IT: You once said, 'Lord have mercy on the people of England for the terrible food they eat'. Is it still that bad?
Z: Well actually I haven't had more than 2 meals since I've been here. Most of the time it's been a roll and a cup of coffee and then go to work.
IT: Isn't it rather ironic that you're coming back to England in the Queen's jubilee year and she's the one who got rid of all your money?
Z: Fortunately she didn't get hold of all of it and I don't have any control over the calendar.
IT: You didn't come for back stage pass?
Z: Actually they didn't print exactly what I said in that article.
IT: What did you say?
Z: Well I was more explicit about the means by which you could procure a backstage pass.
IT: I always thought the real reason why they didn't want you at the Albert Hall was because you played Louie Louie there.
Z: Well actually we played Louie Louie twice on the organ but I don't think that was it – it sounds good on that organ – like an organ was designed for Louie Louie – and if I'd known any of The Trogg's songs I would have had them playing those too.
IT: I don't think it's the sort of thing they thought it was going to be used for.
Z: Well you never know – when they invented paper they probably didn't imagine your newspaper.
IT: Your new band is much smaller.
Z: Smaller than what?
IT: Than it used to be.
Z: It's the same size as we brought to England last year.
IT: Is there any basic difference between your new album and the other ones?
Z: Of course – I play most of the instruments on this one.
IT: Do you prefer playing instruments to singing?
Z: Well it's the first time I've had a chance to do that – it's a different experience – I'll probably do some more of it.
IT: About 3 or 4 albums back you suddenly started singing an awful lot.
Z: Well somebody had to – you can't just go hiring lead vocals and expect to get the ideas across – just because somebody's born with a nice voice doesn't mean they should be able to sing my lyrics.
IT: You've had a lot of vocalists and some have paid off very well.
Z: It's hard to get people to sing my words right.
IT: Ray Collins was fantastic.
Z: He was good – he didn't enjoy singing them – in fact one of the reasons he left the group was that he didn't like the songs – he hated them.
IT: You seem to like lots of high nasal whinings.
Z: I've always been partial to high nasal whinings – yes. I mean let's face it, a lot of the really heavy metal groups would be better off if they had some high nasal whinings.
IT: Your music is often written round your vocalists.
Z: No that's just like the real world – you can't write something that somebody can't sing.
IT: Your vocalists seem to come and go quite quickly.
Z: They don't come and go any faster than the musicians – as a matter of fact the last lead vocalist we had, Napoleon Murphy Brock, was with me for three and a half years.
IT: And how long was Lancelotti on for?
Z: Lancelotti? – He auditioned – he passed his audition – he rehearsed for 2 weeks and flunked out. He sang a couple of times on one album.
IT: Have you severed connections with Flo and Eddie?
Z: As a matter of fact they auditioned for this group.
IT: What happened – did they fail?
Z: Well they sort of passed, but they had just finished an album for Columbia and they wanted to go out and promote it, and they were considering whether or not it would be better promotion for their album to tour with me or touring with their own group. So they decided to tour with their own group. I still see them occasionally.
IT: Were they as crazy before you met them?
Z: I don't think that anybody is really crazy until after they've been in the band for a while. Because when they get in this band they find out that its ok of be crazy and then they really get crazy,
IT: How is the audience treating you these days?
Z: I've got no complaints about the audience.
IT: There's songs like '50/50'. There's that little picture on the 'Hot Rats' cover saying 'Shame on you, you didn't trust the Mothers'. Now what was that about the audience?
Z: That was from an ad. It didn't say THE Mothers. It said, 'Shame on you. You didn't trust Mothers', and it was an ad for Mothers' Gefilte Fish and it was based on the fact that some people had died of botulism from this particular product and they were advertising that they'd cleaned up their material.
IT: You once said you split up The Mothers because people clapped for the wrong sort of reasons.
Z: Well that hasn't changed much either
IT: You seem quite aggressive in your reactions towards the audience in your songs.
