ROCK ET FOLK, June 1980, Part 2
Rock et Folk: Why do you change your musicians so often?
FZ: Sometimes I change them, sometimes they decide to do something else. They keep their job as long as they want it, as long as they enjoy what they do.
RF: Your relationship with Terry Bozzio seemed excellent musically. Why did he leave the group?
FZ: He left. He was in the group 3 years and then he decided he wanted to be a Rock'n'Roll Star, in capital letters. He joined UK a year and a half ago. When Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio were both in my group they were the best of friends. In UK Eddie was the boss, and as well as that he had two Englishmen and an American who were his slaves. Terry couldn't stand it. He left.
RF: But isn't there a deliberate willingness on your part to change the line-up from time to time?
FZ: Put yourself in my position. Each time I change a musician I've got to train the newcomer. That takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. It would be easier and cheaper if I always kept the same group. Only I can't keep somebody who isn't completely dedicated to his work. If his heart isn't in it, I don't want him any more: there are too many excellent musicians who are dying to take his place. I get cassettes, scores, letters from musicians all over the world, and that's because I have the only important group recognised everywhere and in existence for a long time that anyone can join if he has the ability. I audition everybody who turns up and I'm the only one to offer a chance like that. There's no way of getting into Led Zeppelin. Musicians know that. It's a good thing too that they should know my door is never closed. There are people who have auditioned for me several times without success, until their moment comes. Take Craig Steward, for instance: he came for an audition at the time of Roxy and Elsewhere. He was already very good, but he couldn't learn his parts fast enough, not as fast as George Duke and the others, he was slowing us down. I said to him: go home and work, and call me when you're ready. That's what he did, and now he's in the group.
RF: In the past you've quoted certain musicians who you like working with. Are there any musicians you would invite to rejoin the group?
FZ: No one well-known. I would always like playing with Aynsley Dunbar . . . and George Duke, too . . .
RF: How do you explain that quite a lot of musicians have never been better than when they are working with you?
FZ: Nothing can take the place of DISCIPLINE, and that's the first thing that any musician must learn when they come into the group: discipline. I'm not talking about punishment, just respect for working together. You can't know musicians very well. Have you noticed they're the laziest people in the world? They never do what you ask them on time, because they're lazy as snakes. they think the world is going to overwhelm them with its gifts because they're so wonderful. And they're wrong. Because if you're going to make a record or go on tour, you've got to begin by working hard, rehearsing, pushing back your limits. If you're not capable of doing that on your own, someone's got to make you. That's all I do. I ask musicians to do stuff they've never had occasion to do before; and if they want to stay in the group, they've got to succeed at it. That's how I work. After that, when they leave, they say to themselves, "Free at last! No discipline, at last I'm going to be wonderful again." And what happens? They're wonderful, and they do nothing. Because they haven't got anyone to urge them on and bring them out any more. Most of them stop developing when they leave the group.
RF: Let's come back to Mingus. One finds, in general at least, a common point between you and him: the same way of working with musicians, the same strictness in working with an orchestra . . .
FZ: I'm not an expert on Charlie Mingus, I don't know his habits, but there are one or two things I've heard said; notably that his discipline leads him to belt his musicians to chuck them out. (Laughs). I've never had to touch one of my musicians in getting rid of them. (Laughs).
RF: Do you like the responsibilities?
FZ: Sure I do. I'm my own boss.
RF: Is that from choice or necessity?
FZ: When someone is financing you, apart from being in a domain specially organised in such a way that you avoid this person intervening in the carrying out of your projects, you find yourself in a paradoxical situation where the sponsor has a right to keep an eye on what you're doing. So for me it's preferable that I finance myself so nobody can tell me what to do. I take complete financial and artistic responsibility for everything I undertake. It's better that way.
RF: Even if it takes 5 or 10 years longer?
FZ: I do have that kind of dilemma. But I think the people who are interested in what I do would always prefer to know what I wanted to do rather than what my producer made me do.
RF: Have you always acted like this? Have all the records you've made been free from all outside interference?
FZ: Not the first 3 that Verve censored quite a bit. After that I did what I wanted.
RF: Haven't you ever made certrain records, like Chunga's Revenge for instance, with a view to financing other projects?
FZ: No, in the sense that it's impossible to imagine any of my records as capable of financing anything! (Laughs). Above all, released and promoted by Warner Brothers. On top of that, most of my records have had very uneven commercial fortunes between one country and another. Some of them are big hits in one country and complete flops elsewhere. Chunga's Revenge has done very well in Italy and Thailand. Waka Jawaka and Grand Wazoo have been big hits in Finland. Fillmore East and Just Another Band from L.A. were Gold Discs in Australia.
RF: On the subject of Uncle Meat. You spoke somewhere about the influence of Conlon Nancarrow . . .
FZ: (Astonished) You don't know him? He's a composer who lives in Mexico, but he was born in Kentucky. He writes music for piano which is humanly impossible to play. So you have to get a machine, it's so complicated. There's a lot of bizarre canons and strange structures.
RF: I read that you like food with a lot of pepper and music with a lot of dissonance. That's a good definition of your music, but can you give us some details on the way you work. Practically speaking, how do you compose?
