Iggy Pop: ‘I Didn’t Want To Sell Out’ The Stooges
Nostalgia may be the enemy of the future, but the coming months are bound to see a lot of hoopla surrounding Iggy Pop and his band of Stooges. And for good reason.
While just about no one was clamoring for the release of Raw Power when it first came out in 1973, fans are drooling over a special edition of the record due April 27. With Columbia/Legacy doing it up right as usual, the two-CD version will feature the original mix of the album, an unreleased ’73 concert recording and other surprises.
A few months after that, the Jim Rices of music will finally be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after 11 tries. And there are some Stooges live dates in the mix too.
In commemoration of all the hubbub, here’s an interview I conducted with Professor Pop shortly after the Stooges reunited in 2003. Curious in retrospect, he also had a fair amount to say about Sum 41. Also notable: If what he had to say at the time had held true, the Stooges’ 2007 album, The Weirdness, never would’ve come about.
[Go here to read the full, never-before-published transcript.]
While James Newell Osterberg, one of punk rock’s irrefutable forefathers, never cracked the mainstream music sphere his stage appellation connotes, he is certainly an integral member of the rock pantheon. Despite having neither a Top 10 album nor a #1 single to his name, Iggy Pop has influenced the careers of countless punk and garage-rock bands, ranging from The Ramones to The White Stripes.
Pop has led a sturdy career, one that provided him with a second wind when his 1977 tune “Lust for Life” (co-written with David Bowie) was featured prominently in the movie “Trainspotting” almost 20 years later. The recent rekindling of his seminal garage band, The Stooges, has granted him yet another influx of attention.
Remarkably, while Pop thrives on renewed interest in his past achievements – the first three Stooges albums in particular – he continues to craft new material on a regular basis; the latest example is his November 4 release Skull Ring (Virgin). Mirroring the dexteric frontman’s acute attunement to new rock trends, Pop’s 15th studio effort finds him hooking up with significantly younger punk-pop artists Green Day and Sum 41, risqué performer Peaches – and, stealing the cake – former Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton, whom he has not recorded with for 30 years.
“I was on a plane to L.A. and made a big list of who I wanted to work with on this thing,” Pop tells ICE. “Suddenly, I thought, ‘Well, fuck, why not The Stooges? They’re cooler than anybody on this list!’ So I just called them.”
The long-awaited reunion rendered four completed songs: “Little Know It All,” “Skull Ring,” “Loser” and “Dead Rock Star.”
The remaining tracks are as follows, with collaborative artists in parentheses: “Private Hell” and “Supermarket” (Green Day); “Little Electric Chair” (Sum 41); “Rock Show” and “Motor Inn” (Peaches); and “Perverts in the Sun,” “Superbabe,” “Whatever,” “Here Comes the Summer,” “”Inferiority Complex” and “Blood on My Cool” (The Trolls). Also featured is “Till Wrong Feels Right,” a Mississippi Fred McDowell cover Pop performs solo.
The 56-year-old freely admits that he had a specific agenda in mind when he set out to create Skull Ring: “I wanted to do something with more melody. Which isn’t saying much with my shit, you know? If you have more than three notes, you have more melody than [2001’s] Beat ‘Em Up. I wanted it to have the mystique of depth in the wordplay, and also the mystique of superior construction. And then I wanted some elements that could interest anybody, whether they were fans of mine or not. That’s what I was going for.”
In regards to the varying cast of characters, well suited to please fans and attract a younger crowd that may not be familiar with Pop’s oeuvre, he reveals that, “It was a political situation, really. It was time for me to do more than just work with my touring band, The Trolls. I took a fragmented approach just to confuse the [record] company. I said, ‘Just leave me alone with the Trolls to do my stuff, then I’ll get you a lot of stars.’ They were dazed and went, ‘OK.’ ”
While Pop’s conventional Trolls backing unit participate on the disc more than any other crew, the other team-ups are sure to draw more attention.
This past summer, he and Green Day set up camp at Studio 880 in Berkeley, CA to record a couple songs.
