Al Fucking Jourgensen: A Rock And Roll Fables Conversation

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Ministry’s not quite over, RevCo has new material in the works, Lard will be back, and most importantly: Surgical Meth Machine has been unveiled to the masses. The genesis for SMM is best explained by the legendary Al Jourgensen, though, who graciously chatted with us via phone recently about his recording process and how the seeds for SMM were initially sown:

“Here’s what we did: Me and my engineer Sam D’Ambruoso, who’s done 2 Revco record and 3 Ministry records, went into the studio. We were discussing experimenting with tempo fluctuations and making things really fast. So we go in the studio for four months…and usually at the end of four months we listen to what we’ve done and we go ‘Well this one kinda sounds like Ministry. You know what? That one kinda sounds like RevCo. That one kinda sounds like Lard….and Jello (Biafra) was staying here at my house so maybe put it on the Lard shelf'”

“Think of it this way: you float around for eight months of the year and you’ve got ideas coming from God knows where…from the universe, you’re being transmitted these ideas. They’re stuck in your head, you digest them, and your actual bowel tract gets full so you have to take a shit and so it takes me four months to shit out all this stuff that’s been accumulating in me before I feel light enough on my feet to start accepting more ideas from the universe. If you consider everything over the last ten years, this is how I’ve been recording! Four months of recording and eight months of press, tour, or possibly thinking about other ideas….or whatever. At any rate, each of my releases is due to the fact that I took a four month long shit. See, you can actually say that anything that I have anything to do with is complete shit!”

Asked why the new project signed with Nuclear Blast, Jourgensen is quick to respond:

“Because they’re the only ones whose check cleared!”

“So some tapes/CD’s of what we had done leaked to friends and they gave it to people at record labels and a couple record labels called and said ‘Well, you have to release this as a record’ and I’m like, ‘Well, we’re not done yet’. And they were like ‘No! We want what you’re recording. As is. Right now. This shit is dope.’ And Nuclear Blast actually cut me a check and I was, like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, man!’ I went down to the bank and cashed it and the thing fucking cleared! I called them up and I thanked them and they go ‘Well, what are you calling this?’ so I went back to Sammy and said well, what do we call this. We just got paid. And he was, like, ‘Bonus!’ 

“We went about this thing pretty surgically in the sense that there were no other musicians around and we just went in and tried out ideas….the first half of the record seems to be a meth head’s pulse rate and the drums were done on machine and I did all the guitars and bass on it and we both happened to shout into a mic every so often, yelling about some content and thus became Surgical Meth Machine. It’s basically a project where the songs formed the band and the band didn’t write the songs. We had no intention of this being an actual band, project, movement, whatever…It was just us dicking around in the studio for four months.”

And there you have Surgical Meth Machine, a bi-polar barrage of grooves and grinding guitars. But if you were expecting to see the band tour for six months then you’re sadly mistaken as Jourgensen quickly puts that to rest:

“Hell no! Why would I do that??? (laughs) Now let me just give a little tip to the kids: If you ever see SMM playing in your town, save your money! Cuz the money that you’d spend on an exorbitantly priced ticket would be better spent on a nice set of headphones and some weed and putting them on and listening to the record as opposed to watching two old white guys up there trying to recreate what they did a couple years ago (laughs). I mean the whole thing is dumb! I don’t foresee a tour in the future. If we did I’d need, at least, another album or two worth of material and then a few months to decide how to make the whole show cool so it’s like going to a dinner theatre which is what rock shows are to me. Unless you have exploding pyros and dancers and this and that and the other I’d much rather sit at home, buy some weed, and listen to an album I like on headphones and really get into it and have my own opinion of the band. I’m not a big fan of touring so the possibility of SMM touring? It’s almost negligible but you never can count it out. I may wake up all of a sudden and say ‘You know what? It’d be cool as shit to pull this off live because I have a traveling troupe of midgets with me and an F16 Fighter Squadron flying over the place and lots of pyro or something. Yeah! Fire! Lots of fire!’ Who nows? Presently, it’s not on my bucket list.”

