By Robert Cassella
Genius is a process as is life itself. Appearance, change, disappearance. Only a few realize that it is a potential and even fewer realize it period. The vast remainder accredit it to a freak combination of genes if they can be impressed to acknowledge it at all. Once acknowledged the majority of people seem to find it lamentable that genius need be embossed in human form for genius makes a man a hero. Not in the sense of heroics, but rather true heroes. Men who have a mind and eye full of what the rest of us only have a tasteless intuition of and no capacity to act on. Our TV culture wants our genius/heroes to transcend the mere man. But that same media frustrates that desire because it shows genius for what it is.
Genius is a function. Just another activity in the human body-mind operating alongside the rest, gross and subtle, moving bowels or having visions. And shucks, what fun is that?
Now true genius it more than having exceptional mental and creative power. Steven Wozniak is a genius. So was Albert Einstein, however ... but let's not get silly. Suffice to say that true genius, in whatever human facet it appears, gestures beyond the limits of its' particular academic boundaries towards the whole of this earthly condition. Towards Truth. Towards that which is greater than the sum of its parts. True genius serves Truth. And it is Truth not genius which is transcendental.
In my opinion Frank Zappa is a true genius.
Now before the cry of outrage or roar of laughter begins I'll make clear that in no way am I calling Frank Zappa a great sage or guru. That's the business of transcending even genius and we're not talking that here. What we are talking is a staggering body of work which goes beyond it's obvious or familiar representation.
To say this another way; my buddy Allen painted a portrait of his mom. So did James Whistler. Allen's painting stops as a picture of "mom" the place where the Whistler painting only begins.
Reference is made below to the "project/object". Quoting Frank's own words form the book No Commercial Potential by David Walley, "[the project/object] contains plans and non-plans, also precisely calculated event-structures designed to accommodate the mechanics of fate and all bonus statistical improbabilities attendant thereto ... [it] incorporates any available visual medium, consciousness of all participants (including audience), all perceptual deficiencies, God (as energy), THE BIG NOTE (as universal building material), and other things."
So every breath is Frank Zappa's art. The problem is to be any one other than Frank Zappa is to miss great clods of input. But then again need you be vividly aware of the event/connection between every brush-stroke and a whore with an ear in her hand to be blown apart by Van Gosh? Or do you have to be a Hindu, to grasp "God (as energy)" and "THE BIG NOTE (as universal building material)"? (SHIVA and SHAKTI for those of you who are thinking as opposed to just reading the words.)
Let me close this introduction (which is awkward and probably incorrect but what the fuck) with the words of Mary, the girl from the bus. Remember? The last tour?
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST... *
Q: Your albums seem to come in obvious groupings. Overall there is still the project/object ... is that still a viable term?
Q: Well, there are chunks. The period from Freak Out to Uncle Meat ... from Chunga's Revenge to the 200 Motel soundtrack.
Zappa: Since you're wise enough to see chunks, are you wise enough to see that the chunks are determined by the membership of the ensemble? That's the major determining factor in what goes onto the records. It's based on the time-honored theory you can't get blood out of a turnip. And if you did, would you wish to consume it?
Q: Then the dissolution of your various ensembles over the years ... is that because the ensembles were bled dry? You don't feel you're going to get anymore than what you've gotten?
Zappa: It's not a matter of me bleeding ensembles dry.
Q: I'm not for a moment suggesting you do any bleeding.
Zappa: Well ... people who come into the band do so for various reasons. The primary one is usually to earn a living and if at any time, during their residency they feel they can make more money or broaden their horizons elsewhere, I make no attempts to keep them from leaving. It's their life, their business, their job. Inevitably, they always leave and they always go somewhere else. Some become more successful, some of them don't. You know I'm not operating a slave-labor camp here. First of all, you have to have high qualifications to get into the band, and if you wish to leave after you've gotten in, the door is always open; because there's always somebody waiting for your job. So my job in putting this stuff together is based on finding what the people can do, and giving them a setting in which they can do it, without too much trouble, and finding out what they can't do, and trying to avoid it as much as possible, because that brings down the level of the performance. I like to write in a lot of different styles and no one group is perfect for playing each style.
