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- Posted on Apr 26th 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
James Osterberg, better know to the music world as one Iggy Pop, is having a banner year. The legendary frontman, who celebrated his 60th birthday April 21 by stage diving into the crowd in San Francisco, did the same two nights later in L.A. before a frenzied sold-out audience that included Morrissey and Jack Black, among others. Currently, he is basking in 'The Weirdness,' the first new album from his legendary group the Stooges in more than three decades. Having laid the foundation for punk and influenced generations of artists to come, Iggy and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton have reunited, supplemented by former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, to show fans of all generations why the Stooges' legacy is among the most storied in rock history.
How does it feel to be doing the new stuff on the road?
As soon as we had a chance after we got out of the studio, we started sneaking it in. To break the ice, I had a conceptual idea that we used to just do every song that way -- as soon as we'd write a song in the '60s we'd go out and play it. And so I thought, "We gotta play one right now, right away." So we did it just to see if we can do it.
I liked 'Trollin'' as the album opener. Why did you choose such an uncompromising song to begin the record?
My whole focus was on starting the album with 'Free and Freaky,' and I had a lot of the poppier numbers up front and a lot of the heavier numbers at the back, and then [Scott] told me, 'This isn't gonna play down at the bar' [laughs]. 'Trollin'' -- it takes a lot of balls in today's industry to start your record with something like that. But I like it and I decided that's what we needed to do.
My sense listening to it was that you're still the Stooges.
Yeah, we're not some guys with a new rack of suits and a one-shot deal.
You call out critics in the song, singing, "Rock critics wouldn't like this at all/I guess my faith is ridin' my balls." What did rock critics actually think of those lines?
It's a don't ask/don't tell relationship right now. I don't ask and they don't tell. Five years ago I would've said, "So, what do you think of this?" [But] I certainly begged the question, didn't I? The only thing I noticed is there's a fellow from the New York Times, he came to the studio and he had not been given anything. I played him a few things and he got to this line, I think he enjoyed that. Maybe there's a little reverse psychology at work, I don't know.
Well, I think for a lot of rock critics today rock is so PC you kind of enjoy the element ...
That's just it. A real rock critic won't have a problem with it, someone into true criticism. But a palace guard has grown up around the industry.
Iggy Pop in Pictures
The record does feel incredibly contemporary. Do you feel like maybe people are finally starting to catch up to you?
Definitely little bits of what we were doing a long time ago have snuck their way into other people's genres for decades. And so our vocabulary is more familiar to people -- still not that familiar. You put on a very good band, Eagles of Death Metal -- somebody was playing some of their stuff while we were working. They're good, but one thing I noticed is it sounded like we were having a little more fun. It sounded more natural. When you're a little earlier on the thing maybe it's a little more natural to you.
There's a French singer, Emilie Simon, who released an electronic version of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog.' Are you surprised your music reaches such a diverse group of musicians?
We didn't expect it, but I'm not surprised, either. Charles Rennie Macintosh -- ring a bell to you? He made chairs, Scottish designer. It's architecture. It's very clean, it's very specific, it's very simple. There's nothing that we play that isn't written. All parts are written; everyone's playing the song, and the stuff will stand up because of that. And also, it's more modular because of that. You want to sing it like a little chanteuse and "I'll stick up my little skirt"? That's how she's singing it, frankly, with a little intellectual twist -- "Yeah, I'm smart and a slut too at the same time" -- you can do that.
The songs aren't just reaching musicians, though. They're also finding their way into the hands of a lot of kids.
There are a lot of youths selecting the work of artists in their advanced years, especially through the Internet, because the Internet is evening the playing field and all the marketing tricks of the big labels don't come to as much avail anymore. And then they will follow the youths, 'cause those are the customers they all really want. But I think that's different than marketing youth to youth. There will always be a place for Ashlee Simpson -- I've got a place for her, let me tell you [laughs]. There will always be a place for that. But I don't think that's the whole game. I really don't.
You've got Mike Watt playing bass. How does he fit in with what the Stooges are about?
Mike is crazy, f***ing stone fruitcake [laughs]. OK, I'll just start from there. We wrote the stuff three-piece without volume, on tiny instruments, toys, toy drum kit and two little practice amps. Then after we had a demoed album, Mike came in. Mike and I sat down with his Apple, his bass and the demos, and worked out the bass parts. It was a lot of work. If this were a movie, Mike's in a key supporting role.
And what did producer Steve Albini bring to the project?
Steve studied journalism. That's his B.A. And he's got a lot of the journalist in him. We had a whole sequence worked out before we went in, and 'Trollin'' was the first track. And when I said the word "dick," he got all jumpy. But then by the end of the record he's like, "Something like 'Trollin',' that's what you have to put first. If you put 'Free and Freaky' first this is bad, because there's already implied humor in your name. Then you're going to have a little humor in that cut, and on and on and on."
He gave things a lot of thought, but he has a juvenile approach in that if you get a professional producer from out here they'll give you a consistent attitude about every aspect of what you do, whatever that is. But with Steve he's a producer when he feels like it and the rest of it's "I don't want to hear your goddamn demos. I don't have a clipboard." Or you'll ask him about something and if he doesn't like it, he'll say, "I have no opinion." Deadpan.
What do you want people to take from 'The Weirdness' when they hear it?
To me it's a legal stimulant. That's personally what I hope, like those ads you see on TV: "Strongest legal stimulant" -- "I feel like s**t this morning after an hour and half of writing. Time to crank up that Stooges record. Starting to feel better." And they should have fun. Do you know that all the most successful music now, none of it's fun to listen to? Not just for me but for the people who listen to it. Through every genre it either intimidates you, it impresses you, or it makes you feel like hold up a carrot and save the world from global warming, or "Gee, if I like this band can I join Scientology?"
But none of it's making people feel good. Even Nick Lachey, at the peak of his celebrity, the big attraction was, "I can dream of having a wonderful life and being rich and famous." Guys like him, back in the day, it was supposed to be fun to go, "Ooh, look at that cute guy singing that dumb song. I feel good." And that was good for people, I think. Those are very valuable things. Then after that, this sort of thing should bear up to a very intense repeated listening.