Ministry just unleashed a new album with Moral Hygiene, the fifteenth of the band’s discography. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea recently had a chance to talk with Al Jourgensen about what fueled the ideas of the new record, forming a new lineup and recording during the pandemic, and more. Check it out below. 

Photo Credit: Derick Smith

I have so much to say and ask you about Moral Hygiene, but I’ve got to start somewhere, so I want to start with “Alert Level”, obviously an awesome track that hits hard right off the bat, and of course you’ve got the lyric video for it out already. Can you talk about what went into this opener for the album?

Yeah, that was the first song that we started recording literally a couple of weeks pre-quarantine, like a couple of weeks before March. So it’s been a while, and it was basically about what we can do as a society to protect our planet so we have a planet to live in – ie., climate change, et cetera. And we did the song and we were just like, “wow, this actually came out really good”, and then quarantine hit. And we didn’t know if there was going to be record labels…a society *laughs*…movies, all releases were shut down. So we made a point to get that one out first as opposed to just waiting around for the rest of the record to get out and all that, we were like, we don’t even know if there’s a future. At least release that so we can have our say-so in it. 

Yeah, that’s pretty wild you had that all queued up and ready to go, getting ready to make more music and all of a sudden the world just shuts down, it’s like, what the hell happened, man?

It’s been a crazy year.

Exactly, but things are starting to look up a little bit, you’ve got Moral Hygiene on the way this fall, and another track that you released to the world recently is “Good Trouble”. You released a social media only version, and that’s a really cool approach when for the past year everyone’s been on social media more than ever before, so it’s a unique way of sharing an extra bonus outside of the album. 

Well, that’s the unfortunate circumstance of the society we live in today to where me and my friend, Arabian Prince from NWA, decided he would read the words of John Lewis posthumously, on something that he thought really long and hard about and didn’t say while he was alive, although he lived what he said when he was alive. But he said it, and it was put in succinct terms after he died, and I thought that was spectacular, and so did Arabian Prince, so we both said we’re going to do a song that’s worthy of this man and this movement. I think we pulled it off, but then the labels get all concerned that we couldn’t get ahold of John Lewis’ representatives to say, “it’s okay, you have a clearance to do this”, and so they said, “no, you have to edit it out on the album”, because they were all afraid of lawsuits. This is the society that we’ve created, nobody can do art anymore without really expressive constrictions that are going on. So that kind of pissed me off, so we released it in social media in its full form because no money is to be made by it, it’s just on our social medias. And I really urge fans to go and get that one out – that video is poignant and important toward relations of the human species in the future. I mean, I really think John Lewis has been onto something for over 50, 60 years, and it’s about time that he was credited. Because Ministry has always just been known as badmouthing political figures, you know? *laughs*

*laughs* You have a point.

And now we’re honoring somebody, but I don’t consider him a political figure, I consider him an activist and a true human world citizen. 

And I actually didn’t realize all the mechanics going into something like that, not putting it on the album because of other representatives and things like that being involved, that makes the social media version make a lot of sense. It feels like social media has become such a platform for artists to express themselves beyond constrictions like you were saying.

I just think that social media has become…and I have a song that touches on it on Moral Hygiene, called “Disinformation”. Social media and the internet were supposed to be like the renaissance of information, and it’s just devolved into disinformation by corporate greed, it’s just a cesspool. So you take your chances. It’s almost like you have a better chance of winning the lotto than doing something really productive and good musically, putting it out, and having someone not pick it apart because of political things or whatever, you know what I mean? You get caught in this cross-trap of disinformation and pretty soon you’re like, is this all worth it? But, yes, it is. We’ve just got to persevere and hopefully cooler heads will prevail in Washington someday – doubtful, but maybe. That artists can tour again, and people get vaccinated and they can go see concerts and go to restaurants and movies, and this and that, and the entertainment business makes a comeback. Because right now, just as when the streaming services happened, the music industry was completely caught off guard and they didn’t know what to do. The eventual deals that were struck between the streaming services and the labels, the only people that didn’t make any money or anything was the artist. Everyone else still had their share, but it just stomped the artist down, and now with this new age of social media disinformation, it’s even worse. Some people prosper but like I said, it’s like the lotto. Some people go viral – for no apparent reason, just because it’s the flavor of the week and they’re the new, biggest thing, and they really have put nothing into the art community, but yet they’re the hugest thing in the world right now. And I don’t blame them, I just blame the system for what’s propagating what we listen to and what our culture and arts are right now.

