The So What! Interview – Lars Ulrich & Iggy Pop
Whenever Metallica takes a left-turn, looks at a route map that isn’t typical, and decides to go “that way,” I always get excited. They are a band that unequivocally takes risks; something which I firmly believe has (unwittingly) kept them at the top of the pile. When they casually told me that Iggy Pop was going to be the special guest in Mexico City, my fist pumped the air and I didn’t stop salivating over the bill for weeks. From the first moment I heard him as a 10-year-old in London, Iggy Pop spoke the same carefree, rebellious language I did. Whether ripping the fibers of your flesh apart with The Stooges or crafting moody masterpiece material like “Sister Midnight,” Iggy was up there with Lemmy in the narrowest bracket of free-spirited legends. Metallica and Iggy have, in my view, been buying aural bread from the same bakery for over three decades. Back in the early to mid-'80s Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett would listen to The Stooges albums and talk Iggy, while back in Denmark even earlier, a curious young Dane had done the same. And whether intentional or simply because they are both fundamentally feral beasts, the sheer, raw power of each others music has always made it bizarre that this show hadn’t happened far sooner.
I made it a priority to work on getting Lars and Iggy to sit down for a So What!-style casual-yet-detailed chat whilst we were all in Mexico City. It was far easier than I anticipated. Within 20 seconds of mentioning the idea to Lars, he had responded with a roared, “Fuck yeah.” Soon afterward, Iggy’s manager Henry McGroggan cheerfully told us Iggy would be happy to do it, happy to do photos with Ross Halfin, and happy for us to film the proceedings. I can tell you, such things are not always as easy. That it was spoke volumes not just for Pop, but also for Lars (the two knew each other) as well as the respect that Pop holds for Metallica.
Once Lars and I sorted out how the conversation would go (I would “host” the conversation, throwing in questions where necessary but with Lars having full license to bring things where they needed to go), I knew it would be fun. I was genuinely excited and a touch nervous. I had interviewed Iggy once, back in 1988 for Kerrang! Magazine, an early feature I was proud of. To have the chance to host another interview involving Iggy was an enormous honor. And so it was that at 3:57 pm, we left Lars’ room to meet Iggy downstairs in a meeting room at the hotel at 4:00 pm (Iggy is stickler for punctuality – I don’t mind admitting that when Lars was still shirtless at 3:50 pm, my butterflies were working overtime). After the photos, we sat down to start. I opened proceedings by making sure Iggy was comfortable with the way things would happen and also inviting him to throw in whatever he wanted. What transpired was, in my opinion, some epic reading. I hope you agree.
STEFFAN CHIRAZI: So to start things off, when you first heard this bill put forward, what were your initial thoughts on the other artist?
LARS ULRICH: Well, this came on my radar right after Iggy and I were hanging out in San Francisco last year, right?
IGGY POP: You came to the gig, yeah.
LU: I was very welcomed in and we ended up having dinner together. There was some wine to be had and there were lots of jolly spirits and good vibes. And within a couple of months of that, as these shows were coming together, we’d had a really deep relationship with these people here [in Mexico] for decades, and we wanted to really put something out there that was a statement. So they suggested that you come and join us and, I mean, I hadn’t even read the whole email before I just replied, “Fuck, yeah, bring it on.” It seemed like it would be such an opportunity to not only ride on the good energy from San Francisco but to just make a statement; any time Metallica can do something that’s a little unexpected and gets a chance to experience something that the four members of Metallica really support, we throw it out there, “All right, boys and girls out there, check this out.” So it was what we, Metallica, call a no brainer to have this pairing happen, absolutely.
SC: And for you Iggy, you hear the word Metallica and what do you think of playing with them?
IP: I thought, “Wow, yeah, okay.” It took that long, like one second, and it was because it’s a good band... I kinda understate these things. There are only a few. Most of ‘em are not so good. This is a good band, so I wondered if I could play with them, I felt like that was a really good place for me. And then also coincidentally I had just done a South American tour that I really wanted to do, and I wasn’t able to get Mexico in. Yo tenía casita aquí por quince años. I had a home here in Baja California for a long time; I made a lot of friends here. I speak a little Spanish poorly, you know. And it was just really important to me. And I’ve always loved DF [Distrito Federal, former Mexico City moniker – ED], I’ve always loved this town; it’s a really special place. So that was that. And then later it hit me, “I’m gonna open for Metallica.” So you know, “What’s gonna happen to me?” You know? Will I be eaten? Like, be eaten by a horde of cannibals. [Laughing]
LU: Now we’re gonna come for ya, ha ha!
IP: And yeah, right, right. Right, and these are my first shows of a season, and it was time to pick a couple new songs. "Gimme Danger" is new for this band, which that was sort of because of the film. But "I’m Sick of You" is a very ambitious, and also heavy in places, number that’s very in your face and I thought, “Yeah, let’s learn ‘I’m Sick of You,’ it’d be good for this.” And I had a ball learning it and I’m having a ball singing it for your fans. They enjoy the song.
LU: I know you did a run in Latin America in the fall. Have you done a lot of stuff here, over the decades?
IP: Not that much. I played here first in ’88; I just did São Paulo, Rio, and Buenos Aires for maybe 1,200 people a night and I loved it. And then I came back every few years, every so often but most always just Brazil and Argentina.
LU: The first time we were in Latin America was in ’89. On the end of the ...Justice thing, we did three shows in Rio. I think we managed to be there for a week without sleeping.
IP: Yeah, it is like that. That’s what it was like for me.
LU: I was like, “Whoa.”
