The Last Word: Al Jourgensen waves goodbye to Ministry

As he prepares to bookend three decades of chaos with one last album and a compelling memoir, Al Jourgensen explodes Ministry’s myths and offers a cautionary tale of rock’n’roll excess

Feature by Dave Kerr | 05 Sep 2013
  • Ministry

“My compound has been taken over by a thug gang of asshole raccoons,” Al Jourgensen reports on the morning of our interview. Armed with a dose of cayenne pepper, he spends the day crawling in the crannies of his El Paso lair in an effort to chase out his newfound nemesis. So this must be retirement, or at the very least a well-earned break.

Although 2011 saw the reactivation of industrial rock innovators Ministry and kick-started the recording of two new studio albums – the latest of which, From Beer To Eternity, is due for release this month – the sudden passing of long-term bandmate Mike Scaccia last December has called time on the band’s recorded output.

Bookending Jourgensen's most enduring project, perhaps once and for all, the LP is preceded by a document of one of their last gigs together, alongside his frankly harrowing, darkly humorous and remarkably lucid memoir.

“The good thing is I’m drunker than fuck right now,” he shares by way of introduction when The Skinny’s call connects. In conversation, Jourgensen plays up to the volatile wisecracking caricature that was presented to the wider world via late night MTV throughout the 90s. But scratch beneath the surface and an affable Uncle Al puts his raccoon beef on ice to recount the highs, the lows and the unlikely cast of characters he's crossed paths with during three storied decades at Ministry's helm.


"I’m tired of doing this; I’m starting to feel like Spinal Tap. If you join Ministry, you get into a glass tube and blow up" – Al Jourgensen


ON THE NEED FOR AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY…
The whole book concept came about because my wife Angie and I would go out to the symphony, a dinner party or some other public event and usually by the end of the night I’d be drunk in the corner telling tour stories. She said, ‘This is bullshit – why don’t you just write ‘em down in a pamphlet and hand ‘em out, then just go sit in a corner, shut up, drink your vodka and quit telling the same stories over and over?’ From that, it became a book and now she’s happy because we can go to public events and I don’t have to say shit.

ON REFLECTION…
I’m always a forward-thinker; I don’t generally tend to dwell on my past, so this book wasn’t cathartic – it was a pain in the ass. I didn’t have any revelations except for ‘OK – I’m a jackass.’ Big deal, I already know that. This shit happened. Listen, I didn’t set out to write a book. To me, my life is normal, that’s all I know. Why would I want to glorify that? It’s just a normal life for me. If other people get a kick out of it, well, good for them.

ON HIS FORMATIVE COMRADES…
Bill Burroughs and Tim Leary were very influential in my life, and the people I met through them – from Allen Ginsberg on down. And there’s Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, who is still a good friend. He really influenced me from his first album on, and then there’s people like Gibby Haynes and David Yow, who taught me in their own weird way that it’s OK to be completely motherfucking insane and still be somehow integrated into a society that really doesn’t like or tolerate that.

ON HIS MOST REWARDING SIDE-PROJECT…
Pailhead with Ian Mackaye – Mr Straight Edge. I was a full-blown junkie at the time and Ian took a real risk by working with me. He got a lot of shit for that. I tried to hide the fact, while working with him, that I was a junkie, but it was pretty evident. I told him I had a bladder problem, so I had to pee every 15 minutes. I’d come out of the bathroom and there’d be blood running down my arm. Ian finally just said, ‘Look dude, you don’t pee out your arm. Cut the shit!’ And we’ve gotten along ever since.

ON CHALLENGING HENRY ROLLINS TO A UFC BOUT...
I can’t relate to anything that motherfucker says. I think his spoken word is bullshit. I think he came in to a good situation, replacing the original singer in Black Flag, and he milked it up to GAP commercials. Now he’s got some kinda nature show or something. I think he’s a poser. I would not mind taking him in a UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] match; if you want to put me in a cage match, I’ll fight him. I don’t give a shit; I don’t like that guy and I make no bones about it. I think he’s bullshit and I know he thinks I’m bullshit. And that’s fine. It’s good to have a Hatfields and McCoys kinda feud going on in the rock industry. I think that’s healthy for the progression of music in general.

ON THE 90S…
At that point my ambition was to make sure I had my dealer on speed dial, OK. Back then I really didn’t fucking care. You know what they did during all those years in the 90s when Ministry sold all those records? They just made sure I had enough Bushmills, wine, heroin and coke. I never saw a spreadsheet or who was making money off what. As long as you just kept Al wasted, everything was good.

ON JESUS BUILT MY HOTROD…
Warner Brothers gave us $750,000 to do this album back in the 90s when big bucks were the deal. Me and Mike Scaccia just put it up our arms and noses, right. And we had no songs to show for it. The one exception was a drunken Gibby Haynes coming in off the first Lollapolooza to fall off his stool in the vocal booth, drunk off his ass, making no sense. I had to chop that up and it became Jesus Built My Hotrod. I sent it to Warner Brothers and they said, ‘What the hell is this? We can’t sell this.’ I said ‘It’s all we got.’ They had to make the decision to either double down another $750,000 or just cut their losses then. And those dumbasses doubled-down. I was really put under martial law for the last half of that album to make sure I actually finished it. They said ‘If you don’t do it this way, your career is over.’ I’ve been told that so many times, man, but here I am – a cockroach, still hanging around.

