"I hate spiders and flies!” exclaimed misanthropic industrial music pioneer, producer, and storyteller extraordinaire from the confines of his home in El Paso, Texas, just blocks from the borders of New Mexico and Mexico. The main house and studio at Camp Jourgensen are sturdy, tidy and devoid of spiders and most other insects. But recently the place has been swarming with more flies than a Louisiana slaughterhouse in mid-summer.
"You'd think we had dead bodies buried under the floorboard or something," Jourgensen joked. "Jesse, my assistant who works at my label 13th Planet Records, just built me a fly swatter that looks like a tennis racket. I killed 32 f***ing flies today. It made for a really weird interview with a guy in Finland. First of all, I can't understand what he's saying most of the time because his accent was so heavy. And second of all, every few minutes: THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! The guy must have thought I was completely insane. And if he read my book, he knows I’m completely insane!"
The book, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, tells the wild, outrageous story of Jourgensen’s nearly 33-year rollercoaster ride through the music industry, during which he survived over a decade of habitual drug abuse that included heroin, cocaine, crack, methadone, speed, acid, MDA, and copious quantities of alcohol. His misadventures included three near-death experiences. Two involved heroin overdoses, then about two years ago he nearly died from ruptured ulcers.
"I'm kinda like a cat. I have nine lives," Jourgensen said. "The thing is, I don’t want to tempt fate. I'm not gonna get reckless and waste more of my lives just in case someone’s playing a trick on my ass and I only have four lives, not nine. I've already died three times. I’m not ready to go quite yet."
Clean for over a decade, Jourgensen is now working on reversing the damage he has caused himself over time. He's on an organic diet and he has been seeing a homeopathic doctor to ease the discomfort of his ulcers and remedy some of the aches and pains of his former self-abusive lifestyle. "I hate doctors, but I kinda like this one," he said. "She sticks a bunch of pins in me and I look like the guy in Hellraiser by the time I’m done with a session. And then she takes out this jackhammer and starts hammering away at this scar tissue. It's literally like a piledriver you'd use on the street. But it works, and I'm feeling really good. Since I've been seeing her, I can feel my feet again."
It's a good thing the artist known by fans as "Uncle Al" is on his feet, because he has got a lot on his plate. For the past couple months, he has mostly been plugging his book. Now, he's shifted gears and is promoting a batch of other projects, not the least of which is the thirteenth and final Ministry studio album From Beer to Eternity, which comes out September 10.
In addition, Jourgensen recently produced the debut album by Nashville-based heavy blues rock band the Dusters, which will be the last record featuring guitars by late Ministry guitarist and Jourgensen's best friend Mike Scaccia, who suffered a massive heart attack and died onstage December 23, 2012. Scaccia was playing a show with his other band Rigor Mortis to celebrate the 50th birthday of vocalist Bruce Corbitt when he died.
"When he left my place last December Mikey told me, 'Y’know, I don't want to play the show with Rigor Mortis,'" Jourgensen revealed. "He said he didn't feel so hot, and he was tired and wanted to be with his family. But he did it for Bruce. The whole thing is crazy, but at least he died doing what he loved doing. He said that's the way he always wanted to go, he just went too soon. When I finally go, I want someone to pick up my body wherever I am, slump me over the mixing desk in my studio and take pictures so they can say I also died doing what I love. I don't want to die onstage. That was Mikey's thing. I hate being onstage. I like making records and being in my studio."
Scaccia had recorded his parts with the Dusters long before he flew to El Paso last December to work on new material with Jourgensen, guitarist Sin Quirin and drummer Aaron Rossi. During a whirlwind 19 days, the band wrote and recorded riffs for 18 new songs.
"I really didn't want to do another Ministry album," Jourgensen said. "I didn't even want to do the last Ministry album, [2012’s] Relapse. But Mikey convinced me to do it and I'm glad he did. The same thing happened this time. We were just f***ing around in my studio and he was coming up with these amazing riffs. I recorded some bass parts and Mikey said, 'C’mon, we've got to make these songs into another Ministry record.' I was like, 'I don’t know, man. I'm kind of over Ministry.' And he said, 'No, you don’t understand. You have to do this! This is going to be our best record ever.' So I was like, 'Okay, well, I'm between projects right now and Mikey seems to really like it, so let’s do it.' Then Mikey died and left this whole mess of stuff to me. I was like, 'Uh, thanks a lot. Now I have to pay proper tribute to you and make this into the best Ministry record ever.' I worked really hard on it, so if you like it, give me all the credit...and if you hate it, blame Mikey."
