Urban Leader: Ed Mann and Tommy Mars interviewed in Wuppertal 10.3.91

By Axel Wünsch, Aad Hoogesteger, Harald Hering and Achim Mänz

T'Mershi Duween, #18-19, April-May 1991

Q: Before we start: thank you very much for taking time to talk to us. The Fowlers and Chad Wackerman were expected on this tour. Could you tell us why they are not here?

E: Well, I think there are surface reasons. The Fowlers were afraid to fly because of this war thing and Chad decided he is too old to go on the road any more (!). He only plays in the studios in Hollywood now. But I think the real reason was bigger; the band is supposed to be these people. I go back further with Berly [Burleigh Drummond] than with Chad and with Tommy more than the Fowlers. And the spiritual energy of this band is so much better. Although the Fowlers and Chad are good musicians, you know, but I mean this band has real spirit. It's a big difference. So, I think it was supposed to happen.

Q: Did you consider not coming because of the political situation?

E: No, I was always coming. We were always coming. The guys who didn't want to come decided not to come. So ... anyway.

Q: When did you come to Germany?

E: We came on March 6.

Q: Why are you with CMP Records, a German company?

E: They let me do what I want to do. They don't tell me how to do it. They don't try to say 'We have Kenny G to produce your next record for you; maybe you can do something like this or like that'. And since what I'm doing is kind of strange ... It's not mainstream jazz or rock. I don't know what it is. It is a combination of all these things. I have to be able to do it this way, you know, I have to the freedom to do that.

Q: I've read that the studio is in the living-room in the producer's house. Is this a better atmosphere for producing an album?

E: Yeah, it is an old house. Although for 'Perfect World', we recorded it all in California and just mixed it over there, but it is a nice environment.

Q: Why did you record 'Perfect World' in California instead of in Germany?

E: Well, for a lot of reasons. One was because it's too difficult to take all the musicians to Germany. Chad wanted to play on his own drums so we did it there. I don't think I would do another one like that. I mean I'm happy with the way the record came out but I don't like to do anything in LA any more. The vibes, it's too weird.

Q: Tommy is with the band but he is not on the album. Do you think you will do recordings with Tommy in the future?

E: Oh yeah, this is the band now. The other guys are out and these guys are in. I don't have time to do this back and forward stuff. If someone decides not to go on the road any more, you can't make him and I'm not going to have a studio and a live band. This band is better than the studio band anyway.

Q: We don't know anything personal about you. Could you tell us something about yourself?

E: I'm thirty-six and I was born in Philadelphia. I never lived there; I was just born there. I grew up on the East Coast and I moved to California when I was eighteen. I just moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles.

Q: We all have a certain image of the life of a musician. Could you give us an impression of how a normal Ed Mann day looks?

E: Well, normally what I do is I get up and go to the studio where I work and take care of business. Sometimes it's just working on the computer or designing programs or practising, composing. There is so much to be done and there is never enough time to do it.

Q: About composing. The way you compose, is it like we have seen with FZ sitting down with a piece of paper, or is it more or less while you're playing?

E: I just play it and improvise and then I record it while it's happening. I listen back to the improvisations and find the places that make sense and that's the tune. All the tunes we played tonight are just improvisations that we captured and then I worked out the parts for the players.

Q: We saw Tommy Mars writing down his parts in Düsseldorf.

E: We only had four rehearsals before we came over. The reason it works is because all the musicians are good and because it is all based on improvisation. There is room for each player to be himself. It's not like they have to play exactly these parts. It's loose.

Q: They can make mistakes.

E: Yeah, they make mistakes and that just turns into new parts. They are not mistakes, not with these players.

Q: You can see that it grows very quickly. We also saw the performance in Düsseldorf ...

E: Yeah.

Q: How did you come to play percussion?

E: I started playing piano when I was a small boy and then I went from that to drums. My favourite most influential musician for me growing up was Jimi Hendrix because he was getting all these different sounds, so the combination between drums and piano revealed to me all these different sounds and took me right into percussion. Because the percussion family has the widest variety of sounds; it never stops. Big sounds, little sounds, long sounds, short sounds ..

Q: Nowadays you only play percussion. On tour with FZ you also played synthesizer. Why don't you do it now?

E: It's too much stuff to carry around. And that's why Tommy only plays a D50, one keyboard. It's just easy but that also keeps it simple, which is nice.

