Background and recording
In late 1981, Jourgensen was living in Chicago and involved in its underground scene. He began to write and record songs in his apartment, using a newly-bought ARP Omni synthesizer, a drum machine, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. At one point, a demo tape featuring the song "I'm Falling" gained the attention of Wax Trax! Records label co-founder and co-owner Jim Nash. Impressed by the demo, Nash offered to record its material professionally and to assemble the touring band, which Jourgensen named Ministry. In Chicago-based Hedden West studios, Jourgensen, with co-producers Jay O'Roarke and Iain Burgess, recorded Ministry's first recording, a twelve-inch single featuring tracks "I'm Falling", "Primental" and "Cold Life".
Simultaneously, Jourgensen assembled the band's first live line-up, the five-piece group including Jourgensen himself on vocals and guitar, bassist Martin Sorenson, keyboardists Robert Roberts and John Davis, and drummer Stephen George. Jourgensen and Roberts state that their mutual friend Paul Taylor had to perform in the original line-up, but, according to Jourgensen, refused after getting sick and proposed to invite Roberts instead.
While touring the Midwest and the Northeast during 1982, Ministry received some commercial success with "Cold Life". Consequently, the band gained attention of Arista label executives, who chose to sign them. With Sympathy was recorded in autumn 1982 with producers Vince Ely and Ian Taylor at the Synchro Sound studios in Boston.