The Lost Interview 
Read Magazine, ??, 1999
Let me tell you about Frank Zappa. This guy was all about work. He produced so much music, that at the time of his death there was enough unreleased material stored in his Synclavier to have a new Zappa album released every year, for the next few centuries.
Zappa was one versatile dude. His 50+ albums released in his lifetime cover rock, jazz, doo-wop, fusion, classical, guitar and Synclavier instrumental music. His producing style ranged from straight-up to musical collage. Some albums were cut and paste, as were some of his SONGS. The guitar solo from 1983 on top of the rhythm section of an early Mothers' track behind some late 70's vocals. Zappa conceived a continuity in his work that surpassed linear time; everything, from Freak Out! to Yellow Shark was part of the same Work, the same Note.
Zappa was outspoken. His lyrics could go from biting social commentary to political satire to the scatological and sleazy. From humorous to tasteless to serious to controversial. He was politically active, an avid opponent of the PMRC's un-Constitutional activities, an unofficial ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and an almost presidential candidate. Zappa was anti-drug, anti-media, and most importantly, anti- stupidity.
Zappa was the last of the great iconoclasts. When he succumbed to prostate cancer on December 4, 1993 at age 52, he had already accomplished more than what most people do in a lifetime. Solo and with the Mothers, he forever changed the face of both rock and 'serious' music creation and production. His guitar techniques alone built an entirely new school, with guitar imitators picking over his solos like mathematicians going over a seemingly impossible equation.
Zappa was many other things (i.e. filmmaker, businessman, husband and father, perfectionist, composer, bandleader, etc), but he was foremost an all-around smart guy. One of the most intelligent, creative, and productive musical artists of this century, Zappa and his music will forever refuse to die.
Except for maybe "Thing-Fish." That album sucked.
The following is a transcription off an imported interview disc. The disc does not contain any contact information, copyright information, or even a label name. From the interview itself, I gather that it was conducted sometime in the summer or fall of '84, in England during FZ's last full European tour with his rock band, right after "The Man From Utopia" album came out, and right before "Them Or Us." One thing that is difficult to transcribe is the confident and articulate, sometimes arrogant voice of FZ as he talks bluntly with the nervous British interviewer.
Sincere apologies to the anonymous interviewer; had I any contact information I would have obtained permission and credited him. The reason why I'm reprinting the interview here is because I'm a huge Zappa fan, and I'd like to make this interview available to other fans who might not previously have access to this.
Interviewer: How did you enjoy it yesterday?
FZ: Yesterday's show? I didn't like it.
I: You didn't?
FZ: No, because we were requested to keep it ... See, ordinarily when we do a show we change the words of the songs based on what happened that day. My favorite show of the bunch here was the second show on the first night. We changed EVERYTHING. And that's when I enjoy the show. If I can laugh when I'm onstage, because something creative is happening in that regard, that's when I really enjoy the show. Yet last night's show was competent, it was tight, and it was done because we are making a CD live at the Odeon Hammersmith.  So people from the company said, well you can't just go around and change all these lyrics, people want to hear the lyrics. So I said, okay! We'll play it straight. So we went out there and played it straight. And also it was being videotaped by French television and you can't be too far out when you're doing that because how are they going to subtitle it?
I: I thought playing "In France" was ... (trails off)
FZ: They wanted that. That's why they came to do it. Because "In France" is being released as a single on the continent.
I: (incredulous) A single?!
I: Are you actually surprised by that ... because it is a direct insult to the French?
FZ: No it's not. It is fair commentary on what "Frenchness" means to someone who is not French and has to be subjected to Frenchness. It is not a put-down of the French. It's the facts. Now I was able to ascertain from some interviews I did in France that the toilet that we're speaking of in the song is referred to in France as the Turkish toilet. So, if it's a Turkish toilet, then what's it doing in France? Because that's all I know from French toilets ... it's the thing with the bombsite and the two footprints where you pull the chain and you're lucky if all the stuff that comes up out of the hole doesn't climb up to your ankles. All that stuff in the song is true, including the mystery blowjob that happened to one of the guys in the band. It started with this green fudge coming out of his wienie and he didn't realize that you can get this disease from sticking it in someone's mouth. And that's because he was a chump. But it did happen in France, so it belongs in the song.
I: From "The Man From Utopia" (1983), there's quite a lot of laughter and humor, for instance "The Radio is Broken."
FZ: I love that song. Most people hate that song, but I love it.
I: That's my ten-year old kiddie's favorite.
I: Yes. He loves the part ...
FZ: If only he could understand the lyrics though. Because it's talking about things from science fiction movies that really exists, and if he hasn't seen those things I mean, if he had, the idea of what a botchino is; it's very special stuff. It's very very inside.
