The minister of machine metal speaks to ReGen, preaching his word against corporatism, the right wing, and proudly declaring that he’s not dead yet.
An Interview with Al Jourgensen of Ministry and Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters
By: Ilker Yücel
Few people attain the status of living legend; most are considered legendary after they’ve passed on this mortal coil, leaving behind a legacy to be revered and followed. As the father of industrial metal, Al Jourgensen rightly deserves the title. Since the release of 1987’s The Land of Rape and Honey, Jourgensen with his primary outlet Ministry has steadily dominated the underground over the last quarter of a century with his vicious brand of speed metal riffs, tight percussive battery and mechanized atmospheres. Coupled with his pervading messages against right wing politics and corporate corruption, Ministry helped to give voice to the disenfranchised and disillusioned, inspiring a great many bands to follow in both the underground and the mainstream. The 1992 album ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ – a.k.a. Psalm 69: The Way to Suck Seed and Suck Eggs – produced such staples as “Jesus Built My Hot Rod,” “Just One Fix,” and “N.W.O.,” all of which receiving heavy airplay on MTV with “N.W.O.” becoming an anthem for anti-Republican control across the United States. In 2007, with the release of The Last Sucker, Ministry came full circle, capping off a trilogy of albums against the neoconservative administration of the time.
However, the success came at a price. Jourgensen’s well documented battles with drug addiction and substance abuse took a toll on his health, leading him to disband Ministry at the culmination of the C.U.LaTour of 2008. While several peripheral releases would follow, remix and cover albums, as well as two Revolting Cocks albums featuring Jourgensen as producer, Ministry was considered all but gone by the masses. With the release of Relapse in 2012, Jourgensen proudly proclaims to the world, “But I’m not dead!” As well, he finally released his long-awaited country album as Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters, creating a style of raucous and rebellious country core that eschews the conventions of the genre and truly exemplifies his musical diversity and importance in the underground community. Now, the minister of machine metal speaks to ReGen, continuing to preach his word against corporatism and conservatism, letting us in on the current wave of up and coming music, death and defibrillation, his love for The Doors, and even a few thoughts for a fallen friend.
Regarding politics, the fact that Ministry – and industrial music in general – seems to be very political while you’ve said that country and left wing politics don’t mix, how does living in Texas (a traditionally right wing state, at least as far as the public perception outside of Texas seems to indicate) affect your political outlook, if at all?
Country politics is Toby Keith saying, ‘I’ll put a boot up your ass,’ or something like that. It’s this kind of crazy right wing rhetoric that paints country music to the point of no return. I remember when country music was the punk rock of the day. I actually remember that; it was like Buck Owens telling National to shove it and went out to Bakersfield, or Roger Miller driving his car through his girl’s front window. I just remember a lot of crazy old country stories like Johnny Cash talking to cows in a field. It was just really cool. Nowadays, it’s this pablum and ‘I’ll put a boot up your ass’ and patriots and the pledge of allegiance. Whatever! I’m not into that. That’s why this album’s not a country record. I call it heavy western or country core, whatever.
You’ve said that you were unable to get any country musicians – other than Buck Owens before he died – to be interested or involved in the recording of the record, or that the ones you wanted were no longer alive. With the scorn you’ve expressed for what’s happening in newer country, what do you think could or should be done to the country music industry to return it to some state of dignity?
Jourgensen: Country music now is not music; it’s product. It’s the marketing of Faith Hill or somebody pretty that they can market, and it’s exactly the way it was when Buck Owens said, ‘Take this job and shove it,’ although Johnny Paycheck said it. But Owens said, ‘I’m out of here! I’m going to Bakersfield, and I’m going to start my own punk rock label.’ To me, that’s the spirit of country. This corporate stuff…this happened in the late ‘60s with the Dolly Parton invasion and it was really overproduced, and they went through a phase for a while where it was really crappy, and then they went back on track. Now, we’re in a phase that’s really crappy, and I’m trying to bring it back on track. That’s where I’m at, in Hell Paso, Texas, man. That’s where the new seed of country is.
One thing that helps differentiate Buck Satan’s sound is the presence of drum machines, which are not common to country music. The whole album begins with the sound of a drum machine on ‘Quicker than Liquor.’
