It's been sad times lately, so I jumped at the chance to go listen to something positive, especially when it was one of our favorites, Josh Homme, talking about his new record with Iggy Pop - the wonderful Post Pop Depression - in the intimate Clive Davis Theater at The Grammy Museum. We trekked downtown (and had a great talk about Prince on the train with a stranger), and settled in to hear from two of rock's most interesting characters for the next couple of hours.
The event opened with an introduction from Grammy Foundation VP, Scott Goldman, who asked everyone to please silence their favorite Stooges ringtone, and then described Pop as first generation punk rock, a member of The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, the bloody, bruised lead of The Stooges, and Homme as the leader of Queens Of The Stone Age (etc, etc, etc), and massively inspired by Pop. As the Davis Theater is pretty small, they weren't going to be putting on a full stage show, so they screened as yet unseen footage recently shot for Austin City Limits. The double whammy of Pop's classic calling card, "Lust For Life" and "Break Into Your Heart" off of the new album. The footage showed how great they already are together - and it was only their second show ever. It also showed how funny and entertaining Pop is ... which would be proven again throughout the evening.
With that, Pop and Homme took the stage to a standing ovation, in matching black leather jackets, both about as cool as you can get. Pop immediately exclaimed, "That was only our second gig! We're so much better now! We're cool." He didn't have to tell us.
They got right into it, with Homme explaining that he first got turned on to Pop's music as an 11 year old in San Diego. The album was Raw Power, and he bought it directly because of the cover. He said he played the album until it didn't play anymore, and still didn't really understand it, to which Pop replied, "That's too much record for you, Boy." Homme agreed that it had been ... that he was afraid of it, but also drawn to it, "like a moth to a big old fire" (Homme is not at all afraid of analogies - and they're pretty good ones). That album had been made in 1972, and Pop said, "I thought kids would like it (to laughter, but Homme did!). It had spunk." Homme said he thought it was the most successful marriage of an album title and a sound - Raw Power. "Well, it's my noisiest record," said Pop. "On most of the cuts it's like is it a song or a problem?" That cracked everyone up.
Goldman asked how the two guys met, and Pop said it was at the Kerrang Festival in London. "It was
Lifetime Achievement time for me," said Pop with a laugh. "And I was asked to leave," chimed in Homme, who apparently had partied a little too hard for the metal fest. They were asked to be in a photo with Marilyn Manson, and Pop was impressed with Homme, "Mainly because he was the only other guy there not in a Satanic space outfit." The next time they met, Pop was to follow QOTSA at a festival, but he didn't really want to because they were GOOD. "I was mixed between telling them how good they were and wanting to blow them away, so I went to their dressing room and stuck my head in and said, 'You guys are really good, I gotta go, Fuck off!" The respect was there from the beginning.
In speaking to how emotive Post Pop Depression is, Pop explained that in the race for the buck in the music business, "less and less feeling is allowed. There's less happy songs, there's less sad songs ... Like Clockwork (the incredible QOTSA album) really affected me emotionally ... and it was craft. Like Chopin would use in a nocturne. You don't hear that much anymore. I was looking for something I could sing with, and his music gives you that space."
Homme followed that by saying, "I think it's important to be a fan. I gave up doing things I don't like. I wanted to be a part of something that connects people." So, once they got to talking about doing a collaboration, Pop sent Homme an entire dossier of material to get to know him by. The two share a love of Germany, so there were German photos and inspiration, there were essays about Pop's sex life, there were poems by Walt Whitman and Pop himself ... all personal glimpses into what makes Pop tick. "It was the first step in being vulnerable," said Homme, "And I started to see the wing span of a human being." "I sent it to him to hold up my end of the bargain," Pop explained. "Josh has a huge pile - he's a great guitarist, a writer, a composer, he has this whole little Motown thing happening in the desert, and I have this little pile - I sing and write - so I wanted to give him something to write about, and establish a common experience before getting into the studio. Like, Josh would already know when I write about Gardenia, because he'd already met her in my sexual essay. I wanted to give him an idea of what was on my mind." What a cool way to go about it, right?
"You move at the speed of opportunity, and in a collaboration, you move together," said Homme. "You take a real chance. I don't know what it's gonna be, but it's gonna be alright. I'm willing to do whatever is necessary ... if I have to jump off a cliff, then we'll hold hands and jump." This "we're in it all the way together" vibe permeates both the album, and the obvious love and respect these two carry for each other.
