CFMU Interview

By Bruce Mowat

Radio Times, December, 1980

On Tuesday Nov. 10, Mr. Bruce Mowat, a CFMU-FM radio personality, had the opportunity to interview Mr. Frank Zappa, a famous pop musician currently on a tour of North America. The following is a transcript of a phone interview recorded in the studios of CFMU-FM the culmination of long hours of hard work. Several interesting ideas came up in the discussion, which was remarkable considering Mr. Mowat was only given 10 minutes warning!

RADIO TIMES: How is the tour going?

FRANK ZAPPA: (snidely) Very well.

TIMES: You're doing all of North America and maybe doing Europe?

ZAPPA: We did Europe in the summer. This is our third tour this year. We did North America in the spring and Europe in the summer and now we're doing the parts of North America we missed during the fall season.

TIMES: That's good. I wanted to ask you about the single you put out I Don't Want to Get Drafted. It's a fairly topical song and it surprised me at the time because you're not known to be topical, at least for this past decade. What inspired that?

ZAPPA: (snidely) What inspired I Don't Want to Get Drafted? I think that's common sense ... the whole thing was a political issue that was starting to happen at that time ... a political football as they're called.

TIMES: In terms of musical direction, you've progressed through quite a few styles in the past 15 years going from the experimental stuff with the first 3 Mothers albums to the jazz-fusion stuff, and- now to the Joe's Garage, Sheik YerBouti sort of r@b operatic works. Was it sort of a conscious thing with you going from one style to another?

ZAPPA: Oh, I just do whatever I feel like.

TIMES: What kind of stuff have you been writing lately?

ZAPPA: I've been working on a lot of orchestra music lately.

TIMES: Anything like Studio Tan's second side and Orchestral Favourites?

ZAPPA: No bigger works than that.

TIMES: One thing that I have been missing from your music is the John Cage, modern elements type of thing, evident in your earlier work.

ZAPPA: (depressed) You mean the bloops and bleeps and things dropping?

TIMES: Stuff like Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet.

ZAPPA: (really depressed) Do you miss that?

TIMES: Sort of. It was different; it was daring, it was exciting.

ZAPPA: (snidely) Don't worry about that. You need to do that all the time.

TIMES: O.K. What's the basic lineup of the touring band now?

ZAPPA: Arthur Barrow on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Ike Willis on guitar and vocals, Ray White on guitar and vocals, Steve Vai on guitars and vocals, Tommy Mars on keyboards, Bob Harris on keyboards and trumpet.

TIMES: So this is a fairly extensive lineup for this tour?

ZAPPA: It's an eight piece band.

TIMES: A very thick sound. It mentions in your promo piece that you'll be playing old and new material. Anything specific or does it change from show to show?

ZAPPA: Well every show is different. We'll be playing selections from Sheik YerBouti, Joe's Garage, Chunga's Revenge, Ruben and The Jets, Freak Out, Apostrophe ... a lot of different albums.

TIMES: In a certain interview you described Joe's Garage as sort of high school opera. How did that come about, the whole idea of it? I saw the liner notes and it comes off as a political statement, but listening to it, it seemed to be much lighter in tone .

ZAPPA: It was designed along the idea of the things that used to happen when I was in high school; you know people would try to do p play, but they never had enough equipment or stage space. To me, that's a good analogy of the Twentieth Century. People have some good ideas but they never have the right amount of resources to do it with; . there was never enough money to do it the right way; there Was never enough people to do it the right way. If you get lucky and get the people and the money, you find out that once the money's there, the people don't want to work, and so it never gets done right and that's the way it was when you tried to play in high school and that's the way it is in America in the 20th Century.

TIMES: Getting back to something you said earlier, you were mentioning that you were writing orchestral stuff. Will this be reflected in the new album?

ZAPPA: No, the orchestral stuff is being prepared for a concert this summer in Europe.

TIMES: European audiences would be more responsive to that kind of thing?

ZAPPA: Well, it's not that the European audiences would be more responsive to that kind of thing. It's just that in Europe the governments over there will spend money to support kind of music whereas in the U.S. and Canada nobody cares it enough to provide the facilities to make it happen.

TIMES: You've always had a fair sized following here , a steady crowd. Most of the catalogue is available although one thing that upsets me is that all the early stuff has been deleted and it's terribly hard to find .

ZAPPA: That's because of a lawsuit I have with a record company.

TIMES: ... and that's been pretty well expounded in the press.

TIMES: We have heard two different reports on your opinion on Punk/New Wave/ Minimalism music at this time. What are your feelings now?

ZAPPA: (extremely snidely) Ohhh you want me to talk about New Wave and punk eh? (perfect canajun accent)

TIMES: (pissed off) Just a brief comment. We had heard two contradictory reports.

ZAPPA: O.K. Here's what I think about it. As with all music, there's good stuff and bad stuff and conceptually minimalism is a really cute idea but whether or not a ' person wants to spend his life listening to minimal music is a matter of taste. I don't. I like some minimal music, in small quantities as contrast material to the rest of what music has to offer, and I can approach it for what it is. As far as New Wave goes, most of it isn't very new, or it's not very wavy. Its pretty freeze dried. Some of it is adventurous but most of it has been packaged to fit the so-called New Wave formula in the hopes that it will be broadcast on New Wave radio stations and then become hits just like everybody else's normal pop product.

TIMES: What stuff do you listen to now? I remember a Guitar Player interview in which you ran down a list of your favourite West Coast guitar players.

ZAPPA: I don't. I don't have any recreational listening time. I'm too busy.

TIMES: (incredulously) Not even when you come home?

ZAPPA: When I get home I have a studio and I go to work there.

TIMES: So your time-IS so crammed between touring, composing, and recording that you leave no time for leisurely listening.

ZAPPA: Right. The only time I hear something is when I go to a bar or a club and I'll hear: a band or the records they're playing. Other than that I don't have any recreational listening time.

TIMES: I just want to know if you've been in contact with your former colleague, the good Captain Beefheart.

ZAPPA: I haven't seen him in three years

TIMES: Too bad. I consider Trout Mask Replica a classic, and your production work on it some of the best I've ever heard.

ZAPPA: (munchkin-ly) Why thank you.

TIMES: I wish you luck on the tour and the upcoming European concert.

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