Ever since reforming the Stooges for Coachella 2003, Iggy Pop has devoted most of his time to leading the group on a never-ending world tour and cutting two new albums even after the death of founding guitarist Ron Asheton led to the return of Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson and medical problems sidelined drummer Scott Asheton. But for the first time in a decade, The Stooges have no shows booked and face a very uncertain future.
The group last played at Colorado's Riot Fest on September 21st, 2013 and afterwards, Iggy ceased all group activity for the entirety of 2014. Williamson is using the time to record Raw Power-era rarities with guest singers, and he's unsure what the future holds for the proto-punk pioneers. "The plan now is to go back out in 2015," he says. "The thing is, at our age, you never really know. There's a lot of things that can happen. And that's a long way from here, but that's the plan right now."
Last year, The Stooges released Ready to Die, their first album with Williamson since Raw Power and only their fifth LP overall. It wasn't a big commercial success. "We never had a great reception for our albums anyway," says Williamson. "It doesn't really matter. I'm proud of the album. I think it'll hold up over time."
Scott Asheton played drums on Ready to Die, but he's been off the road since suffering an unspecified severe injury after the Stooges played France's Hellfest Festival in June 2011. "He was on a flight to England when all sorts of hell broke loose," Iggy told Rolling Stone later that year. "Without proper medical attention right there he would have bought it."
Asheton was replaced on the road by Toby Dammit, though he did get back behind the kit during the Stooges' set at Austin City Limits in October 2012. But it was clear to most observers he was struggling to keep up, and Dammit has been playing with the group ever since. "Scotty is losing a step here and there," Williamson says. "And he just can't keep up with that brutal touring schedule. It's just too tough. Toby is 20 years younger. Scotty is getting better, though. He brought a lot to the party on the last record." Might he rejoin the group if they return in 2015? "I don't know," says Williamson. "That's an open-ended thing at this point. We gotta get there first."
For all of the Stooges' heavy touring in recent years, American fans have had relatively few chances to see them, with most of their shows occurring in Europe and Australia. "My impression is that Iggy became quite popular in Europe during his solo years," says Williamson. "And not so much in America. He just got into the habit of touring Europe and the promoters and agents there are real plugged in. We sell out almost every show we play in America, but it's not on the same scale as Europe."
Director Jim Jarmusch has been plugging away at a Stooges documentary over the past few years. "As far as I know, that's still in the works," says Williamson. "God knows when it's going to be done, though. But you can be sure it won't be what you think it's going to be."
For now, Williamson is focused on finishing Re-Licked, a collection of newly recorded Stooges outtakes with guest singers like Jello Biafra and Mark Lanegan tackling the vocals. Iggy's absence from the project has left some Stooges fans scratching their heads. "He gave me his blessing and wished me success," says Williamson. "But it's a hard pill to swallow when someone is doing all your songs with your band and you're not on it. I think he's cool with it so far. We'll see how things progress…I hope he maintains his positive attitude."
"I don't have a problem with anything, I don't oppose anything," Iggy tells Rolling Stone in a written statement. "This statement about the 'hard pill' sounds kind of passive aggressive to me. The guys in the touring group have been phoning and emailing me and my rep before during and after the recordings, wondering how I felt about this. These guys are my friends and we've all worked together many years. I am glad someone is paying them; they are working musicians and they need to play. I want to thank all the wonderful singers on this record for covering my songs."
Last week, a spokesperson for Iggy Pop told Rolling Stone that Iggy wasn't given an opportunity to participate on the album and he only learned of it in December of 2013, after a Chicago label turned it down.