Q: Your last release with the London Symphony Orchestra, I akin that with side 2 of the 200 Motel soundtrack. It struck me that you seem to be in a much better mood with the music on this last piece, than you were on 200 Motels. The London Symphony album seems relaxed, as where the 200 Motel soundtrack is very kinetic.
Zappa: What are you trying to tell me?
Q: I'm not trying to tell you anything, I'm trying to illicit a response to the effect that perhaps it was easier, you had more credibility, you found yourself enjoying the symphony situation moreso.
Zappa: I've never enjoyed the symphony situation. I do not expect to in the future. I like to write a lot of different kinds of music ... some pieces are written for symphony orchestra ... and some are written for two guitars, bass and a drum. My enjoyment comes from hearing the stuff played right. Like every other composer in the world, you usually have to wait a long time before anybody plays any of it right. So to think of whether or not a person enjoys the orchestral situation is ridiculous. The musicians do not enjoy the orchestral situation, and the conductors ... maybe they do, I can't tell, but as a composer I can tell you that I certainly do not.
Q: Okay. Then would the difference between the two albums be that the last one was played more "right?"
Zappa: The LSO album is recorded better and there are probably more correct notes on it.
Q: And that pleases you?
Zappa: I'd give it five ... ten percent. I mean, we're talking about a real alien world here.
Q: On Orchestral Favorites there is a re-working of the 200 Motel themes. Do you do this because 200 Motels is out of print and you'd like this material still to be available? Or are you trying to satisfy something that wasn't gotten right the first time.
Zappa: The fact of the matter is, 200 Motels is a stack of music about like this, (opposing palms 2 ft. apart). In order for it ever to be played again, anyplace other than on a record, it had to be boiled down to a concert piece that could be used for live performance. "Bogus Pomp" is a compilation of main themes from 200 Motels which was a concert piece, for a forty-piece orchestra. It was just played again in the 120-piece version at the University of Wisconsin, along with "Strictly Genteel". It's nice that some of the things are actually getting played. But unless somebody takes the time, mainly me, to sit down and put it together to one book that thick instead of a pile of scores for movie background music, nobody'll ever hear it.
Q: Movie background music. Does that interest you at all?
Zappa: It has its charm. I originally was interested in doing motion picture scores, but it's pretty unrewarding.
Q: You mean the fact of the matter that the music is literally background?
Zappa: No, I think you can do a good job writing functional background music and having a scene work, but when you have to sit there and put up with the bullshit that a producer is going to give to you, who is totally ignorant musically, telling you what he wants in there, their favorite little item, it spoils the way the score really should work, then you have to put your name on it and take the rap for it.
Q: What do you mean "what they want?"
Zappa: Well, the guy says, give me something that sounds like the Nutcracker Suite right here, that kind of mentality.
Q: So it's not a point of him explaining the mood to you.
Zappa: No, it's his deciding that he wants this to sound like so-in-so, and that to sound like so-in-so, and you're supposed to be a whore and sit there and replicate this man's record collection. That's disgusting.
Q: Videos, which you don't care for. How do you make the distinction between a movie soundtrack, which you seem to have some respect for, and the video?
Zappa: It's a totally different function. Videos are only long commercials for an album. I just did a column for Guitar Player, and the topic is video-assisted ignorance, and it deals with the question of, should you do a video, who pays, what's it all about and that kind of stuff.  And I answer those questions from my point of view, and I can sum it up for you right now. People who think of videos as an art form are probably the same people who think Cabbage Patch Dolls are a revolutionary new form of soft sculpture, because the whole intent of doing a video is only to sell a record.
Q: I read some information saying the majority of the artists have no say as to the content of their videos.
Zappa: Most artists who do videos are just dummies who stand in front of the camera, along with the rented cute girl who mouths the words occasionally for a couple of insert shots. They're starting to look the same, mainly because there are a handful of top-flight guys who charge exorbitant prices to produce these things, and these people, the ones who are being used to do the slick ones, are the same people who do the beer commercials, and other product commercials. I mean, it's just commercials.
Q: So the present product is garbage?