When you get a lot of instruments, things can tend to get complicated you know, and there is something about being simple that makes the music very direct.

Q: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

E: Well, basically, but I'm working to get away from that. I'm trying to tie in a more spiritual energy and not be into this perfectionist thing, because to be a perfectionist means you have to take all the responsibility to make everything right and carry all the weight, and I think that has bad side effects, so this is a new path for me now.
(Enter stage left, Mr Tommy Mars)

E: (to Tommy) What do you want?

Q: He wants my pencil.

E: Don't give it to him. You'll never get it back.

Q: How did you get to work with Walter Quintus?

E: He is the CMP engineer. Repercussion Unit went to do a record for CMP and that's when I met them and Walter. That was before my own records.

Q: In 1989, I saw you with Repercussion Unit in Düsseldorf. I believe the tour was sort of a rehearsal for the second RU album.

E: It was actually the other way round. We did the second album and then we did the tour; we did the basic tracks and then the tour. And the tour was just the same music we were playing for a long time.

Q: But the second album ...

E: We're still working on it. Repercussion Unit goes very slow. Sometimes we don't do anything for six months, then we do two days. But all the tracks are done now, and they were also shooting a video of that tour, putting together a video documentary. Both should be out bout a year from now.

Q: Repercussion Unit and the 'Get Up' album are more experimental, the 'Perfect World' album is more of a pop record. Which direction do you think you will be going in?

E: All of it. For the next one, I have some more experimental ideas but I have some ideas for bigger beats too. More tribal.

Q: Is there a chance that the song 'Put the Blame on Me' will be on the next album?

E: I don't know, maybe. It's not my song, it's Vida's. It's a great song.

Q: I remember reading somewhere that your equipment on the 1988 tour was connected to the Synclavier. Could you give us an idea what that means?

E: Well, there was one program that I had and I knew when I would bring that program that I was tied into the Synclavier. And Frank would switch the Synclavier to whatever program it was, but I could play it from the silicon mallets. So we would use it during the improvisations or during 'Norwegian Wood'.

Q: Do you see your time with FZ as a job or as a learning period?

E: It's a learning period, not just a job because ... there is a lot of meaning in that you know. I have a lot of respect for Frank; I like him so it's not just a job. It's not just for the money. For the amount of work that goes on, the money doesn't become an issue any more. It's kind of a friendship although Frank says he doesn't have friends and stuff, but he does. He just says that.

Q: Do you think your work with Frank is completely over or do you expect more?

E: I expect to do more. I will always work with Frank, you know, unless this thing (Ed's band) is so big that we are doing Amnesty International with Sting or something. I've worked with Frank for thirteen years or so. I'd like to continue and keep going.

Q: What happened in 1980 and 1984?

E: 1980 I was drumming. Those bands, he didn't want percussion in them. No actually, 1980 I was doing another project. '84 was when we started this band with Vida [Vierra] and Mike Hoffmann. It was a different concept, you know. I went to see the band and I thought 'It needs percussion'.

Q: Do you know anything about new projects with Frank?

E: He's got so much stuff to release from his live shows. He has recorded everything since 1982, or since he got the truck. And man, he's got so much stuff he could release. He would never have to do another band again. He still says he doesn't want another band again.

Q: Do you have some of the FZ shows on tape?

E: No. I never go to listen to the stuff because I've heard it so much and for my ears, I've heard the best way I could hear it which is live on stage. The tapes out of the truck are pretty good, just the cassette tapes. Sometimes I hear it when I don't want to hear it. It's late at night and it's going. So many hours of playing Zappa music.

Q: Now a question that every fan would like to ask. What really happened in 1988? Could you tell us from your point of view something about the disaster ...

E: Disaster???

Q: I mean in '88, the band collapsed in a way ...

E: Collapsed?? It didn't really collapse. We played the US and Europe and then it was over. There was a spiritual gap in the band. It wasn't like the 1977 band or '78 or '79 band or even the 1982 band. There were parts of it that were real good, but there were also parts of it that weren't quite up to the normal Zappa standards. During the rehearsals, Frank wasn't that involved – I mean he was but he was busy with a lot of other stuff. So there was a lot of material that we could have learnt. For instance, 'RDNZL' that we never did. So anyway, I don't know ... there were some problems with the bassplayer, people not getting along with the bassplayer.

Q: Could you give us some details about these problems?

