‘Building Fun House’ by Iggy Pop
On the eve of the release of the Fun House Deluxe Box Set, Iggy recounts the creation and recording of the album.
Building Fun House
I was laying on my back on the floor of the Stooges rehearsal room, stoked on LSD and reefer, staring at the lovely amplifiers and egg cartons on the walls, when I thought I saw the word “Funhouse” hovering above me in the air, just below the ceiling. We were about half way through writing and preparation for our sophomore album, and it needed a title this time. I remember thinking “this is it; we’re going with it.”
The rehearsal room was set up in the former salon of a lovely old farmhouse we rented for $325 a month on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. It had a wide porch, a stately driveway, and a nice lawn and trees. There was an abandoned corn field and junked car in back. The farmer was too old to live there anymore, so we took over. There was a kitchen, rec room, tv room, rehearsal room, 2 proper bedrooms, 2 separated apartments, and a converted attic and basement. 6 of us slept there, most of the time. There was a lot of dope smoking, some good writing, and a bit of rehearsal done at that house which later became known as “The Funhouse” after the album. The songs on the album were all written there, most of it in my attic bedroom. Ron had gotten his hands on the best private apartment, and a nice girlfriend too named Shelly. So, he wasn’t as prolific as he had been previously, and I don’t blame him. Anyway, I’d write a number that I thought the group could play well, bring it downstairs from my attic room and try to rehearse it up. Once it was solid, we’d play it at our gigs on the weekend. Scott Asheton and myself were both very keen to do something much more aggressive than our first record which was more laid back in certain ways. I’m not sure what Ron thought about that, but he definitely enjoyed what we were doing on this new record. As the concept progressed, I felt that the kind of music we were doing needed to expand and explode as the record moved forward, and that’s why we brought in Steve Mackay to help blow us over the top with his psychedelic sax.
The group had 2 vehicles that we depended on. One was a black ’57 Chrysler New Yorker with push-button transmission. John Adams, who lived in the basement and did a variety of chores such as driving us around, getting us to gigs, and humping the equipment was the owner and chauffeur. We also had a rented truck that was driven by Eric Haddix, who was a very tough boy and all-around cool soul, who for some reason almost always wore black leather gloves. Not a guy you would want to fuck with.
So, one by one, the tunes were falling into place. T.V. Eye was the key number on the record for me. To get that, I had to camp in the hallway outside Ron’s door for over an hour pounding and pleading with him to let me come in and write a god damn song. He finally compromised by coming out into the hallway with his Fender Princeton practice amp and his Strat and played me the riff. I thought, “oh shit that’s really got it!” but the way he was playing it, in the style of “No Fun” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from our first record sounded too large and thick to allow the song to go anywhere. So I asked him to throw in a variation for my tag line, and to begin the number in the style of John Lee Hooker, an artist we both liked, playing the single notes against a one string drone, blues style, before letting it build up to full sonics. This was right up Ron’s alley. He had a beautiful set of fingers and a wonderful touch on his instrument. So many hard rockers are ham handed. Not Ron. Yet he managed to be very, very heavy. One key to this, and in a way the key to the whole sonic beauty of the album, was the fact that Ron played with a heavy gauge set of guitar strings. He did this, he told me, because he was originally a bassist and the heavier string was just more comfortable, but it also gave his style a kind of massive ambience.
As we began playing this stuff live it was becoming obvious, we had some very strong shit.
So, springtime rolled around, and this small, very underrated band was flown to Hollywood, somewhere we’d never been, to record this very sleek and sexy repertoire in a uniquely beautiful studio.
Elektra Studios was a lovely little Spanish Colonial Adobe style structure with a nice little garden area under the California sun, which was great for cigarette breaks. A far cry from the dump over a Times Square peep show where we recorded our first record. There was a modern, mid-sized, tastefully appointed single studio inside, where we could fill the room with our intense vibes. This felt like a place where we could make some fucking art. So, we did. The set up was all of us together in the same room, not so far apart, where we could all see each other and stay in touch. Dave played a half stack, and Ron played a Marshall Combo 50 watt. I used a Shure SM57 and an Electro Voice split signal to the booth and the other half through an EV speaker from our live set up. All of our equipment made the trip with us, both to keep the sound in our control and because we were booked for shows in LA and San Francisco after the recording. The set up was prone to leakage, but Stooges leakage was not like other people’s leakage. The Stooges leaked pearls.