Zappa: The future product will be garbage too. Garbage in, garbage out. I'll tell you, the only two videos that I've seen that I like, were the ones by Tom-Tom Club, the animated things, I thought they were nice. I think that's done by a company called Cactus Studios, or something like that. But most of the other stuff, when you get the shot of the group running down the street, the group all together, where they walk down or run down, then there's the shot of the car door, then the dove, or the girl's lips, or an ECU, with a wide angle lens, and the lead singer grimacing into the camera, trying to look scary, or the shots of the doll being broken, or quick cuts of the same movement ten times in a row, that kind of stuff. It's so redundant and so hopelessly ignorant.
Q: If you feel that music can be used to sublimate and set the mood to, make a scene work, can visuals serve the same purpose?
Zappa: No. Because when you watch something, better than fifty-percent of what you experience is visual, so the music is always subordinate to the visual. That's why they call it background music. So ultimately, the net result of making a video is to do something which is anti-music. It forces your song, such as it is, into a secondary position while people pay attention to what the images are and the images aren't yours. The images are done by the guy who made the commercial, and then to add insult to injury, you pay. The company doesn't pay, you pay. And then you give it away for free, to somebody who shows it on television, and they make money because they're selling commercial time. We're talking about the big industrial hose job here and the more people in the media who talk about how great videos are, helps to con the poor artists into thinking he can't live without one. And the exaggerated reports of how these things have influenced record sales... I don't believe that because the things that sells the records is radio. Because when it's on the radio, you hear the SONG. You can watch a video maybe six times before you want to puke over it. You can listen to a record hundreds of times, if you like it. If a video goes on MTV, chances are the radio station may pick it up, but the sales will be motivated by the radio, not MTV.
Q: Do you feel radio stations feel at all obligated or inclined to pick up on what's being played on MTV?
Zappa: I think there is some inter-reaction. I think radio stations play what they want to play. There are songs that go on the radio which do not have a video representation, and they become just as big a hit as the ones that do. So if a person is out there reading this, and they're thinking about doing a video, they ought to at least consider what the cost is going to be to them as an artist. Because no matter what the record company tells you, there is no free lunch, you are going to pay. They'll find a way to stuff it up your butt, and you're going to get used and ultimately you will be assisting the process of cheapening what's left of our musical life in America.
Q: You don't sound like you hold much hope for a long life, or at least, a prosperous life.
Zappa: What, me personally?
Q: No, no, music in America.
Zappa: I think that it's beyond hope, but I think that is definitely what is deserved. I think that music is an art form that is too good for the kind of society that we have here. I think it is something that is too beautiful and too subtle to be appreciated on a large scale by the average American person. Remember, these are the same people who would kill to get a Cabbage Patch Doll. When we have reached that point, I don't think that music is really useful to our lifestyle.
Q: When you say music, are you meaning, all music?
Zappa: All music.
Q: Even the latest Duran Duran?
Zappa: Well, that's not one of my favorite groups, but I won't say that they're terrible. I think that there are people who adore what they do and are entitled to consume it. I listen to music, I can close my eyes, and hear what's really going on. That to me is what music is all about, not watching it.
Q: Can you go into that a little bit? Listening to music?
Zappa: No, I can't. You can either do it, or you cant.
Q: You're talking beyond the mechanics, you're talking the whole spectrum, then? Everything from the mood of the composer to the mood of the players, to how it was recorded, the whole package?
Zappa: Yeah, you can hear the whole thing, it is possible to take the whole thing in. It is also possible to zoom in on different parts of it, of the experience. You can analyze it individually or let the whole thing wash over you. I could listen in a lot of different ways, and there are probably a few other people who can do that, if they had been in the studio for a long time. I mean, you can listen to a song and hear only the EQ, and you can listen to a song, and make value judgments about instrumental transparency. Or back to front, or amplitude, or audio cleanliness, or you can listen to chord changes, or you can listen to individual performances of individual instruments playing the song, or vocal nuances, or whatever. There's a lot of stuff to listen to, as opposed to what you could watch. Remember, when you watch, the amount of money spent on the television set itself, the largest amount, goes into what you're seeing, and the smallest amount goes into the apparatus producing the sound coming out. So in every way, the music has been subordinated to the picture. It's just not music anymore.
