Category Archives: FEATURES

James Chance: Flesh For Fantasy

No-wave sax legend James Chance returns with his first U.S.-released album in decades

That James Chance 2017 sounds very much like James Chance 1977 has nothing to do with a rut or retro vibe. Chance—or James White or James Siegfried (the name he was born with in Milwaukee)—has forever had a long, deep, abiding passion for James Brown, Su Ra and Albert Ayler, and on early albums such as Buy and Off White (both from 1979) or latter-day efforts such as 2012’s unreleased-in-America Incorrigible, made off with the riveting speed-soul grooves and atonal skronky sax blasts like a thief in the night. For his first U.S.-released album in decades, The Flesh Is Weak, with his most notorious outfit, the Contortions, the NYC-based Chance continues to mine fast, moody jazz and digs deep into fertile funky ground with the furor of a punk twice as young as he.

“I think that’s why I have a young following when we play,” says the 63-year-old Chance. “The aggression that came out in my music in the past is still there today. I’m not one of those guys who gets to a certain age and feels as if he’s got to mature and act more responsibly. I mean, I’m not contemplating fatherhood.”

It’s more than apparent on The Flesh Is Weak that he refuses to mellow, ripen and rot as Chance and his Cortortions machine gun through everything from hyped-up covers of Esther Phillips’ “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” and his jagged self-penned 1980 song “Melt Yourself Down” to newer, corrosive cuts such as the title track. Along with playing all of the yakety sax cackles and occasional lilt-a-whirl organ solos (“I wasn’t a fan of jazz organ for a long time until Sun Ra,” says Chance) on The Flesh Is Weak, Chance’s usual angular rhythms and kinked guitars—familiar to the no-wave genre he helped birth in 1978—get a mod revisionist feel with occasional Latin popcorn shuffles.

Such restless invention is the thing that brought him to Manhattan from Milwaukee, “where I learned to read music from nuns in the Catholic school I attended,” then moved him from participating in NYC’s downtown loft-jazz scene (“I didn’t fit in; I had a band called Flaming Youth named for a Duke Ellington song, but that confused audiences who thought we were a heavy-metal group”) and landed him squarely in pre-punk clubs such as Max’s and CBGB. “Those bands didn’t excite me either,” he says. “Save for Suicide and Richard Hell’s Voidoids, there was nothing inventive to be heard there.”

So Chance crafted a sound based, in part, on punk’s zealous energy (“We wanted to throw out stereotypical chords and make it even more primal,” says Chance, regarding no-wave), as well as Brown’s densely soulful raw chord changes and repetitious hypnotic rhythms. “Especially the song ‘Super Bad,’ which was super-heavy funk with wild Ayler-like sax solos,” says Chance enthusiastically. Quoting from Amiri Baraka’s Black Music, the saxophonist says, “Free jazz should join forces with R&B—that’s the fusion I wanted.”

Along with making a name and career for himself in France (“just like Jerry Lewis”), Chance made a few stops at slower jazz standard albums with his Terminal City outfit such as 2010’s The Fix Is In. He even laughs about trying his hand at oddball big-band music.

“The swing revival was horrible, too corny for New York, but I figured I could use it to my advantage,” he says. “Yet by the time I had written a bunch of tunes, the revival had ended. Good.”

Now, 38 years after Buy, Chance and his Contortions are making a bold, righteous racket with Flesh Is Weak and a vigor he hasn’t felt for a minute. “I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” he says, considering everything from covering Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” (“It was one of the first 45s I bought, so dramatic, and my wife, Judy Taylor, has been pushing me to put it out”) to making sure each Contortion he plays with is as free and loose as he is tight.

“Plus, I still look good in a tux,” he says when his sartorial signature comes up in conversation. “That’s crucial.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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Chavez: Don’t Break Up Your Band

The ’90s indie-rock legends in Chavez return with the amazing Cockfighters

There’s no doubt about it: Chavez may very well, sort-of possibly, be kind-of back together as a recording unit after 11 years of not doing so. Perhaps. Chavez’s crisply rocking new EP, Cockfighters, and the promise/hope of additional 2017 music and touring, says so. Then it doesn’t.

