Al Jourgensen Opens Up on Ministry, Buck Satan, Politics + Much More
Talking on the phone with legendary Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen is a strange experience. The incredibly energetic, political and thought-provoking outlaw never holds back in his music — nor in his conversation.
We’ve already shared Jourgensen’s claim that the new Ministry album, ‘Relapse’ (due March 26), is one of the Top 50 albums of all time by any band and that the Republican party is made up of “knuckleheads.” In the rest of our chat with Jourgensen, we spoke with him in-depth about the new Ministry and Buck Satan records, his current state of health after a near death experience and everything on the political spectrum including the Occupy movement, the Tea Party, Rick Perry, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and much more.
Check out Loudwire’s exclusive interview with the legendary Ministry mastermind, Al Jourgensen.
First off, how are you feeling?
Oh yeah. I’ve got a clean bill of health and that’s why I’m doing a tour this summer because my doctor gave me a clean bill of health. I haven’t been bleeding [due to ulcers in his stomach and esophagus] for about a year, so it’s all good man, it’s all good. We did a couple good records when I was on the mend with Buck Satan and Ministry. Next week we’re starting on the new Rigor Mortis album – the first album they’ve had in 15 years and I’m producing.
Then in March a band from Iraq called Acrassicauda are coming out to the studio. They’re an Iraqi metal band. They’re really heavy, they’re really cool. Then I’ll be hitting the studio with Plastilina Mosh who are like the Beastie Boys of Mexico – they’ve sold like two million records. Ministry will start rehearsals at the end of May and then we’re out on the road by June, so I’ve got a pretty busy schedule coming up. I’ve got to be healthy to do that, man. [Laughs]
Sounds like you’ve got a lot of great things on your plate right now…
Yeah, I’m doing good. I’m just really happy with these last two records I’ve done. I’m just really happy to be above ground. [Laughs] That was kind of intense about a year-and-a-half ago when I went down to the emergency room. As soon as you hear the the word “clear!” you know you’re not doing good. CLEAR! [makes defibrillator noise and laughs]
[Laughs] So how were you able to balance doing the new Ministry and Buck Satan records pretty much at the same time?
The thing with Buck Satan is that we did that first because after my near-death s—, I had promised to do a country record before I was “done” and that showed me that life is short. I got out and as soon as I could walk again I did this Buck Satan record, but Mikey Scaccia — we’ve been jamming on the bus with this Buck Satan stuff for years. Like 28 years I’ve been talking about this record. I called him up and he had some time off, so he came out and I couldn’t have done it without him, man.
I mean I was pretty sick at this point with all this recording, but I wanted to get it done and Mikey really pulled up the slack – but what’s funny is that it was such a seamless segue into Ministry from Buck Satan because in between country songs, me and Mikey would just jam on heavy riffs, which turned out to be the new Ministry record. We were just jamming, you know? Then later Mikey called up and goes, “You have to do this [Ministry] record. I know you said no more Ministry but you have to do this record because the riffs are so cool. So then we arranged it all, but it all spawned out of Buck Satan. That’s all I really wanted to do – Buck Satan – but this Ministry thing is a real blessing in disguise because I really think it’s the best Ministry record ever.
I’ve heard you talk about how you wrote so much of the Buck Satan record while you were on the road. Does the road inspire you in any specific way?
Well yeah, country music and the road go hand in hand. [Laughs] That’s what these old country farts do, man. They get a bus – and that’s what me and Mikey did for literally 17 years, man. Just sitting in the back of the bus. I had my pedal steel, he had an acoustic with an amp and we just jammed, jammed, jammed, jammed, jammed, jammed on country. Management, other band members, everyone said, “You’re crazy, you can’t do this, you can’t pull this off,” and we did. I really felt obligated – like I had to because I had already sold t-shirts, posters, everything from Buck Satan and I didn’t even have an album yet after 28 years. [Laughs] We bought the cart before the horse, you know what I’m saying?
It was really cool during Buck Satan because we realized about two weeks into recording that nobody else had ever heard a f—ing country song. [Laughs] We tried to get country stars to play on this and either we couldn’t get a hold of them, Buck Owens died. I had talked to him about doing this record and he was like, “Yeah, ok.” He died and everyone else bailed on us so I got an industrial bass player, Tony Campos, Rick Neilsen from Cheap Trick and two girls from Houston that play in a symphony – they don’t listen to country, they play classical stuff. So they had to adjust their style a little bit. Everyone had to adjust their style. I think me and Mikey were the only persons in this band that had ever even heard a country song before. I think that’s what makes it cool to me, because it’s not conventional country. I call it “heavy western.”
So with Ministry, you’re going on a very brief tour. Are there going to be any more dates announced in the future?
No, thats it! What you see is what you get. I think there are 20 shows in Europe and five shows in the States. We’ll see about next summer, we’ll see what my health is like. For right now, that’s it. There’s gonna be no add-ons – that’s it. Either you snooze and lose or you go and go.
The new Ministry song ’99%’ – obviously you’ve always been very political and this is sort of the next era of politics in a certain way. What do you think of the evolution of “Occupy” and where it’s at right now?
