Al Jourgensen Talks SURGICAL METH MACHINE - "I Think This Is More Of A MINISTRY Record Than Any MINISTRY Record Ever Written"
March 11, 2016, 2 years ago
For a spell in the '80s and '90s, Al Jourgensen just may have been the leading candidate for "King of the Side Projects." After all, he could be spotted as part of such on-again/off-again projects as the Revolting Cocks and Lard - in addition to producing others and leading his full-time band, Ministry. And it appears as though the man also known as Uncle Al may have been bitten by the side band bug again, as evidenced by the launch of Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters in 2011, and this year, the arrival of Surgical Meth Machine, a band comprised of Al and his longtime engineer, Sam D'Ambruoso. With the duo's self-titled debut ready to drop on April 15th via Nuclear Blast, Uncle Al agreed to chat with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato.
BraveWords: How did Surgical Meth Machine come together?
Al Jourgensen: "While we were doing From Beer to Eternity [Ministry's 2013 album], towards the end of basic tracking, me, my engineer Sammy and Mikey [Scaccia, guitar], started fucking around with some really fast beats. Ridiculously fast. Just laughing the whole time, like, 'This can never be played live.' We were having fun with it - just to kill the time in between takes. And then at the very end of completion of basic tracks on that album, Mikey went back to Dallas…and died, on stage [while performing with the band Rigor Mortis]. It was quite a shock to all of us. And I had to go back and mix the album, with Mike on my mind. I mean, he was like my little brother - almost 30 years we'd been together. It was just out of the blue. I'm still kind of getting over this. It was a real freak out. Especially having to go back in and work on this stuff every day that we had just laid, knowing that he was dead. It was really creepy. But the album came out great. It really meant a lot to me to make sure the album came out great, because I wanted to do right by Mikey. So afterwards, Sammy mentioned, 'What do you want to do next?' And I was like, 'I don't know.' I didn't exactly want to go right into a Ministry tour or record. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that he just died instantly. He left completely happy and thinking, 'This record is going to kick ass' - speaking about the Ministry record. And then he's dead. So I'm like, 'Why don't we do some of these fast things that we were just fucking around with, and see if we can make the fastest, most ridiculous record we can?'
“So we started on that for a while. Me and him, laying some basic tracks. And some of it sounded pretty good. So we started adding on to that, and then I moved to California from Texas, and immediately got a medical marijuana/weed card in California - which is not available in Texas. So as soon as I got my weed card, the album suspiciously slowed down. A lot. [Laughs] It wasn't like 'Release the hounds of hell' anymore, it was more like, [says in Jeff Spicoli-type voice] 'Dude…that sounds awesome. I love living in Cali…this is great, dude.' It got really hippie after a while. And that was great. So I could have almost put this album open to two different side projects. But we decided just to put it all on one, because that was exactly how it transpired. It started out with just, 'Hell hath no fury,' and ended up in, 'Timothy Leary's bed.' This album gets pretty bipolar at times. But we liked it. And it sounded good to us, so we just said, 'We'll keep it.' A couple of labels heard it, and Nuclear Blast is the only that thought it was any good. They thought it sounded awesome. So they were like, 'Let's do it.' So here I am, talking to you."
BraveWords: How would you compare SMM to Ministry, stylistically?
Al Jourgensen: "It's funny - I think this is more of a Ministry record than any Ministry record ever written. And I say that only in a sense because when it's really insular and I'm not working with other musicians, like, all the side projects I've used side musicians and even on Ministry records, I'm working with either Mikey, and for a long time in the past, Paul Barker. Working with different people. Well, this was just me and my engineer - it was very insular. So I drew on references that I knew - which was Ministry. And Ministry encompasses a few different genres, and my other side projects. So I drew a little bit from each one, to make more of a composite sketch of a 33-year career. So it's got all the basic bits. It's got all the food groups of Ministry - your vegetables, your fruits, your meats, your dairy, your grains. It's got all that shit. It's got the entire food pyramid on SMM, encompassing a 33-year Ministry career. So in that sense, it's more of a Ministry record than a Ministry record…but it's less of a Ministry record and nothing like Ministry, because all of it is incorporated in one, instead of it being laser focused on a certain direction we were going in, at a certain period of time. This is more like a goulash. It's like a leftover stew - you take all the ingredients that you've got in the fridge and you just throw it in and make one tasty ass stew. So, let's call this Al Jourgensen's Goulash Record."
