The always insane, never dull Al Jourgensen is back with a new project called Surgical Meth Machine. The album, which goes by same name, was released on April 15, 2016. Some may remember when we last checked in with Jourgensen, Ministry had just released From Beer to Eternity, as well as his autobiography The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, in 2013. He was also still recovering from the sudden, tragic death of longtime friend and guitarist Mike Scaccia. At that time Jorgensen claimed he had no upcoming plans for any musical projects, just more books and a spoken word gig. Well, as anyone who has read Jourgensen’s autobiography knows, he is a man who cannot sit still and it always creating something, so inevitably more music was going to come. As he puts it, “the only other things I’m only qualified to be are a Walmart greeter or breakfast line cook at Denny’s. I heard Walmart can’t discriminate against piercings, so I know I always have a future.”
The Surgical Meth Machine album is half industrial speed metal and half groovy dance music, a weird combination than definitely requires some explanation. It was recorded over several months in Jourgensen’s new Burbank, California studio, a departure from his longtime home in Texas. The record was recorded with longtime engineer Sam D’Ambruoso with Mike Scaccia in mind. According to Jorgensen, he and D’Ambruoso “Wanted to do a really fast record, which we’d discussed with Mikey as well. He was one of the fastest guitar players who ever lived. This music was definitely originally concocted to be extra super-fast, faster than ridiculous.” The first half of the record is very fast and heavy industrial metal which features songs like I’m Sensitive, a declaration of war against empty criticism that sets the tone for the first half of the album, along with tracks like Tragic Alert and Rich People Problems which blast with an industrial punch to the chest.
That was the first half of the record, anyway. In stark contrast, groovy songs like Just Go Home, Just Keep Going and I’m Invisible are among Jourgensen’s more eclectic work. “Going through this album is a really long, strange journey,” Jourgensen explains. “The album starts out beating you over the head with some of the fastest stuff that’s probably ever been recorded, at least that’s cohesive. Then it ends sounding damn near like a lounge act, with me crooning like Wayne Newton or some shit.” Apparently, upon moving to California Jourgensen applied for his medical marijuana card, and he claims it is the fault of the medical marijuana that the second half of the record differs so much from the first half. Jourgensen elaborates: “At first they wouldn’t let me get it with only a Ralphs club card as an ID, so the day we got our California licenses we went to the medical marijuana doctor. That’s where I’m invisible came from. I went to the doctor and he asked me what was wrong and I said ‘when I’m not high I’m invisible and so are others it’s this void.’ I think he wrote the prescription just to get me out of his office. Then we found a place in Burbank that delivers weed in 20 mins or less or it’s free, so we kept doing it trying to get a free one because we figured they are potheads so they won’t be on time. One night we did Domino’s and weed and we got two free pizzas and no free weed. So we learned stoners are way more on it than Domino’s. I was high the first two months after getting my license. Then we noticed the songs on the record just got suspiciously slower.”
Jourgensen reminds us though that songs like I’m invisible, where he actually sings and does not just shout into a microphone, are not new for him. “I did it before in 1983. You may remember I did that terrible album for Arista but this time I was like ‘fuck you’ I’m going to do it on my terms. Now it’s my call and I can have fun with it. I’m a middle aged delinquent having fun getting stoned.” Jourgensen is referring to the album With Sympathy, which was the debut album by Ministry. The album was released in 1983 through Arista Records, with Ministry’s members at the time being Alain Jourgensen and Stephen George. Jourgensen has maintained that he was pressured by Arista management into producing the album in the then-popular “synthpop” style. The song I’m Invisible actually has a really awesome video with Jourgensen dressed in various colorful suits strutting around Las Vegas like a crazy, tattooed, pierced lounge singer. Jourgensen explains “the director of I’m invisible is quite the headcase himself. He grows his own pot and he came up with the idea for the video.” As far as if they’ll make another video: “he might call me up. I’m just going with the flow it”
Apparently the name of the band came about one night when Dead Kennedys singer and longtime friend of Jourgensen Jello Biafra stopped by to sing on one of the songs on the album. They were trying to think of a name for the project and Jourgensen explains, “ We did one song with Jello one crazy weekend and we were thinking of names and we came up with Surgical Meth Machine. ‘Surgical’ because we did it in a studio way so it’s very surgical and clinical. ‘Meth’ because we wanted it to be really fast, and ‘Machine’ because we were using drum machines –it’s not some inspirational title.”
When it comes to taking Surgical Meth Machine on the road he had this to say “We don’t plan to play shows as Surgical Meth Machine. We don’t want to play one album’s worth of material, it would end up being like just playing the album from beginning to end. For now you can hear it on headphones, smoke a bowl and see your own images. Getting up there and basically lip-synching doesn’t appeal to me. If I make more stuff who knows. Maybe after like three SMM albums it would be fun for us to play because then we’re not recreating one album. We’re picking the best live songs out of a few albums.”
As far as the future of either Ministry or Surgical Meth Machine Jourgensen had this to say: “I just always go into the studio for four months every year with no preconceived notions. Whatever comes naturally is what comes out. I don’t think of Ministry or not, if it happens it happens. Yes, a couple of years ago the future of Ministry was unsure. It was right after Mickey died, and everyone kept asking me about it and it was like ’leave me the fuck alone I just lost my best friend.’ Then people started to say ‘oh Ministry’s dead.’ But that’s not certain. If in that four month period when I’m in the studio, it if happens it happens. No guarantees unless I die, then they’ll release everything I have stashed, but for now it can sit on the shelf.”