MINISTRY Guitarist & FEAR FACTORY Vocalist Discuss 'AmeriKKKant' Album, Side Projects, Etc.
Ministry's longevity and commitment to politically driven industrial music is absolutely impressive. Founder and mastermind Al Jourgenson is as wild onstage as he was two decades ago thrashing around behind chain link fences. While the lineup has gone through countless changes, the musical identity and political angst has not disapated as we arrive at the group's fourteenth LP, Amerikkkant, which came out just last month via Nuclear Blast. In support of the fresh new release, the project hit the road with gothic doom project Chelsea Wolfe and industrial punk rock act The God Bombs.
I sat backstage with Ministry guitarist Sin Quirin as well as Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell, who was featured on the recent album and provided additional vocals during the tour. We spoke about the current tour, lineup, new record, politics, side projects, and more. Check out the full interview below.
You guys have had some pretty cool openers on tour lately that aren’t exactly defined by industrial metal like Death Grips and Chelsea Wolfe. Can you talk about your relationship with these acts?
Sin Quirin: I just knew Chelsea Handler from TV, but not Chelsea Wolfe [laughs].
Burton C. Bell: I’ve heard Chelsea’s stuff before and it’s pretty good. I hadn’t heard of Death Grips before.
Sin: I had no idea about Death Grips. They’re a great band and good at what they do. I’m just old and it’s tough for me to get it. I’m not saying anything negative towards them, I just come from a different era.
Any other industrial-esque bands you’re into lately?
Sin: I’m really good friends with the guys in 3teeth. I really like those guys a lot, not personally, just the music. Just kidding [laughs].
Burton: 3teeth is good for an up-and-coming band. Combichrist does pretty well. My friend Jayce Lewis is more on the electronic side.
Sin: I mean I’m really into 3teeth; I’ve been a fan for several years. To me, they sound very industrial and I dig it.
Besides the openers, the current Ministry lineup is awesome. You’re now officially touring with the group, Burton. Can you discuss how that came to be?
Burton: Well, I’ve kinda been an auxiliary member since 2008 for the C-U-LaTour. That was supposed to be the end, but it wasn’t [laughs]. I got involved through John Bechdel and Paul Raven. They brought me in to do recording for The Last Sucker. I was on a couple tracks for that. I’ve been friends with them ever since. Al signed Ascension of the Watchers to 13th Planet and we recorded at his studio in El Paso. He mixed it with me and we’ve been tight ever since. And he brought me in for this album. I had time and it turned out really well. I’m very thankful that he brought me on tour. I didn’t expect that. Currently, I’m playing on a few of the new songs for this tour.
What happened with Joey Jordison? I believe he was supposed to drumming for you on this tour, but that got changed.
Sin: It was supposed to be Joey, but that didn’t work out. Both camps decided it was best. We wish him well and there’s nothing negative towards him at all. We all love him and think he’s a great guy and a very talented drummer.
It’s pretty cool to be talking to both a representative of Ministry and of Fear Factory. So I was curious, do you recall the first time you heard Fear Factory, Sin?
Sin: Oh jeez, it must’ve been like a week ago. I was like shit, Burton is going on the road with us, what band is he in [laughs]? Nah man, I knew of Fear Factory in the mid 90’s. When were your first gigs?
Burton: We started doing shows in LA in 1991 once we had some songs. It was mostly like east LA backyard gigs and downtown warehouse shows. There was this place down in south central on Constitution Avenue and 24th where bands would play and it was a mess. I was living in Hollywood and I had a lot of friends in bands that I would just beg to let us open for them.
Do you remember the first time you heard Ministry, Burton?
Burton: Oh yeah, I was working at a record store and we got an advance promo copy of The Land of Rape and Honey. We put it on and it blew my mind. We played it fucking loud. And I remember the first time I met Al. It was actually at a festival in the 90’s in Norway. All sorts of bands were playing like Nick Cave, Ministry, and Fear Factory. I just met him briefly though.