Q: You did produce a video though, didn't you?
Q: For what reason? Simply to demonstrate the dumbness of videos?
Zappa: No, because at that time, CBS had distributed our product overseas, wanted a video for foreign distribution, and they picked up the tab for it, so I did it.
Q: Were you at all pleased with it?
Zappa: Well, I wouldn't say it was my favorite piece of work. It's got some funny stuff in it, but considering the budgetary constraints and the amount of time we had to do it, I wouldn't call it exemplary by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: Let's go back to themes. After a theme is written, do you feel any sense of obligation or do you feel moved to exhausted, to explore all of its possibilities? I'm curious because it seems your variations become infinite at a point.
Zappa: That's the way life is. I try to keep what I'm doing in phase with reality.
Q: My curiosity about themes has to do with the cohesive quality of your music, the project-object. One example, which I only caught a few weeks ago, the end theme in "Gregory Peccary" shows up in the middle of "For Calvin and His Next Two Hitchhikers". This kind of reiteration happens alot.
Zappa: Take the word motherfucker. There's a lot of different places where you could use that, and it gets the point across, same thing with a theme. A theme is an idea, a representation, it's own little gestalt, a group of notes which says a piece of information and that piece of information, in one setting, produces one kind of response, and the same piece of information against another kind of setting produces a multiplication of the other response. If you know what the two things are. But you see, most people can't comprehend this stuff because there's very few people on the face of the earth who've even heard everything I've done because there's just so much of it.
Q: Forty-plus albums.
Zappa: Yeah. A lot.
Q: Is that handicap, then?
Q: So you feel each album stands individually?
Zappa: Yeah, sure.
Q: But they stand better together?
Zappa: There's a different kind of enjoyment to be derived if you know what the whole bunch is. It's a different story.
Q: What is this story? What's the urgency?
Zappa: There is no urgency.
Q: There's something there. I'm sensitive to a criticism. To your own biased personal opinion. In the music there's an urgency perhaps not for you to consider x-number of tasks, but to get people to wake up perhaps, like you want to rough up their feet or something.
Zappa: No way. That would be an undesirable, unattainable goal because the more you find about what's going on, the more you realize things deserve to be the way they are and in order to be true to the way that I work, I will continue to express my point of view and if people find that ruffling, or somewhat distasteful, they don't have to consume it. But I'm not Paul Revere running through the town on my horse saying, "c'mon, wake up, they're coming". Stay asleep! They're coming, but you just stay asleep because if you wake up, you ain't gonna do shit anyway. Stay asleep.
Q: The liner notes in You Are What You Is "pass the napkin", is that what that was about, stay asleep?
Zappa: Stay asleep. Don't wake up, don't bother. What are you going to do?
Zappa: No, realism. If you stop and think, if the entire population of the United States woke up and realized that depth of the badness that is surrounding them and that is being perpetrated in their name, worldwide, if they woke up, and really saw, what the fuck do you think they would do?
Q: Go to a movie.
Zappa: So they should just stay the way they are. They're fucking happy. Stay happy.
Q: So long as it doesn't cause a murder.
Zappa: Yeah. Ignorance is its own reward.
Q: The quality of your life, as measured by how much of what you consider truly beautiful, you experience everyday.
Q: Then these people who are asleep, are experiencing what they feel to be beauty...
Zappa: They have a perfect life, and that's why I think they should stay asleep.
Q: And for the rest, who maybe aren't awake, but at least realize they're asleep, you'll keep putting music out.
Zappa: For as long as I can afford to.
Q: You keep hitting economics over and over again. Is that getting more burdensome as time goes by?
Zappa: It's particularly burdensome now because I've gotten to the point where projects that I'd like to do are far more expensive then the types of things I was doing when I was touring and in order to do the things I really want to do, requires capital above and beyond budgets for normal phonograph records. To make an album today, if you want to do it with any class, it'll cost you 100-150 grand and I can still afford to do that, but to do anything above and beyond an album, the costs go whizzing out into the stratosphere. I'm a self-financed operation. It's what I can do in providing entertainment for the audience who likes what I can do. So I find myself spending more time than I want to working on raising capital for other projects and that's boring and tedious.
