Iggy Pop: “I assumed things would quiet down once I turned 65. That hasn’t been the case”

Iggy Pop

Not many songwriters can confidently launch into an album by lashing out the lyrics: “Got a dick and two balls, that’s more than you all / my mind’ll be sick if I suffer the pricks”. Even fewer could shout each word like they mean it. Lucky for us, there’s Iggy Pop.

‘Frenzy’, the inciting track to Jim Osterberg’s 19th solo studio album, ‘Every Loser’, sounds exactly like what you’d expect from the man who popularised the stage dive. It’s riotous, unapologetically aggressive, and so packed with distorted guitars and rapid drumming that it’s difficult to hear where the now 75-year-old musician begins, and the feral 20-year-old who fronted primal rock pioneers The Stooges ends.

“‘Frenzy’ was the first single because it struck the cattle prod in our joy button whenever we heard it,” Iggy tells NME, his baritone register droning cheerfully on the other side of the line from his home in Miami. “We needed to step on the gas harder and when I listened to it, it felt like when someone’s in the room you’ve got the hots for, but you’re not ready to deal with it yet. I eyed that one in the corner for a month before I approached it.”

Iggy Pop on the cover of NME
Iggy Pop on the cover of NME

The track sees Pop howling, “shut up and love me/ cause fun is my buddy”, before hurling expletives at an unnamed “stoned douchebag”. It’s a hysterical, biting warning of the rest of the album’s energy. “It’s based on a bit of personal experience and a little bit of how visibly nuts I am,” he laughs. “Let’s put it that way.”

‘Every Loser’ marks Pop’s first release on Atlantic’s partnership with Gold Tooth Records, the label founded by producer Andrew Watt, an avid Stooges fan and award-winning mastermind behind releases from Ozzy Osbourne, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone.

The album follows 2019’s meditative and jazz-infused ‘Free’, which Pop describes in the liner notes as a “recoil from guitar riffs in favour of guitar scapes”. Before that, he waded back into the sounds that launched his solo career with the critically-acclaimed ‘Post Pop Depression’ in 2016. Years earlier, he shared ‘Après’, a melodic compilation of covers largely sung in French. But now, after taking trips into multiple sonic territories, Pop’s ready to return to the raw and raucous sound that not only launched his career but countless others.

“Taylor Hawkins drums up a storm [on ‘Every Loser’]. I’m very fortunate to have that colour on the record.”

Watt first collided with Pop while working on a yet-to-be-released project for the former frontman of The Smiths. “I was a guest detail on a Morrissey track he produced,” Pop says. “When Morrisey wrote to me about it, he said, ‘The producer on this is extraordinary,’ and he really was.” Following the feature, Watt asked Pop if he could “knock up some tracks” for him. Pop obliged, thanks in part to the producer’s “fine ear” and his “ability to play and sing with exceptional timing, pitch and tonality.”

Watt tapped multiple rock icons for ‘Every Loser’, rounding out the album’s rhythm section with drummer Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers and bassist Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses. “It was all guys I’d known when they were starting their careers,” Pop says. “They were young enough to be my kids or knew me when they were kids. That was the core band, Chad, [Watt] and Duff, and other people came in and punctuated it.”

It’s an all-star rock’n’roll lineup: Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Eric Avery all feature. The late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins contributed to the album too.

“Everybody who worked on ‘Every Loser’ was my style in general, a stripped-down simplified style. You’re not trying to do a Burt Bacharach song,” he jokes. “You’re not trying to do a Demi Lovato track, you know? Even though that’s fine. It’s just simplicity and simplicity is never out of style.”

Recording his latest album was not only an opportunity to work with musicians Pop had run-ins with in the past, but some he’d been admiring from afar. His relationship with Avery began at seedy semi-legal Los Angeles club Scream in the ‘80s, where he recalls Jane’s hanging out and devising future plans long before they had a record deal. Pop looks back fondly on taking the band out on their first tour in 1988, saying they “killed me every night”, before doubling down on his love for the “certain way” Avery plays.

He continues: “With Travis, I heard his group [Blink 182] and sort of scratched my head for a while,” he says. “Then I realised, ‘Oh gee, the drummer, holy shit.’” Barker lends his caustic beating to ‘Neo Punk’, a track Pop describes as “fast, strange, weird and furious.” He recalls the drummer asking, “What’s your favourite punk band?” and the pair listening to psychedelic rockers Lovely Eggs and self-proclaimed “vegan queer punks” Joe & The Shitboys before laying down track.

“These guys aren’t mouthy or anything,” Iggy says of the players on ‘Every Loser’. “They’re musicians. I’m kind of like a groupie,” he cackles. “I like hanging out with musicians, they’re just a certain kind of guy I’m comfortable around.”

“I’m not gonna go out and tweet an insult to my enemies. It’s just not me.”