“I hope we can tour and record more, ’cuz we look and sound so good,” says vocalist/guitarist Matt Sweeney.

“We don’t make plans,” says guitarist Clay Tarver. “We can’t. We just do what we want to and can do. We have no idea what the immediate future is or what it sounds like. If you have any idea, please don’t tell me.”

Of course, there’s the company line among the quartet’s membership—Sweeney, Tarver, bassist Scott Marshall and drummer James Lo—that you can’t reunite a thing you never split. But spend 4,004 days apart without working together, and it’s mostly bust.

Then again, the mid-’90s angular-indie-math outfit made two era-defining albums in Gone Glimmering and Ride The Fader without applying itself to rulebooks, especially considering that each man does things outside of Chavez (script writing, surfing/filming, sound directing, session playing) that could’ve altered its path. Or not.

“No, no, no. God, no,” says Tarver. “When we started, we were on a mission. We were about doing a singular thing as good as we possibly could: making Chavez music. I hated outside-seeking stuff. I thought it was a distraction. I would make you feel terrible if you fell for it. But then it kinda happened to me, and I had to completely pretend like I never said any of that shit. Then we had to turn our full-time obsession into a ‘Let’s do it when we can’ obsession. Somehow it worked. It sort of worked. But you can only do that when no one cares about your band. And then once you stop playing, people start caring about your band. Generally, it’s pretty impossible. I’d say don’t try it.”

And no, no member has more special needs than the other. When Chavez has its four members ready to roar in unison, it roars—loud. “We agreed that we’d do Chavez when we could and that we wouldn’t complain when some ‘special’ member thinks he has something better to do than play music,” says Sweeney.

Both Sweeney and Tarver love what they’ve done with Chavez in the past, with the latter questioning people’s appreciation of the quartet. “People at the time said we sounded like Rush or something,” says Tarver. “I love Rush. But come on. People thought we were too ‘difficult’ or were just being weird for weird’s sake. The truth is we hated that kind of approach.” Sweeney claims that no man’s input was a given and that every track had to sing for its supper. “Each Chavez song works hard to earn its Meal Deal,” he says.

The four men of Chavez enjoyed playing with each other so much that they stopped. “With those two records, we were annoyingly pleased with ourselves,” says Tarver. “It was pretty much exactly the music we wanted to make. And we thought we should get medals for it. And yet no one really seemed to notice or care. So early on, we decided, ‘Fuck it, let’s not try to force it on anyone.’”

“I love playing with the men and even the babymen of Chavez,” says Sweeney. “I especially relish the faces they make when they are rocking out. Not kidding.”

So who gets together after so long to only do—so far—the three songs and nine minutes of Cockfighters?

“Chavez does, Mr. Ding Dong,” says Sweeney.

“We felt like we couldn’t just dine out on the old stuff over and over, so we decided to not play any more shows until we’d recorded new material, and that’s what we did,” says Tarver, who decided to reunite the gang so that he had no regrets going into the grave. “The thing is, if we’d never recorded these shits, my second-to-last thought would’ve been, ‘You’re an asshole, Clay. You never recorded ‘The Bully Boys’ (a song penned in 1997). Why?’ And then my last thought would’ve been, ‘Fuck. I don’t know why.’ So that was it.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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Foxygen: Excess All Areas

Foxygen is back with a grandiose love letter to America

Sam France and Jonathan Rado, the duo behind arch, hyper-kinetic pop provocateur Foxygen, are attempting to explain the unhinged, grandiose vision that lies at the heart of their latest album, Hang.

“It’s hyper-American music,” says Rado. “Hyper-American music.”

“Yeah,” says France. “We wanted it to be grand, cinematic. We envisioned it as a film, a huge musical film, and so, yeah, that’s what we made.”