FZ: Most of the time on tour. I've always got my portfolio, with music paper. If I've got an hour to wait at the airport, I get my paper out and I put it on my portfolio and I write. I write in the hotel, on the plane, in the wings . . . When I come back off the tour I get it all straight: I play certain passages on the piano, I make corrections, I structure the pieces and I orchestrate them.
RF: What training have you had?
FZ: I went to libraries and I listened to records.
RF: It all sounds so simple.
FZ: It is simple; if you don't do it that way, you go to music school. They say, "Read this book." It's not necessary to pay for studies to get to that. You might as well get the facts direct. Do you want to see the scores?
A moving moment as the Master summons his bodyguard to fetch two gigantic mammoth format bound notebooks containing the complete orchestrations for guitar, percussion and 108-piece orchestra of 4 great works: Bob in Dacron, Sad Jane, Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation and VOOOOL, bravura pieces of uncertain fortunes. Sad Jane was to have been performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Frank, but the project had to be abandoned for lack of funds (yet again), Austrian TV refusing to pay the rights asked for recording the event. Frank has since entrusted the whole thing to the person responsible for the CBS classical catalogue so that they could end up with Pierre Boulez. But it seems more likely now that the works will be put on by the London Symphony Orchestra. Watch this space . . .
RF: When you sent the scores to IRCAM, weren't you looking for acceptance by the contemporary cultural intelligentsia?
FZ: No. If I send scores to Pierre Boulez it's because he's more qualified than me to conduct them. It's not to get a good report for a schoolboy exercise, but because they're difficult scores, and he's an excellent technician in conducting an orchestra.
RF: Was it the same reason you sent 200 Motels to Zubin Mehta?
FZ: Yes. Other than devoting the rest of my life to learning how to conduct a classical orchestra, it's much better to hire the services of someone with the mechanical ability and training to do it for me.
RF: What do you think of the bootleg which was recorded at the 200 Motels concert with the L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta?
FZ: I've never heard it.
RF: You've often made explicit references to contemporary music on your record sleeves. You're a great admirer of Varese,amongst others. Do you hope to gain some sort of recognition in that 'cultural milieu'?
FZ: Not at all. Because the audience for that music - if there is an audience - has no connection with the majority of what I produce.
RF: But don't you think that many of the people who buy your records are also the people who buy Varese and other contemporaries?
FZ: If they do, it's often because it's me who has attracted their attention to those musicians, not through simple curiosity. Despite everything, I believe that there's a bigger market today amongst young people for contemporary music than ever before. There are more and more people who are looking for something else other than the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt, a new sound, greater freedom. Howver, the usual audience for contemporary music is still made up too often of intellectuals who discuss mathematics and not music after every concert. It doesn't interest me particularly to attract them.
RF: However, you're the only one to have done it in the realm of music called 'Popular'. A lot of your fans are 'rock intellectuals'.
FZ: In France, perhaps. But it's very different between one country and another. And then I was talking about that kind of intellectualism which leds to a dead end. When you take a musical idea and make it more complicated to the point where it desn't exist any more musically, how can you find the slightest enjoyment in that? It becomes a purely abstract and senseless game.
RF: However, certain passages from Greggary Peccary are as complex and sophisticated as many pieces of intellectual music.
FZ: So what? The important thing is that it doesn't prevent the kids from liking Greggary Peccary.
RF: Obviously, but why then do Varese, whom you like, and Penderecki, have so much trouble in being appreciated by more people? Isn't it just that they have a false image?
FZ: I don't know. Personally, the 'image' doesn't bother me much. When I listen to the music I don't worry about where it's coming from, I just know if it's good or bad, if I like it or not.
RF: What do listen to in particular of this type?
FZ: I've got almost everything by Penderecki, but I don't like it all unreservedly. Most of all I like his orchestral music, although my favourite work is his opera The Devils of Loudun. I also like the cello concerto. I've got everything by Varese which has been recorded, and I like all of them ,without exception. I've got a big collection of Stravinsky - 90% of his compositions. The one I like most of all is The Soldier's Tale, in particular The Royal March (the call-sign of France-Musique in the evening): it's exactly what I look for in music. Of course, I like the big ballets, The Rite of Spring, Petroushka, Firebird and Agon. I don't like the neo-classical period all that much, or the later serial works (apart from Agon). I like Tagemitzu . . .
RF: Do you think of yourself as a rock musician?
FZ: I am a composer. A composer who doesn't only compose with notes. When I form a group, I create a living sculpture of personalities who, amongst other things, play musical notes. Everything I do, I do in terms of composition. Composing is organising events following certain rules. You can do it with musical notes, with ideas, with objects. You take this tray, you put the cup and spoon here, you get country and western, you put it there, you get soft rock. You get it?
RF: What happens after music is banned completely? Is there a Joe's Garage, Act IV?
FZ: There's no Act IV. I might change my mind, but at the moment there is no Act IV.
RF: So what else is there?
FZ: I've already completed a live album. But I don't know if it'll be the next one to come out, because the next release is scheduled for September, and I've got time to record a whole heap of things between now and then.
RF: What's become of the 60's muso who had no commercial potential?
FZ: You know, commercially I'm still not worth a great deal, if you put the bar at 17 million albums.
RF: How much are you worth?
FZ: About $600,000 in the world.
RF: Why have you had your hair cut?
FZ: Because I was tired of answering questions about the 60's, and because I kept getting it in my mouth when I was eating.
Go to Rock et Folk Interview, Part 1
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