Z: I think that's somewhat preposterous and somewhat imaginary on your part.
IT: Well where do you think I got this idea from?
Z: It's probably because you're English.
IT: And what does that mean?
Z: You live over here and you read the kind of stuff they have in English newspapers, and what the fuck do they know about me?
IT: But I also listen to your records.
Z: What's that got to do with it? You just gave me an example of '50/50' as being a lyric that is slanted in some way in the wrong direction to the audience.
IT: I'm not saying its the wrong direction, I'm saying its a 50/50 direction – that you like them and you don't like them.
Z: The lyrics of that song have got nothing whatsoever to do with any audience. All I'm saying is that your interpretation of what I do is peculiarly English. Whether you are drowning your inspiration – your interpretation of the lyrics from the albums, or your interpretation of what you read about me in the newspapers over here. It's got nothing to do with who I am or what I do. If it amuses you to see me that way or it supports some kind of theory that you want to put in your article – follow it out to its logical conclusion and see where it goes.
IT: Your records at the moment seem less political than they used to be in the early days. Have you got much more that you want to say in that line?
Z: Well first of all I'm a very thorough individual, and I've already made plenty of statements in the direction of sociology and politics, not only that those albums are still available, – not only that the things which I said then are true – and since I get bored very easily there is no reason why I should keep on saying it forever. Anybody who hears any of the new albums, if they like them and become a member of the audience, will probably work backwards in time and hear all those other things anyway. I don't have to keep spouting the same information.
IT: There must be some new political points that you feel you want to make?
Z: I've made my political points. They haven't changed. They still don't change. They won't change. Once you've said brown shoes don't make it, and the people that pass your laws are all perverted, and all the rest of that stuff, what have you gotta say?
IT: How do you feel reproducing a track to an audience again and again?
Z: You have to play something when you 30 out there, don't you? The audience that comes to hear your show would definitely rather hear something from a record rather than something they never heard before, because they're in no position to judge quality either way, because at least they've had a chance to hear something on a record, and they're familiar with it, and if you play it for them live on the show and they like it, they'll really like it: and if you're playing something brand new the chances are they won't even get the words the first time and won't get to appreciate it until its out on record. So we combine our old stuff, new stuff, and things that haven't even been recorded – so we balance the shows up.
IT: What about your trouble at the Albert Hall and your broken leg at the Rainbow?
Z: God, is that necessary?
IT: Not really, but I thought you said you'd never come back here?
Z: Well you know I'm not that reliable in terms of what I say. Smart intelligent, well-informed people have told me that not coming back to England is an untenable position.
IT: Did you ever get '200 Motels' staged?
IT: Do you think you will ever attempt anything like that again?
IT: About 3 years ago you said you were compiling a range of about 10 albums and they were soon to appear, but never did. What happened to those?
Z: They'll come out.
IT: What do they contain?
Z: They contain such things as music that was recorded before there was a Mothers, when I had the Cucamonga studio; the first recordings of Captain Beefheart, when he and I had a group called The Suits; tapes of the rehearsals for the 'Freak Out' album; live concerts of the old group that were down at the Fillmore West, 1966; stuff that was left off of albums. Hot Rats was supposed to be a double LP, there's a whole disc of Hot Rat's stuff that never came out; there's plenty of studio stuff that's never been released; and there's live concerts that are kept up to date. All the concerts on this tour have been recorded.
IT: So it might come out soon?
Z: Well my contract expires with Warner in the summer, it all depends on what contract I sign.
IT: In this new band do you have more time to play guitar than you used to?
Z: Theoretically, yes.
IT: And are you?
IT: That's good news, is that one of the things you want to do most?
Z: I always like to play guitar, but it's tough when you have to stand in line behind a bunch of harp players waiting to take a solo, and this one's waiting to take a solo, and that one's waiting to take a solo. The audience are being bombarded, bombasted, and worn out by the time you finally play, and you've made all the guys in the band happy by letting them play your solos; by the time you get around to it nobody even wants to listen to you.
