May 2023 02

The Sun rises and yields eternal alchemical gifts as Paul Ion Barker speaks with ReGen about crafting Lead into Gold.


An InterView with Paul Ion Barker of Lead into Gold

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

If there is such a thing as industrial music royalty, then Paul Ion Barker would surely be one of its reigning monarchs. Since he first joined Al Jourgensen in the ranks of MINISTRY in 1986, he went on to become an integral creative partner in some of the scene’s most formative and pioneering music with that band and its numerous side projects; among them was his own Lead into Gold, which has over the years attained an alchemical stature of its own for Barker’s exploration of new production techniques and esoteric yet personal songwriting and composition, qualities that he took into his myriad collaborations and other bands over the years. His latest effort under the moniker, The Eternal Present sees Barker signing with eminent Artoffact imprint and pursuing a greater sophistication in all aspects of his craft, resulting in an album whose title hints at its longevity and the many rewards it yields with each listen.
Just prior to his supporting stint on Skinny Puppy’s final tour, Mr. Barker was kind enough to speak with ReGen about his new music and the evolution of his musical and creative process, touching on his requirements for an effective collaboration, designing new sounds and equipment with Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation, his legacy, the significance the sun holds for him, and more!


While it’s been just under five years since The Sun Behind the Sun, you’ve kept busy with live performances, DJ sets, and collaborations. Would you tell us what the creative process was behind the new album, and how it contrasts from your past efforts?

Barker: Yes, every year I get to be involved in ColdWaves, which means I see and hear bands and music which are outside my usual choices. This is great because occasionally something will happen which inspires me to think about the effect it had on me, and then wonder if I can incorporate this in my new music.
This record wasn’t really that much of a departure from my usual, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want’ method, but I gave myself time to go down blind alleys.

‘I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want.’ Stanley Kubrick used to say the same thing about his films. What is it that you don’t want? What are you actively not looking to do with Lead into Gold?

Barker: We all have our influences, but I don’t want mine to be obvious, so this is a part of the process. We want to take steps ‘forward’ in our growth, whatever that means.

Were there any changes in the writing or the production this time around, or would you say that you’ve settled into a method or process that works best for you?

Barker: This record’s process was different in two ways – after The Sun Behind the Sun, I recorded 30 short song ideas as a challenge, and so I had plenty of material to choose from, and I used the Malekko Manther synth as the main production tool to write these songs. This gave me a completely different set of initial ideas to work with, and that was exciting.
I definitely have a production method, for better or worse, and that entails lots of time to allow the ideas to get refined or rejected.



I’d noted in my ReView of the last album that it was neither a nostalgia trip, nor a complete reinvention of what Lead into Gold had been; The Eternal Present seems to delve even further into less conventional song structures. How much of what you do is a conscious effort? Do you purposefully try to think outside of the usual verse/chorus format, or is it more of an automatic occurrence?

Barker: The final production is 100% intentional. I allow and want my music to do unusual things. Some songs naturally have a verse/chorus structure, which feels good, not forced. I’m not trying to write pop songs, but if it happens, I’m okay with it.

The sun seems to factor into your lyrics and song titles quite a bit, both on this album and obviously on the last one, as well as the Savage Gift single. How would you define your connection to the sun, either on a spiritual level, or even simply as a thematic or lyrical device?

Barker: Yes, my friends remind me of this, haha! Depending on the lyric, the sun represents inner creativity, spiritual enlightenment, the force of life, knowledge, the will to exist. Thematically, it ties in nicely with the name of the project.

You’re a multi-instrumentalist, but most people tend to associate you with the bass, and the new album has some really striking grooves, both organic (like in ‘The Eternal Present’) and electronic (‘She Lies Beyond’). What still excites you about the bass (not just the instrument), and how would you say that your approach or your outlook on the bass component in music has evolved over the years?

Barker: A good bass line is irresistible, and that still excites me!
I am willing to use bass guitar as a supporting element much more these days than in the past. I’m not writing songs on the bass as much now, but definitely using it to pull a song together.

Your vocals are rather striking on the new album too, and I believe some of the best you’ve yet recorded. Are there any particular practices or exercises that you do to strengthen your voice?

Barker: Thanks, yes, absolutely I practice. Anything is better than nothing, but I’m using the standard methods. I love singing, although I’m not a natural singer; however, I am taking it seriously for some reason.

