Twenty-five years ago, Iggy Pop was great for punk rock but bad for his health. Prone to self-mutilation, he burned out on the Stooges after three landmark albums -- The Stooges , Raw Power and Funhouse. After a sometimes dodgy solo career, Iggy is back with the reunited Stooges--the guitar/drums combo of the Asheton brothers Ron and Scott and sax player Steve MacKay, with punk OG Mike Watt on bass. Their new disc The Weirdness proves Iggy can still fit his sinewy body into the ever-tighter jeans of modern rock and roll.
VH1: What prompted the Stooges to get back together?
Iggy Pop:Well, two things. First, the drummer Scott [Asheton]--he just kept calling me up and talking to my manager year after year. Secondly, I was in a position where I was more confident to lead a group than I was before. I'd done what I call 'the shit work.' Look, you hit 30. First thing you do is ignore it and get drunk for four years. Then you wake up and you're 35. At that point you bite the bullet, and maybe go a little overboard the other way. Get a short haircut, get a manager, pay dues. I played 37 dates opening up for the Pretenders. I'd have to go to some radio station to talk to some prick in suspenders who I know is never going to play my record let alone listen to it, and all he can ask me is 'So do you still bleed onstage?' I did twelve years of that. Then I got to the point where I hit a wall creatively in my own music. I got sick of working with wussy musicians. I actually worked on an album [Brick By Brick] with Don Was--and it was a good record, although to mess it up enough to work I had to bring in Slash and Duff from Guns 'N Roses. So between those two things, I could bring things to the band, things I wouldn't have been able to before. I know the ropes, baby!
VH1: What do you feel like you bring to the Stooges now?
Iggy Pop:Making sure we know where the money goes. Making decisions for the good of the band. Like laying down the law -- knowing when to squawk and kick so we don't have dealers hanging around backstage.
VH1: You had some rough patches solo. Weren't you living out in Bay Ridge [Brooklyn] at one point?
Iggy Pop:No. [laughs] Bensonhurst. Not many people know I lived out there. But I'm glad I lived out there and saw how it was. The intersection by my house had a Catholic Church, the police station, the pizzeria, and the corner where the dealers sold Quaaludes. This was '82. I was recording an album [Zombie Birdhouse] for Chris Stein's [of Blondie] label, riding the subway out to sessions. Nobody in the neighborhood knew who I was. Then I played the Brooklyn Zoo that summer and all the hoodlums came up. This one guy, John, he was this handsome burglar. He was so impressed he said he'd steal me anything I'd like. I was like "No, thanks, that's okay."
VH1: Compare recording Funhouse thirty years ago to The Weirdness now?
Iggy Pop:I think we got a sound you could always tell was us, but no two Stooges' records are the same. Scott's the most unchanged of all the players. The biggest difference is that Funhouse is based on this riff that Ron [Asheton] had one day, and we built the whole record around that one riff. On this record, Ron had 30 years to come up with stuff. We always had the same basic idea: we planned in advance what was going to go down and what songs we were gonna do and what drugs we were gonna be stoned on and what drugs we weren't so we could just go into the studio and play like a band. Now, the question is, how do you substitute the drug euphoria that's gonna make you feel great and put you in the mood to play? I [substituted] Florida. I live in Miami; I have this place on a river. There's no real life there, just music and culture. So to make this record, we were doing well on the road [ the Stooges have been reunited since 2004], so we spent our own money. Like a corporation spends money on research and development. We'd fly Scott and Ron to Miami, put 'em up in a nice South Beach hotel, and just get it to where all we have to do is set up and play. We'd do that for four or five days every three months or so.
VH1: So instead of drugs, you were on Florida.
Iggy Pop:I like to go to the beach. By the time I came to play I felt great. Other than that it gets tense. I get Ron in the mood to play, then I have to kind of sneak up on him when he's playing something I like and start singing and keep it alive enough for Scott to come up with his drum parts. We'd do this for like four or five hours a day. After eight days of this we'd have 15 songs and of course we'd think it was all fantastic. So we'd let it sit there for a couple of months and come back to it to see if it was any good. And a lot of it was. The heavens open up. The sun shines. I've got a hot chick and a good gig.
VH1: How did the actual recording processes of Funhouse and The Weirdness actually compare?
Iggy Pop:Recording was actually the same kind of general experience. I did miss the fact that back when we were recording Funhouse, LA wasn't a parking lot yet. We stayed at the Tropicana Hotel off La Cienega -- the parking lot was still gravel. Ed Sanders was in the room next door writing the Manson Family book, Andy Warhol was there, too. You could look up into the hills and there'd only be one house. You had this kind of balmy, not-paved-yet, '70s LA atmosphere. Like an open-faced poison sandwich. This time we worked in Chicago, which feels like a college town. But it was the same thing: a big room with bare brick and us all in a room together playing. The engineer [Steve Albini] wasn't too wild about us all being in the same room because the microphones bleed into each other, but we managed to get it down to like a big room with a glass partition so we could see each other.
VH1: You've made it such a priority to stay healthy -- you swim and do tai-chi. Do you ever feel like you're losing that edge?
Iggy Pop:Somewhere back then [the Stooges'] creativity got really accelerated, where we couldn't even keep up with it. Now I do it, but try not to do it too much. We're "drug reasonable" now. Ron loves his vodka. I'm a red wine guy. I'm still a bad boy at heart --- I'm just a little bit more suave about it.