Ministry’s Burton Bell

by Kimberly E. McDaniel
May 2008

Ministry's Burton C. Bell

Ministry's Burton C. Bell

What can be said about Ministry that hasn’t been said before?  This is a band that people love or hate, or possibly love to hate, but rarely does the band’s sound inspire any middle-of-the-road feelings.  There is no complacency when discussing Ministry, and one would guess that is just the way the band’s founder and fearless leader, Al Jourgensen, wants it to be.  Love him or hate him, Jourgensen could hardly be described as complacent.

Jourgensen is credited with creating the industrial sound, inspiring multitudes of musicians to follow him down the same dark path of pounding danceable beats and screaming electric guitars.  After twenty-five years of performing and releasing not only Ministry records, but also records from his various side projects, Jourgensen is putting the industrial giant to sleep.  Permanently.

Ministry released two new CD’s this year, “The Last Sucker” and “Cover-Up.”  Currently, Jourgensen is making one last round on his C U Later Tour, which began March 25 in Spokane, Washington and finishes up on May 10 in Chicago, Illinois with the final three dates taking place at Chicago’s House of Blues. 

Joining Jourgensen on stage are guitarists Tommy Victor (Prong) and Sin Quirin (Revolting Cocks), keyboardist John Bedchel (Ascension of the Watchers, False Icons, ex-Prong), drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (formerly of Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies and Alice Cooper) and Static-X’s Tony Campos on bass, filling in for Paul Raven (ex-Ministry and Killing Joke) who died last year.  Also joining the band as a Special Featured Artist is Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory/AotW), who joined Maximum Ink for a chat about the final days of Ministry.

MAXIMUM INK:  How did you get involved with Al and Ministry?
BURTON C. BELL:  Basically, I called up and begged!  (Laughter)  No, it wasn’t quite that drastic, but my friend John has been a part of Ministry for a couple of years, and also Paul Raven, so that kind of gave me an in.  I first met Al when they played New York City on the Rio Grande Blood Tour.  It was a while later when I found out that they were recording their last record, and I was like, ‘Their last record, oh my god!’  So I got Al’s number from John and just called him up.  I told him that I would love to contribute and be a part of his final recording, and I work cheap.  A month later, I was down there and we got along really well.  He’s a great guy and it was a lot of fun.  He respects me and I totally respect him.  For me, it’s just an honor to work with one of the people I’ve looked up to for a long time.

MI:  How many bands owe a huge debt to Ministry for opening so many doors and essentially creating the Industrial genre?
BELL:  There’s a lot.  A lot.  It all really started with Land of Rape and Honey, their groundbreaking record.  The two releases before that, they were experimenting with the electro and it was darker but it wasn’t really industrial.  But after that record, it just influenced so many people.  Fear Factory, for one, to Nine Inch Nails to Rammstein.  I could keep going and going.

MI:  So, the first album, the rumor is that Al hates it and that is why nothing from it is ever played anymore.
BELL:  Al says that he did it backwards, he sold out first and then he went to the dark side.  He doesn’t play any of those songs.  He hates them and that wasn’t really him is what he is saying.

MI:  But couldn’t he take some of those old songs and rework them to make them fit into the current Ministry sound? 
BELL:  As a fan, myself, there’s a lot of things I wish he would do.  But Al is going to do what Al does.  But he really doesn’t want to bother with it.  That isn’t really something I can ever answer.

MI:  I would love to hear a more current Ministry version of Everday Is Halloween, for example.
BELL:  I heard that song yesterday at a bar!  I was like, “Oh my god!”  Took me back and it was like, well, they don’t sound like this anymore.

MI:  No they don’t.  So why stop now?  Ministry is still such a huge band, so why now?
BELL:  Al is over it.  He has been doing this for 25 years and he’s just over it.  Touring kills him and the older you get, the harder it is.  Al is not a spring chicken anymore

MI:  Is he listening to you?
BELL:  No, but he’d laugh if he heard me say that.  I would say that in front of him.  It’s totally true.  It’s harder and harder to tour, and he’s tired of touring and regurgitating the same songs over and over again.  There has got to be a time to stop.  I respect that.

MI:  So the plan is to do another Rev-Co record and tour, right?
BELL:  The Rev-Co record is done. Rev-Co is touring but Al is not going to be a part of it. 

MI:  Will he be writing and collaborating then?
BELL:  Well, he and his wife are running 13th Planet Records and he’s just going to be putting out music that he likes.  Maybe producing, mixing, just being part of it but Ministry is being put to bed.  Hearing him talk about this for the last year, I sincerely believe that he is telling the truth.

