As someone who’s always commented on social issues through his music, Ministry’s Al Jourgensen had plenty of material to work with for the industrial rock band's 15th album, Moral Hygiene, which he recorded in his home-built studio during the pandemic quarantine.
The title itself suggests how the songs speak to our troubled times.
Jourgensen worked closely with guitarist Billy Morrison (Billy Idol/Royal Machines) on many tracks, including a grinding, spectacular cover of the Stooges' "Search and Destroy.” Ministry’s slow-mo cover of the tune stemmed from a benefit concert that Jourgensen played with Morrison and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro.
“I went and did ‘Search and Destroy’ with them [at the benefit], and I completely botched it,” says Jourgensen. “It was horrible. Somebody handed me a joint backstage, and I don’t know what was in that joint, but by the time I arrived on stage, everything seemed in half time and under water. Fortunately, Billy [Morrison] and Dave [Navarro] are professional enough to go, ‘Okay. He’s in trouble. Let’s modify the song for him.’ I felt so bad. I thought I ruined the whole show. I called them up to apologize and said I didn’t know what happened. They thought it was awesome because we did ‘Search and Destroy’ in half time. At soundcheck, we did it perfect, but by the time I got on stage, it was like, ‘Uh oh.’ They wanted to record it the way we did it. That’s how it wound up on the album, but it didn’t wind up on the album until I got approval from [Stooges singer] Iggy [Pop] first. I sent it to him, and he gave it the thumbs up. He said, ‘I don’t know how you came up with this version, but it sounds pretty cool.’”
Jourgensen also teamed up with punk icon Jello Biafra on the reeling "Sabotage is Sex,” a hard-driving tune that gives Biafra free rein to let loose with high-pitched yelps and sneering vocals.
“You have to remember I’ve done two-and-a-half LARD albums with [Biafra],” says Jourgensen. “I tried to sing on that song. It was going in a different direction. We had the music written. I wasn’t quite happy with my vocals. I’m pretty persnickety about how I want my vocals to be presented. I thought Jello would be perfect on it, and he was game to do it. As a consequence, we ended up doing more things tailored to Jello, and we’re almost done with a new LARD album. That also came out of the quarantine, forced imprisonment for two years.”
N.W.A.'s Arabian Prince appears on the social media only "Unity Mix" of "Good Trouble" to read John Lewis's posthumous speech in full. Lewis’s career and the way he essentially wrote his own obituary inspired Jourgensen.
“Obviously, I have a good friendship with Arabian Prince,” says Jourgensen. “We were talking about the absolute foresight of [Lewis] to write basically his own obituary before he died and to make sure New York Times didn’t publish it until after his death. It was a really powerful moving piece that he wrote. It was time. Let’s give this guy some credit. This is where we should be headed as a country. I figured I’d shine a spotlight on that.”
The tour that brings Ministry to the Agora celebrates the 30th anniversary of Ministry's seminal album The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and debuts new songs from Moral Hygiene. Though decades separate the two releases, Jourgensen says he can see a connection between them.
“I think they really go hand in glove, oddly enough,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing, like an old dog can’t learn new tricks. But they sound like they could have been released within a year from each other. There’s also the sense that I’m still caterwauling about the same injustices in society and they still are prevalent. That’s kind of creepy. Even though they seem like they’re sister and brother, there’s obviously growth within that. You can tell it’s still Ministry, but now the craft of that particular genre has been honed and perfected and polished over the years. I’m comfortable that whatever I release will sound exactly like Ministry even though it doesn’t sound exactly like Ministry. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in bacon — I don’t know.”
Ministry will return to Northeast Ohio again in the fall to open for Nine Inch Nails at Blossom, a special show that'll also feature industrial rock pioneers Nitzer Ebb.
“I had to turn down 15,000 backstage pass requests for that one,” Jourgensen says. “Everyone I met in some handshake line 15 years ago somehow got my address and emailed me to say I had to put them on the list. I said, ‘No, dude. It’s not like that.’ Folks seem to be riled up about that show as well as the Hellfest show we are doing in France in June which has Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Killing Joke and Skinny Puppy on one bill. I don’t know. I guess the old folks are making a comeback. Yeah for us! Yeah for industrial!”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]