ON RETIRING MINISTRY (THE FIRST TIME)...
It was strictly health, dude. After The Last Sucker I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was bleeding out every orifice on a daily basis, I couldn’t hold down food. I was a mess and thought, ‘I don’t need this shit anymore, man.’Maybe I need to go see a doctor and see what the hell’s going on.' I figured it was perfect timing with Bush leaving office and I’d been screaming about this idiot for three albums. And my health was bad. As soon as my health got better other people would say, ‘You’ve got to keep going.' 

ON ACCIDENTALLY HAVING BREAKFAST WITH LIL WAYNE…
I was in a Los Angeles hotel and saw this guy at 7 in the morning; he was throwing his phone against the wall in anger because he couldn’t get reception. I said, ‘Dude – relax, come up and raid my minibar. Let’s have breakfast.’ I didn’t know who he was. I talked to this guy for two hours – we sat there and drank, ate breakfast. When his phone started to work again he mentioned my name to whoever he was calling and said, ‘I’m having drinks with Al Jourgensen.’ He got off the phone and immediately said, ‘My manager said I should run, immediately – get out of there.’ My bodyguard who was with me at the hotel didn’t say a word, and after we checked out, he goes ‘That was Lil Wayne.’ He’s really a good, suss, dude, man.

ON BECOMING A COLLEGE LECTURER…
I absolutely feel comfortable, I don’t have to get drunk or stressed out. When I talk to college students – a captured room of 100-200 people – I feel much more at home than all the circuses of these rock festivals and the press that goes along with it. There’ll be no press on my college tour – thank God. You just go and talk to kids. They have questions, I might have an answer. It’s so much more fulfilling to me than being the traffic cop and babysitter onstage at a Ministry show, although the pay is a lot better if you’re a traffic cop or a babysitter. I’d rather be doing this for the next couple of years.

ON RETIRING MINISTRY (AGAIN, SORT OF)...
Well…I admit it, we’re going to take a few years off from touring. When Mikey had back surgery I plugged in Tommy Victor from Prong to replace him for The Last Sucker tour and that worked out great. Paul Raven died, and I plugged in Tony Kampos from Static-X and that worked out great. But I’m tired of doing this; I’m starting to feel like Spinal Tap. If you join Ministry, you get into a glass tube and blow up. I think we’re going to chill out. But, hey, if somebody offers me a millions dollars to go play some festival in Rio de Janeiro – I think I could probably put most of the band together – the alive ones. Well, from Houses of the Molé on. Let’s not start fantasising about me getting back to the 90s days with Paul Barker and Chris Connelly, ‘cause that ain’t gonna happen. But most of the band that I have, I could pull off a show or two. I certainly couldn’t pull off an entire tour. Y’know, I had my incident in Paris last year where I just collapsed. Touring is for young people, let them do it. You start getting old and cranky and there’s not enough oxygen in a hot room. It’s not a fun thing, it’s not a glamorous lifestyle – trust me.

ON MAKING ONE LAST MINISTRY ALBUM...
It’s definitely diverse. And this will be my last album. My health is good, but Mike Scaccia’s dead. He was my best friend, like my little brother. Two days after he got done with his parts on this record, he’s dead. Two more days later, I’m at his funeral in Dallas, speaking, and having to come back and mix what Mikey had just done. This was a pretty difficult record to do, emotionally, for me. I don’t mean to sound the pussy, but it was just kinda weird, y’know. If we did some kind of silly assed stuff in the studio, some picture would fall off the wall or something. That was a sign to us that Mike was saying, ‘Go in a different direction.’ In retrospect I should’ve given his ghost a co-producer credit – he found a way to let us know when he was unsatisfied. By the end there were no more pictures falling off the wall, and the record came out pretty good. 

ON COLLABORATING WITH FORMER ROADIE TRENT REZNOR…
I’ve thrown more firecrackers at Trent in his bunk than I’m sure he’s ever seen on any Fourth of July. I tortured him and we’re still friends. I love Trent, man. Look, I’ll tell you what, and I don’t mean this to sound like a diss….  I like his music, but his business mind and personality just fits with the industry. They don’t know what to do with people like me, but they know what to do with people like Trent Reznor. The guy’s great. There have been talks about working with him. I would enjoy that. I need some more commercial success and he needs more street cred. Maybe that’ll come down the road. Maybe not, maybe I’ll just do college lectures. My crystal ball is really foggy today. But either way I’m happy, I’m healthy and I hope everyone likes the latest stuff we did.

ON LEARNING THE BAGPIPES…
I’m on the chanter, and I’m working my way up to bagpipes. I’m getting lessons from a friend here who is a 70-year-old Scottish bagpipe player, who played on some new Ministry stuff. He’s just a crazy bastard; he does it right, man. He doesn’t wear the fuckin’ skivvies underneath, which is kinda problematic – when he sits on a chair a certain way you may have to sit there and stare at a 70-year-old dick. Anyway, next time you see me I’ll be a kilt-wearing motherfucker blowing your brains out with Amazing Grace. 

Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and Enjoy The Quiet: Live At Wacken are out now.

From Beer to Eternity is released on 6 Sep via 13th Planet.

http://www.thirteenthplanet.com/ministry