On the surface American Valhalla, now showing in select theatres across North America from Eagle Rock Films, is the story of the collaboration between Iggy Pop and Joshua Homme that led to the production of Pop’s 2016 release Post Pop Depression. While it does an admirable job of detailing how the project came about it also does far much more.
For not only do we learn about the record, the recording process, and the subsequent tour, we gain insights into both men; their thoughts on music, the nature of art, and an occasional glimpse into their own insecurities. Pop and Homme’s exploits, deeds, and lives, have probably been over exposed in the music press for as long as their respective careers have existed. However, here we hear them talking about themselves in as real a fashion as possible in front of a camera.
Each of them kept a journal recording their feelings and thoughts about the project recounting both the initial approach from Pop to the time spent recording the album and then rehearsing with the full band for the tour. Initially the movie moves back and forth between the two men – Pop at home in Miami and Homme in California – as they read from their respective journals and then elaborate on their written words.
I’ve seen many an interview with Pop – dating back to the 1970s – and have always appreciated his almost ruthless ability for self analysis. Here he continues to display a wonderful self-deprecating humour (who else do you know would describe their singing voice as sounding like Bugs Bunny on Quaaludes?) while at the same time having a very real sense of who he is and what he still wants to accomplish.
The name of the movie, American Valhalla comes not just from one of the new songs on the record, but from Pop’s feeling of being a warrior all these years and looking for a place where he can rest and celebrate his accomplishments. He’s almost 70 years old and he’s been through more wars than any of us can probably understand. However, that didn’t mean he was done or ready to, as one person put it, “Put on slippers and sing Jacque Brel songs for the rest of his life”.
Enter Homme – the man behind Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal and Arctic Monkeys, to name only a few of his more well known rock and roll projects. For me he was the real revelation in this movie. Articulate, intelligent, and very self-aware, he goes way beyond the surface of “oh how exciting it is to work with a legend” shit you’d expect in this type of movie. His remarks on Pop move, perhaps unintentionally, into an exploration his own fears and insecurities when it comes to music, and perhaps life.
His comments on the need to enjoy moments as they happen, because they fly by far too quickly, are some of the most insightful I’ve heard on the intransigent nature of music and performance. You can almost feel how much he strives to hold onto the “high” that comes from the moments when an audience and band have formed a perfect connection and how easy it would be to crash when its gone.
Homme and Pop, along with guitarist Dean Fertita and drummer Matt Helders, went into the desert and Homme’s home studio at Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree, California to record Post Pop Depression. Homme describes his studio as a handbook for everything you shouldn’t do when a making a home studio, however “if two wrongs don’t make a right, forty wrongs make it incredibly interesting”.
While there’s no actual footage of the four working together, Helders took plenty of still photos and each person’s description of events gives us a good idea of the process. This was a true collaboration as neither Pop nor Holmes had come in with finished songs. They had sent each other incomplete lyric sheets and rough demo tapes prior to starting recording, but waited to actually meeting up to start creating the finished product.
The film does a remarkable job of capturing two incredible personalities on screen. It also does one of the best jobs of any film in capturing a creative collaborative process. However, this is not your typical rock and roll documentary. There are no “experts” telling you what you should think about what’s happening. Instead we just hear everything from those involved and are left to form our own opinions.
This is cinema vérité at its best, the reality of the event as seen through the eyes of the participants captured on screen for all of us to see. The emotions are raw and real, the people are exposed and nothing is being held back. This is probably one of the best rock and roll movies you’ll ever see as it peals back the masks for us to see the real people who give us the music that has shaped our lives. If this is to be Iggy Pop’s last hurrah, and let’s hope not, than he has picked fitting people to go a Viking with before he rides off to his Valhalla.