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Getting off our sorry asses

Paul Barker of seminal electronic act Ministry discusses their soon to be released new album, the mammoth tour ahead and what's going on around them.

Ten years ago, Ministry were everywhere. Building on years of development, from the synthpoppy "Twitch" through the increasingly metallic sounds of "Land of rape and honey" and "The mind is a terrible thing to taste", "Psalm 69" was a revelation and did the unthinkable. Hand in hand with Nine Inch Nails, Ministry crossed over into the mainstream, opening the underground electronic scene to Generation X and tracks like 'Jesus built my hotrod' and 'NWO' were heavily play-listed on MTV.

However, the band seemed to react against this popularity and the subsequent albums, "Filth pig" and "Dark side of the spoon", were harsher and more downbeat, less accessible outings, missing the spark that made "Psalm 69" such a killer. They parted company with Warner Records and signed with Sanctuary Records. Their first release on that label, the live "Sphinctour" album, did raise hopes that the spark might return, featuring, as it did, the "Filth pig" tour set-list and none of the inferior "Dark side..." material.

Paul Barker points out, though, that there isn't much meaning to be attached to this choice, they simply couldn't release an album of the "Dark side..." tour. "We didn't document that tour and the recordings didn't sound as good. We didn't have anyone with us to do it, so basically we have nothing to show."

They hadn't planned to release it as an album either; just a visual release, but the label wanted an audio CD as well. "That's less interesting, it's just the music, which sounds good, but it was not the intention, it was meant to be a DVD and video. That turned out really good, seeing as it was done with only one camera."

Their new album, soon to be released, has received some initially positive responses and comparisons to "Psalm 69". However, they didn't have a definite plan when they went into the studio. "Basically, it was just us trying to get off our sorry asses and record something more upbeat and exciting."

The main reason there has been discussion of the album a while before it's been released is because of that every controversial aspect of modern music, mp3 swapping. Versions of the tracks have already been doing the rounds on the Internet. Paul admits he's not happy about it, but acknowledges that there's not much they can do to stop progress. He's also uncomfortable about the way new security measures are restricting people from making legitimate copies for personal use. "You should be able to do what you want, but it's my livelihood. Then again, I have burned CDs myself. It should sort itself out eventually."

Paul and Al were as surprised as anyone else by how popular they became in the '90s, Paul puts it down to being in the right place at the right time. "'Jesus built my hotrod', the track and the video, which we released in advance of 'Psalm 69', created a lot of interest, and it just snowballed. It's ironic. 10 years ago, the music we were interested in was underground, now the media and fans find it acceptable. I suppose that's the way it works."

They, along with NIN, were the main bands to be tagged industrial, though it was never a term they used themselves. "I don't care, it's a matter of convenience for yourself, records stores and even fans. It is what it is, the music stands on its own, it doesn't matter what it's called."

The release will be backed up with what could only be termed a mammoth tour. "We're going to do a promo tour for the album in February/March in Europe, we might be playing the Astoria*, then the States for 2 months, Europe again in the first half of the summer for the festivals, then back to the States, then on to Japan and Australia."

Al and Paul are thinking of doing some work on the other thing for which they are well-known - their side projects to keep them amused while on the road. "We'd really like to do another Lard and another Cocks album, but we're touring for the next year and concentrating on this album. But, with lots of cheap recording equipment, we should be able to do a lot of work on the road. Ten to 15 years ago, before we had families, we lived in the studio and had a lot of time to do stuff. We don't have that much time anymore, but don't get me wrong, we're happy about that."

Paul's reluctant to name bands he considers good these days, as, he says, he doesn't have his ear to the ground anymore. He's listening mainly to music from 10, 20 and 30 years ago, though some music does get sent to him. He's particularly impressed by the new Dälek's CD, "from filthy tongue of gods and griots", on Mike Patton's Ipecac Records (also on Southern Records in Europe). "They're pretty cool. I should make a list of things I like so I'd know what to say when people ask me."

He's not particularly impressed by the state of modern electronic music. "Some of it's cool, but most of it's boring. There's no edge, it's the same old shit - hyper-speed oompa-loompa beats with some out of tune chick singing on top. It's a formula. And the videos have to have a half-naked chick in them, with a bare midriff, it makes me laugh."

Whatever the reaction to their new material, and with such a massive tour ahead, a lot of people will have the opportunity to judge, it's unlikely to divert them from doing what they want. Ministry were leaders in the scene 10 years ago and spawned hoards of followers, they're unlikely to start following anyone themselves now.

* They have been confirmed for London's Astoria on 2nd March.
Ministry - Dark Side of the Spoon
Ministry - Sphinctour

by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist

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