E: It's not really anything that needs to be talked about. It's just a different way of looking at things. Scott was put in a difficult position because he was given the job of running the band; it's really difficult. I had that job in 1978. I tried it for one summer of rehearsals, and by the end of it ... It's like this: there is the band and there is the guy who runs the band and then Frank. And the guy who runs the band teaches the rehearsals and all that stuff, and if it's not the right energy, it doesn't come across, it doesn't work somehow ... but it makes a difficult position for the guy who has to run the band. So Scott, to his defence, was in that position. He took it very seriously and he was very 'pfff' (he imitates the noise of a whip) and anybody else didn't want to hear it so simple. (?)

Q: So you are still in contact with Scott Thunes?

E: Sure. He's OK.

Q: What about the other guys, like Bobby Martin?

E: Yeah, I see Bobby Martin sometimes. He just had children, twins or something. He got married and had twins. (Shurely shome mishtake? -Ed)

Q: What did you do after FZ in 1988, Repercussion Unit and this band?

E: Well, the thing I did before this band was a band called Left Right Left which is Vida, Mike, Doug Lunn (that's Vida's husband) on bass and myself. So that's kind of all that's been going on in the last decade is that, Repercussion Unit, Frank and doing my own projects.

Q: We know who Xander Mann is. We also heard of a Debby Mann and Kyle Mann, Can you tell us who they are?

E: Debby Mann is my ex-wife and Kyle is an old friend. He is kind of a spiritual wanderer and minstrel. Now he lives in Hawaii. I've known him for twenty ... no eighteen years I guess.

Q: No family connection?

E: No.

Q: After the Hamburg concert (1988) was a jam session. Do you remember it?

E: No, I don't remember it. Maybe I didn't go. Hamburg, I'm trying to remember Hamburg ... Oh I do remember the Hamburg gig. After that show, huh?

Q: Maybe a club near the hall in the park. The club is called 'Schöne Aussichten'.

E: The weird thing is that everybody was in the hotel that night. I remember that night after the gig. So maybe Frank went to jam, I don't know.

Q: What's the difference between being the boss and being a member of the Zappa band?

E: The difference is, when the guitar amplifier blows up now, I have to pay. That's it. No, it's not so much like having sidemen because all these people are kind of like family and so it's really a band as opposed to having one guy who is the boss and everybody else is just working, you know. So it's easy. For me it's easy.

Q: When you were in Zappa's band, how long did you rehearse?

E: For this last tour, four and a half months, five days a week, ten hours a day.

Q: Is there a trick to learning so many songs?

E: Just do it a lot, a lot, a lot. Again and again. But after a while it gets easier. You learn Frank's style.

Q: I want to ask you the same question I asked Tommy: do you remember a special moment during your time with Zappa?

E: The Palladium in New York City on Halloween. Certain gigs right?

T: Definitely the Palladium, yeah.

Q: It's a great audience?

E: Yeah, everybody is dressed up ... big rooster-heads, you know. Crazy costumes, all kind of stuff ...

Q: Did you ever see the video?

E: I've seen it. I don't know too much about it. I mean, just in general working with Frank ... We saw some good years. I'm glad to have been there at that time; kind of magic ...

Q: Which was the best year?

E: They are all different. They just are all different, because who was better, Terry Bozzio or Vinnie Colaiuta, come on ... (Terry Bozzio -Ed)

Q: In 1978, you played songs which I believe were not rehearsed, like 'Sy Borg'; in 1988 everything was more rehearsed?

T: I have a fond recollection of 'Sy Borg'. Remember we used to sing the bridge, a very difficult bridge, for five part harmony; Denny ...

E: Oh Jesus ...

T: ...Ike, Ed, me.

Ed whistles a tune.

T: Yeah ... and you know we really wanted to do it badly, but it never really came ... One rehearsal it came together and then Frank heard it later in the day when it wasn't good and then all that work was gone ...

E: That'll teach us.

T: That'll teach us for being good musicians.

Q: If I'm correct, the only song you sang is 'Flakes'?

T: Bob Dylan, being the best Bob Dylan.

E: Well, it happened because it was Adrian Belew's job, but he wasn't sure how to do it and so I used to give him a ride home from rehearsals. And he asked me how I would do Bob Dylan, so we were sitting in the car doing Bob Dylan. And then when Adrian wasn't in the band any more, it was me.

Q: Do you prefer instrumental Zappa stuff or vocal stuff?

