an interview with Paul Barker
by Paul Gargano
Ministry, the first cover of Maximum Ink in March, 1996
photo by Craig Gieck
Ministry was never intended for the faint at heart, but for even the most faithful Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker fans, Filth Pig seems to be, well, exceptionally filthy. Ministry’s long-awaited sixth studio release digs deep for the duo, taking artistic turns that previous efforts couldn’t hint at. Whether it’s the musical presence of mandolin, harmonica and pedal steel guitar, the surprising lack of samples, or the more personal tone of the lyrics, evolution has crashed head-on with music’s missing links. With all other side projects on hold, Ministry bassist, programmer and sometime-vocalist Paul Barker offers a closer look at the dynamics of, and dirt behind, Filth Pig.
Max Ink:There’s a definite difference between Filth Pig and previous Ministry material. Were you trying to go out of your way to dash expectations when you recorded it?
Paul Barker: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing we wanted to do was not make the same record over again. At the end of Psalm 69, half of our out-takes sounded like the same song, they were all the same musical idea. We found that really boring, and for us to make Psalm 69 part II would have been impossible. There would have been no soul there, no feeling. One of the things we were constantly chuckling about was the idea that we couldn’t do something we’d be expected to do.
MI: With industrial music growing in popularity, did you feel like you wanted to stray further away from something that everybody else seems to be putting out?
PB: To a degree. The popularity angle isn’t really what we’re concerned with. We’re more concerned with pleasing ourselves. Just writing another record like Psalm 69 is too easy, it’s like falling off a log, and that’s too fucking boring. There are a lot of directions to take pop music, which is what I consider what we do. There are so many ways to go, and so many greener pastures. I listen to this shit called industrial music and it’s just so narrowly defined that it’s choking itself. Musically, it’s just four on the floor, a kick drum and a bunch of mean guitars. It’s boring, but at least kids are doing something, and that to me is much more interesting than listening to Bruce Hornsby. People have to start somewhere, and by and large, not everyone is a leader or a challenger. I think most people just pick up with what they know and they just run with is, and that’s cool.
MI: So what you’re saying is, the way you use a mandolin and the way Bruce Hornsby uses a mandolin are completely different?
PB: Well, I don’t know. Perhaps the sentiment is the same.
MI: Al says he took six months to learn pedal steel guitar. Did you learn any new instruments going into this album?
PB: Well, I had two kids. I’m afraid musically, as far as picking up another instrument, I didn’t do that. I’m dabbling around in piano, which I always wished I had learned, but I have two kids now. My daughter is three and my son is two, so over the span of the last three years, that’s been nothing but a fatherly kind of learning experience.
MI: It seems there is a dichotomy in the relationship between you and Al, at least as far as the image people have of Al and the image people have of you. Is that really true?
PB: He simply has a different agenda, his interests are different. I want to say ‘ill-defined,’ but that’s not true. Mine are much more straight forward … I don’t know, I don’t five a shit about people’s perceptions. We’re different people. The reason we work together is that when it comes to music, we both challenge each other and we know how to work with each other and we know how to work with each other and put up with each other’s bullshit to get through it.
MI: You just celebrated 10 years together. Looking back at 10 years of Ministry, and looking forward to another 10, what do you see as different? Do you see a different vision than you did 10 years ago?
PB: That’s difficult, because when I started working with Al he was having a hard time at Sire. He restructured the contract about a year later, and it was an ‘us against them’ sort of thing. Artistic freedom, what label expectations of the band were, shit like that. Basically, we were basing out decisions on what we were joking about as a five-year-plan. We wanted to do things for the long haul, not a short term project.
Musically, there’s no real goal in that sense. If you want to express yourself musically, you’re not going to say, ‘OK, in five years, I’m going to start doing torch songs.’ If you’re that interested in it, you’ll do it immediately. In a business sense, we always thought about the long haul, but in the music sense, it was always immediate. We’d go into the studio and start writing music. You really can’t get any more immediate that that.
We make sure that we challenge ourselves and don’t do the same thing over and over again. Of course the band has a recorded history. You can hear the sort of things in the records. There’s a common sound, let’s say, maybe a common chord progression which is OK as long as it’s not exact.
