From financial flop to hall of fame

By Chris Talbott

Iggy Pop has seen his proto-punk band's old records rack up sales. Now the group has re-formed and has a new album.

Iggy & the Stooges might make more music together again, says singer Iggy Pop (centre). Photo / Supplied
Iggy & the Stooges might make more music together again, says singer Iggy Pop (centre). Photo / Supplied

When Iggy & the Stooges broke up in 1974 they were regarded as a commercial flop.

Not that Iggy Pop, the bullet-proof leader of the fiery and visceral proto-punk band, cared back then. Or now for that matter.

"I always felt I was never making songs for a quick buck. I was always making them for ever," he says.

And almost 40 years later, sales of the band's back catalogue tick along quite nicely (arguably better than ever). They've earned themselves a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and just released a new album, Ready to Die.

It's one of rock's stranger success stories. "It's true," says 66-year-old Pop. "All those old records still sell really nice and steadily, and they're heavily licensed. People get to hear them at sports events and on movies and in adverts."

The Michigan-based Stooges broke up after dropping three albums, including the highly influential Fun House and Raw Power. The group, with Mike Watt on bass, re-formed in 2003, and guitarist James Williamson rejoined the band in 2009 after guitarist-bassist Ron Asheton died.

AP: Your guitarist James Williamson returned to the band after a long break from music. Did he struggle to get back up to speed?

Pop: There are little nuances that I hear of things that he can do that he couldn't do a year ago or two years ago. That's interesting. Ultimately in a group of this vintage, there are certain things you can't do quite as much of that you could do when you were in your 20s.

If you've got soul and know how to marshal your intelligence, you can more than make up for that by the depth you can bring and the intelligent decisions you can make as a musician when you're in your 60s.

AP: The experts say your ability to pick things up slows down as you age. Do you agree?

Pop: No, that's a lot of old s***. In fact, playing an instrument really well is almost a detriment to playing music if you want to play it for your own pleasure or play it as an author, as originator ...

AP: You had a reputation for high-energy shows during the first go-round with the Stooges. Is it more difficult to perform to that standard now?

Pop: My personal ability to project physical energy probably didn't peak until only about six years ago, seven years ago. It was in my mid- to late 50s and that's because when I was younger I didn't work at it at all.

Also, the big difference was I was a little ahead of my time ... so I didn't get the audience feedback then ...

You can come out and bust ass and keep that up for about three songs, but if a bunch of people are just giving you the cold stare, it gets hard not to wither. So it was kind of like fighting skirmishes. I would skirmish and regroup, skirmish and regroup.

But later as people started to accept it more ... I would go to bed early, take my nap, sleep all day, rehearse really hard, and really, really get ready for that moment on stage.

AP: Do you think there will be more music from the Stooges down the road?

Pop: You know, that's a good question. By the time I got done with this one, I've been in the mood like, "Oh, f***, am I glad that's over with. Let's get this thing out." But that's also the tension of a modern marketing plan.

They start rattling my cage and hassling me like two months before the thing comes out ... So right now there's a very good chance we could, and I put a lot of time into the politics of the group and trying to improve, harmonise, placate and correct the various members, none of whom are professional entertainers.

So it takes a lot of effort. If all goes well it would be great to do something again up the line. That's the goal.

Music

Who: Iggy & the Stooges
What: Ready to Die, new album out now.

- AP

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