E: I don't like any of them just by category; most of them I like. A few of them I'm not crazy about but ... it all has to do with a feeling that comes around from the tune.

Q: What was the hardest song you ever played?

E: 'Mo and Herb's Vacation'.

Q: And what's your favourite?

E: I have no favourites; I like most of them.

Q: In your song 'Working for Change', there is a line 'Who can we thank for saying something true? Sometimes it's Frank, something it's you'. I guess Frank is FZ?

E: Yeah, just for fun. In case maybe he hears, he'll go 'Oh ...'

Q: How important are your lyrics? Are they just for amusement or is there something more serious in them?

E: It's serious, (but) it's not that serious. They're not love songs, but philosophical kind of questions, cosmic questions and stuff.

Q: Questions you are dealing with ...

E: Questions I see everybody dealing with.

Q: In 1988, you were playing for crowds of ten thousand people and now you are playing for crowds of three hundred. How do you see this?

E: I like this. I mean, this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now. It's good to play these small places and have connection with people, being able to meet them after the show and just find out, you know ... If there is energy for music, it's for two reasons: because people are playing it and people are listening to it and it's equal. This is fine. And if it's bigger, that's fine.

Q: When can we expect a new record from this band?

E: Probably a year from now.

Q: Tommy, is it OK if we print the story about your name?

T: I prefer you not to say Mariano. Actually, fuck it, go ahead and do it. Time to live a little; time to unveil myself.

Q: So, if I'm correct, you received some junk mail ...

T: Yeah, that's how I got the name Mars.

Q: Mar5.

T: Mar5, yeah, so it really isn't Mars if you want to get technical, it's Mar5. The 5 looked like an s. Now I think it's more fashionable to be Mar5 with all these rap groups. But that's typical of me. I'm never right on the right time, I'm always either ahead ...

E: But it was perfect then.

T: It still is.

E: As soon as the road guys, the roadies, heard about it, they said it is definitely Mars.

(Axel interjects: 'One day Tommy went to his letterbox and found some junkmail. The mail was addressed to T Mariano, but on one letter from a company, there was a sticker with T Mar5. The sun was shining and he couldn't see it exactly. Instead of a 5, he saw an s, so instead of T Mar5, he saw T Mars and he decided to call himself T Mars ever since.')

Q: How come your real name appears on 'Meets the Mothers of Prevention'?

T: Because I have publishing on that. In my publishing, I use my real name. For my family to make them feel proud. (To Ed) Did you ever get publishing on a tune pops?

E: No, you just caught him on a good moment.

Q: Do you know about Tommy getting some credits?

E: Oh sure, I was there, kind of.

T: You were there. You were in the room when he came in, when we were working on it ...

E: It was in the producer's studio.

T: Yeah and he ... No no, when he told me I got credit for it was up at the house later that night. We came back up to the house later on at night ...

E: Oh that's when we were rehearsing at eh ...

T: Yeah and Frank was in the booth doing some work and suddenly he came out and said 'I really feel like I want to give you co-writing on this because you did a lot there ...'

E: It was 'Yo Cats'.

T: Yeah, and I was real surprised; I didn't expect it. That's the weird thing about Frank. Things you just never expect happen and then when you expect something, it never happens. Weird.'

Q: Do you know Frank wants to release some old bootlegs through Rhino Records?

E: No, it's a good idea. Frank will release anything. Man, he's got so much stuff to release ...

T: In the middle of the twenty-first century, he'll be releasing stuff that we recorded.

Q: Can you tell us some more about the song 'Dragonmaster'?

E: I don't know what the titles mean. The titles always change. But yeah, I think we did it in a soundcheck.

Q: Stockholm or Helsinki; one of those shows.

E: Not Stockholm, because the truck broke down. Maybe Helsinki. I remember him saying 'This is Dragonmaster'. I don't remember what it sounds like; we just did that one day.

Q: You also recorded 'Sunshine of Your Love', but only in a rehearsal. What can we expect? It's not released ... (Obviously it is now, on 'Best Band..' -Ed)

E: I don't remember that much about it.

T: Did Ike sing lead on it?

E: I don't even remember.

T: Probably Bobby, right?

E: I don't know, and all the lyrics were getting switched around to be about politics and the election and Jim and Tammy Bakker and stuff, so I just don't remember.

Q: What do you think about Frank doing Beatles music in 1988?