IP: I was Mr. Good. I was really reformed at the time, and the promoter kept going, “Get to my room now! I’ve got the coke and the whores,” you know, and just laid it right out. He’s the promoter and I’m like, “Look, I’ve tried to turn over a new leaf. Haven’t you heard?” I was the scourge of whatever! On that tour I played the old Copacabana Club, which was falling apart, in Rio. And you know, there were these beach girls who would come and go, want you played and everything.
LU: They [the promoters] never did that to us. I just remember being out on the beach. I remember being out on the beach at dawn, daybreak, it’s like, “They’re gonna Frisbee out there,” and we would do like, you know, eight hours of just standing there fucking playing Frisbee. Then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon.” It seemed like it’d been fifteen minutes.
IP: Yeah, because it’s so nice!!!
LU: We would still be standing on that fucking beach right now if it wasn’t because somebody threw [the Frisbee] in the water and it washed out, but it was pretty crazy.
IP: I got my shoes stolen on that beach. Yeah, at Copa Beach... it was raw. The South American touring business was...
LU: Yeah, back then compared to now, whether you’re in Malaysia, in South Africa, or whether you’re in Dubai or whatever, you’re never more than twelve seconds from a Starbucks. Back then when you went to different countries...
IP: You felt like you were...
LU: You went to different cultures.
LU: You went to different places. It was like a whole different thing. And there was this sense of exploration, going into different universes and different aesthetics and it was really kinda crazy. But for us in ’89, the first time we were down here, instantly you could just tell the fans embraced you and it was a whole different vibe than in Europe and in the States.
SC: Let's talk about the first two shows down here that have happened. I’ve seen Metallica down here many times and every time it’s the best, I mean these people are fucking outrageous. They’re fucking out of their minds. And I noticed for you (Iggy) it seemed that they took to you like a duck to water. How did it feel? How did it feel here maybe versus anywhere else? Is this a special-
IP: How do I feel here in Mexico as vis-à-vis somewhere else? There’s a generosity here. They’re generous people, and it doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, you know? There’s also a certain kind of courtesy, they join in as an audience, and some of it at least for me felt enthusiastic and I think some of it was also courteous. I’m old enough to be their grandfather and all that, I’m not sure how many...some people knew my stuff and some people didn’t, but they were willing to join in and I just, I thought they were charming. They sorta charmed me and made me want to work harder. And I was like, “I want to please you,” you know? So that was sorta what was going through my mind.
SC: Yeah, when I saw that mic stand go flying the second night, that's a good sign, right?
IP: Yeah, that’s a good sign.
LU: I think it’s right what Iggy’s saying. They're very generous and these crowds here, they’re very comfortable expressing their emotion. And you know, when you play LA, when you play New York, it’s like half the people in the audience are musicians or wannabe musicians, and there’s some sort of like weird jealousy. There’s a little bit of jaded, there’s a little bit of “come out here and show us what you can do.”
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
LU: And then when you play down here, it’s like all that just dissipates and you’ve got x thousands of people who just want to be there, share, and it becomes this very inclusive type of thing with the audience, which doesn’t happen everywhere. You know, people express their love and appreciation for what you’re doing in very different ways all over this great planet, but there’s something about here, and as you go further south and get down to Colombia and to, you know, Ecuador and to Brazil and to Argentina, it’s always just this fucking outpouring of emotion and it really just carries you, man. We come out there on Wednesday, you know, conveniently forget about the altitude, go out there, and fucking three songs you can barely breathe. And you just feel like, it’s almost like when you [Iggy] stage dive or do your thing, they hold you up, they support you.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
LU: And it’s a great feeling. I mean, it’s really fucking special here.
SC: I want to go back to one thing you said, Iggy, which really intrigued me. At the beginning of the conversation you said there aren’t very many good bands out there, and they’re a good band (meaning Metallica). What is a good band? I mean I think you would know, so tell us.
IP: Well, there should be a consistent approach. There should be attention to detail, where some work has gone into… where you can hear work has gone into the arrangements and into the actual structural foundations of the music, and then it should have, for me, an energy that is at the service of human beings in the same room as the band. Not like this is made to be a record of “this” that is then gonna get us into “this system” and we can go play "Jingle Balls" or whatever. You know what I’m saying?
The obvious way to say it would be it’s about the live show. It’s about what you can do live. I saw them [Metallica] play the Whiskey doing all Lemmy songs, you know, and it was really good. It sounded really bloody good. And then I saw them do [Bob] Seger at a ballroom called Roseland; it was wonderful, you know, big bands used to play there. The musicians union was upstairs until they closed it. And with the Seger, I thought that was really hard to do because you were in Manhattan, nobody really likes Bob Seger in Manhattan. So, everybody would just sort of stand there like this. And they played the Seger and they played it well, and then you played your own, came up for an encore and did your own shit. And without a largeness, and it really hit the people in the room, and you saw the people. So a band should swing, because if you’re in the room with other people and your band doesn’t swing, it’s embarrassing for them and it’s embarrassing for you. And everybody, you know? So that’s it. It’s a swinging band, and it’s got a lot of attention to detail, there’s a lot of work has gone into it. So that’s what I would say.
LU: Let me ask you, and I appreciate the nice words, I’m fascinated by music lineage and music history. So in your travels through the last three or four decades, what are some of the bands that have turned you on? What are some of the bands that have made an impact on you over the years?