For anyone who has followed Ministry over the years, From Beer to Eternity has a little of everything. There are the melodic vocals and harmonies from when Ministry emerged as a synth-pop band in the '80s, and discordant electronic industrial passages reminiscent of their 1986 disc Twitch and their groundbreaking 1988 release The Land of Rape and Honey. There are thrashy beats and rapid, chunky guitars straight out of their early '90s catalog; and sludgy, bleak rhythms redolent of mid- '90s fare like Filth Pig, as well as the sample-laden metallic explorations of their anti-George W. Bush trilogy (2004's Houses of the Mole, 2006's Rio Grande Blood and 2007's The Last Sucker). And, of course there are offbeat, cannabis-saturated excursions born from a love for artists like Adrian Sherwood, King Tubby, and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
"It’s like the entire Ministry catalog condensed and wrapped in a big, black bow," Jourgensen said. "It's an encapsulation of what the hell I've been doing for the last 30 years and it's historic, in a sense. People always ask me what I was trying to do, but the reason everything came out the way it did is because we didn't know what we were doing, which is what makes it clever. All these other bands, they got the right angles and they know all the right moves, but I listen to their music and I’m like, 'This stuff is f***ing boring.' They’re better musicians than us. They write better songs. But for some reason our stuff seems real and theirs seems contrived."
Although Jourgensen didn't go back and listen to Ministry's previous albums before he finished From Beer to Eternity, once it was done, he took a stroll through his past releases for the first time in a long time.
"I wanted to see what people make such a fuss about, and there's something I discovered," Jourgensen says. "Those songs are absolute crap compared to the new record. [1989's] The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste is the most overrated album I ever did. I still have no idea why anybody likes it. I tried to sit through it and it made me all squirmy. I went, 'Ehh, is there anything else to do? What’s on TV?' I can understand why people like The Land of Rape and Honey because the transition phase was cool. Psalm 69 I can even understand because it was right place, right time. Nothing really much different about the music, but the timing was perfect. But this one I listen to and I go, 'God, I did crap for 30 years! That can’t be good.'"
As much material as he had to work with, From Beer to Eternity was one of the most taxing albums Jourgensen has ever recorded. "It was really numbing to make," he said. "Mikey had just died, so it was weird because I was listening to the final things he recorded in his life and turning them into songs. That was pretty hard to get my head around."
Ministry will not tour behind From Beer to Eternity, and Jourgensen insists the band will never release another studio record. That said, in January Ministry will issue a double-remix album of revamped and re-contextualized songs from the Relapse and From Beer to Eternity sessions. And, as is often the case with Ministry remix records, the songs will be radically different from their original configurations.
"I love this new record, but I gotta say that the remix record is even better," Jourgensen said, staying consistent with his tendency to apply focus on what's right in front of him and downplaying everything else. "It’s downright f***ing hysterical. It goes with the book, it goes with my stories and my life. And we're releasing it on Grammy week because I know I won't win a Grammy for From Beer to Eternity because Black Sabbath has a pretty damn good record out. So this remix album will give us a chance next year. I'm hoping it'll be like a lifetime achievement thing. I'm like the Martin Scorsese of industrial. They snubbed him on Goodfellas and Raging Bull and then he wins with Departed. Maybe that's what will happen on this."
Regardless of the fate of Ministry's upcoming remix album, From Beer to Eternity is both a swan song for fans, and a last hurrah for Jourgensen, who is now digging into other projects. Most recently, he has worked with British-born illustrator Sam Shearon on a comic book series tentatively titled Captain of Industry. The comics won't tell the stories of Jourgensen's real-life misadventures, nor will they chronicle the history of industrial music. Instead, Shearon is turning Jourgensen into a superhero who stands up for musicians across the globe.
"I’ll have a customized Flying V guitar on my back that has special powers," Jourgensen said. "I’ll pull it out to hit a chord and knock down buildings or anything else I want. And I also have super hearing. If there's a record label in Germany or Norway screwing over a band on their first contract, I fly there with my Flying V and use my electrical powers to make sure the band doesn't get ripped off. The comic book is a big middle finger to the music industry. I’m watching you mother****ers, and I have superpowers! I am the protector of bands. And I'm also going defend people who are getting exploited by big banks or other evil corporations."
Captain of Industry will be released by IDW comics, which commissioned Shearon to create a year's worth of issues and possibly a graphic novel. In the past, Shearon has worked on comics for X-Files and Kiss, and has done art design for Rammstein, Rob Zombie and others, yet Jourgensen didn't know anything about him, and had no interest in being a comic book superhero until he and his wife and manager Angie started working with models for the From Beer to Eternity album art. One of the women they worked with happened to be dating Shearon and she made the introduction.
"Sam and I hit it off right away," Jourgensen said. "His work is unreal and he's convinced I'm the perfect superhero. That, to me, is way cooler than being up there onstage as a lead singer and having to be a traffic cop for the mosh pit -- or sitting around at home swatting flies."