Ghosts, Jail, Death, Shitting Blood, and MINISTRY - The Al Jourgensen Interview
The Gauntlet recently caught up with industrial metal godfather Al Jourgensen of Ministry. Like usual, Al had plenty to say about everything from his recent recovery from ulcers and his brushes with death. Of course we squeezed in a few questions about the new album "Relapse" and the upcoming tour that will see Ministry return the the stage after a four year absence.
The Gauntlet: Welcome back Al!
Al Jourgensen: Yeah, I’m back from the dead.
The Gauntlet: Last time we spoke, was during the “C-U-LaTour” and I told you this wasn’t the end and you just replied to me “Fuck You!”
Al Jourgensen: The reason I told you “fuck you” was I was puking and shitting out blood everyday. I just knew I couldn’t sustain that. But thankfully some paramedics, fire department and emergency room doctors at Providence Hospital in El Paso did some surgery on me and fixed me up. I feel healthy and figure I’ll make a comeback. I couldn’t do that back then. When you asked me about it, I really didn’t understand why I was puking up blood and shitting up blood. I felt so anemic and weak and it was just horrific. I was done. I had made enough money and I didn’t want to do it anymore. The docs fixed me up and what the hell, it isn’t that bad.
The Gauntlet: Are you 100% though?
Al: No, I’m not. That’s why I am not doing a run of twenty-five shows. I am just kind of dipping my toes in the pool water to make sure I don’t get shrinkage with this tour. We will see what happens. I have other stuff planned. I died on the table and the doctors had to bring me back. It was the third time that I died, but this time really freaked me out and gave me a sense of mortality.
The Gauntlet: It takes dying three times to get a sense of mortality? You are more fucked up than I thought.
Al: [laughs] Yeah! I was about twenty years younger the first time and then fifteen for the second death. Young people always think they are invincible. I was younger and shooting dope and all this other stuff. I just thought ‘that was a lucky break.’ I am fifty-three now and this last time dying really got to me. The first two times I had out of body experiences when I died and this time I had nothing. I was just dead. I don’t remember a thing. My spirit didn’t leave my body or nothing. They had to defibrillate me and all that stuff and I don’t remember anything. That is the part that just freaks me out the most.
The first two times I remember floating above my body and just knowing what was going on and that I needed to get back into my body when the time came. It was a spiritual thing. The first two deaths were actually really cool and gave me spirituality and left me knowing there was an afterlife. I was just floating above the emergency room watching everyone work on my body. This time, I was just cold. That also got me motivated because as soon as I got out of there I knew I had gotten a lucky break with the help of the skilled people at the hospital. I promised all the fans that I’d get that country record done. I called up Mike Scaccia and we got to work on that Buck Satan record as fast as we could since I didn’t know how long I would last.
Now it has been about a year and a half since I was puking up blood. I am fairly healthy so I figure what the hell. When me and Mike were working on Buck Satan we’d jam on some metal riffs in between recording the songs. I just put them on the shelf as I didn’t want to do a Ministry record and another tour. About two months later, Mikey called me up and said “Dude, these riffs are awesome. We have to do a new Ministry record.” If you don’t like the new Ministry record, blame Mikey. [laughs] And if you like it, give me the praise.
The Gauntlet: I guess I owe you a lot of praise then. I have heard you talking about Buck Satan for what seems like an eternity now.
Al: It is an acquired taste. It was something that I just had to do. I promised the fans and one thing about me is I always keep my word, both in life and after death. I said I would do it and I did it. The Ministry thing was completely by accident.
The Gauntlet: You mentioned you are just “dipping your toe into the Ministry water” right now. I’m not a doctor, but I know that Ministry is an ugly beast. There really is no 20% or even 50% commitment with being in Ministry.
Al: I have to see if my health is there. The first step was making the Buck Satan record without puking up blood and I did that. The next step was making the Ministry record without puking up blood and I did that too. For me it is not about the psychological thing with getting back into Ministry but more of a physiological thing. It was never that I didn’t want to make another Ministry record but I couldn’t. Now I can.
The Gauntlet: Glad to hear. On both the Ministry and Buck Satan albums, your love of the record industry really shines.
Al: It is like a shark. Except for very few species of sharks, they have to swim to live. For me, I have to record to live. That was taken away from me for a while and it gave me a sense of purpose and renewed vigor that I hadn’t had before. Now I am on full board. I own my own studio and I didn’t need to deal with the shit from the ulcer. I had been puking up blood for eight years without knowing what caused it. I just thought it was normal for someone on a rock tour. I didn’t know I had a physical condition. Eventually it got unmanageable and I went into seizures and ER with the flatlining. It never went away after CULaTour. I knew something was wrong but just didn’t know what. But the docs got me all fixed up and I am ready to go. I am like a used car with Car Fax. This car hasn’t been in wrecks and doesn’t suck and I have a guarantee. I just met with all my production people and we have a really good show coming. We have the five shows in the states with the limited tour and we will see how that goes.