I: You've been making references to science fiction movies for years ...
FZ: I like them.
I: What is it mostly that attracts you to them? Is it the cheapness of them?
FZ: Yes, it's absolutely the cheapness. That anybody would think for a minute something made out of rubber is going scare you in a black and white movie ... it's so stupid!
I: Do you find it sad, in a way, that we don't on this side of the continent experience the same kind of films that you do, there's more confusion [over the lyrics] as such?
FZ: Well, the other side of that is that outside the United States people seem to pay attention to the instrumental side rather than the lyrical side. Because they don't know what to make of the lyrics. They don't understand anything about the lyrics. Even the words they think they understand are being used in ways that they don't understand. So maybe it balances out. And the United States are more oriented towards the words and less towards the music.
I: So when you come here, do you actually have to prepare a special show?
FZ: Usually what I do in places where they don't speak English well or at all, we stick to songs that have already been released on an album. Because the albums have lyrics in them so somebody has a chance to hear something familiar. You can't, for example, in France do a show that has a lot of new material in it. It's just totally ... senseless. Or Spain too. Or Italy. In Germany you can, because the English comprehension is a little better there. But in France, no.
I: Is it difficult to choose from the repertoire of songs you have? It must be.
FZ: Well, the repertoire that we choose from for this particular band is 65 songs that they can play without worrying. That's three shows worth of material, and every show is different. Each night before the show, I make a list of what they're going to play that night, and that way we don't get bored. And each day during the sound check we rehearse new songs that we are going to put into the show.
I: Does that happen to normally every band that you have?
FZ: Every band.
I: 65 or approximately?
FZ: Well the band in 82 knew 85, but they've been together a little bit longer.
I: Because I quite like the selection you did yesterday. Obviously for nostalgic reasons, there were many things from the live album "Roxy and Elsewhere" and some of them going way, way back, and the interest that you've always had in doo-wop...
FZ: This band can do doo-wop. The other bands I've had couldn't really get to it. But we have the voices to cover the doo-wop stuff pretty good.
I: The four vocals on that were really good, I thought.
FZ: Real doo-wop is with a quintet.
I: The one thing people ask me all the time when they make references to you is, they find it very difficult to say where Frank Zappa is at these days.
FZ: Well, the question is, who cares? Why should I be anywhere? The fact is, I'm still making music of all different kinds, and why should I be anywhere that you want me to be? You know? It's like I shouldn't live in a box.
I: Well, the point they were referring to, perhaps, was the material you choose to use. For instance, the last album "Utopia," was very uncommercial, not that your music IS commercial ...
FZ: That one was VERY uncommercial. Yes.
I: But the new album hints at the easier side of listening.
FZ: That's right. But I do both things.
I: But how do you make the choice? Do you wake up in the morning and say, I'm going to do that this way?
FZ: Yeah, that's right.
I: (pause) That's very interesting.
FZ: Well, that's the same way that I make up the choice of what we're going to play at the show that night. The choices are based on some scientific reasons, like what are the acoustics like in the hall? Can we get away with this type of material here? And, do they speak English here? Are the vocalists well? Does anybody have a sore throat that day? Little things like that, you can change the show to accommodate what your circumstances are. Same thing with an album, you know. You decide how many songs you've recorded, which ones fit together – there are always songs that are left out of an album.
I: Your shows are very well rehearsed.
FZ: Oh, immaculately rehearsed.
I: You've said that so many times, and hence the feedback you get in the press from some ex-musicians, about you being strict.
FZ: Let me say this right now. Any ex-musician is an ex-musician of one of two reasons. One, he is not good enough to be in the band anymore. Or two, he had a career opportunity that led him to resign his post, for which there are probably 30 people waiting for his job. I have no problem getting people to volunteer to subject themselves to the discipline that's in the band. And if you knew anything about the band and the crew, there's a spirit of accomplishment that surrounds this touring unit that is quite remarkable. Second only to being in the Marines. Because this band can go out there and do ANYTHING. And they know it. And they are thankful that they were rehearsed to the point where at even the most adverse circumstances they can go out and do a two-hour show that will kick your ass. And the crew will have the thing up and down in record time and everybody gets along and they're happy to be doing it. And that's what the discipline is all about. A guy who leaves the band and complains about the discipline ... he's maybe regretting the fact that he's not in the band anymore, and so how else is he going to get his name in the paper than to say that I'm a dictator. Well, the fact of the matter is, I am the dictator. I'm the guy who signs the checks. I'm also the guy that has to take the responsibility for everything that goes wrong. And along with that, I have the responsibility for making sure that the band delivers a good performance to an audience that's bought a ticket. So it's not really being a dictator. It's being the referee between the audience and the band. Audience buys a ticket and I say, 'Okay band, you have to do this, and these people want it good, so give it to them good.' And if they don't do it well, they either have to improve themselves or they go. The word in the band is, "Will that be an aisle or a window?" Which means, your ticket back to Los Angeles is right over here. And everybody knows that. And I've sent two guys home already from this tour. [Napoleon Murphy Brook was probably one of them – ed.]
