Andreas Neumann Moving at the Speed of Opportunity

By Jeb Wright

Andreas Neumann is an amazingly talented and very successful photographer.  He was not, until recently a rock ‘n’ roll photographer.  His life and career took a slightly new turn when he was asked to co-direct a movie and shoot photography for a collaboration between Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and the legendary Iggy Pop. 

The two musicians were recording what would become Post Pop Depression in the Joshua Tree Desert.  The cameras were rolling when they created music.  The cameras were rolling while they talked between takes.  The cameras were rolling when Iggy learned of the death of his dear friend David Bowie. 

In the interview that follows Andreas opens up about the project, titled American Valhalla - The Story Of Iggy Pop, Joshua Homme and Post Pop Depression, which hits theaters on July 11th

This is a cool chat with a cool cat!  Read on and learn the experience of American Valhalla.

Jeb: How did you hear about this project and how did you come to co-direct the movie?

Andreas:  I had lunch with Josh Homme in Hollywood, where we live…we knew each other socially.  We spoke about the possibility to collaborate together on some future projects. Josh liked the fact I had never done any rock projects, so there was a chance I would be able to get a different perspective on things than usual rock photography. Months later he called me and said “Come to the desert tomorrow to shoot Iggy, me, and the guys.” This desert shoot started the journey and gave the then-secret project its first visual identity, which everybody liked so much we decided to do more ... and that led to filming the whole journey.    

Jeb:  What is your history with Iggy?  

Andreas:  I met Iggy the first time at the desert photo shoot. I arrived at Rancho  - Iggy sat on the porch.  We hugged right away and went to the shoot...

Jeb:  Before we get specific…how does one co-direct?  I would think sharing such a ‘control freaky’ kind of job would be difficult!

Andreas:  Josh is an incredible creative spirit and has constant musical and visual output.  We are kind of strangely deeply connected on a creative level. My job in this directing partnership is to get the visual on the same level that the music is. Josh and I bounce ideas back and forth and they got better every bounce … then we put them down. 

Jeb: Tell me about going to the Mohave Desert.

Andreas:  Joshua Tree desert is an amazing place of silence and powerful nature. The environment created a sound and look. All noise of the city is gone so it offers a blank canvas for any creative project in an environment of pure energy.

Jeb: I mean…this was like the band going off in secret and recording.  Yet YOU were allowed to film this.  What we see and hear is stunning but I want to know about YOUR emotions…YOUR thoughts…while this was going down.  You were literally a fly on

the wall here…

Andreas:  I only came on right at the end of the recording. The footage we see from the recordings is stills from drummer Matt Helders who was part of the band. Additionally, we pulled out a lot of the audio while the tape was rolling between takes with the conversations. There are very special moments in this section of the film that an audience will have never heard before. But the really impressive part is when I filmed the rehearsals which nobody was ever allowed to film, with Josh or Iggy. I needed to gain the trust of everyone in there and kind of became part of the band... playing my instrument: the camera.

Jeb:  I don’t want to spoil the moment…but when Iggy finds out about David Bowie’s death…describe the air in the room…the energy that you captured.  It had to be intense. 

Andreas:  We can see it in the film - it was a very tense moment but everybody in the room knew they had Iggy's back in this difficult moment. It glued the band together… kind of galvanized it if you can say that. 

Jeb: Josh grew up an Iggy fan.  Was I fun to capture a rock star of his own right becoming that kid…that fan ... once again?
Andreas:  He grew up as a fan but I feel doing this album was more a massive creative responsibility where Josh threw everything he learned in and gave everything he could to make this the best it could be - there was only one chance and he had to risk everything and commit to this 100% for more than 1 year in his career.

Jeb:  What are the biggest challenges this project offer to you? 

Andreas:   Having so much footage and choosing the right pieces to create an intriguing, tense, emotional 90 minutes.

Jeb:  What was the most frustrating day you had doing this? What was the most gratifying day?
Andreas:   I did not have that day! We were always moving at "the speed of opportunity" so it never gets boring. [The most gratifying was] the day I saw the first rough cut in one go, all the way through on a big screen with good sound.

Jeb:  Here is a tough one…is there ONE moment you look at go, “DAMN! Why didn’t I do THIS instead of THAT?”

Andreas:  Not really.

Jeb: American Valhalla’s  mantra… ‘you risk nothing, you gain nothing.’  Expand.

Andreas:  This is really the message of the film. It should inspire you to rethink and start doing what your real passion is and not living a life of waste just having a job so you can be secure and forget living your dreams.  In our Munich screening, my 29-year-old brother told me that the movie inspired him to radically change his life and 100% look for what his passion is and go for that dream. If the movie achieved that only ... I am the happiest guy.

Jeb: What shot are you most proud of?  What is your crowning jewel of this film?

Andreas:  Having a piece which will be around forever and get better and better the older it gets…a document of time and true creative collaboration.

Jeb: Is Iggy as bad-ass cool as he seems?
Andreas:  He is but he is a poet as well, and has an incredible heart. He is truly an incredible human being. I am proud to have spent this time with him and hopefully will spend much more in the future.  

Jeb: Off camera…there has to be a good story… Spill it!

Andreas:  When I did the album cover spontaneously after our Miami interview shoot and a flooded garage in our hotel ... we had very moody lighting… since all was pretty spontaneous and moving at the speed of opportunity... we needed a bit brighter shot. Josh said let's move Iggy's Rolls around and light it with the cars head lights... so we did. The cover of Post Pop Depression is lit with the most expensive light source… Iggy's Rolls Royce Phantom!

Jeb: To your mind…why is a film like this important? 
Andreas:  It shows an incredible collaboration of two artists who truly want to do something special. This was not about money or gain. It was purely for the music. How could you find a better subject to document?

Jeb: Was this as much a labor of love as it was a job?

Andreas:  Since I only do what I love every day, it is all just doing stuff we like to do.  I consider myself have never worked my whole life.  If you would define it as work… then it’s only work, always.

Jeb: Did you sneak away with a discarded lyrics sheet?  Or any other type of memento from the recording session?

Andreas:   No I would never do that. If I would even think of that, I should not have been involved in this project. This stuff is only based on pure trust ...but I filmed them all.

Jeb:  Explain to me something about Iggy Pop that you learned firsthand that his fans would not know about him.

Andreas:  First of all, I am not even an Iggy "fan." Part of the reason Josh chose me - new point of view. I come from another world. But that sounds misleading. I love and respect Iggy as a human being and creative partner in this case. And I adore the album - now one of my favorite music pieces, enjoyed in one long listen all the way through.  Iggy is a poet and gentlemen. 

Jeb: When the ‘magic’ works musicians go from collaborators to soul brothers and sisters.  Did you see this magic? Do you feel you captured it?

Andreas:  I think so - the album is a masterpiece and has no competition. It stands alone. It is kind of a movement, and so seen by the fans as well of both Josh and Iggy's fans.

Jeb: Were you at the final Royal Albert Hall show?  Again…describe that experience if you were.
Andreas:  For us it was the biggest shoot camera-wise since we filmed the whole show with 10 cameras. There, I got the most private moment with my hand held camera with Josh and me alone in his dressing room - "TIME IS NOT YOUR FRIEND"

Jeb: Last one: How do you top this? What’s next?
Andreas:   Nothing needs to be. The next will show up if the Universe plays it in our hands. What we need to do is to see it when it is there in a very noisy world … we need to keep the eyes open and see this next moment, which I think does not need to compete with this moment we captured here.