I think it’s f—ing brilliant and amazing and I’m glad they don’t have backing and a central message. It’s just people being pissed off. It reminds me of when I was growing up in the ’60s. There’s grandfathers, grandmothers, businessmen and then crazy people, too. And that’s what’s great about it, it’s so diverse, the message is diverse and the people are just pissed. To me, that is a movement – not like the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party. That’s not a movement, that’s like a bowel movement. [Laughs]
My engineer is from New York and we had flights booked to go to New York and go get pepper-sprayed and arrested, but we were like a week behind schedule for finishing the new Ministry record, so we had to stay and work. We were fully prepared to get pepper-sprayed, I don’t care. I’ve been pepper-sprayed before. S—, I’ve tasered myself before just to see what it was like. So when the police taser me I know what it feels like so I can overcome the pain. [Laughs very hard] I actually got my first taser about 10-12 years ago and immediately tasered myself. We were going to go [to Occupy Wall St.] but since we couldn’t, I’ve decided that the best thing to do is to write a song supporting this movement and let ‘em chant this at Merrill-Lynch.
What are your views on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)?
That’s bulls— I’m glad they shut everything down. I’m with them all the way. Pretty much all my views are left-wing except for guns, because I like my guns, I don’t want to give them up. That’s my only right-wing thing. The rest of it — you can pretty much rest assured that I’m a complete liberal.
Being from Texas, what are your thoughts on onetime presidential candidate Rick Perry?
I have no thoughts on him. You know why? Because he’s got no thoughts in his head. Why should I listen to this f—ing guy? Him and Bush ruined this state. When Ann Richards was governor here, this state was the coolest f—ing place to be in the world. Now it’s a s—hole, but I’m stuck here and I love it. I’ve got a really nice house and a recording studio and I’m more sequestered from the rest of the world. Not only that – we’re in El Paso, which is not really part of Texas. New Mexico is two blocks away from my house and Mexico is eight blocks away from my house, so I’m right on that tip of Texas. Texans don’t consider El Pasoans as Texans.
They always slander us and the state legislature never gives us enough money for our schools or anything like that. I mean, they totally look at us like a red-headed stepchild up in the attic or something, you know? But I like it here, man. Nobody asks questions, the weather is perfect, I’ve got a beautiful house and studio and like I said, nobody asks questions. It’s a city of outlaws and people hiding out.
After the Clash split up, Paul Simonon came down here for four years because we had the world’s largest Harley shop and he bought a Harley. He just spent four years driving around the desert on his bike. He loved it here and I love it here too. I’ve been here for 10 years and it’s nothing but outlaws, man. That’s why people don’t ask questions, because they probably have a questionable past – so they don’t wanna ask because they don’t wanna tell. [Laughs very hard] I like it down here, it’s nothing but bikers and outlaws. It’s actually really safe here, man because the cartel bring their drugs up though Juarez and they don’t want any problems in El Paso, they just want to make it through the border and get their drugs to Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. So they cause no fuss here. Eight blocks away in Juarez, they’re about five killings a day. It’s worse than Baghdad, but it doesn’t spill over into here because the cartel wants to make sure they can get their shipments out through the boarder without any kind of problems. There’s a weird dichotomy here, but you get used to it.
What are your thoughts on the current state of industrial rock?
I don’t even know what that is.
Are there any new bands from any genre that you’re into or that you draw inspiration from?
I’m doing that Iraqi band Acrassicauda. I think they’re my favorite new band, but they’re not industrial, they’re complete metal. I don’t know. Trust me, after sitting in a studio for 20 hours a day, seven days a week, for six months and listening to industrial music done by me, the last thing I want to do is go listen to another industrial band. So I have no idea what’s going on. I have no favorites or anything like that. The only reason I know Acrassicauda was because I saw them in a documentary as the first Iraqi punk band, but they’ve evolved into this really heavy thrash metal band. I mean, they sound like Slayer – only heavier. That’s the only thing that’s grabbed my attention recently. The rest of the stuff – I don’t know what the hell is going on. I don’t follow the industrial scene. I don’t get dressed up with black fingernail polish and go out to bars any night or anything like that. I just stay home and get drunk here and record. [Laughs]
When George W. Bush finished his second Presidential term, were you worried for any reason that you may not have enough inspiration to draw from?
Well yeah, he was my muse for the last three records and I understand that, because he was such an easy target. The one thing that happened is when I was doing Buck Satan, there was no politics in it, it was all country stuff and based on personal life experience. I learned to be comfortable with singing about personal life experiences again instead of just bashing Bush, bashing Bush, bashing Bush. So Buck Satan was actually was a really good precursor to the Ministry record because the record is like half personal life stories and half politics, but without Bush. I got into a rut with the Bush thing because he is just such an easy target. Even by ‘The Last Sucker’ I didn’t even hate him anymore, I just felt sorry for him because he was in over his head. I’m sure Bush just spent his day with his crayons and playing with Tonka trucks.
We’ve really got a long way to go not just as a country, but as a world. I’ve been around the world and I know that these problems are not indigenous to the United States. It’s everywhere. There’s complete racism in England against Pakistanis, Denmark against Muslims. The world is blowing up and I’m just watching it and trying to write songs about it.
Are there a lot of Tea Partyers around where you live?
I’m surrounded by Republicans in my neighborhood but they’re not Tea Partyers. They just want to lower their taxes. Living in a nice neighborhood… well, the only nice neighborhood in El Paso, [Laughs] I’m the only Democrat on the block. They’re not hostile Tea Party people. As a matter of fact I think I’ve even converted one of my neighbors to be a Democrat. [Laughs] So I’m doin’ good! I’m behind enemy lines, remember. Somebody’s gotta do it, you know? I’m like a Tokyo Rose, I’m behind enemy lines spouting off my liberal ideas amongst a bunch of rich Texans. Somebody’s gotta do it – and that’s my job.