IP: Whoa, whoa. You know, I was lucky enough that when I started out, I was the opening act at the Grand Ballroom in the ’60s, and I opened for Cream. The stage was this knee high, tiny… and a tiny dressing room for the opening act and a slightly less tiny [dressing room] for the stars. So I opened for them, I opened for The Who in that same ballroom. I saw Jimi Hendrix play in a converted bowling alley in Ann Arbor, Michigan with the suit, with the eyes, with Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding. So it was really that era. I saw Van Morrison's Astral Weeks band at the Troubadour in LA, and Van had... you know, Van’s surly. So he has this one thing, his stage move. He’ll pick up a bar chair and wave it over his head like he’s gonna throw it at somebody, and that’s his big move, so he did that, you know. And that was another different kind of “good band.” They all looked like – you know, there’s a certain kinda English musician that they look a little ill?
LU: Like a diet of fish 'n' chips!
IP: Yeah, the French fry thing, you know? Like they’re very, very raggely-faced, and skin, and skinny… but they can play.
I saw Dylan play at a Masonic temple in Detroit with the Hawks, with Robbie Robertson on lead and that was really good. And Cream were interesting because they just, they “du-du-du” with the drums. It was really the drummer in that band more than the other two, he was incredible, his groove [for the record, Ginger Baker – ED]. And so it was mostly that whole era. I even saw Sly in that ballroom; Sly came through when he had Dance to the Music. And because it was a ballroom more for like teen psychedelic fans, it was only half full. Maybe 3-400 people came, and they did the whole thing with the trumpet and the big organ. “You might like to hear my organ.” O-o-oh, man...
LU: Back when it was outgoing and inclusive.
IP: You know, it sounded great. And then for me personally as an aside from that era of bands, the big, big thing for me that really changed my life was when James Brown got onto the white radio, and I started hearing that and you know, "Cold Sweat," "Outta Sight," and then later "Make it Funky," "Funky Drummer," "I Can’t Stand It," "There Was a Time." And what they were doing with the space suddenly becoming spare and articulated and all that – that really did it for me. I'm trying to think of anything in the sorta late ’70s. Not really. It sort of took a dive, although there would be bands like that that did some good things. MC5 were big for me too; they had their flaws but they were really like, you know, wow. You know, I mean these guys were going for it.
LU: They were on fire?
IP: Yeah, they were on fire! I grudgingly must admit that Thin Lizzy had some things going for ‘em.
LU: Phil Lynott was incredible, yeah.
IP: I don’t know about the guitar twins and everything but he [Lynott] was something else.
LU: But again, also that drummer Brian Downey-
IP: Very fine.
LU: Could really swing-
LU: Really move that shit along.
IP: You know, I played a gig with Slade.
LU: Wow, what, back in like the ’73 to ’75?
IP: Yeah, and I’m told that their roadie chased me around the hotel with an axe [laughing]. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But it was J. Geils Band, Slade, and T.
LU: Was that in England or was it in the States?
IP: The US. And they could play. You know, they could really, really play.
LU: Noddy Holder had an almost, like a – when I go back and listen to some of those songs there’s almost like a Lennon-esque quality to his songwriting.
IP: Yeah, right, that voice.
LU: Yeah. And there was a kind of a poetic undertone. Because they often get dumped in with like The Sweet, and you know, some of those guys which were maybe not quite as deep, but Noddy Holder really had substance.
IP: They were pretty harsh. They could bang it, you know? So there was that, and I was one bill above KISS on their first gig. They were third bill, Stooges were second bill, and it was Blue Oyster Cult who were like an estimable, intelligent, sort of precursors of Queensrÿche, right, kind of in a way, that approach, you know? But KISS came out and, down comes – I mean they’re getting paid 50 bucks, right? And down comes this enormous swirling sign that says KISS in the little spinning chrome lights or whatever, they’re on these heels, and I was like, I don’t know about this, man. But there they were, you know. There they were.
SC: I'm interested to discuss a shared collaborator, and obviously Iggy has had many, Metallica have had a few themselves, but the one you both share is Lou Reed. With you Iggy it was of course a very deep relationship, and for you Lars there was obviously the Lulu project. I’m interested if each of you could discuss how you met Lou, and how you each found the creative process with him.
IP: Well, Lou came to The Stooges gig at Max’s Kansas City in 1973.
LU: Was that the first time you met him?
IP: No, I met him before that, but I got to know him better then. I met him through Main Man, who were the managers of David Bowie. They were about to sign me to a management deal, and they were working with Lou as producers. And they convinced Lou that, “We’ve got this new artist… we don’t really like his music. He needs some good songs!” So the idea was Lou was gonna sell me some songs, you know? But if a Lou song is any good, Lou is gonna do it, right? That’s how I met him, we were sitting in a room and he was playing me songs, and we got drunk on his acoustic guitar.
And then he came to a Stooges gig and I would bump into him in New York at different times, but I saw him play for the first time with the Mach 2 Velvet Underground in a room just about exactly this size. And there were just a few of us seated on banquettes upstairs in the front, not even the back, of Max’s Kansas City. It had a little cocktail table, had a little banquette, and it was him and the Yule Brothers, and they did a great set of quiet – it was not that loud but it was rock and it was forceful and they did "Ocean," "Pale Blue Eyes," "New Age," and some stuff like that, and it was really wow. And then I saw him again, I hung out with him a little. They played Santa Monica Civic with the Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal Tour, you know. Yeah, I saw that. I'd bump into him in New York over the years, but we actually fronted the same band at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or stadium concert in Cleveland. What happened was the tickets were going slow because the performers were all geezers. So they wanted to convince this young band that was popular at the time: Soul Asylum. So Soul Asylum was hot at the time, and my manager had already tried to get me on. They said, “No, we don’t want any Iggy Pop. No, this is good, nice rock for good people,” you know? And then they [Soul Asylum] said, “Well, we want to back up Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.” So he kinda got me in the door and I went on before Lou, and they had decreed, “Okay, you can have Iggy Pop but no Iggy Pop songs!”