And what you mentioned about the streaming platforms, of course, that’s something very prevalent, and a lot of artists are trying to fight that system now – like the deals where the artist gets half of a half of a penny for each stream.

But you know what? The whole mainstream media places it at the feet of the artists, like we’re just greedy artists, we want more mansions and this and that. More yachts, blah blah. It’s like, no, you have to remember, man. There’s entire roadcrews, there’s personnel at every venue in the United States, that rely on the music industry. These are working class people, so you could put it in a nice little bag with a giftwrap and say it’s just “artists’ greed”, but no, it’s corporate greed. Because the artists are struggling to survive at this point. I mean, literally, we’ve done congressional measures for first responders and people that work in grocery stores and movie theaters, anything. First line contact, but they don’t have any rules yet for the music industry. And this is what’s perplexing to me because culture doesn’t grow without art, any society doesn’t grow without art. You look at all the great societies of our time, from the Greek and Roman and everything, and the artists were well-paid in the sense of, they propagated culture to what we wanted to advance to. They propagated human dreams. And human dreams are being shut out by the corporate greed that’s happened through this pandemic. If you notice, most people are broke yet people are sending…space dicks, into space, and making money off this. The economic inequality is stunning. And we forget how important the arts are, it’s the first thing they cut out in high school curriculum – they always keeps sports because sports makes money. And I understand that, but the arts – and for example, civics classes have not been a thing for 20-30 years. They cut that out so we’re not able to understand our government and how it functions, and how you can make it function better. All these things are just like, it’s so depressing.

There’s so much to address in what you said, but I agree that when music and arts are so essential to society, it’s definitely crazy that artists have been struggling for this past year, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear path to getting out of that. I’ve been seeing various charities popping up, Live Nation did something, Sweet Relief has been raising money for musicians and road crews, and things like that. But it’s been a very strange and rough year for the music industry for sure. 

Well, the entire entertainment industry, I mean, look at movies. Literally, I’m pretty sure that the only movies we have coming out over the next few years are either really depressing things that show the real condition – like Father or Nomadland or something – or just Marvel comics. That’s it, that’s what people want to see. So where does that leave us as artists in the musical variety? It really confuses people. So we just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other and hopefully people realize that art and culture progresses society in a way that legislation can’t even do. If the art is sincere, people will think differently if they enjoy the art that’s being given to them about the legislation that’s occurred. It’s really all hand-in-hand, it’s kind of like an ecosystem, I think the whole ecobalance of artistic ingenuity has been thrown off balance in this society, and I think it needs to get back to that. 

I think, in terms of your music, you’re very authentic, you definitely say what’s on your mind and put it into the music, so in that way, you’re contributing to what you want to see happen. That sense of putting one foot in front of another, putting your own message out there and hoping it reaches where it needs to reach.

Yeah. And you know, if it was shit, I wouldn’t mind if people just went, “yeah, whatever”. But, I honestly…you may say this is pompous, but I think my music’s important and I think the things that we have to say as the band, under the brand Ministry, is basically where every couple of years, we put out a record, and it’s a wake-up call, like this is the blueprint on what’s gone wrong and maybe how we can fix it.

I don’t think it sounds pompous, I think you should be sure of your art, when you’re going to release something, you want to be standing behind it and believing in what you’re saying. 

Thank you, that’s all I’ve got to say, thank you. *laughs*

Of course. So, when you say “we, as the band Ministry”, you do have a recently new lineup, and it’s a mix of some long-term members, and some brand-new ones. Getting a band together during a pandemic is probably something pretty challenging, so how did this new band that you have lined up for the fall tour all line up in your life?

