Iggy Pop: "Once you’re my age, every day has to carry some risk"

Iggy Pop onstage
(Image credit: Vincent Guignet)

Following on from 2019’s jazz-leaning and contemplative album Free, tireless, shirtless ‘grandfather of punk’ Iggy Pop returns to the full-tilt rock arena in style with Every Loser. 

Produced by Andrew Watt and featuring such A-list talents as Chad Smith, Duff McKagan, Stone Gossard, Dave Navarro, Travis Barker, Taylor Hawkins, Josh Klinghoffer and Eric Avery, it’s an album that captures the former Stooges firebrand in vintage four-letter form. Even though habitual stage diving is finally off the menu. 


How did you come to work with Andrew Watt? 

I got a message from Morrissey asking if I’d mumble along with a track. So he sent the track, which I really liked, and he mentioned he was working with an extraordinary producer. 

When I first spoke with Andrew, before working on anything, he said: “Are you ready to be yourself?” Which demands the question: “Which one?” But I knew what he meant. So then he sent me some tracks that he’d pretty much created on the spot with Chad, Duff and Josh, and then later with some other people. So that’s how we started out. 

Stone Gossard, Dave Navarro, Travis Barker and Taylor Hawkins also feature on the album

This was all Andrew’s doing, but I’ve known Duff since he was in his early twenties. Both he and Slash worked on [Iggy’s 1990 album] Brick By Brick. I used to go over to Duff’s house – at the time he was trying to decide between the Playboy model he was dating and the weather girl – and rehearse. One time Slash was three hours late because, he said, “I’m sorry but my snake escaped into the wall.” 

Before we set to work they said: “We’ll have to have a discussion before we start.” So they arrived with a gallon of vodka and a bowl of blow and, as a result of living through that, I got to know them pretty well.

Chad’s from Detroit, so as a little kid he liked the Stooges’ music, and I jammed with him when Dave [Navarro] was on guitar with the Peppers. Dave and Eric Avery I’ve known from when they were really little kids. They’d just started Jane’s Addiction, didn’t have a record out, but they played at a semi-legal club called Scream that was owned by a friend of mine. They were like: “Can you help us out?” So Itook them on their first tour and they absolutely destroyed me every night. So I knew a lot of the guys, and that helped. I wasn’t just some guy they saw in a magazine.

Every Loser’s lead single, Frenzy, could probably break into the mainstream but for a chorus that kicks off with: ‘I’m in a frenzy, you fucking prick.’ 

Well, I’m not the kind of fucking prick who gives a flying fuck about that stuff. I had a very similar argument with a very, very famous, very mainstream guitar player I did something with – maybe just on a dare – that I called I Need A Fuck. He was going: “If you change the lyrics it could get on the radio.” And I said: “There is no radio anyway, and if there is nobody cares.” 

It’s important to me that when I do something, my bit has got to top off the energy and feeling of what the song is. If I’d sung something with a commercial strategy in mind, especially given my vocal limitations – I’m not one who can trill in four octaves – it would’ve been a very tame and lame track indeed. So given the kind of strange person I am, I had to do the cursing to get myself to the door to do the job. For what I had in mind, those were the right words. The words regular people would use.

You’re clearly very fond of the word ‘fuck’ and always have been. I remember the first time I heard Metallic KO and you launched into Cock In My Pocket with the count-off “One-two-fuck you pricks!” It’s absolutely Olympic-standard swearing

Well thank you very much. It’s also very well phrased. All the technical aspects, phrasing and breathing, are totally correct for that type of vocal. 

Was swearing an Osterberg family tradition? 

No, I’m the freak terrible one in the family. My parents were exemplary: no swearing, no drinking, no smoking, no nothing… Wonderful people. But that was them doing what they had to do, and I had to do what I had to do. 

When you were at your most out-there, the latter days of The Stooges, dealing with various addictions, did you go home for Christmas dinner, carve the Thanksgiving turkey, and if so, how did that work for you? 

More or less. Maybe not during the roughest times. But if I was playing in the Detroit area I’d make sure I’d visit my parents if there was time or if not, invite them backstage. When I did The Idiot tour with Bowie, he wanted to see the trailer park and our trailer, so he visited with my mom and dad for a while. As I got straighter I started doing that a lot more. I’d literally do Thanksgiving and Christmas and all that, right up until the time my mother passed away, and after that I did the same thing with my dad. 

Strung Out Johnny on the new album addresses addiction. What were you looking for when you started using narcotics? 

There were several different things that it seemed to do for me at different times. First, it seemed to be necessary for me to at least smoke dope if I was ever going to hang out with The Stooges, to get them to talk about anything. Then later, cocaine became a big social thing in Detroit around 1970. Everybody was doing it. I had a little sniff and thought it’s not for me, it’s not what I do well, but I was already into it by then… 

Other times, with psychedelics or dope, you can just be looking for an escape from the humdrum dictated to everybody as our existence, or from when things aren’t going well. Especially with heroin. It’s an escape from feeling lousy. Then, of course, as I mention in the song: ‘phase three, you can’t get enough’. Then sometimes you can use drugs to get inside the piece of work you’re trying to put together. Then you get a diminishing return, a larger and larger bill, until – if you don’t have some sort of pause and pull out – you’re destroyed.