Jourgensen: Yes, the whole album is drum machine. We don’t have a single drummer. It’s just much easier for me and my engineer to program the stuff.
And as you’ve called Buck Satan heavy western or country core, using drum machines and such, it’s become its own new thing. As you’ve delved into the older country while working on the album, you stated that yours is a brand of punk country. Mixing genres is certainly nothing new for you, both within your individual projects and just in the fact that you have these different sounds. What do you think is the validity of genres in music anymore, both in your work and in general?
Jourgensen: You don’t really think about that when you go into the studio; you just jam. Mike, Tony and I, we just got drunk and jammed. By the fact that we didn’t have a drummer, it created a whole new genre in spite of itself. We didn’t go in there setting out to create a different genre. It just came that way because nobody on this record outside of myself and Mike Scaccia had ever even heard a country song, let alone played one. We just went in there, got drunk, and this is what came out. I’m just really disappointed with this entire country music establishment and how corporate it’s gotten. It’s so right wing in politics, and that was not…like, okay, you want to go to the founding fathers? You look at Johnny Cash or Buck Owens or anybody like that, they were rebels, man! Nowadays, everyone just steps in line, and it’s all this right wing evangelical crap. Not all country people are like that. People want to hear something different. The good thing was, like I said, nobody knew country music on this record, so it was like the blind leading the blind. This is what we came up with, and we’re really proud of it.
You’ve recently delved heavily into piercings and tattoos, and body modifications of this sort are usually a very personal experience, just as your music has been. What prompted you to go into it so intensively, and how do the body modifications relate in any way (if they do at all) to your music or lyrics in Buck Satan and Ministry?
Jourgensen: Two words: My daughter. My daughter was living in Hell Paso; she moved here from Austin for about six months. She said, ‘Daddy, you’re a pussy. You don’t have any piercings.’ She has piercings all over the place. I said, ‘Well, you know what? You’re a fucking pussy because you don’t have any tattoos.’ So, we made a pact where we went to this place where I got pierced and she got tatted and we are officially no longer pussies.
I don’t think anybody else would have the balls to call you a pussy, so it’s interesting that your daughter was the one to say that.
Jourgensen: Yeah, my daughter is good about that. She keeps me in check; so does my wife. They love me when I’m lacking. I got all the piercings done in one day. She goes in for a piercing in one day, and I went ahead and got something like 12 that day. It didn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt. It was like, ‘OK, you want to call me a pussy? I’m calling you out.’ I made her get a whole arm sleeve. Imagine having to sit there with a tattoo needle for four hours. All of a sudden, she’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. You’re not a pussy.’
12 piercings in one day?
Jourgensen: It’s not bad. If you think back on it and you still have the piercing in, it was worth the two seconds of pain, man. That’s all it is. It was two seconds, and then you’re set, hopefully, for life.
Relapse was recorded as you say in two camps – Dallas and Los Angeles – and with people you’ve worked with for years. You’ve worked with so many people, all with their own projects and degrees of success (Ogre, Chris Connelly, Martin Atkins to name a few); do you ever keep in touch with any of them and/or is it ever a consideration to work with them again on some future project?
Jourgensen: Well, I always keep in touch with Mike Scaccia. What was it in Top Gun, what was the guy’s name? Goose? What was he, his wingman? That’s Mikey for me. He’s my Top Gun specialist. Tommy, Tony, Rick Nielsen and even Billy Gibbons, I’ve known them all for years and have kept in touch. The rest of them I really haven’t talked to in many years. I have my small circle of friends, and they’re very cool, and they’re very private, and they don’t get a lot of headlines, which is good. I’ve got four or five standby guys that I know will come to my rescue in the studio.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Paul Raven’s death. As he was a rather integral part of Ministry during the previous two Ministry albums and RevCo’s Sex-O Olympic-O, and especially given your own recent brush with death, what are your thoughts on having worked with him during that time?
Jourgensen: Every single day, I pour a little bit of wine in his honor. I loved him like a brother, and I learned so much from him. He was such a great, giving person. He was a really great-hearted person and I think about him every day; every single day! Not a day goes by that I do not think of him. I mean, he was all over the place – Godflesh, Killing Joke, Prong. But he was a better friend than a bass player.
