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ShortList meets rock’s greatest lunatic Iggy Pop

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Hamish MacBain
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Iggy Pop has enlisted Josh Homme and Matt Helders to work on his 17th (and final?) studio album. ShortList’s Hamish MacBain joins them in New York 

The name of the new Iggy Pop album is Post Pop Depression. This title originates from a phrase conjured up by Queens Of The Stone Age/sometime Dead Weather member Dean Fertita – recruited by QOTSA leader Josh Homme, alongside Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, to make the record – to describe how he felt once it was completed and his time working with the planet’s greatest living rock star was over.

Now, after a morning spent in the company of Iggy Pop, I have to say I know how he feels. Because Iggy Pop is simply outrageously good company: genial, super-intelligent, very, very witty and as up and inspired as he has been in years. Rightly so, as the 17th Iggy Pop album can sit alongside his finest work. And that, obviously, is no mean feat.

Sitting in a New York hotel suite with Josh Homme – still buzzing about his role as the principal architect of this project – Iggy is describing the package he FedExed to Homme back in 2014, with the intention of getting the ball rolling. In it was: a detailed description of how his classic, Bowie-produced Berlin period albums The Idiot and Lust For Life were made; an accompanying piece, “sort of in the style of the scene where Sam Jackson and Travolta are going down the street talking about the Royale with cheese”, that he called ‘German Trivia’ (“They have something in German called a schwanzdreger – literally a tail dragger – and it means ‘womaniser’!”); then some pages of poetry, about things such as Iggy’s obsession with chairs (“I have 34. I’ve had them longer than any of my human friends. So I make a habit of sitting in each one once a day”); and finally “vignettes of sexual encounters I can remember”.

 It was about my night with a Harvard PhD, in a pink mini skirt, who was on LSD…” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

“One of those that I didn’t send you,” Iggy says, memory tweaked, addressing Homme now, “was called ‘Stella’. It was about my night with a Harvard PhD, in a pink mini skirt, who was on LSD…” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

“It was one of those old hotels in Chicago, where the door was this thick [indicates an extremely thick door]. She got a little too wild on her way out of the room, and she slammed it on her finger. Lost the last joint. So now [again addressing Homme], you’d know: what do you do?” 

Homme waits for the answer to this rhetorical question.

“You call the bass player!” Pop grins, rising to a giggle. “Admit it, that’s what you do! Tour manager? Too heavy. But the bass player’s always the guy in the band who kind of takes care of people, the sensible, OK kind of guy.”

“So anyway,” he continues, “it was all stuff like that in there.”

WAITING ON A HERO

Homme, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn, was a huge Iggy Pop and Stooges fan long before he was receiving parcels from him. “When I heard that stuff, it changed everything for me,” he says. “It’s like, if you like that, you’re part of a club. And it ain’t your parents’ club. It’s the counterculture of the counterculture.”

Pop, for his part, recalls a mid-Noughties festival in Italy at which both QOTSA and the Stooges were playing. Both bands got less-than-enthusiastic receptions from the crowd (Homme: “They were yelling, ‘LINKIN PARK!’ during both our sets!”), but it made a significant impression on Iggy. “They played, and I was sh*tting,” he remembers. “I did not want to follow them, it was too good. All I could do, I went over to their dressing room and said, ‘IT’STOOF*CKIN’GOOD!’ and then I slammed the door, and left.”

Homme: “We were all like, ‘Sh*t. Wait… that’s good, right?’”

It was good. It took time, but Homme’s phone pinged a couple of years ago with a text (“I thought someone was pulling a prank for the first couple of minutes,” he says). Some back and forth ensued, some long conversations were had, and the aforementioned package was sent. Josh called Arctic Monkey Helders (“I was like, ‘Yeah, fine… please!’”), and bandmate Fertita (“I just had this white flash in front of my eyes, like, I can’t even believe I’m hearing this”), and after some more time Iggy Pop – having bought his own plane ticket – turned up at Josh Homme’s Joshua Tree residential studio in the desert, holdall in hand, and work began.

This is not goodbye,” he says. “This is: ‘Hello, motherf*cker!

It didn’t take long. The nine songs on the album were completed in two sessions of about 10 to 12 days each, beginning with the sultry, ominous Break Into Your Heart and ending with the slow build into a climatic explosion of Paraguay, which finds Pop freestyling about “the concept of taking a laptop, and then it’s going down in your body through your gizzard. And then you’re gonna digest it and sh*t it out.”

The three non-Iggy members of this troupe all confess to being intimidated by the prospect of working with such a hero, but this was overcome by all of them waking up together, eating breakfast together, walking over to the studio together, walking back to dinner together, and watching DVDs together. Just like a proper gang. “There was this trust and comfort going into it,” notes Helders. “I think if we had shown up and just started playing right away it would have been different.”

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Iggy went to Homme's studio in Joshua Tree to record the album

And that, for ages, was that. Homme did some mastering, and they sat on it. No one else other than the four of them knew about this very, very special record they had created. Incredible really, in this day and age. “It was wonderful to have this thing that people didn’t know about,” Homme says. “Because people will know, but to hold on to it for a while was amazing. At one point, Iggy said, ‘Maybe this just shouldn’t come out at all.’ And I thought… OK!”

Pop: “I don’t look forward to the accountants, lawyers, managers, the dude from the record company, the critic and the f*cking… just all that. It’s like, ‘F*ck you all, I don’t want you to hear it!’”

Fortunately, Iggy Pop is grinning when he says this, like he knows that really, the world had to hear Post Pop Depression. There has been talk – from him – that it might be his last album. And if so, then it’s one hell of a sign-off. But Homme has a far better way of putting it.

“This is not goodbye,” he says. “This is: ‘Hello, motherf*cker!’” 

POP BACK TO LIFE

It’s not difficult to see why this relationship has borne such fruit. For all that Homme is clearly a long-time superfan, the feeling is reciprocated. “I think Josh’s talent is such as a musician that he could play with Stevie Wonder,” Iggy Pop says. “And if he wants to play with Led Zeppelin, he can do that too.”

But watching these two men today laughing away at each other’s stories, it’s clear that this is a bond born out of much more than just a mutual appreciation. It’s based around more, even, that what Homme describes as a shared love of “primitivism, mixed with a love of cabaret, drama and the stark utilitarianism of Germany”. It’s that they are both still in love with the idea of diving into the unknown, and seeing what happens. “Most people, once they hit 60 and they’ve got some bucks,” says Iggy, “are not gonna put themselves in this situation, where you’re testing yourself and you’re not sure if you can handle it. But with this, I kind of wanted to see what I could do. I wanted to prove something to myself.”

“People build up their walls to protect themselves and keep themselves in,” says Homme, “But Iggy is more like ‘Let’s go for it!’

And that is the actual definition of being wise. He is one of the king risk-takers of all time. And as someone else who likes to take risks, I know that if you risk nothing you’ll get nothing. Playing it safe equals death. So there’s no reason not to throw yourself off the cliff.”

Josh Homme and Iggy Pop look at each other, risks now taken, risks having paid off in style. And then they start laughing.

Post Pop Depression is out 18 March