Let’s talk about the new album. As soon as Trump was elected, did you instantly know Ministry would be releasing a new album?
Sin: No, we actually were talking about writing a record during the last couple tours. We were kicking that idea around and we were just getting along on tour. When a band has a really good vibe on tour, usually you want to continue that and take it to the studio. This was before the whole Trump thing and of course once that happened, it solidified the album. But we were already working on stuff by that point in time like the “Twilight Zone” idea I wrote in early 2014.
Burton: The lyrical inspiration began when Trump did get elected.
Sin: Usually we do the music first and then Al does the lyrics after.
With all the conflict that’s going on in our country, I can imagine there’s plenty of source material. Is it too hasty to assume there will be a Trump Trilogy alike the Bush Trilogy of albums?
Burton: I have no idea, man. Possibly, you never know with Al.
Sin: Yeah that’s possible, but right now we’re talking about really touring this record. Al wants to tour this album next year too, so it’s really tough to say if we’re going to stay on the Trump theme by then.
Burton: I hope the chickens go away though.
Sin: Yeah, me too.
Yeah, you guys have some inflatable Trump chickens on stage. Are they bothering you?
Burton: Nah, they just take up space [laughs].
Listening to the new album, there’s a lot of styles mixed in like the Filth Pig-sound as well as the more thrashy Ministry days. How’d you approach the writing process? Any past albums come to mind during the process?
Sin: I’ve always been a Filth Pig fan. When I was writing for From Beer to Eternity, the opening track, what is that one called? "Hail to his Majesty"! The original title of that was "Pregnant," that's why I always think of that. I have that original version and it has different lyrics. But “Hail to his Majesty,” that song idea has a very Filth Pig riff. But that was back in 2012 and when I showed it to Al he wanted to change it up a bit so the song got more electronic-y. I’ve always wanted to write something more Filth Pig-ish and I think that’s why “Twilight Zone” has that vibe. It wasn’t anything we had discussed. When I asked Al what direction he wanted to go for this record, he told me to just write whatever.
Burton: I recall John and I would drop hints to Al that we needed to bring bass-driven songs back. We got to bring back that groove because that was a really cool aspect of Ministry.
Sin: To me, that was such a big part of Ministry’s sound. The Last Sucker was the first album I worked on with Al. At the time, he told me that it was going to be the last Ministry album. I was like oh fuck, this has to be amazing and I was thinking of old shit like The Land of Rape and Honey. He also told me to write the fastest shit I could write. He wrote “Die in a Crash” and then I wrote “Death & Destruction.” I’m glad this record turned out the way that it did because it brought back the groove and heavy bass that the last few records were missing.
Let’s talk about the songs that you’re featured on, Burton?
Burton: Al brought me in for “Wargasm” and told me to just stream of consciousness talk shit about how people are getting off on death, destruction, war, ammo, and guns. We were smoking and drinking and I was there for an hour just doing spoken word at the top of my head. Some really cool shit came out of it. For me that was fun to do because I’ve never done spoken word. For “We’re Tired of It,” he had this blistering song. There were so many parts of it.
Sin: That song was such a mess. It was all these different riffs everywhere and it got pieced together to make sense.
Burton: Yeah, exactly. I felt like I just kept singing and singing. It was a lot of fun writing those lyrics and Al liked everything I did. He was directing me and it was awesome to work with Al in that capacity again.
It’s interesting that some critics are against the political leanings of this album considering Ministry has been almost always been political and anti-right wing.
Burton: I agree with Al. He’s trying to wake people up to understand what we’re seeing is not normal. If Obama did a tenth of what Trump is doing, you’d be screaming impeachment. If people don’t like politics in their music, then they can just listen to the banal music they’ve been listening to their whole lives.
Sin: It’s just funny that people are surprised or shocked that Ministry is political. Like have you ever fucking heard Ministry? Going all the way back to The Land of Rape and Honey and they even had Jello Biafra out with them.
