Guitarist talks Al Jourgensen into bringing back Ministry
No one really believed it was the end. In 2008, Ministry — pioneers of pop-industrial thrash metal, formed in Chicago in 1981 — embarked on its C U Later Tour. After several groundbreaking albums (1988’s “The Land of Rape and Honey,” 1999’s “The Dark Side of the Spoon”) full of music both sleazy and politically agitating, as well as decades of drug-induced frenzy on and off the stage, singer and impish impresario Al Jourgensen said the band was over.
“It’s the end of all of it,” he told the Sun-Times that year. “I’m turning 50 in October, Bush is leaving and it just seemed that synchronicity was at work where you have a half-century milestone, you’ve been through a couple of Bushes and a Reagan and Clinton’s scandals and everything and you just finally figure, ‘That’s about it!’ ”
It was a long goodbye. After the farewell tour came the farewell live album (“Adios … Putas Madres”), a remix collection, even a charity single for the Chicago Blackhawks. (The band performs Thursday and Friday at the Vic.)
Jourgensen, 53, now based in El Paso, Texas, also stayed busy within his vast network of side projects (the Revolting Cocks, his country-music moniker Buck Satan, etc.), including a still-unrealized solo record. Given his manic work habits and the weight of the band brand, not many Ministry fans were worried by the alleged departure.
Sure enough, a new Ministry album, “Relapse,” appeared earlier this year, and just last week, the band launched a new tour.
“I guess you could blame me for it a little bit,” guitarist Mike Scaccia, Ministry guitarist off and on since 1989, says of the reunion. “I started working with Al again three years ago on his solo record, which obviously never came out, and went from that to the Buck Satan record [December’s “Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free”]. During that time, he played me ‘Double Tap’ [from ‘Relapse’], and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is awesome! You know, I’ve got some riffs that would go with that …’ I said, ‘Let’s do a Ministry record,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s done, over.’ I said, ‘It can’t be over because I didn’t play on the last tour.’
“The Buck Satan sessions were really positive and added new life to him and to me. We were writing together better than we ever have. We were getting along great. Then one day he came over and said, ‘Man, I’ve been thinking about it. You’re right. We should do another Ministry record.’ I think I’ve even got him talked into one more and a couple of tours.”
Scaccia, 46, drives about half of “Relapse”; Jourgensen’s other conspirator on the record is Prong’s Tommy Victor (as well as bassist Tony Campos, keyboardist John Bechdel and drummer Aaron Rossi). The new music is pretty punishing — sharp with new political screeds (“99 Percenters,” “Get Up Git Out N’ Vote,” “Kleptocracy”) and music-industry kvetching (“Ghouldiggers”) — though perhaps not as astonishing as Scaccia makes it sound. When he describes the record as “very laid-back” he’s speaking of the studio climate.
Scaccia, in fact, can’t stop mentioning how genial and businesslike the sessions were, ascribing some of that to Jourgensen’s improved health after recovering from a serious illness and his previous heroin addiction. The singer’s downward drug spiral is chronicled in a documentary, “Fix: The Ministry Movie,” which premiered last year at the annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival.
“I don’t like it, don’t care for it,” Scaccia says of the film. “I was in rehab when all that was happening. If I wasn’t, I would have been right next to him being a disgusting fool. The thing that bothered me most [about the film] was that was just him in that time. That’s not him. It’s kind of a depressing thing having this film say, ‘Here’s Al,’ and then it’s over — when that was really the beginning. He’s survived all that. He makes records every year and tours and keeps going. The drugs and alcohol never made him stop working. That he’s still going — that’s the story.”
So how’s Al now?
“I wouldn’t say he’s sober, but he’s OK,” Scaccia says, then pauses. “He’s not doing drugs, just drinking.” Pause. “His songwriting’s getting better.” Pause. Long pause. “It is what it is.”