The Gauntlet: Do you have a lifestyle change to go along with all of this?
Al: Yes, for the rest of my life. I have these stomach pills and all this other stuff. I have a regiment of like fifteen pills to take daily. I don’t care though as the alternative isn’t any good. Plus my wife gets sick of me laying around on the couch and just throws me into the studio to make me work. I don’t know what to do with myself if I am not in the studio. The tour thing I don’t like so much. Hopefully I will die out there in the studio. It would be like a baseball batting champion dying at the plate. That is the way to go. The studio is where I get to create, the stage is where I recreate. On stage I am a management monkey playing a part. I get stuff done in the studio. The studio is my domain and I know what I am doing there. It is just a blast and a blessing to be in there. Touring and press is the part of this business that I hate. No offense to you Jason. I could be in the studio creating new stuff, but instead I am on stage. I don’t like talking about what I do, I like doing it. I’d rather you just come to my place in Hell Paso and watch me in the studio.
The Gauntlet: I’d love to, but I have been told your place is haunted.
Al: No, that was the old place in Austin. This new place is cool. 9,000 square feet and six bedrooms with no fucking ghosts!
The Gauntlet: Did you ever see the ghosts?
Al: Oh yeah, big time. And a bunch of them all the time. Some lady was strangled in the jacuzzi where she died. This place used to be an executive brothel and was haunted as shit. I have never sensed anything at my new place though. I know that the person who built my new place here in El Paso, his daughter has become one of our friends and she told me the whole history and nothing haunted about it. I don’t know what happened at the last place but it was haunted as shit.
The Gauntlet: Always an adventure.
Al: Tell me about it. I guess that is why they are writing the book. Think of it this way; I am Ozzy Osbourne and am wasted all the time. My wife is totally sober and she manages. She is like Sharon, I am like Ozzy. Although unlike Sharon, my wife has a beating heart, let alone a bleeding heart. My wife is super sweet, unlike Sharon. It is kind of like that. We are sequestered in our compound with a recording studio in the back. I don’t go out. I never ever go out and my friends give me a lot of crap about it. I know if I go out into the world, I am going to go to jail. We actually keep bail money for me at the house just in case. I just stay in and record.
The Gauntlet: Okay, backup. You seriously have an envelope with bail money on the refrigerator for when you leave the compound?
Al: Yes, well not on the refrigerator but in a safe. I have been to jail about twenty-five to thirty times. There have been three in El Paso, about eight in Austin and about six in Chicago, one in Florida, one in Boston. Why do you think I have so many tattoos? [laughs]
The Gauntlet: Are any actually jailhouse tats?
Al: No, I have a tattoo artist. Johnny Cash made a career out of being in jail. He spent one night in jail his entire life. I’ve done more than a year. Johnny spent one night and oddly enough it was in El Paso. One night and he has a reputation of being this prison guy and he’s not.
The Gauntlet: That is strange. A year in prison and you are known as the lovable uncle Al.
Al: I hope so. The only problem is, I can’t run for office. I can vote though now that I am off probation. I am very blessed and fortunate to vote which is why I register people to vote at my shows. We registered 20,000 voters on the last Ministry tour. We only have five shows this year but I expect to get almost as many registered in those five shows. We work with moveon.org to register.
The Gauntlet: You also have the track ‘Get Up, Get Out, and Vote’ on the upcoming Ministry album, “Relapse.”
Al: Yes I do. Voting is our voice. What happened to it though? Our voice is being replaced by lobbyists. People need to get up, get out, and vote. It is not my favorite song on the record but it is a public service announcement. I really need to get people to get out there and vote. i don’t care how we do it. The more people that vote, the more our voice is heard.
The Gauntlet: Another politically charged song on the album is “99 Percenters.”
Al: Yes. That is for the occupy movement. They remind me of when I was growing up. I ran away from home when I was ten years old and went to the Democratic Convention in Chicago. It turned into the riots of ‘68. My friend, who was nine, and I took our sleeping bags and went down there. We ended up getting pepper sprayed. We got scared because of the riots and took the train back home. Our parents grounded us for like a month for running away and doing this stuff.
This time, my engineer Sammy and I were going to fly out to New York and join the occupy movement and get arrested in a protest. We were about a week behind with the record as we had to have it finished by Christmas. I just figured I’d just record an anthem for them and they can chant that all they want. I will be out there later though I promise. I promise I will get pepper-sprayed. I like the fact that they aren’t funded by the Koch brothers. These people protesting have real and legitimate concerns. There really is no one in charge which is what is so fundamentally cool about it. The Koch brothers are just an oligarchy and are true evil. At the end of “The Last Sucker” album I actually started to feel sorry for Bush. He just sat around playing with tonka trucks and didn’t understand what was going on. meanwhile Cheney and the Koch Brothers were running things. Bush wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. My first two albums I was just really mad at Bush. His dad is pretty smart, but W. is an idiot. By “The Last Sucker” I felt sorry for the guy.