INTERVIEW: Al Jourgensen – Surgical Meth Machine / Ministry

 

Ministry called it a day in 2015 with their final tour in support of their final album “From Beer To Eternity” which was released in 2013 and Australia was one of the lucky places to see the band one more time at Soundwave Festival last year. With the death of Mike Scaccia in 2012, Al Jourgensen saw no reason to continue with Ministry but fast forward to 2016 and Uncle Al returns with a solo album titled “Surgical Meth Machine” to be released April 15th through Nuclear Blast, a culmination of everything that represents the madhouse that is Al Jourgensen. We talk to Al about the songs, how he views touring and some of his favorite hobbies.

 

Andrew: Thanks for your time today, much appreciated. I guess we saw you just over a year ago at Soundwave, how was it?

Al: Yeah I loved playing Australia. People there are fun, it was great. It’s unfortunate what happened afterwards but I’m not even going to get into that, that’s not why I’m here! But I always love coming there. It’s even better when you get paid! [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs] I would imagine so!

Al: It becomes so much sweeter! As if it’s not already close enough to the most perfect place on earth but if you actually get paid, that makes it the cherry on the sundae.

Andrew: Yeah exactly! Well I managed to catch you guys at the sideshow in Sydney with Godflesh which was an amazing show, I guess you guys are more suited to a club show than a festival anyway.

Al: Actually I’m not suited for shows at all, I hate fucking doing that! [laughs]. To me the whole sense of touring is pretty self defeating, it’s like you write something a year or 2 ago and that’s called creation, you created something. And then you spend a half year to a year re-creating what you already done, I think it’s a pointless waste of time and frankly I would recommend people not to come see us live because it’s just a bunch of stoned, old white guys re-creating something that they did and you already liked to start with. If you see what I’m saying, it’s pretty self defeating.

Andrew: So you obviously enjoy the creative process, being in the studio and coming up with ideas rather than going out on tour then?

Al: Yeah I’m a studio slut! Everyone knows that, I’m easy. You mention studio, I spread my legs.

Andrew: [laughs] Well how was the process for this new album then, Surgical Meth Machine? I mean it’s a great album but where did the name Surgical Meth Machine come from?

Al: Well it was just the way I always record. It wasn’t meant to be a band, it wasn’t meant to be a project, it was just a matter of me and my engineer that did 2 Revolting Cock’s and 3 Ministry records. One in the studio, there was no one else around, no other musicians from Ministry or RevCo or Lard or anyone. So it was just me and him and we just spent like what I do every year, go into the studio for 4 months and at the end of 4 months, I just see what the fuck we got and then I say, ‘OK this one kinda sounds like it could go in the Ministry shelf, this one sounds like it can go on RevCo shelf’. But we did this record and after 4 months, we listened to it and didn’t know what the fuck to do with it. It was kind of strange so other people had heard it and said like, ‘Wow this shit is dope man! You gotta release this.’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah whatever’. We just had it on our little shelf and the next thing you know, the record label’s called and one of the guys actually gave me a cheque and I went down to the bank and I cashed it and the thing fucking cleared! So I was blown away, I was like, ‘Cool, bonus!’ [laughs]. So after I made sure the cheque cleared, they go, ‘Well what do we call this?’ and I’m like, ‘Uh, well fuck, that’s a good question’. And so I went back to Sammy (D’Ambruoso, engineer) and we talked about it and decided that, well we spent 4 months without anybody else, kind of like 2 castaways in a deserted studio off on an island, so we went about it pretty surgically where we’re taking all the beats and drums and stuff and I did all the guitars and basses and we both shouted into a mic a few times and made some lyrics out of it. And so it was very surgical in it’s procedure, there wasn’t a lot of organic jamming with other members or anything. And then the first half of the record is very much akin to say, a tweakers heart rate or something, some meth head’s blood pressure level. So we threw meth in there and then machine because all the drums were done on a machine by Sammy so it was kind of a logical conclusion to us with what we had just done for 4 months because we were basically forced to come up with a name because we were not intending this on being a project [laughs]..

Andrew: Well it is quite a bit of a diverse album, I guess it’s a bit of a culmination of everything that you have done in your past.

Al: Yeah of course because literally this was supposed to be roughs intended for ourselves, me and Sammy, to apply at a later date towards other things that are already on the shelf. But it kinda took a life of it’s own and people heard it and just said, ‘No you have to release it as is’, so that’s what happened.

Andrew: For the people out there that are maybe expecting another Ministry album, this is not exactly Ministry is it? It’s quite different and there’s obviously some Ministry type stuff in there but there’s other things going on in there as well.

Al: Yeah there’s as much sarcasm as any Revolting Cocks record, there’s kind of like social commentary like say, Joe will be up on a Lard record, there’s Ministry type guitar riffs. But of course because it was done by the same guy [laughs], and considering we didn’t have any other people on it, of course it’s going to sound like each element of all these things. I think that’s maybe the appeal to some people, when they listen to it they’re like, ‘Well that just sounds like a greatest hits of your career on one record’, and to me it was just working on ideas and see how we could transfer these ideas and it became a life of it’s own so it’s pretty organic in that sense. I mean I’m kind of taken aback by the whole brew-haha about this because these were just like demo tapes if you will.

 

 

Andrew: When it started becoming a reality that these songs were becoming an album and you wanted to put it out, was there anything in particular you wanted to achieve or say to the fans?