I: I think what you're saying is very fair. Obviously, because what you're requesting from the musicians.
FZ: ... is that they do their job.
I: It's quite easy ... You buy some goods and you want the delivery of the goods.
FZ: Right. But see, the people that find that baffling would be the people that have a union mentality. The union mentality means that too many people do too little work for too much money, and then go on strike in order to get more days off. There are a lot of people like this in the world who think that's the way things oughtta be. My attitude is this: I pay money to have a service performed for me, on behalf of an audience that pays money to have a service performed for them. And I'm there to make sure that if somebody buys a ticket to my show they're not going to be disappointed in it. They're going to see a band that knows what they're doing, that does it well, and delivers entertainment for the money that's spent. Whether you like the style of music is irrelevant. The quality of what's put into the show is definitely there, result of a huge cash investment that I have to put out before the tour even starts. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to make a band sound like that. That's talking about two months of rehearsals, 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Everybody's on salary. Crew is on salary. I have the cost of all those salaries plus the equipment and all that stuff the rental of the hall that we stuff ... I pay for it before I get a nickel from anybody buying a ticket. There's not too many groups that have one man that will take that financial risk himself. And that's the way I do my business. So if there's something wrong with that, then let me know. The results speak for themselves.
I: Some musicians leave your band, or get fired, or sacked or they go playing somewhere else, and they sound like they've never been in your band ever. Now you wouldn't actually say this person was in Frank's band ... it's unbelievable!
FZ: But you know, they all like to say they've been in the band. Like that gives them a seal of approval. You'd be surprised how many people have in the ads for their album, "Formerly with Frank Zappa" or stuff like that. It's like they've been to school, but if you listen to what they do, you'd know they didn't really go to school. Some people come into the band as a stepping stone for something else in there career, and they usually don't last very long. And I don't mind them having their own career but if you're in my band you're playing my music for the audience that wants to hear my music. That's why they came here. They didn't come here to listen to YOUR next album being rehearsed. They came here to listen to reproductions of songs that I wrote, because that's what they want. And that's what the job is. So anybody who is not satisfied doing that is welcome to leave. And are usually encouraged to leave. But the guys that are in the band right now, I think have a dedication to putting on a good show. It's really a good bunch of guys.
I: Do they see you as a teacher?
FZ: See, Chad [Wackerman] – the drummer – has been in the band since '81. And he's grown immensely since he's been in the band. This is the first tour he's done with electronic drums. Prior to that he was totally sold on acoustic drums and everything, but he made the change. I requested that he change over to electronic drums and now he's totally into it and you see from his solo last night that he's using it in a musical way. Which is something he probably wouldn't have done, left to his own devices. When George Duke was in the band, I wanted him to play a synthesizer, he didn't want to do it.
I: He didn't want to sing either.
FZ: He didn't want to sing, that's right. But, I'm not saying 'I told you so,' but I think that is was good for George to be in there and have that encouragement. The way that the guys in the band view me, I believe, is not so much as their pal, because we don't usually hang out together in our time off. If you have any time off, I'm usually doing this and they're out doing whatever they do. But they know that I'm going to treat them fairly and if I write them a check it doesn't bounce. And ... what more can you want?
I: You went through some hard times, didn't you, a few years ago with your home studio ...?
FZ: Oh yeah, but it's all done and it's all operational, and all the new product has been done there.
I: This is the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen?
FZ: That's right. It's now a completely digital studio.
I: So you had that in mind since "Bongo Fury"?
FZ: Well, I've been wanting to have a studio since 1962.
I: You had the first one in Cucamonga?
FZ: That's right.
I: That's a long way back. Last year, you had the riot on your hands in Sicily. You went there for a visit of the old roots...
FZ: That's right. I wanted to see the town that my father was born in. And I went there and I saw it and we played the concert, and then the next thing you know we had the army and the police each with their own general telling them what to do ... An audience that had brought their own guns. And they're shooting tear gas and tearing up this stadium that we were playing in. We played for an hour and a half, in the middle of this riot with tear gas in our face and everything else. And when it was all over, went off the stage and we were trapped inside this place. The audience was circling outside the place, shooting at the police, and the police were shooting back.
