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Interview: John Bechdel of Ministry

John Bechdel has played with some of the most iconic bands in the industrial music scene. You may not be too familiar with the person, but you are familiar with the music. Starting his professional behind the keys with Killing Joke and continuing today with Ministry, John Bechdel took a few minutes to chat with me about his career and his upcoming documentary: Killing the Joke - The John Bechdel Story.

Catch Ministry at Bogart’s on Tuesday, April 10th!

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Ministry released a new album, AmeriKKKant, how has the response to the new material been on your current tour?
Really good. You never know how it’s gonna get received, but we started doing some of the newer songs on tour last fall and they were going over really well. This time we are playing 3 more new songs from the album and they are also going over extremely well, a lot of good feedback from the album from a lot of old school Ministry fans and getting a really good response all around.

Do you think today’s political climate helped lead to this new material?
That’s an interesting subject because today’s political climate is really toxic environment and there isn’t really a lot of negotiations going on. You’re either on my side or the other. As much as we really didn’t want to get into that initially, it seemed to be the low hanging fruit. The way we are describing this album people are thinking it’s about Trump. It’s not such much about Trump as it is about the environment that got him elected. Trump was telling people what they wanted to hear and it’s not so much that they believed in him as a candidate. People were fed up. They didn’t like any of the other candidates because they were career politicians.

The song Twilight Zone deals heavily with the whole thing. It’s like, what the hell is going on around here? (It’s a) distorted reality.

Well, at least one good thing we get in a toxic political environment is some good music.
(Laughs) It’s ironic because Ministry put out a lot of anti Bush material and during the Obama era we didn’t have as much to complain about.

With this new album you have Burton Bell (Fear Factory) and Arabian Prince (NWA) how did they get involved with this project?
Well, Burton has worked with us before, he was on the Sucker and toured with us. It made a lot of sense to collaborate with him again. Arabian Prince he started off working on the record but then we started using DJ Swamp and he is the one that is touring with us. We met Prince prior to doing the record and he performed with us in Las Vegas when Al (Jourgensen) was doing Surgical Meth Machine. Then Swamp came in and we put him in as part of the live line up and it’s been working out really, really well.

Now you’ve been a part of some other amazing bands throughout your career, Prong, Fear Factory and Killing Joke to name a few. What are some of your proudest moments with these bands?
I’d probably have to say Killing Joke because from my teenage years I discovered the first and second Killing Joke records and they pretty much changed my life. I was so moved by the tribal rhythms that they were incorporating into their music, the guitar was such a heavy, rich aspect to the sound and I loved the way the vocals sounded. We really had not heard anything like that before. They were a pretty obscure band and wasn’t mainstream.

I moved to New York in the mid 80’s and started playing in a band with Mark Atkins and he hooked up with Killing Joke through a mutual friend of ours. They were rehearsing not far from where I lived and I went over and was able to watch the band rehearse and meet the band. I had never even seen Killing Joke live, yet alone be able to meet them and see them rehearse. It was really exciting.

They had a keyboard player at the time, but he wasn’t necessarily a big fan and they didn’t really like him that much. I thought “Opportunity!” and Mark was rooting for me and they eventually asked me to do it. It was a lot of work. I quit my job. I moved to London, had never been out of the country before and worked on the Extremities album.

My first shows I remember thinking this was a lot of work and maybe I was over my head or perhaps it wasn’t going to work out. I kept working and working at it. Some of those first shows, playing those songs I was listening to in my bedroom when I was 15, on stage in front of all these people, it was a real trip. Playing Requiem and Love Like Blood with the band on stage, I was only 25 or 26 at the time.

That sounds so awesome and so terrifying and the same time.
(Laughs) I was too stupid to be terrified. It’s all I wanted to do, be in the band. I didn’t think of the other stuff. I never got stage fright.

Now, the big news for you is that you have a documentary coming out soon.
Yeah, it’s really exciting.

How did that come about?
Well, for years I would tell crazy stories just like I did with you how I went from growing up in a small town to going to London and recording with a record with Killing Joke in some of the most famous recording studios in the world. People would always say you should write a book. Then of course my sister beat me to it. (Alison Bechdel released the graphic novel memoir Fun House in 2006) So I had to think of something different. (Laughs) So we decided to do a documentary

When does the documentary premiere?
May 19th is the online release and August 23rd, my birthday, will be the official release of the DVD.

You’ll be coming to Cincinnati (Bogart’s) on April 10th. How do you like playing Cincy?
Well, we’ve been there before, we always get a good response there, the people are all warm and friendly. We always have a good time there. Looking forward to it.