“Like, we were definitely thinking of ’30s Hollywood musicals and imagery,” says Rado. “With ’70s production. Someone trying to do the ’30s in the ’70s, that was the angle. Or like Xanadu, kinda ballroom dancing pop.”

Recorded with Matthew E. White, kindred spirits the Lemon Twigs, Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd (who was featured on their last album and now appears to be an auxiliary member of sorts) and Trey Pollard, it’s the band’s first “studio album” proper and just happens to feature a 40-piece orchestra on every track because, well, why the hell not? It is—and this is said with no little amount of understatement—a ridiculously ambitious, ludicrously ornate, overblown behemoth of a record. As musically restless as ever, Hang touches on a good deal of Foxygen’s beloved ’70s reference points. There’s Todd Rundgren (of course), Sticky Fingers-era Stones, Elton John, the Carpenters, Sly And The Family Stone—frequently, it would seem, within the same song.

And the band has gone Broadway, taking the aforementioned influences and adding a hefty dose of hallucinogenic vaudeville and Busby Berkeley musicals on bad acid. It’s a spiraling trip through Disney, Looney Tunes and a bizarre twilight zone where Bugsy Malone meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In short, the LP is by turns magnificent and maddening, flitting continuously from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Those who love Foxygen will love the band more, if only for the playfulness, irreverence and sheer gaudy spectacle of it all. Those who hate Foxygen (and there are plenty of haters out there) are only going to have their preconceptions reinforced. Indeed, it would be safe to say Hang could tip them over into bug-eyed, spittle-flecked rage. France in particular seems to revel in his role as arch provocateur, and he’s at his most foppish here, an eyebrow permanently raised, flouncing shamelessly. At times you could be forgiven in suspecting they’re hellbent on provoking a reaction from the more earnest of indie-rock purists, a performance-art duo that set out consciously to offend. Rado, however, remains adamant that they’re utterly sincere.

“I think there’s a really big misconception about Foxygen for a lot of people,” he says. “I mean, there’s an authenticity to what we do. We take the craft very seriously and, OK, so sometimes it does end up funny, but it’s never ironic. We don’t do irony. If we’re going to do something on a record, we do it the right way, because we’ve studied this shit for years and years. We take making our records very, very seriously.”

Foxygen, despite Rado’s protestations, retains the unerring ability to wind up the musical cognoscenti—these guys aren’t earnest enough, they’re scatterbrained pranksters, they lack “authenticity.”

“Look, it’s like this,” says France. “We’re meta, all right? We’re a little bit meta, and that really annoys people. With our songs and music, we jump in and out of the record. Like, we’re never afraid to manifest our personality in the music, and we embrace it. We’re just doing it as artists, and I know that sounds really pretentious, but it is art, you know? Do you remember when Lana Del Rey came on the scene and was on Letterman or whatever and people just trashed her? I mean, really trashed her. Everyone was just losing their shit. And I watched footage of her and everyone’s like, “Oooh, she sings out of tune!” but I thought she was really great. It ages like good rock ’n’ roll footage. I mean, fine, so she’s not refined in her singing or whatever, but there’s something there. But people are like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ When something massive comes around, people don’t know what to think. It makes them scared, which leads to criticism, right?”

France pauses, and without missing a beat, completely deadpan (but with an almost audible smirk), concludes, “So, basically, I think we’re just like Lana Del Rey.”

—Neil Ferguson

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Jesca Hoop: All Stripped Down

On Memories Are Now, Jesca Hoop navigates the spaces between the notes

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements.

Part of the answer lies in the clear, unadorned production of Hoop’s own voice and guitar, which remain front and center. Produced by fellow songwriter/musician and sometime collaborator Blake Mills, Memories Are Now isn’t strictly Hoop’s most instrumentally austere disc; Undress and The Complete Kismet Acoustic offered voice-and-guitar renditions of previously released songs. But from the outset, Memories was planned as a raw representation of Hoop’s formidable songwriting talents.

