When Elvis Costello’s new album Hey Clockface dropped in late October, nobody noticed the sly Iggy and the Stooges reference in the song “No Flag.”
“[The title] should have been a clue right away,” Costello tells Iggy Pop in a new Rolling Stone Musicians on Musicians discussion. “It shared one word and one letter with a famous song of yours [‘No Fun’], but nobody spotted where it was drawing from because nobody expects me to take a cue from you.”
That cue is impossible to ignore now that Pop has recorded a French language rendition of “No Flag.” The video for the song features hand-drawn animation by frequent collaborators Arlo McFurlow and Eamon Singer.
“[This song] was quite an effort,” says Pop, whose 2012 LP After featured many French-language songs. “Nobody official asked for it. It was just Elvis and [his wife] Diana [Krall] asking, ‘Do you want to sing this in French?’ And I thought, ‘Well, the French will be a big chore. I can do that.’”
Costello has been a huge fan of Pop’s work ever since they met backstage at a 1977 show in San Francisco. A few years ago, Costello came across a recent BBC performance where Pop was backed by Josh Homme and his band. “You closed the show with ‘Lust for Life,’” Costello tells him. “You ran past the cameras and into the audience. I was like, ‘This is so full of joy and it’s also the kind of music that the authorities usually say, “Let’s ban this music immediately because it’s going to cause some trouble.”‘”
The French rendition of “No Flag” required a very different kind of energy and focus from Pop. “There’s a uniqueness to the French language,” he says. “No other language has vowels that sound like that. Learning a song that’s as quick as ‘No Flag’ took a month of practice because my lips weren’t used to those combinations…I [worked on it] for 40 minutes a day for about five weeks. You don’t want to do too much work on it at once or it’s not fun anymore.”
The lyrics were translated into French by Murial Téodori, wife of Attractions/Imposters keyboardist Steve Nieve, and her son, Antoine Jules Ulysse Quessada, who records under the name AJUQ and plays drums on Hey Clockface. “You sound absolutely convincing in French,” Costello says. “When I played your version to Murial she said, ‘This is unbelievable. You’re so inside the song.’ Diana and I were both listening to it with tears in our eyes.”