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Interviews, Music

Interview: Ministry’s Al Jourgensen Talks “AmeriKKKant”, #MeToo, and Turning 60

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Ministry's Al Jourgensen

Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

American industrial juggernaut Ministry is back with their new album, AmeriKKKant. Produced by frontman, Al Jourgensen, recorded at Caribou Studios in Burbank, CA between January and May this year, and with striking artwork created by Sam Shearon, the psychedelic, politically-influenced and very much in-your-face AmeriKKKant’s nine tracks are rooted in Jourgensen’s unadulterated anger for what’s happening in America today: the waning respect for the U.S.  Constitution, the growing acceptance of one’s opinions replacing facts, the decline of our leaders’ sense of morals, ethics and personal responsibility to the country and to their constituents, and the mad man in the White House.

In our new interview, Jourgensen discusses the making of AmeriKKKant, his thoughts on the #MeToo movement, turning 60, and more!

With the new record, AmeriKKKant, where did the album title come from?

I think it’s pretty obvious. The three K’s obviously stand for the Klu Klux Clan. The road that America is taking is not sustainable, as well as the road the world is taking for that matter. America can’t keep going down this road anymore. There’s nothing really deep and heavy to it, it’s just a little play on words, that’s all.

You worked with Sam Shearon for the album cover. How did the concept come about?

Just sitting around over a bottle of Absinthe (laughing) and talking. I’ve known Sam for a few years and he’s quite a good friend. Whenever he’s in the LA area, we get together and I was kicking around some ideas and he got on board and just absolutely nailed it.

With the title, like you were saying, the album cover is also pretty self-evident.

Yeah, there’s nothing subtle about this. The actual album in it’s lyrical content is actually subtle. Everyone is going to say that this is a Trump bashing album and down on America and all that shit, but it’s much bigger than that. Trump to me is whatever, he is whatever he is. It’s to be expected. If you go to a doctor and you have a large cyst on your neck and you have it removed, okay, that’s fine, the cyst is removed and if the doctor doesn’t ask you or even is curious on how that cyst got there, you’ll probably get another cyst because you probably have cancer.

All governmental systems right now in this world seem to be cancerous, for the most part. This is very reminiscent of the rise of fascism in the 1930’s before World War II, which spawned groups like Nazis, which we’re bringing back into vogue again. Americans certainly don’t know this, as well as the Europeans, [with] fascism being spread over entire continent in the 30’s, but we’re back to the same spot. This is about the cancer that creates cysts, like Trump, or Bush, or Reagan, or Putin – we can go on and on. We can go to Hungary, Poland, Philippines, Austria – you name it. We are in what I call the cycle of herpes. The right-wing to me is like Herpes, it’s something that once you get it, it’s in your system. It’s periodic in it’s rise to where your piss hurts and right now the world’s pee hurts. It’s nothing that a few antibiotics like a million people protest and some voting won’t take care of. If you have Herpes, you drink some cranberry juice and [take] some antibiotics and it goes away until it comes back again. It’s very cyclical. Here we are in our Herpes phase of our governmental process as far as I’m concerned.

Why do you think, whether the political system is here or overseas, continues to produce people like Trump and Bush?

It’s all about money. They don’t care. It’s almost like [they’re] flocking their noses at us, it’s really elite. The plutocracy that I see that controls governments and rules the world, keeps sending stupider and stupider people. To me it’s this form of tuberous and arrogance that we could run a chimpanzee and roll over you if we want. We’ll just keep making this profit and if you rise up, it’s like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and you rebel against us, then we’ll make some concessions. “Okay, we’ll let transgender people in the military and we’ll raise the legal age to buy a gun to 21 and ban bump stocks.”

These little cosmetic changes are very reminiscent of… to me 2018 is almost a mirror image of 1968 where you had Woodstock, with people marching in the streets and people burning cars and their bras. All of these things are going on again today in this cycle. What happens then is that the greed has gotten too much, even the plutocrats see that. They go “okay, let’s just buy the revolution out.” What they do is they trivialize it, water it down, [and] buy it out. So the 60’s basically, for all of the circumstance and fire and fury about it, basically gave us Woodstock, LSD, and bell-bottoms. The 90’s revolution, when people started getting a little bit itchy about things, they gave us cheap electronics and the internet. Now they’re obviously going to have to cosmetically smooth it over again, while not changing the system and this album is a lot more than “haha, anti-Trump, get out of Afghanistan, get out of this and that.” This is we need to change the fucking system man, because we keep doing the same thing.

Also at this point, at least artistically, Trump is pretty low hanging fruit.

Yeah, exactly. That’s the whole point. That’s why I really wanted to minimize him in the video that came out today. He starts the video, because that also starts out the dirty in the path that we’re on, because of the mainstream media coverage of it – which is also owned by the same people who steer our elections all over the place. He’s obviously a part of it, it’s not possible to be on this planet, I don’t care if you’re a cannibal living in the jungle, you’ve heard of Trump at this point. So it obviously has to be talked about, but that’s just window dressing. This is not the real problems that we’re having right now.

