Kevin Armstrong talks about life on stage and on the road with Iggy Pop

Kevin Armstrong talks about life on stage and on the road with Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop has generated some stories in his time. These days he’s diverting most of his energy into performing - but that doesn’t make life on tour any less eventful. We were hugely fortunate that Iggy’s guitarist, Kevin Armstrong, came back to talk to us about life on the road with arguably Detroit’s most infamous son. Kevin played with Iggy in the 80s and rejoined him for his latest tour last year. We took the opportunity to talk about the gigs, but also the gear and instruments behind the gigs.

MPS
How did it feel being back on stage with Iggy after all this time?

KA

What can I say? It was like coming home and at the same time a new and different experience. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding things I could be doing right now. To get this opportunity again after all this time feels amazing. I’ve been a fanboy since I was 15 years old and Iggy Pop never ceases to amaze me.

MPS

Playing some of those Stooges guitar licks is the stuff of dreams for many guitarists, is it as fulfilling as we’d all imagine it to be?

KA

100% Yes. Those Stooges riffs are so dirty and dangerous and you can really get physical about it. When I crunch into Down On The Street it’s the bomb. To thrash out the opening of Raw Power and watch the crowd go nuts. Perfect! I love the way Ron had of tearing into a lick slightly aiming it under the note and maybe leaving the wah pedal open so everything is real edgy and feeding back slightly. Heaven. I use the Big Sky too just to get that old school aftershock of reverb like on the Stooges records. It’s all got a massive amount of hair on it and the more you commit to it on a gut level, the better it sounds.

MPS
Did you sense the same kind of energy playing with Iggy this time around?

KA

Well the first couple of shows we were trying to tune in to what he wanted and to scale it up from the rehearsal room to the big festival stages so it took us maybe three gigs to really get going. He appears always to be impatient with the band onstage. Between songs he wants absolutely no gaps and will often scream obscenities and insults at us at the top of his lungs. Stuff like “come on cocksucker play the fucking song, get to it, beat that fucking drum” etc. I think everybody realizes that he’s not genuinely mad at us and it’s just part of his persona. It’s quite funny really. Once he came over to barge me over onstage but I just stood my ground. The onstage energy has therefore ramped up the more shows we’ve done. Now I can say that we’re somewhere near meeting the consistent frenzied level that he likes. That said, from the beginning the crowds have been great. The first 10 rows is often a seething moshpit with people flying over the barriers and girls sitting on boys shoulders and throwing their tops off. People rolling around on the top of the crowds with legs flying in the air etc. Underwear landing on stage. Mental. I love it!

 

MPS
Where did you find the best crowds?

KA

We had terrific crowds in France at Colmar and Lyon and the American audiences are often the wildest. We had a great time in Denver and Chicago. The crowds were wild and we went out on the town and had a blast.

MPS

Did you have an onstage highlight of the tour?

KA
In Lyon we were being filmed for ARTE TV in France. During the song 1969 I started to open up the reverb and add a little Timeline delay too and wah wah and get psychedelic with it. I think of trying to evoke the Vietnam war, whipping up a storm of noise, howling higher and louder, I got it to a pretty good spooky level that night and I look over at Iggy and he suddenly takes a running dive from an 8 foot high stage across a 6 foot gap straight into the crowd who roar with approval. Scary as hell. Of course his roadie Jos is there and the security just dive in after him but I keep hearing him loud and clear from inside the mass of bodies. “It’s 1969 Baby!” He bounced out unhurt and pirouetting across the stage like a man in his 20s. Amazing!

MPS
Did you have an offstage highlight of the tour?

KA

To be honest we’re all a bit more careful about looking after our health and strength than in days gone by. Being older and a little wiser makes you value what energy you have and try to focus it on the stage. We do party hard sometimes and we’ve had a few nights of mayhem. I enjoyed hanging with Jesse Hughes (Eagles Of Death Metal) in Denver. And with Henry Rollins in Chicago. Drinking with Robert Plant on a night out in France was fun too.

