Attention Warped Tour organizers: If you were planning to extend an invite to Iggy Pop and the Stooges, don't bother.
"I was pretty damn interested in doing it," Pop said, "but then they had Billy Idol and Joan Jett out, so my enthusiasm's slightly dampened because I feel like it's now an established sort of oldies slot or something. Also," the legendary frontman added, "those two particular artists are people who had overwhelmingly ubiquitous radio hits and don't have that anymore. I wouldn't like to be in the sliding zone, because this band is still in its ascendancy."
Of course, that ascendant band is not some outfit he started five years ago: It's the Stooges, the highly influential, highly visceral protopunk act that reunited back in 2003 after a nearly 30-year break.
But to Iggy, the revived Stooges still feel fresh. And the way he sees it, the Stooges are doing more these days than they did during their heyday, with sales of the band's first three albums stronger than ever and a new album — produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) — called The Weirdness due in stores on March 20. The Stooges appeared on some tracks on Iggy's 2003 LP Skull Ring, but this will be their first studio LP since 1973's groundbreaking Raw Power.
Still, Pop's not about to apologize for taking a 33-year break between albums. "Look, a lot of the people that dig us now didn't have to wait 33 years, because they haven't been alive for all that time!" Pop laughed. "If someone digs our old stuff and they're only, say, 15, they've probably only been digging it since they were 11. So they only had four years to wait. We're like a new band to most of these kids who're getting into us."
The reunion was somewhat inadvertent, as the Stooges were just one of several acts Pop had put on his wish list of collaborators for Skull Ring. "By early 2000, I was just at the end of my rope, and decided to do an album with guests [including the Trolls, Green Day, Sum 41 and Peaches] because I couldn't think of anything else to do," he said (see "Iggy Pop, Sum 41 Think They 'Know It All' "). "Some of the Stooges were out playing on the road, and I kept hearing about it every day. So I put them on my list, and it was just supposed to be one song. But the public response was very, very strong — almost overwhelming. All of a sudden, the switchboard was lighting up at [his label] Virgin's offices, and then they wanted more cuts [that featured the Stooges]. Coachella called for a gig, and it was all too fast for me, so I turned them down a couple of times. I think everyone saw a 'legendary celebrity' moment — they saw a reality show, and that scared me off, because I'm not that sort of dude."
Although the band's split was nothing if not acrimonious, Pop said the surviving Stooges — guitarist Ron Asheton and his drummer brother Scott, as well as part-time sax man Steve MacKay; bassist Dave Alexander died of pneumonia in 1975 and has been replaced by Mike Watt of the Minutemen and Firehose — put it all behind them and began playing their uniquely explosive gigs again (see "Pants Dropping, Pop Popping At Stooges/Godsmack NYC Show"). "We just hunkered down, and we've been working toward this moment ever since. We started writing and saved it up for three years, and bing, bang, boom, here it is."
Pop said the Stooges had been getting together three times a year for five-day songwriting stretches, from which at least two solid tunes would emerge that "were really up our alley." There would also be a few "that were pretty damn good, but they weren't up our alley," he said. "If we put 'em out, you'd be scratching your head going, 'What the f---?'
"Like, we tried to do a country song and it turned out well. For a while, we considered putting it on the record. We tried to do what made sense to us internally, but not to forget that at the end of the day, when you put something before the public, you're just like a kid going to high school for another day. People know you, they type you. If you were a cheerleader Monday, you damn well better bring those pom poms Tuesday."
At first, Pop said it was hard to get back on the Stooges bicycle and ride it with any authority. The band was older, wiser and into very different things, personally and musically. This led to several hits and many misses.
"There was one song that Ron had wrote, and it was pretty f---ing good, and I came up with a melody and lyrics for it that sounded frighteningly like Pat Benatar," Pop recalled with a guttural guffaw. "Because we were trying sh--, you know? I bet I could write one of those '80s, slick, bombastic rock songs. 'This song could have been Bon Jovi!' So we tried this and that, but then you evaluate the stuff a couple of months afterwards and then you realize, 'We can't do that.' "
The Weirdness will feature 16 tracks in all, including "Greedy Awful People," "Claustrophobia," "Mexican Guy," "I'm Fried," "ATM," "O Solo Mio," "She Took My Money," "End Of Christianity" and "Free and Freaky," the latter of which features guest vocals from the Raconteurs' Brendan Benson.
From a lyrical standpoint, Pop said he wasn't inspired by the same things that made him so angry back in the day. He's a different guy now and doesn't have as much reason to be mad.
"I'm just now getting the rewards that you were supposed to get from my job when I was 21," he said. "I'm just getting 'em now. I got a hot chick. I can drive whatever I want to. I can go to the ATM and pull out a bunch of money. I have a swell job. How angry do I have to be? Just a little bit. My thing [with this record was] more like finding ways of saying 'You suck!' without actually saying it."
Thus, the lyrics are about his world and his life. The song "You Can't Have Friends," for instance, is a slap at the rock-star ethos. "It's like, 'Boo hoo, I'm so successful and everybody wants to sleep with me because I'm a rock star, and everyone wants to be my friend because they think I have lots of money. Boo hoo!' " he said. "Too bad. You can't have friends. Big deal."
And the album's lead-off track, "Trollin' " is about how he "picked up" his girlfriend, and the words to the song were inadvertently inspired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante.
"He gave an interview to Q magazine, and he was ragging on Anthony [Kiedis, the Peppers' frontman], and said, 'Well, I don't want to be Iggy Pop, I don't want to be some 60-year-old guy running around L.A. trying to pick up chicks,' " Pop recalled. "He said he wanted to read the Kabbalah and be a scholar, and I'm thinking, 'Sh--.' I was really pissed off at first, and then I thought, 'Yeah, but he's right. I'm a 60-year-old guy riding around L.A., looking for chicks.' But then I was like, 'Wait a minute! I haven't done that since I was 53!'
"I wanted to write a letter to the editor because I was really mad," he concluded. "But I saved it up for this song instead."