Ministry released their newest album, Amerikkkant, on March 9th, 2018 via Nuclear Blast.

Ministry released their newest album, Amerikkkant, on March 9th, 2018 via Nuclear Blast.

You mentioned in other interviews, Black Mirror, did that influence you lyrically at all with this record?

I think it’s symbiotic, I don’t know if it’s so much [of an] influence. I’ve been doing this for a long time – holding a mirror to society – holding their feet to the fire and I’m just glad it done in such a relevant way in a visual aspect. I think this is the audio counter part of Black Mirror, really if you think about it, it’s a snapchat of society, saying “this is where we’re at, this is where we’re going. Is this where you want to be at?” It evokes provocative questions that I think we have to at some point ponder. (laughs)

AmeriKKKant is your first record since 1994 when you’ve used a full band. What has that process been like, in terms of just you and an engineer or something?

This is what makes this record special to me. I forgot how much fun it is to actually collaborate in a broad sense. It’s a long, strange road on how it got to be that. I didn’t set out to go like “hey man, I want to jam!” It was just… I was doing a Surgical Meth Machine record after the death of my best friend, Mike Scaccia, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do another Ministry record, in all honesty. I just didn’t think it was right, it felt kind of greazy. When Mike died, I could’ve capitalized on it and done another Ministry record, but that just seemed kind of gross to me, so I went about my business with Surgical Meth Machine, but halfway through making that I get informed that “oh by the way, you’re booked as Ministry as Europe all summer.” I’m like “well, fucking cancel it” and they’re like “well we can’t, you’ll get sued.”

So I put together some people and we went and did Europe and about two weeks into playing, my heart wasn’t into it to start with, but about two weeks into playing, I’m going “these songs sound pretty fresh and pretty new now, all of these new songs. I managed to throw in a Surgical Meth Machine song or two and it started becoming fun.” So at the end of that tour, before the election, I rented a week’s worth of studio time in LA and put together the same band that was on tour and we just jammed. That became 75 to 85 per cent of the template of this record, all of the riffs were written in pretty much one week. Then I spent like six months bringing in DJ’s, background vocals, cellists, and production and all that other stuff. The real backbone of this was a bunch of old dude’s jamming (laughs). It was actually really great man. I haven’t done that in like a quarter century.

That’s what gives this album a bit more of an organic feel than say something like Surgical Meth Machine or even From Beer To Eternity, the last Ministry record with Mikey. There’s a lot less computer and a lot more heart to this one.

Right, because you did it for the right reasons, rather than as you said, sort of capitalizing on what happened in the meantime.

Yeah, it’s a long, strange path. Whatever the Grateful Dead said – what a long, strange trip it’s been, but how it’s gotten to this point was certainly not planned. It all happened really organically and I really can’t argue with the results. I’m pretty happy with this fucking record and this new video and the direction that Ministry is taking at this point.

For the upcoming tour, you’ll be working with an organization called Headcount, to register new voters. How much of a priority is it for you to talk to people and emphasize how important it is to register as a voter?

It’s very important. Actually we’ve dedicated one person on our crew that’s just involved with Headcount, taking up crew space, a bus, and a hotel room, so it will be at every show. We did this in 2008 for Obama and in our short period of time in the United States and at our shows, we registered over 50,000 people, so I felt pretty good about that. I don’t know if we’ll hit that because we’re only doing five weeks I think and that was for a different organization, but we’re really excited about it. I go out to the voting booths before the show for registration and do what I can. That’s all you can do, is do what you can.

You’ve been particularly vocal about sexual abuse against women and I’m sure you’re aware of the “Time’s Up” and the “Me Too” movements taking over the entertainment industry. What can entertainers like yourself do to make their voices heard about these issues?

Keep squawking about it, but within context. It’s all fine and dandy to talk about the entertainment business, or political figures, or sports figures, in a sexual abuse context. But really, we have to look at the system that provides the education that allows men to feel enabled that they can get away with stuff like this without consequence. Further, why are women still making 73 cents on the dollar? Why are women in no positions of power? With a certain except few. If you look at Fortune 500 companies or Hollywood, but look at the service industry. There’s some really brutal shit that doesn’t get talked about there, but that’s because of the system. Men actually are as much victims as women in the sense that they’ve been trained and enabled since birth because of our education system.

If you look at religious dogma or political dogma and all it’s enacted, it’s all slanted against women. I think Malala (Yousafzai) who was shot in the face, very astute 13 or 14-year-old girl in saying that look, this is the way it is. These people that shot me in the face are actually probably not bad people, they just don’t know any better. This is the educational system that we brought these people up on, so as we trivialize the entire movement, which we seem to do a lot, when the movement starts getting too close to home we trivialize it.