MI:  So no Ministry reunion tour in 5 years?
BELL:  If he does, I will kill him! 

MI:  What are your plans after this tour?
BELL:  My other band, Ascension of the Watchers, is going to plan a fall tour.  John Bedchel is in the band as well, so we’re finishing up the Ministry tour.  John has another band called False Icons, and we’ll probably tour together through the United States and Europe and stuff like that. So, I’ll be supporting my latest project and probably do some other stuff, like work with Tommy Victor. 

MI:  What have you learned from being part of this Ministry experience?
BELL:  I still get surprised everyday!  There’s a lot to say about stamina.  I’ve learned from Al, because he is true to himself and his integrity in the creating and writing music that he does, that integrity is the best part of it all.  It’s the most important thing.  If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, then why do it?

MI:  Where does Ministry truly fit now—Metal or Industrial?
BELL:  I call it industrial, but Al has brought in different artists and guitar players since forever.  To me, he evolved industrial music to a point where he gave it a new term and a different sound.  People call it industrial metal, but to me it’s just industrial.

MI:  What’s been your favorite song to perform on this tour?
BELL:  I love doing Thieves, because as a fan, the song rules.  I also love doing Just Got Paid by ZZ Top from Cover Up.  I’m from Texas.

MI:  I was at your show in Tulsa, just a couple of days ago and I noticed there was a lot of filming going on.  Will we be seeing a C U Later Tour DVD?
BELL:  I haven’t been told officially, but since then they’ve been filming every show.  They filmed a couple before that.  They are compiling stuff, so I would assume there would be a DVD coming out.

MAX INK:  That would rock!
BELL:  That would rock.

MI:  Which Ministry classic do you wish could have got onto the play list that didn’t?  I noticed you guys played Thieves and N.W.O., but I didn’t hear Stigmata.
BELL:  I would love to hear that one.  I would love to hear Burning Inside.  I am a fan, sorry.  They used to do them.  They did them last year, on the Rio Grande Blood tour.  He could do Lay Lady Lay even.

MI:  My daughter was hoping he would play What A Wonderful World, because she really likes Joey Ramone’s version of that song and wanted to hear Al’s.
BELL:  What’s funny is that we rehearsed that and it’s on the set list but he just doesn’t want to do it.  I think he’s very self-conscious about it.

MI:  I can’t imagine Al being self-conscious about very much.
BELL:  Yeah, it’s just something different for him.  I know that’s a surprise.

MI:  This tour is almost historic in a way.  What is it like to be a part of the last Ministry tour EVER?
BELL:  I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m kind of a big deal. (Laughter)  I am very privileged to be on this tour.  I get to see one of my favorite bands perform and join them on stage for some karaoke and have a good time.

MI:  The last three Ministry albums have been very political in nature.  What are your political views?
BELL:  Well, I do agree with Al on a lot of things.  He tends to be a bit more conspiracy oriented than I am, but there is some truth in that.  I’m independent and I honestly don’t feel that there is a candidate that represents me, or my people.

MI:  If Ministry was going to be hired by one of the candidates to do a rally, not that any of them are cool enough to do that, but which do candidate do you think Ministry would support?
BELL:  None of them.  Well, listening to Al talk, he probably would’ve supported Dennis Kucinich because he thinks he’s got a hot wife.

MI:  Why does he focus on the political issues then?  Is he just that angry at the Bush administration?
BELL:  Well, it is messed up.  It is affecting everybody.  He’s been living in El Paso watching the soldiers going out and not coming back.  The government is lying to us and we’re still paying taxes for bullshit.  There’s a lot to be angry about and he’s just one of the more outspoken artists.

MI: I think he needs to go on Real Time with Bill Maher.
BELL:  That would be great for him and Al would have a blast doing that. 
MI:  I think he would fit in with his political views and let’s face it, we need more intelligent rock stars to speak out about things like this.
BELL:  It would be entertaining.  Personally, I love that show.  Bill Maher can be an ass sometimes, but a lot of what he says is true and blunt.  A long time ago, when Bill Maher was still doing Politically Incorrect, I was actually in the audience for one of his shows.  It was the one with Gibby Haynes and Lee Marvin.  Two heroes, all right.  Al would do great on that.  The intelligent rock star does seem to be dwindling these days.  I am going to talk to him about it and see if his publicist can get him in there.

MI:  I want to thank you for taking time out to talk to me today.  It’s been fun and I hope the rest of the tour goes smashingly!
BELL:  Thank you for doing the interview.  I’ll pass on your comments to Al!

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