Q: Using your albums to raise capital?
Zappa: No, like trying to go out and get investors for a Broadway show, for instance, or to get people to invest in a film, that kind of stuff.
Q: Baby Snakes ... did you finance the whole of that?
Zappa: Yeah, it was, all me.
Q: Have you reaped any reward from it?
Q: Obviously you didn't make it to show once at Los Angeles Filmex.
Zappa: Well, the fact of the matter is, I made it and there it is. I got a call from the Library of Congress two days ago, they wanted to use 200 Motels as a teaching device for film scoring for a course they're conducting. I told them I didn't own it, that United Artists owned it, so if they wanted to access to it, it had to come through them. That fell through because UA wanted to charge them too much money for access. Then I told them that a copy of Baby Snakes was in the Library of Congress, and the lady who called me said she hadn't seen it yet. I told her if they wouldn't cooperate with her on 200 Motels maybe she'd like to take a look at that. She looked at it, and went crazy, so maybe they'll use that for their course.
Q: So if money isn't rolling in hand over fist, are you getting respect?
Zappa: What's respect? If a person who is asleep turns to you and says, "hey, you're terrific", is that respect?
Q: 2 minutes ago you said they were living a perfect life.
Zappa: That's got nothing to do with this question. They may be living a perfect life, but it's their life. You're asking about respect and that's got to come from my life. So are you getting respect?
Q: Do you meet any woken up people?
Zappa: No and perhaps it's best.
Q: That must be pretty fucking miserable.
Zappa: I wouldn't say it's miserable, but when you consider the alternative, it's probably best. It's only the way it is.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the use of persona in your songs. You had mentioned that what you do is objective reporting.
Zappa: I never said objective reporting. I said reporting. Totally bias. I will sit here, right here, and tell you right now, that everything I say is my point of view, it's not objective at all.
Q: The reason I bring up persona is I saw the film Baby Snakes and in it you mention as a preamble to the song "I Have Been In You" that you were referring to the Peter Frampton album, I'm In You. And I hadn't gotten that listening to the album Sheik Yerbouti at home.
Zappa: You didn't?
Q: Not the reference to Frampton, no.
Zappa: I don't see how having heard of an album called I'm In You that it never occurred to you that somebody would have the nerve to make fun of it by doing a song called "I Have Been In You."
Q: I admit to not making the connection at the time. I wonder how much more I have missed.
Zappa: Probably a lot. If you missed that one, boy you're in a fog. It's pretty obvious. As a matter of fact, Frampton even did some of the radio spots advertising the Sheik Yerbouti album, making comments about that, so it was not a top-secret operation. I won't say it was general information, but the word was out that that's what it was about.
Q: Let's go back to persona. When you adopt a character, as in "Bobby Brown", or when you do some outright reporting, as in "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me"...
Zappa: "Bobby Brown" was reporting. That's about a real bunch of people that I met.
Q: So it's all reporting? You don't adopt a character?
Zappa: Well, if I'm the guy stuck with the job of singing the song, I have to say the words of the character in the song, but it's certainly not me putting on a disguise and being somebody else.
Q: I'm curious about that because it's something, for example, that Randy Newman has talked about a hundred times.
Zappa: Transforming himself into the character of a song?
Zappa: The closest I get to that is being the voice of Greggary Peccary, and that's like doing a voice for a cartoon. I don't know what Randy Newman's talking about, but generally in my work it's when I have to sing the song, I do whatever is necessary to get the point across. There's no great desire I have to express myself on that level.
Q: Reporting then, when you portray, a sexual situation in your songs and it's a biased comment, I imagine, while not assuming for a moment you disapprove of sex, that perhaps you might believe it's not engaged properly.
Zappa: I feel that sex is quite a bit funnier than people think. Actually, I think everything is quite a bit funnier than people think. People have a right to express themselves, however they want, so long as they don't wind up killing their neighbor. If you want to do all that kind of crap, go ahead.
Q: "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes".
Zappa: Yeah, But think about it. Stop and think what it looks like. This is preposterous. How can you block that out of your mind. Do you have any idea how stupid people look when they're fucking? But certainly the people who are doing it don't, or they'd be laughing at themselves while they were doing it.
