Iggy Pop Breaks 'Free'

Iggy Pop Breaks 'Free'
Photo: Rob Baker Ashton
"I wouldn't mind if it was a closing chapter," Iggy Pop says about his haunting new album, the decidedly not-rock Free.
 
The 72-year-old icon primarily worked with jazz musician Leron Thomas and inventive guitarist Sarah Lipstate (who works under the name Noveller) on this stark and moody album because he wanted some breathing room. In the liner notes to Free, he writes that he "began to recoil from guitar riffs in favor of guitarscapes, from twangs in favor of horns, from back beat in favor of space; and, in large part, from the effluent of my own mind and problems, in favor of trying to interpret the poetry of others."
 
Indeed, Free contains two recitations of poems — one by Lou Reed ("We Are the People") and one by Dylan Thomas ("Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night") — five songs written by Thomas, and three by Pop. As he suggests, the soundscapes are murky but dreamy enough to allow him to express himself in the richest version of his baritone.  
 
Over the phone in an Exclaim! interview, Pop elaborates: "I wanted to wiggle out of the frame of rock instrumentation that I'd gotten encased in over time. There's nothing wrong with it, but it wasn't what I felt at this time. I was interested in working with some fine musicians who broke out of the normal time and space. 
 
"I thought I could do something that had reasonably reassuring song formats where I could sing clearly with some emotion and lyrics where you can understand what I'm talking about," he adds. "And then the other half is really me talking in your ear at 2 a.m. in your bedroom. It may not be for everybody; I don't know. That's not what it's about, but that's the way it comes on."
 
When asked what it might all be about, Pop mentions "individualism, overwork, and loneliness," and "couples who respect each other but burn each other out." There also appear to be thematic threads about mortality and human disconnection in our age of technological, virtual interactivity. He says the songs he composed are observational and fictional, but draw from his own experiences in life.
 
Pop has been an open music consumer forever, but his tastes have expanded since launching his own show for BBC Radio 6, where he mentions his love of mixing things up, playing disparate songs by Fucked Up and Songhoy Blues and, after being tipped off by friends (and occasionally the YouTube algorithm), artists like Leron Thomas and Noveller, whom he appreciated so much he contacted them about their work and wound up with collaborators.
 
"Little by little, his stuff was knocking me out," Pop says of Thomas, "and I really wanted to sing [on] his songs."
 
Thomas, in turn, offered Pop not only music but words for the singer to express himself; Pop says this kind of arrangement is not unprecedented.
 
"It was an extreme case of something that's been coming up ever since Kill City with [Iggy and the Stooges guitarist] James Williamson and then working with David Bowie and all my collaborators since," he explains. "It's very common that when you work with a gifted writer or instrumentalist, when they approach you with the piece, it already has a title in their head. It's sort of like a baby. Do you know anybody who names their baby and then a week later, they go, 'Nah, let's change it'? No, you don't do that! It's similar with the songs.
 
"Like, David Bowie, [1977's] 'Some Weird Sin' was a poem of mine he stole from under my mattress. But he wrote the bridge himself. Same with [Josh] Homme. He or Bowie would often give me a title and say, 'Write on that subject' and Homme would interject on my lyrics all the time. With Leron, the five he wrote, I thought they were interesting, entertaining lyrics and I felt them. In some ways, I think I felt them more than he did. I thought I could bring something like a good Bel canto singer — like Sinatra at his peak. That's what I wanted to do."    
 
Even within this amalgamated lyrical expression, Free has all the elements of a farewell album. It is ruminative about the human condition from a very personal place and, even if the singer sounds vibrant and in full command of his voice, Pop's entry into his senior years can't be ignored.
 
As part of the album's liner notes, Pop writes, "By the end of the tours following [2016's] Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained, and I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free."
 
You can almost picture him taking stock and waving goodbye.  
 
Pop has a book of photos of himself throughout his career coming out on October 1 called 'Til Wrong Feels Right and, of late, he's been appearing in films like Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch's 2016 documentary about the Stooges, and the recent PUNK docu-series (which Pop also co-produced), to reflect upon his life and work. But while he's committed to shaking out of a 'rock' idiom he now has trouble fully committing his body to on the road, Pop says Free is not the end.
 
"I have recorded since then," he reveals. "I just heard something I recorded with some really fine, international jazz singers. It's a cover, and we all traded verses on it and it sounds bloody good. And there are people offering to write for me now that they've heard the door's open," he chuckles. 
 
"I've gotten inquiries from two really top people — one in 'alt' and one in 'high jazz,' I'll call it; jazz that makes money. They wanna do things and I'm like, 'Oh, fuck,' a little bit. So, I'll see what happens."     
 
Free is available now courtesy of Loma Vista Recordings. Listen to this interview with Iggy Pop on the Kreative Kontrol podcast on Apple Podcasts.