“I remember playing one night and looking up from my guitar and going, ‘Uh-oh, where’d he go?’ I followed the crowd’s eyes and looked up to see Iggy [Pop] climbing the P.A. tower more than 25 feet off the ground. That is the fun of the whole thing, I enjoy watching it because every night is different,” said Ron Asheton, legendary guitarist for punk rock icons The Stooges, when he sat down with Listen Up Denver! hot on the heels of The Stooges first-ever SxSW appearance. He talked about his band’s recent album, The Weirdness, and even gave us some insight into the weirdness that is Iggy Pop.
“If anything, Iggy’s stage show now is better than it was back in the day because he is more in control of himself. He is still full of his trademark spontaneity and we never know what he is going to do,” Asheton said. “Even I have to stay on my toes. I was hit by the microphone stand at least 4 times last year, I just can’t always watch what he’s doing up there. Just this week, I’ve had the mic stand fly right in front of my face and I’ve nearly been hit by the cord as he whips it around the stage. It gets pretty dangerous up there and I don’t even get hazard pay for it!” Pop, heralded by some to be the inventor of the “Stage Dive,” hasn’t lost the passion for his creation and, though he is pushing 60 years old, still hurls himself into the crowd on a regular basis. “I love looking at the faces in the audience when he dives in there or when he is close to them. They are just awestruck,” said Asheton. “The music is driving and everything is really rocking and then he is just right in your face, it’s awesome!”
While he was quick to state that he didn’t want to “blow the Iggy myth,” he felt he had to be honest about the fact that Pop isn’t the wild man off the stage that he used to be and they are all having a much better time because of it. “After a show he might have a glass of wine or something, but even two glasses is a big night out for him these days. All the days of drugs and crazy drinking are gone for him and he even stopped smoking cigarettes 10 years ago,” said Asheton.
The lack of drama, coupled with the wild stage show that fans expect, have helped The Stooges to realize a popularity that they never were able to achieve in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when they last recorded and toured together.
Asheton described The Stooges current operation as “a well-oiled machine,” and went on to say that “everyone on the crew is great and we all love getting together and seeing each other. It is really just a hell of a lot of fun for all of us right now.”
Asheton and his brother Scott (drums) reunited with Pop nearly four years ago when they agreed to appear on Pop’s album Skull Ring. The group hit their stride quickly and was soon doing shows as The Stooges for the first time since 1974. With the drugs and bad blood behind them, their focus turned toward making new music.
“When we weren’t playing shows we would take time out and get together and write songs. By the time we got into the studio to record The Weirdness, we had 42 new songs to choose from,” Asheton said. “We were really very well prepared to record this album. I think the most we did was five takes of a song.”
The Weirdness was produced and recorded by influential audio engineer Steve Albini in his studio just outside of Chicago. “Every day we went into the studio we did two songs and we did them live. Drums, bass, guitar and Iggy’s vocals were all recorded live,” Asheton remembered. “I hate playing the tracks without vocals; I really just don’t get my teeth into them. When my brother and I first asked Iggy to sing live with us he said, ‘Well, you know, maybe I will try to save my voice and do some to keep, but maybe I’ll talk through some also.’ It wound up working so well that he just did them all live and we were able to keep about 95 percent of the vocals he did during those sessions.”
In what was probably the biggest change in the recording process since The Stooges last recorded an album together, Albini was able to do rough mixes of the day’s takes before the band even left the studio in the evening. “Everyday when we walked out of there we had two songs that we could listen to in the van on the way back into the city,” Asheton said. “I remember back in the ’60s recording a track and not getting to hear anything for weeks or even months after the sessions were over.”
Now that the sessions are over and the album is on the street, the band is running themselves ragged on the promotional circuit. TV shows in France, a private live taping for an April Yahoo! broadcast, the upcoming U.S. Tour and, of course, the appearance at SxSW, where they played two shows and did countless hours of interviews.
“The coolest thing about SxSW was that we were doing an interview with Steve Jones on his radio show and Pete Townshend showed up. We got to meet Pete Townshend,” Asheton beamed. “He sat down and talked with us for a while and he had nothing but good things to say about our band. It was really a lot of fun.”
While meeting Townshend was a highlight for Asheton and the band, there were a couple of highlights for Stooges fans who made it to Austin. A festival-headlining set at Stubb’s Bar-B-Que was preceded by a rare in-store performance by the band. “We played at Waterloo Records on this tiny little stage and so many people showed up that the police had to come and chase people away,” Asheton said.
While they have been back together since 2003, The Stooges have shyed away from playing a full tour of the United States until this spring. “We have been getting warmed up for the U.S. dates by playing all over the world. We want to be well oiled when we hit the States,” said Asheton. “The crowds everywhere have been great. They know the words to the songs, and even sing along to some of the new songs and that is what really kicks us up a notch as a band. When the crowd is going, we get going even harder.”
Check Out Iggy and The Stooges if You Like:
– The Ramones
– Black Flag