The Weirdness rolls as the Stooges return
By ELIE ADELMAN
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
"Haugh!," Iggy shouts, and then the first Stooges album in 34 years (or 37, depending on whom you ask) starts: The Weirdness.
There are two ways one could approach listening to this album. One way is as the follow up to Fun House, making The Weirdness an album by a band trying to break the same sonic boundaries they completely destroyed oh so long ago. Here is the second approach: listening to an album made by some old friends who got together after a long time to make some music.
Whoever expects the former is going to by highly disappointed for several reasons, the simplest being that since Fun House was first released in 1970, there has never been an album quite like it. In that year, at that place, with those five musicians (including saxophonist Steven Mackay) and seven songs, the Stooges simply got it right. And, for me at least, no album since then has been quite as right as that colossal masterpiece. Given those grounds, there is no reason why even the Stooges should be able to achieve that accomplishment twice.
Instead, they opted for the alternative route: to sit down, write some songs and see what happens. And what happened was The Weirdness, a 12-song album of pure Rock 'N' Roll.
Is it great? Will it be remembered for years to come? Can it stand up to the rest of their output? The answer is no, but the real question is, does it have to?
In order to obtain full enjoyment out of this album, one has to separate it from the others and take it for what it is: a fun, loud, fast, guitar-driven testament that even at the mere age of 60, some people can still rock!
But there is not more that I can say about this album that won't be more interesting to hear from a Stooge himself. A few months ago, a friend and I got to have a phone chat with Mike Watt, and here's what he has to say about the new album, the recording process and being a Stooge.
EA: First of all, how is it for you, someone who grew up on the Stooges’ music, to actually be able to take part in such a major event — the first Stooges album in 34 years?
MW: Mike Watt getting to play one Stooges song is the greatest event in my world. Like Iggy says on “Down on the Street,” “it’s real low mind.” It's mind-blowing, something I could never have imagined when I was 16 — 33 years later, I would be playing with the Ashetons, it's a trip. Life is a trip, a wonderful thing. It could bring you a lot of sadness, but it could also bring you a lot of content and joy. And for me, finally I'm the youngest guy in the band. But I'm really there to learn as much as I can. With my new trio, my drummer is 20 years younger than I am. And I'm only 10 years younger than Iggy, but in a way, the gap between me and (my drummer) Raul is much smaller than between me and the Ashetons, and Iggy, ‘cause I think punk changed a lot of things.
As punk rockers, we owe the Stooges everything. I don't even think that there would be a punk movement without the Stooges. There is so much stuff that is second, third, fourth hand, and here I get to go right to the source. When I was in he studio with them in October with Steve Albini — I mean, I could probably say this for Steve too, he was much in awe. He's just a few years younger than me — and here we are in the studio, and our greatest fear was to fuck up this deal. Put it on our gravestone: "They Fucked Up the Stooges Album." On the other hand, we were there to learn, to gather from these gentlemen all that they've learned. All that they created, so I took much direction from them. Everything that Iggy, Scotty and Ronnie wanted, I was there for them. I told them I'd play for them. They had me play with a pick for 13 out of the 15 songs; I haven't played with a pick much. Iggy wrote all of my bass lines.
MW: Yeah. I went in the summertime to Miami where he has a pad. We spent three days just me and him and went over every note of every song. He gave me his pick. It's very interesting, the only thing I can compare it to is when I helped Porno for Pyros out and Perry (Ferrell), you know the idea of a "Front man," the guy that doesn't work a machine, they have a whole different perspective of music. They see it more in a totality, the entire picture, than us, operating the machines. We're narrower in our job so it was very interesting to take direction from him. I learned much.
Then we went to Michigan and spent six days with the Asheton brothers, putting these bass parts to parts that they had written, all three of them together. It was a very unique situation for me. I felt no constrictions.
This is one of the good things about me having my own band: there's no problem with surrendering to teachers like Scotty, Ronnie and Iggy.
EA: Especially if it's Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
MW: Yeah, so you know what I mean. I could say, “Why do you let them do that?” But then, look at the situation, life is about learning. And I was right in the learning situation there, for me to assert things would put a damper on it.
EA: Yeah, and I can definitely see what you're saying. It's like if Mike Watt ever called me up and said " Hey, Elie, bring your guitar, lets jam." I'm never going to bring my ideas; whatever you tell me, I'm going to do and be happy with it.
MW: So you could put yourself in my place.
MW: Yeah, it's pretty amazing to me. I think people look at music in a way that we're actors and we have roles. In a way I think it is like that, but we are all people too, man. You gotta understand, I'm blistered, a fan and a gig-goer, especially for the Stooges, they taught me much, so what a trippy situation. So I can let go of the Mike Watt thing, so that Mike Watt is changed by this situation. So if I interfered too much, I would be missing out on a lot of important lessons.
EA: So is it as intense as watching the shows? Like, if you watch Iggy Pop, is it as intense to actually play with him and everybody there?
MW: The time is really fucked with, it seems like the gigs are over in two minutes. You know, we come on stage and we start with “Loose,” it's weird because I hear the albums in my mind that I've heard so many times, and, like, I'm playing along with it. I feel like one of the dudes in the audience that just happens to have the bass and is playing along. In a way I'm like in the gig, I'm like watching the gig. About 90 percent of the time, I watch Iggy to keep my focus, I check in with the Ashetons regularly, especially Scottie. But I'm always focused on Iggy, I hardly ever look at the crowd — I don't want to fuck up. I don't want to let these guys down, that's the main thing in my mind. I know I'm here to learn, but I also have this responsibility, I cannot let these guys down. I owe them everything.
EA: Do you also think they learn something from you? I mean, you're just as accomplished a musician as them, for me at least. Do you think that it's a two way street?
MW: I think that music, the arts in general are about that. In the music thing, yeah, but I can't think about that, because I don't want to get all full of myself. After the sessions, all those guys told really good work. You know, I haven't really heard the album yet. I haven't heard it mixed. So I'm interested in it. But they all told me really nice things. I don't know what to say when they say stuff like that except that I'm very grateful. (continued...)