Danger Mouse first met Iggy Pop in 2004, when he was a young DJ booked to open an event headlined by the legendary proto-punk icon. It was an auspicious time for both: Iggy had recently reignited the Stooges as a functioning unit and Danger Mouse had just leaked his notorious Beatles–Jay Z mashup The Grey Album and was still finding his way through the larger music world. That night, Danger Mouse initially refused to walk the red carpet, then saw who was standing there.
"When I saw Iggy on the red carpet, I knew it was cool," recalls Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) with a laugh, sitting next to the singer at a Beverly Hills hotel restaurant. Soon, Pop was offering him advice and moral support about any potential fallout over the mashup. They've now just collaborated on "Gold," the haunted title song from a new movie thriller directed by Stephen Gaghan.
The song is rooted in a spaghetti-Western theme from the film score by Daniel Pemberton, and Danger Mouse's admiration for the understated, emotional snarl he remembered from Iggy's "I Want to Go to the Beach" (from 2009's Preliminaires). "It's almost spoken but the personality's there, and it's just dark," he says.
The producer traveled to Iggy's tiki-filled home in Miami and they began working up the song. "In the studio, he very assiduously and energetically directed the vocal, which is what I want when you're working with a producer," Iggy says. "Phrasing, intonation, vowel pronunciation – a lot of stuff like that. Little by little, the thing kept getting better and more conversational and less sing-songy."
The film stars Matthew McConaughey as a man in search of gold and escape, and opens nationwide on January 27th. Gaghan enthusiastically agreed to Pop as the voice of the song for a crucial scene in the film that the singer describes as "when something goes wrong, you know it's bad, you just don't know how bad it's gonna be. And it's starting to look like its going to be really, really bad."
One of the singer's favorite moments comes during the chorus, and the line "hail to the thieves" – "which plays nicely in an election year," he says with a laugh.
The two worked on an earlier track back in 2010 for the Dark Night of the Soul album project with Sparklehorse's late, great Mark Linkous, but both consider "Gold" the more meaningful collaboration. Iggy has spent decades finding inspiration from a long line of producers and musicians, from David Bowie in the 1970s to Josh Homme last year on Post Pop Depression.
"I'm impressed by musicians," says Iggy. "I'm kind of like a superfan. My skills are really basic – they've come up a little, but they're still pretty rough stuff. So I seek out people that I'm curious about. I can hear things that he does – and Josh – and a lot of other people including the Asheton brothers. It's going to be little better than what I can do myself."
Another presence at the "Gold" sessions over the fall was the memory of Leonard Cohen, who had died only weeks before, and whose vocal delivery always impressed Iggy. They had a history.
"I knew Leonard," Iggy recalls, remembering a message from the songwriter that began, "'Listen, a woman has placed a classified ad in the personals that says she's looking for a man with the finesse and poetry of Leonard Cohen and the raw power of Iggy Pop.' He suggested we hook her up with a three-way. 'Leonard, I'm married!' He was saying, 'Come on, man.'"