“They’re really the progenitors of neo-punk,” says Pop. “The Trolls and The Stooges tend to work with a lot of noise and overtone and monotony, and they’re going to sound better if, after five or six tracks, you can bring in something like Green Day to refresh your ears.”
Pop produced the album, with the exception of one track: “Little Electric Chair,” manned by Sum 41 producer Greig Nori and co-written by band frontman Deryck Whibley and Pop. Clearly the most unlikely pairing on the disc, working with the Canadian gang was not Pop’s idea.
“I made all the overtures personally for this, except for the Sum 41 thing, with was done through the record company,” he says. Pop then counters: “Once you get me in a room, I can pretty much stand up to a four- or five-piece band all by myself. So when you hear me with Sum 41, it really doesn’t sound like Sum 41 with me singing along.”
Satisfying Pop’s craving for raw power, ribald electronic-music artist Peaches crops up on two tracks: “Rock Show” and “Motor Inn.” For the former song, Pop recalls: “I had the chorus and my verses, and left her some spaces, and said, ‘Can you write fast?’ She said ‘OK!’ and came up with her part in 15 minutes.” No surprise to those familiar with Peaches’ music, Pop reveals that, “She does get flirtatious. She has that quality, y’know? She has this ebullient quality. I did edit out her rendition of the word ‘titty,’ though. She said it about a dozen times.”
Pop returns the favor on Peaches’ recently issued second studio album, Fatherfucker, crooning along on one selection: “Kick It.”
For the Stooges cuts, Pop went with guitarist Ron and drummer Scott Asheton, the only available band vets. Founding member Dave Alexander died in 1975 and Ron Asheton replacement guitarist James Williamson has since abandoned the music business.
Pop recounts: “[Scott] would pipe up every year or two. He’d usually call me or my manager and leave a message: ‘Hey, can’t we do a gig, or a reunion or something?’ He kept it alive. I finally called him… he lives at the same address he always has, so I called the same phone number I did when I was 19.
“I didn’t know what to expect” going into the studio, Pop continues. “I was hoping to get maybe one track out of it, but then it really well, y’know?”
Pop and the Asheton brothers tracked drum and vocal parts and overdubbed bass by Ron Asheton over the course of five days. An additional, unnamed track was omitted from the final version of the release. “No one will ever hear it,” promises Pop.
Of course, getting back together with the Ashetons for the first time in 30 years sparked the possibility – and countless rumors – of a full-scale Stooges reunion. Pop stayed true to his Trolls, however. “It wouldn’t have been fair to deep-six them, y’know?”
Still, there were other reasons behind the Pop’s reluctance to reform. “I wasn’t going to be able to produce the album,” Pop says. “The company wouldn’t have given me backing for it without a youth-market producer. I didn’t want to sell out my band. So we just did what we always did at first: We just said, ‘No.’ ”
Nevertheless, the band did succumb to a few select performance dates, beginning with a highly praised performance at the Coachella festival in Indio, CA. Mike Watt – who has occasionally played live gigs with Ron Asheton and J Mascis – filled the vacant bassist slot.
Pop steps away from the pack for a personal rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Till Wrong Feels Right,” which he performs solo on acoustic guitar. Pop altered some of the lyrics to address his own character.
“I talk about the size and persistent and relentless ability of the media industries to twist your tastes, twist your spirit,” Pop says. “The second-to-last verse is ‘It’s a big industry/ And they can beat my brain/ Houses, cars and shame/ They are insane/ But they can beat my brain.’
“The last verse is kind of obtuse, actually. It refers to the Islamic fundamentalists who would really like to just pull the plug on the entire modern world.”
Having upheld a consistent pace of roughly one album per year throughout his entire career, it’s surprising that Pop isn’t already conjuring ideas for his next effort. He does impart, however, contradicting what he said before: “Maybe a Stooges album. That’s in my mind. But you never know.”
Originally published as the cover story of ICE magazine #199, September 2003.
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