Iggy Pop Transcript, 7.18.03: ‘I Was Shooting Dope At The RIAA Awards When It Wasn’t Chic’
Get Iggy Pop talking and the time just flies. A living legend in his own right, he’s also as well-versed as anybody on classic and contemporary music. And with a frankness and candor you’re not apt to find from just about anyone else, he’s one of the record industry’s most critical – even prophetic – commentators.
When I caught up with Pop for the second time, in 2003, he had his then-new solo album, Skull Ring, very much on the brain. He gave background on the Stooges tracks, explained why he had to delete “titty” from some of Peaches’ lyrics, and made sense of those still-perplexing Sum 41 collaborations.
But he also spilled about anything else that crossed his mind: He likes Queens of the Stone Age but hates Sgt. Pepper’s; there was a planned live spoken-word collaboration with David Bowie that never got off the ground; and Islamic fundamentalists might actually have a point.
If you’re among the few who don’t believe Iggy Pop speaks his mind, this music-geek conversation should be enough to convert you.
[Go here for the accompanying cover story I wrote for ICE magazine.]
KO: Good morning, Mr. Pop.
IP: Hey how yo doin’?
KO: I’m doing well. How about yourself?
IP: I’m doin’ all right.
KO: You callin’ from Miami?
KO: Cool. Uh, my name’s Kurt … we spoke, actually, a couple years ago for an article I did for Venice.
IP: Oh, yeah.
KO: Last time we talked, you were living in a flight path, I think. Is that still the case?
IP: Oh, I must’ve been up on the roof. We’re safe today; I’m in the library. Nothing’ll happen.
KO: So this new album, did you wind up recording most of it in Miami or, because of all the guest collaborations, were you doing a lot of running around?
IP: I did all the Trolls cuts here, and all the Stooges and all the Peaches. So just the Green [Day collaborations] … I went out to San Francisco. [In a Spicoli voice] You’ve always got to touch base with California, man.
IP: The unavoidable monolith, there it is … living its lifestyle. So I did the Sum 41 [collaborations] in L.A. – Hollywood, actually, in a really crappy part of town. Really nasty part of Hollywood, sorta near Cahuenga and Sunset. I like it around there.
KO: Really gritty.
IP: Yeah. And … I did the Green Day [collaborations] … were we in Berkeley? No, Oakland.
KO: Last time, I asked you if you had considered working with guest artists, and at that point, you said, “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.” So I’m curious …
KO: What was it that changed your mind? Did the floodgates open after the Stooges were good to go?
IP: Nah … it was a political situation, really. It was time for me to do more than just work with my touring band, and to do anything as a single project that was different, and to get backing from a major for it, I was going to have to have a producer. Which is, like, something I didn’t want to have. They’re basically all just horrible vampires. Producers mean product, but I don’t like to think of my music as “product.” [You’re probably thinking] “Oh, man … that’s an old-school fucking musician-hippie-holkum,” but it’s still true.
And … to avoid that, I chose a fragmented approach, just to confuse the company into letting me do what I want. I just bean-fucked ’em, you know? “I’m going to do an album and … just leave me alone with the Trolls to do my little stuff, and then I’ll get you lots of stars. I’ll work with all these cool people, and … .” They were dazed and just went, “OK.” And I avoided being produced, except on one cut, Sum 41. The rest of it I was able to do something I felt was better for me.
That was the way it came about, and then the process was pretty interesting. I scared them … in the original meeting, I said, “I mean, I want to work with Puff Daddy! I want to work with Justin Timberlake!”
IP: But I was serious, you know?
KO: They didn’t go for it?
IP: Well, they just sort of looked at me … I think they humored me, y’know? They never made the call. I knew they wouldn’t. But it showed them that I was open.
IP: They like to hear open. … They like to feel involved.
KO: Well, you kind of echoed the same sentiment the other time I talked with you. You said they really wanted a classic-rock record, so you were listening to a lot of Slipknot, and you were trying to get more into that. Was this record a reaction against Beat ‘Em Up?
