15 Years Ago: The Stooges Reunite for ‘The Weirdness’ LP
A Stooges reunion and new band music were the last things the late Ron Asheton expected back in the early '00s.
"I was kind of resigned that it would probably never happen," the guitarist told UCR during a 2007 interview. "I was surprised, and I'm grateful for it."
Asheton certainly echoed the feeling of fans who, like him, thought the Stooges were comfortably consigned to the past. The punk pioneers had broken up in 1971 and reassembled for the following year's landmark Raw Power LP, but they hadn't been heard from in nearly 30 years when Iggy Pop called Asheton and the latter's brother, drummer Scott, to play on four tracks for his 2003 solo album, Skull Ring. From there, the group played at the Coachella festival and went on tour, adding Mike Watt on bass (to replace the late Dave Alexander) and Steve Mackay from Fun House back on saxophone. And all the while they were asked about the prospects for a new Stooges album.
They group answered in the affirmative with 2007's The Weirdness, a 12-track set the quartet (plus Mackay) recorded in October 2006 with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago. "We'd been working steadily for three and a half years," Pop explained to UCR at the time. "We became a unit. Y'know, we have a lot of respect for the group and for ourselves and for what we felt we should go through to write real songs that were worthy of the name for us. We just kinda shrugged and went through the process we go through until we felt we had a real band and the stuff was the best we could do."
Asheton added, "After all that time [away from each other] we really get to get back and get our teeth into something again. I'm glad and relieved to know that I might have a job for awhile."
Pop confirmed that the Stooges' reunion brought "an awful lot of very strong offers from very good people" to the table immediately. One label wanted to rush the band into the studio "to cash in on our celebrity moment, basically." Jack White offered to produce a new album, but scheduling did not work out. One of the late Elliott Smith's producers was also pushing the Stooges to record sooner rather than later, telling Pop "this is your time, right now."
The Stooges chose to bide their time instead. Pop said they "wrote steadily, for four or five days every four or five months," often at a cottage he kept in Florida "for cultural affairs." "We wrote in there, with a toy drum kit and little 10- and 12-watt amps so we could play loud but so the volume wouldn't overcome you to the point where you didn't know if you had a good song or not."
Pop also came north to Detroit, where "My Idea of Fun" was among the first tracks to arrive, in the basement of the artist Niagra's house there. "Trollin'" and "Mexican Guy" also came early, while songs such as "I'm Fried," "ATM" and "Passing Cloud" were written in a flurry "when we knew we had to shit or get off the pot, basically," according to Pop. "It was like, 'Dudes, we've been writing for three years. We gotta make a record now or die.' So things got a little more intense."
Listen to 'My Idea of Fun' by the Stooges
Amidst that wealth of raging rockers, The Weirdness' title track stands out — a gentler, moody track that seemed more suited for one of Pop's eclectic solo efforts than for a Stooges album. "I was kind of proud of the group and proud of the track. It shows growth," Pop said. "There was a lot of teamwork on that track because it was an odd one. I think Ron thought he was just fucking around in-between trying to write a couple rock songs one day, and he was just playing those weird chords and I got really excited, and I was able to convince him, 'No, we gotta work this up!'
"There's a song that was always a big favorite of mine called 'Harlem Nocturne,' Earl Bostic's version," he continued. "I felt l like we got a little bit into that groove, and I was real happy about that."
Albini, meanwhile, was something of a compromise choice. Asheton wanted the band to produce The Weirdness itself, but Pop felt an outside voice was needed. Asheton, he said with a laugh, "was really terrified of getting one of my famous friends in," so Albini — a commercial contrarian with high cred as a musician (Big Black, Shellac) and recordist (Nirvana, Pixies, the Jesus Lizard, Bush, etc.) — became a happy medium.
Listen to the Title Track From 'The Weirdness'
"He portrays himself as an anti-producer," Pop said. "When you're in the studio, if you ask him about something, he'll just say, 'I have no opinion,' which is really weird, but he is a strong personality with a very definite slant on how to make music, strong opinions, and I think he's quite a good engineer. He gets an honest sound. And he came to work; he never put his feet on the desk or answered his cell phone, which is rare for a producer."
Albini nonetheless "had very passionate opinions about the group," which Pop said led to arguments about certain songs. "It was a good point of view," the singer noted. "He contributed about as much as if we had another player in the group, but he did not overbear the way a 'real' producer would have."
Albini's largely hands-off approach, then, allowed the Stooges to be comfortable once the songs were counted in. "This is a band album the way Led Zeppelin used to make albums or the [Rolling] Stones used to make albums — or the Stooges used to make albums," Pop explained. "It was like old rock 'n' roll or jazz values. And then the overdubbing was kept to minimal; there'd be one or two guitars over that, usually, and I fixed as many vocals as I [messed] up, but happily it wasn't that many. But mostly it's people playing in real time, and you can't beat that for what I'm looking for."
Listen to 'Free & Freaky' by the Stooges
The Weirdness charted at 130 on the Billboard 200, while the track "Free & Freaky" was released as single. It would be the last Stooges album for Ron Asheton, who died in 2009 after suffering a heart attack.
James Williamson, who joined the Stooges for Raw Power, moving Asheton to bass, rejoined the band, and, dubbed Iggy and the Stooges, they once again released one more album, 2013's, Ready to Die, before Scott Asheton's death the following year effectively ended the band. Mackay died in 2015, and a year later Jim Jarmusch's Stooges documentary, Gimme Danger, was released along with Pop's book Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges, co-written with Jeff Gold and published by Jack White's Third Man Books.