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Numerous questions abounded before anyone heard one track off of Ministry’s new album, Dark Side of the Spoon. The grapevine biz was abuzz with speculation prompted by the album’s provocative title and the reemergence of Ministry's rumor-ridden masterminds, Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker, after their three-year hiatus. Fans and journalists alike wondered, “Has Al won his seemingly everlasting fight with ‘the needle and the damage’ ?”

Many of the answers appear to be in. In response to reports of uncertainties in the band’s line-up, the final cut features the guest musicians Ray Washem (drums), Louis Svitek (guitar), Z.Hukik (guitar), Y. Gage (backing vocals) and T. Coon (vocals).

And what about the band’s music? Having recorded together since 1982, have Barker and Jourgensen mellowed with age? No such thing. On Dark Side of the Spoon, Ministry’s heavy industrial-electronic sound is fuller and fatter than ever. The following is NY Rock’s conversation with chatterbox Paul Barker, who fulfilled interview duty, giving the rather quiet Al Jourgensen the day off.


   NYROCK:

There were lots of speculations as to whether drummer Bill Rieflin was part of the line-up. One moment he was in, the next he was out...

         PAUL:

Bill is definitely not part of the line-up. He's still a good friend of mine, but he's not part of the line-up. He's going to release his own album, a solo album, called Birth of a Giant.

   NYROCK:

With Dark Side of the Spoon, Ministry took some time...

         PAUL:

I think it's a very complex album. We went into extensive production. It just wasn't ready, and rather than release some half-baked thing, we decided to keep on experimenting and trying...

   NYROCK:

How would you compare it to your other albums, and how would you describe the music?

         PAUL:

As I said, I think it's far more complex than any of our other albums. It's claustrophobic; it's paranoid, but it's still complex, finished, whole... It was hard to complete it, and I think it's definitely going to be hard to play it live on stage... Compared to Filth Pig [1996], it's certainly a studio album. Filth Pig was produced in a rather live situation. Dark Side of the Spoon far more production went into it.

I don't think Dark Side of the Spoon has anything to do with Psalm 69 [1992], because we changed a lot in the meantime. We're completely different people now. But I think it's funny that journalists ask me to describe our music, isn't that their job?


   NYROCK:

Of course, but isn't it better to ask the person who actually created it – when the chance presents itself – instead of simply putting a label on it?

         PAUL:

OK, you're right about that. [It's] a good way to approach it – and of course the journalists write the articles, they can always disagree – but to be honest, it's pretty hard for me to say something about it...

   NYROCK:

Why? Is it too personal? The album is something like your child?

         PAUL:

That would be a good explanation, but actually it's because I didn't listen to it when we finished it... I think it's more personal than Filth Pig, definitely more personal, but as I said, it's hard to be objective. I need a certain distance. I need to be able to listen to it not as somebody who was part of it, but just as a listener. I haven't quite reached that point yet.

   NYROCK:

Ministry always seems to be good for a surprise. If I look back at Psalm 69, a Dylan cover was the last thing I expected to find on one of your albums...

         PAUL:

That wasn't my idea. I don't even like "Lay Lady Lay." I do like Bob Dylan and I think there are a lot of songs I'd rather have covered, but Al told me he wanted to work with that song, so I worked with him and tried to make the best out of it, but under heavy protest, ha ha ha.

   NYROCK:

So how do you like your version?

         PAUL:

I can't say much about it. It's too long ago. I know a lot of people really like it and think it's well done. I don't have an opinion. I prefer not to listen to it at all.

   NYROCK:

How do you work? Do you have a layout or a plan for a new album, or do you just let it all happen?

         PAUL:

When we start working on a new project, or album, we only have very vague ideas about how it should sound and what it should be. Even our songs get written in the studio, during the production. It's rather exciting and spontaneous. At least for us it is. It's not like in other bands. A lot of other bands try their material on tour. Then they get back, record the songs. They have to wait until the album's finished. I don't say that their way is better or worse. It's just that the way we do it seems to work for us. We don't have rules. You can try everything, but if it doesn't work, it's out. Pretty simple.

   NYROCK:

You're starting your tour with festivals in Europe...

         PAUL:

Oh yes, we're going over for the summer and play a couple of festivals. Then we're going back to America and tour there for about two months and plan to return to Europe in the late fall or winter...

   NYROCK:

How do you compare the audience in different countries?

         PAUL:

I think the reaction of the audience is pretty similar everywhere. At least I think that. Maybe other bands have completely different experiences, but I think, in general, we get the same reaction no matter where we play. OK, I think Americans are a bit louder, the French are rather quiet...

   NYROCK:

The title "Dark Side of the Spoon" is bound to upset a lot of people. That is, unless you plan to claim it's a pun on the Pink Floyd album. It's pretty much a drug reference...

         PAUL:

I'm not defending drugs. Personally I like them, but I also know what they can do to people. I think drugs, and the way people see drugs, has a lot to do with which kind of society they grew up in, what our parents and teachers told us about drugs. I think every culture has drugs, drugs people are used to and they don't see them as drugs. Alcohol can be a drug, in fact it is a drug, but it's a legal drug. The people in the Western civilization are mostly used to alcohol. It's a question of culture and every culture has a different drug. I wonder how many of those militant anti-drug guys don't mind drinking, simply because they don't see alcohol as a drug.

   NYROCK:

So you think the drug laws should change?

         PAUL:

I don't think you can stop anybody from taking drugs, but what about all this talk of the freedom of choice? I think a lot of the laws actually cause more harm. They make it more tempting because it's forbidden, and they turn people into criminals. I think you should inform people about the consequences drugs have, and if they decide they want to take that route and they're prepared to face the consequences, then it's their decision.

You know, if drugs wouldn't be illegal, people wouldn't need to become criminals to afford them. Especially America has this philosophy that's forced on people, that they're told what they have to achieve, what is expected of them. Some probably don't want to achieve it but they're under permanent pressure then, and I think that causes a lot of problems.


   NYROCK:

So what do you think about the people who blame music as the root of all evil?

         PAUL:

That's not really a new theme, is it? It's just another manifestation of what I just said. Music is a part of our culture. It expresses our culture, but a song about drugs doesn't make anybody a drug addict. A song about violence doesn't provide you with a gun. I think it's a bit weird, if somebody wants to take drugs and is prepared to face the consequences, then it's what they decide to do. It's their decision and I think you can't stop anybody, even if you force them to go through rehab.

I think we're going to face a lot of accusations because of the title of the album. And I think a lot of the people who will point their fingers at us have Beatles and John Lennon albums at home. And they'll conveniently forget that John Lennon was a junkie.

Let me just say this: Everybody agrees that drugs are bad. Nobody complains if we get harder drug laws, but the same people might feel their personal freedom threatened if stricter gun laws are discussed.

June 1999


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