Interview: Al Jourgensen and Ogre

By Joe Radio
Recorded: December 9, 1989
Air date: unknown

This conversation features Ministry leader Al Jourgensen (AJ) and Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre (NO), a sometime Ministry collaborator himself. At the time of this interview, it seemed as if Ogre had actually quit Skinny Puppy, although eventually he did rejoin his bandmates to make Too Dark Park in 1990. This was recorded by phone from Al's house in Chicago.

JR: Is it true that before you guys met each other, neither knew much about the other's band?
NO: I think there was a kind of a competition in a way. While we were following each other around, Al was cutting himself for real, and I was faking it; and then I started cutting myself for real, and Al started faking it --
AJ: There was one tour in particular when we both toured the South at different times, but about three days behind each other. We used to get real pissed off at Skinny Puppy because at whatever dressing room we'd go in, there was fake blood all over the place. And we'd show up three days later, and all the kids would come up to us and say, "Hey man, you ever heard of Skinny Puppy?" And it never occurred to me that they were getting the same thing on the other end -- they'd go into these dressing rooms and there'd be real blood all over the place, and they'd have people coming up to them saying "You ever heard of Ministry?" So for a while, we were actually kind of sick of each other. I think the turning point came when I was doing a song for the RoboCop soundtrack ["Show Me Your Spine"] as P.T.P., when Ogre walked in. I get pretty psychotic in the studio, and I didn't even know who he was, but somebody said he was some singer from somewhere, so I just said "hey man, make yourself useful, get in here and sing."
NO: And then, after much inspiration, --
AJ: -- You mean chemical inspiration --

JR: Yeah, I already heard the story from Ogre once before about the paramedics coming into your house.
NO: [laughs] Al was supposed to come and see our show that night, but he got rudely awakened after a major sleep by paramedics and cold water.

JR: Soon after that, Ogre became one of the Revolting Cocks. It sounds like he had a really great time on those tours.
NO: I had a gas -- my brain was rotating about four feet above my head. It was an initiation, for sure.

JR: I guess by that point, you two had really hit it off. Al, how soon after that did you decide to work with Skinny Puppy?
AJ: Well, they called me. I would work with anyone that has the same kind of aesthetics, and the same kind of music. But they called me.
NO: It was great inspiration for our album, too [Rabies]. We were having a few problems at the time, and for me it all cleared up when Al came up. I guess there's that male bonding again. We just locked everybody else out of the studio.

JR: Al, your presence is very obvious on Skinny Puppy's Rabies LP [in the credits, his name is listed above Cevin Key and Dwayne Goettel]. Was there a lot of tension in the studio between you and the other people involved?
AJ: It was pretty tense, but I think that's good. A lot of times, you need that kind of tension to re-create the kind of tension that goes on in the world. That album's pretty much of a mirror of what was going on. I think if people just listen to the record and read between the lines, they can pretty much see what was going on at the time.

JR: Who came up with the song "Fascist Jock Itch", anyway?
NO: [laughs] I did -- much to the disdain of the rest of the band. They thought it was an insult against them, one person in particular. Actually it was based on an incident that happened to me -- the week that Al came up -- when this guy rearranged my nose.
AJ: Oh, those pesky skinheads.

JR: Ogre, why did you move away from Vancouver to Chicago?
NO: I think Skinny Puppy was always going in two different directions. We've always been fighting between harder stuff like "Fascist Jock Itch" and stuff that's more in a hip-hop groove. And Kevin [Crompton, a.k.a. "Cevin Key"] has gone off and is working on another project called Hilt with some friends of his; he's also working with Bill Leeb, from Front Line Assembly. That's all fine and dandy, and it works out for the best with what I'm doing. I'm not sure if those projects came about as retaliation for what I was planning on doing, but Al and I have always talked about trying to work together, and this is the right time to do it.
AJ: When the Ministry tour's over, Ogre and I are going to have our own band. The funny thing is that we came up with this name about two years ago -- I even have a tattoo of the band name on my arm -- it's called "Welt". And all of a sudden Crompton decides to come up with a band called "Hilt".

JR: Is "Welt" going to be next in the fine line of anonymous "Luxa/Pan" productions on Wax Trax [e.g., Lead into Gold, Pailhead, 1000 Homo DJs, Acid Horse]?
AJ: It's still in the future. But "Welt" isn't going to be an anonymous thing. After all, "Welt" stands for "When Everyone Learns Truth".

JR: Ogre, do you know if Skinny Puppy will continue in your absence?
NO: Yeah, they're working on this thing ["Cyberaktif"] with Bill Leeb --
JR: -- who was an original member of Skinny Puppy, anyway, right?
NO: Well, only in the sense that he was there. I don't really know what they're doing up there; you should call them if you want to know.

JR: OK, let's get back to Ministry. Al, "The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste" is the third album you've done for Sire Records. Have things gotten better or worse with Sire over the years?
AJ: All major labels will try to see what they can get away with, and how much they can control you. We finally put our foot down with The Land of Rape and Honey, and since then, as long as the ground rules are set, they've pretty much left us alone, and they're actually quite happy. They know we're not going to change, and you can't teach an old dog new tricks -- no pun intended, Ogre! [laughs]

JR: You even went so far as to thank Howie Klein [president of Sire Records] on the liner notes of this record. That really surprised me.
AJ: That was kind of like a peace offering. Howie's had to put with a lot of shit from us. But we're not just out to make people's lives miserable; if someone does us a good turn, we'll return the favor. They've been pretty good, but it's kind of an uneasy truce -- sort of like Christmas Day during a war.

