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An Interview with James Williamson of Iggy and The Stooges

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Things are going pretty well these days for Iggy and the Stooges, who in addition to playing around the world to bigger audiences than ever were, this past March, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a far cry from their ’73/’74 tour in support of arguably their most incendiary album, Raw Power, after which they’d become just another in a long line of rock ‘n’ roll casualties. Their demise wasn’t pretty, either. As well as whatever turmoil and demons plagued its members, the band’s already edgy live performances had in the end turned adversarial with the audience and, as documented on the Metallic K.O. bootleg, dangerous.

With an uncertain future, insufficient funds, and no record label willing to compensate in good faith for any such assurances, Stooges frontman and guitarist, Iggy Pop and James Williamson, respectively, collaborated on a batch of songs that came to be known as Kill City. Written in 1975 though not released until 1977 — once Pop had established some success as a solo artist — the album was a hit among fans, but it suffered from a disappointing, muddled sound.

Newly reissued, Kill City has been remixed and remastered by Williamson and GRAMMY-winning engineer Ed Cherney to achieve the kind of sonic quality the album always merited.

“This mix has really reached the full potential of those songs,” Williamson affirms.

“I think it was a really good effort on our part,” he says, continuing, “especially considering the circumstances. We were all pretty desperate at that point and we did it on the shoestring, but the songs come through and they sound good. I’ve been told numerous times that that’s actually a lot of people’s favorite album that we ever did.”

When you recorded Kill City — it wasn’t meant to be a Stooges album because you guys had disintegrated by that point — what were your intentions for it? Did you want it to sound different than a Stooges record?

It was essentially a demo to get a record deal. Whether or not the Stooges played on the record is kind of hard to say at this point. I mean, yeah, the band had broken up, but we also had a history of reforming it too. It could’ve been a Stooges album. It’s really impossible to say now. We wanted to get a record deal and, in those days, that [was] kind of the fundamental thing. It was all about selling records then, not about playing live. So that’s what we were going about trying to do.

Songs like “I Got Nothin’” have harmonies and melodic nuances. What informed that?

In the tail end of the Stooges in that phase, we had introduced background vocals into the set. We became the Singing Stooges. [Laughs] Prior to that the only guy singing was Iggy. We had Scott Thurston, who has a good voice, on keyboards. And we got me, who doesn’t have a good voice but likes to look like he’s singing. So we were kind of singing that way towards the end. It was kind of natural to want to put harmonies on the demo. And we had some good singers that were playing. We had Thurston again, and I also brought in the Sales brothers, who were my buddies. They have really good voices and they did some harmonies too on some of them.

Are there any plans to reissue Metallic K.O.?

None. No. We’ve never talked about that. I mean, I don’t know what the point would be because it’s a live recording and I don’t know how much we could change it. I have mixed feelings about that record anyway. It really was a bootleg. What happens on that record with all the bottles breaking and everything, it seems kind of cool, but by the same token I feel a little bit responsible for the antics that went on after that because, along with Altamont and some other stuff that was pretty dark in those days, I think the whole subsequent attitude became kind of a little violent and unnecessary in my opinion because people thought it was cool what the Stooges did.

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  • El Bicho

    great work. Glad James was able to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule

  • JC Mosquito

    Great to hear from one of the true originators. I just DL’ed the Kill City remix from iTunes – it’s a solid reissue done right that really connects the dots between Raw Power and another great Pop/Williamson collab, New Values.