LU: It’s off limits. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
IP: So at the rehearsal, they said you can do a Doors song. So we’re in the rehearsal, and they said, “We’ll start with The Doors so we’ll just segue to your-
LU: Throw one in when no one’s looking.
IP: Right. So I did "Back Door Man" and "I Want to Be Your Dog" with him and then he did "Sweet Jane," and I remember he had Laurie [Anderson] with him at the concert. He was very protective of her; he’s a very sensitive person. So he was sorta standing there with Laurie and I just said, “Hey, Laurie.” I’d gone to her show – she had a very nice Broadway show in the Neil Simon Theater – and I just go to things when I’m interested. So then that kinda broke the ice, you know. And we went out to dinner after, as people do, and that was the last time I saw him. I think, for a while, he was a little bit pissed that I didn’t do any of his songs. So he would grumble about me, but they reissued Raw Power and he wrote a real nice blurb for it about the music and the vocals.
The first time I heard the Velvets, that first Banana record, I was in Ann Arbor and there was gonna be a house party on campus. And I went there and I was about twenty, nineteen or twenty, trying to get into being a professional. I was a professional with no money. And I heard, this was a slightly older crowd on these various campus drugs and they were kind of beatnik-y, and I heard this music. And I said, “That is just horrible. It’s just, it’s not, it doesn’t even sound professional.” You know, it sounds, ouch! And then, the next time I heard it three days later, then I got it, said, “Oh, fuck!” And that was that great, great album, you know, with “Venus.”
LU: So much of it was about the attitude, right? And that whole thing about the East Coast versus the West Coast and we don’t do hippie trippy and we don’t do all that peace and love and flowers and all that shit...
IP: No, we don’t do that.
SC: And Lars, talk a little bit about Metallica working with Lou. Maybe there’s some stuff that you could share with Iggy about working with him...
IP: I enjoyed that record you did with him.
LU: Yeah, so did we.
IP: A lot of nice riffs on that and he’s just telling his stories.
LU: It was the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Jann Wenner [Rolling Stone editor and publisher] threw this big celebration at Madison Square Garden, and his idea was to have a few bands anchor some segments, so he had Springsteen anchor a segment with some different people, and U2 anchor a segment, and he asked us to anchor a segment, which we were very flattered and pretty humbled by. We ended up doing a few songs with Ray Davies, a couple songs with Ozzy Osbourne, and then Lou. Lou showed up at rehearsal, this is about two days before, and we’re in a nice comfortable New York rehearsal space, and Lou walks in literally with dark clouds, and thunder and lightning over his head. He was pissed off! All “This is not right,” and “What the fuck?” and all this type of stuff. And we were like, “Well, should we do this, should we do this? Should we do a medley?” He said, “I don’t fucking do medleys.”
IP: [Grinning] Oh, hahahahahahaha.
LU: You know, the gauntlet’s now thrown down. And then Lou and I went off in the corner of the room and had a nice 10-15 minute chat about a few things, and then we sort of found some common threads. From there on he was fine. I think he had kind of a defense mechanism that was always ‘on’ to keep people at a distance, and you had to sort of break through that. And once you broke through that, then it was cool. But it was like a test. We ended up playing two or three songs, and it was fucking magic. And when we did it at Madison Square Garden in front of not just the audience but also the peers, you know, all the other bands, he was so into it. As we walked out of the bowels of Madison Square Garden and walked our separate ways, he was like, “We should make a record together one day. Come on. You know, let’s do something!” It was like, “Lou, just fucking call us. We’re easy to find.” And then lo and behold, a month or two later he called. He had this whole idea, these lyrics, this play and this whole German thing and Lulu.
For us, what was so interesting was that when we write, everything’s about the music first. You know, the riffs, the swing, the arrangements, all that kinda stuff. And then with Hetfield, the last things are the lyrics and the vocals, I wouldn’t call them an afterthought but it’s the last thing, the dressing. So Lou sent us ten sets of lyrics. And it’s like, “Write music to these lyrics,” and we had never done that in 30 years! That was such a challenge. It was so cool to be out of our element at that level. Then James and I sat there for a week or two and tried to come up with music that would fit our interpretation of the moods of his lyrics. We sent some stuff to him, and he called up and was like, “Fuck, this is insane.” And then we went on this journey together for like the next six months. We made the record and we went and played television shows all over Europe, it was a whole thing.
IP: Oh, I didn’t know that. I heard the record.
LU: Yeah, yeah…we never performed any concerts but we did TV and we did promotion stuff. We did Jools Holland, all kinds of stuff. And then Metallica played some concerts at The Fillmore [in San Francisco] for a celebration, I think it was our 30th anniversary, and he came out and sang three or four of those songs with us. That was the last time I saw him, unfortunately. I didn’t know he was as sick as he was. Him, Laurie and Hal [Willner – producer, friend, collaborator] kept it kinda quiet. So it really threw me when he passed.
IP: That sort of thing goes in abrupt stages. I’ve seen it with others.
LU: But it was hard for him because he was so proud of that record. He felt we had some sort of spiritual connection with him, and he kept talking about that, how we were finally the right band to back him up, how he’d been looking for decades for somebody with the power and so on. Then the record came out, and as you may know, some of the critics were not particularly…
IP: And I know all about it.
LU: …particularly kind to this record.
IP: [Chuckling] Gotta love ‘em!