IP: I wanted to do something with more melody … which isn’t saying much with my shit [laughing], you know? If you have than three notes, you have more melody than Beat ‘Em Up, y’know? I just wanted to do something that was fun.
Beat ‘Em Up got a bit … Beat ‘Em Up was good for me at the time. But I was looking for something that should be fun to listen to … . I wanted it to have the mystique of depth in the wordplay and also the mystique of superior construction. And then … I wanted to have … some elements of it that could interest anybody, whether they were my fans or not. Members of the public. Those were the three things I was going for.
KO: “Superior construction” is a very interesting phrase. Can you go into that a little more?
IP: Sure. When you hear a piece of piece of music that’s a well-written piece in which the melody is supported by an interesting chord change and then it goes and lifts you at the chorus, and the music somehow seems evocative … part of the mystique of a good song is you think, “Boy, how did they write something like that?” For music fans who hear a lot of music … any time the writer or performer defeats monotony, there’s a mystique to that, is there not?
KO: There is. I follow.
IP: So part of my task in that was to do some of that myself as a writer, and also as a producer, I wanted to find people who were good at [it]. … Structure is very important.
KO: Taking it at face value, you’d figure that a band like Sum 41 wouldn’t offer much mystique. Did you find that the mystique cropped up more on some tracks than on others, or is it really throughout the album?
IP: How should I put this? I’m pretty mighty as a … once you get me in the room, I can pretty much stand up to a three- or 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. By the time we got it all written and … I sang it, it’s about a 50/50 battle. You know what I’m saying?
IP: So, there is something pretty interesting, and it’s gotta vibe to me, man. It’s, like, “Whoa, check it out, check the chorus. Whoa, lot of energy,” y’know? But I wouldn’t’ve wanted two tracks from them on there. I would’ve only wanted one. With Green Day, I did two because they’re really the progenitors of all the neo-punk.
It all comes from [the] writing. … And I knew that if I was going to work with The Trolls and The Stooges, basically, I was going to apply as much structure to it as I could. But both those bands 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 to refresh your ears. So I thought of the Green Day contribution that way.
I knew everybody personally. I made all the overtures personally for this thing, except for the Sum 41 thing, which was done through the record company. And I produced the whole thing, except for that track. But I also … I enjoy that [Sum 41] track. I think it’s the most ambitious track, commercially and melodically, on this album. And that’s OK. I think it’s a better album for having it.
KO: Now, when you’re talking about being careful and precise about the number of tracks for each collaboration that you wanted to put on the album, with Peaches, you originally were only going to do one song with her, right?
IP: Yeah …
KO: And that kind of bloomed …
IP: She said, “Well, there’s another one, y’know?” [Laughing] I did two and sorta thought, “Well, send it to me.” She also asked me to do one on her album. So we were going in to do that anyway, y’know, and … it just clicked. So we ended up doing two. She’s really good.
KO: I heard that she had written one song with you actually in mind. Do you know if that was “Motor Inn” or “Kick It” or …
IP: “Kick It.” That’s [the one] on her album. “Motor Inn” was … do you know her stuff?
KO: I’ve heard Teaches of Peaches twice.
IP: OK, well, “Rock Show” is on Teaches of Peaches. I sang along. And … ‘Motor Inn’ was a riff that her band Feedom in Berlin … I just composed the song to it, and then she just came in and duetted with me.
KO: Now, when you say “sing back to her,” is it kind of a sexy trade-off? Flirtatious, or …?
IP: No, I don’t think so. It’s just … uh … we didn’t even think of it that way. I just had the chorus, and I had my verses and left her some spaces, and … I just said, [laughing] “Can you write fast?” She said, [in a high voice], “OK!” And just came up in 15 minutes. And then, after that, she just reacted to what I was singing. I’m still not sure … yeah, I guess she got flirtatious. She has that quality, y’know? Just can’t help it. She has this ebullient quality … I’ve kind of been thinking later whether or not I regret … I edited out her repetition of the word “titty.” She actually said “titty” about a dozen times. When I started saying “titty” over and over, she got very excited and went, [in a high voice] “Titty!” But in the studio, I thought, “Oh, wait, this is my album!”… [Laughing.]
