I interviewed Paul Barker of Ministry ten years ago for Networking In the Music Industry. Some things have changed a lot – some things not at all. Check it out:
EO – Who have you produced?
PB – All of the stuff that we’ve worked on ourselves, and with other musicians: Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pailhead, Lard, Lead Into Gold, PTP, Acid Horse. We did a remix of a Chili Peppers track last year; which was very difficult because we were in the midst of tryng to complete Psalm 69. A remix isn’t a production job, but we approached it that way because we had to decide what we were going to keep and what we were going to throw out, and how we were going to rearrange it. I did what was more-or-less a production job on a couple of KMFDM songs.
EO – It sounds like when you do decide to work with someone, it usually becomes a collaboration.
PB – Well, hopefully it becomes that way. We certainly don’t feel that we are know-it-alls. That’s one of the things that irks me about the idea of producing someone else: the authoritarian aspect of taking someone else’s music and telling them what to do with it. It’s almost sacreligious. I don’t know what bonafide producers do. Do they sit there and say things like, [in a German accent] “Ve are now going to arrange the horn-charts like zo”?
EO – How do you guys work?
PB – It depends how demented, how far out we are at that point. We get together and use one of three methods as a springboard to find something that we feel is good enough to warrant our completing.
The first way is with a guitar: you know, just riffing about and coming up with a chord progression and a particular way of playing that chord progression. Another way is coming up with a rythmic idea or a rhythm track on the bass and drums, and taking it from there.
The third way is to find a sample which we then loop or sequence somehow, and that dictates the overall key and the syncopation of the idea. We use those things as building blocks.
Let’s say that we started off with the guitar idea. If our drummer, who lives in Seattle, was in Seattle at the time, then we would sit down and come up with some rythmic part with the sequencer, and some samples and stuff. At the initial conception of the piece, you have an overall feel for the song, and we would then go through our library of sounds to come up with something that would be appropriate for that musical idea. We would use the rythm tracks to modify the guitar parts to make it more cohesive.
If we were to start with the bass and drums scenario, we riff about with that for awhile and then lay some of it down. Then we bring in some guitar or some samples and start laying over the top of that and make some sort of arrangements within that. Then we go back and retrack everything with the new arrangements and chord-progressions in mind. At no time is everything set. At any given time we might rearrange or rerecord everything.
The third method, of starting off with a sample, seems to be the most difficult to complete because you are painting yourself into a corner. It may happen that the original sound becomes no longer valid after the song has been fleshed-out. Once we throw the sample out then we really have a lot of fun trying to complete the song because now the original impetus is gone. We don’t hesitate to spend ridiculous amounts of time on a song.
I’m sure that you have heard horror stories from bands about spending a month on a song. We have, in fact, done that. We don’t know, towards the end of that month, whether we have something good or if we should shoot ourselves because we become such blithering idiots. We do that to ourselves, though; we don’t do that to other people.
EO – So you are masochistic but not sadistic.
PB – Yes. It gets ridiculous because after every Ministry record we try to go into the next one with a different overall concept. Usually the concept is that we are going to make it easier on ourselves. The idea of the Mind record, that had a very concrete idea. We would go into the studio and lay down the rythm tracks: Bill and I would lay down as many rythm tracks as we could, and we would sift through those and see which ones we wanted to finish. It did relieve some pressure; it really didn’t take all that long to finish that record. But this new record, we decided we were going to write some material with a full band, and go record it, and take it from there. Well, we ended up throwing out all of that fucking material and going back to the old way.
EO – From what I’ve read, that’s how the Stones work. How do you guys handle the lyrics?
PB – Really, the Stones? As far as Ministry is concerned, Al writes the lyrics. I find it difficult to sing other people’s lyrics, and I’m sure that Al does as well. He will ask me to come up with some ideas sometimes. He’ll come up with a topic and ask me about it and I’ll try to come up with something. I think it’s mainly for contrast, to see what syntax I would use to get the idea across. If nothing else, mine make his seem much better. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, and other times it just comes to you like a gift.
EO – Why have all of these various entities like the Revolting Cocks, and Ministry, and PTP?
PB – When Al is singing and we go to write some Ministry music, the focus of that group is very, very narrow. We are going to make the harshest music that we can. We worked on that fucking record for 15 months and we threw out a ton of material. Not that that material wasn’t necessarily hard enough, but we didn’t complete it and make it fit into the very narrow band-width that we want the Ministry music to sound like. Over the course of a year, we don’t only write the kind of music that Ministry records.
EO – Thank God.
PB – Exactly. That’s part of why the other projects exist: we don’t want to just be percieved as some weird death-metal group. Death-metal bands are the most extreme like that: either it’s death-metal, or it’s speed-metal, or it’s shit. We grew up listening to a lot of different music, and styles change and you change, and maybe you like something that you didn’t like before, or you stop liking something that you liked before. To me it’s all a valid part of your personal musical history and musical growth. But anyway, the main difference between the projects is the vocalist.
Lard is Al, me, Jeff Ward on drums and Jello Biafra on vocals. Pailhead was Al, Bill Rieflin on drums, and me on guitar and vocals. Currently Chris Connelly is the singer of the Revolting Cocks. Lead Into Gold is primarily my own thing. Acid Horse was Al, Chris and I with Cabaret Voltaire. Actually Acid Horse was PTP and Cabaret Voltaire because PTP was Al and Chris and me.
EO – When you take on these different names, do you take on different personas?
