By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Pop: You mean, did I complain or anything? I just got lots of things sent back and forth, and there was rarely anything that wasn't me. And that's because the guy was in my backup band for six years, until the mid-1990s, and we had experimented before with home tapes. He knew me really well; he was with me when I played on an album called
Avenue B ten years ago, which was my first attempt to grapple with music at this level.
NT: At which level?
A musical level, where you have finer points of melody and arrangement, where you get your point across without having to necessarily rock out. And [Cragin and I] had read the same book, coincidentally, which this album is based on. And his wife was French, so we got a free, extra, French vocal on there. Actually, originally I did not anticipate this coming out anywhere but France. I made it for France. Now it's coming out everywhere.
NT: When you originally started writing the songs for the documentary about Houellebecq, did you also have an album for them in mind?
Pop: Halfway through, I realized I wanted this out as a record. So I took my profit from the documentary's music budget to create a record myself and didn't tell my record company. With an American company, at this point, if I wanted to do a record for them, it would have to be with a punk producer, punk writers, younger people to do what with, all that crap. So I went behind their back to the French. I said, "Look, I happen to have a couple of things sung in French."
NT: Finally, EMI is in fact releasing it here through Astralwerks.
Pop: They are putting it out, and even when I first handed it in, I had to hand it in through the Americans. And I immediately got an email back from the head of A&R saying, "Is this some sort of a statement, 'Feuilles Mortes?' You mean 'Autumn Leaves' on the credits, don't you?" And I said, "No it's not 'Autumn Leaves,' it's 'Feuilles Mortes.'" And then they got it.
NT: The main quote from you about this album that's circulating right now is, of course, your statement that rock is "idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music."
Pop: Yeah, well, it's clear that rock music, what's made right now, has become the worst of all musical forms.
NT: Worse, even, than radio pop music?
Pop: Yes, I think it is even worse. It's somewhere in the realm of some horrible comedy. It's just awful.
NT: All rock music? Or just the commercial stuff?
Pop: Most of it; it's the form. Because even in pop music, there are people who are good at it; you can say, "Oh, he can almost sing like the black guy he's trying to sing like." But what do you get in rock? They can't dance; they moan rather than sing. It's not sexy, it's not fresh, it's not anything. And they've all adulterated themselves with the techniques of pop music! That's why I'm saying it's worse than pop! At least with pop, you get a perky teenager or something or somebody who's been entertaining since he was 5 and at least knows what to say at a dinner!
NT: So is it a question of honesty for you? It seems like one of your main criticisms is that rock bands are pretending to be "authentic" but still use these "inauthentic" techniques.
Pop: Yeah, yeah. It's comfort food. It's tuna melt. No, it's veggie melt. It's veggie-melt music, basically. There are some people working with the instruments who are pretty good, but when they're any good, it usually doesn't sound like rock — that would be MGMT or even Vampire Weekend. But that's not rock.
NT: You're a Vampire Weekend fan?
Pop: No, I don't like it too much. But I listen to it, and I know someone skillful, who's taking enough drugs to try to be creative, when I hear it. So I think, "Oh, I get it — he's trying to mix Hunky Dory with Carlinhos Brown." OK, fair enough. But "rock" to me more is like Coldplay or U2 or the Killers. It's just getting more and more sclerotic! They're only 27, and they already sound like they can't move their limbs.
NT: With all that said, then, how do you feel about being called the "Godfather of Punk"?
Pop: In one way, it's been convenient, and in one way, it's been a drag. But I don't mind. It's a fact that at a point in time, I was involved with taking certain ideas that were present in the mid-1960s, and from about 1967 to 1972 with [the Stooges], we took some ideas where they should have logically gone. There was the idea of the sneer. The idea of the unacceptable dance. The idea of a certain intercourse with the audience, which had always been hinted at anyways, since half of all rock songs were polite ways of saying "Baby, I wanna fuck." But we actually got in there, physically. All of a sudden, it was like, "My God, his leg is on my girlfriend. Hey, he's gonna hit this guy — what's going on?" Then there were the first references to destruction. And then there was the speed. If you listen to recordings from '71 and '72 from my group, that presages all of thrash. At that point in music, there was nothing as fast as "Gimme Some Skin" or "I've Got My Right." And there's nothing else with the attitude of Funhouse or Raw Power. So there were a few specific things [that pointed to punk], but we weren't the ones who canned it. We were called "punks" to try to stop us, basically. We never sounded anything like Green Day! Nothing at all.