IP: “… She’s blowing my groove here!” Y’know, ’cause her voice is a lot more piercing and buoyant than mine is. Y’know, I … I … I cut her out … I said to the engineer, “Listen, uh … just take out … I’ll take every third titty. Take out two for every one, y’know?” She didn’t protest, so I guess it was OK.
KO: It must’ve been a really good feeling working with these younger writers. Was there a new sense of magic that you felt that you hadn’t with the last few albums you’ve put out?
IP: Wellllll … with the Stooges, certainly. I mean, all of it was going a little bit better … I mean, [there] seems to be … a lot more positive energy on this one than I’ve mustered in quite a while. In 12 years. But, um, the Stooges experience was … it was a really wild experience. And with her … it was really good working with Peaches, and Green [Day] … the whole thing, yeah. The thing as a whole became more eventful, potentially … it was risky, too, because that sort of thing can turn into … oh, fuck, it can turn to shit really well if it doesn’t cohere, you know?
KO: But you felt that you were able to control and captain the project?
IP: I just kept my ears shut to what anybody else had so say about it immediately. ‘Cause I had the ability to work with producers more than I did, and every time [I’d] have a … call with any of them about it, they all had opinions and … that’s bad. That’s very bad. [Laughing.]
KO: [Laughing.] Could you go into the Stooges reunion? Did the idea to do Coachella and the idea to record again come in concert with one another, or …
IP: No. The drummer [Scott Asheton] … every year or two, he’d pipe up again. 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 never wanted to do that kind of thing. But, suddenly, when I was going to do this kind of thing, I was on a plane to L.A. to … to meet with who I might work with on this thing, and I made a big list, and suddenly I thought … when I got to the punkier bands, I thought, “Well, fuck, why not The Stooges?” And when I looked at the whole list, I thought, “The Stooges are cooler than anybody on this list!” So I just called them. That’s really all there was to it. And I expected … I didn’t know what to expect, I was hoping to get maybe one track out of it. And, um, then it just went really well. Just went really, really well, and it took a while, even before making the call, to figure out … “Well, if I’m going to have The Stooges, which Stooges?”
IP: ‘Cause the original Stooges had the dead bass player, then … Stooges Mach II had a different player, and had the original guitarist over on bass. “Should we include them all?” “Should we bring in a session player?” Y’know. And once we sorted it down bit by bit, we finally sorted it down to the three of us, and that became really powerful. Because basically these are the only two people in the world who ever got behind me to realize my ideas as a singer when I was shit. Nobody else ever did that. Everybody else climbed on the bandwagon, because I had a band, I had an album, I had a contract.
KO: So in other words, it was a deliberate choice on your part to look back over the Stooges and find what you felt was …
IP: Where I started.
KO: Right, OK.
IP: Yeah. And this is the kernel of the thing: basically, the three of us started my career together in their mom’s basement. And Ron [Asheton] still lives there at the same address.
IP: I called him on the same phone number I did when I was 19 years old. Which is, like, 45 years ago, 35 years ago …
IP: I get mixed up, you know, the arithmetic. So there’s something very elemental about … we recorded as a trio. We did not use a bass player; Ron overdubbed the bass. And Ron’s a brilliant bass player.
KO: Doing four songs, was it tough to ward off the desire to do a full-fledged reunion album?
IP: Yes. We wanted to do more … I wanted to do more, but I didn’t want to ditch the stuff I’d done with The Trolls, because I thought it was good. And also, it wasn’t fair to them to just … to say [to The Trolls], “Hey, I’m going off with my other band. I’m deep-sixing your shit.” Y’know? And the other thing was I wasn’t going to get a Stooges album done that time without being produced. And I was either going to be produced … the company wouldn’t have give me backing for it without giving me a youth-market producer, or a producer who was, like, a young artist on MTV. So those were the two options I had.
IP: I didn’t want to sell out my band and go there, y’know? So we just did what we always did at first: We just said, “No.” The Stooges were the first to “just say no”! Whatever anyone wanted us to do, just say no!
[laughing all around.]