LU: Yeah. And he was, I mean, he was really hurt.
IP: Sure. Of course he would be.
LU: We’re pretty thick-skinned. We’ve been through ups and downs for years, and if we like something we’d done and we enjoy the experience, that’s what matters to us. But I think he was really saddened by the response to [Lulu] and I felt…it was weird. The roles changed at the end where I became almost more maternal to him, and had to like sort of comfort him through this very difficult month when the record came out and it just got fucking slammed, you know.
IP: Well, what happens is that the piece that he wrote belongs in a theater element. And then what happens with these people is that once they’ve decided that they’re gonna judge whatever release you do as a piece of rock and roll business product, then that’s that. You know, so it wasn’t a good piece of rock and roll business product, because it wasn’t a piece of that at all. And there’s no chorus. You know, it’s great! There’s no damn chorus! And he told the truth in the lyrics. They are some nasty lyrics. They’re really like “ow” you know, like Street Hassle [1978 Reed solo album – ED]. There’s parts on Street Hassle that are pretty, you know, “(won’t) you drag a bitch out in the street and throw her out there because nobody will notice at a certain hour of the day?” And he was trying to be a true artist. This is the thing. But to him, rock and roll should be an absolutely open vehicle for different things you want to do and say.
LU: Let me ask…when I meet a lot of guys that are older, that have been around since the ’60s and ’70s, a lot of them carry a bit of a grudge on their shoulders about being fucked over by the business, and really being taken for a ride by the managers and the whole fucking thing. When you and I met and were hanging nine months ago, and now hanging out here in the last couple days, I feel you have this incredibly warm, open, friendly, engaging personality that’s really quite different than most of the guys I’ve met from the ’60s and ’70s. Were you just lucky in that you didn’t get fucked over at the same level, or was it more your nature in terms of your personality to be a little bit more open and embracing?
IP: What happened was I got fucked over at the level that was typical of the time. The way it goes is the guys in the ’50s to the early ’60s, particularly if they were black or uneducated or both, got totally fucked over. Man, for instance, I would go to a Bo Diddley show anytime I knew he was playing, to hear him play. And I was backstage at one of his shows and there was a line of people with his albums for him to sign. And the first thing he would do, he’d look at the album and say, “Didn’t get paid for that!” You know. Didn’t get paid… and he had the anger, you know? And then in my generation it was like, “Tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna let you boys keep half your publishing, all right? And we’re gonna pay you a nickel an album!” A nickel an album! Right?! So you got shitty deals. With the first Stooges album, I’m just proud. We get a little royalty. And it’s small but it’s so, I’m so proud of it. And I’m a sentimental person. We had a period between the two first albums. We were writing stuff that was so edgy, that Main Man was like, “We won’t put this out.” “I’m Sick of You” was one they wouldn’t put out. “I Got a Right” they wouldn’t put out. And there was one called “Gimme Some Skin.” And when I became more professional and read my publishing statements, every quarter “Gimme Some Skin” would earn one penny. One penny.
LU: Made it onto the royalty statement?
IP: Yeah, but we’re getting there! We’re getting somewhere! So when I had the power to, when they would say, “Iggy, we’re doing a re-release greatest hits and is there a song…?” Yeah. “Gimme Some Skin.” Because I felt sorry for the song! So it would get, like, $100. Now there’s $150 bucks there for “Gimme Some Skin.” So I just learned with some of that stuff to just, you know, and I’ve had the divorces and the stuff like that, but I sort of put it “over there” you know? I had a long trudge in the actual professional industry with Arista and especially Virgin. And if you just sell a middling amount of records, which I did, they actually are making money but they won’t admit that to you, and they’ll charge these hideous video budgets [back] to you because they “need to keep pace with MTV” more than you do. So even though some of the records for them went in the black, I never got a penny. I never got a penny out of Virgin but I finally got sold! I have a pension from AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – SAG Union – ED]. Every time I made a record they had to pay me and file with the union. So about two years ago I became a pensioner! And it’s a good pension too!
LU: Fifteen years behind you on that one. We’ll be there shortly. But you know what’s interesting? We were both on Elektra Records! We came to New York in ’83, we made our first record independently, then we made our second record and all of a sudden people started paying attention. We got, what’s the word, like seduced or hounded?
IP: Those people, they come at you.
LU: Everybody came at us. Within a period of one month, we had six or seven labels all throwing the whole fucking store at us, and we went with Elektra. Because Elektra of that time had the reputation, within a sea of major labels, that they were slightly more artist friendly.
IP: Absolutely were. They helped The Stooges, yeah.
LU: The Doors.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
LU: And with lots of singer-songwriters, even to a degree their bigger bands, like The Cars or some of that stuff, they still had a little bit of authenticity. It wasn’t just “product.”
IP: Absolutely. Love. Love were on Elektra.
LU: Yeah, there was Natalie Merchant and lots of super cool people.
IP: Tim Buckley.
LU: That’s right. This was in ’84. So this is right at the time where the power starts shifting from the managers and the agents and those types of guys back to the artists.
IP: No, I know, you came at a good time.
LU: Yeah, we were lucky, and our managers at that time were like, “You know, the long game plan here is to get your fucking masters back!” And you’re 23 years old. I mean what the fuck’s a master?
IP: Yeah, right!
LU: But we’re like “Okay, that sounds cool.” And then they start building this into the contracts and all this, and lo and behold, in ’93? ’94, we ended up getting all our masters back.
IP: Oh, wow.
LU: And there was kind of a transition period.
IP: Yes, I understand.