Al: None whatsoever, nothing! I have nothing to say because I didn’t know we would have fans, I thought we were just working for 4 months on trying to get ideas down on hard drive that could be applied towards future things that we’re doing and instead it took a life of it’s own. So like I said, until that cheque cleared after being in Australia, I always make sure the cheque clears first and after the cheque cleared, then we went about the process of ‘Well what do we call this? Work tapes?’ It could have been called “Work Tapes” for all I’m concerned but you know how the game is played and the system is rigged so I have to go out and sort of pretend this is a band that’s coming to a town near you, or something and it ain’t like that at all. It’s all bullshit, it’s just a couple of old white stoned guys working in a fucking condemned, cramp studio [laughs], just bashing about some ideas. I mean there’s really nothing glamorous about this record if you know what I’m saying! In a sense, maybe that’s what makes it a breath of fresh air because there is no pretense to this album, there is no agenda. There is no band, there is no album, it’s just fucking demo tapes so everybody, pony up, buy our demo tapes and then make sure we have enough money to pay for the electric bill on the studio so we can do more shit. That’s about where it goes down to, it can’t get any more primal than that.

Andrew: Well you mentioned that you hate touring and that kind of stuff so will you be taking this album on the road at all?

Al: I really don’t see that happening. I mean first of all, all we have is one record. It’s one thing to tour when you have a variety of choices but to just go back and once again, having a couple of old stoned white guys re-creating something they did 2 years ago exactly, I would suggest to all the patrons and fans and readers of your subscription to save your money and go to a karaoke bar and watch somebody else try and sing our shit. Or maybe we will just do a tour of karaoke where we invite people to come up and sing their favorite song and we’ll play along with them, who knows? That may be a concept.

Andrew: Yeah that’s a good idea actually, get the fans involved and get them to sing all the songs for you!

Al: I’ll do it, fuck yeah!

Andrew: [laughs] Well with that being said, are you done with touring then? Are you done with doing live shows?

Al: Well no, it so depends on circumstances. I go to the studio, I don’t know what’s going to come out. I don’t know what the band name is, I don’t know what song is going to go where. I don’t know anything, it depends on everyone who is there and so the same thing goes with touring. I don’t know who is available, there’s a revolving circus cast that is like cirque du Al or Uncle Al’s circus or something like that. It just really depends on who’s there and who’s not and whether we think it would be fun or not, the money obviously doesn’t matter because we survived Soundwave [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs].

Al: Sorry I can’t help myself, I had to take one more little dig so I’ll give you that and then I’ll shut up! But at any rate, that’s not the motivating factor. So is it going to be fun, do we have enough material to actually do a cool show, ‘Are you guys interested in fucking this material up so we just don’t have to go out and re-create it exactly’. Like literally, it’s like a karaoke tour then, all tours are like karaoke tours because unless you’re like, say Grateful Dead or Phish, then it becomes organic and you jam for hours and there’s a certain populous that loves that kind of shit. And that’s great, I’m happy for them but everything else is just like this sheer spectacle of re-creation as opposed to the actual fulfillment of creation. Like studio is creation, touring is re-creation. Unless you really have some kind of Las Vegas type show with visuals and pyro and this and that, dancers, then in that sense it’s like going to a dinner theater show but it’s not a rock concert. Unless you’re up there sweating and people are jamming and you’re creating new shit for that particular night that’s magic in that moment, other than that, touring to me is just boring.

 

 

Andrew: So what will you be doing inbetween time off creating new songs and all that? What do you like to do during your free time?

Al: Oh that’s easy, there’s only 3 things that I do. Well no, 5 if you include eating and shitting…oh and peeing so 6. The other 3 would be I just watch ice hockey and I drink and I smoke pot. Oh and 7, I have sex sometimes too! So there’s 7 things that I do, 7 things for 8 months and then I go in and work or hash out ideas.

Andrew: [laughs] What’s at the top for you then? What’s the number one thing you love to do?

Al: The number one thing I love to do is get really, super stoned and go to a live event hockey game. It’s my favorite thing, for whatever reason I escape my body and I become one with the game. To me, that’s much more thrilling than a fucking rock concert. There’s just something about it that’s kind of intellectually stimulating, it’s physically stimulating and I just love going to hockey games. Minor league, major league, whatever, I just find it fascinating because I used to play hockey in high school and I wasn’t stoned or anything and I still couldn’t skate man. I was horrible so it just fascinates me that grown men and grown women can actually negotiate frozen water and be able to function. I mean that’s just not natural so I find it fascinating. Anyways enough about hockey, I’m sorry I just went on about it!

Andrew: No that’s alright, I know what you mean because I had the opportunity to see a hockey game a few years ago in the U.S. in San Jose and I saw the Sharks play the Vancouver Canucks and I thought it was a great game. I never got into hockey myself but I know what you mean, there is something about it that is quite interesting and different.

Al: Yeah it’s unnatural man. I mean this DNA in our species was not meant to conduct activities on frozen water [laughs]. I don’t know man, it just freaks me out every time so that’s kind of like my little weird sensibility. Oh of course I watch movies and read books so let’s make that 9 things I do.

Andrew: There you go!

Al: There’s not much else! My favorite animal in the animal kingdom has to be a sloth because if I’m not recording, you can basically super impose my face on a sloth on any national geographic special about sloths and I would be there. And what freaks me the most about sloths is that me and sloths are very similar in the fact that, how do you survive by being that stoned just living in the jungle and not being eaten by everything else around you? Because you don’t move fast, you have no defense mechanism, you are just stoned out of your mind which is why you’re moving so slow and yet they’ve survived millenia. Multiple millenia’s, millions and millions of years and it’s the same thing with me and the record business. How did I get so stoned and I’m still around 35 years later? Well apparently I have sloth like tendencies.

Andrew: [laughs] Well it has been an amazing career for you, you’ve done some amazing stuff with Ministry and all that. Congratulations on the new album, I hope everyone else out there digs it. Thanks for your time man, really appreciate it!

Al: Alright man, you take care down under, the land of wonder! Later!

 

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