One of the friendliest princes of darkness you’ll ever meet, Al Jourgensen is the musical terrorist behind Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, and many edgy solo projects. We reached him by phone for this freewheeling talk which touches on his musical projects - which have only revved up further since Ministry was officially put to rest - his eternal disdain for George W. Bush, his beloved Chicago Blackhawks, and lots more.
WARNING: This is a “T” rated interview which includes graphic descriptions of unsavory things that Jourgensen has done onstage - If you’re familiar with the notorious Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, you’ll understand why our interviewer was briefly rendered speechless!
Brett Milano: This is Brett from Rock Band.
Al Jourgensen: Hey, Brett from Rock Band, this is Al.
BM: Hey Al, how're you doing today?
BM: Good. We're really glad you wanted to do this. It's been great having Ministry stuff. A lot of people felt it was pretty overdue when we got it.
AJ: Awesome. Good, I'm honored, flattered.
BM: Thank you so much.
AJ: My daughter plays that stuff all the time and she's just like, to her it's embarrassing that her dad's on it. [laughs] She's like, "God, Dad. Why's your stuff on there?" [laughs]
BM: That's great. Have you been able to sit down and play with her?
AJ: No, I don't play that stuff, man. I'm not a gamer 'cause basically I'm so busy that I wish I had ten minutes of leisure time.
BM: Have you at least checked your songs for the flow and to see if it feels right to you?
AJ: You know what? I haven't seen it. I gotta be honest. I don't have any gaming boards. I have nothing. I have no way of accessing it right now, and basically I work seven days a week in the studio and I have a recording studio in the back. Like I said, I wish I could get a day off and just do that with my daughter for a day. [laughs]
BM: That's cool. I can tell you that they are great fun to play, especially - I play drums - and the drum parts on those songs are ridiculously hard.
AJ: They're pretty insane. You can rack up some points, I'm sure, by our drum parts. [laughs]
BM: Yeah, which I'm sure are just as hard in real life, if not worse.
AJ: Uh, yeah. We've had many a drummer cry when they rehearse. With blistered hands and all that. So yeah.
BM: What sort of indoctrination do you give when musicians come into one of your bands?
AJ: Basically, when we do rehearsals, it's boot camp, man. You eat, sleep, and s**t Ministry. Okay? You rehearse sixteen hours a day, and then you drink the other eight. [laughs] It's pretty much like literally going to boot camp, only with alcohol. So if you can imagine that. We hole ourselves up. We usually rehearse in this place where we go out in the middle of the desert out here in El Paso, Texas and you just eat, drink, and sleep it for a month. It's a four week training program and you gotta be pretty good to get through that. I'm pretty much a drill sergeant when it comes to that stuff. Like when Joey Jordison from Slipknot toured with us, uh [he was] literally crying after two days. Just like, "Oh, this sucks." But afterwards he was like, "Man, that was awesome." Because then, when you get it so ingrained into your head, a month of sixteen hour rehearsals, you go on stage and there's nothing that could happen that would be a shock. There's nothing that you can't play through or work through. We used to even have f**kup practices. We'd spend one day a week just having roadies go on and purposely unplug stuff. [laughs] And make sure that we could pretty much handle any situation. It just makes it a lot easier when you actually tour that it's really second nature by then, you know?
BM: That's great. So, from the sound of things, not having Ministry anymore hasn't had any affect on how busy you are.
AJ: No, it's actually worse now. So, so much for retirement. [laughs] I shouldn't say worse. It's better. I've just got so many projects going on. Between the all the 13th Planet stuff and I'm doing a solo record completely different from Ministry.
AJ: It's really almost kind of pop-y, acoustics and synths and orchestras. More like the old The The songs, or Nick Cave kind of stuff. There's absolutely no metal on there at all. And I'm working with Mark Thwaite who's playing guitar for Peter Murphy right now, but he's also been with Mission UK and also was Tricky's guitar player. And the two of us are doing this solo album for me. Plus I've got RevCo [Revolting Cocks] on tour right now that I've gotta do three shows - L.A., Chicago, New York. I'm also getting this entire Ministry back-catalogue together for future release dates. I'm updating them and doing remixes and stuff like that. And we've got other people that book my recording studio as well. We just had a project, uh, Sara Green, this girl out of Boston that sounds very Portishead-like. It's really cool. So there's always something going on here at the compound.