LU: But six or eight years ago, every one of those fucking records became ours and we can do with them what we want, nobody tells us anything and it’s a pretty cool thing. Not so much for the financial element, obviously that’s cool, but it’s the idea that you don’t have to seek anybody’s permission. You don’t have to fucking sit there and go, “I want to do this with the master, are you okay with that?” to these fucking suits.
IP: And you know you won’t be marketed in an embarrassing way and all that stuff, yeah.
LU: The fact that we still control it makes you feel good. But it’s interesting, you’ve got some of your records back…
IP: And Elektra pays us The Stooges royalties. It was the standard deal at the time. And the Stooges are steady, not large sellers but we’re steady and we sell more now than when we started, which is great.
LU: Can you remember any of the guys from Elektra?
IP: I was gonna ask you. I know Holzman. You ever meet?
LU: No, that was before our time.
IP: The head of Elektra was a New York patrician son of a record shop owner in the Village named Jac Holzman. And he was a tall, slim man who liked to dress kinda like Austin Powers. Like a swinging ’60s guy. He had the benefit of classical education. He read the great books. He knew from art. And he made great choices in the bands that he signed, and he started a label that’s pretty hot right now called Nonesuch.
LU: Nonesuch, yeah, yeah.
IP: Nonesuch… I used to work at a record store. One of the great records was, this is in the ’60s, was Music from the Morning of the World, and it was Balinese gamelan music. I’d never heard gong music, but for 3 bucks you could hear this gong music on Nonesuch, you know. I just played this on my BBC radio show; it’s gonna come out in a couple weeks. He [Holzman] commissioned the first piece of original classical music done for a record company, and it was a guy named Morton Subotnick, Silver Apples of the Moon. And it’s early synthesizer music, like “bonk-bink-e-oh-cuckoo, bago, ew, brr, brrrr, brrr.” You know, but it sounds great! So there was him, and then the big liaison to the artists there was the publicity director who was a guy named Danny Fields, who ended up trying to manage The Stooges (which was a useless task), then he managed The Ramones, and later one country singer I can’t remember. But he was a liaison-
LU: He was like your main guy, right?
IP: He was our main guy and he was tight with Warhol and the Velvets and would introduce you into that New York hipster underground. And then there was a general manager, a tough talking guy, Bill Harvey. Yeah, I remember them all. I remember them very well.
LU: Yeah, we came in at the time when the big chief was Bob Krasnow. This was all so fucking new to us; everything that we represented at the time was left field, edgy. We were contrary. The music that we played, it shouldn’t connect with that world because we were “anti” all that, you know what I mean?
IP: Yeah, I get it, yeah.
LU: And so as the mainstream started moving further and further out to where we were, all of a sudden we started becoming engulfed in all this, and their A&R guy was this great fellow, Mike Alago, young, our age, he took us out. We’d never done the expense account thing before! He took us shopping at Tower Records down in the West Village. “Have anything you want fellas,” all that. And so we met Krasnowas Alago was courting us, and I remember afterwards being told this story which was, that he’s so powerful, Krasnow has what’s called a “negative reservation” in a restaurant. I’m like, what the fuck does that mean?
IP: This is what they want you to think.
LU: Right! So that means that – this has stuck with me. I love this. It means he only has to call when he doesn’t show up. He has a table for lunch every day at 1:00 and he only has to call if he’s not coming. I go, “Fuck, okay, these people really are different.” But I think it was a godsend for us to end up at Elektra because it certainly was way more artist friendly.
IP: Sure, and a little smaller. It could do it, but not so huge…I was on RCA; they had guys there, when they were still in the RCA building in New York, from Memphis who had an office and they were just there in case Elvis made another record. Just in case!
LU: Sit and wait by the phone?
IP: Right, just sit and wait for a phone call from Elvis. That’s all it was, you know? It was really strange that record company.
LU: Tell me one thing. You just touched on Andy Warhol and that whole scene down there. Nowadays, our generation hears about this scene, sees it in movies, and it’s become very dramatized, legendary, “these were the most fucking incredible creative days…” Now with myself being inspired by painters like Basquiat, Schnabel, Clemente and so on, did you ever penetrate that kind of scene and hang out with some of those guys? What was it really like?
IP: I’ll tell you, the funny thing, the key artistically to Andy Warhol and his approach is that his first job in New York was he designed greeting cards. And then he did the windows at Tiffany’s for a while. So it’s pretty much like the style he developed. Those people had a hangout at a restaurant on Union Square, at the time when Union Square was the kinda New York park that smelled of piss all the time and there were derelicts hanging around waiting to knife you or sell you some weed or whatever. It was a very bleak part of town. And there was a place called Max’s Kansas City that had a back room, again about the size of this room, with booths, and it was a steakhouse and then a more normal restaurant in front. Warhol was, in essence, doing what a lot of young people are doing right now. He was trying to break into the contemporary art market as a viable artist, but without going through the normal gallery system, because he couldn’t paint a Matisse. He couldn’t paint a Manet or anything. So he was gonna do it through celebrity. And one of the things that he would do to become a more famous celebrity would be, “Well, we make some films. And I’ll have some stars. There are a lot of people around here in New York… they’re very colorful people that, they could be stars.” And he had a sort of an attaché in this guy named Paul Morrissey who actually made those films, and who was kind of a “whip master” for this group of New York people hanging around who wanted to be “somebody.”
The men to me tended to be… I knew Glenn O’Brien [esteemed style writer and early editor of Interview magazine – ED] was put in that crowd, and Leee Black Childers who later worked for Main Man. Eric Emerson I knew pretty well, Jackie Curtis who swung as a boy and a girl, Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jane Forth. But most of the men should have been the Kennedys and they weren’t! They were like these nice young – Gerard Malanga – good looking, well educated, Ivy League type of guys who just decided to go perverse.