IP: So we did it ourselves. And I managed to get five studio days. And we recorded five things, and one of them blows, so no one will ever hear it …
IP: … and the other four were good. And, um, we mixed for three days.
KO: OK. So where did you leave it with them?
IP: Well, after that, then the next thing was … “Eh, come on, Pop, y’know, this was good, but can’t we play a gig?” And I was, like, “Oh, I dunno, I dunno … .” And then we got this offer. Basically, what happened was, I not only didn’t know it was going to be so good, I had no idea the interest … I didn’t know anybody gave a shit.
KO: Really? With all the references that are being made these days?
IP: Well, you know what, part of the reason is … once you’re in this business, too, you become isolated. In the industry, [there’s] all these creeps and youthfuckers and starfuckers, you know? When I was in the Stooges, everybody just wanted to get me out of them. It was just, like, “Well, Iggy, you’re cool, but those Stooges are shit, y’know? You could be a big star. Let me write some songs for you!” That’s all I heard, y’know?
But now, things have changed. And people are really into The Stooges … holy fuck. Ron kept telling me, and I kept thinking, “Yeah, right, Ron.” All of a sudden, we got this juicy offer to play out West, y’know? So I said, “OK,” we did that one, and then, uh … I guess we did well, ’cause now we’re getting other offers. And we’re kind of taking it just like … it’s really just the same as when we were just out of high school: You can call us and offer us a job; maybe we’ll take it and maybe we won’t.
KO: So it’s a case-by-case basis at this point, then.
IP: That’s right.
KO: When we had our other conversation, you said that Beat ‘Em Up reminds you of a ” ’68 Cadillac cherry-red convertible DeVille with a white top.” I was wondering if this album has any sort of … uh … symbol.
IP: [He laughs.] An automotive symbol, wow. Thaaaaat’s interesting. You know, um, wooooooow … if this was a car …
KO: It’s probably be a bus because of all the guest stars, right?
IP: Oh, yeah! (He laughs.) That’s good, dude, I like that! That’s beautiful!
KO: Like …
IP: Like one of those short school buses, like a special-ed bus!
IP: A special-ed bus, yeah! It’d fit everybody, ’cause … let’s see, there’s three guys in Green Day, two Stooges and then … how many Sums are there? I think four or five of those guys … drummer, bass …
KO: There’s four.
IP: Four Sums, that’s nine. One Peaches is 10. Uh, three Trolls is 13 … yeah, you could get just about 13 members and me! Yeah! Special-ed bus!
KO: Excellent. What are your thoughts about reissues, will they be reissuing the Stooges catalog, and then your catalog, too?
IP: Well, all that’s been … it’s been very fortunate for me, put it that way. Because as slimy and low-down a money-making trick as the CD was – you know what I mean? – it totally opened the door for my shit and my band both. Because it was a chance for people to re-evaluate my stuff, y’know? And, when they took a look at it, it was, like, “Ooh… my, my, my, look who’s aged well!” And all of a sudden it didn’t sound … like what they thought it sounded [like] before. And, of course, part of the reason was that people in music had been ripping me off for years. Which is good – y’know, that’s what that shit’s there for. You want to be ripped off. If you’re not ripped off, you’re just a lunatic. If you’re ripped off, you’re a genius.
So it’s been very good for us. On the other hand … the digitalism may be demise of the whole fucking orange now, which would be pretty fucking funny.
KO: But as far as future plans …
IP: Oh, future reisses? I never plan any of that shit. I just hear about it and go, “Oh yeah? Send me one, will ya?” I did have a general … mission in 1983, when I decided to straighten up, and that was to get my work, first, back in print, and then into the limelight. I feel I’ve done that to the extent the work deserves. But yeah, the more the merrier, basically.
KO: It’d be great to have an Iggy box at this point, you know?
IP: Well, it’d be nice. You know, Virgin did an Iggy [best-of] CD a few years ago, and it was real good for me. Nude & Rude.
KO: That’s right.
IP: Yeah. But, um … it’s hard to get a box, because you have to get a lot of stuff on one label.
KO: I see. What are your feelings on bootlegging?