I: It wasn't a very nostalgic view of your roots, wasn't it?
FZ: Well, I got a pretty good idea of what my Sicilian roots are like after seeing the town of Partanico. It was pretty bleak.
I: After that, you were really pissed off, really, about coming back to Europe.
FZ: Oh yes.
I: And you swore that you wouldn't come back, but as usual...
FZ: ... I changed my mind.
I: How long do you want to keep doing this? I mean, is there going to be a time when you're not going to change your mind?
FZ: Well, yeah, probably. I don't know when. I mean, I try and accommodate my body, and what my body wants to do. I think that's the only way you can live as a true pagan. If it feels right, then that's what you do. And it felt right to go on the road, so here I am. And if it gets to the point where it doesn't feel right, then I'm not going to do it.
I: Has there been any time when your guitar solo during the concert, on one specific song, was actually transferred onto another song?
FZ: What do you mean?
I: Like, you playing this particular tune live, and you're always recording your live shows, and this particular solo is used for a different song.
FZ: Right. Absolutely. The whole "Joe's Garage" album is that way. All of the guitar solos on "Joe's Garage" came from the European tour in 1980. They were recorded on a two-track, there was a tape of just two microphones in front of my guitar amplifier and every time I played a solo, the guy turned it on and recorded just the guitar. And when we did the "Joe's Garage" album, I found the guitar solos that I liked and put them on top of the studio tracks.
I: What you were playing yesterday, and I think you've done it many times before but yesterday was very very obvious, you were playing very much what I could describe as contrary notes. Not going according toward the melody ... The guitar notes that you were playing were like a totally different song altogether.
FZ: Oh yeah.
I: Do you ever shut the rhythm section from your ears, and concentrate on actually ...
FZ: Oh, I always concentrate on what I'm playing, but I can always hear the rhythm section. I have the type of discipline where I can either play their rhythm ... Actually what was happening on some of the solos, I was using a digital delay that had a single chord stored in it. And it was on a loop. And every time that loop would come around, it would have ... a certain rhythm, which was totally irrelevant to the rhythm of what the bass and drums were doing. So I have a choice of two different established rhythms I could play, plus the option of choosing a third one that was completely between those. There's no reason why the human mind shouldn't be able to compute that kind of math when you hear it, and it leads you into some interesting melodic and harmonic directions. For example, a melody functions in a harmonic climate. The chord that is being played is a harmonic climate. That is, if it's an augmented chord, it's a mysterious climate; if it's a diminished chord, it's a little tenser; if it's minor, it's serious; if it's major, it's happy. If it's major seventh, you're falling in love. If it's augmented eleventh, it's bebop. You know, these are all established harmonic aromas that people recognize, whether they do it consciously or not, that's what's built into you. So a melody functions against a harmonic climate, in terms of what is the fractional delay between the time that you hit a note that is tension to that chord to the time that you hit a note that is inside the chord that creates a resolution. That's how melodies work. How many notes are you playing in your line that rub against the chord versus how many notes are inside the chord that takes the tension to rest. You ear is computing that. Now, if you're playing a straight disco number, where everybody is marching along to the same beat, well your options for the amount of intrigue you can create with a melody – improvised against a chord – are pretty limited. Because the minute you stray from an exact 16th note fluctuation, the disco consumer loses interest because he wants everything to sound like it came out of a Casio rhythm machine. But with the type of stuff that I do, once the solo begins – unless it's a fixed twelve bar thing like I did on two choruses of 'Penguin In Bondage' in the key of D, that's that. But if it's an open-ended solo, that starts with a single tonality, I can do amazing things in that context if you understand what is happening musically, what's going on. Some people listen to it and say, that's awfully weird, or that scale is strange, or those notes are weird, but there's a reason for doing it and there's a lot of skill involved in choosing those notes. And there's a lot of skill involved in the rhythm section in being able to accompany me in what I'm doing. That bass player is great at following me. He's one of my favorite bass players to work with because he understands what I'm doing when I'm doing those things. And one of the techniques I was using last night was that the chord that was stored in the loop has no third in it. That means, the pitch of the chord that determines whether it is major, minor, augmented, or diminished, is missing. All that you have is the root, the second, and the fifth. When you have those three intervals in there, you still hear it as a chord. But the notes that you can play against it enable you to encompass all the different variations of the nature of the chord. You can play major thirds, minor thirds, and everything in-between, against that chord. It's like a neutral piece of canvas that you can paint on. And consequently, a lot of different bass notes can be used to support that chord. Each one that goes against the chord creates another set of mathematical possibilities for the melody notes that are happening on top of it. And when you combine that with the mathematical possibilities of what the harmonic rhythm of what the melody notes will be – how many rub, how many relax, and all that stuff – that's a world of opportunities during each song. And I love doing that during the show. That's my favorite thing to do in the show.
