Since 1980, Ministry has been a staple on the industrial rock scene. Led by politically minded singer-guitarist Al Jourgensen, a guy who ranted and raved for three albums against George W. Bush, the band built a cult following by refusing to give in to commercial demands. This month, Ministry comes to town to play the Agora in advance of the upcoming Republican National Convention, and Jourgensen, who spoke to us via phone, had a few choice words for presidential candidate Donald Trump and his followers.
One of your guitars is part of the current Rock Hall exhibit Louder Than Words. A presidential election inspired the “W” on it. What’s the story behind it?
It was a pretty strange night that night. It was Bush vs. Kerry and we already had a big time publically noted anti-Bush sentiment. I was fully expecting [John] Kerry to win. As I started my meal at this steakhouse in Nashville before the show, Kerry was winning and by the time we got to dessert, I was like, “Fuck!” I thought that if I have to put up with four more years of him, I wrote my guitar company, we have to make a W guitar because I’m making my next couple of albums about this fool.
What got you so riled up about George W. Bush?
The same thing that gets me riled up about Trump and most of the Republicans that I’ve encountered over the last couple of decades, including Reagan. They have a lack of intellectual curiosity or seeing the complexity of world issues. It’s all black and white and all about big money donors. The intelligence level is low. Reagan could get away with it because Reagan was an actor. Bush couldn’t get away with it because he was just a dolt.
It’s amazing that so many people vote Republican.
The entire thing about the Republican party is this: Ask yourself if any member in congress, the senate or the executive office or even some of the judicial people has had to relate to day-to-day problems. They’ve all been born with a silver spoon in their mouth. These are the people who we vote for. They have no cognizance of what the reality of society is. It’s amazing that the entire Republican platform is the worst thing that a working class person could want and yet we vote for them because they have figured out a way, the same way that the fascist parties in World War II era preyed on people’s fears which is exactly what Trump is doing. Blame your problems on someone else. “This is why your life is bad” and “You can be like me” if it wasn’t for all these immigrants and other people coming into the country. They prey on cultural issues and then they slip in other things that completely hurt the people while saying that they have our backs. The whole hypocrisy is so veneer-thin that a child could see through it, and I’ve often said that what scares me far worse than Trump is the Trump followers.
And Trump inherited his money.
Someone has done an accounting of two of his tax returns that he had released over the years and he would have made more money by taking his dad’s money and putting it into a treasury stock and doing nothing. If he hadn’t had to file all those bankruptcies and shilled all those cheap products, he would have made more money. He just loves the celebrity of it. It’s so transparent how brutally, psychologically flawed this person is. It’s incredible that people fall for this shit.
Has the current presidential campaign inspired any new songs?
I knew you were going to ask that. After three albums of Bush, I’ll let some of the younger groups take the low-hanging fruit, which would be Trump. I’ve seen some anti-Trump raps and metal songs. To me, it’s such low hanging fruit that it’s not worth the effort. I’m going to wait until it falls off the tree and then I’ll eat, but I’m not going to pick it. I would rather sing about the sociological conditions that have gotten an entire country to vote for such a dolt. I’m not going to be bashing Trump. I’ll probably be bashing his supporters in the lyrics to the next Ministry album. It will be more so about that than Trump. It’s just low-hanging fruit.
Since the beginning, you have gravitated to rock, jazz and even country music early on. How did you develop such eclectic taste in music?
I don’t find it eclectic at all There are only two types of music: really good or really shitty. I prefer the really good stuff. If it happens to take on the costume of country western or jazz, that’s fine. There’s shitty music coming out of every genre these days and even more so. These days, I’d say the percentage of shitty music outweighs in every genre the percentage of good music. I don’t think I’m particularly well rounded or a multi-cultural kind of person. I just don’t like crappy music.
Why is there so much shitty music?
There’s a couple of theories. As soon as music was taken over by corporate interest and bean counters, the bottom line is more important than the art that goes into creating the bottom line. If you have something that’s successful, you beat it to death until there’s not an ounce of originality left, but it still makes money. They’ve dumbed down the populace and curtailed any kind of artistic thought or being able to give anything a chance. It’s like, “This is what you’re served, and this is what you’ll eat. You better enjoy it or fuck off.”