Anyway, after the usual vain attempts to conform us to studio recording standards were abandoned from the first recording day, the whole thing just took off like a Ferrari. We would devote an entire day to gaining a great recording of each song. In other words, the first day was the day of Loose, then the next day Down On The Street, and so on. We later switched these 2 numbers in the sequence. Everything else was exactly as we’d been playing them live. It was our entire set at the time. About 40 minutes before we were due to start the days takes, I would drop a tab of acid. I never mentioned this to the fellas. But it was my job in the group to radiate vibes and belief, and that’s the way I did it at the time. So, as the stuff was coming on, we were jamming. And that was the most authentic experience I’ve ever had in a recording studio.
There was not a druggie vibe at all, we would take cigarette breaks, and that was about it. My acid was on the sly, and while we all smoked a ton of weed at the time, we kept it all out of the studio. Everyone was pretty damn impressed to be making a record in a beautiful, slick, pro place right in the middle of Hollywood, so we were on our best behaviour, I would say. As the recordings show, I sang live and in full, take after take. There was very, very, little vocal overdubbing, only a few lines I thought I had blown, which were redone one afternoon at the end of the sessions. These were on T.V. Eye for sure, maybe parts of Loose, and possibly Dirt. The key feature of the arrangements was to avoid the mindless overdubbing that was popular at that time in commercial shit. So, there was no doubling of parts or what they call double tracking. No wall of sound, but instead, a snaking witchery of sound. Ron was over-dubbing a single string counter part to himself on Loose. On Down On The Street there are 2 lead guitars which added more action to the space. Dirt has a single over-dub guitar on the chorus through a Leslie speaker to complement the Wah-wah guitar on the basic track.
The number where we really went to town with studio possibilities is L.A. Blues. Live, we used to just call this number “The Freak Out.” And what we played on the basic track was a very true rendition, but it didn’t sound insane enough. So, we freaked out again, while listening to what we had just freaked. It was pretty amazing that everybody was so closely invested in what they had been playing on the basic take, that we were able to follow it smoothly and ferociously again, without benefit of riff, chord, notation, or any sign post. Something about this record that I like is the way it begins with a couple of very short, fully structured numbers, and then slips farther and farther out of control, and away from song structure and sing along shit as it progresses. Yet it never loses a structure of its own, and each number has a dignified ending. Peaceful in a way. This is not a meat and potatoes record. It’s not “10 really good songs that the consumer can depend on.” If you want your meat and potatoes, and 10 really good songs, I suggest you stuff them all up your cheesy ass.
There’s a lot of Zeitgeist in this record. The darkness of New York City in the end of the 60’s had followed the group to LA and we found ourselves booked into the amazing Tropicana Motel for these sessions, right on Santa Monica Boulevard 2 blocks from the studio. We all stayed in shabby suites, grouped around a tiny kidney shaped pool. Our neighbors there were Andy Warhol! Paul Morrissey, Joe Dallesandro, and the beautiful Jane Forth. They were making the Warhol film, Heat. Danny Fields was there with us. I was camped next door to Ed Sanders, the writer and leader of the Village Fugs, who was writing his book on Charles Manson, and looking for Satan under every coffee table. I took a walk around the boulevard one day and saw a cool red dog collar in a pet store called the Bowser Boutique. So, I bought it for myself. Ed scowled at me and said, “you don’t know what that means do you?” Andy used to like to watch me swim under-water laps in the pool. And he asked me one day, “for your next record, why don’t you just play the newspaper, you know, word for word.” I would wake up in the morning choking from the LA smog which got me really bad because I still had asthma from my childhood. So, I would sit on the motel steps smoking reefer and drinking take out coffee and having a coughing fit until I could breathe. The reefer helped me do that. The others would get up around 12, but had to be prodded, and then we’d all walk to the studio, Abbey Road style with guitars. We were usually done by 6 pm. There was a liquor store on the corner where Ron and Dave would go for the booze they liked to drink while they watched the all-night movies on TV. Once, Ron saw Marc Lindsay the singer from Paul Revere and the Raiders in there. He was pretty excited. I was almost run over one day by John Wayne in a black Caddy convertible Deville while I was jay-walking across West Mount. He cursed me. I thought, “cool.” One day I walked up the hill to the Sunset Strip to get a tuna sandwich at Ben Franks. Frank Zappa was sitting there at the counter, looking just like Frank Zappa. The whole area of Hollywood and the Hills was like a sketch that had just begun. There were large empty spaces. And plenty of room for parking. Most of it on gravel or dirt. But also, a lot of green and a beautiful light.
Eve Babitz and Christine from the GTO’s used to visit me during those sessions. They’d bring me presents and flirt a little. Eve took me to a house in the Hills where I heard Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and I thought, shit, we’re barking up the same tree. Christine had a car, and she took me to the drive-in movie to see Superfly. When you’re 23 and you’ve never been anywhere these were compelling things to do. Find the ocean, get gifts from your fans, and make some fucking art. So, we did.