When coming up with vocal melodies, do you find that they emerge naturally as you’re writing the music, or do you find that you have to work to find them?

Barker: This is a song-by-song process; sometimes the vocal is just there. I went through three versions of vocals on ‘She Lies Beyond!’ But that is also an aspect of allowing yourself to try things which you know aren’t great yet realize that it’s part of the process. And give yourself time to do it.

Along with Lead into Gold, you’ve released music through Bandcamp, but have now signed with Artoffact Records for The Eternal Present. What are your thoughts on the traditional models of releasing music and how it applies to you? Moving forward, do you think we will still be bound to record labels?

Barker: I love vinyl because it still represents a snapshot in time. You cannot undo it or redo it. This will not go away, although it is not practical in any sense.
I want to make music, not sell it, as evidenced by The Sun Behind the Sun.
I do think labels will exist for a long time. A label curates a flavor, which allows people to feel part of a collective scene. No, I don’t think we will be bound to record labels, but we will recognize that we want them and will support them.

While it’s still early days, how has your experience been with Artoffact?

Barker: I am extremely happy with everything Artoffact has proposed for me, and it’s been great!

What drew you to sign with them for this new album?

Barker: Reputation as a business and talking to people on the label.

Lead into Gold live seems to primarily revolve around you and one other person live – Lorrie Kountz (ex-Whatismu) and then Omniflux on the last tour. What do you feel are the greatest strengths in this two-person configuration vs. a fuller band?

Barker: There is an undeniable efficiency in this but it is a compromise. I hope to tour with a full band one day!
Josh Holley was onstage with me for this tour with Skinny Puppy.

One of your ColdWaves appearances was in something of a DJ capacity, in which you spun and remixed some of old faves from MINISTRY. Having lived with those songs for so many years, what was your mindset in reinventing/reinterpreting those songs for that particular type of performance?

Barker: Many years ago, a friend suggested I try this, but at the time, I was not interested. Thinking about how to be actively involved in performing at ColdWaves year after year coaxed me in this direction. I didn’t want to use a laptop, so eventually, I found suitable gear and figured it out. Of course, I also had to accept that I would be involved in this music again.

I hate to ask this, but some people have insisted that I should… as MINISTRY has been celebrating some anniversaries on tour lately, are you willing to reflect on the lasting impact of albums like The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and of the band period? Any particularly poignant thoughts or memories from then that you’d like to share?

Barker: I am humbled that people might still give a shit about music that I was intimately involved with, and I have the greatest respect for everyone involved in the creation of the music, the band, the labels, the press, and the tours at that time, whether I like them or not.

You’re also the co-founder of Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation, making guitar effects and synth modules. Of course, many companies have been making the same sorts of sounds for decades, so what are the challenges for you and the company in coming up with new ideas, new pieces of equipment, to offer new sounds?

Barker: In every field of business, there will always be room for startups which offer their unique perspective. We still have plenty of ideas; it’s just a matter of rolling them out.

How much of that is informed by your own musical impulses, and how much comes from the demands of other musicians/producers that you’ve encountered?

Barker: All of it! We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we had different ideas. Also, just like music, some people will like our products, some not.

Do you use Malekko equipment exclusively now in your own productions?

Barker: Not at all!

What pieces of gear or types of sounds are being made now that are exciting you, perhaps giving you new ideas for what to pursue in Malekko?

Barker: Everyone has access to the same gear. It’s what you do with it that matters.

Malekko was also the name of a band that featured you, Chris Connelly, Peter G. Holmström, and Josh Holley, releasing an EP in 2018. Was this intended to be a one-shot offering, or is there a possibility for future Malekko band activity?

Barker: I’m not ruling it out.



Regarding your collaborations, having the right personalities factors into a good collaboration, but for you, what do you most look for in a collab, what are the most important elements that you feel are necessary for you to consider it?

Barker: Creativity, friendship, reliability, trust, satisfaction, spontaneity.

What else do you have in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Barker: Music related stuff, I’m doing some soundtrack work, but time is the resource in shortest supply now.

Outside of music, what do you most enjoy? Movies, books, hiking, cooking, etc.

Barker: I like all of those plus motorcycles, but for exercise, I also cycle on the street and in the woods.


Lead into Gold/Paul Ion Barker
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, Instagram
Artoffact Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram


Photography by Eric Patton and Mahsa Zargaran, provided courtesy of Artoffact Records and Lead into Gold


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