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Cover Story: Ministry [Updated]

| March 24, 2018

Al Jourgensen (photo by Phil Parment)

Chicago’s beloved industrial metal machine Ministry is back. After the sudden death of longtime guitarist and friend Mike Scaccia in 2012, leader/vocalist Al Jourgensen decided to put Ministry on indefinite hiatus. During the band’s downtime, “Uncle Al” spawned a side project, Surgical Meth Machine, and released a self-titled debut record in 2015. It was pretty much a two-man job, as it was only Jourgensen and his engineer creating tunes on a computer.

Although Jourgensen was pleased with the album, he was still dealing with the loss of his friend. “It wasn’t quite satisfying, and I also wasn’t ready,” Jourgensen began. “I needed time to grieve. I mean, I lost my best friend of 30 years – an integral part of my life and my career – and everything about him was wonderful. I was grieving. I didn’t want to do a band structure, so I did an album of [me] expressing [my] thoughts through computers.”

After this brief detour, and spurred on by the outrage he felt following the 2016 presidential election, Jourgensen decided to resurrect Ministry, returning in 2017 with a whole new lineup, a new label, and its 14th studio album, the first in almost five years. The aptly titled AmeriKKKant is due out March 9 on Nuclear Blast Records.

Although guitarist Sin Quirin has been with Jourgensen for some years, by injecting new blood – including live turntablist DJ Swamp (Beck, the Crystal Method), guest appearances by founding N.W.A. member Arabian Prince and Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell — the recording process felt more like a band effort.

“It was a collaborative effort of all these crazy people,” Jourgensen explains. “It was almost like a rebirth like you said. Or, at least the re-energizing of Ministry. I didn’t even know I missed it that much until we did this record. As it turns out, even after Mike’s death, my old manager had signed contracts for us to play in Europe the next year and if I would’ve canceled the shows, I would’ve been sued. So, I had to put together some new people and trudge across Europe. I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But about halfway through the European tour, I thought it sounded pretty good. So when the tour was over, I said when we get back to California lets go into the studio for a week and just try writing new shit. And it came out really organic. The collaborative effort was something we haven’t done [in a while]. After we had the basic songs that first week coming off tour, we just went to my house and kept building on what we had established in that first week. It was really a crazy way to make a record. Obviously, I wished Mikey was here, but it was great to be surrounded by like-minded people.”

On the nine politically-charged tracks, Jourgensen and his cynical views rage furiously against President Trump’s administration. Although not a true concept album, AmeriKKKant is meant to be one continuous narrative, where all nine songs seamlessly talk to each other.

To say Jourgensen is angry about current affairs would be an understatement. However, he’s even more dumbfounded by why so many Americans thought it would be a good idea to elect Trump. “What the fuck is going on in this society that would [make people] think it was a good idea to vote-in an eradiated, shit gibbon, orange orangutan, angry Cheeto?” Jourgensen quips. “This is not an anti-Trump record. This is a record of inquisition, of why did we do this? I’m holding up the mirror, and I want some feedback as to why you all think this happened, [why] we thought that this was a good idea?” Jourgensen continues. “It has nothing to do with him; he’s the figurehead, he’s the symptom,” Jourgensen states. “If you go to the doctor with a large cyst on your shoulder, they can take care of the cyst. But as they’re doing the cyst, they find out you have cancer. The cyst is just the symptom, so Trump is like a cyst.”

Jourgensen has frequently used humor and sarcasm to get his point across through his music, and Trump naturally provides plenty of ammunition. “I just let all the sarcasm drip out of the fucking “Angry Cheeto”’s mouth,” Jourgensen says. “I really didn’t have to do much to conjure him being an idiot. It wasn’t like doing a Revolting Cocks record where you just come up with scenarios and just make fun of everything, and irony and sarcasm rule the day. But this is what the fucking guy says. All sarcasm aside, I’ll leave that to him. What I’m doing is waving an orange flag saying, ‘This ain’t right; it’s not normal!’”

The album title is, of course, a play on words, which says a lot about how Jourgensen views various political groups. “Then we have the entire rise of the right wing — not only in America but globally — to where the KKK has been mainstreamed,” he declares. “Which blows my fucking mind. Why is this a good idea? These are people who have espoused ideology, so fucking severely fraud that they have to wear hoods over their head while they’re espousing it. What would you think if I was so proud of this album, but every time I went out I had to wear a hood because I was embarrassed to be seen while espousing that? Know what I mean? So, I’m holding up a mirror and going, ‘what the fuck caused this?’”