“The first step we took was to think about where the loyalty begins between myself and the listener, where that relationship forms,” says Hoop from her adopted Manchester, U.K., home. “And Blake and I decided that it happens in a live setting, where I’m much less wrapped in sonic information. My studio albums can be quite dense. So we wanted to create more space and be more discerning about what sounds were used.”

With other material, in other hands, such a project might’ve ended up sounding airy or lightweight. It’s to Hoop and Mills’ credit that Memories Are Now sounds as full as is does—even at times heavy, as on “Cut Connection,” a stomping track that provides one of the album’s more unsettling moments, both musically and lyrically: “I’m living a dream/In the dream I’m buried alive,” Hoop sings coolly, and later, “I summon your hands/To bring me what is mine … I don’t waste my breath/Don’t waste my time.” (Much of the album, perhaps fittingly, mines this subject—the idea of stripping things down to the essence, leaving behind what’s no longer necessary.)

As on all of Hoop’s LPs, styles and genres abound. “I’ve never felt loyal to any one genre,” she says. “I think that can cause trouble. If you’re an artist who identifies with a genre, you’re setting yourself up for some relative ease, but if you don’t know exactly where you fit, if you’re just playing and enjoying whatever you find, it’s hard to know whether it’ll resonate with people. Or whether it will again, when you put out another album.”

But Memories’ humble arrangements allow Hoop’s voice to be displayed comfortably in multiple settings. Check the gamboling folk/country harmonies and fuzztone roll of “Simon Says,” the harplike ballad plucking of “Songs Of Old” or, in particular, the watery, tremolo-drenched “The Coming,” which deploys divine and satanic imagery to spin a tale of love gone tough, endurance gone exhausted.

“The Coming,” which closes the album on a strong, stately note, was the first song to arrive in the process. “When I began,” says Hoop, “I kept thinking ‘15.’ I needed 15 songs to make an album.” (Memories Are Now ultimately contained nine.) “I was a little overwhelmed. So I went for a long walk—about 10 miles—and hummed to myself the whole way. But I was still frustrated. Nothing came. So I made dinner, and went to my writing room, and the little gates of my mind opened up after a bit. I didn’t produce anything on that walk, but that walk seemed to clear the way to produce ‘The Coming.’ So I had to approach the rest of the songs with that same trust.”

It’s a trust that extended to the production of the album as well. “I know Blake very well,” says Hoop, “but I didn’t know how good he was as a producer. I was surprised at his level of knowledge and skill, what he was able to do in such a short period of time. Sometimes it’s a negotiation, but production always has to serve the song: How do we best convey the communication and emotional intention in this song and keep the integrity? That was Blake’s intent the whole time, particularly in terms of the voice, its unique ability to communicate. I’d want to do another take, and he’d say, ‘I don’t ever want you to sing that perfectly.’ He really encouraged me to come raw, to let the songs remain human and flawed. I think that’s what he wanted to protect all the way through.”

—Eric Waggoner

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Katie Gately: She Comes In Colors

Katie Gately brings film and sound design to her eye-opening debut LP

As tired as tags like “experimental club music” and “avant-garde pop” can be, albums like Color, Katie Gately’s spellbinding debut on Tri-Angle Records, come across every so often, simultaneously subverting and eschewing the conventions of both in ways that dazzle, shock and captivate.

Drawing on her studies and work in film and sound design, Gately’s productions are often composed of countless layers (421 separate tracks, in the case of album opener “Lift”) of heavily affected clips of her own voice, found sounds and Foley recordings. These techniques have their roots in her time enrolled at University Of Southern California’s film school.

