so far?
Jourgensen: They seem like perfectly nice folks; they get the joke, you know? It’s clearly a case of songs writing the band, and not the band writing songs, and they seem to get that. They’ve been super nice folk, and they’re releasing SMM meth lab beakers. What kind of label does that, unless you’re somewhat cool? Walter White’s got nothing on me, man! (Laughter)
You’re still performing in MINISTRY for live shows, with one performance coming up for the Chicago Open Air Festival with Meshuggah and Rammstein, and you just did a tour.
Jourgensen: Yeah, we signed up for that tour well over a year ago, and we’re finally just finishing that up. The only continent that we didn’t do was Europe, so Europe is going to get the last of it, and then we’ll see what happens with touring after that. Touring is not on my bucket list, and tours are tough, but if I think it would be fun and I’m able physically to do it, then why not? More than anything, it has to be fun. For instance, with SMM, I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but I do think that the possibilities are remote for now. I really think you need at least two albums to choose from for material to perform live, and then you can remix them in a sense and do different versions. Otherwise, if you go up and simple recreate the album, then I’d rather tell kids as a little tip, ‘Stay home, spark up a fatty, and listen to the album on headphones. Do not go see a couple of old, stoned white dudes onstage trying to recreate the album of your dreams when you can listen through your headphones while you’re stoned.’ It’s a completely self-defeating proposition for a couple of old white dudes to try to recreate something they did a couple of years ago. It just seems stupid to me.
That being said, we could be a couple of records into this SMM thing, and we might then maybe thing that it would be fun to try to fuck this shit up that we’ve already done.
You’ve just completed the SMM record, and you’ve mentioned that the new Lard record is three-quarters complete; can you tell us what other projects you might have in the pipeline?
You’re obviously very politically minded as proven by your music and your association with Rock the Vote and such. What are your thoughts on the upcoming election?
Jourgensen: (Laughter) You should’ve asked me that at the beginning, but then you’d have gotten to no other questions. I’m going to bite my tongue instead of going on one of my 45 minute spoken word diatribes. I’m just going to say that everyone can sleep well at night because I promise you, I promise you that Trump is not going to win! Okay? And I also promise you that no Republican or right wing douchebag is going to win. Whatever happens after that, I have absolutely no predictions about. But those two predictions you can put in the fucking bank! You can go to Vegas, and I’m sure they probably have a few lines going about it, but there is not a chance in hell that any of these yahoos from the right are going to win this time just as long as you, the people, get the fuck out there and say the same thing!
Is there anything you’d like to say to close out?
Jourgensen: I’ll send you off with the same sendoff I’d always give, which is… ‘Buy officially licensed Surgical Meth Machine T-shirts and merchandise.’ That’s the only way any band makes any kind of money, and I have to tell you that they are looking pretty hot! They’ve got bright pink on the black, and I kind of like them. I’m working on a gear line for babies and dogs – I think that would be perfectly representative of SMM, to see your dog in an SMM collar or a baby in an SMM onesie. That’s awesome! So, don’t forget to vote, and buy an SMM T-shirt!
Photography by Eric Lothrop, courtesy of Nuclear Blast