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Hate and War: A Phone Conversation With Al Jourgensen

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(Photo by Allan Amato)

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October is Metal Month at Radio.com. Throughout the month, we’ll have artist interviews as well as mini-documentaries about metal, metal fans and the birthplace of metal. And book reports: reading is fundamental, even for headbangers, and we’ll have reviews of some of the best recent metal biographies and retrospectives. Horns up!

“Tony’s Pizza!”

That’s how Al Jourgensen answers the phone when you call his Arizona compound. If you’ve read his memoirs, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According To Al Jourgensen, you know that Al doesn’t do “normal.” That includes answering the phone, apparently. But, he’s quick to point out that there’s method to his madness. 

“I just yell ‘Tony’s Pizza!’ and tell them we’re out of everything, and I hang up. That keeps away unwanted calls. But you’re on the schedule. Since you didn’t fall for it, that’s good.”

But midway through the first question, Al interrupts:  “Hey! You’ve got call waiting! Your phone is beeping all over the place!”

Actually, the phone that made the call doesn’t actually have call waiting. It must be your phone, Al.

“Oh crap! I hate people! And I hate people who call me! We’ll start out the interview with that.”

This intro caused me to flash back to a discussion I had with Jourgensen’s co-author, Jon Wiederhorn, who told Radio.com, “He’s like, ‘I’m not a normal guy. I may scare the hell out of you. But if you’ve got the balls to sit down and talk to me, and you can face me on a man-to-man level, and you don’t judge me, I won’t judge you. Maybe we’ll share a few beers, and maybe we can have a great conversation.’ He’s extremely well-read, he’s political, he loves music, and he’s got a heck of a lot of good stories that probably leave you crying. In a good way!”

And so, the conversation veered towards politics and music, via “PermaWar,” one of the powerful songs on Ministry‘s brutal new album, From Beer To Eternity. Jourgensen was a huge critic of President George W. Bush, and in fact Ministry did a trio of albums expressing his distaste for the man – 2004’s Houses Of The Mole (including “No W,” “Worthless” and “Wrong”), 2006’s Rio Grande Blood (with “LiesLiesLies”) and 2007’s The Last Sucker (“Die In A Crash”).

In “Permawar,” Jourgensen bellows “You live to fight another day, and that day will come/ We’re fighting never-ending wars, for profit & fun/ We’re tired, we’re tired, we’re tired of PermaWar.” So, what is Uncle Al’s State Of The Union: how does he feel about President Obama? He points out that he’s “Railing against the system, as opposed to the figurehead.” As for the President, “The guy’s got both hands tied behind his back. I feel bad for the guy, I have empathy for him.”

Empathy? “That’s the second crappiest job in the world, being the President of the United States.”

And the crappiest?

“Being lead singer of Ministry!”

His tone lowers when discussing “Change Of Luck,” which turns the discussion to Ministry’s late guitarist, Mike Scaccia, who passed away while the album was in progress.

“It was a complete shock,” he says. “He had back surgery a few times, and he had a lot of pharmaceuticals going on to keep the pain down. He came here for like three weeks and shredded his ass off, and stayed at our house, and he left smiling from ear to ear, saying ‘Dude, this is the best stuff we ever did.’ He was way more ecstatic than I was. Then he leaves and he dies and then I have to go back and mix this record and put lyrics on it. All we had was basic tracks. and that was difficult. So this record is special to me in that sense, I wanted to do Mikey proud.”

He says he doesn’t want to tour: “This isn’t a band where I’m going to get up with a bunch of 19 year-old L.A. hired gun guitar players to go tour just to make money. I know it would make money. It doesn’t interest me. just let it be, let it go.” Plus, he enjoys life in Arizona.

“I like it here, it’s calm, the weather is nice, our house it beautiful. I don’t want to leave. I remember the first time I came to the desert, the first tour with Ministry, I came to Phoenix, and I was like, who would live here? Jim Morrison had that same turnaround, where he was like, ‘This is cool.’ He used to hang out at that place, where did Gram Parsons die?”

Joshua Tree?

“Yeah, Joshua Tree! That’s kind of what I’m living like here. So the locals don’t really give a crap if I’m in a band or not, they don’t want to know. They just assume that I’m this crazy old biker guy driving around a muscle car, and they just leave me alone because I’m full of tattoos and piercings and dreads. Although there is this one Walgreens that has a detail of three people who just follow me around the store. I think it’s their only job. They just collect pay and wait for me to come back. It’s ridiculous, dude, it’s embarrassing, I’m trying to buy Aqua Lube for sex activities, and you have three people behind you in Walgreens nameplates, following you. It’s kind of f***** up.  But that’s ok!”

Maybe they think you’re an interesting guy?

“If I’m buying Aqua Lube, I don’t have much of an interesting life!” he chuckles.

Or, maybe they’ve read his memoirs. Although it’s true that most of his wild stories seem to be in his past. At the very least, mind-altering substances are (mostly) history: “The last five or six albums have been without the influence of stuff. Well, we get drunk, big deal. We’ve made some really good music since the (late ’80s/early ’90s) ‘heyday,’ if you want to call it that.  Back then, it was all drug fueled testosterone teen angst going on. Wanting to be a teenager. I don’t want to be a teenager anymore! We just do music now, and I only work with people who I wnat to work with, and I only work on projects that I think is interesting. If that includes Trent Reznor or Tom Waits, or that includes Lil’ Wayne, or anyone, fine. Someone that’s interesting, I’ll do something with.”

Kanye West’s latest album, Yeezus, has a rather dark, industrial sound to it. Would you work on a project with him?

“That’s probably the last thing I’d want to work on, man!” But before he can explain, his wife/manager (or “wife-ager,” as he refers to her) informs him that this interview has gone overtime, and that he has his next caller waiting for him.

Either that, or someone wants to order from Tony’s Pizza.

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