“USC’s film program tends to be directors, cinematographers, producers, but I applied specifically to study sound work,” she says. “I actually said, ‘I have no interest in directing, I just want to do sound’ when I applied, and somehow got in. I wound up taking a couple of electronic music courses there, too. They have really incredible facilities, and as soon as I realized I could use sound libraries and cartoon libraries, I was off and running. I got into trouble early on, though, while working on a film project. The director kept telling me that my sound design was too distracting. I got really carried away with these ocean sounds that were supposed to just be in the background.”

While her heady, extended methods would easily drift into unlistenable territory in less nimble hands, Gately’s productions are defined by a genuine curiosity, nimbly dancing on the line between excess and just enough. “It’s always about how much can I add before it just sounds too crazy,” she says. “What’s the most obnoxious thing I can make the song do? How can I have it be just 49 percent obnoxious and 51 percent fun?”

—Möhammad Choudhery

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Hello Shark: Isolation Drills

Philly’s Hello Shark explores the dark sea of loneliness

Delicate is a fitting title for the new Hello Shark album. Lincoln Halloran, the group’s songwriter, singer and bandleader, seldom raises his voice above a whisper, choosing to deliver his confessional lyrics with a restrained presence that adds an emotional tension to his tales of isolation and heartbreak. His guitar playing is minimalistic, but his chiming tones perfectly complement the icy emotional terrain he describes: a bleak world of loneliness and missed connections.

“I’m not a very good guitar player,” Halloran says modestly. “I can write decent guitar parts, but I’m strongest in the lyrics. The musicianship is pretty basic, and it takes me a lot longer to write guitar parts than to come up with good lyrics.”

The album’s arrangements are stripped down and folky, keeping the emphasis on the words and the emotions they convey. “They’re almost journal entries set to music,” he says. “If something pops into my head, I make a note of it on my phone, or maybe sing it into a voice memo. When I write, I go through the notebooks and try to structure something out of sentences and melodies I put down. I’m pretty much a verse/chorus writer, but if I get one good verse, I don’t add a second half-assed verse, or a chorus, to make the song longer.”

Halloran grew up in Newburyport, Mass., a fishing village with a small sadcore scene, but he didn’t become interested in performing until he moved to Vermont for college. “I had a friend with a four-track recorder,” he says. “I started recording cover songs, and that got me interested in songwriting.” He put out a CD-R to sell at shows and started building an audience. Three years ago, he moved to Philadelphia.

“Philly’s been good to me,” he says. “I have a lot of friends in bands, and it’s centrally located, so I can make weekend trips to play in New York, D.C. and Baltimore.”

—j. poet

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Honeyblood: Just Like Honey

Scottish duo Honeyblood’s second LP brings the noise

On its second album, Babes Never Die, Scotland’s Honeyblood covers a lot of ground. There’s the punk-meets-girl-group clatter of “Ready For The Magic,” the funky, hedonistic rave up of “Sea Hearts” and the dreamy, cynical chanting of “Love Is A Disease.” The women in the band—guitarist/singer Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers—make a mighty noise, marked by anthemic choruses, Tweeddale’s skilled use of power chords and distortion, and Myers’ blockbuster drumming.

“We encourage each other to make as much noise as possible for two people,” says Tweeddale. “With this record, we demoed vigorously to nail down the sound we wanted to achieve before we went into the studio. We made the album in 13 days, racing against the clock at all times. I would love to have the luxury to spend months making a record, but it’s something we can’t do at this stage.”

Live, Tweeddale and Myers rule the crowd with the force of their playing, but in the studio, producer James Dring (Blur, Lana Del Rey) and their friend Matt Jones added synthesizer tones to fill out the sound. Would they consider adding another musician to their lineup?

“We recently acquired a new member called Sebastian,” says Tweeddale. “He’s a collection of sounds, triggered by Cat through a sample pad. We’re loving his work at the moment. Will we ever get more humans in the band? Maybe, but not right now.”

The album closes with a brief, easy-listening Latin outro, featuring drum loops, dreamy harmonies and Irish penny whistle. After 10 tracks of rowdy, energetic garage punk, it’s quite a shock.