When you formed Ministry in 1980, what was the underground music scene like?
I was part owner of my own independent record label in Chicago. There was a huge underground scene in England at the time. The whole punk rock movement was going strong. It all got bought up by corporations, and by the time we hit grunge and Nirvana, it was completely corporate owned and bought and sold. It lost its momentum and energy. I hate to sound like some cranky guy on his porch yelling at kids who don’t know nothin’ but it is kind of like that. We’ve been systematically dumbed down to eating whatever is put in front of us. It’s kind of sad.
Talk about the band’s latest album, From Beer to Eternity. What was the experience of making it like?
It was the last chance I got to spend with my guitar player Mike Scaccia. It was a lot of fun. He died during the making of it. We just got done with basic tracks, and he had a heart attack playing on stage with his previous band, Rigor Mortis. It was the easiest record to make because we had such a good time making it, Mikey and myself. Half way through, he died, and I had to mix that record just after his death. I had to fly to his funeral in Dallas and then fly back to my house in El Paso and start mixing the record. It was also one of the hardest records to do. It ran the full gamut of emotions. Musically, it’s a good record and stands up in the Ministry catalog. It was poignant. That one is pretty special to me.
Did something in particular inspire “Permawar”?
It was Rachel Maddow’s book [Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power
] about the industrial complex. It’s to the benefit of the industrial complex’s wallets that we have permanent and never-ending war. It was a pretty good book. I read the book about four or five years ago. It’s an interesting book. I just read Dark Money
, which is about the funding of the right wing. It’s about the Koch Brothers and Progress for America and super PACS and shit like that. I’m sure that will creep into my lyrics in the future. I get ideas from the Internet and books and from TV.
You originally said you won’t release another studio album. Do you still feel that way?
When I was asked, it was after Mikey passed and the entire media immediately starts asking me what is going to happen to Ministry. He wasn’t even buried yet. I thought, “Fuck you.” I was really pissed and really angry. I said, “Fuck Ministry and fuck you for asking.” They want to comment on Ministry when my best friend had died. It’s been more than two years now, and I got more ideas and I have done albums with Mikey and have done them without him. It’s time to get another record out. I have a bunch of songs written in my head. I wanted to have time to mourn before people start asking me about touring dates. It was sick. I was bombarded and email boxes were overloaded with “what are you going to do now?” It was kind of creepy.
Talk about the show with Helmet. What do you like about those guys?
They opened for us in 1993. It was us, Helmet and Sepultura. We’ve known them for a long time. We’re not touring with them this time. After the show in Cleveland, we head to Europe. We didn’t tour Europe on the last tour. We did do the states but we didn’t do Cleveland. We’re tying up the loose ends on the last album and tour. We’ll move on to record another album after this tour is over.
Cleveland is host to the RNC. Do you have any plans to join protestors when you’re here?
There’s a few things being planned with certain organizations that we plan to be a part of it. I won’t let this go without putting my fingerprint on it somewhere. My old friend [punk icon] Jello Biafra will MC the show. I hope he wears a big clock like [Public Enemy's] Flava Flav. I’ve never seen him MC a show. I’m sure he’ll have some factoids to impart upon our wonderful fans that night. I’m sure there will be some non-violent activities going on to voice our displeasure. I can’t pinpoint anything yet. Keep your Twitter ears open.
It’s so hard to resist pulling some kind of prank.
Even if it’s as juvenile as getting a free bag of dog poop and knock on the front doors and light them on fire and run. I’m sure we’ll come up with something fun. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen but something will do down.
Cleveland is such a working class town, it’s ironic that it’s hosting the RNC.
It’s what happens when you try to expand your voter base and go behind enemy lines. It’s kind of strange, but the hookers must be happy to have the Republicans in Cleveland. They spend more on hookers than the Democrats. It’s a known fact. If you know a hooker, have them buy you a ticket to the Ministry show, and it’s a win-win for everyone.
Ministry, Helmet, Green Jelly, Garblejunk, Sunless Sky, Suicide Machine, OTEP, 8 p.m. Sunday, July 17, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $44.99 ADV, $55 DOS, agoracleveland.com.