Iggy & The Stooges: An Interview with James Williamson

When Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton passed away in January 2009 many feared that was the end of the line for the proto-punk band who had formed 42 years earlier. History though, has a way of repeating itself and as happened in 1970, James Williamson returned to the fold, bringing with him the chance for fans to see and hear songs from the Raw Power album and some of Iggy Pop’s early solo records like the recently re-released Kill City.

This latest reincarnation of the band that everybody loved to hate first time around are heading down to Australia and New Zealand to play the Big Day Out and as Williamson recounts down the line from California it has been an eventful first year back with the band. “This last tour in summer we referred to it as the ‘natural disaster tour’. We did a lot of European shows and we started out with the Icelandic volcano and got stuck in Paris for five or six days which wasn’t too bad. We had fires in Moscow where you couldn’t even see and it was over 100 degrees. We had a small tornado come through in Finland and five minutes before we were due on stage it blew all our gear off stage and killed one guy – it was really bad. We had an earthquake in Toronto, so it has been a crazy year.”

The music is essentially the same as it was decades ago but as Williamson explains the live experience is quite different in 2010. “In 1973-75 if you came to a show you wouldn’t know what you were going to get. You might get a great show, you might get not get a great show. We might be late, we might be on time, it was hard to say. These days you are going to get a good show every time. If it isn’t a great show at least it’ll be a good show. You’ll know the material too, back in the day we were always writing new material and we got bored easily so we’d always play the new stuff instead of the old stuff which meant the audiences never knew what they were listening to.”

When Williamson got the call from Iggy asking him to rejoin the band things didn’t immediately fall in to place. “I was very flattered but the fact was I turned him down initially because I had a job working for Sony and I couldn’t do it. I think the stars were aligned on that one though because it was only three of fours weeks after I talked to him that Sony started handing out early retirement packages and even though they were voluntary they were pretty sweet so I said ‘sign me up for that’ and I called Iggy back and said ‘you know what, I just became available’. Then I got really excited about it but I had to do quite a bit of work to get my guitar playing back to where it needed to be but I did and I think we sound better than ever,” believes Williamson.

When a band reforms and tours the inevitable next question is whether they will be recording new material. In the case of The Stooges the news is that songs are forming and that the band is keen to get them recorded once they all agree they are up to scratch. “I’m writing new riffs and so forth with the hope that we’ll record some new material at some point. We keep working through that to see if we can find some stuff that we think is up to par with some of our earlier stuff and see what happens there. We’ve gotta find some stuff we feel is good enough we made an agreement that we won’t release anything that we don’t feel is  up to what we’ve done in the past.  If we find something we can get behind – and we’re pretty close on a couple of things – then we’ll releasing stuff. Albums are kind of meaningless these days so its not really important to wait till we have a whole album. If we’ve got one or two songs that we like then we can just cut ‘em and release ‘em and go that way,” Williamson explains.

Looking back at the legacy of The Stooges, Williamson is quick to point out that they were never a success in any form in those early days and that the passing of time has shown that what they were doing back then was so integral and essential to the evolution of popular music. “We were total failures 30 years ago! Nobody wanted to know about us and in fact we couldn’t even make a living out of it. I’d really thought we were very unsuccessful and as time went on it just turned out we were right about our ideas they were just a little too soon for most people, they didn’t have a frame of reference for them. I think as time has gone on and more and more bands have taken from that style and some of them have done some of our  material then people became accustomed to our sound and approach and we sound very contemporary now.”

Iggy & The Stooges are one of the few bands of their ilk that are still playing with the same commitment and raw power that they couldn’t contain in Ann Arbor, Michigan all those years ago. Fans of heavy and emotive music are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t make the effort to witness and applaud the godfathers of punk when they play across Australia in January.

Chris Familton



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