Burton: Al’s been doing it for so long. He’s probably less esoteric now, he’s just outright saying shit, which is fine.
Where do you see the future of this country?
Burton: I see a civil war happening right now and it’s going to get worse. I see that America is going to crumble. But we have to get all those fucking bastards out of government that are bought and paid for. I think the younger generation is seeing it now. The Parkland massacre is waking kids up. They’re seeing how corrupt the government and NRA is and nothing is getting done. These people in office need to wake the fuck up because these kids are going to kick their asses out. Something needs to happen. Apathy has been a disease in this country for far too long.
Sin: Something big has to happen. There needs to be a cleaning of house. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to that, but I see no other solution.
Ministry is your main gig, Sin, but you have some other side projects like Three Headed Snake. What's up with that?
Sin: Yeah, we’re actually already mixing. I’m doing an EP for Three Headed Snake, which is the polar opposite of Ministry. It’s like this old school power metal band. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. Whenever I did a side project, it was always like “oh, Sin is doing some industrial thing.” And I get it, I understand the connection. But I wanted to do something completely different and fun. I was just writing riffs and it reminded me of Warrior and Malice and all those LA bands in the early 80’s.
Burton: Armored Saint?
Sin: Fuckyeah, Armored Saint all the time! It’s more that vibe. And it’s just been when I’ve had free time. This has been in the works for the past year and a half. We recorded a three song EP and are just starting to mix. So, I’ll probably release it in May or June.
How about you, Burton? Can we clear up what’s been going on with Fear Factory?
Burton: I don’t want to talk about. Not at all.
Well let’s talk about Ascension of the Watchers instead?
Burton: I’m preparing to launch a pledge campaign. We’re going to record a full record. I have an album’s worth of music, but I want to record with Jayce Lewis, the guy I mentioned earlier. He’s a great guy. He lives in Wales and has an awesome studio there. It’s all analog. All we have to do is get there. That’d be perfect, so that’s what we’re planning to do.
Any other side projects you’re working on?
Burton: I’m finishing up the next The Industrialist graphic novel. I’m having a hard time finishing it though. I’ve got pages and pages of this story, but I don’t know how it will end. I guested on the Ministry album, but also the upcoming DevilDriver country covers album. It’s called “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me.” And I did a song on Mark Thwaite’s new album, MGT. I was actually at his Whisky a Go Go show last night. I’ve been busy.
Sin: Do you remember that band VAST? I just did two songs with Jon Crosby. I’m a huge VAST fan. That first record is unbelievable. It’s one of my all time favorite records. We somehow connected with mutual friends and he asked to write some guitar parts. He’s arranging and mixing that right now so I guess that will be on the next VAST record. And I did a song on the last KMFDM record.
Burton: The first time I saw Ministry was with KMFDM at the Palladium during The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour.
Sin: It’s pretty cool to do shit with the guys that you were a fan of and looked up to.
Considering Al is mostly in charge of the setlist, what songs do you wish you were playing?
Burton: “Burning Inside,” Al is adamant about not playing that. He hates it.
Sin: We actually played “Deity” and “The Missing” before, which are two of my all time favorite songs. I started working with Al in 2006 from the Revolting Cocks. From that point on, every tour he’d give us the setlist and I’d say we should play “The Missing” and “Deity” and he’d say fuck no. Every tour I’d say that and he’d bitch me out. And then in 2015, we were having dinner and he said alright you’re going to get your fucking wish. So we finally played those two songs just for that one tour. He hated it and I was smiling from ear-to-ear every fucking night. It was like reliving In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. We did “Breathe” for awhile. I love all those songs off of In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. If it was up to me, I would do that whole album.
Burton: Unfortunately, Al forces himself to play old songs.
Anything else coming up for the band after this tour?
Sin: We've got a European tour in July and August. We're doing some really cool festivals.
Burton: Al's planning a Halloween show and he wants to tour in November.