 

A big highlight for Seamus (our piano and second guitarist) and me was to go to a proper shit-kicking Baptist gospel church in the Southside of Chicago on a Sunday morning. Despite being card-carrying Darwinian atheists, we were moved by the music and the people were really nice to two geeky white boys showing up just to witness the tradition that has spawned so much good music still alive and going strong.

MPS  

Before the tour you were planning on using Blackstar Artisan 100 watt heads and 4x12s for amplification and the pedalboard you put together for Thomas Dolby’s Tour. Did you stick to this amp and pedalboard rig?

KA

I started using the Blackstar 100 watt heads in rehearsal and I found them too loud and clean for the job. Pretty soon I swapped them out for a pair of Artisan 30 combos and kept the pair of 4x12s (which I run one from each amp) so I have 6 x12 inch Celestions per channel in stereo. I arrange them in a row so I have a low and wide speaker array which gives me the presence I like onstage. Iggy likes it loud and I don’t like the speakers directly at ear level. I prefer them lower down so I can really hear the rest of the band too. My pedalboard was given a massive makeover. Daniel Steinhardt did a great job building it all round his amazing Gigrig G2 switcher so it’s just about my dream tone. All of the pedal are independently powered and isolated and so there is absolutely no tone-suck from the board and it gives me instant access to the combinations of pedals I like. With Iggy it’s really all about gain stages and levels of distortion. I need to be able to go with one button from a crunchy rhythm sound to a screaming metal lead. This means I can balance four different overdrive pedals and use the pre and post gain features of the G2 to make effects patches that give me the palette I need without having to tap dance on the board. It’s all in a fitted flightcase too so just drop it and power it up, connect two amps and a guitar and off you go.

MPS
When it comes to your guitars, did you remain faithful to your ’54 Tele and Les Paul or did you mix it up at all?

KA

I use my old faithful ‘54 a bit but I’m very fond of the Music Man Armadas I’m trying. One has P90 style soapbars and is really cool and the other has humbuckers. I like the single coils mostly as they have so much edge and tone. I only use the humbucker one for the song ‘Five Foot One’ as it has a chugging eights riff which just sounds dope on it. I tried the Les Paul but I find the Armada puts up that bit more resistance and isn’t as smooth. These guitars are heavy with quite thick necks and you have to wrestle them to the ground a bit but they really pay you back and It really suits this music. I see myself using these for a long time to come. I love the way they look too. Retro and sort of futuristic too if that makes sense. Not often I see new guitar designs I like but these really eye-catching.

MPS
How were the Foo Fighters stadium gigs?

KA

It was cool to play for so many people. Over the weekend there were 140,000! But we were aware that it was really the Foos show so in a way the audiences were the quietest we’ve had. It was daylight when we played so In a venue that size it doesn’t really work until it gets dark. It was good to meet John Paul Jones though and Roger Taylor and good to watch Royal Blood do their thing.

MPS  

Is Grohl as good a bloke as he appears to be?

KA

He’s a diamond geezer. I was in our compound at MK Bowl and I looked up and there was Grohl on crutches coming towards me. No security no minders. He just came to hang out and say hi to Iggy. We chatted for 10 minutes and were joined by Taylor Hawkins and stayed swapping stories and joking around for ages. Very nice dudes. Relaxed and friendly and genuinely respectful to have Iggy there.

MPS
You’ve got more dates coming up with Iggy over 2015 and 2016, are there any dates that you are particularly looking forward to?

KA

We’ve got a gig in Sao Paolo coming up and It’ll be my first time in South America. It’s always been on my bucket list and I think there will be a tour there in Autumn 2016 so I ‘m really looking forward to that.

. I seriously love being in this band and I am savouring every moment of it.

Find out more about Iggy’s tour dates here 

 

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