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Stooges, Radio Birdman vets team up for new album project

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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It's no great stretch for James Williamson and Deniz Tek to make music together.

The two are cut from nothing less than the same creative cloth, stoked in the Detroit and Ann Arbor music scenes during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Williamson, a Texas native who moved north during his early teens, was part of Iggy Pop and the Stooges starting in 1970 and was a primary force on 1973's lauded "Raw Power" album. Tek played in local bands and followed southeast Michigan's burgeoning rock scene until he moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1971 to study medicine and also play music, first in the band TV Jones and then Radio Birdman.

The two didn't meet until a tribute show for the late Stooges co-founder Ron Asheton in April 2011 in Ann Arbor. They released an EP called "Acoustic KO" six years later, featuring songs Williamson had written with Pop. But it's the new "Two to One," out Sept. 18, that marks their first full-on collaboration — 11 blazing original songs blending punk energy and urgent, chunky guitar riffs with gritty melodicism.

"We get along really well together," Williamson, 70, says by phone from northern California, where he now resides. "We do come from a very similar background, even though he's a little younger than me. He had been friends with Ron Asheton — and all the other Ashetons for that matter. We had been in the same area and were exposed to all the same stuff, so...

"There's a lot of common threads there, yeah," Tek, 69, adds by phone from his home in Hawaii. "I took great inspiration from (Williamson's) work. The release of 'Raw Power,' for me, that was the biggest thing that happened that year. That was just incredible. So for this (album) I wrote purpose-built songs to try to fit with that, to try to present him with something he could riff on that would bring back that essential James Williamson spirit. That was all in mind, all the time."

Tek and Williamson both credit Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records, which released "Acoustic K.O.," for putting their new project together. Both had done other work for the label, and the company's Matt Green suggested another team-up for the two, this time with their guitars plugged in.

"I hadn't really thought of it," Williamson says, "but we talked about it and decided, 'What the hell, let's do it.'"

Williamson and Tek started working on the material in their respective home bases, with the former assembling a band and recording tracks in California and sending files to Tek before recording his vocals later in Hawaii. Recording was finished by February, though mastering the album was delayed slightly by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"It was a process," Tek says of the six-month preparation period. "Y'know, I've done a lot of albums and a lot of recording and I've got my own way of doing things, and he's got his own way of doing things. But James is very collaborative. He'll get my input on everything, and vice versa.

"So the stuff he contributed to the album, he ran it all by me and I had the chance to comment on it, and the same with my songs. And he always had advice on how to make the songs better."

Williamson acknowledges that he and Tek "weren't really writing that much together." But he did lean on his partner for lyrics.

"The way I always write is I write the music and then have somebody else write the lyrics," Williamson explains. "I had a couple of guys I worked with, but once Deniz started singing, if he wasn't loving it he rewrote all the stuff, and that's OK. He has his own style, and I'm not a lyricist, anyway. So that worked out really well."

Tek says "a lot of happy accidents" occurred while making the album. He and Williamson also shied away from being too topical in the songs, although the title of "Climate Change" confirms the state of the world was on their minds at least a bit during the process.

"It was (Williamson's) idea to have a song about 'Climate Change,' but it's not an attempt to be topical or a protest song," Tek says. "It's just sort of an observation of what's going on and trying to bring some imagery of what it's like in a really, really hot summer, when there's no relief in sight, what people do.

"My wife is a street photographer and she had a great photo of these kids playing in a fire hydrant in Brooklyn. I always wanted to use that image somehow, so that became part of the song."

With Williamson essentially retired from touring since the Stooges packed it in four years ago, and the live music world moribund by the pandemic, there are no plans for the duo to perform in support of "Two To One." But both say they're open to doing more together — if demand dictates.

"I'm totally open to the idea," Tek says. "We haven't talked about it, but if this is successful — well, it already is successful for me on an artistic level — if it's successful enough that Cleopatra or some other label wants to throw some more money on the table and give us an opportunity to do some more work, I'd be totally up for it."

Williamson, meanwhile, predicts that "this record is going to have longevity for sure, and whether or not we're all up for going back and doing more of it, we'll just have to see. We haven’t had that offer yet, but if we do we'll cross that bridge and see."

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