JR: Do you ever look back and wish that you had done all those Ministry records for Wax Trax instead of Sire?
AJ: Yes and no. The point is that the records would have been no different had they been on Wax Trax, because we've had no outside interference from Warner [Sire's parent label]. Of course they've tried; that's what major labels do. They're run by these people who got beat up too much in high school and are now in positions of power. It's like "Revenge of the Nerds". They hold the purse strings, and they try to make you feel like you're nothing without them. They've tried that, but the albums would have been the same on Wax Trax because we've had no outside interference. We put our foot down and we just do what we want to do.

JR: The latest LP has been hyped as being very "guitar-oriented". Al, have you finally achieved here the sound you really want?
AJ: We're getting closer. But the day I hit the sound I really want, I'll go back to the only other job I know how to do, which is washing dishes at Denny's. Right now, we're rehearsing for this tour with two drummers. After hearing so many other bands for the last three or four years, with their backing tapes and drum machines, it's such a joy to hear absolute sheer power, like a 747 takeoff every day. Ogre and I were talking about this just recently -- about the kind of power that comes from real human emotion, coming from real human arms and fingers. This is where I want to be. I'll use technology, but I try to blend it with the power of humanity.

JR: To me, the last two records indicate that you've really mastered the studio technology without letting it dominate your sound.
AJ: Technology is a bit intimidating; it's kind of hard to wrestle with it and make sure it doesn't run you instead of the other way around. You have to remember who's boss here. I think that we're going to be a lot more powerful live than on record, because it's an environment that's not as controlled or sterile, and I think we can come above some of the intimidation of technology. I'm getting more and more back into absolute "visceral" music as opposed to "head" music.

JR: I think people forget that you were a guitar player originally.
AJ: Yeah, if you go back to that first abortion of a record I did [With Sympathy]. In that case Arista put the clamps on us, and they treated me like a puppet instead of a human being. I did start on guitar years ago, but honestly, I dropped it for the longest time, because of all the other things I wanted to try out. It was like being a kid in a toy store, like when you wake up at Christmas and find sequencers and stuff under the tree, and you say, "wow, maybe I better stop and play with these for a while". And it was fun, but it's really nice to incorporate both of them. Our basic goal is to sound like the world's most expensive garage band.

JR: You still use synths for sampling, but you avoid filling up Ministry's music with a lot of syrupy keyboard riffs.
AJ: It's just like warfare. Do you care if you kill the enemy with an M-16 or a tank? It doesn't matter; he's dead either way.

JR: You had a lot of friends working on the last album with you over a long period of time -- Chris Connelly, Dave "Rave" Ogilvie, Bill Rieflin, etc. Did it seem like a long, tedious exercise to you, or was it pretty effortless?
AJ: At first it was a gas. When you work with friends, you make it less of a project, as in "let's do an album", as much as just getting your friends together and tinkering around like on any given day. So there isn't that kind of pressure to do something. When you're working with friends, it becomes like a party. And at parties it's not just all getting wasted and trying to have sex. You discuss important things at parties -- at least the ones I go to -- you discuss world events, troubles, and joys, or whatever you want -- in addition to getting wasted. [laughs]

JR: Besides Ministry, you've created a slew of side projects -- P.T.P., Pailhead, Lard, Acid Horse, etc. It sounds like everything you do results in some kind of record being released.
AJ: Well, what else are going to do with the stuff -- throw it away? We just go in and record. If somebody's in town, we'll do something with them. Meat Beat Manifesto's the next thing that's going on, besides "Welt", with Ogre and me. They [Meat Beat] wanted to work with the Revolting Cocks for the last couple of years. After some tapes, letters, and phone calls, we decided to get together as soon as this Ministry tour's over. We just have fun, working with people with the same aesthetic. As long as their motives aren't just to make money or have a hit or something, but just to do good music amongst friends, it's bound to come out as something good.

JR: Speaking of the Revolting Cocks, What's going on with the new LP, Beers Steers and Queers?
AJ: Well, there's some lesbian from Malibu, named Olivia Newton-John, who won't let us put out the lyrics to "Physical", which were the most demented lyrics I've ever heard. Double entendres run abound on this, the innuendo's incredible, and we just wanted to show what a sick song it was. We had to change the lyrics somewhat; I think she's going to wish she never made us change them now. We did just enough legally so that it's our song now, not hers. She's got nothing to do with it, so let her go cry in her own spilled milk -- we don't care. We re-did the lyrics, remixed it, and it's in the process of being made now.

JR: Is it true that you wanted to do "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
AJ: Well, that might be next. We're going to start showing exactly how insipid and inane some of the music that people have listened to for a long time is. I'm sure some people think that Revolting Cocks music is insipid and inane, but that's their problem, we don't really care what they think.

JR: Is there going to be a Revolting Cocks tour after the Ministry tour?
AJ: Yeah, we'll be doing the tour with Meat Beat Manifesto -- another one of these double tours, just like Ministry and KMFDM -- it's more value for your entertainment dollar.

JR: I want to thank both of you for taking time out of your busy schedule to get us caught up on what you're doing.
AJ: Are you kidding? This is great -- we got out of moving equipment today, so thank you!

JR: OK, we'll see you when you get up here.
AJ: Oh by the way, tell the dean at Stanford that I applied there in 1977 and they rejected me, the bastards! I had to blow up the administration building. I could have been something with a Stanford degree, goddamn it!