While ol’ Uncle Al Jourgensen may be the name, face, and voice that people most recognize for MINISTRY, behind the mayhem is his collaborator and co-producer, Sammy D’Ambruoso, who takes the time to land ReGen’s readers on his views of life on the Thirteenth Planet!
An InterView with Sammy D’Ambruoso of MINISTRY and Thirteenth Planet Music
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Many know MINISTRY to be the brainchild and primary musical outlet for Al Jourgensen, but the man has had numerous collaborators along the way, both on the stage and off, helping to bring his manic and maniacal musical meanderings to the world. Since the release of 2008’s The Last Sucker, Jourgensen’s partner in crime has been Sammy D’Ambruoso. Having now placed his indelible stamp on every one of Jourgensen’s released projects over the last six years, D’Ambruoso’s prowess in the studio has helped to usher in what may yet prove to be the final era of MINISTRY’s legacy; with the passing of longtime guitarist Mike Scaccia, the band has been effectively ended by Jourgensen, although he seems unwilling to let it go quietly. With the recent Last Tangle in Paris live album and the current online releases of RemiXXXes from the Dubble Dose collection spanning tracks from the band’s last two albums, Relapse and From Beer to Eternity, D’Ambruoso took some time to introduce ReGen’s readers to his role on the Thirteenth Planet, sharing his thoughts on the passing of Mike Scaccia, how he came to become part of MINISTRY, and just what he has in store for us next!
First of all, tell us a little about your background prior to landing on the Thirteenth Planet. As you’re better known behind-the-scenes as a producer/engineer/mixer, could you briefly tell us about your history, what got you started in music and production?
How did you first come to work with Al Jourgensen? What have you found to be the most rewarding (and the most frustrating if you feel like throwing that in) aspects of working with him and the other musicians across these different bands? Is it ever a challenge for you personally to switch among the different styles inherent to these bands and projects?
D’Ambruoso: I first started working for Al when I had decided to move on from The Saltmine. My intention was to go back east, as that was always the plan. I stopped in El Paso to see my good friend John ‘Bixby’ Bilberry, who was engineering for Al at the time. He was the assistant on the Rio Grande Blood mixes, and Al took him on the road from there, and then back to El Paso to engineer the The Last Sucker. I was there for about a week and then Al put me to work. I ended up staying for about four months, during which time, I did the drum programming and recording/editing for Cover Up and the the Revco record Sex-O-Olympico. After the tour in 2008, Bixby decided to make a career change, and I was called to come back down to El Paso and I’ve done every album with Al since then.
What have you found to be the most rewarding (and the most frustrating if you feel like throwing that in) aspects of working with him and the other musicians across these different bands?
D’Ambruoso: The most rewarding aspect of working for Al has definitely been the creative freedom. It didn’t come immediately, but I stuck it out and earned it. The most frustrating aspect really has nothing to do with Al, or anyone else for that matter, but with me and my constant struggle to get better. There is a lot of work that goes into making these albums and sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. The reality is that pretty much everyone that comes to work with Al is a freaking monster on their respective instruments, and you really have to bring your A game every day when working with people like that.
Is it ever a challenge for you personally to switch among the different styles inherent to these bands and projects?
Are there any particular artists that you’d like the opportunity to work with?
D’Ambruoso: This is a tough one. I have said a lot recently that if I could do two records in the next year, it would be Cattle Decapitation and Katy Perry. Ha! There are also a few artists that I think of that I could imagine if Al and I did a record with them, it would be amazing. I recorded and mixed an album for DJ Paul from Three Six Mafia in 2012, and he reminded me so much of Al. I really think the world is ready for another crossover record and I couldn’t think of two more interesting and creative people to make that happen. I have a very clear image of what that record would come out like, and I’m telling you, it’s not what you would expect from either of them. Also, I’m thinking Les Claypool would be high on my wish list of artists to work with. It’s not like I’m even a huge fan, but he’s so out there that you can’t help but to come away from a record like that with a lot of knowledge that would serve for years to come. And then I’d like to work with some more female artists; maybe like an indie-pop Silverlake/Williamsburg sounding type thing, with some understated drum programming.
As technology has developed to such a degree that many musicians are producing themselves with home setups – even to the point that many have never stepped inside of a real studio, what do you find to be the major challenges and benefits to continuing to work in the studio environment?
D’Ambruoso: Well honestly, I’ve been sheltered away so much over the last seven years in Al’s studio, that I really don’t have much of a perception of the public studio landscape. As for projects outside of the MINISTRY family, I’m getting more work where I’m getting tracks from artists who are recording at home, and then doing my drum programming and mixing. It’s fun to come into a project that has already gotten going on its own and then putting that professional spin on it.
On the subject of tech, what are your thoughts on the way it has developed and how it has affected the way people make music? Is it ever a concern that the human factor and actual musicianship is taking second place – obviously not in what you do at the Thirteenth Planet, but in music as a whole?
As part of the Thirteenth Planet, you got to work with Mike Scaccia on the last MINISTRY album, From Beer to Eternity, before his passing. What can you tell us about the experience of working with him? Any thoughts or memorable stories you’d like to share?
D’Ambruoso: Oh man, what a loss to the world. That was actually the fifth record that I had done with Mike. We did Cover Up, Buck Satan, the forthcoming Rigor Mortis record that will be out in October I think, and then Relapse, and finally From Beer to Eternity. The real eye opener for me was the Buck Satan record; he loved that record and he really loved doing it. It was finally a chance for him to show a side of his playing that no one had ever really heard from him. Just listen to that thing – the layers of guitars in there are sick, and it all sounds so legit; not at all like a metal dude doing country. The saddest part about it is all the music that we didn’t get to do. Through the whole process of recording From Beer to Eternity, we were talking about the next Buck Satan record. Also, we were planning out his solo record; like an actual instrumental guitar record. Can you imagine how awesome that would have been? After he passed away, I heard a lot of people mention that it was never a competition for Mikey. I have to agree with that. The best proof of that too is right there in From Beer to Eternity, on the songs ‘PermaWar’ and ‘Thanks but No Thanks.’ Both of those songs have the most tasteful solos in them that I think any less confident guitar player would have shredded it up. Instead, Mike chose to play these perfect melodies that completely complemented the song. To me, that is evidence of someone who has nothing to prove to anyone. Of course, in contrast, the last thing he recorded for that record, and I guess ever, is ‘Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV4).’ That to me is just the best parting shot anyone could leave. You always expect those ‘last’ recordings to be some beautiful melodic piece, and instead Mikey left us with the most abrasive balls to the wall song possible. Listening to that song a few days later was really the first time I laughed after he left us.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians and producers on how to improve their craft and/or make better music?
D’Ambruoso: You must have some sort of recording equipment at home. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but you have to have it at your disposal 24 hours a day. Also, in the case of producers and engineers, you have to record and mix other people, not just yourself. It’s a whole other experience. Honestly, to me, mixing my own music is harder than other people’s; especially when it comes to vocals. Also, for engineers, I think it is better to work in a smaller studio in the beginning, where you actually are running sessions, than interning at a large studio. You have to be the one in there recording and being held accountable.
Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re working on now? What are your current projects in and out of the studio?
MINISTRY Website http://alfuckingjourgensen.com
MINISTRY MySpace http://www.myspace.com/ministrymusic
MINISTRY Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Ministry
13th Planet Records Website http://www.thirteenthplanet.com
13th Planet Records MySpace http://www.myspace.com/13thplanetrecords