Ministry (Contemporary Musicians)
"We have people who think Ministry is a skinhead Nazi band," guitarist-singer-writer-producer Al Jourgensen told Seconds magazine. "We have people who think Ministry is a disco homosexual band; we have people that think .. . I don't even know what they think!" Given Ministry's development from an Anglophile synth-pop group in the early 1980s to a titan of so-called "industrial disco" furious amalgam of noise, metallic guitar, screaming, samples, and dance beatsome confusion among listeners is understandable. Yet, ironically, as the group's sound has become more uncompromising, its following has ballooned. By 1992 Ministry would be featured on the successful Lollapalooza II tour and would see its release of that year debut in the Billboard Top 30. Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn noted that young fans in the early 1990s appeared drawn to bands that expressed their "anger and alienation," attesting, "No band dips into the well of discontent more powerfully than this Chicago-based group."
Alain Jourgensen was born in the late 1950s in Cuba; his family moved to the U.S. when he was a child, settling for a while in Denver before moving to Chicago. Electrified by the sounds of punk rock in the late 1970s, Jourgensen formed his own group, Special Effect. He created Ministry with bassist Paul Barker a short time thereafter, and the group released its first single, "Cold Life," on Chicago's Wax Trax label in 1981. Jourgensen, Barker, and assorted cronies would continue to work with Wax Trax despite various involvements with major labels.
The morbid synth-funk sound of early Ministry, evocative of such gloomy English post-punk bands as Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, attracted the attention of Arista Records, which signed the group and exercised considerable influence on the recording of the 1983 album With Sympathy. Universally pannedever more so than by Jourgensen himselfhe album set an early negative example for the group. Jourgensen called the record "an abortion, a piece of complete corporate shit" in an interview with Pulse! and told Seconds that it "looms over our head like some kind of vulture or some kind of bird of prey reminding us that we have to really institute quality control in what we do." Jourgensen provided some background on the fiasco, explaining, "We were immediately swamped with record company pressures and we were broke and starving at the time, we would've done anything. In retrospect, it's really good that that happened because it won't happen again. We've already seen the grass is not greener on the other side."
Developed Signature "Techno-Punk" Sound
After releasing a few singles on Wax Trax and Arista, Ministry went back to the drawing board. Moving to Sire Records, they released the single "Over the Shoulder" in 1985 and, the following year, the album Twitch. That record was the beginning of the new, hard-edged Ministry sound, which was even more powerfully delivered on 1988's The Land of Rape and Honey. MTV regularly aired the disturbing video for the grinding, relentless single "Stigmata," reminding alternative rock fans that Ministry's weepy dance-pop era was long past. The new power was derived in part from the group's refusal to compromise; as Jourgensen noted in Seconds, "We were never allowed to be ourselves until we finally put our foot down with Rape and Honey and had no external producers and no external influences. I'd say Ministry has been Ministry since Rape and Honey, and I've been allowed to be Al Jourgensen since then."
Ministry's next record was a real breakthroughritically and commercially. Released in 1989, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste met enthusiastic reviews and sold impressively, especially in light of Ministry's harsh, anti-commercial sound. The Chicago Tribune, quoted in a Sire press profile of the group, called the album "a techno-punk masterpiece." David Fricke of Rolling Stone described the song "So What" as "a serial killer's soliloquy set to a throbbing funk beat and migraine riffing." Ministry followed up with a live album and video in 1990, both entitled In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up; Fricke called the record an "aural depth charge."
Jourgensen's output was prolific during this period simply by virtue of his work with Ministry. But along with these efforts, he was masterminding a plethora of other projects, both as performer and producer. Ministry's alter-ego, the Revolting Cocks, for example, was a fun-loving punk band described by Jourgensen in Seconds as "the 'lampshade and limbo-line' party."
Jourgensen Compared to Phil Spector
The Cocks released two studio albums, a live offering, and several singles on Wax Trax between 1986 and 1990. Among other Ministry/Wax Trax offshoots were 1000 Homo DJs, Pailhead (featuring Fugazi vocalist Ian MacKaye), Lead into Gold, PTP, and Acid Horse. Jourgensen also worked with Lard, fronted by former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, on two records for Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label. Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times ventured that Jourgensen "exhibits an independence and vision reminiscent of Phil Spector, arguably the most imaginative producer of the modern pop era." Despite his obvious influence on the "industrial" scene, however, Jourgensen disclaims both glory and responsibility and shuns the genre label. "I don't think I've created anything," he told Seconds. "I had nothing to do with this. People sought me out, I did what I know how to do in my own little corner of the world."
