A familiar noise


April 11, 2003


When last we heard from Chicago's industrial thrash-rock legends Ministry, the group was performing as the band at the "Flesh Fair" in "A.I.--Artificial Intelligence," the film initiated by the late Stanley Kubrick and finished by Steven Spielberg.

The band hasn't released a new album in four years. Its drug and business problems are notorious, and its once pioneering sounds have long since been eclipsed by the artistic accomplishments of proteges such as Nine Inch Nails and Tool. So there wasn't reason to expect much from a new album that finds bandleader Al Jourgensen and longtime collaborator Paul Barker returning to the ranks of the indie labels.

Surprise: "Animositisomina" (Sanctuary) finds the duo working hard to reclaim its reputation as masters of grating, abrasive, but nonetheless gripping electronic noise, and it's easily the group's strongest recording since 1995's "Filth Pig."

I spoke with Jourgensen by phone from California, where the group was launching a tour that brings it to the Vic Theatre with Lollipop Lustkill and Motograter at 6 p.m. on April 22. (Tickets are $30; call 312-559-1212.)

Q. Hi, Al. What are you are up to?

A. Just sittin' around listenin' to some Buck Owens and getting ready for a show tonight in Disneyland. The Mouse will burn! We're playing the House of Blues, and it's not actually in Disneyland, but just outside. Either way, the Mouse is goin' down, man!

Q. You guys have been off the road for quite some time. Does it feel good to be getting back out there?

A. Yeah, we feel like kids again, man! We only tour when a Bush is President. You can expect our next tour when Jeb runs.

Q. Tell me about this album. It's a really strong disc, but it was four years in the making.

A. Well, we almost threw in the towel. After "The Dark Side of the Spoon" we just seemed to run out of steam. I had other things going and Paul had other things going, and it just wasn't fun anymore for a while. So we took some time off and then that "A.I." thing got us together in the same studio again. I mean, when Kubrick's people called, it took us a nanosecond to go, "Yeah, we'll do that!"

It was very cool, but also the end result of it was that it got us working together again, because I was living in a different city than Paul. It got us back in the studio and then we started having fun again. And some of the stuff that we started jamming on eventually became part of the new album.

Q. Where did that call come from? Was Kubrick a fan of Ministry?

A. Yeah, Kubrick--this weird old American guy living in the middle of the English countryside--he liked Chris Isaac and Ministry, and that was all he listened to. You tell me how that works, man!

Q. Well, there couldn't have been a better band to perform at a techno-psychedelic robot rally.

A. Yeah, it was a real stretch for us! [Laughs] It went to [the Lee] Strasberg [Acting Studio] for that! But it was just a treat to be there. It was a real gas--it was like the most expensive rock video ever made for us! I mean, we've been on video sets before, but nothing that elaborate. We were out at the Spruce Goose hangar in Long Beach (Calif.), and it was a trip, the amount of work and money and preparation and everything for one shot. It was quite a learning experience, and I'm always up for that. It's a little different than being out in the parking lot selling swag so you can make a video.

Q. So you and Paul have been working on this new material since 2000?

A. We didn't really set a goal or anything, we just started jamming, and some of the ideas we picked up later. It wasn't anything like etched in stone, but we were screwing around to get the one song for that "A.I." soundtrack, and then some other ideas came to fruition which we remembered later. The main thing was that it was fun to be in the studio again with Paul, and I think that's pretty evident.

Q. When you look back after all this time, what is it that Paul brings to Ministry that you've never had with any of your other countless collaborators?

A. It's pretty easy--he's yin and I'm yang, no doubt. You can't find two more different personalities. But we cover each other well, and together we make a whole. It's like without Spock, there is no Captain Kirk, you know? After 20 years, if you don't have it down by now... [Laughs]

Q. The thing that grabs me about the album is the intensity--it really feels as if you felt you had something to prove again.

A. In a big way we did. We had some lost time to make up for, you know? The main thing was that a lot of different circumstances conspired to make this a really fun record to make. First of all we didn't take our usual 15 months to make a record, we took three months. And we went out in the middle of the desert to do it. We're so entrenched in Chicago, as far as being a hometown; it doesn't matter where you ever live, Chicago is always your home. But there's just too many distractions; there's a constant, constant distraction there. So, speaking of Kubrick, we set out to do a "Shining." Either I was going to sit there and type "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" all day and choke Paul and hit him with an ax, or we were going to make a damn good record. And it turned out to be the latter.

Q. Ministry is back on an indie label, you've ridden out the whole alternative era, and in a lot of ways it seems as if it's 1986 in the indie-rock world once more. Where do you see the group fitting in?

A. I don't know. In 20 years from now, when I look back and I'm sitting in a chair with a shotgun on the porch, I'll think back. But for now it's up to you guys to slot us in, because we just charge ahead, lay destruction behind us and let other people figure it out! [Laughs]

Q. When you hear something like Tool today, is that encouraging? That group couldn't exist without the ground that Ministry broke.

A. Well, I appreciate that, and I know those guys, but I've only heard like one or two songs. It's not that I'm not a fan or anything, it's just that I'm really set in my ways. I listen to old country and old jazz, and that's about it. All these new bands, it's embarrassing--I meet 'em and they're like, "You're such a big influence." They sell billions of records, and I don't even know who the f--- they are! It's pretty strange; we pretty much keep to our own.

Q. So why do you think there's a need for Ministry? You and Paul record under so many different guises, you could have done anything.

A. That's coming to, but it was good to get that out of our system. This record was like an overdue constipation, and it was a lot of fun just to kick out the jams again. It was important to us to know that we could still do it. It was like falling off a horse--you just get back on.

Q. People in Chicago know you so well that they're always speculating: "How is Al? Is he healthy these days? Clean and sober?"

A. [Laughs] I've never, ever been happier in my life. This is a really great time for me; I'm remarried, I have a great wife, a nice little place out here in Venice Beach, and I'm getting a lot of studio work, which I like. We've got all these bands going again, and I'm back in the saddle.

Q. There have been so many close calls, so many ups and downs, that I have to ask the Keith Richards question: How the hell are you still alive and kicking?

A. I guess I've figure out the true antidote to Black Flag pesticide or something; it seems to me I'm a cockroach! Either that or I have a guardian angel on my shoulder. [Laughs] But the really easy thing to point to is that I hate f---ing Republicans! That definitely gets me going in the morning. I mean, the more we fight for freedom over there, the more they take it away here. I was so proud to be in San Francisco the other day when the protests were going down; that made me proud to be an American, and I was proud to be from Chicago when I heard about people shutting down Lake Shore Drive.