When it comes to the lyrical content behind Surgical Meth Machine’s songs, you can blame the current obsession with social media for that one:

“My 30-year old daughter came down and spent a weekend with me. She visits me periodically and I watched her being consumed by this social media thing and her entire day was ruined and she was distraught over being unfriended by a complete stranger she had never met and that whole concept warped my mind. I was, like, ‘Adrienne, what are you fuckin’ doing?’ I would be so happy if a person I didn’t know who was trying to interact with me all of a sudden decided I wasn’t worth interacting with. I’d be popping the champagne corks. I’d be happy! But I saw how it was affecting her and affects her ideas, like, all of a sudden she’d get these figurines of thumbs up or thumbs down and likes and dislikes and this and that and she’d take it to heart! She’d get totally freaked out! It’d ruin her day over what complete strangers thought of her. To me it was such a foreign idea so I had to say something about it. Call me old fashioned but I’m a little bit freaked out about an entire cultural phenomenon that’s been going on for over a decade. I mean, we had the transition from spoken word and song to radio and from radio to TV. But TV to social media? Dude, it’s consuming society like I haven’t seen in my 57 years! It’s the most absurd concept to base a society on. Picture a dog hearing a high frequency and tilting his head and trying to understand it and that’s pretty much us as we went through our lyrical process.”

The album itself is almost bipolar with one side featuring those experimentations in tempo fluctuations while the second half is decidedly a trippier affair. Jourgensen went on to elaborate and how Devo’s “Gates of Steel” ended up being the split between the two halves:

“I love doing odd little takes on cover songs. We’ve done it for awhile. We did it with RevCo with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and Ministry had two separate albums of songs we like. It’s kind of like a sorbet to cleanse your palate after a gourmet meal, right? Doing a cover is a palate cleanser for me. You do it in your own way, your take on the song, the way you heard it and it was fun to do. Oddly, it was the same day we got our medical marijuana cards that we decided to do a Devo song. What started out being the fastest album in the world, experimenting with tempos, was a miserable failure because after we got our weed cards we just started ordering pizzas and got all warm and fuzzy. I’d do my vocals outside naked staring at clouds that would turn into unicorns and everything got so groovy for the last half of that record.”

And as always with Jourgensen, there’s always more in the pipeline:

“I’ll go back into the studio in September and come out by Christmas and listen back and see what the fuck we got and who knows? Maybe there’ll be some people around who happen to be in Revolting Cocks and we’ll finish up that Revolting Cocks record that’s on the shelf. The same thing goes for Ministry or Lard or what have you. The beauty of the thing is there’s no pre-conceived agenda to anything we do. We just go in and record and at the end of the day we’ll figure it out later. Like the old Marine adage of “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” But I live in the moment and what’s going on right now is I have obligations to finish a Ministry tour that I signed up for a couple years ago and I will meet those obligations and we’ll have fun. After that I go into the studio and from there? Who knows! My crystal ball is cloudy today!”

Which brings it all back to Ministry and the question of whether or not the band will truly be over on stage or in the studio:

“Well, no! I know there’s that whole thing going around that it’s done and all that after Mikey’s (Scaccia, Ministry and Rigor Mortis guitarist) death but you have to remember he had just died two hours earlier. I just got the news. I was completely crestfallen, bummed out, fucked up out of my mind and trying to figure out what happened to my best friend, my little brother of literally 30 years and all this press is calling me up and asking me what Ministry’s gonna do? Fuck you! Ministry’s over! You know? It’s, like, my best friend died, can you at least give him a minute or at least ask a question of what Mikey would have done or something? I was grossed out by the whole fucking thing so I said fuck it all. Fuck you and fuck Ministry and fuck everyone! But in reality, and like I said, after four months of recording I’ve got a few things on the Ministry shelf that I think would be a good album. Maybe it’ll come out some day. Depends on the next four months of recording.”

Surgical Meth Machine’s self-titled debut is out now through Nuclear Blast Records. Get yours here and here. For more on Al Jourgensen, including where you can catch him live, head on over here.

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