Iggy Pop: ”I’ve always had an impulse to get rid of my clothes”The godfather of punk on conquering doubt, collaboration as the key to currency – and what the pharaohs taught him
Things don’t get any more rock ’n’ roll than this. Iggy Pop is credited as being the first-ever punk; the man who, in 1970, invented stage diving.
The incendiary albums he recorded with The Stooges are seen as milestones in rock history, and his work with other artists, including David Bowie, Balkan composer Goran Bregović and pop princess Kesha, has cemented his status as one of music’s most versatile and vital stars.
Here, the 69-year-old explains that it’s precisely this creative exchange with other musicians that keeps his body fit and his mind inquisitive.
THE RED BULLETIN: You’re one of the rare few artists in the history of music with whom, it seems, everyone wants to work. How did you get to this stage?
IGGY POP: Like a lot of other artists, I was unsure of my own abilities early in my career.
Success through insecurity? Tell us how that works…
As a young artist, you throw yourself into all sorts of insecure situations and that’s how you grow, through the import of other people and through failure and rejection. You get together with other musicians. You can conceal your insecurity when you work with other people.
And do you become a better musician by concealing your shortcomings, whether they’re imagined or not?
You learn to think in new ways, and you’re forced to experiment. That’s the key to success. It’s only when you have a broad range of knowledge that you become a master of your art. Yes, it’s a rocky road and you’ll fall flat on your face along the way…
Hold on a minute… what happened when Iggy Pop fell flat on his face?
Early in my career, people used to throw pennies at me. And I’d guess that no other artist got spat at as much as I did in those early years with The Stooges.
The definitive Iggy Pop playlist for your listening pleasure
How come you didn’t give up on music?
My motto has always been: “Get out of bed and confront life!” That’s still the case now. You have to challenge yourself.
You have to develop. So I’m always ready to jump into the fire with anybody I think is good, and I think that’s the best thing that happens to anybody.
How come you still most enjoy collaborating with others? Surely you’ve overcome any self-doubt?
I don’t really go out and plan these things; I’m just kind of a free spirit. But you have to be careful, because as soon as you begin to succeed, the tendency is to become isolated and surround yourself with people who agree with you, and that leads to creative block. That’s a catastrophe!
How do you find the ideal partner to inspire you?
Most of the time, I’ve met my best partners by chance. A few years back, I was stuck in a van full of journalists on the way to an alternative awards ceremony – something I never want to experience again…
How sweet of you to say so!
Ha! But it turned out to be a useful trip, because one of them told me to check out this new singer called Peaches. I did, and I was blown away by her energy and attitude. Not long after that, we were in a recording studio together.
How did she inspire you?
Peaches introduced me to a whole new music scene. She introduced me to great bands I’d never heard of before, like Le Tigre. Collaboration is also a learning process, which is very important. You learn not only about the people you’re working with, but about their scene, too. To be effective as an artist, you need to know about the different spheres and how they can help you.
How do you break the ice with a new collaborator?
Not the way Madonna or Kesha do it: they turned up to the first meeting with camera crews. I’m old school; I would never do something like that. But to Kesha’s generation it’s probably perfectly normal.
While we’re on the subject of Kesha, she later raved about how you were topless in the recording studio…
That’s true. [Laughs.] I think I‘ve always had an impulse to get rid of my clothes. I feel lost in a shirt. I work best when there are less things in my way. The pharaohs always went topless, too! I’ve always thought that looks about right – I don’t know why.
You recorded your most recent album, Post Pop Depression, with Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age. What was it that attracted you to him?
I think there’s nobody else out there in current rock music who can do what Josh can do. There’s nobody who can sing, write, play or lead a band like that guy. And I’m forever in his debt for giving me a chance to brush up on what the f–k is going on now in music. Otherwise you turn into a total geezer.
Homme says you hinted this album could be your last…
You know, I’ve been putting myself out there a lot since I hit 60. I think it’d be a good idea if I just shut the f–k up for a while.
Was your last project a case of you shaping up for that?
What do you mean?
You recently posed nude and in total silence for art students in New York…
Oh yes, I enjoyed that a lot. But it was so hard to sit still for four hours.
What goes through your head as 20 students sit and stare at your penis?
I replayed my own songs in my head to mark the time, because I know how long each one is. So if I had to sit in one pose for 20 minutes, I’d do 1969, The Passenger, Bang Bang and Nazi Girlfriend. And when I got to the end of the last one, the bell was going to ring in a minute. Just to clear my head of extraneous thoughts, it worked pretty well.
Would you recommend the experience?
Absolutely. It was liberating to be able to stand naked in front of other members of the human race who were going to regard you seriously. Those things help me to stay human.