IT: That's not true.
Z: That's true, I know a bit more about audience reaction than you do. People do get tired of waiting around for things, you know. It changes the pace of your show. The more people I had in the band, the more people wanted to play solos, which meant the less I got to play, and I had the people in the band so they could play elaborate arrangements, but every time you teach them an elaborate arrangement after the first few rehearsals and the first few concerts, the arrangements fall apart. They start sluffing off on the duties of playing their assigned parts and they all live to play their little fucking solos, and so I'm saying to myself, why am I dragging all these thousands of people around.
IT: You used to conduct the mothers very well. Your concerts used to be very well thought out, although there was a lot of room for maneuver.
Z: We still do that. This band is not a free-form kind of band. This band wants to know what it's supposed to do, and this band is informed far in advance of the concert of what they are supposed to do and when they get on the stage they know what they are supposed to do and they do it. It's just musicians playing in a little orchestra: a little five-piece orchestra.
IT: So you don't welcome an individual response from them?
Z: That's not true at all. The way the songs are structured is that they know where it starts, they know what the words are, they know what the chords are, and they know where the breaks are, but the rest of it is what they're playing. All I'm doing is giving them a skeleton for a 2 hour show, wherever the event takes place everybody has a completely improvised solo in it. They all get a chance to do whatever they like to do. There's no suggestion of control from me whatsoever.
IT: Can I ask you what was happening in 'The Torture Never Stops'? I read that you didn't want to tell the interviewer how you went about recording the screams.
Z: Very simply; you set up a 4 track, tape-recorder in the basement, and you get two girls in there, and you work them over, and you put them on the tape, and you put the tape onto the other tape.
IT: Did you have a good time?
Z: Of course.
IT: On 'Lumpy Gravy' you have a series of outrageous conversations, are they real or made up?
Z: Both, they're combined. Some of the conversations were steered in certain directions. You just stick a few people together and tell them to talk about a certain thing. They were actually with their heads inside a grand piano. There was a weight on the sustain pedal so the strings were resonant: they were in this darkened room with a cloth over the lid of the piano and there's 3 or 4 people inside with 2 microphones.
IT: You don't have any other acts that you produce?
IT: Do you have any plans for any?
Z: No. I've got plenty to do with my own staff.
IT: Who is the best drummer you've worked with?
Z: Best in terms of what?
IT: Well, I'm a great Aynsley Dunbar fan.
Z: So am I.
IT: I was just wondering whether you go through them as a natural course of events.
Z: Well the reason Anysley's not with me anymore is because after The Rainbow I was off work for a year in a wheelchair – and a guys gotta go out and earn himself a living, and I wasn't touring, so he just went off and the next thing I knew he had a contract with Columbia. I still see him occasionally.
IT: I was just wondering about the high quality of your bands. Do you have an ideal band?
Z: I don't think I've formed an ideal band yet.
IT: What was the concept behind '200 Motels'? Do you consider it a failure?
Z: No. I think it is what it is. It's done. It's a surrealistic documentary; it contains actual factual information that's been permutated to suit the medium it's being presented in. When did you see it?
IT: A long time ago.
Z: Take a look at it again, you'll be amazed at how much of what is predicted in that film at the time has come true since then. Some of the lines in there are frightening.
IT: I thought you might even put some of the Albert Hall trial scenes on record. Some of the judge's lines were humorous to say the least.
Z: Oh yeah, hilarious. Like when for instance when he was handed an LP: he looked at it and said, 'What's this?'
IT: Are you based on the west coast?
IT: In Los Angeles?
Z: Just like all the English groups.
IT: Do you hang out with them much?
Z: No. When I'm home I stay home. They don't wanna come over to my house. I just work.
IT: Have you gotta warehouse full of thousands of tapes?
Z: I gotta basement full of thousands of tapes. I gotta about 2000 reels of tape in my house.
IT: How much of it hasn't heard before?
Z: About 85% of it. We've recorded just about every concert we do. We do about 100 concerts a year.
