AL JOURGENSEN made his name originally in dance music and helped to define the Chicago Wax Trax sound. When Sire signed him, they gave him any producer he wanted, so he chose Adrian Sherwood to learn his studio skills.Then he put big guitars back into dance music and slowly evolved it into a Wall of Sound dance floor production, but with metal, hypnotic rock and funk. Ministry is Al’s main band; Revolting Cocks is his party band. He has recorded Palehead with Ian MacKaye, Lard with Jello Biafra, and Acid Horse with Cabaret Voltaire. Interview by V.Vale and Jello Biafra, partly at the Fillmore Auditorium.
JELLO BIAFRA: You must tell us about the Steven Spielberg prank–
AL JOURGENSEN: Ministry was in Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence movie. He had never worked with a rock band before and he was really freaked out. We were there for two days and he wouldn’t even come near us.
VALE: I think it was because of the way the band looks–
AJ: Finally, Spielberg’s handlers set up a meeting. We had to line up, all of us in a row singlefile, like we were meeting the fuckin’ Queen! Spielberg came down greeting everyone and shaking hands, ‘Good to have you here . . .’ They put me down at the end of the line, like they were hoping I might give up and walk away or something. Finally he gets down to me and I snarl [nasal voice], ‘Hey! Steven, David, look! The band’s gotta quit. We can’t do this film. All of us are walkin’ out right now!’ He’s like [gasps], ‘What?! Why?’ And all his handlers are scribbling down notes an’ shit …
I said, ‘We were told A.I. was a porno film that stood for ‘Anal Intruder,’ and what is all this shit? We were told it was a porno film, and fuck you!’ (In the film, there were a bunch of teddy bears runnin’ around; like, what is this crap?) And they all went running . . . Spielberg immediately grabbed his heart and ran, with all his other people–
JB: He was looking for somebody to yell at and fire, right?
AJ: So when he ran off, I had to go after him and I was in my full dress costume where I had on all my metal; I couldn’t even run. I yelled, ‘Hey, I was just kidding!’ [laughs] So every day after that, at the beginning of the day Spielberg would come up to me with a new ‘porno’ title for A.I., like: ‘Ass Intruder,’ ‘Animal Instinct’ . . . And then he started wearing my hat and jamming with us onstage. So we ended up getting along great!
JB: You gotta tell the Seymour Stein prank; it’s one of my favorites–
AJ: Seymour Stein was the head of Sire Records. He gave Ministry a lot of money to make a recording, and then we didn’t do anything for awhile. Finally he wanted to hear something–
JB: Al was working with Adrian Sherwood at Southern Studios, trying to absorb Adrian’s studio skills and applying them–
AJ: Somebody called and said, ‘Seymour’s on his way. He wants to hear something.’ He had just gone to rural English rehab for cocaine addiction, and had gotten out and headed straight to our studio. We were like, ‘Fuck!’ Adrian and I turned to each other and said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’
So we put up a big Nazi flag outside the studio, just hanging there–like hanging an American flag in your front yard. So when Seymour got out of his car, he knew he was in hostile territory. He walks through that and comes in.
Now me and Adrian and had been up for three days snorting straight speed–Wilko Johnson used to make us our speed, and that’s why they call him ‘Dr Feelgood.’ We knew that Seymour might show up, so we had recorded a special tape for him of us thumping the microphone with our thumbs, me yelling into it and mixing in all this metal machine feedback–the whole deal–and twelve minutes of that. The whole thing had been sampled into a Fairlight synthesizer–that’s what saved us–and we had quickly made a crude mix recording.
Seymour had been expecting a commercial dance music recording. So we turned on the amp and went, ‘Here, Seymour–bam bam bam bam!’ [while Al does a series of hoarse screeches]. Adrian went [British accent], ‘This is a major trend in the clubs, y’know!’ Adrian was so high that for some reason he thought Seymour’s name was ‘Marshall.’ So when Seymour went into the ‘speed bathroom,’ Adrian was following him, shouting [U.K. accent], ‘Marshall. Marshall. I need to get paid in cash, now. This is the new single!’ Seymour went right back to rehab and didn’t come out for three months. He never spoke to me again . . . That became Howie’s job.
JB: Didn’t you once aim a bazooka at a Warners executive’s car in the parking lot while he was standing at the window, watching? What prompted you to do this? What was his name?
AJ: [laughs] John Bugue. Nakano, a big video director from Japan, wanted to do our ‘Cracking Up’ video. He had turned down Madonna, he had turned down a bunch of people; he said, ‘No. I only want to work with Ministry.’ The day we were supposed to start filming, Warner Video cut off our funding (this was after Nakano had flown all the way over here). They were mad because he wouldn’t do Madonna. So I bought a bazooka off a friend of mine, aimed it at the head of Warner Video’s car in the parking lot, and then security suddenly appeared and took away my bazooka. I was mad, so I went up and took a shit on John Bugue’s desk–the head of Warner Video. Well, the next day we got our budget back!
JB: The reason ‘rock star’ behavior has turned into what it is, is because major labels deserve it. Their attitude is, ‘Once you sign on the dotted line with them, you cease to be an ‘artist’ and from that point on, you are their employee. You are employed for them to strip-mine your talent so they can sell it to mall kids (and others) and forget to pay you when the time comes–
AJ: And they forget that we can make their life a living hell! I know I have…