Q: From my own point of view, I thought the best job you did at recording a sexual situation was "Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me".
Zappa: Well, that's only one.
Q: But marvelous.
Zappa: That's really a good song. It's no Beatles record, that's for sure.
Q: You had mentioned in an interview, getting comfortable with the idea that you're not going to be selling platinum records every time out.
Zappa: I never have, and I never will.
Q: You are a working man with a block of fans, but what struck me is that you don't expect the audience to grow.
Zappa: Well I know a little bit about politics. I'm not talking about voting politics, I'm talking about dirt, and I'm telling you the odds versus the dirt of me doing anything more than what I'm capable of doing, are not good, so why expect more? I plan to be able to accomplish what I can accomplish, given my access to media, given my access to distribution, and the access to funding for the different projects I'm involved in ... there are finite limits to what I can accomplish.
Q: In late '74, you did a radio interview on WPLJ in New York, and you had said the significant musical advance of the sixties was that the groups had learned to play their music together without all having to dress alike.
Zappa: That's a funny statement.
Q: I thought so. Do you have a pithy remark for the musical accomplishments of the seventies?
Zappa: I have very few remarks about the seventies because not very much happened in music. Now, apparently, the groups have all learned that in order for them to have a career, they need to dress alike.
Q: That harkens back to an interview you did around the time of "Valley Girls." You said that things in the music business are as bad now as they were twenty years ago.
Zappa: They are. But maybe a little bit worse. The quantity of media, as compared to twenty years ago ... FM radio hadn't turned into what it's now become, where now you have FM which is AM and stereo and MTV, which is video assisted ignorance.
Q: So if things are as bad now as they were twenty years ago, was there a period of time during the eighteen years or so you've been recording when things were good? Or passable?
Zappa: I think that passable is a suitable word. There might have been a year here or there, somewhere between the last twenty years where things seemed to be passable, but we've had so many repressive political regimes, the whole swing towards right-wing pseudo-Christian mentality, that overall it's the beginning of the Dark Ages ... and with technology to assist us, we're headed there faster than anybody wishes to believe. The only difference between this dark age and the other one, is that we'll be able to watch a lot of this one on TV.
Q: Those passable years ... what albums do they encompass?
Zappa: I would have to sit down and get out the slide-roll to calculate that. I can't say that everything that's happened to me or has happened to music in the last twenty years is negative, but I think the net result has been a real downward spiral, just in terms of musicality, not in terms of quantity of records sold, or health of the industry, but just in terms of the musicality of what is being merchandised. It's not musical.
Q: About the last group of tours that you did. Is there anything about the quality of your audience that you've enjoyed over the years?
Zappa: In live performance there are certain cities where there are a group of regulars I've come to regard as friends. New York being one, it's always the best audience. Also Jersey. I like Jersey audiences, they're good and rowdy and wholesome at the same time. A little bit on the mongo side, but I like them.
Q: Do you think the audience has improved since you first played the Garrick Theater up to your last appearances. Do they seem more knowledgeable?
Zappa: When I go to play a concert, it's not a test. I don't go on stage and find out what the audience knows. We're talking about an emotional feeling that comes from the people who go there. I would say I get a better feeling from those people now, than when I was working at the Garrick Theater, at that time, even though they were quite devoted and used to come every night, they were still looking at us like we were from Venus, now they don't.
Q: So they're becoming more appreciative of what you're doing?
Zappa: Not necessarily. They've gotten used to seeing me around, I'm not so foreign to them, but remember, out of all my touring, we're talking about two states.
Q: They're must be somebody out there that really appreciates what you're doing.
Zappa: Well, I know there are some who think they do. But they certainly have some perverse reasons for doing it.
Q: This goes back again to what I called urgency. What's it about?
Zappa: What's what about?
Q: The project-object. What exactly is there for people to appreciate that they're not getting yet?
Q: More question?
Zappa: More. There's more there, but in order to gain access to that, a person has to spend time, and there's less of that. Like some authors write short stories, others write gigantic books, and the people who write gigantic books generally have smaller audience because people don't require that much entertainment. They just need a little quick get-off, and then they go out jogging and do whatever they do. Most of what is merchandised for entertainment purposes today is all short duration material and I don't work in that medium. So consequently that limits the manner in which my work is consumed and it limits the size of the audience because most people don't have the interest span to deal with it.