Another album stand-out is Neo Punk, with Travis Barker operating at full-tilt. Tell us more about that lyric – who’s the protagonist? 

He’s a wonderful composite, a punk Frankenstein I created with little bits of Lil Pump, Blink 182, Justin Bieber when he eggs his neighbours, Machine Gun Kelly, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. He’s more worldly than I ever was, immediately making dough, having success and thinking: “Wow, this is pretty good.” Sometimes he’s on a TV talent show: “I’m a punk singer.” That’s his genre. Which would have been unheard of a little while ago. 

He has lots of old fans too. Because the population’s ageing, old ladies like him. Basically he’s like Jon Voight’s character in Midnight Cowboy: “Hey, wow, this punk thing is pretty great. I’ve only been working in it for two weeks and I’ve already got dough, chicks, jewellery, I’m dating a porn star… I’m a celebrity.” Which seems to be the desirable status. 

Can we expect your touring band to feature some of the guys who played on Every Loser when you play Crystal Palace next July? 

Not for that gig, unless… If any of them are in the vicinity they’re always welcome to hang, but I have crack live band – four French, three American – who play everything I do really well with a whole lot of passion. There will be some gigs with the album’s core band, but I just can’t talk about it. 

Blondie are supporting. You guys go back a long way

Yeah, I took them on their first tour, chose them from a big stack of records. I didn’t want somebody who sounded too similar to what we were going to do, and they had a great New Jersey amusement park sensibility. And I liked her boots. 

Your Post Pop Depression show at the Royal Albert Hall was such a triumphant occasion. If you were going to direct an Iggy biopic you could do worse than end on a freeze-frame from that night. At the tour’s conclusion were you tempted to say: “I’m done, that’s enough of that kind of visceral, blood and guts, stage-diving show” and totally reinvent who you are as a live entity? 

Well, I didn’t do any stage dives last year as such. I was still doing them through 2019, then when I came back after the world break I did a couple of stage falls. But now stage diving itself is not in the cards for me. I don’t have to confront anybody any more. They’re going fucking bonkers for the music. They know the words, sing along or just listen closely and watch. They’re accepting it. 

And it’s really important to me. It’s the only big thing that’s happened in my whole life, period. So I’m going for broke, in my own way, at every show. I try really hard to make sure my attention is really, really focused, so I can give it all I’ve got. That’s what’s important now… I don’t have to jump up and down, but I can if I want.

When you’re playing live next summer, the mathematics tell me you’ll be seventy-six.

Once you’re my age, unless you’re inactive, every day has to carry some risk, but I try to make sure that part of every day is a holiday too. I go to great lengths to be good to my body: I go to bed early, I don’t drink too terribly much, and when I do it’s always with food, I try to travel well and live well. You use what you have to use to get the job done. 

How’s your live-in Moluccan cockatoo-cum-Instagram sensation, Biggy Pop? 

He’s fine. He’s the apple of his mother’s eye and I’m his playmate-cum-camp counsellor. My job’s to play with him and to tolerate his noisy and demanding personality. He’s a really beautiful creature. Birds are fascinating, and you have to take a lot of time, patience and focus to communicate with them. They don’t give the same clues to what they’re feeling as people, or even dogs, but they’re feeling a whole lot. They’re very social animals, so don’t get one unless you’re willing to be its slave. 

The Stooges are in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and you’re the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. Where did it all go so right? 

Things changed and society met me halfway. The Grammys kept wanting to talk to me on the phone and I kept telling my manager: “I don’t want to talk to them. I hate those people. They want me to be an exhibit in their museum or something.” Then when I finally spoke to the lady from the Grammys a couple of months later she said: “We’re giving you the lifetime achievement. Without you there’s no Lil Nas X and there’s no Billie Eilish.”

According to her, “You’re a direct link to the artists that are at the top of our awards list this year.” So that’s what one person had to say, and I’ll take that for what it’s worth. 

Any regrets? 

Personal ones. I wouldn’t share them. Look, when there are times that things don’t go well enough so you feel good about things, you have to say: “Let’s look at my skill level. Life is a great experience, but also requires gamesmanship. You have to play, so let’s look at my skill level and try to improve it in the future instead of moping.” That’s what I try to do, I see if I can try a little better all the time. 

Would you recommend a life in rock’n’roll to a young man who’s looking for career advice? 

Well, if it was actually rock’n’roll, I’d recommend it until you’re thirty, and then you can… Little Richard sold Bibles, Jerry Lee Lewis did some country, there are various things you could do. A steady diet of anything is maybe not the best idea. 

Everything in moderation, eh, Iggy? 

I try.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.