BM: So we're going to find out you're really a sensitive guy after all when the solo album comes out?
AJ: [laughs] The day Bush left office, I officially became a sensitive guy again. [laughs]
BM: Which Bush? I gotta ask.
AJ: [laughs] Yeah, which Bush? I've been through a couple of them. Hopefully that's the end of that. Let's see if Jeb runs. Then maybe I'll have to get Ministry back together.
BM: Two of the songs we have are from those albums, so I wonder, what inspired you to know that Bush needed three albums to be disposed of properly?
AJ: I didn't set out to do a trilogy like some hobbit movie or some stuff. I really, really thought…see, I'd been living in Texas for a while and I knew he was an idiot when he was governor here.
AJ: So it wasn't a surprise to me. The only thing that was a surprise was they voted him back in. So I was like, "Oh, damn. I've gotta do another song." I'm sitting through his samples for like ten hours, 20, 30, 40 hours, you know. And then finally on the last one, on the last sucker, when you knew he was leaving, I almost felt sorry for the guy. Just because he was obviously in over his head. Basically, Cheney ran the country and the world, and Bush just kind of played with Tonka trucks and My Pet Goat books. I almost actually had sympathy for him by the end. But I really didn't think I was going to have to write three albums until this idiot got himself thrown out of office. But there he was.
BM: "Great Satan" [is] of course, one of the songs we have. Was there any particular event that inspired you to write that one?
AJ: No, it's just the entire view of the United States by the Middle East, by all Muslim and majority Muslim countries. They think that we're the great Satan under the Bush regime. Obviously that's changing. That was also stated by Iranian officials and their president and their molas mullahs that we were the great satan. So it wasn't one particular thing. It was just a buildup of the different purviews of the U.S. from the Middle East.
BM: When Ministry did the Cover Up album, it's coincidentally I'm sure, but three of those songs are also in Rock Band. So it was kind of nice to see there was a linkup there. Are you the kind of guy that will blast those classic rock songs when nobody's looking?
AJ: Not even when nobody's looking. When everybody's looking. [laughs] I love that stuff. I grew up on that stuff. Our individual, our take on it from Ministry is it's fun to do. We have a gas with it. Everyone's like, "Well how did you pick the songs?" I'm like, "Well, we drank a lot of wine and beer and liquor and sat around and reminisced about songs that you knew when you grew up." It wasn't anything like we sat there and really scoured this list or anything. It was like whatever we were jammin' on while we were drunk. [laughs] It was pretty cool. And a couple of 'em happened by accident. Like "What A Wonderful World" was literally an accident that happened at a party that was over at the guest house where we're at. There was a party there. And there's an out of tune upright piano there. And we had a little limited PA system. And we kept the original piano and the original vocal, both one take with a party going on behind us in the middle of the whole thing. A lot of that stuff was just circumstance. My whole point of that record was just to remember that Ministry also rocked. We weren't all just politics and shaking our fist in the air against Republicans and conservatives and all that. It's like, you know what? We're also a rock band. And we have fun too. I know RevCo picks up a lot of that where people know we have a sense of humor and all that and we're a fun band. But people started getting with Ministry like, "Okay, enough already, okay?" So it was nice to go out on that note of just a party record.
BM: I believe "Cuz U R Next," which we also have, was one of the last Ministry songs, right?
AJ: Yeah, that was the last one that me and Raven, before he passed away, Paul Raven, that's the last one that we worked on together. I think it was only available on the Wicked Lake soundtrack. That was a lot of fun. That's a barn burner.
BM: Which, to me has the band at kind of its most menacing or scary or whatever. Was that written for the movie? Was that what inspired that one?
AJ: Well the lyrics were, yeah. But me and Raven had the song written and we basically put it on the shelf. We had that written for Last Sucker and there's other stuff that's on the shelf, trust me. It's like, basically when I record an album of anything, whether it's RevCo or Ministry or Lard or Pailhead, where it's just like I record a ton of stuff. Some of it makes it. Some of it, for whatever reason either a) you don't like it at the time and you come to like it later, or b) you just don't have enough time or budget or money to mix it. There's a myriad of reasons of why a particular song winds up on a shelf as opposed to an album. Either way, I've got a ton of that kind of stuff.
