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Interview:
Stooges Re-ignite Their Raw Power On Reunion Album
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



Early on the Stooges' new album, "The Weirdness," Iggy Pop laments that "The leaders of rock don't rock/This bothers me a lot."

And as an elder statesman himself, Pop wants to make sure that he and his band are holding up their end.

That's why he and the Stooges took their time in making "The Weirdness," the legendary -- and notorious -- Ann Arbor-founded group's first album since "Raw Power" in 1973. Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton and his brother, Scott "Rock Action" Asheton, actually reunited in 2003, after three decades apart, starting with that year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and continuing with four songs on Pop's last solo album, "Skull Ring," and a series of live performances in the intervening years.

An album was always part of the plan, Pop says, but it had to come strictly on the Stooges' own terms.

"We did a lot of work to become a unit again," explains Pop, 59, who was born James Osterberg and raised in Ypsilanti, Mich. "We had an awful lot of very strong offers that came from very good people immediately after we played Coachella to do an entire album right then, in two weeks."

Among those were White Stripes leader Jack White and producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, the Vines, Elliot Smith). Pop says his own record company even suggested scrapping "Skull Ring" and rushing back into the studio to cut more songs with the Stooges.

But, Pop says, "none of that felt right to us." Instead the group spent the better part of three years getting together in Michigan and in Florida, where Pop resides, throwing around song ideas and coming up with the songs they recorded last fall in Chicago with alternative rock icon Steve Albini.

"We just kinda shrugged and went through the process we go through until we felt we had a real band and the stuff was the best we could do," Pop says. "At a certain point we knew we had to...get off the pot. It was like, 'Dudes, we've been writing for three years. We gotta make a record now or die!'

"We had a lot of respect for the group and for ourselves and for what we felt we should go through to write real songs that were worthy of the name -- for us, at least."

The Stooges, who formed in 1967, certainly have a formidable legacy to live up to. Their three albums -- "The Stooges" (1969), "Fun House" (1970) and "Raw Power" -- made a greater footprint than their modest sales would indicate, stirring together an aggressive, cro-magnon musical attack with Pop's intellectual, beat poet lyrical sensibility.

In conjunction with the MC5, which worked the same circuit, the Stooges helped create a template for generations of rockers who followed. Pop's performances, meanwhile, set another standard altogether, filled with spastic dance moves that looked like a weave of James Brown and Mick Jagger -- with his finger stuck in a light socket at the same time. "I remember the first time I saw him, I didn't quite know what to think," says Bob Seger, who was cutting his own teeth at the time on the Michigan scene. "It [i]was[/] primitive, but it rocked like crazy."

Pop's reputation as a showman ultimately eclipsed the Stooges, especially when he'd roll around in shards of glass, carving up his torso, or spread peanut butter over his body -- occasional pranks that took on legendary status.

"You know, never in my whole life have I gone on a stage planning to throw peanut butter or roll in broken glass," Pop says. "The press couldn't describe the group in terms of how many millions of albums we sold, or zillions of tickets, 'cause we weren't selling big numbers. And in America, what's important about you if you don't make money?

"The second thing you can do in America is disturb the peace. If you can't make a buck here, the best way to get noticed is commit a crime. So I began this kind of compendium of my social crimes, which is all right. It gave them all something to talk about."

Pop says that "discouragement...and then drugs" led to two separate Stooges break-ups, in 1971 and again in 1974. "For us to survive," he explains, "a band like ours would've had to get more help from the outside than we were willing to have or able to deftly assimilate. Everyone who offered to do anything for the band or help us, there was always compromise involved.

"And there was a horror of compromise on all our parts, particularly mine."

But when the group came back together, Pop -- who released 15 solo albums in the interim and appeared in films such as "Cry-Baby," "The Color of Money" and "The Rugrats Movie" -- was pleased to see that his bandmates were in fine form and amiable temperament.

"I noticed Ron was loaded for bear right now," Pop says. "He's much more prolific, and he's advanced as a player a fair amount. And the drummer, Scott, always was the one that kept this idea alive of getting the band back together. He's much more involved and present and has specific ideas about what the group should be, what's appropriate for us, and is not afraid to pipe 'up and say 'em."

Nevertheless, Pop acknowledges that the volatile personal chemistry between the three Stooges -- and adjunct members Mike Watt on bass and Steve Mackay on saxophone -- is still part of the equation.

"It's three kinda crazy guys," he says with a laugh. "Things can happen, but they're not gonna happen because (the Ashetons) have had a long time to think about this and I've had a lot of experience. And we've got good people around us.

"But there are flash points and certain vulnerabilities. It's still a rock band, you know."

It's a group that will endure, however. Although Pop notes that "I'm still threatening to bomb the world with a bossonova album, or maybe 'Christmas with Iggy,' " he feels the Stooges, who may play the Detroit area again later this year, are again a going concern -- and wise enough now to not let it fall apart again.

"For rock 'n' roll, this is what I'd like to be doing," he says. "This is what I do best for this kind of music, and I can't imagine why we couldn't make another record -- if not more.

"I don't think that's something you can take for granted, but it's been very good so far. It's a big deal for me. I get a big kick out of it -- and so do the other guys. I could probably get very emotional about it but...nah. I just wanna make some noise."



The Stooges and Powertrane featuring Deniz Tek, perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday (April 13th) at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are sold out. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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