Well, of course, I mean, we were all double-vaxxed and masked. And then we decided in my studio what fits and what doesn’t. But it was a weird extra component towards making art, this health requirement. It was really strange. But either way, I think we put the perfect band together for this, I don’t know if there will ever be a better band for Ministry than, I believe it was 2008 with Joey Jordison, myself, and Mike Scaccia, Paul Raven – all those three are deceased – John Bechdel, that was really a rock band, okay? So this is a little bit different, but I think that the potential for this band on this upcoming tour is astounding. I think we found the right build of personalities, talent, and taste that we’ll make this a really good tour.

That’s awesome, and really exciting as well. You did have some guests besides the new band, of course you mentioned the team-up with Arabian Prince, and I love that you covered The Stooges on the album, and you also got Billy Morrison involved with that. So how did you guys go about reworking that song to give it the Ministry touch? 

Well, that’s kind of a long story if you’ve got a minute. So, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, et cetera, and Billy Morrison put together this band and this wonderful benefit for a wonderful cause called Above Ground, basically focusing on teenage suicide, “keep them above ground”. And also basically focusing on LGBTQ communities, and why people commit suicide due to the social media onslaught, and this and that. So they decided they’d put together a band, Dave and Billy, and they got some guest singers to sing on two albums that they were going to focus on, a David Bowie album, and an Iggy one. And on the Iggy album, they called me and they thought I was the right representative for Iggy because I’ve worked with Iggy before, and I’ve known Iggy for 35 years. So we went to soundcheck, and I did the two songs I was supposed to do, and then we went backstage and then backstage – I will tell you this right now, a lesson learned in life, man…never accept a joint from a stranger.

Uh-oh. 

…Done. *laughs* Yeah. So about twenty minutes before I was supposed to go on, a joint was being passed around backstage, and listen – I’m a heavy marijuana smoker, I enjoy the benefits of cannabis immensely, as well as psilocybin, that’s the only drugs I do anymore, that’s it. I’m pretty well legal within American constraints, but I decided to take a hit off this joint, and everything went under water. So I went onstage, and I sang “Search and Destroy”, basically in half-time. Because a lot of people have covered “Search and Destroy”, a lot of bands, and they try and do it like the original. This was not like the original because I was singing it in half-time and underwater. So the next day, I woke up, and I called Dave and I called Billy and apologized profusely for me screwing up their entire event and this and that, and I was seriously just freaked out at how bad this was. And they went, “No. This is it, this is the way this song needs to be done! That was actually the way to do it, so let’s go to your studio and record this tomorrow”. That was actually one of the first songs we did on this record, but I didn’t want to put it on the record until I actually contacted Iggy and made sure he heard it and gave it a thumbs up, which he did. So yeah, there it is.

That’s definitely quite the story, but awesome that it got the thumbs up from Iggy, wherever it came from *laughs*. Now, you recorded Moral Hygiene in your own studio, so can you talk a bit about your home studio setup?

As far as what was done in the studio over the last year, not only was Moral Hygiene done, but ten songs were recorded for a new Lard record, which Jello Biafra is sitting on right now, singing in his own studio in San Francisco. So it’s more like the next two albums that come out are like Zoom albums, during the quarantine. You get your stuff, you mail a hard drive, they mail stuff back, you mail stuff back, and that’s the new way to do it. And that’s fine! I’m willing to adapt. Human beings are always good at adapting, so we got an entire Lard record done, and we also got an entire new Ministry record done, where the only thing missing is my vocals. I’m very persnickety about the message I want to send and the vocals that I do, so I didn’t find that I had it in me to sing on these songs, but the songs are not any less than the songs on Moral Hygiene. If anything, I think they might be better, but I didn’t have it in me at that time to come up with topics for those particular songs. So it’s an ongoing process, but during the quarantine, I basically recorded three albums. 

That’s amazing, and to know that there’s already more Ministry on deck, when we’re just kind of digesting this one now, there’s more on the horizon.

