Al Jourgensen and his thoughts on George W. Bush, the Internet as an "anarchy punk-rock threat," and the end of Ministry
It's days before the first date of what's being billed as the last tour ever for industrial-metal pioneers Ministry, and frontman Al Jourgensen is determined to convince naysayers that the band's days are truly numbered. "I'm not one of these comeback people that does farewell tours that are, like, three years long and reunions and all that other crap," Jourgensen says. "I'm done. Right now, I'm busier than I've ever been in my life and Ministry is almost like a nuisance to me."
Jourgensen, known nearly as much for his trademark dreadlocks and cowboy hat as his abrasive and sample-heavy music, is psyched to be stepping out of the spotlight and into a new role as producer, mentor, and label head at his Sony-distributed imprint, 13th Planet Records.
The label — which Jourgensen started in 2004 with his wife, Angelina — is home to Prong, Revolting Cocks (a side project), False Icons, and Ascension of the Watchers (a new band featuring former Fear Factory frontman Burton C. Bell). Last year, while completing Ministry's final opus, The Last Sucker, Jourgensen produced and performed on releases from each of the aforementioned groups, scored an indie horror flick called Wicked Lake, and compiled a covers album called Cover Up. Jourgensen, whose sound and image paved the way for younger artists like Trent Reznor and Rob Zombie, says it's important to know when to call it quits. Formed in 1981, Ministry has been recording for 27 years. "Everyone has their time, and I think my time has peaked just right," he says. "I've done a couple really good, kickass albums, and Bush is leaving office. It just seems like the perfect time."
Anyone familiar with Ministry's recent releases should easily see that the end of the current administration serves as an ideal time for the band to call it quits. Although the group criticized the policies of the elder Bush some 16 years ago on the Grammy-nominated track "N.W.O.," the band went on an absolute warpath a decade later when the younger Bush put U.S. troops back in Iraq. Through a trilogy of concept albums, Ministry demonized the president in CD packaging and caricatured him on T-shirts. Jourgensen even put George W. masks on stagehands and made pummeling the unfortunate fellows a regular part of Ministry's chaotic live shows. "I didn't think I was going to have to do three albums about this idiot, but we kept re-electing him, so I had to keep waving my fists in the air and shouting that this guy's got to be impeached or beheaded," Jourgensen says.
Speaking in a voice that sounds like it's coming from the bottom of a gravel-filled ashtray, Jourgensen has a no-bullshit demeanor that's softened only when he erupts into occasional fits of hoarse, barking laughter. "I voted for Obama in the primary," he says. "I call him the undercover brother because the Republicans say he's a sleeper-cell Muslim and all this shit."
Jourgensen roars with laughter but quickly recovers from his own joke. The singer explains that he would have preferred to see Dennis Kucinich as president, but Kucinich abandoned his campaign in January, long before the ballots were counted in Jourgensen's home state of Texas in March. His mood changes drastically when he considers other possible presidents. "John McCain is a fucking Republican lap dog," Jourgensen says. "He used to be pretty vocal about taking his own stance on stuff, but now he just kisses ass to the fucking evangelicals and sits on Bush's lap and sits on Cheney's lap. Not only that, the guy is like 170 years old or something."
Jourgensen, who turns 50 in October, is no spring chicken himself. Living with his wife and two dogs on a farm in El Paso, the singer defies rock star stereotypes by picking nights at home with his television over evenings spent on stage or at bars. Holed up in a city that he calls a sanctuary for outlaws, Jourgensen laments the ever-increasing uniformity of American music. When he founded Ministry, there wasn't much equipment available for making and recording music, yet all the bands sounded different, Jourgensen says. "Nowadays, there's a bunch of different equipment and all the fucking bands sound the same. If somebody puts on a radio in a car, I couldn't fucking tell you what's Avenged Sevenfold or As I Lay Dying. It all sounds like the same crap to me."
If anything can stem the tide of carbon-copy rock bands, Jourgensen says it's the Internet. Though many of his peers have mourned the death of the album as an art form and cursed the downloadable singles that haven taken the album's place, Ministry's salty-dog frontman says the age of the iPod is actually a blessing in disguise. "All people go on the Internet for is porn or home shopping," he says. "They don't realize the potential to really make it like an anarchy punk-rock threat."
According to Jourgensen, cyberspace is an equalizing force that could give unique and lesser-known artists who are savvy and determined a chance to survive and even profit in an industry that's been homogenized.
Jourgensen knows more than his fair share about survival, given that his band has maintained an avid global fan base while evolving from synthpop (complete with faux English accent) to industrial rock to thrash metal. Nearly as impressive as his musical longevity is the singer's ability to kick an epic and well-documented heroin habit. By the late '90s, Ministry's frontman was so out of control that his music was becoming affected and his name had become virtually synonymous with substance abuse in the minds of his fans. Many wondered if he'd be the next gifted artist to turn up dead with a needle in his arm. "I'm not against drugs," Jourgensen says. "I'm against addiction, which sucks, because drugs are very addictive."
He says drugs served a creative purpose for him in the past but had become a liability by the time he decided to go clean six years ago. "Like Jerry Garcia said, 'What a long, strange trip it's been.'"
As Jourgensen packs his collection of George W. Bush masks and rallies the jolly pirates he calls Ministry for one last journey on the road, the singer sets the record straight about the labels given to his music. Despite being embraced by fans of metal for his recent work and being lauded by rivetheads a decade earlier for bringing industrial to the mainstream, Jourgensen says he saw success because he followed his heart, not the rules of one genre or another. "I don't even know what industrial is," Jourgensen says. "That's some term that you guys made up. All I know is we made music that made us happy."
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