IT: Why don't you whack out more albums?
Z: Well, when you're tied up with a company like Warner Brothers . . .
IT: You're wary.
IT: Do you know what you're going to do when your contract finishes?
Z: We gonna deal with another record company probably.
IT: A better one?
Z: Let's hope so. The idea is to get the music out. Without having to worry about a bunch of crap.
IT: Is there a good record company around?
Z: CBS is really good in the States. I don't know what it's like over here. They're very efficient in the U.S.
IT: Is Herb Cohen still your manager?
IT: What happened?
Z: I'm taking him to court. I worked with him for 11 years, but he made a couple of errors of judgment.
IT: Is there any bitterness?
Z: Oh yeah. Quite a bit.
IT: Who is your new manager?
Z: Bennett Glotzer. He used to manage Procol Harum, Janis Joplin, Blood Sweat And Tears.
IT: Is management a problem for you?
Z: It's a problem for the manager,
IT: Do you have a pessimistic attitude to the world?
Z: No. If I did I would have committee suicide long ago. I still think there's hope.
IT: How do you think it's going to come about?
Z: How's what going to come about? The gradual salvation of the world?
Z: Well it's certainly not going to be forced externally. I don't think that it's going to be because suddenly somebody votes in the right government and the government fixes everything. People continue to wait for somebody else to do it for them. They've been waiting for The Beatles to get back together again, and they're waiting for the next Cream. They're waiting for a good government. They're waiting and waiting, and eventually they'll just find out that if they want something good to happen they gotta do it themselves.
IT: The forces against an individual are quite immense though.
Z: They always have been. But the biggest force against an individual getting anything done is the individual himself.
IT: Living on top of the Dorchester, how do you relate your lifestyle to your work as a working musician?
Z: Well today I'm living on top of the Dorchester and yesterday I was living in another hotel that was the pits, and the day before I was in another one – that was a pile of shit too, and I've been in at least a half-dozen hotels of sub-human standard on this tour. What the fuck has the Dorchester got to do with it? And when I go home, I go to a stucco house with a wife and 3 kids, and I work 18 hours a day there, so don't tell me about my fucking lifestyle. At least the room service delivers on time here.
IT: You feel that you are only in it for the money?
Z: How did that get into it?
IT: I'm just looking at you wearing brown shoes and I'm wondering.......
Z: I wanna show you some of the finer points of my shoes (lifts shoe to reveal worn soles).
IT: It does seem that you take on a lot of responsibilities.
Z: If I'm the one who is going to be the asshole to take the blame later I'd better look into it all. Really, it's great to be in this band, – anything goes wrong and they know exactly where to look, – and I pay on time. It's the best of all possible worlds.
IT: You don't ever feel that you want to be part of someone else's band?
Z: No. Who else's band would I be in? Go on tour with Wings maybe?
IT: Do you get many superstars wanting to play with you?
Z: No. Nobody who is really good in the music business would ever want to be in this band after all the shit they've read in the British newspapers, about what a mean person I am. They couldn't stand the discipline, you see. And then there's the other people who want to be stars and they wanna do a quick tour and then get out of the band and they're all lining up, I got a blue book over there that's got phone numbers from all over the world of people saying I-play-this-and-if-you-need-this-call-me-and-try-me-out, about 50 people auditioned for the group that's over here now.
IT: How do you go about auditions ?
Z: The first thing is if they can play the music – if they can memorise the stuff fast enough, and then they get a chance to go through rehearsals; and if they make it through rehearsals then they get a chance to go on the road; and if they make it through the road they get a chance to go on the road next time; and some people wash out at some of those stages along the line. There was a girl in this group when we first started off on the tour in October and she washed out – just couldn't handle it. She was a great singer, great through rehearsals, but just couldn't handle it.
IT: Do you ever feel like going back to your musical roots?
Z: Oh I've always thought that one of these days I'm going to do a blues album. Sure, why not? – I've nothing against that kind of music, as a matter of fact I like it quite a bit: but there's so many things that I've "already finished that haven't been released yet. So when am I gonna do all these projects?