Q: And if they did, what's there to be gotten?
Zappa: You have to get in and find out, wouldn't you?
Q: Now wait a minute, this goes back to what you said about respect when talking about the individual. Same thing here, with what there is to be gotten. Obviously you have an individual idea of what there is to be gotten, so must other people. Now you said people might have perverse ideas as to why they're into your music...
Q: Well there must be some purity, some truth, some ultimate essence they can get to and lose their perversity?
Zappa: No there isn't and what you're asking is a fifteen second encapsulation of the entire substance of the body of my work and all the stuff that I do and that will not be forthcoming. There's just other stuff in there that transcends the record or the film. Other information.
Q: Do you record everything you do in concert?
Zappa: 99%. The other one percent, are situations where the equipment broke down, or union regulations in the hall made the cost prohibitive.
Q: When did you hit on the idea of taking live tracks and overdubbing to give it a studio quality?
Zappa: I've been dreaming about that since I found out about a taperecorder.
Q: What are the advantages to it?
Zappa: Well ... people perform differently on stage than they do in the studio, and the place where it shows up the most is on the rhythm track. There's more excitement to a live rhythm track. You don't have to listen to the next guy with earphones on, and there's less inhibitions, so if you get a live track, it's got a better feel. Then some of the bad aspects of live recording are instrumental isolation. If you strip off the instrumental sounds that are distorted or have a problem, and replace those with the studio track, you come up with an interesting hybrid.
Q: When did you start making live recordings as a general rule?
Zappa: The same time that I did the Just Another Band From LA album, that was the first one done with my own equipment, well actually, there were some examples of things done before that on Weasels Ripped My Flesh about 1968 or '69, before the first bunch of guys broke up, we had an engineer that used to travel with us, named Dick Kunc. He had this little mixing board in a briefcase, four or five microphones, and a Uher recorder, and we used to go around and make live recordings with that. But when we did Just Another Band From LA, that was a four-track recording on a Scully four-track, the first professional machine I owned. I've got hundreds and hundreds of tapes made in that medium and the next thing that I bought was an eight-track machine, there too is a few hundred tapes. Then we carried around a 24, and then I bought a truck that had three 24-track machines in it. We did two tours with that. Now that we don't tour anymore, that's the end of it. Still got the truck.
Q: That sounds absolute.
Zappa: Yeah, we stopped last year. The last concert was Palermo, Sicily last summer.
Q: Is that where the material on Man From Utopia came from? I only ask because of the Italian road signs on the cover.
Zappa: Well, that's the flavor of it.
Q: No more concerts. This confuses me now. You have often said that you don't get the air play you want, the print media doesn't work, and that television advertisement is pointless, so you use the concert routes to sell your products.
Zappa: I was forty-three years old on the twenty-first of December, and I really don't enjoy touring that much anymore, so that's that.
Q: The 200 Motels syndrome became overwhelming or utterly boring?
Zappa: No, not utterly boring. It's just that the mechanics of doing the tour in the 80's is a far-cry from what you used to do in the sixties and the seventies. The size of your touring equipment, the overhead of the tour itself, the risk factor of the audiences that you're playing for.
Q: I remember when I last saw you at the Santa Monica Civic, your sternly admonishing the audience not to throw anything on the stage.
Zappa: I have no desire to go out there and be somebody's chump. I come to a town to play music, I don't expect to stand there and be used for target practice for anybody for any purpose. So as long as that's the way the modern day person behaves, they can just kiss it off. I'm not about to stand up there and subject myself to that kind of abuse.
Q: What you predicted happened to me at the concert. While you played "Yo Mama" a 15-year old puked on my shoes.
Q: "Yo Mama". An epic guitar solo. When the keyboard comes up, during the second half of the guitar solo, the quality is absolutely epic. Because it was a live track that feeling ... is that spontaneous?
Zappa: The guitar solo was a live track. The keyboard was all overdub.
Q: So you mapped this out.
Zappa: It's called writing a piece of music. That's what composers do.