IP: It was real good for me back in the day, because there’s a large area of my work that wasn’t acceptable for prime time. And that was really key to differentiating … what I had to offer that you’re not going to get from Bruce Springsteen, if you know what I’m saying.
So, a lot of really great [bootleg] stuff came out that was really helpful to me. And they always have cooler covers and better album titles and all that, y’know? And then, finally, with some of them, I just tracked them down and made a deal and legitimized them, y’know? So, like, the Kill City, and the Metallic K.O.s of this world … are all in sync at this point. But I like having them out there, basically.
I did have… it’s weird, you know, ’cause I was singing the word “butt-fucker” in 1975, you know? And, uh … other people weren’t. And I was … shooting dope at the RIAA Awards [laughing] when it wasn’t chic. And, you know, et cetera and et cetera and et cetera. Sometimes I find … like, “Oh, there’s Jack White’s hairdo!” “Oh, listening to ‘Knockin’ ‘Em Down (In the City),’ there’s Perry Farrell’s entire career … on and on and on, you know?
IP: It’s OK. It’s good for me. I kinda like it, y’know?
KO: One more collector-ish question: Do you still own your vinyl?
IP: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve got a trunk, like a steamer trunk, it’s sitting right here … it’s in the closet of the library …
IP: I don’t keep a lot. I cull all my stuff, so I only have what’s important.
KO: What the most precious piece of music that you have?
IP: Gosh … well … I’ve got Frank Sinatra on vinyl, Close to You and Where Are You?, those albums … I’ve got Julie London, Love on the Rocks … I have the Link Wray Rumble! album… that’ll do, for starters.
KO: Are these hard-to-find, or do you just have a real strong attachment to them?
IP: They’re precious to me. The Frank Sinatras are worth a little money, yeah. Probably 50 or 60 bucks, I don’t know how … you can find them, you know? Precious for me to listen to and refer to, you know? I’ve got, like, really early Wailers, y’know, when it was still just the Wailers. It’s got “Duppy Conquerer” and shit, you know? Before it was Bob Marley …
KO: What year was that?
IP: Fuck, that must be, like, ’73 … I got a lot of old, good shit. I got, uh, Nico Chelsea Girl, and I got Marble Index by her … still got Sgt. Pepper’s. I hate Sgt. Pepper’s, but I’ve still got it.
KO: Do you find yourself listening to a lot of those records these days?
IP: Not too often, but from time to time. I’ve got a … Red Prysock I’ll pull out every once in a while when I want to get down, y’know? When I want to get down and get with it.
KO: What are your feelings about Queens of the Stone Age, out of curiosity?
IP: Uhh … high quality. High-quality work.
KO: Did you meet up with those guys at Coachella? I know they’re really big fans …
IP: Nah, I didn’t. Y’know, when I’m workin’ … I’m workin’. Actually, I did bump into some other people, but I didn’t bump into them. And then they had me working after, taking some pictures with The White Stripes. And then I went and got drunk.
IP: But yeah, I’ve got [QOTSA’s] record.
KO: Have you had any desire to start up your own record label?
IP: Noooooo … gosh, no. I think about that sort of thing once in a while, or about production and everything, but God … you’re the guy who has to say “yes” and “no” and “I’m sorry, but not this month” and “Aww …” you know what I’m saying? As far as for my own stuff, probably not. I really enjoy more the process of putting my hands on a paintbrush or a warm acoustic guitar, something like that.
IP: I just don’t enjoy that sort of thing. I try not to … I won’t have a fax machine in my house … I had a cell phone for a while; I gave it away.
IP: Ahh, yeah. I’m still… took me years before I ceased to be offended by answering machines. Y’know? “God, I call your house, you expect me to record for you?”
KO: You’re a recording artist, you shouldn’t be…
IP: [Laughing] Yeah, I know!
KO: Speaking of the acoustic guitar, the Mississippi Fred McDowell cover, where did that come from?
IP: The words are my own, obviously. Well, I had a poem … talking about the size and persistence and relentless ability of the media industries to twist you. To twist your tastes, to twist your spirit … . You could hear their latest product once and think it blows, but after they work on you for a few months, you’ll say, “Well, actually, that’s pretty good!”