LU: And were looking for a reason to go perverse.
IP: …Yes. They didn’t want to live their life in a suit and they didn’t have a rock band. And the Velvets were people who didn’t have a rock band yet either and kind of formed around him and that scene, and on the other end of Union Square on a something like, I didn’t know, the 11th floor or something of this dirty old industrial building, they had this place where he was actually making the art, called The Factory, and everything was covered in aluminum foil. But it looked great, you know? And they were doing these piss paintings and stencil paintings and every – and everybody was kinda a “certain way.” And some of the people in this back room were also very entertaining. There was a guy named Taylor Mead, who does a great scene near the end of Coffee and Cigarettes, the Jarmusch movie, who was kind of a really wildly gay raconteur. And there was a fella I liked very much, because my father was an English teacher I always liked academics, but this [guy] was like a lapsed academic. He was like the academic where… if I did something my dad didn’t like, he’d say, “Now, you straighten up kid!” But this guy was, “Hey, yeah, well, Iggy Pop, whatever, you know,” and he was named Donald Wyans. And he was an expert on Greek history. You know, a highly educated man who liked to swing with the set. And then there were a lot of Jewish broads from New York, you know, who wanted to be in a movie, “Look, I got some big tits,” you know. There was Jane Holzer and Ultra Violet (Isabelle Dufresne) and some of those babes. And then there was Nico, and [John] Cale. And then at the time, John Cale was dating Betsey Johnson (famous designer – ED). So there was this kinda nexus… and Lou would come down there.
LU: When you were in the thick of it at that time, did it feel like it was the center of the creative universe?
IP: It felt important.
LU: It did?
IP: Yes. Damn right. Sure. It felt important. There was “something.” And all these people, the ones that actually acted in the film, would get these little paper cards, flimsier than a business card. And they could hand that in if they were an Andy Warhol actor, and they could have food! No drinks though, just food.
LU: Their version of the AFTRA card.
IP: [Chuckling] Yeah, right. So it felt important. And later, they were out [in LA] when I made Fun House. The Stooges stayed at the Tropicana where Joanie Jett and Tom Waits used to stay there. We were there making Fun House, and Warhol and [Paul] Morrissey were there making a movie called Heat, so they were all running around the place. And the Manson thing had happened about eight months before, so Ed Sanders from The Fugs, the band called The Fugs, which were an influence on me visually, he was there writing a book called The Family. So it was really a tense, and I was wearing a dog collar. He would say, “You don’t know what that means, do you?” Still don’t know what it means, you know?! But The Fugs influenced me, because they came to Ann Arbor to play The Armory and the most out there Fug was this guy, sort of the typical raving long haired Rasputin Jew type of guy named Tuli Kupferberg. And Tuli’s act was like… the rest of the guys would play the instruments and stuff, and Tuli Kupferberg? He was a poet!
LU: That’s a great hotel pseudonym.
IP: Yeah, right. A Lower East Side poet, with the long hair and everything. Looked like Tiny Tim. And he comes on the stage with a big, big duffel bag. And he comes on, at first he’s in a military uniform with a little toy gun and then as, he’s just singing and as the set goes on he reaches into the bag to change costumes right in front of you, right? But that was genius, you know what I mean? I thought, “Wow, that’s so great, he’s putting on a show.” So a lot of people were trying a lot of strange things in the late ’60s, “Well, what about this? Well, what about that?” It was kinda like that.
LU: Forwarding one decade, did you ever meet Basquiat?
IP: Okay. I did meet Basquiat. Here’s how I met Basquiat. I was at a dinner with David Bowie and about twelve other people at a place called Nirvana, which was on the top, penthouse floor of a skyscraper in Times Square. Somebody had gotten permission and they built right there in Times Square where 7th and Broadway scissor. And we’re sitting there, it’s one of these hip dinners where everything’s so dark you can’t see the food, and you know, irritating music is playing, right? And I’m just sitting there hoping I could get through this, go home, and do something I really want to do (it’s something to do with art business or something). And over my left shoulder, suddenly a large black man sticks a very large baggie of weed in front of me, opens the weed, and dumps it all on my plate…
LU: Meet Jean-Michel Basquiat!
IP: Yeah, right. And I said, “Well, be cool, man.” And I didn’t talk to him or anything.
LU: So was it early? Was it ’81, ’82 or was it later towards like ’86, ’87, ’88?
IP: I think it was a little later… I think he was lurching a little that night. But I sure do like his stuff, you know, the stuff he did and I used to see SAMO all over New York.
LU: Sure. Of course, in the late ’70s.
IP: His little tag, yeah. But that was my encounter anyway.
LU: Interesting. Listen, that’s a great encounter. Maybe it was better that nothing else happened other than that!
IP: Gave me a gift, you know?!
LU: If words were exchanged after that it probably would’ve gone downhill, so that’s a great story.
IP: Yeah, [smiling] I kept the weed.
LU: Right. That will happen.
IP: I wasn’t gonna smoke in there, you know.
SC: Yeah, I’ve got a quick geek question to slide in about Fun House, Iggy. You mentioned the environment in LA at the time, with the Manson thing going on and all that. Was the album fueled by that immediate energy? I mean it’s a very dangerous and very scary record.