“Cat loves Latin music,” says Tweeddale. “That inspired us to play the tin whistle and write that little outro. We’re planning to write a whole EP of Latin tracks after this album comes out.”

—j. poet

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Katie Burden: Werewoman Of L.A.

On her debut LP, Katie Burden goes magic

Strange Moon is Katie Burden’s debut, but she pours a lifetime of emotion into every word she sings. “I have a frenetic energy and fearlessness that comes out when I perform,” she says. “I didn’t play an instrument until recently, so I always liked collaborating. When I met (producer/drummer) Norm Block (jennylee, Brian Jonestown Massacre), I told him I wanted to make a record, and he recommended bringing in guitarist Jen Turner (Here We Go Magic, Exclamation Pony) to help out. During the process of making this album, we became fast friends.”

The dark, multilayered, larger-than-life ambience of Strange Moon complements Burden’s powerful, uncontained vocal style. She’s comfortable with smoldering torch songs (“Cut The Wire”), powerful rockers (“My Kind”) and cryptic ballads, like the title track.

“We tried to make a record that would leave you feeling haunted,” says Burden. “‘Strange Moon’ is a story about turning into a werewolf. It’s steeped in the language of dreams and mysticism, but it’s not necessarily a literal transformation. It could be about a sudden mood swing or an obsession that takes over your mind and nervous system.”

Burden, Block and Turner put in months of intense studio work to polish the album’s sweeping, psychedelic tone. “We brought in a few friends to add some of the cinematic touches,” says Burden. “We wanted it to feel big and orchestrated, with tons of textures to grab onto, something you’d have to listen to a few times to catch all the nuances. The guts of the songs were written quickly, but I kept putting off recording the final vocals. I learned it’s helpful to have the lyrics first, and work the melody around them, so it can be part of the song-making process, as opposed to writing them after the song is basically done.”

—j. poet

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The Flat Five: Perfect Harmonic Convergence

Chicago supergroup the Flat Five are guided by voices

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices.

“We’re in this band because we’re harmony junkies,” says Hogan, who cofounded the group with Ligon. “We’re all in a million other bands, but every time we get a chance, we get together to sing, and we work hard at it. We love singing harmonies. Our rehearsals can go on for seven hours or more, even if we’re not preparing for a show.”

Hogan and Ligon first got together for a one-off show as a duo. “We talked for 10 minutes and started referencing songs by the Davis Sisters, Wilburn Brothers, Georgie Fame and Lou Rawls,” says Hogan. “The first time we sang together, there was an obvious click. I was in a secular gospel group with Nora called the Lamentations, so I asked her to join us. We sounded so good, we began looking for other people, and it became a snowball that gathered up this group of harmony dorks who all happen to play about a billion instruments as well.”

The Flat Five started as a cover band, doing tunes by Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Nilsson, Oscar Brown Jr. and Leslie Gore. Gradually, the group began adding songs by Scott Ligon’s brother Chris, a writer with a skewed vision and unusual sense of melody and rhythm. “We do a lot of his songs in our live set,” says Hogan, “but he’s not a well-known writer. When we decided to make an album, we thought we’d avoid the curse of the cover band by doing songs most people hadn’t heard before.”

The result, It’s A World Of Love And Hope, is an album full of delirious vocal harmonies, anchored by Chris Ligon’s peculiar worldview. “The songs are weird and twisted, dark and light at the same time, with a wry sense of humor,” says Hogan. “We recorded live, sometimes with the five of us gathered around a single microphone. We decided we wanted an uplifting title for the record, so we went with It’s A World Of Love And Hope. It’s a lyric from ‘This Is Your Night.’ My last solo album was called I Like To Keep Myself In Pain, so I made a conscious decision to stay positive in this band, to be shamelessly hopeful in the face of climate change and Donald Trump. Some people don’t believe life can be wonderful, but if you look at all the little things around you, you’ll see it is.”

