I got the chance to catch up with Uncle Al and talk about his new project Surgical Meth Machine and the current state of the union when it comes to politics, music and the politics of dancing. Our little chat went something like this.
So, lets get the elephant in the room out of the way… Where do you see Ministry ending and your new project Surgical Meth Machine beginning? Did the banner of Ministry seem to confining for you ?
AL: None of the above. Over the course of the last decade, I’ll block off four months of studio time and record ideas, it’s like taking big shit so I’m not constipated. I’ll go back and listen and think that’s good for Ministry, or that’s good for Rev Co. or Jello would love that, maybe we’ll do another Lard album. This one was, what the fuck we do with this? Then people started saying, that’s awesome, you have to put that out, and then the record label guys started saying, “that’s killer, it has to be released,” then the next thing you know, I wake up and I’m talking to your ass. All because me and my Engineer Sammy sparked a few fatties and started playing around with machines, and made some beats that are faster than a tweaker’s heart beat.
While this album is very electronic, it has a warmer sound to it than most electronic music today. When I was listening to the album, I don’t envision you sitting in front of two monitors full of pro tool plug ins, so what was the recording process like for this?
Al: (laughs) It was me sitting at two monitors full of Pro Tools plug ins. I did all the guitar tracks and bass and Sammy, who is the other half of Surgical Meth Machine, took care of beats. We took turns with the vocals. It got the name because with just the two of us standing around a console making it very surgical in the creative sense.
How big of an inspiration was your late partner in crime Mike Scaccia on this project ?
Al: He was an inspiration to the point that before he died we were recording “Beer to Eternity,” Mike said, “we should try some really fast shit,” then he died of heart attack. A few days later, I’m at his funeral, then went right back to mixing “Beer to Eternity.” It was a really hard time for me, because not only did I lose a band mate, I lost my best friend and little brother of thirty years. Then Sammy and I were talking, and he said, “Let’s go back in studio and try some of that shit you, me and Mikey were talking about.” Then we got really stoned and we failed miserably. We’re just eating take out pizza and recording some weird psychedelic shit.
The first song, “I’m Sensitive” is social commentary, dealing with social media in particular; how has social media affected you as an artist?
Al: It hasn’t affected me, I wrote that song through my daughter’s eyes. Her whole day is ruined if she is unfriended. I’m not on Facebook, I just found out that I have a Twitter, but I have never tweeted.
As a society, social media consumes our behavior. Why do we care if some stranger we have never met agrees with or likes us? Like “Unlistenable,” it was written from the perspective of some one whose hating on every band from behind the safety of a screen, because they can. They are frustrated, bitter, fat 45-year-old white guys living in mom and dad’s basement who feel empowered. It’s like Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, but Andy was generous. It’s more like 30 seconds of fame. These guys feel important because they have a voice. The whole thing is amusing.
Over the years you have been very vocal in regards to politics, what are your thoughts on the circus that is this election year?
Al: It’s pretty predictable. The Right is going for the low-hanging fruit by playing on fears that the world will blow up if a Republican is not in office. They are reaping the benefits of what they’ve sewn – white people scared of everything – women, Mexicans, everything. So Trump is in charge of the clown car. It is scary that three out of ten people think this guy has something to say – that’s thirty percent of the population. The good news is seventy percent of people think he’s ridiculous. We have had it before, back after World War One, people were afraid and living below the poverty level, so then came the demagogues and fascism. Now Cruz and Trump are playing on the same fears.
Seems like it would be difficult to pull off the new album night after night on tour, so what are your plans after the album drops in April?
Al: No tour. I wouldn’t tour with one new album, you might as well stay home, listen to the album, watch videos and get high instead of spending a bunch of money to watch white old farts. If we ever do another, then maybe. It would be a challenge for old white fat fucks – best comedy on Broadway. But that’s not to say it ain’t going happen, I learned to never say never. It wasn’t supposed to be a record in the first place. I’m glad people like it. After this, I’m done with my promo sexual duties, no tour or photo shoots. I’m a surrogate mother paid to have some else’s kid. I did my part and got the kid out out of my pussy.