IP: The writing on the record was absolutely 200% pure Michigan, but the delivery, when we took it out there to LA and all those people were around… You know, just the whole thing and I’d never seen the ocean. You’d go to the liquor store and you’d see Paul Revere & the Raiders. And I’d try to cross the street and John Wayne would curse at me. He said, “Goddamn it!” He was coming down, walking down Santa Monica – it’s in the movie, that’s where I told Jim [Jarmusch, director of the Stooges film Gimme Danger – ED] about this. I was walking down Santa Monica and he came barreling down Westmont in a black Caddy convertible and nearly hit me. “Goddamn it!” RRRRRMMMMMM! And The Cockettes were up there and the Warhol people; in those days it was typical to make a record and [say], “Well, okay, you boys have five days in the studio and then on the weekend you’ll play a club to help pay for the record.” So we played The Whiskey and the Warhol people all came and sat as far away as possible so I wouldn’t do anything, you know?! But yeah, the atmosphere affected the delivery of the record because I was on fire, I was, like, “Okay, okay, I’ll show you.” That sort of thing. “I’ll show you people!!!”
SC: I’m interested for both of you whether geography affects the writing that each of you has done over the years. How does geography affect the work that you’ve each created over the years?
LU: I think the great thing is, most of the records we’ve made, and most of the writing that we’ve done, was always outside of LA and New York, so we never got sucked into…
IP: That’s really important.
LU: Yeah, we never got sucked into the “scene.” There were never record company guys down at the sessions. You know, “Okay, boys, try this, try that.” Making a few records in Denmark, making records in San Francisco, writing in San Francisco, we always felt very autonomous. We always felt like we were in our own little world and that we could always continue to be a kind of contrary, off-in-our-own-little- universe type of a thing. I can only imagine what it was like in Berlin in the ’70s.
IP: Autonomous vibe, same thing.
LU: For us, we always preferred to be left alone and to be out of all that hoopla? You know?
IP: It was in the ’80s and somebody gave me, I think did you maybe have a CD single of “Seek and Destroy” or was it a cassette?
LU: Yeah, we definitely did singles.
IP: Somebody gave me “Seek and Destroy” and I remember I was on East River Drive, stuck in traffic in a limousine going somewhere, and I put it on. “What’s it called? ‘Seek and Destroy.’ Okay!” …and the first thing that struck me was, “This is like a kid mix.” Because the guitar’s really, really loud. You can’t usually get away with that shit, you know what I mean? They’ll say, “No, no, no – now, there could be a little drums here and a little tinkle over there and a bass.” But no! This was frum-frum-frum-frum-frum-frum-frum. And I thought, “Yeah, sa-ra-ra destroys!”
LU: That’s right!
IP: And that might not have happened if you’d been at Sigma Sound or something. It would’ve been harder.
LU: Yeah… listen. We loved being in LA and we loved being in New York, but we always had an out. It was like, ‘you go in, and you do the damage and you’re leaving on Thursday.’ I’ve always associated New York and LA with shorter spurts of time.
IP: That’s exactly how I feel.
LU: You can see the end before you start. This whole thing about being “immersed in those scenes,” at least creatively, would not function for us, you know what I mean?
IP: Those are “them” places.
LU: Exactly. And that’s why I live in San Francisco. You live in Miami. How long have you been down in Miami?
IP: Twenty years. I did time in New York and LA, I had to straighten up and be pro… and I hated it but I did it, and I did the best I could with it. But we usually make the best records somewhere else.
There is a mutual agreement that it is time to wrap up a conversation which could have longer legs but which has already been a good one. I forgot, however, that despite the formal interview having ended, the recorder was still running as Iggy and Lars discussed the (then) potential Metallica/Iggy jam at Foro Sol Stadium the following day. It’s a cool anecdotal end to what was an epic conversation.
IP: If you want to do a song tomorrow, “TV Eye” would be the one.
LU: Great. I already talked to the fellas and everybody’s into it. If you’re in, let’s do it.
IP: I’ll do it, yeah. All right.
LU: Fuck, yeah. Do you have a particular version that you want us to learn?
IP: It would be the version on a record called Fun House.
LU: Sometimes it’s a live arrangement…
IP: No. What’s good is the way it is on the record, it’s simply this. It’s this riff…
LU: Kirk already started playing it yesterday.
IP: And then I start. I sing a verse and then I leave a space. I sing a second and I leave a space. I sing a third verse, which is a little heavier, leave a space, and then it’s free form instrumental. You could riff off the riff, or you could take it anywhere you want it to go, and then in the record it finally just comes out dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum. So if you did that, you could either just take it and stop, or I could join you. But anyway, just to get it, just take it anywhere, get it and stop, and then it comes back in with just a guitar doing the riff and singing with a slamming drum beat. Something basically like that, and I can follow it.
LU: We have a room upstairs, a little rehearsal room, where we go in and warm up whatever songs we’re playing that night that we haven’t played for a while. So, if you have time in your schedule, or if you want when you get offstage, if you want to come up and we run it once.
IP: Offstage if that’s okay with you.
LU: Yeah, after you’re done playing, come up and we’ll run it.
IP: Yes. I’ll come straight up.
LU: It’s great.
IP: Fucking cool.
LU: Great! So I’ll tell the boys.
IP: Any way you want to do it. You’ll see, it can be any way. It’s just basically a blues chant.
LU: And you prefer straight E tuning, a half step down?
IP: It could be anywhere you want to. Yeah. Yeah.
LU: So then, I think the best slot in our set would be the first song in the encore.
IP: OK, cool.
LU: So that’s about-
IP: That’ll be easy for everybody, right?
LU: It’s about an hour & forty-five in.
IP: Great. All right, cool man. Hey, it’s been fun, eh?
LU: This was awesome.
IP: I had a nice time.