Hygiene: conditions or practices (as of cleanliness) conducive to health. Thinking of this basic act of maintenance, of sloughing off the dirt and grime and dead skin to reveal something new, while repelled by the impeding imbalance and injustices within the social and political climate, further divided around a global pandemic, Al Jourgensen began calling out the obstructions, questioning the morality of it all on Moral Hygiene.
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Ministry’s 15th album, Moral Hygiene chronicles a year in crisis and deterioration and the notion of working together for a better world from the pandemic-peaked indicator “Death Toll,” to John Lewis and social activism on “Good Trouble,” and flushing out the mess to find some solutions on “Alert Level.”
“In its simplest form,” says Jourgensen of the album, “it’s a narrative telling the public ‘don’t be stupid.'”
Moral Hygiene also reflects on the deterioration of the planet on “Broken System,” and the wildfires in California, which moved a mile and a half away from Jourgensen’s home. “We were pins and needles waiting to get evacuated,” says Jourgensen. “So we went in the studio and did ‘Alert Level’ right away, and it kind of evolved while the pandemic was just getting started.”
After covering it live several years earlier at a charitable event with Dave Navarro and other guests, Jourgensen also added his own take on The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” to the album, Ministry’s first cover since their take Stormkeepers of Death’s “United Forces” on the 2012 release Relapse.
Working out of his home studio, Jourgensen began recording and self-producing Moral Hygiene, along with engineer Michael Rozon, who also worked on the 2018 release AmeriKKKant, adding in featured guests’ files along the way, including Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra—who previously worked on side project LARD with Jourgensen—on “Sabotage is Sex.”
Moral Hygiene also marked the band’s first collaboration with new bassist Paul D’Amour, who joined Ministry in 2019, following the release of AmeriKKKant, joining long-time keyboardist John Bechdel, guitarists Monte Pittman (Prong), Cesar Soto (Man the Mute), and Billy Morrison (Billy Idol), and drummer Roy Mayora (Stone Sour).
The album questions whether there is any moral hygiene left in America. “I think we’re all born with a moral compass,” says Jourgensen. “I think the moral compass gets distorted through media advertisements. All the disinformation chipped away at our moral compass that we’re born with… we know what’s right and what’s wrong, and then it becomes confusing later on. The question is what is right in your heart?”
Pro-vaccine, Jourgensen refers to George Washington, who had his troops inoculated at Valley Forge in 1775—and was the first state-funded immunization campaign in American history and staved off smallpox for a year—and later vaccines for polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, and smallpox. “Nobody squawked at the time,” says Jourgensen. “Everybody thought it was a good idea,” he says. “Now all of a sudden, it’s nothing scientific, it’s all right-wing lobbyists who find this profitable. It’s ruled by the minority, the 25 percent of the country who gets all the headlines and news about how this has taken away their freedom.”
He adds, “It’s the tail wagging the dog right now, and I didn’t sign up for this shit. This is not a democracy.”
Part of the problem, says Jourgensen, are all the conspiracies and false information presented as truths and touches on the hazards of believing everything broadcast in the virtual and mass media world on “Disinformation.”
“Bill Gates is not tracking us by a cell phone chip, and we’re not going to turn into lizard people,” says Jourgensen. “And if we do, that’s great. We can create whole new dating websites.”
Moving ahead, Jourgensen isn’t thinking of anniversaries or even the 40th year of Ministry. “I’ve listened to Ministry a little bit in the ’80s, a little in the ’90s,” he jokes. “They’re okay.”
Set to tour spring of 2022, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ministry’s fourth album The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, and debut portions of Moral Hygiene, Jourgensen has mixed feelings about the touring during the pandemic, following cancellations and new cases of the virus with so many in the touring and artists community still testing positive. “You have to think that the biggest petri dish on Earth has to be a bus with 12 rockers on it for 60 days in a tin can,” he says. “You’re bound to get sick as we’ve seen with tours getting canceled.”
A 16th Ministry album already recorded with the same team of musicians, for release at a later date, what’s still relevant and resonating with Jourgensen now is Moral Hygiene, something he says he’s wanted to create for a long time.
“‘Moral Hygiene,’ the narrative between the songs and the way that they connect, is always something I’ve wanted to do,” says Jourgensen. “And I’ve tried and dabbled in it before, but this pretty much nailed it. ‘Amerikkant’ is a story that builds, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Some people like it, some people don’t. I don’t care. That’s just the way that I’m recording these days, and I’m happy with it.”
There’s more to say, and Jourgensen is trying to perfect more pieces of music living in his head. “I’ll wake up and I’ll have this perfect piece of music in my head, and I don’t know where it comes from,” he says. “Then I spend my next days trying to recreate that, and over 20 to 30 years you start knowing how to get to those goals faster in the studio.”
Jourgensen adds, “I think the last three albums pretty much hit that stride. That’s the beauty of art or music, you have these ideas that come to you from this universal antenna. They come and you try to replicate how beautiful they are your dreams, and it always falls short. I think the last three albums are starting to get a lot closer to what I hear in my transmissions, to what I want to convey to the world.”
Photos by Derick Smith