Hawkins who died while on tour in Bogotá, Colombia in March – plays drums on two album tracks, the sinister yet sparkling ‘Comments’ and straggling metallic album closer, ‘The Regency’. “Taylor came in with incredible style,” Iggy says, his voice taking on a gentle drawl.

“I’m very fortunate to have that colour on the record. I was really sad and shocked to hear about him. I happened to know that hotel where he was. I’ve stayed in that town. The whole thing was something else. He did have a wonderful career doing what he wanted to do, and by all accounts, a good life.”

“He drums up a storm on those tracks, and you can really hear it,” Iggy says, his voice balancing back into a shimmering tone. “He has this sort of bubbling quality, it’s really percolating.”

Even if Iggy has spent, in his own words, half a century “suffering the pricks”, it’s never appeared that he’s cared much about their validation. He spent decades creating what resonated with him, taking on his career with the same passion and humour behind the shock and awe stage antics that pushed him into the limelight in the first place. But, as ‘Every Loser’ proves, even though his music has always been marked with the drive and levity of a perpetual underdog, his experience hasn’t always been light.

Tying together the album’s 11 tracks, including two spoken word intermissions – the faux commercial shilling, ‘The News For Andy’ and ‘My Animus Interlude’, which features Iggy saying he’s no “strawboy” but a “terror” – Iggy comments, albeit in a cheeky and sardonic fashion, on fame, the industry, “goddamn dicks” and “fucking pricks”. But is it all parody, or was he experiencing a certain amount of righteous anger while writing it? “Yeah. Sorry,” Iggy says, cracking into laughter.

“One thing that comes with the particular game I’m involved in to make a living, depending on your position and phase of life, you get a lot of aggro from other places,” he says. “I’m not a celebrity culture person. I’m not gonna go out and tweet an insult to my enemies. It’s just not me. I had a lot of stuff saved up, if you will. A few things were pushing my buttons, and I just said it, it popped out.”

Iggy Pop
Credit: Danny Clinch

‘Every Loser’ also delves into how punk has leaked into the greater pop culture subconscious since artists like Iggy incited the genre half a century ago. In ‘Neo Punk’, Pop rattles off the lines, “I don’t have to sing, I’ve got publishing/ I’m a neo punk” and “my hair is blue and my prescription too / I never have enough to do.

‘“With ‘Neo Punk’, I wanted to create this composite unlikely character who looks around like ‘Whoa, I’ve got purple hair, a chain, $10 million in the bank, an income stream, a hot car, and everybody loves me — this punk shit is great!’”

“There’s a little ‘Gucci Gang’ in there,” he adds, referencing the repetitive Lil Pump track he previously lauded to NME in 2019. At the time he said the rapper had taken “what, a minute to write it?” before adding that Pump had gone “straight to the hook, and did the hook have a melody? No.”

Today he adds: “There’s also a bit of the punkier people who’ve made serious fortunes. Even Justin Bieber gets punk points for egging his neighbour’s house a few years ago,” he laughs, referencing the Canadian’s 2014 controversy. “That’s not something teenage heartthrobs used to do.”

“Måneskin are a really strong band. You can tell they had to fight other groups for good positions”

The character composite is a far cry from Iggy’s upbringing in the scene. When The Stooges first came together in 1967, their home base was a vacant burnt-out house outside of Detroit, Michigan. The Pop-led group of misfits lived communally, sharing everything, including money. They were more interested in making brash music, putting on prolific and provocative shows, and ingesting a questionable amount of drugs instead than any of the glamour (and revenue) that came with stardom.

“When I started out, I didn’t know what publishing was,” Iggy says. “I didn’t understand you were paid money on the basis of intellectual property. Nobody told me, and I didn’t ask. When I was doing the first Stooges album, I thought that writing credits were just about glory. Now, these guys have lawyers, realtors, investment advisors, you name it.”

Punk and nostalgia’s chokehold on current culture seems to be grasping even tighter as of late. Recent music festival lineups, like Los Angeles’ Just Like Heaven and Las Vegas’ When We Were Young have rolled out sold-out events featuring post-punk and pop versions of the sound, headlined by artists like Interpol and My Chemical Romance. It’s now even made its way from the club stage to the runway.

“It’s huge in the fashion industry,” Iggy says. “I mean, my god, Tiffany’s doing dog collars,” he says, acknowledging the trend he put into orbit in the ‘70s when his go-to performance fit was wearing the canine accessory around his neck shirtless while accenting his arms in cheap silver lamé gloves.

Not that Iggy shies away from all commercial plugs. He’s taken part in Gucci campaigns, lending his svelte aesthetic to the brand’s bright tailored suits. There was also his appearance in Swiftcover insurance ads in the ‘00s, which were called “misleading” by the Advertising Standards Authority and “embarrassing” by Pop. Ouch.

Despite the downsides, however, it seems to be his winning formula. When asked what advice he’d offer to up-and-coming punks seeking longevity in their careers, he answers succinctly: “do two for yourself and one for the man.”