KO: Like the Bush administration.
IP: Yeah, exactly.
KO: Wear you down.
IP: And I was trying to sing about that from different aspects. Some verses relate to how one feels as a listener, some verses relate to how I feel as a practitioner, where they can start corrupting me, you know? And the last verse, which is kinda obtuse, actually, refers to the Islamic fundamentalists who would really like to just pull the plug on the entire modern world and all its inventions and go back to … God and agriculturalism, you know? I mean, that’s really what they would like to do, you know?
KO: So there’s a reference on that track, there.
IP: Yeah. And … they have a point … (laughing)
KO: Really. You mean –
IP: Dude, they have a point, unfortunately, you know?
KO: So there’s a sense of understanding on the track?
IP: Well, I don’t want to … no, I mean, I’m just saying … on 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.” I’m saying, “You know, I know these people are twisted …” “Hey, hey, I’ve got a great idea!” Lapdogs … of the music industry… they can hold out economic incentives, luxury perks and, conversely, for most of my life, they managed to make me feel ashamed, ’cause I wasn’t fuckin’ The McCoys or something.
So, if you see what I mean, they can do a lot to you. They’re big. And big is big. So it’s a song about bigness and what that can do, and how they can just push something.
[There are] people who say, “Well, if you don’t like it, then just turn off your TV.” Try it. Try it. Because your auntie will come over and turn it on, or your maid’ll turn it on, or … people you meet will all refer to it in their conversation, you know what I mean?
KO:If you’ve been worn down to the point of submission, and now you’re being worn down past that, do you feel very exhausted? Or are you finding new ways to have fun?
IP: Well, I find a little opening here and there, and the thing does get exhausting. What I try to do is just … back off. Which is one reason I moved here [to Florida], because this is a B market. I mean, I can still get some of the work done here that relates to getting my shit out there, but everybody in this town, unlike New York and L.A., is not on the game. In L.A., it’s like, “I’m not really a garbage man … I’m actually a script writer.”
KO: Are you still finding the time to do the occasional club show in Miami, or…?
IP: Yeah. I mean, I played here on the Beat ‘Em Up tour at the same place the Queens played, actually, though I missed them. Place called the Culture Room. Since Coachella, I’ve been to Boston once, and I’ve been around Europe twice, and I’m working next week in Japan with The Trolls, and then New York and Detroit in August with The Stooges, and Europe in September with The Stooges.
KO: And you feel that schedule will be fair to you physically?
IP: Yeah, I’m not doing much. I’m not trying to do too little, either. Trying to do it just about right, y’know.
KO: Any other guest collaborations you’ve done recently?
IP: If there were, I can’t think of them. I’ve forgotten them. I mean, I had that one good once a few years ago with Death in Vegas [“Aisha”] …
KO: Oh, I love that.
IP: That’s a bitchin’ track.
KO: I was trying to find a way to bring that into conversation, because that’s one my favorite tracks you’ve ever worked on.
IP: I like that.
KO: I really love that, it’s great. You haven’t been talking with David Bowie lately, have you?
IP: He called … it could’ve been a year ago, it could’ve been a year and a half or two. It was when I was at the Forum. We talked about … curating a show in England. I wanted to do it … he had an idea for something I could do, sort of an acoustic storytelling. And I was into it, but I couldn’t do it in the end. Conflicts.
KO: That sounds interesting. Would that have been an acoustic thing?
IP: Yeah, it would’ve been acoustic, and it was his idea was to … [do] softer stuff with some spoken word. Telling stories. Good idea.
KO: Have you given any thought to another album, or is that way too far off?
IP: Way too far off. Yeah. Maybe a Stooges album. That’s in my mind. But you never know.
KO: Well I’m real sorry to have missed you at Coachella, but I hope to catch you at another point on this tour …
IP: OK, cool.
KO: Look forward to hearing the new material, and thanks so much for your time. I know how busy you are and everything …
IP: Sure, thanks for talking.
KO: It was a pleasure.
IP: I’ll see you later.
KO: All right.
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