For instance, what happened in Florida what happened with guns the other week, now we’re all off topic and we’re talking about whether teachers should be armed. Which is ridiculous, but it’s just a smoke screen. It’s a [distraction from] what the real problem is. It’s the same thing with women, now men are feeling all imposed upon because “I can’t even go out on a date without being afraid to ask her if she wants to go home with me because then she’ll say sexual abuse or something.” We’ve trivialized it to who’s grabbing who’s tits and who’s grabbing who’s ass and who’s making somebody feel uncomfortable on a date, but that’s not the point. The point is the entire system that’s created this inequity. I don’t really care who stared at who’s tits, that’s not the problem. Why are women not in a position of power equally? Why are women not paid the same as men? This is the women’s movement that I know and I like to talk about.

Ministry's Al Jourgensen

Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

Have you taken an objective look at your past behaviour that might not have been considered sexist at the time, but with…

Fuck yeah! This is the whole point. Being in a rock band, a pretty successful one in the 90’s, you start seeing behaviour… there was never anything non-consensual, but just the behaviour in the fact that the only chance for instance, groupies. The only chance they have is to hook up with a powerful or rich man, because they have no avenues of their own to make it. So they’re victims in that sense. We’re victims in the sense that we’re told we can get away with this; this is what you should do, since you were a child. I’m not making excuses for my behaviour, because everyone has to own up at some point. In youth, you do things that you find out later as you reflect on it, going “you know what? That wasn’t right.” So of course I hit that crossroad, but I don’t find it hypocritical. I actually find it more enlightening in the fact that I can see both angles and both points.

It sort of goes back to what you were saying about the system, in terms of the Rock N’ Roll system in place that men can get away with these things because they’re musicians, because they’re rockstars.

Right, but that makes them as much of victims as anything else because then you hit the hard wall of reality and realize “you know what? They told us that this was the way it was going to be and it’s not.” That’s a healthy thing. What I really find sad is the groupies. They were willing to do anything and at the time you thought “oh, this is great,” but then you start thinking that it’s because they really have no other fucking avenues. Their avenues have been cut off. This is why women put themselves through college being strippers. Most of them don’t want to do that, but it’s the best paying avenue that they have for their goal and this is the kind of system that we’ve created.

You are turning 60 this October and as someone who has said in the past that you’ve never particularly liked being on stage, has your perspective softened in that regard?

Totally, yeah. I’m actually digging it. Pretty much like I said, about halfway through this tour that I was forced to go on and went kicking and screaming and being a brat about it, I’m like “you know what, this isn’t so fucking bad.” I’ll tell you what, it helps getting old. It’s God’s cruel joke, your mind kicks into gear and starts working for a few years right when your body is falling apart. At the end they all fall apart and you get Alzheimer’s and all this shit, but I’m in that period where your mind is sharp as a tac and your body is falling apart. It’s God’s cruel joke, but at that point I realized I’ve been so uncomfortable and hating being on stage for all of these years, I’d rather be in my little controlled environment with an engineer and I actually enjoy it now, which is pretty strange but you live and learn and you grow as you go through this planet’s life span.

Physically speaking, is it difficult for you to get on stage now?

It was during 2008 and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know what bleeding ulcers were and how intense they were. I’m sitting there bleeding out [of] literally every orifice and having to drag myself on stage. That’s where you get these quotes like “fuck this Ministry is not touring anymore.” I just didn’t know. Once I got that taken care of through a couple surgeries and shit, I’m raring to go and now mentally, I’m completely raring to go, because it’s fun. It’s not fun again; it’s actually fun for the first time for me, mentally. Physically, things are groovy, man. As you get older, you find out that first of all, [with] drug enhancement, you’ve pretty much exhausted all that you’re going to get out of it. I certainly did enough out of them and I certainly got a lot out of it and I certainly would recommend it to pretty much everyone, but there’s a point and time that it’s diminishing results. Drugs are using you instead of you using the drug.

My lifestyle change in that sense has [resulted in] better health, but I wouldn’t trade any of those moments for a second of literally finding new dimensions that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to me. I know that you have spiritual retreats, yoga, meditation, and other things that are a slow process to get it, but with the way our society is, you’re pretty impatient, so you want to take the fast track to be extreme. I did that very well for many decades, but at this point I’ve pretty much used all of the drug knowledge that I can get and now it’s just personal knowledge and experience that gets you high. I know it sounds kind of fucking hippy, but it’s just much more of an organic way to be enlightened.

I remember talking to Ian MacKaye from Pailhead, who is the mastermind of the early ‘80s straight edge movement in D.C. We did a project together called Pailhead and I was a full-blown junkie at the time and he was straight edge. I was kind of embarrassed by it and he said “fuck it, we are the same in thought and personality and spirit. It’s just that where we’re going, I’m riding my ten-speed bike and you’re taking a path there. We’ll both get to the same point, but you’re going to burn yourself out and go through your money a lot faster and I’m just going to ride my bike to where I need to be.” I thought that was a good analogy [of] the difference between both of us. A lot of people that take cabs wind up never getting out of that cab. As I see all of my friends at my age dying right and left, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed. Let’s just call it lucky. I’m at that spiritual point and that intellectual kind of emotional calmness now that I’m in a different space than I was in 10, 20 years ago.

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