That’s a good way to put it. Let’s dissect this one, then let’s see the next. And I think the next will pretty much end the dissection, you’ll pretty much know where I’m at. *laughs*

That’s exciting though, that’s the thing, quarantine has been really weird for the music industry, but it has given some artists a lot of additional time to dig in and write more music, since you haven’t been on the road, might as well just get in studio and knock out a bunch of stuff.

Right, exactly, and I hope they used their time wisely. Because that was literally a wasted year for 75% of the population of the globe, and I think 25% really took advantage of the world’s time out, which I think was actually necessary. As you see hiring patterns now amongst businesses that are starting up, people are going, “You know what? I never liked that job. Screw it. Maybe I can do something on my own, do my own startup or something, I don’t need to be working for this fascist company to make billions of dollars for the owner while I’m paid minimum wage”. And they’re just all like whatever, man. And now only that, the earth actually healed for a year – everything from carbon emissions to ozone, healed over a year. It just shows what a year of being sensible would look like to the future of humanity. I think there was a lot of good things – obviously, not the deaths and needless deaths. Some deaths will occur of course, but the needless deaths, and these people have dreams, lives, and families, and they’re dead now because they listened to political disinformation. It’s really sad, the state of where our society has gotten to right now. 

It’s definitely double-sided, everything that’s happened over the past year. I do agree that you can see a few positive changes – the earth in general, people’s attitudes toward work, toward realizing how valuable it is that they got to spend time at home with family and realizing they have to prioritize that more – and then of course from the music side, for the artists – so I suppose there’s always a few positives to be pulled from any situation.

Chelsea, that’s very astute, but you missed out on the biggest point of all – Britney is going to be free soon. *laughs* When I heard that I was like, “oh my god, finally, some GOOD gossip”. *laughs* And trust me, that was completely dripped and coated in sarcasm. I don’t give a shit, but I’ll tell you what. It was fun watching, because pandemic news has been different than other years’ news, mainstream media has adapted and we’ve all adapted to how we view things and how we go about our lives thanks to this pandemic. And I mean literally, thanks, there’s a lot of things that I think are going to be positives when we’re done with this trial – I call it a trial of humanity. I think there’s a lot of positives coming, so I’m actually becoming a glass half-full as opposed to a glass half-empty guy, and Britney’s freedom of course, that would just be the cherry on the sundae. 

*laughs* Well, in terms of some other positives, everybody’s looking forward to seeing Ministry get back out there on the road for the tour this fall. We’ve been focusing on Moral Hygiene, of course, but your upcoming tour is also featuring The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, for the 30th Anniversary, and that’s obviously so iconic of an album, you’re heading out in October with Helmet, Front Line Assembly, so it sounds like a lot of cool stuff going on for this tour. 

Well, we’re going to do a couple of Moral Hygiene songs on this tour, just to introduce them to people, and we’ll do 5 or 6 from The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, and recreate the original set that’s on “In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up”, with the chainlink fence and all that. And so it should be an interesting tour with a lineup that I’m really, really proud of. And then, who knows? Like I said, we have two albums coming out within the next two years of brand-new stuff done during quarantine. So we’ll have to figure out a new approach depending on health restrictions and this and that, whatever’s going on. I just have my fingers crossed that October can happen – I’m double-vaxxed by the way, I fully support it, and listen – nobody, nobody in this world has been as fully adamant about distrusting government as Ministry and myself. But, it’s not about government, it’s about science, and we can help our society continue as a society, or even a semblance of it, if you just get vaccinated. I’m on the full-on, just go get vaxxed, just get us back to…well, I don’t want to say “get us back to normal”, let’s get us to the point where we can propagate a new normal that’s better than the old normal. 

“A new normal that’s better than the old normal”, sounds like a good note to end it on. It’s hard to say right now exactly what’s going to be happening in October, but there’s a lot of plans in the works and it looks like things are heading in the direction of opening back up and getting to shows again, so hopefully it happens, and I’m looking forward to seeing you out on tour. 

Like I said, fingers crossed, man. That’s all we can do at this point, just fingers crossed and just do what’s right for you, your neighbors and the community. And thank you so much, Chelsea, you take care.

Absolutely, thank you so much for your time today, Al.