E: It was great. In a way it was my favourite part of the whole thing. A chance to play tabla on 'Norwegian Wood' in Frank's band. Bizarre, you know. It was performance art. It was fun. And the versions that we did of those tunes, I think, in some ways were great, really good, serious orchestrations with the brass. We did this version of 'I'm the Walrus' which is a killer.

T: Oh, my favourite Beatles song.

Q: I've heard the version of 'Stevie's Spanking' from 'Stage 4'. There is nothing to be heard of you in the concerts ...

T: A lot of times, that's the way it is in concert. It is really the way the song is and then Frank gets ideas back home and remixes it.

Q: So it's a mixing problem?

T: No, not a problem. It's just he has a different taste. He hears it the way he wants to hear it ...

E: He's always experimenting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but the whole point is to keep experimenting. Then when you find great things, they really come about.

Q: Is it right Ray White was also rehearsing for the 1988 tour?

E: Ray White? He never ... no, he came for two days and then he left. No-one knows why.

Q: I think Frank said something about problems with his home or something.

E: Yeah, but nobody really knows. Or maybe he knows more than I do. I don't really know, let me put it that way. He was there and then he left. It was strange. And then Ike left too. He was gone for three weeks and no-one knew where he was and then all of a sudden, he came back.

Q: Is it true Frank fired Ike in 1978 to learn to play the guitar?

E: No. There was however a period at the end of the US tour when Ike got sick and was not in the band.

Q: The band with two bassplayers?

T: Yeah. Patrick (O'Hearn) came in for Frank's solos. He was utilised just as a solo bassist.

E: And then Arthur was just playing the arrangements.

T: Ensemble parts.

E: It was funny. And they were playing in ten's and twelve's and things; it was funny, kind of cool.

Q: I heard a very long version of 'A Pound for a Brown' from that period.

E: That stuff was so unique. Doing all those experiments with Frank. It will never happen again with anybody else in any other way. I think he is the only one this century that's really done it to that level. The dedication to his live performance and towards stretching the parameters and the boundaries. I don't know anybody else who has that kind of commitment to that. Really wonderful.

Q: I've heard that in 1988, Frank was giving dance lessons.

E: Actually it was Bruce Fowler giving the lessons. We agreed mutually on that. That band would have been good if Tommy could have been there.

Q: I think all the fans missed Tommy Mars in '88.

E: We all did.

T: It's nice to see all of you back.

Q: What is your opinion of rehearsing with Flo and Eddie?

E: It was fun. They only did it for three or four days.

Q: What is your opinion of all the editing Frank does on the 'Stage' CDs?

T: That's where the bootlegs come in. I love hearing live tapes. It just brings it right back. To me, that's really where it happened.

E: That's how it sounded.

T: In the studio, he goes into another world many times. And on stage we worked so hard at those arrangements. To us, that's what the real stuff was. It's always a surprise when an album comes out. I never know how it's gonna sound.

E: They always sound so different, like the stuff on 'Them or Us' and 'The Man from Utopia'. A lot of the live tracks sound bigger before the drums are compressed and EQed.

T: Like the song 'Yo Cats', if you are familiar with that, On stage, at the end, you had that huge dramatic ending and on the end when he pressed it, it just had the mallets going. It was totally naked. It blew me away; I didn't understand why ...

Q: I heard a tape with Lisa Popeil and if you hear her on the record, it's different.

E: Yeah, very different.

T: Lisa was in the band actually for three days, wasn't she?

E: Yeah, something like that; a week.

T: She did beautifully on 'Teenage Prostitute'.

E: Yeah, she was born for it. You know what she does now? She raises miniature pigs. (!!-Ed)

Q: Do you have more info on the Mars/Mann project?

E: We've been working on it for eighteen years and we are getting ready. We have to do it when the time gets ripe. But I think the time gets ripe. Jamy and the Penetrator, we call it. That's the name of the group.

T: He's Jamy and I'm the Penetrator.

Q: How did you like working with the LSO?

E: It was kind of fun. It would have been nicer if Tommy could have been there.

T: I have to admit Frank did tell me he wished I had come, after it all happened. Things like 'Sad Jane'. We used to rehearse 'Sad Jane' as an ensemble part with the band. So that song is very close to me. But it's a good recording.

Q: Well, that finishes it. Thank you for giving us so much of your time.

T/E: OK.

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