Speaking of groups wearing hoods, Ministry’s first single “Antifa” — which has gone over like gang-busters in live settings — explores the red and black-flagged anti-fascist movement’s forceful, often violent tactics and defiant ideology. Decorated with a rhythmic thrust of synchronized, programmed drums and dominating riffs, Jourgensen’s lyrics are short and to the point. “I’ve got something to say to you/I’ll back it up with my fist/Sick and tired of dealing with assholes that’s why I resist/We’re not snowflakes we are the Antifa/Right wing is in freefall skinheads taking a dive/Antifa is coming for you they won’t survive/We’re not snowflakes we are the Antifa/Brown shirt little snowflakes never want to admit/Terrified of the red and black flag Antifa’s the shit/We’re not snowflakes we are the Antifa.”

“Their ideology is valid because Antifa has not been known in America at all since November 9th, 2016,” Jourgensen said of the day Trump was elected President. “Do I approve of all their tactics? No, because I think that they become in danger of becoming the people that they’re raving against. All they’re doing is going around looking for skinheads; that’s just stupid. That completely defeats the whole purpose. But the ideology I think is solid. Stand up for yourself; we’re not snowflakes.”

Last fall, Ministry went out on tour for the first time since Scaccia’s death with the experimental hip-hop band Death Grips.
According to Jourgensen, the tour was an excellent excuse to play some new tunes. “There was a holdup with the fucking album,” he complains. “We had the album done, and we were chomping at the bit to go play this stuff, and there are all these fucking lawyers, and money is involved, and it just sits on the shelf for a few months. So I said let’s go out and try a couple of the new songs and see if we like playing them. And we did because Death Grips was awesome.”

Ministry’s upcoming five-week North American tour is sure to be a crowd-pleaser as well. “This tour we have Chelsea Wolfe opening for us, which is going to be fucking awesome,” Jourgensen declares. “She’s amazing! She puts you in a hypnotic trance with her dirge and her conviction. And there’s a woman leading the band – whoa, empowerment! How cool is that?”

Plus, there are Ministry’s new stage props; the infamous Trump chickens with painted, crossed-out swastikas on their bellies — which adorned each side of Ministry’s stage set on their recent tour — which will once again be making an appearance. “Of course the Trump chickens are with us, we bought them!” Jourgensen exclaims. “Dammit, those Trump chickens follow us everywhere, man. We’ve restructured our visuals, too. There are also different people in the band; there’s a lot of DJ action, there’s some cello action, and it’s a little bit of a different format. And, of course, the music is a little bit different for us than you’ve seen over the past ten years.”

A hometown Ministry show is always one big party, and area fans can witness the craziness on April 7 at the historic Riviera Theatre. “I can’t wait to play the Riv, man,” Jourgensen beamed. “It’s been years since we’ve played The Riv and this should be a really great show.” When asked what he misses most about living in Chicago, Jourgensen ponders, “…what do I miss most? Everything – except the weather! That’s no fault of the city of Chicago. That’s just the proximity of lake-effect winds and lake-effect snow and Arctic fucking blasts from Canada. It’s the most vibrant city and my favorite city in the United States. But I’m 60 years old, and my bones get creaky and cranky when it gets below 32 degrees. I’ve got to stay here (in L.A.) for now. I do come up for a shitload of hockey games every year, so I’m in Chicago at least six times a year anyway.”

Speaking of hockey, Jourgensen is one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ biggest fans. Ever since attending a Hawks game at the old Chicago Stadium when he was six years old he’s been hooked. Jourgensen now attends Hawks games in L.A. when they come to town to play the Kings. “This year I have no prediction on whether they make the playoffs or not,” he said. “I certainly don’t think they’re a Stanley Cup favorite. I think they’re in a transition period. I think that the farm system they have (in Rockford) is working. To me, it’s not a total rebuild yet, but I do think they have some talent coming up through the minors that are going to make this team sustainable for years. I talk to Danny Wirtz every single game; we text back and forth like school girls! I’m pretty happy with the Hawks right now, even though it seems dismal. But there are better days coming.

And speaking of better days, 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for Jourgensen, and he can’t wait to get out on the road. “I’m literally on the road for the entire year,” Jourgensen concludes. “The road is its own adventure. I don’t mean to sound like Jack Kerouac or anything, but the road is a pretty trippy place to be, and that’s where we’re going to be for all of next year. So check back with me in about a year and keep tabs on old Uncle Al. Hey Chicago! Hey Illinois Entertainer! Glad to talk to you.”

Appearing 4/7 at Riviera Theatre, Chicago.

– Kelley Simms


Updated: Ed Spinelli captured Ministry live at The Riviera Friday April 7

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