Last year, Iggy joined forces with Italian rock provocateurs Måneskin, lending his well-worn vocals to a new version of their sexed-up track, ‘I Wanna Be Your Slave’. “That’s a really strong band,” Iggy says of the four-piece who’ve often cited him as their inspiration for starting a band. “Damiano [David] is an amazing singer and the bass player, Victoria [de Angelis] really handles that position well and doesn’t overplay, but on stage and in their videos, she really stays with the message. Wooo, she’s a firecracker.”

“The Stooges records were inappropriately mastered. They sounded wimpy, but digital streaming and CDs has fixed that”

He likens their guitarist, Thomas Raggi’s smooth and powerful playing to “somewhere north of Joe Perry” and calls their drummer, Ethan Torchio, “clever”, pointing to the way he plays rock with an ear for dance music.

“I read an interview that said they started out busking on the street in Rome and had to fight other groups for good positions,” he says. “You can tell they have that background, that they’ve done something together where they got a little taste of poverty and obscurity, and I think that gives them a really nice edge.”

With his influence present in everything from designer jewellery to the music of up-and-coming acts, is he able to wrap his mind around his level of impact? “No, I’m not fully aware,” he responds. “I suppose if I was another person, I could sit down and graph all that out and come up with some sort of a schematic plan to capitalise a little bit more, but I’m not. I have noticed life has become a little easier and more rewarding in certain areas than it used to be and seems to continue that way, which really surprises me. Mostly I’m grateful there are people who’ve listened to the music and enjoy it.”

Iggy Pop
Credit: Danny Clinch

In March 2016, Pop released ‘Post Pop Depression’, a career highlight, and his first record to reach the Top 20 on the US Album charts in the United States. Co-written and produced by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age and featuring Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders and LA multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, the album went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.

Pop’s first commercial success came at an eerie time, five long decades after The Stooges released their self-titled debut and a short three months after his close friend and collaborator David Bowie had passed, aged 69. Iggy’s Bowie-produced seminal proto-punk albums in ‘70s, ‘Lust For Life’ and ‘The Idiot’, heavily inspired ‘Post Pop Depression’, with much of the album mirroring the production and arrangements of Pop’s first solo debuts.

“Some really prosaic things lent themselves to that,” he says of the tide turning for his work. “Society and music in general went in a direction that made it easier for people to realise the virtues of the music I’m involved in,” he says, pointing to the popularity of hip-hop’s simple riffs and recent technological advances.

“The original Stooges [records], they were all inappropriately mastered. They sounded wimpier than they really were. Then later, as CDs came in and then, especially in the digital age with streaming, suddenly the same records sound the way they should have.”

The global embrace of punk has also led to Iggy proving naysayers wrong. “I was finally able to solve the old problem of hearing, ‘Well your record is still in the red and you didn’t sell’” he says, in a mocking tone. “They’ve all turned over now, the 25 studio albums between The Stooges and my solo work. The company made money, I get a royalty, so everybody can shut the fuck up and leave me alone,” he laughs.

“I won’t stage-dive again… I’m too rickety for that now.”

The Godfather of Punk’s latest offering takes its name from a line in ‘Comments’, a song about vapid fame and Iggy’s run-ins with bold online trolls. “When I read these comments, especially the brutal ones, it’ll be some guy with a macho name like @superdudemuscledestroyer, he’ll write something like, ‘Iggy you little wimp, this sucks’”, he mimics in a squeaky voice before bursting into laughter. “I do think about the pleasure this person gets out of it. Andrew spotted the line, “Every loser needs a bit of joy”, and suggested it as the title. I didn’t think I could carry that ball, but ‘Every Loser’? It’s nice ’cause it’s inclusive.”

‘Every Loser’ has few subdued moments, like the slow-burning ‘Morning Show’, which hits on Iggy’s “disappointed areas where I don’t feel 100 per cent wunderbar”. There’s also the poetic ‘Atlantis’, a tribute to the miscreants and sinking land of the “shitty, shady, paradise” Pop calls home. Even with those fleeting serenades in tow, the album is begging to be played loud and live. “That’s what I like about it,” Iggy says

Next summer, Pop is set to play at London’s Crystal Palace Park, the event, dubbed ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, will feature sets from Blondie and Generation Sex, but don’t expect any stage dives. “I’ve left the proscenium a few times if the crowds were too dull just to whip ’em up, but mostly I didn’t have to,” he says. “I won’t do the dives again, I’ve managed to survive it mostly and I’m too rickety for that now.”

Surviving is a central thread in Iggy’s life, being that he’s one of the last original punks standing, long after many of his contemporaries have departed. Still, ‘Every Loser’ is no swan song but a scrappy underdog’s victory lap. Despite what the album title may allude to, Pop’s a punk rock winner who’s still up for the fight.

“It really surprises me. I always assumed there would be an arc and things would quiet down after I hit 65,” he says. “That hasn’t been the case.”

Iggy Pop’s ‘Every Loser’ is released January 6, 2023 on Gold Tooth Records

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