IT: What's your favourite form of music?
Z: I think I have the most fun when I just sit down with a piece of paper and write out exactly what I want to hear and give it to people who can play it exactly the way it is written and I stand there and conduct it with a stick and say 'Change this, fix this, do it like that'. Rather than worry about playing it myself I'd prefer to write it, except when it comes down to playing guitar when I'd rather play it myself.
IT: How is it working with Captain Beefheart now?
Z: He comes in the studio all the time now , comes in hangs out.
IT: There was a time when you didn't get on at all.
Z: Here's what happened: I started him off in the business.
IT: He would deny that, though.
Z: I don't know whether he would or not. Because without being kicked in the butt he would never have started singing, he was too shy, and because I had that recording studio I got him in to do those demos. I said 'go on and sing' because all he used to do was drive around in his car and sing to himself.
IT: He was at school with you. Did you play with him then?
Z: He was not like a band member of any of the high school bands. He didn't 'play anything, in fact all he attempted to do then was learn alto sax and he gave that up pretty fast. And anyway after 'Trout Mask Replica' I don't know what happened to him – he just went nuts saying all this stuff about me, so I just stopped talking to him for about 5 years, – then he called me up on the phone one night and apologised and I said, o.k. Come over and visit.
IT: What did you think of his 'Magic Band'?
Z: I think that, considering what he had to go through to teach them what they were playing, I'm of the opinion that Captain Beefheart made them what they are – because they lived together for 18 months in this little house, and I used to go there, and they used to rehearse and rehearse, and what they sound like now is what he taught them how to do, – I don't know how he did it because like Jeff Cotton.... I mean, I think he just picked a guitar up some place and started playing the same 20 or 22 songs for 18 months. And when they went in to do the tracks for 'Trout Mask Replica' they did all the tracks in 5 hours, and that's doing some of them several times. I couldn't tell the difference between the takes. I mean they were just rehearsed to death.
IT: Over the last 10 years of rock music has anybody really surprised you like Hendrix for example?
Z: No, Hendrix didn't surprise me, but I heard some things that I've liked. Actually I get more surprises listening to a 'Queen' album than I get out of Jimi Hendrix's albums.
IT: From the music?
Z: From the production. It's very good production. Some of the things that they're doing mix-wise on these albums are very difficult.
IT: Do you think that it's peculiarly English sound?
Z: I'd say if I heard that album and nobody told me what it was – I'd say it was an English album. I don't know why I'd say that but it has that kind of sound.
IT: Have you ever done any recording over here?
Z: Yeah, I recorded at Trident once and didn't care for it much. I'm going out to take a look at Virgin's place, the Manor, tonight.
IT: Is there any difference to you between your records being appreciated and your concerts being appreciated?
Z: Once a record is completed, once it becomes a piece of product, the way the record company would say, the only thing I can fulfill as a function of coming to a town is to assist the record company in disposing of those units. I mean they don't give a fuck what's on the disc – but as far as playing a live concerts goes it's strictly a relationship between me and the audience that's at that concert. And an audience is an organism that only exists once in time. It's like a one-celled animal that only exists for that period of time. And it's my relationship to that animal.
IT: Is it important to you that your stuff gets appreciated here?
Z: No more important than anywhere else. I make it available – that's all I do. I don't ram it down anyone's throat. I don't walk around with a flaming cross in my hand saying, 'this is it folks'. I do what I do. The ones who like it, like it, and the ones who don't, don't. And if they don't like it there's tons of other groups to enjoy.
IT: Do you enjoy interviews?
Z: Well I make the best of it, suppose you had to spend an afternoon in London, – would you spend it sitting around answering questions? It's like going to the police department. A whole bunch of people come in here and start making assumptions about who you are, what you do, how you live, what you mean, what it's all about, and you have to sit there and defend yourself for half-an-hour. What kind of a life is that? I could be shaving,
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