Considering that between the release of The Last Sucker and Relapse, Ministry has released two remix albums, the live album/DVD, two cover albums, and a Greatest Tricks album (which included an update of ‘Everyday is Halloween’), and you even released a Christmas song…it would seem that Ministry was never really dead.
Yes, and you have the mantra of ‘I’m not dead yet’ on ‘Ghouldiggers,’ which is all the more relevant since you did have numerous releases as Ministry. Do all of these releases relate to the subject of that song, ‘selling you off in pieces?’
You are now producing a band from Baghdad, correct?
Jourgensen: I’ll tell you what I enjoy about them. It’s the fact that in Baghdad, they don’t have bars or liquor in that country. So they would have to D.I.Y. it, renting their own warehouses, and then inevitably get arrested and tortured by the Iraqi police. That kind of dedication compared to the newbie American bands, to me, just seemed like a perfect fit for me. I’ve been around for 30 years in the music business, and that takes some dedication and commitment…and these guys have got commitment! They’re really, really heavy! They’re really, really good! And they’ve really, really been arrested a lot of times! So what’s not to like about that?
Where do you feel that American bands are going wrong or that they are not doing right that they are not catching your attention?
Jourgensen: First of all, they get a manager, and the manager does things by the book in order to make himself money. Fuck the band! It’s to make himself or herself money. So, you have this split agenda where the band wants to do this, and they get a manager and the manager wants to do that, and then it’s compromise after compromise after compromise after compromise, and they just get sick of it. That’s what these bands will find: their music gets compromised, their tour schedule gets compromised, their label is compromised, and the whole thing is this giant pablum of American Idol full of people trying to people please. They’re all just trying to please everyone else instead of themselves, and music is only good when you please yourself.
Also on ‘Ghouldiggers,’ you mention Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
Jourgensen: Yeah, the 27 club.
But also on the song, you sing a bit of The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ in the background.
Jourgensen: Basically, what happens is the secretary has put me on hold, and I’ve already been bitching about the exploitation of all these dead rock stars by management companies. So, they put me on hold, and then Jim Morrison comes on, ‘Roadhouse Blues.’ And I’d already done the cover of it, so it was natural for me to put that in. I love The Doors, man, and I love Jim, and it was just a natural fit and it sounded pretty cool. At the time, I just did it because a) I’ve worked with The Doors people before on doing that cover, so I knew they were cool as far as me doing a cover of it, and b) I really love The Doors and Jim Morrison, and c) It just seemed to fit into the song, so why not? I let my wife deal with all the legal aspects of it, and they’re cool with it.
Ministry is often heralded as the fathers of industrial metal, and the drum programming on Relapse is exceptionally tight; perhaps the best you’ve ever had on record.
Jourgensen: Sammy D’Ambruoso is great! He’s been my engineer for about six years now. He did the RevCo stuff and one previous Ministry and Buck Satan. He knows the way I work, and I know the way he works, and I pretty much just let him go at it. Really, I don’t have a lot of input anymore on the drum programming because he’s so good. I just leave him alone literally. He comes back in about a week with a CD, and I just go, ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’
And you’re no stranger to technology and synthesizers, and now all of that is available to everybody that they can get it on their laptops. How much do you think the improvements and availability of technology have led to complacency in music, and how much are people relying on it without actually becoming musicians in the traditional sense?
Jourgensen: Oh, I absolutely think it’s a horrific thing. It’s really funny, because if you look at bands in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with very limited equipment, they all had very varied musical styles. Nowadays, the technology that comes out just makes it so that every band sounds the same because they all use the same new technology and it’s very limited. It’s meant to be affordable and cheap, but they all sound the same. Yeah, it’s cheap and easy, but it’s not very good for music. That’s my take on it.
Are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
So, the government is giving them Ministry to prevent them from rioting?
Jourgensen: Yeah! Isn’t that ironic? That’s awesome! These crazy Polish, man. We’ve played Warsaw before, and that was one of the most violent crowds – outside of maybe Detroit or Austin – that I’ve ever played for. They were absolutely violent. And now, they’re going to get a million violent people for a free concert with us headlining. I just see bad things happening. I’m sure I’ll be pepper sprayed by the end of the show.