Ministry started out as an ‘80s synth-pop outfit. Times have certainly changed and so has their sound. Sitting firmly in the world of industrial metal, rock and thrash genres, Ministry’s career, now in its fourth decade and 15 albums later, has hit the highest highs and the lowest lows. But being elder rock statesmen is nothing to be sneezed at. Their ability to adapt has given them legions of fans and the respect of peers in the industry. LEO recently caught up with guitarist Monte Pittman (also guitarist for Madonna and formerly Prong) and talked about the long career of Ministry, the importance of hitting record, the music and setting an example for the next generation of musicians. Ministry plays Thursday, Sept. 22 at Louder than Life Festival.
(Edited for space and clarity)
Monte Pittman: Is this going to be an audio interview or written?
LEO: Uh, Written… I don’t want to hear me talk.
I did an interview when my last album came out like four years ago now. I was talking for 30 minutes and he was asking me these questions and I’m telling him all this stuff and he goes, ‘whoa, man, I wish I was recording that.’ I go, ‘what?!’
Rest assured, I’m recording. I’m not talented enough to remember everything even if I make notes. So tell me about joining Ministry.
It’s my second time playing in the band. I was in the band briefly back in, I think it was 2014 or 2015, and, and then Cesar Soto, the other guitar player, came in and replaced me, which now with me coming back, it’s really cool to be playing alongside him.
I grew up in east Texas and when I moved out to Los Angeles… I first came to Los Angeles just to see it and just check it out. Me and Roy (drummer Roy Mayorga) met up because he was a soundman at a local club that I went to and I had just met Roy a few weeks previously in Texas through a mutual friend. It is crazy to look back and to say if only we would know that, ‘Hey, in over 20 years from now, we’re gonna play in the same band.’
Then I met Al when he was producing a Prong album. Tommy Victor (of Prong) used to play guitar in Ministry. That’s, that’s the association of how I met them. Me and Al became friends over the years. That’s what led me to being back now.
Tell me about making the Moral Hygiene Record.
I came into that right before the album was coming out. So honestly, I can’t really give you any insight to that.
Well, knowing what the songs mean now, what sense do the songs give you since many were written as a response to people and politics post pandemic?
I mean, what’s interesting, it seems like it’s always changing. It’s like the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the good guys, and the good guys are the bad guys, and the bad guys, the good guys.
You just never know. It seems like that climate just changes everyday. I look at politics like wrestling. It’s like, are they all really in it together and they go out on stage, and they do what they’re doing. Then, afterwards, they go to dinner together and laugh about it.
Probably, but I have no idea.
When you’re writing an album, when you’re writing music, you want the music to be personable to the listener. You kind of want it to mean whatever it is you think it means. It’s up to you, whatever it means.
Making an album and writing songs and making music, it’s like taking a snapshot in time. It’s like taking a photograph of a certain moment, and then you can look back on it and you can compare how things have changed and how things are the same.
Strangest tour moment?
I will say when we went on tour back in the spring, the looks on the crowd’s faces. There were just these smiles. That was really heartwarming, which I’ve never seen, I’ve been playing professionally for 22 years now. And I can’t think of the time I saw so many smiles and especially after the last two years.
How has it been dealing with COVID protocols on the road?
I mean, it kind of got to where at the beginning of the tour, everybody was just being as safe as we could be. You always have your mask, are washing your hands, just being as safe as you could be. And then at the end, by the end of that tour, they had already stopped all of the mask mandates so then you didn’t have to and then you’re kind of saying, ‘well, I’m wearing a mask all day, but then I’m going into a room with people not [wearing masks].
By the end of the tour, it kind of seemed like things were close to back to normal.
You play guitar with Madonna?
I grew up in Texas and I moved down to Los Angeles to try to just work as a musician and, as fate would have it… I taught guitar lessons in Texas. I’ve been teaching since I was 15 and my teacher would have me teach as his apprentice.
I started teaching and then that led to me teaching Madonna how to play guitar. Then I became friends with her. It wasn’t like I auditioned for her and she hadn’t toured in seven years.
She said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go on tour. I want you to come on tour and teach me and I’m going to need a guitar player. Why don’t you play guitar for me?’ I’m like, ‘cool. Yeah, sure. Of course.’ And what I learned about her music is that there’s so much variety.
You still teach guitar?
I still teach online. I even teach when I’m on the road, when we were on tour, uh, after soundcheck or before soundcheck. I would just set up in the dressing room and, and teach somebody. One of my students, when we played in Nashville, we played at The Ryman, he wanted to learn an Elvis song. So we had been working on this Elvis song and I said, ‘oh, wait, hang on a second.’ And I took my phone, which I was using to teach him. I walked on the stage and I said, ‘Here now play that song. And so he played it and I’m like, well, you just played the Ryman.’
There’s only so many people who have played arenas and stadiums that that would still teach.
Well that was really my last question. It’s been 30 minutes.
Has it already been 30 minutes?
I know, I’m fascinating to talk to. (laugh)
We’re just getting to know each other. Well, I’ve got time, if you’ve got time.
Was that really your last question?
Less is more. Just as long as you were recording that.
Definitely. I’ve got everything recorded.
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