Amid his creative outpourings, Jourgensen gained a measure of notoriety as an unapologetic user of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs as well as a hard drinker; stories about his excessive behavior onstage and in the studioany of them untrueirculated in the American and British press. Although he acknowledged his propensity for drug use, he remained a private person, with a wife and child, unwilling to fuel the tempestuous legend that had formed around him. In any case, he weaned himself off of hard drugs. "I finally found out [that drug use] isn't where the [creative] power comes from," Jourgensen told Hilburn in a 1992 interview. "The power comes from within, and it just took me a long time... maybe longer than others to tap into this.... I've learned how to . . . . mix a record sober now and go on stage sober, which I've never been able to do."
Psalm 69 and Lollapalooza
1992 was a watershed year for Ministry; the band released the album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs and appeared on the bill of the traveling alternative rock fair Lollapalooza II. Of the album, Spin noted that the band "has stripped its speedcore instincts to the barest steel and chrome chassis," adding, "Ministry manages its genre-bending with all the assurance of a covert CIA strike." The Detroit Metro Times declared, "Ministry's sound has evolved into sinister, chaotic, steroid-pumped industrial thrash that makes them the only group around that makes [heavy metal superstars] Metallica sound like wimps." The album features the single "Jesus Built My Hotrod," released the previous year. That song's psychotic hillbilly-style vocals were provided by Gibby Haynes, lead wildman of the infamous Butthole Surfers.
The first new song released from Psalm 69 was the eerie "N.W.O.," featuring soundbites of President George Bush talking about a "new world order" sampled over a furious sonic backdrop. Initially Ministry resisted appearing at Lollapalooza, largely due to Jourgensen's misgivings; "I didn't want to be part of this whole picnic-circus," he told the Los Angeles Times, but he was outvoted by the band, which by now included guitarist Mike Scaccia and drummer Bill Rieslin as well as assorted musicians recruited for live shows. The band convinced its leader that the proceeds from the tour would allow Ministry to furnish its own studio, further freeing Jourgensen and company from label interference. During the tour, Jello Biafra told a crowdccording to the Metro Times/that Ministry is "the perfect music to lock [wife of Vice President Al Gore and record-labeling advocate] Tipper Gore in a padded cell with." Naked Lunch author and noted heroin enthusiast William S. Burroughs asked to do a spoken-word piece on a remix of the song "Just One Fix," which Jourgensen had been dedicating to him at concerts. Later in the year Ministry went on tour with alternative metal bands Helmet and Sepultura.
Jourgensen has been reluctant in interviews to acknowledge Ministry's success in the music business. But he and his accomplices in aural mayhem have attracted fans and adoring critics by not courting them. Sales of albums and concert tickets testify to the group's heavy-hitter status in the industry. Their stylistic influence has also been profound; as Hilburn commented on his inclusion of "N.W.O." in his year-end Los Angeles Times round-up of important pop songs, "The sonic assault of [this] industrial rock band may help shape the rock of the'90s."
On Wax Trax
"Cold LifeTI'm Falling" (single), 1981.
"Nature of Sympathy" (single), 1985.
Ministry 1?Singles 1981-1984,1985.
"Work for Love" (single), 1982.
With Sympathy, 1983.
"Over the Shoulder" (single), 1985.
The Land of Rape and Honey (includes "Stigmata"), 1988.
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste (includes "So What"), 1989.
In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up, 1990.
"Jesus Built My Hotrod" (single), 1991.
Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs (includes "Jesus Built My Hotrod," "N.W.O.," and "Just One Fix"), 1992.
"Just One Fix" (single; remix with William S. Burroughs), 1992.
Detroit Free Press, November 25, 1992.
Entertainment Weekly, August 21, 1992.
Guitar Player, November 1992.
Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1992; December 28, 1992; December 31, 1992.
L.A. Weekly, December 25, 1992.
Metro Times (Detroit), November 25, 1992.
Pulse!, October 1992.
Rolling Stone, April 18, 1991; September 17, 1992; January 21, 1993.
Seconds, November 1992.
Spin, March 1992; September 1992; December 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Sire Records promotional material, 1992.