I: There's always a key that you've got ... is it D?
FZ: No ... "Zoot Allures" was kind of played in an A7 tonality.
I: "Black Napkins" ...
FZ: "Black Napkins" is actually two chords that goes between C sharp minor and D7 major. But there's a lot of different keys you can play in there. I play an F sharp major on top of that.
I: I'm not going to ask technical questions because ...
FZ: ... You don't know.
I: I don't know. But! What I wanted to ask you was how often do you hit bum notes?
FZ: Lots! Because especially if you're playing really fast, and at the rate I'm going on some of those runs, if one fret is sticky you're gonna miss.
I: There was evidence of that at the beginning of the show yesterday.
I: You weren't happy with the way your guitar playing was going? Or were you happy?
FZ: Um, it was okay. I mean, I think I've played better solos the night before in the second show, and there was a couple of solos I played last night that I thought were really good. But I'm the kind of a guy who would prefer to go out there and take his chances, rather than learn a solo that goes in a song and play it the exact same way every night. I mean, what kind of a life is that? I'd rather have the ups and downs than the assuredness that I was going to go out there and amaze everybody there with technique. I want to hear some music and the challenge for me is writing an instant composition while I'm playing.
I: Do you think you are underrated as a guitarist?
FZ: I think that I shouldn't be rated as a guitarist. That's a stupid hobby, rating guitar players.
I: You are a composer.
FZ: I am a composer and my instrument is a guitar, yeah. If you like the composition, fine. My technique as a guitar player is ... fair. There are plenty of people that play faster than I do, never hit a wrong note, and have a lovely sound. If you want to rate guitar players, go for them. But there isn't anybody else who will take the chances that I will take with a composition live on stage, in front of an audience, and just go out there with the nerve, the ultimate audacity to say, "Okay I don't know what I'm going to play, and you don't know what I'm going to play, SO that makes us equal. So let's, go, we'll have an adventure here." And that's what I do. There's no way to rate that. You either like that kind of stuff, or you don't.
I: You traveled quite light this time, it seems. You used only this Strat yesterday.
I: Is there a specific reason for that?
FZ: I like that guitar. I have another Strat in the back in case that one goes off. But the whole guitar is customized. The only thing that is stock on there was the original Strat body, which has been stripped and repainted in that old Telecaster color. But the neck is custom, all the electronics are custom, all the pick-ups are custom, and ... I like the way it sounds.
I: Are you disappointed that there are so many shmucks about, who go out and perform just for the sake of the guitar and ignoring all the other concepts of the music.
FZ: There's always somebody that wants to consume that, and they're entitled to consume it, and they're entitled to love it. And they're entitled to worship it as a way of life and so on and so forth. That's for them. What I'm dealing with is something entirely different. And I must say, in all fairness, without being rated, I know that there are people out there who love what I do on guitar.
I: One final question, Frank. As always, there's quite a lot of product in the works, as they say. So ... what's up now?
FZ: Well, you know there's four albums coming out right now. You've got the "Boulez" ["Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger"] album which is out. You've got "Them Or Us" which is just about to come out, which is going to be followed very closely by "Thing-Fish", which is a three-record box with a book in it. And we've got "Francesco" ["Francesco Zappa"] which comes out right after that. Also, the concerts here at the Odeon Hammersmith were recorded for a CD which was going to be just a CD, not a vinyl album. And that will be coming out sometime next year.
I: Are you going for a breather between each product?
FZ: No, these first four are going to be coming out very close together because they won't conflict with each other. They're totally different things. They're, in a way, all for the same audience, but maybe there will be some people that like the Boulez album who wouldn't enjoy "Thing-Fish", and vice-versa. So you have your options. And for the person who is a hardcore fan, there s lots of stuff coming out this season.
I: That's very good.
I: Thanks a lot!
1. The same interview from "The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disk" CD was transcribed by Evil Bob (Robert Moore) . I haven't checked are there any differences between READ Magazine and Bob's work.
Bob's page was later included into Geir Corneliussen's list: Interview #1 from The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disk: Summer 1984
2. Odeon Hammersmith shows were on September 24 (2 shows) and September 25, 1984. (Frank Zappa Gig List: 1984). Therefore the interview date is September 26 and Frank's favorite show out of 3 was 2nd show on September 24. Only a couple of songs from September 25 show were later included into live album "Does Humor Belong In Music".
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net