In Advance of Ministry's Upcoming Agora Show, Singer Al Jourgensen Talks About Taking Aim at Trump

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PHIL PARMET
  • Phil Parmet
Ministry’s newest album, AmeriKKKant, features Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, DJ Swamp, NWA’s Arabian Prince and Lord of the Cello on nine tracks linked as one continuous piece of music. Even by Ministry standards, it's an intense listening experience.

On the opening track, "I Know Words," singer Al Jourgensen takes aim at President Trump and samples one of his speeches, pairing it with dissonant sounding strings, turntable scratches and stuttering electronic beats.

In a recent phone interview, Jourgensen speaks about the album and the accompanying tour that includes a Nov. 30 stop at the Agora.

You just turned 60. Did you do anything fun to celebrate?
I got my AARP discount at a Golden Corral buffet and went to an early seniors’ dinner followed by using my coupon to see a really bad movie at the local cineplex. Turning 60 was such a revelation because about six months before my birthday, I started getting inundated with emails and snail mail from AARP. I freaked out. I have a couple of friends who just turned 60, Gary Numan and Jello Biafra. They said the same thing happened to them. You feel great and then you start getting all this mail for senior citizens’ discounts. It makes you feel old.



I’m surprised they knew so much about you.
They know everything about us. Trust me. Big Brother is watching.

Ministry's The Land of Rape and Honey just turned 30. Talk about the significance of that album.
I think it’s the first album that I felt untethered to any genre or any kind of guidance from management or record labels. We just dug in our heels and said, “We’re going to try something that fits us and that’s new.” That stuff wasn’t actually new. It was written in the late '70s and early '80s and was soundly rejected by Arista and by Warner Bros. Records. Those are songs that had been kicking around for a little while. We did a cut-up style of editing, which hadn’t been done that much in music. It had been done in literary circles with William Burroughs and Naked Lunch and other novels. But it hadn’t really been done in music. It was the first [album for which] I felt unrestrained. It was a pivotal moment.

As you started to assemble the songs for AmeriKKKant, what was your approach?
The great thing about doing Ministry records is that each album is its own journey. It starts as a blank slate. Depending on who is in town and who happens to be passing by the studio and hangs out, what happens musically is a completely blank slate. The opening of the record is a good example. I go this gigantic flea market each month. It’s at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It’s a big thing here. I never miss a month. They have this violin player there. He makes minimum wage to play violin all day for the shoppers. I found him there and the album took a different direction. I met Arabian Prince at a music convention. It’s very organic. It takes on its own life. It’s not the destination; it the journey that’s interesting to me. We’ll see what happens with the next record. As soon as this tour is over, we’re slated to record another Ministry record. We’ll play it by ear and see what comes out of that.

I love the opening number, “I Know Words.” When you first heard Trump say that, did you immediately think of sampling it?
I immediately thought he was a blithering idiot. He’s like a third grader. He’s a man-baby. That’s something I would have said when I was 5 years old. This is the leader of the supposed biggest democracy in the world? No wonder fascism is making a comeback. This is the best we got? That definitely angered me, but I saw it coming. In all my interviews, I said there’s no way this could happen. About 48 hours before the election, I watched Michael Moore somewhere, and he made the case for how it could happen. I went to bed about 9:30 or 10 at night, and I already knew. My girlfriend stayed up all night wringing her hands. She had the obvious shock. I felt perfectly fine the next day, but I put a three-month kibosh on watching the news out of disgust. I retreated into a hole, and then I knew I needed to write about it. It wasn’t normal behavior for me. I needed to react to it and get it out of my system. I needed to write the album due to the shock, which wasn’t that much of a shock because I knew where it was heading.

Talk about the music video you made for “Twilight Zone.”
That was awesome. We worked with Gray Wolf, the president of the American Indian Movement. The whole North Dakota thing was going on at the time. I didn’t have a chance to go there. I did go to Tornillo recently and checked out the compound there for the tent city, which they’re still expanding even though they say they’re not separating families at the border. That particular music video shoot was great. It was shot by people I know from Topango Canyon here, but they moved to Portland where they grow pot. It was a gas to shoot. I got to some ayahuasca on set, which I hadn’t done in about five or six years, so that was fun.

DJ Swamp adds some terrific turntable scratching to “We’re Tired of It.” Talk about his contribution.
It was great. We first had Arabian Prince from NWA. I met him at a music convention and realized we had the same mentality about a lot of shit — viva diversity and fuck racism and bias. We hit if off pretty well. He came in and scratched on one track. I was blown away by that. I thought about the possibilities of where Ministry could go, making us more Portishead than Motorhead. He had to do a long tour in Asia, and our engineer knew this guy DJ Swamp who had worked with Beck and was from Cleveland. We also hit it off. We will continue to have an equal balance of Portishead vs. Motorhead. It’s very healthy for the musical growth of Ministry.

And Burton Bell’s vocals work really well on the track too.
He’s great. For me, probably since [Ministry guitarist] Mike [Scaccia] died, he’s my best buddy. He’s in the SoCal area a lot. We just sit down and do mushrooms and giggle like little girls all the fucking time. That’s just what we do. He happened to hang out in the studio when we were making that album. Hopefully, he’ll do the same for the next album. We’ll see who shows up and what happens. We’ll see what kind of topical shit we can comment on. I may have to learn Portuguese because I might have to sing about Jair Bolsonaro winning [the presidency] in Brazil. That's really dangerous. It’s all fun and games when it’s in Hungary and Austria, but now it’s in our backyard.

Do you secretly hope Trump wins a second term so you can continue to make albums like this one?
Dude, if I said yes to that, that would make me as much of narcissist and psychopath as Donald Trump himself. No! I hope to never do anything record like that. I hope I make the shittiest record of all time, and I hope we take back at the House and Senate, and I can slink off to my vegan enclave and be happy until the end of my life. I don’t need to do another record, but I feel compelled to do records. I didn’t have a Ministry record planned when Trump won. It’s like a calling, starting with Reagan and Bush Senior. They just piss me off. I don’t understand why we’re arguing over issues that go back to the 1860s. We’re ready for another Civil War. It’s the same set of issues. I can’t believe we’re still talking about Roe v. Wade like it’s a current issue. I don’t understand why society doesn’t progress. Technology sure progresses, but society doesn’t. It bamboozles me and freaks me out. That's why I have to throw my hat in the ring and at least say something about it.

Ministry, Carpenter Brut, Alien Weaponry, 7:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $39.50, agoracleveland.com

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