MI: Being Ministry, can you guys basically release whatever material you record and have the label be agreeable, or does Warner Brothers like to maintain some say?
PB: What Warner Brothers has realized, well, first Sire then Warner Brothers in a greater sense, is that all of our records have sold twice as many as the previous one without any promotion. Obviously, with Psalm 69 selling shitloads, they realized, ‘here’s a band with a product that’s popular enough that if we gave them a big push…’ Obviously, Filth Pig has a huge push. It’s nice because we don’t have to play the game and they’re still willing to work it for us.
The current wave of popular MTV bands are all totally sucking up to the label, doing whatever the fuck the label says. In the short run, they’re all bending over and taking it. For whatever reason, because they don’t have any integrity, there’s nothing there. It’s all a current trend. The point is, once again, it’s a business, and don’t let people try and tell you it’s not a business. There are bands that become popular that have a certain degree of integrity, and they retain that. It’s funny. Let’s say Soul Asylum, for instance, or the Goo Goo Dolls. They’ve been around forever, then, for whatever reason, they become popular. More power to them. Of course, the success means a sellout to the original fans, but for a band that’s been around a while, like Ministry, it’s only natural that your original fans will peel away, so to speak. People change, and some of your fans may not be interested in the music you’re making now. Not to say it’s not good, but it could be that your interests have changed… You’ve changed, but your nostalgic fifth tells you that you loved Ministry when it was like this. It’s not that it’s necessarily and better, but for you, it was a different time in your life and that’s when you liked them.
MI: A lot of times it seems that when bands evolve, the fans don’t.
PB: Actually, we’re very luck in that regard because I think we’ve dragged our fans with us…
MI: Kicking and screaming…?
PB: Sure, because we done want to do the same thing over and over again. I mean, frankly, how different are the records? They’re not that fucking different. Nevertheless, I’m always thrilled when fans say they like the new record and they still like With Sympathy, which I had nothing to do with but as a ‘for instance.’
MI: How do you rate Filth Pig among your other albums as far as musical satisfaction is concerned?
PB: I’m very satisfied with it. As a record as a whole, it’s our strongest record sine Land of Rape and Honey. It has the fewest number of throwaway tracks, so to speak.
MI: Did you walk away from this album feeling any better about it than the other albums?
PB: I’ve changed since the last album, just like I changed between The Mind and Psalm 69. The challenges are different. Perhaps in a greater sense it’s the same, but you change. On Psalm 69, Al and I basically had nervous breakdowns when we finished the record. This record was so much more fun… I mean we had a nervous break down in the middle of it…
MI: As far as those nervous breakdowns, what happened to you guys during the recording of this album?
PB: Basically, we were both working very hard on trying to get some satisfactory music happening. We had our studio in Texas, on Al’s property, and the studio required a lot more maintenance then we though it would. It seemed like half the time we were trying to get shit to work, get rid of phantom buzzes and that type of thing. It was just frustration. Al and I had just gotten to a point where we were so frustrated with each other and yelling at each other, it was a total communication breakdown. It was like, ‘later, call me,’ and that lasted a couple of months.
MI: Your partnership has obviously evolved a lot. Have you seen any great changes in the dynamics of the relationship?
PB: You’d think that after about 10 years you’d feel a little more confident in your song writing, but we’re still… I want to say challenging ourselves. I know it sounds really fucking boring and cliché, but when you challenge yourself and express yourself, you’re vulnerable, and you need some kind of feedback. Al and I trust each other, so we trust our comments, and it’s not the end of the world to say, ‘that’s a shitty song.’
MI: Topically, the new album seems to be a little more personal…
PB: Yeah, it is. I would say the themes are the same, they’re just approached from a personal perspective rather than a third-person rant.
MI: Are there any tracks you feel particularly strong about?
PB: Hope “Game Show” is a sense of the next Ministry record. In a sense of creative endeavor, “Game Show” is much more open ended; I listen to it and think that there’s so much more we can do with it. That gets my blood cooking. I think it’s really cool and hope we can continue that really cool and hope we can continue that style of low-tech. When I listen to “Filth Pig” and “Reload,” those are very solid ideas and solid expressions. “Game Show” is just one aspect of the expression. There is still a lot we can do with those ideas.
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