One thing you can’t call Iggy Pop is predictable.
Ever since he came blasting out of Michigan as the lead singer of proto-punk trailblazers The Stooges during the late ‘60s, Pop has been nothing but eclectic, especially throughout a solo career he launched 46 years ago with a pair of David Bowie co-produced albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life. The past decade has also been a particular case study in range: there was 2012’s mostly French language covers album Après; a final Stooges effort, Ready to Die, the following year; the hard-rocking, Josh Homme-produced Post Pop Depression in 2016; a collaboration with Underworld (Teamtime Dub Encounters) two years later; and the ambient jazz of 2019’s Free.
Now Pop has his punk on again (albeit not exclusively) with Every Loser, due out Friday (Jan. 6) and produced and co-written by Andrew Watt (Ozzy Osbourne, Justin Bieber, Elton John, Eddie Vedder), who won the Grammy Award for producer of the year, non-classical two years ago. Pop is, in fact, the first artist signed to Watt’s Gold Tooth Records imprint through Atlantic Records.
Tracks such as the lead single “Frenzy” — Pop’s first appearance in 31 years on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart — “Strung Out Johnny,” “When I’m Down,” the high-speed “Neo Punk” and the metallic album closer “The Regency” rattle the speakers with as much muscle as Pop houses on his sinewy torso, with no indication that he’s slowing down at the age of 75.
“It just sort of came along,” Pop, who was born James Osterberg Jr. in Michigan, tells Billboard from his home in Miami. “Especially if you’re my age, you can’t really grimace and tightened your fist and say, ‘OK, goddamit, I’m gonna put together a rock album!’ It just kind of happened. So the credit goes to (Watt) for having the drive and interest — and also, I would say, some credit goes to me for having already jammed or played live with the guys who played (on the album) and having a feel for what would work best with what (Watt) had prepared.”
Pop met Watt via Morrissey and his upcoming Bonfire of Teenagers album. “I got a message (from Morrissey), ‘Hey, would you sing along on something with me? And by the way, it’s an extraordinary producer doing this.’ So I said, ‘Sure,’” Pop recalls. As he and Watt exchanged recordings for his guest appearance, Pop became intrigued by the sounds, particularly the meaty bass lines Watt was crafting. “It was very American, very Los Angeles, and full of a lot of, I would call it, chutzpah,” Pop says. “It had a lot of right up-front, chin-out energy.”
For Watt’s part, the collaboration flipped on a proverbial light bulb that there might be more work to do with Pop. “He had all these amazing ideas for the (Morrissey) song…too many, right?” Watt, who calls Pop “one of my favorites, ever,” tells Billboard. “His ideas were endless. One of them was gonna be cool, but they all weren’t going to fit into one song. That made me start thinking…I could make some amazing sh-t with this guy.” And Pop was open to the prospect.
“We started chatting and (Watt) said, ‘Look, I’d really like to send you some tracks,’ and I sorta said, ‘Well, OK, do it,’” Pop says. “I didn’t really ask him what it would be or how or anything. He didn’t pressure me in any way. We didn’t set out with some sort of plan like, ‘this had to be an album,’ or ‘this has to be an EP,’ or ‘this has to come out’ at all. But I was enjoying what we were doing and enjoying the music.”
Part of the allure for Pop was the musicians Watt was working with, including familiar figures such as Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan. Pop also had roots with others Watt brought into the project, such as Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Eric Avery, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, former Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.
Watt explains that the process “was really like, ‘OK, Iggy Pop, godfather of punk, one of Bowie’s muses, inventor of genres, inventor of punk rock, inventor of garage rock…what do I want to hear this guy sing? If I’m in the front row with this kick-ass band and the punk rock James Brown singing, what do I want to hear?’ We would jam and make tracks and send them to Iggy, and he would like ’em and write to them or wouldn’t like them and we’d do something else. It was very low pressure. We just kept making music until we felt like we had an album.”
Every Loser also features the late Taylor Hawkins on two tracks (“Comments” and “The Regency,” which he also co-wrote), some of the drummer’s final recordings before his shocking death last March.
“He’s a great guy, just a beautiful cat,” Pop says of Hawkins, who portrayed him in the 2013 movie CBGB. “His drumming is very unique. Chad’s the backbone of the record, but I felt fortunate we could have Taylor on it, too, and he was perfect for those songs. It’s such a sad thing that he had to go so quick, but he was doing something he really wanted to do and he was doing it very well, and was at the top of the heap, and that’s something, y’know?”
Pop and Watt worked on Every Loser between studios in Miami, where most of the vocals were recorded, and Watt’s residential studio in Beverly Hills. “You can tell nobody lives there but an insane music guy,” Pop notes. “It’s got, like, an Elton John pinball machine and equipment all over the living room.
“(Watt) seems to have absorbed classic rock in a way that it comes out and it doesn’t sound classic,” Pop continues. “It sounds like know, but it still sounds like that. There’s one thing about my records…they’re all in one way or another kind of rough sounding. They never get too polished. Some of them, maybe Lust For Life, a couple things on Brick By Brick did, but my own taste is more for the DIY. I like Link Wray a lot better than Yngwie Malmsteen, put it that way. I think that influences the producers I work with to stop short of polishing the project too much.”
Pop found other kindred spirits during 2021 in the Italian band Måneskin, guesting on the quartet’s gold-certified single “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” which hit No. 11 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. “That’s a really good band,” Pop says. “I hate to compare people to anything but they have the good qualities of a really top-notch American ‘70s band, like Aerosmith or something…but they have a style that’s their own. There’s a lot of musicality to it, too. They stay right on message and they don’t f–k around and they give the value.”
Pop previewed Every Loser with “Frenzy” and “Strung Out Johnny,” and he’s also teamed with Punk magazine — which featured him on its cover back in 1976 — for a full issue dedicated to him as part of its relaunch. He plans to tour in support of the album as well, starting with a short run of mostly West Coast U.S. dates in the spring and some stadium shows with the Chili Peppers in Europe. He anticipates more North American dates during the fall, but one thing Pop won’t be doing is diving into the crowd as has been a habit throughout much of his career.
“I’m not doing that right now. I hit my limit,” Pop acknowledges. “I did about 40 shows last year and I crossed over (into the audience) a few times, but not with a full dive. A couple of times I sorta fell in and a couple of times I walked around, but if I don’t have to, I prefer to stay on the stage. It’s too much wear and tear at this point. I would get hurt. So I prefer to stay on the stage, but now at some of the shows people do it themselves; they leap up, touch toe, do a grab and dive off.
“That’s cool with me.”