Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia on Rigor Mortis, Psalm 69 and his friendship with Al Jourgensen
Catch Ministry this Sunday, June 17, at the Ogden Theatre.
Ministry (due Sunday, June 17, at the Ogden Theatre) got its start when Al Jourgensen moved from Colorado to Chicago, where the Wax Trax label was headquartered. The early Ministry offerings were in line with a lot of the more experimental synth-pop of the era, but its landmark 1986 album Twitch was the line of demarcation between the more new-wave sounds of old and the darker, ultimately more creatively fruitful era of the band's music.
Jourgensen met guitarist Mike Scaccia when his band, Rigor Mortis, opened for Death Angel in Chicago in 1985. An immediate friendship formed, and Jourgensen invited Scaccia along to perform on the tour for the political and nightmarish 1989 album The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste.
Scaccia then contributed his signature guitar work to writing 1992's Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs. That album was an aggressive and invigorating release that broke Ministry -- and industrial music in general -- to a wider audience. We recently spoke with the frank and charming Scaccia about Rigor Mortis, Psalm 69, his friendship with Jourgensen, and Scaccia's hero, the late, great Les Paul.
Westword: You were in Rigor Mortis when you were young. How did you get involved with playing heavy music?
Mike Scaccia: Music, in general, was very common around my house growing up. I come from a pretty big Italian family, and I have three older sisters. My dad grew up with the famous drummer Gene Krupa, so he wanted me to be a drummer. I was more fascinated by guitar, and I obviously stuck with that. When I was growing up, I saw Black Sabbath in 1978 with Ozzy singing, and Van Halen opened up that whole tour. When I saw that particular show, I realized that I liked my music really loud and heavy.
I was really into Ted Nugent and Aerosmith and whatever I could find that had heavy guitar in it.
At a very early age, I was attracted to long-haired rock-and-roll bands. That's what I wanted to be in. So in junior high school, I would live in the record stores, and I would look for whoever would be the next heavy thing. I remember discovering the band the Rods, Judas Priest, of course, and I'll never forget the first time I heard Iron Maiden. I thought, "Okay, this is it." These guys have taken my favorite bands, like Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy, and made it faster. So, that was the beginning of it all. Between the Rods, Judas Priest, Saxon and Iron Maiden, I started listening to more underground metal.
Then, of course, I've always had a love for rock and roll, period -- which, to me, is just what punk rock is, the aggression of it all and everything like that. Being just an overall fan of music, I tend to lean toward aggression in music. I find aggression in bluegrass music. That's kind of how I got involved with always looking for the next heaviest thing. Of course, now I think it's all been pretty much covered. I think Electric Wizard topped everybody.
What Iron Maiden album was it that you initially discovered?
The very first one. I still listen to that record. I was lucky enough, where I was growing up, that they still had arena shows. So it wasn't seeing bands at clubs, it was going to an arena and seeing these great packages. I saw the first U.S. Iron Maiden tour, when they opened for Judas Priest, and I was so excited. I couldn't believe it. They had so much speed and intensity in what they were doing that that's what I wanted to do with my band Rigor Mortis. I wanted to take that music and do what they were doing except with thrash music. I just could never find the right producer.
In the early days of Rigor Mortis, what kinds of bands did you play with at that time, and what kinds of reception did you get from audiences then?
People didn't get it. A lot of the people wanted to hear Def Leppard, you know. We would go, "Okay, you wanna hear Def Leppard? Well we're going to speed it up to where it's not going to sound like Def Leppard; it's going to sound like we wrote it." Where I come from is the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Dallas/Fort Worth is really strange. On the Fort Worth side -- and it's still like this -- you have much more reserved, dedicated metal fans. The Dallas side -- and that's where I'm from and where I live right now -- is more reserved and more trendy. Whatever's happening at the time, that's what's happening. We started out over on the Forth Worth side because that's really where all the crazy metal was going on.
But we started bringing it over to the Dallas side because we were such huge fans of the punk-rock scene, and that's where the punk clubs were. So we were bringing our music into those clubs. They didn't know what to think of us because we had hair down to our asses, we were wearing spikes or whatever, cut-off blue jean jackets and stuff. So they didn't want us in there. To them we were just a bunch of hippie pot smokers, which we weren't, because we wanted to kick in their asses.
Once they heard us, they were completely blown away. Like, "Oh my god, this isn't some regular metal band." So our shows started having such a wide variety of people. You had jocks, you had skinheads, you had metalheads, rednecks -- everything. Mix that with alcohol, and there's going to be a big fight, and then we're on the news. That's pretty much how we got signed. There were always fights, and there was so much buzz about, "Man, did you hear what happened at Rigor Mortis? Have you seen Rigor Mortis?" So it started becoming this kind of thing to do, and all the promoters were putting us on a lot of the shows that were coming through town.
The buzz started happening and it happened almost a little too soon for us because the next thing we knew, we were signed to a major label. When you're signed to a major label at twenty years old and given a bunch of money -- to a bunch of drug addict drunks with no direction -- it's just a recipe for disaster. No regrets, though. It's all good. You live and learn, man, but I'm happy with my age right now.
Probably the first time a lot of people heard Rigor Mortis outside of Dallas/Fort Worth was on the soundtrack to The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
Right, right. We went to the premier of that movie. We were supposed to be in that movie. We were yanked out because of a lawsuit to do with our name. So we wound up being on the soundtrack. I saw that movie for the first time since I went to the premier, and I had forgotten how horrible it was. I mean, there was some horrible stuff in there. But that's what that time was. It was a good time. It really was.
A lot of the glam bands were really horrible, but there were some good ones. And there was some great music then because it was so guitar heavy and bands could really get record deals. It wasn't so mass marketed as it is now. It was a good time for music. That was really the end of it to me. Of course there's great music now, but back then, there was less to choose from.
How did you meet Al Jourgensen
I met Al in 1986 on the tour for Twitch. His soundman at the time was this guy David Ogilvie, "Rave" from Skinny Puppy, who also produced the first Rigor Mortis record. Well, he was in line to produce our record, and I had gotten the call from one of the people at the label saying, "Hey, can you go down and meet this guy. He wants to meet you, and he's on tour with this really cool band. Go hang out with him."
So I drove through a massive ice storm in Dallas to get to the show. I met Al that night, and we partied our asses off all night. We just hit it off like we were long lost brothers. We became really good friends. When he would come through Texas, I would hang out with him. When I would come through Chicago, I would stay at his house, and I remember giving him my demo that night. I remember him calling me a few weeks later going, "Dude, you inspired me to pick my guitar back up." Which was a great thing because I think The Land of Rape and Honey came after that.
We just formed a bond and became really good friends. That went on for a few years, and he asked me to tour with him in 1989. After that, I was asked to join the band, and the rest is kind of history. We've had our ups and downs together. We've lived through a really very long and intense heroin addiction together. We've survived it; we got out of it.
We're like brothers, and we have fought like brothers in the past. About four years ago, we decided no more of that dumb shit. We're best friends, man; let's write music together. I don't even think we've had an argument for four years now. So the bond is there. It's a crazy relationship, but man he's like my big brother, and he has taught me so much about tones and music, and even when I was mad at him, I still had the highest respect for the guy. It's a pretty good thing going on right now.