2016 No. 1s: Iggy Pop on Working With Josh Homme: 'I Was Looking to Do a No. 1 Album'

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Miller Mobley
Iggy Pop photographed on Oct. 28 at Café Carlyle in New York.

Post Pop Depression -- Top Rock Albums (1 week)


On the Billboard 200 chart dated April 9, some 50-plus years into his career, Iggy Pop -- aka James Osterberg, 69, co-founder of The Stooges, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and one of the most influential and unpredictable performers of the rock era -- reached a new milestone: his first-ever No. 1 album in his home country. Billboard caught up with Pop at Manhattan’s Café Carlyle to talk about that album -- Post Pop Depression, a collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme -- the tour in support of it and just how wild he can (or can’t) get offstage.

What did you do to celebrate your first No. 1?
I went on tour! Every night I had a very good red wine and a bottle of champagne; the booking was too damn hectic to do anything else. I think we were in Portland, Oregon [when he heard the album would be No. 1]. We did go out to eat, and I think this little tyke from England, [Island Records singer-songwriter] Jake Bugg, came along. He’s a nice kid.

Did you and Homme know each other before you started work on this album?
The first time we met was at a Creem magazine awards dinner -- he and I and Marilyn Manson were asked to form a daisy chain for the cover, so I met him in a kind of a comedic embrace at that session. And we had [jammed] together a couple of times on the road.

Whose idea was it to collaborate?
I was looking to do something that could be a No. 1 album. I like doing radical things too, but that wasn’t what I was looking for this time. So I called him -- he didn’t answer his phone for three days, so I texted. (Laughs)

You guys made the album in secrecy and financed it yourself. Was that the plan all along?
The self-financed part we both took for granted right off -- that's the only way to make something good, especially now. If you take money from a recording organization you will be algorithmically studied by the bankers who own the logo and they will give their people very severe parameters for what you're allowed to do -- and, wow, do they want their money. So that's not a very warm way to approach a record. 

And the secrecy was his insistence. I never would've thought of that but it was a great idea, not only because it kept it fresh, a little bit of a surprise instead of something you've heard about ad infinitum, but it created a nice tension for the people making the record -- "We've got a secret here!"

Homme has described the album as a kind of successor to The Idiot and Lust for Life, the albums you made with David Bowie in the 1970s. Your tour setlist consisted almost completely songs from them and the new album. Was it hard playing those songs every night, with Bowie having died so recently?
No. But we had a [first tour] rehearsal in L.A. scheduled for the morning of the day that the news broke that David had passed away. My wife woke me up at 3:30 a.m. and told me, and I didn't… I was numb anyway, it was 3:30 in the morning. But we did the rehearsal anyway and it was the first time I'd heard [the band] play those songs. The best way I can put it is, there are certain guitar parts or certain vocal harmonies -- especially the guitar parts, for some reason -- that he wrote. I had always heard them before as music, but in this instance I didn't -- I heard them as something done by this person who I knew well. And so it was very ... [pauses]. I really can't go beyond that. 

Many people have said it was your wildest tour in years. Was there much carousing?
Josh and [bassist Matt] Sweeney were the ones that would go out all night. I was just like, “Look, I need to go to bed, guys.” Those days are over for me. I only stay out late if the gig is late. I need my rest the next day or I can’t function.

How come you didn't play any Stooges songs on the tour? 
[Homme] didn’t want to touch that on this tour and neither did I. He didn't want to be, as he put it, the guy in the band that did a version of a Stooges song that was almost as good. (Laughs)

I've been doing the Stooges for 12 years -- I got the group up to where it needed to be, it got its [overdue] recognition, everyone was well taken care of financially, the records are all re-released and selling and being licensed and streaming. The group was very, very successful. 

How involved were you in Jim Jarmusch's Stooges documentary, Gimme Danger?
All I did was talk about the old stuff and then they built visuals around the things I said. It took years before anything happened. Every six months I'd say "How is the film coming?" "Well, I got this other film to make." And then one day he called and said he wanted to come down to Miami with a crew and interview me. It was ten hours the first day [laughing], but I think that made it really more intense and all. And about four or five hours the second day. 

Ten hours of being interviewed sounds excruciating.
I guess there was a lot of stuff I had to get off my chest and articulate.

Iggy Pop explains why Post Pop Depression might be the last full album he ever releases.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of Billboard.

Billboard Year in Music 2016

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