Ministry’s John Bechdel discusses all the work he did on the new album, being a fan of the band, and the pressures to create the best album from Ministry.
Hard industrial rockers Ministry are a band that everyone should be familiar with by now. Their breakthrough album The Land of Rape and Honey was released all the way back in the year 1988, and would put Ministry on a level all their own within the industrial genre becoming a staple ever since. With the release of their new album AmeriKKKant, Ministry proves that they are better than ever. With several collaborations, lengthy and quality songs, and a strong message behind each track, this is some of their best work to date.
LH: How are you doing today? It’s a pleasure to talk to you.
John: I’m good, man. I’m in New York right now. I’m from New York so it’s like home right now.
LH: So, my first question will have to be, being in the industry so long, what do you think is the most challenging thing about being a musician that tours?
John: I think it’s all about the booking and the promotion also the internet is a double-edged sword. You have so much more to filter through. It’s letting a lot of people in, and because of that there is so much more material to filter through. You have to get weeded out, and by the time you do that you’ve probably been weeded out by the bands that are trying to get on a label. It really comes down to money. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, they are just concerned with if that sounds good at the time and that is what is popular. Take country for example. When the paradigm of country came along, everyone was like “Oh, we are going country now.” Then on top of that, you had all these labels going “sorry, if you can’t play country we don’t want you because we are into country now”.
LH: With your brand new album, I heard in other interviews that you guys basically wanted to make this one continuous song. Was that always the intent?
John: That was always the intent, but they are all unique songs in their own right. It surprised me too. The long intros are titled and tracked as separate songs. You can call it a concept album or whatever you want. You have limited amount of space so most records are between 45-50 minutes. How you structure that with the typical 10, 4 or 5 minute songs. We were writing some songs that were much longer, like 8 or 9 minute songs. They became long songs because there was so much going on. There were strings for the first time, there were live strings, there was a DJ, and then there were more industrial songs and symphonies and choirs. It was big and epic quality. That’s why the songs were so much longer. The story of the intros, it’s like you might need to have 10 or so songs, so since the intros were pretty long, I think that they qualified as songs.
LH: Being in the band so long and being able to create such a great and unique piece of work, what was the writing process like? How did you guys know what the album was going to be about and things like that? How did this all come together?
John: It was just something we had talked about. We had been listening to a lot of Filth Pig and we thought “those are so great bass grooves.” We wanted to do something that had never been done with Ministry before. So, we had these grooves and we were wondering what we were going to do with that. Al had a vision and at one point, he made the decision to do the Trump thing. I came in, and there was already a lot going on. So, I had to add some synthesizer and find space where to put something. We weren’t all in the room at the same time or all in the studio. So, it’s a bit of a different writing process because that’s how I work, too.
LH: Do you think it added a little bit of flavor to the record to have to step out of your comfort zone and record differently than you usually would?
John: Actually, no. I have a lot of experience in the studio. First thing I was doing was archiving a symphony orchestra and making samples and choirs and things like that. The synthesizer work I did was exactly the way that I would do it. I just had to do it in a way that would fit, you know? That’s part of being a musician, learning how to work in different situations. So, I’ve been doing it a while.
LH: On October 11th, it was the 30th anniversary of Ministry’s breakthrough album The Land of Rape and Honey. I know you joined the band later, but with your live show, do you add anything to those songs? Are you happy to be in band that has celebrated the 30th anniversary of one of their biggest records?
John: That’s exciting. I mean, obviously, that was a landmark record and not only that, but I’ve been a Ministry fan for a long time. I bought my first Ministry record in 1983. I knew Ministry’s music and as far as bringing stuff live, it’s pretty much just recreating the album. It’s not one of those things where it’s not like interpretive now. We use the same exact samples and play the songs virtually the same way that they were originally done. There are a few exceptions where we may add a little bit, but no, usually we stick to the plan. Now, the DJ has more room to experiment, but even he was doing most of the same stuff that he had done on the record. It’s not a jam band (laughs).
LH: You guys had a sick lineup of guest appearances on the new record! Would you elaborate a little on that and talk about how those features came to be?
John: Al decided he wanted to do backscratching and we had been working with this guy Arabian Prince with Al’s side project, we did some shows with him. He was definitely the first choice, but one liked to work in the day and the other liked to work at night (laughs). So, we got this guy, DJ Swamp, to come in. He was really talented. He did the rest of all the scratching. There was this cello player that came in, his name was Lord of the Cellos, he was performing at a flea market that Al goes to and he asked him to be part of the record. He plays on a few songs. Some of the players that were in the band made contributions, but Al, he’s the mastermind. He’s the one that thought of all that Trump stuff. That’s his skill and where they go and manipulating the sounds. He’s also great orchestrator, as well. We worked together in a way where I was good at archiving and making it all happen and he was good at knowing where the horns should be and things like that. Sometimes we would work together in different ways that the choir could happen and he would be like “yeah, that’s great.” Most of the stuff I threw in, he really loved and he still talks about it, like the atmospheric and the soundscapes, that’s my specialty and he really latched on to that and he was like, “I want to do more of that” and that was great. From the moment I landed, I had to work on tracks I had never heard before. It was a lot of pressure and I had very little time. So, I had to divide my time up between editing, working with the songs, and offering up some keyboard and synthesizer. It worked out really well. I was happy and Al was happy. So, that was technically the first time that I collaborated on a studio album.
Tonight marks the end of Ministry’s current US tour. Be sure to check out the band’s latest album AmeriKKKant.