John Bechdel has played keys for Ministry, the preeminent synth-pop-industrial-metal band for sixteen years. He’s probably the longest running member, founder Al Jourgenson notwithstanding. But in a band that’s seen about thirty members, dozens of collaborators and touring musicians cycle in and out of the lineup through the years, determining the metric of longest member is a dubious proposition at best.
“Sixteen years is a long time,” Bechdel concedes. “I’m definitely among the top few longest serving members. And it’s been an honor. Ministry has treated me like family, and I have felt a sense of belonging.”
Bechdel contributed to Ministry’s fifteenth full length, Moral Hygiene
. Released last year, the confrontational and abrasive ten-track record includes frequent Ministry collaborator Jello Biafra
as well as NWA founding member Arabian Prince. The album features a plodding, heavy take on the Stooges' “Search and Destroy,” and Jourgenson’s signature lefty politics. The band is currently celebrating a belated fortieth anniversary with a national tour that stops in Denver on Sunday, April 10.
A tour is hard sell for many these days, but Bechdel says the band made a calculated decision to hit the road. COVID doesn’t seem to be going away, and at some point, we are going to have to live with it. He adds that the pandemic impacted everyone, not just musicians, as many people have been struggling with increased anxiety and sleepless nights.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the turnout, especially because I believe there are still some people not quite ready to go out into a large, crowded venue,” he says. “We postponed three times due to the pandemic. This time we felt like we have to get back to work and deal with it. We are all vaccinated and boosted. We are taking every precaution.”
Bechdel came to the band later in its long run, but he’s no newcomer to this somewhat incorporeal style of synthesizer-laden, industrial/gothic/metal music. He’s played with Prong, Fear Factory, Ascension of the Watchers and Killing Joke
, the latter of which he was a fan of before joining. Bechdel also has his own project, False Icons, and has known Jourgenson since the early '90s. The current tour also serves as a belated thirtieth anniversary celebration of the band’s classic record The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste
, and Bechdel recalls seeing that show in New York City.
“I was a big Ministry fan since about 1983,” he says. “I was living in Boston and I heard the song ‘I’m Falling,’ and I bought it. I still have the 12-inch single. The B-side was ‘Cold Life.’ So I was a Ministry fan from day one.”
He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania years before the internet or MTV, so finding music was done by the process of elimination at record stores. The formula was simple, find a cool looking import record and buy it. That’s how some of his friends discovered Killing Joke, another band he started off as a fan of and later recorded with.
"To end up playing in one of my favorite bands was surreal,” he says. “But it wasn’t easy. People think, ‘Oh wow, you’re so lucky.’ But no, all my life I knew I wanted to be a musician. I’ve wanted to be a musician since I was six. I built my own instruments, I built my own lighting consoles, I put together a sound system.”
Years earlier, Bechdel started off playing music like many kids do – piano lessons – and eventually found the acoustic and then electric guitar. He found what would be his true musical love – the synthesizer – as a teenager in 1981 and eventually studied electronic music in college. He’s visited the Moog factory in North Carolina on at least one occasion and has collected various brands since the 1980s. “They are real rabbit holes,” he says.
He still owns his first synthesizer, a MicroMoog that he bought from his sister’s roommate. His mother had implored him to put money toward college and stop buying so much gear, so the two shared a bit of a moment when he returned from New York city via Greyhound bus lugging a synth under his arm. Nonetheless, she often came to see his shows and actually became and started seeking it out. He remembers introducing her to acts like GWAR and Clutch, but she went to see Rob Zombie, Korn and Metallica on her own.
Bechdel adds that his mother, who has since passed away, was always proud of his musical achievements, even if she was skeptical at first of him pursuing a music career. She liked acting and appeared in summer theater, as did his father, who grew up in the funeral business. Bechdel believes his mother had always wanted to pursue a career in acting, so it pleased her to see her kids – his sister is cartoonist Alison Bechdel
– succeed in the arts.
“She developed an affinity for heavy music,” Bechdel says. “When she passed away, I found out she saved everything I ever gave her, every little memento – T-shirts, cassette tapes, tour laminates – she kept everything. She was very proud of my success.”
Ministry, 7 p.m., Sunday, April 10, Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street. Tickets are $45-$48. Moral Hygeine is now available to stream on all platforms.