Q: It's more than writing a piece of music. You obviously saw it through the last detail.
Zappa: If a composer had the technical skill to do that sort of thing, I think a lot of them probably would follow through all the way. But most of them don't have the studio technique down.
Q: Yourself excluded?
Zappa: Oh, I definitely do. In fact, I invented a lot of it.
Q: I recently picked up an album called Rare Meat, put out by Rhino, a compilation of real old tracks from Studio Z.
Q: How many more of those tapes are floating around?
Zappa: A lot. For a studio with no money, and dipshit equipment, we did alright.
Q: Is more of that going to see the light of day?
Zappa: I wouldn't be holding my breath. It's not a high priority item.
Q: I wish I could find out what a couple of major priorities are.
Zappa: What's going on in the other room is a major priority. David is in the process of loading in some stuff on the computer, this composition that I'm working on, so that's very time consuming. Basically, what he's working on is a keyboard piece that is rhythmically pretty close to impossible for a human being to play. But the computer I've got in the other room is doing it very nicely. It's a great sounding piece, but he can only load in two or thiee minutes a day. I work on it during nights.
Q: Volume 2 of the LSO album?
Zappa: That's not a high priority item. It's in the can, the tapes are edited, but it's not mixed yet.
Q: What about the promise at the bottom of the last album that for those of you who enjoy, this kind of entertainment, more is on the way?
Zappa: Well, you know, there are plenty of other things to occupy your mind. There's always the latest Duran Duran release, and anything that really matters to your lifestyle, there's always plenty to keep you busy.
Q: One thing that I've always thought was singularly remarkable, was in the early 80's, in a period of a little more than a year, 12 new discs were available.
Zappa: You counting bootlegs?
Q: No ... but then again, you might consider what Warner Brothers was releasing at the time bootlegs.
Zappa: That was because Warner Brothers wanted to saturate the market with those things that they had no right to release and capitalize on the fact that another record company had been trying to put out new releases.
Q: Even though you're in disagreement with Warner ... that doesn't color your response to the music, does it?
Zappa: Oh no, it's good music.
Q: They didn't tamper with the music?
Zappa: They did tamper with it. They changed the name of one song, and when the stuff was mastered, it was mastered without my supervision so that things have no top-end, so they're really bad sounding records. The music on it is good music, but if you could hear what the stuff is really supposed to sound like, you'd be amazed.
Q: How's the situation with Warner Brothers?
Zappa: I'm still suing them. This is my second suit against them. It was originally started in the state of New York and brought back to the state of California, and will probably be going to trial in about three years. These things take time. The first one lasted seven or eight years, and I've got another suit against CBS which is the same problem, royalties.
Q: You were trying to get hold of the albums you produced in the 1969 period – Permanent Damage, An Evening With Wild Man Fisher, and Trout Mask Replica.
Zappa: I reacquired Wild Man Fisher and The GTO's, but not Trout Mask Replica.
Q: Do you plan to re-release them? Are they available?
Zappa: Not now. I could probably arrange to re-release them, but I have a few other matters to take care of that are somewhat more pressing.
Q: Does the idea of re-releasing them appeal to you at all?
Zappa: I don't mind having them on the market. I think the public should have access to them, but in order to re-release them, since I'm the guy that pays for all of this, I have to budget out what I spend on all these things, and that's very low on my list of priorities.
Q: Have you ever considered repackaging your works? I believe the only repackaging you ever did was Mothermania. There were a couple others, though.
Zappa: There were eleven. MGM, without my permission, took the first four albums I ever made, and released eleven stupid records every time one would come out on Bizarre or Discreet, eleven.
Q: But Mothermania was yours.
Q: Did you ever think of doing that again?
Zappa: Not a high priority.
Q: Let's discuss a little bit about particular albums and how you would compare them...
Q: Mainly because when You Are What You Is was released, you said you considered it your best work.
Zappa: Yeah, one of them.
Q: What are some other ones, then?
Zappa: Joe's Garage and Lumpy Gravy.
Q: Do you have least favorites?
Zappa: I think all the rest of them are tied for last.
Zappa: You asked me what my favorites were. There's no accounting for taste.
* Joe's Garage, Acts II & III
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