The voice of the character being portrayed on “Unlistenable” brings up some mainstream icons, so when it comes to icons, were Lemmy or David Bowie an inspiration to you over the years ?
Al: I knew them both. I knew Lemmy better. They were the same person in some ways. They did what they did. Hopefully I can grow into that. Bowie went through so many metamorphoses, but he was always doing what he wanted to, he didn’t care. They didn’t pander to anyone, so for that you have give them respect.
Your struggles over the years were chronicled in “the Lost gospels of Al Jourgensen”; how has music served as a catharsis or higher power?
Al: When I’m in the studio, it’s awesome. I turn off all external influences. No television, no listening to other music. I think without music, I would be going crazy. I was talking to Sammy and I asked him, “What the fuck would we do if we weren’t doing music?” I haven’t had a job since I was 21, now I’m 57. I sat down and had to think, what are my social skills, and I figured out I could be a prep cook at Denny’s or a greeter at Wal-mart. Otherwise, I would be unemployed, living in my parents basement and slagging bands on the internet.
The tempos on the new album are some of the fastest you’ve ever recorded, it’s like there is a punk rock energy infused with the Revolting Cocks sound – so while you are rightfully credited as bringing the more metal aggression to industrial music, how much of an inspiration was punk in the early days?
Al: More than metal. Really, I have never even heard an Iron Maiden song. I wouldn’t know it if it slapped me in the head. I’ve never heard Lamb Of God. I have only heard Megadeth because Dave Ellefson tried out to play in Ministry. I cut my teeth on the Ramones, Sex Pistols and even Devo. My idea of metal is ZZ-Top and Zeppelin. I’m more into Cheap Trick, I’m old school. It’s funny people think I really have a burr up my ass about these bands I have never heard before.
Over the years, you have collaborated with both Ian Mackaye and Jello Biafra; what other artists, if any, have you not worked with that you want to collaborate with?
Al: Tom Waits is the last one. I’ve worked with Billy Gibbons and Cheap Trick , Tom Waits is the last one.
Tom Waits is one of those guys who’s had a ton of integrity; when you are talking about him, you never hear anyone say,”Oh, yeah that’s from the time Tom Waits really went and sold out with that album.”
Al: You never know what he is going to do or what’s peaking his fancy this time around. It’s always a guessing game, he does what he wants and I guess that’s integrity.
In times of social unrest, aggressive music provides more of a voice of the disillusioned, do you think the current crop of artists out now are reflecting that?
Al: I don’t think they’re not out there, there is just no money, they can’t make a living at it. The labels dictate more then the artist, like garage rock, hard to do creative shit. The government here doesn’t subside artists like in Canada and Scandinavian countries, where they are paid to be artists, here it’s whatever some suit in some office wants, dancing with the voice or voicing with the stars. There is hip hop, which is a different culture. There is hip hop out there that is cool. Hip hop most people haven’t heard, because they only care about if Kayne Kardashian is marrying P-50 Diddy Cent. There is great music out there, great music in all genres, but it might not as accessible and people are now used to being spoon-fed. What is going to be provided is the lowest common denominator, so the real art is getting the music on its the way to the people.
What else can you expect from a country that takes music and art out of schools?
Al: Some of these music schools defeat the purpose. It is not something that can be taught – either you have it or you don’t. The whole structured anything in that regard reminds me of when I’m promoting album. This is something I did a year ago. Rather than create something new, I have to go back and listen to an album I recorded a years ago so I could do these interviews. In a sense, it was amusing. I listen to it from a different prism than you. It might make me laugh, because I’ll think about what was going on in the studio at the time it was recorded.
Even though there is a new breed of industrial bands coming out, I think it’s safe to say none of it sounds like what you are doing now.
Al: But there might be, we just don’t know, because people would rather be spoon fed. It’s society and the same thing with music, happens with movies and t.v.