PB – No, actually we don’t really take on a different persona. Ok, I have to correct myself, we do. The last two years we focused completely on Ministry; which means that all of these other projects are total ancient history. That’s the way they feel to me now. So I can’t really remember the personas. As I mentioned, when we do Ministry, we want it to sound like a very definite “this”, and there’s a definite persona involved in that. With the other projects, we try to hang loose, and when we work with Jello we feel like this, and when we work with Ian we feel like that. We do change as we work with different people.
EO – You had always been self-managed. Why did you decide to hire a manager?
PB – We realized that we couldn’t devote enough time to the business aspects, and we didn’t really know enough about them either. In the independent world, you can book the shows yourself. We made the records and handed them to the label and they took care of the rest of that. We fended for ourselves in every other aspect, and on that level you don’t really have to know that much. Ministry, because of Al’s earlier successes, had a fan base, and when I started working with Al the sound started to change, but there was already a fan base which grew along with us.
We were in a position of luxury there in that we could do everything ourselves. Outside of the industrial world, Ministry was seen as a faggot pop band, and so there was zero support from anyone outside of the club scene as far as touring was concerned anyway. For us at that point, touring was how we made money. Touring was what gave us the money to record. We had a first-refusal contract with the label; so we had to complete a record and deliver it to them and say “Take it or leave it.” Which meant that we had to pay for it up front. So it was real important for us to hang onto our booking and to do that right. The other aspects weren’t as important.
After the Mind record we were finishing a Cocks record, and then we were touring with the Cocks, and we had done a Lard record, and the work never stopped. We love that, but we didn’t really have any time for the administrative angles that came with the work. We also realized that there was a lot more money out there than we were seeing, and some new bands were, frankly, getting more than we were, and we didn’t have any clout to get this money. We didn’t have anyone inside the machine who was willing and able to work it for us. We were totally outside of it; which is where we wanted to be because our aesthetics demanded that if someone was a slimy scumbag, then we didn’t deal with him. But that’s a quick way to get into a dead-end. So, we wanted to shop around and see what, if anything, management could do for us.
We talked to a few people. For some reason, I guess it was the Mind record, these metal bands like Metalica and Megadeth got really into us. That’s cool, and we can see why, but, um, we don’t reciprocate. Not that I hate them or anything. Those bands just don’t really turn me on. If we are in the metal world, we certainly came in the backdoor. Anyway, the managerial aspect of the metal world became interested in Ministry. We were approached by various metal managers, if you will, and some seemed to have more going for them than others. So we talked to some of the bands that these guys had worked with before, and tried to find out why they had split, and whatever we could about them to help us make a decision. That whole process wasn’t very interesting.
EO – I was told that you talked to [NIN] John Malm.
PB – Yes, we did talk to John. We kind of realized that John had his hands full with NIN; we really like him, and there was never any question of similar aesthetics and things like that, but we felt that Nails was on a roll – on a high – and we probably wouldn’t have gotten the attention that we wanted. Who’s to say, but that was our thinking at the time. Here was a guy who was doing it his way, Trent’s way, and our way is pretty much the same, but that didn’t happen. So we chose Jonny [Z], and it’s kind of a marriage, you know?
EO – What’s he good at?
PB – He’s good at negotiating deals with labels. Certainly we made more money last year than we ever have before, but let’s just say that right now we are having some problems, like a marriage. Maybe I ought to let it come to the surface: what Jonny wants to do is to let everybody know much money he’s made. Everything is money. Who gives a fuck about money, you know? And then he’s always coming off like: “I don’t care about money”; whereas it seems to be the only thing that has any weight in his world. Back to the positive, though. They have really done a lot for us, and we appreciate that; but after two years, we are still trying to explain to them our aesthetics.
EO – Can you explain to me what you have been trying to explain to them?
PB – We don’t look at the short-term – we only look at the long-term. We’ve been doing this for years. I’ve been working with Al since 1986. We don’t want overnight success; we’d much rather do it our way, slowly. The fans are going to be with us. We are always going to sell records. No one is going to turn us into idiots: we are always going to have our talent, and we’re always going to be able to do it slower. We don’t have to be totally fucking exploited. We want to do that stuff in a more-or-less cool manner.
The irony of the whole grunge scene is that it is so uncool how they are being exploited. The whole aesthetic is being undermined because it is going major label. It’s the same thing that happened to the post-punk bands of ten years ago. They will become a joke.
EO – The thing that irritates me about the grunge scene is this reverse snobbery. I do like a lot of the bands.
PB – I do too, absolutely.
EO – The populist aspect of it strikes me as a bit disingenuous. “We are grungier, dirtier, smellier, less well-educated, and on more drugs than you. Therefore, we are cooler.” I link it almost to the Roseanne appeal: where she is appealing to the lowest common denominator. The actress is a very intelligent woman; but her persona is this slothful, unkempt troll with hideous grammer. She doesn’t need anymore of “them doughnuts.”
PB – I had no idea. I always thought that it was a standard situation comedy, but with fat people in it.
EO – Anti-intellectualism is dangerous. Not everyone has to be an intellectual, but don’t play dumber than you are.
PB – When I first heard of this thing called “grunge,” I thought, “Oh, they’re trying to be dirty. I wonder if they have ever heard of ‘grebo.'” Al and I spent a year in London in 1986, and that was two years after the grebo thing peaked, but there were these people there who just did not bathe. It was like a religion for them.
Anyway, back to my point. You know that these fat fucks at the major labels hate rap and metal and grunge. They hate this stuff, but they can’t ignore the fact that it makes millions of dollars so they gobble it up; but there is cynicism inherent in it and that cynicism leads to maximum exploitation. Maximum exploitation burns out everything.