—j. poet

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The Stooges And Jim Jarmusch: Filming Danger

Iggy Pop’s Stooges get the documentary treatment from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“This was my dream, you know? That someone good—someone with solid stature and unlimited imagination—would take a look at the group in their own way; and then tell a story with their own skill and point of view. That’s how you get something to combust and start a fire.”

If anyone knows from the incendiary, it’s Iggy Pop. His entire career is the stuff of the flammable, with no element more ignitable than the Stooges. Pop’s raw-powered band of Michigan fellaheen came from nothing to hit nowhere (from the avant-garage of 1967 to the glam of 1974), quickly and arguably invent punk, then disappear, only to reunite and rise in 2003 until the deaths of its cocreators, Scott and Ron Asheton. That’s the documentarian’s tale that filmmaker/Stooges fan Jim Jarmusch took seven years to tell, at Pop’s urging, with Gimme Danger.

“He asked us to make this, and we went off and did it, but I had two elements of trepidation,” says Jarmusch, seated next to Pop. “The first was, ‘Oh God, what if we show it to Jim (Osterberg, Pop’s real last name) and he says it sucks? We’d have to shelve it. The other was a brief lack in confidence. I saw Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth. I loved it, as it took chances in making a portrait of someone by not telling the truth. All of a sudden, I thought what I was making was pedestrian, until I realized that we are celebrating the Stooges with no tall-tale telling involved.”

What this was, in both Jims’ eyes, was a story of the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever, one that, in the band members’ minds, was wild, emotional, funny, adventurous, disrespectful, loving, shaggy, primitive and sophisticated. “So we had to make a film that had all those parameters as its style,” says Jarmusch of Gimme Danger’s rough look with collage, cartoon flourishes to go with its rare footage (“Because our fans weren’t the heavily tech types,” laughs Pop) and boldly ferocious soundtrack. “In rock ’n’ roll if there isn’t anything stupid—and I mean this in a nice way—there’s something missing,” says the director, pointing out that the Stooges had to get name approval from the Three Stooges’ Moe Howard (who did not give a fuck) as part of the humor. “If all you are is earnest, you end up being U2.”

As for Pop, the only fear he had going in to the doc process was the 10-hour-plus interview at his home in Miami that served as Gimme Danger’s principal narration. “Here it comes, you know,” he says. “Talk it out. Then again, that’s why I made a career in stage diving. I’m used to not having trepidations.”

Pop mentions, too, that by this point he no longer has a problem seeing himself in states of dislocation and drugs’ throes that came with his famed past of throwing himself around a stage and into an audience’s (sometimes not) waiting arms. “I had been in this band and no other, so I don’t have many comparisons, but seeing things like the footage for the Cincinnati Pop Festival was normal to me then,” he says. “Now, it’s beyond different—but I could notice from my certain body movements that when I took certain drugs I moved certain ways. Those photos or footage: It’s starting to be OK to see that. Five years ago, I still had a hard time watching.”

Along with portraying the glorious Pop, the other characters in Gimme Danger are given equal truck and pluck, such as Detroit and Ypsilanti, whose dynamics are explained by Pop as part of Henry Ford’s “industrial monarchy over an agrarian paradise” but with a strain of radical intellectualism. Then there’s Pop’s partners in mad badness, the Ashetons, who, in Jarmusch’s words, “were real gentlemen, like Iggy. No matter what weird shit they went through together or on their own, that gentlemanliness showed through. Very Midwestern.”

If there were any lessons to be learned from Gimme Danger (other than to avoid making a documentary as warts-revealing as Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, a film Jarmusch “hated”), it’s simple and straightforward.
“Don’t be a dropout,” says Pop, laughing.

“Follow your instincts and don’t let the world fuck you up or turn you into sheep,” says Jarmusch, more seriously. Without naming the plight or light of the Stooges, he says, “If the world doesn’t get it at first, they will. It might just take a lifetime.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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