Homme sent Pop what he called "The Shitty Demos", to which Pop began writing and adding to. "He has such an economy of word choice, and so much color. He has so much color the Skittles people are jealous." Pop said after talking about how much they both love the gay Caberet scene in Berlin, Homme used a word to describe what the album would sound like, and Pop was shocked. He leaned over to whisper it to Homme, who said, "Go ahead, say it," but then they got sidetracked and we never learned what that word was. And I still want to know.
"Iggy just turned 69. There's an edge, and most people fall off, but one person doesn't fall off and they have the best view, and that's Iggy." Meaning Iggy has come from the hard living guy cutting himself on stage to be here now, still creating and loving and inspiring. Pop added, "I'm not doing some things anymore, but if I want to put the pedal to the metal for five minutes, look the fuck out!" Yes.
Once they got to work, it was on, though they decided not to tell anyone about it. Homme's Dad told him that you shouldn't tell people what you're going to do, you should tell them what you've done, so they just went for it, promising if it was no good they'd just literally bury it in the desert, and no one would ever know. "If no one knows you're making a record, then who are you making it for?", asked Homme. "That's sweet. I make something for you, and you make something for me." Pop added, "I'd be crushed if it wasn't good, but I'd be PERSONALLY crushed."
Pop explained that he did two chanson albums in French to get him to here. "I'm singing 'La Vie En Rose' in French, and Stooges people online are thinking that now I just want to go and put on my slippers." Not if Homme had anything to say about it. "Every record deserves the chance to take a chance ... but protecting himself is not in Iggy's DNA." He went on to say, "I don't work in a bank. I'm here to take a leap. I can't always figure out how to say something, but I can figure out how to play it. Look, this record might wind up being a coaster for someone, but it will be a tits coaster, I'll tell you that." Truth.
For Pop, after having 25 copies of his French albums sell on the counter in a wine shop in Lyon, "I kind of knew it was time to stick one to the motherfuckers ... that's the best way I can put it." Homme was on board for that. "There's an army of us affected and INfected by what Iggy has done, and I won't let that go unnoticed. I'll make tea for that." The reaction they've had from fans has been overwhelming, and Homme said that tonight when they play the Greek Theater here in L.A., "You'll look left, you'll look right, and you'll see this joyous thing, and we'll be up there grinning, and they'll get to show Iggy all this respect they have for him."
They discussed how they worked together, and how Homme would agonize over a word and Pop would say, "No, just throw in something terrible and the right word will come." This was an epiphany for Homme, who said they'd been at the Magic Castle the night before, but this idea was the real "Ta Dah!" "This is the best thing I've been a part of," Homme said humbly and clearly appreciatively. When Goldman opined that "Sunday" is the "Hallelujah" moment on the album, Homme answered that he almost kept it for himself, "but I wanted him to know that I'd give him everything. "Sunday" is like, what if at the end of American Valhalla, he makes it to Sunday?" "I've got all I need and it's killing me" went the line, but then Josh added, 'killing me and YOU' - and that changed everything," explained Pop, "and the strings at the end are TRAGIC." Give it a listen, they really are.
Goldman asked Pop if this album was a summation for him. "I"m summing up my vocation in this role. I hope to survive the experience, and quiet down a bit. You do less ... but I do a lot of other work too, like voiceover, some acting, a radio show, I like to guest on Christmas albums ..." cracked Pop. They then opened it up for some questions from the superfans (which these Grammy events always attract, so you actually learn a LOT), and one guy said that we've lost so many icons lately, and asked what their thoughts were on where we go when we pass. OK. Both Homme and Pop kind of hedged, and then Pop said, "There's a book called Sum with many possible answers to that. I'd suggest that book." - getting them both off of the hook. But then Homme wanted to add his two cents. " I know when I burn wood, it changes to ash, but it's still there. Wherever they go, I hope they're there when I'm there, or I'll be fucking pissed." Me too, Josh. Me too.
In closing out the night, Pop said, "The main responsibility is to entertain, so I just want people to enjoy it." Homme's final thought was that, "The Arts are a Swiss Army pleasure device, and every time I just hope it works."
It works, as evidenced by the thunderous applause and people back on their feet at the end of the program. What an interesting, great time it was listening to these two cats, both super individually impressive, but more impressive even together, showing what can happen when it's about love, friendship, and respect over the mighty dollar.
Get your copy of Post Pop Depression to see what I mean ... available now everywhere.
*All photos by Paul Gronnner Photography.