BraveWords: What is the current status of Ministry?
Al Jourgensen: "We're finishing up our From Beer To Eternity Tour, finally - two years afterwards. Because we did Australia, South America, North America, and we're finally getting around to Europe this summer. So we're kind of concluding with that. And then we'll see where it takes us. I certainly didn't want to dive into something without Mikey right away, but the current band that we have…the way I do things, is I just jam and record, and not ever expecting it to see the light of day. But a couple of months later, after you record it, after a particularly beneficial night of drinking or excess, you wind up recording some stuff, and you listen to it a couple of months later, and you go, 'Wow. That's actually not bad.' Or, 'Oh. That's absolute shit. Please burn it and deny anything if anyone ever hears this. You didn't do it!' So I just do that - I keep recording year round or whenever I'm inspired to do so. And then I figure out where it's going to go later, in whatever band moniker, in whatever direction that I want to do it in. I try and fit what I've written to existing bands that I've done, or create a new one that is completely off the wall.
“As far as Ministry, I've been jamming with some of the Ministry members now - Cesar Soto, Sin Quirin, Tony Campos, Aaron Rossi - and we have some stuff on the shelf that I'd be interested in seeing where we could go with it. So I'm not putting the final nail in the coffin of Ministry, yet. But it's not on the front burner, is what I'm saying. This SMM record is done, I'd like to do another Revolting Cocks record, I'd like to do another Lard record - especially since Jello [Biafra] sang on one song of the SMM thing. He's the only other musician on the SMM record. So I would really like to do another Lard record. And Jello really got the taste for it again, too. He was wishing that 'I Don't Wanna' - which he sings on the SMM record - was going to be a Lard song, as opposed to an SMM song. He was like, 'We've got to build an album around this.' So that's pretty good. Like I said, this is a composite album. There are elements of Lard in this record, big time. There are elements of Ministry, there are elements of RevCo. It's a pretty composite sketch. It's a good goulash - it's a good, hearty stew."
BraveWords: Are there plans for an SMM tour?
Al Jourgensen: "Well, once again, my crystal ball is a little bit cloudy today. So I can't really see the future. But considering that we weren't even considering making this a band or anything like that, the response to this record has been over the top. I'm freaking out. Everyone seems to like this record. Once again, never say never. But it's also a matter of scheduling and logistics, and getting something like that going in a live format. Since I've never been in a band that's just been like the same band members that were rehearsing in a garage for years, put out their first record, and they all know each other, I have friends all over the world that fly in from anywhere from Norway and Finland to England and Germany, Canada, America. People that I just have fun jamming with. So getting them all on the same schedule as me, it's like playing Powerball or something - you never know what ping-pong ball is going to come up, and who's going to be available and who's not. So those things, you can't just say definitively, 'OK. This is the way it's going to be.' I pretty much do it by feel and by schedules of other people and how they feel, and then we go from there. Is there a possibility? Yes. Is there a probability? Yes. At least some limited SMM shows. But how, where, and why, and the logistics, I don't have answers for you on that yet."
BraveWords: If your book [2013's Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen] ever gets made into a film, who would you like to play you?
Al Jourgensen: "Well, that's an obvious one - it's only fair that if Johnny Depp copped my look, that he goes ahead and does me as me! I mean, he's already me in Pirates of the Caribbean. So, what the fuck - make it Pirates of the Caribbean/Uncle Al version!"
BraveWords: Or would you say that if John Belushi was still alive, he could play a good Al Jourgensen?
Al Jourgensen: "Well, hopefully, he would be alive and managing me, because I can't think of a better representative for your name than John Belushi. That would be awesome! And doing Joe Cocker type back-up vocals and all that, yeah, I would love to work with John. And I will someday - when I leave this mortal coil, I'm sure we'll hook up."