BM: Great. I wanted to ask, when you started doing industrial-type stuff, it was the '80s and a lot of the tools people have now didn't even exist then. So how much of a nightmare was it to get the sounds in your head and get them to exist in real life?
AJ: To me it wasn't a nightmare at all. It was exciting. It was cool. It was like, nobody was doing this stuff. We'd go out with a little portable Sony Nagra and go to factories and stuff and take noises. And sit outside a train tracks and wait for a train to go by and get the wheels going and all that. We did a lot of on-site recording and stuff like that. Which now is just, you hit a button and you come up with a sample. You just tell the computer what you want and it's there. But back then it was kind of fun. It was kind of like half being an archeologist and half being a musician. [laughs] To me that was a gas. It wasn't a nightmare at all. And all the editing stuff that you can do on ProTools or so much different software right now. What used to take me two or three weeks, now you can do in about two or three hours. But back then it was fun. We didn't know any better. Hell, we were just hillbillies with samplers.
BM: So it was kind of more fun when it wasn't as easy to do, when you had to do all that kind of legwork?
AJ: Exactly. Another thing, if you listen to music today, this is the interesting paradox that goes on here is that, back then there was very little equipment and yet every band sounded different. Nowadays every band sounds the same even though there's a ton of equipment. It doesn't really make sense to me, but whatever. That's what I'm seeing anyways.
BM: You're on the road, I believe, with Jim Rose. Is he showing you any of the tricks?
AJ: [laughs] Well, I toured with Jim before in '93 at Lollapalooza and the only trick I know how to do is that when the tube spits up bile out of the tube into a cup, I drink it. [laughs] That was about my big trick.
BM: How does it taste?
AJ: Uh, really horrible. It was yuck. But whatever. I'll drink anything pretty much.
BM: I think you stopped me in my tracks with that, when I just got that image in my head.
AJ: [laughs] What? The bile image?
BM: Yeah, I'm afraid so.
AJ: Trust me, I still have recurring nightmares about doing that. I did it on nine different shows of his, just to prove that it could be done and be that it actually was bile from his stomach that was coming through a tube in his nose. And blah blah blah. It was as gross as you can imagine.
BM: How do you keep it down?
AJ: A lot of liquor. [laughs] Just keep drinking. It helps to be drunk when you do that.
BM: Okay. [laughs] Onto a nicer subject…the Blackhawks, who I know you love. What do you think is the connection between industrial metal and hockey?
AJ: I don't really know if there's a connection, but I do know that the type of music that they play at games, not just Blackhawks' games, like the Anaheim Ducks use a lot of Ministry stuff and all that. I think it lends itself to the rowdiness of the whole thing. Have you noticed they're playing stuff anything from AC/DC to Ramones, and then a bunch of industrial stuff, at all these games, not just at Blackhawks' games. But actually, Jeremy Roenick [Center for the Blackhawks] made the Hawks stop playing "Thieves" because he couldn't concentrate on face-offs.[laughs]
BM: What? He liked the song too much?
AJ: No, he actually didn't like it. Jeremy Roenick - this is why I'm so glad the Hawks traded him - is a Bryan Adams fan.[laughs] I was really disappointed.
BM: Oh, well. Let me ask, if someone's playing your songs on Rock Band and they want to do it Al Jourgensen-style, and do it as you, what sort of props and what sort of attitude would you recommend?
AJ: Well, first I'd start out with a couple bottles of a nice red wine. A good Bordeaux or a good Cabernet. Start with that. And then put you in the mood when you go on stage. After that, basically have nothing but contempt for your audience. [laughs]
AJ: Just completely be ready to dodge projectiles and spit at any given moment, so stay light on your feet. And that's about the best advice I could give. Oh, and make sure the wine has a cork. Don't get a twist-off. I'll go with that.
BM: That's excellent. Thank you so much. This is good.
AJ: No problem.
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