Life on the road with Al Jourgensen

After three decades of living an almost constant touring lifestyle, and some of the most legendary stories of excess in the history of the music world, Ministry frontman Al Jorgensen has found a very different vice these days. "I have an exercise bike that I take everywhere with me on tour,” he tells us down the phone in his trademark rasp on the eve of yet another UK tour. “I do twenty miles a day before each show – I have to! I’ve done so much to my body over the years that it’s a miracle I’m here at all.”

As he says this we can almost hear a million tales of touring excess flash through his mind. So we decided to dig around and get some for ourselves...

First impressions of the UK

“I lived in Wood Green (in north London) for a year when we were doing the Twitch album, so I was prepared for London,” says Al. “I think our first show was at the Town And Country, but I was already well aware of English customs… I think I got hit by three cars in my first year of living there from looking down the wrong way of the street.”

Show-wise, we here in Britain have always been pretty good to Ministry. Following their success in America, it meant they've only played the more well-known venues here.

“We kind of skipped some of the bum-fuck places in the UK,” Al grins. “Because our records were doing pretty well. It’s much worse in the States, and I’ve done my fair share of terrible places. How do you cope? Copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. That’s my advice.”

Worst gig venue

“I don’t think this piece is long enough for me to mention enough worst places we’ve played,” Al sighs. “But I’d have to start with Omaha, Nebraska. I just walked around wondering what the fuck happened to these people. The first time we played Nebraska we played a place that was a fried chicken restaurant. The stage was in the window, so if you were walking past on the street you could see the drummer's head. There was no-one in the restaurant apart from an old couple eating their fried chicken, so we turned our gear around and played to the people out on the street. We gathered about 15 kids who had refused to pay to get in, and because no-one paid to get in we were given a bucket of fried chicken as our payment that night. And we had records out at this point! That was pretty weird.”

Not quite as odd, but certainly not far off, was being the entertainment while strippers were taking a break in Boston.

“We played a strip club in Boston in the middle of the afternoon once,” he chuckles. “There was just us and a handful of lecherous old men who we’re really pissed that thee girls had stopped dancing. They threw things at us and shouted at us to play Freebird.”

Angriest crowd

“The worst and most disapproving crowd we had was when Motörhead opened for us!” says Al disbelievingly. “I have no idea why they were opening for us, but it was in east Germany just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wish we had opened for them, because those people were pissed. They just wanted more Motörhead… and who can blame them.”

Seemingly, Al wasn’t that fussed at the time. Due to his… extra curricular activities.

“Back then I was so wasted that there are shows, tours, weeks, years that I don’t remember,” he says. “Now I’m clean I take a little bit more pride in the show. It’s easy to not give a fuck that people are spitting on you and throwing bottles at your head when you’re wasted. It’s a little different now.”

Worst performance

“Oh Jesus, that’s just basically every Thursday and Saturday,” laughs Al. “I often just think ‘What am I doing with my life?’ As soon as I get offstage. What the fuck just happened? That’s the thing I say the most!"

Scariest crowd

“Detroit, Michigan is where I’ve experienced the most violent and aggressive crowds,” says Al. “And it doesn’t just stop at the shows either, I’ve been held up twice at gunpoint in an alley after the show. They stormed the bus and took our wallets. It was pretty scary.”

But recent events haven’t changed his outlook on the dangers of touring.

“I don’t worry about that kind of Eagles Of Death Metal or Dimebag situation,” he shrugs. “Those things aren’t going to change me. My approach remains the same, even if I am a little more aware these days.”

The Rock City riot

“This rumour is 100% true!” Al laughs when asked about the notorious date of the Filthpig tour in the mid-90s when Al refused to go onstage until he had been delivered his heroin. Finally arriving in front of the Nottingham crowd at 2am. 

“I don’t think the venue was quite the same after that show, because the kids got pretty pissed off. I remember walking through the building having just done a shot, so I was good and high, I walked into the scene of the crowd coordinating an effort to rip the bar off the floor – they were literally ripping the whole place down. The bar was later used as a battering ram to storm the stage. It was certainly one of the top five rowdiest crowds we’ve ever had. 

Al though, does at least own up to it being his fault. At first anyway.

“It was definitely my responsibility,” he says sheepishly. “My bad, I’ll take the rap for that one… actually, you know what, it wasn’t my fault. My dealer should have been there. It was his fault as a matter of fact. I believe we went on when everything else in the whole city, maybe country, had shut down. So there were some very angry people in the building. But that was rock in the 90s!”

Ministry are currently touring the UK at the following dates.

21 Jul: London, O2 Forum
23 Jul: Belfast, Limelight
24 Jul: Dublin, Tivoli
25 Jul: Bristol, SWX

Ministry's latest album AmeriKKKant is out now via Nuclear Blast.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.