This text is transcribed from an imported CD called "The Frank Zappa
   Interview Picture Disk". According to my closest estimation based on
   the interview's context, it must have been conducted sometime in the
   summer of 1984. It was recorded after FZ had performed a set of
   concerts at the Odeon Hammersmith in London and some of the content of
   this interview refers to that set of concerts.
   The Interviewer is not credited on the disc, but just so you'll know,
   from his accent he appears to have been an Anonymous British Person.
   And, in case anyone gives a fuck, please note that this text was
   transcribed by Robert Moore on Friday, Dec.10 at 4:33 AM EDT - just 6
   short days since FZ died at the much-too-early age of 52. My universe
   is significantly diminished by his passing.
   How did you enjoy yesterday?
   Frank Zappa:
   Yesterday's show? I didn't like it.
   You didn't?
   Frank Zappa:
   No, because we were requested to, uh, keep it, uh... See, ordinarily
   when we do a show we change the words to the songs based on what
   happened that day. My favorite show of the bunch here was the second
   show on the first night, where 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
   Yet last night's show was competent and 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 know, you can't just go around and
   change all these lyrics, the people wanna hear the real lyrics," and
   so I said "Ok, play it straight." So we went out there and played it
   straight and also it was being videotaped for French television, and
   you can't be too far out when you're doing that because how are they
   gonna subtitle it?
   I thought that playing "In France" for them was a... treat.
   Frank Zappa:
   They wanted that. That's the reason they came to do it because "In
   France" is being released as a single on the continent.
   A Single? (incredulously)
   Frank Zappa:
   Are you surprised actually by it? Because it's a direct insult to the
   French if uh, you..
   Frank Zappa:
   No, it's not. It was fair commentary on what Frenchness means to a
   person who is not French and has to be subjected to Frenchness. It is
   not a put-down of the French. It is 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? Cause that's all I know from French toilets is the
   thing with the bombsight and the two footprints where you pull the
   chain and if you're lucky it doesn't climb up to your ankles when the
   stuff comes up out of the hole.
   But all the stuff in that song is true including The Mystery BlowJob
   that happened to one of the guys in the band. You know, it started
   with this Green Fudge coming out of his wheeny, and he didn't realize
   that you could get this disease from sticking it in somebody's mouth.
   That was 'cause he was a chump. But it did happen in France so it
   belongs in the song.
   Yes. From "The Man From Utopia" there is quite a lot of laughter and
   humor which, you have said before, when you laugh at something
   spontaneous you enjoy the show. For instance, "The Radio Is Broken"...
   Frank Zappa:
   I love that song. Most people hate that song but I love it.
   That's my ten-year-old kiddie's favorite.
   Frank Zappa:
   Yes, he loves the parts, uh..
   Frank Zappa:
   If he could only understand the lyrics though because it's talking
   about things from Science Fiction Movies that really exist and if he
   hasn't seen those things..... if he had, the idea of what the
   Bottchino is is Very Special Stuff you know. It's very, very ...
   You've been making references to, uh.... What do you call them?
   Fiction movies..
   Frank Zappa:
   Science Fiction
   Science Fiction Movies for years, and, um
   Frank Zappa:
   I like them.
   Goes back a long time, really. What is it mostly that attracts you to
   them? Is it the Cheapness in them?
   Frank Zappa:
   Yes. Absolutely the cheapness. That anybody would think for a minute
   that something made out of a rubber is gonna scare you in a black and
   white movie is so stupid.
   Did you find it perhaps sad in a way that we don't, on this side of
   the continent, experience the same films that you do, so there's more
   rapport as such.
   Frank Zappa:
   Well, the other side of that is outside the United States, people seem
   to pay more attention to the instrumental side rather than the lyrical
   side, 'cause 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. In the United States they're more oriented toward the
   words and less toward the music.
   So when you come here do you actually have to prepare a special show?
   Frank Zappa:
   Usually what I do is, 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 and 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 bit better there, but in France.... no.
   Is it a headache for you to choose from the repertoire of songs that
   you've got? It must be.
   Frank Zappa:
   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 up a list of what they're gonna 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.
   Does that happen with every band that you normally have?
   Frank Zappa:
   Every band.
   65 or approximately.
   Frank Zappa:
   Well, the band in 82 knew 85.
   Frank Zappa:
   But they had been together a little bit longer.
   Because I quite like the selection that you did yesterday. Obviously
   for nostalgic reasons doing things from the Roxy album and some of
   them even going way way back, and also the interest that you've always
   had in doo-wop.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Four vocals on it, which is quite good I thought.
   Frank Zappa:
   Real doo-wop is with a quintet.
   The one thing which people ask me all the time, when they make
   reference to you is, like, they find it very difficult to put their
   finger and say "Where is Frank Zappa at these days?"
   Frank Zappa:
   Well, the question is Who Cares? Why should I be anywhere? The fact is
   that I'm still making music of all different kinds and why should I be
   anywhere you want me to be? It's like, I shouldn't live in a box.
   What they're perhaps referring to is mostly the material that you
   choose to use. For instance, the last album, the Utopia album was very
   uncommercial, not that your music IS commercial-
   Frank Zappa:
   That one was VERY uncommercial.
   Compared to this one. The new album is hinting more on the easier side
   of listening.
   Frank Zappa:
   That's right. But I do both things.
   How do you make the choice? Do you wake up one morning and say "I'm
   going to do that this week."?
   Frank Zappa:
   Yeah, that's right. It's the same way I make up the choice for what
   we're gonna play in 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 kind of material here?" "Do they speak
   English here?" "Does anybody have a sore throat that day?" Little
   things like that. You can change the show to accomodate what your
   circumstances are. Same thing with an album. You decide how many songs
   you have recorded, which ones fit together - there are always songs
   that are left out of an album.
   'Cause your shows are very well rehearsed.
   Frank Zappa:
   Immaculately rehearsed.
   You've said that so many times and, hence the feedback that you get in
   the press from some ex-musicians about being strict.
   Frank Zappa:
   Let me say this right now: Any ex-musician is an ex-musician for one
   of two reasons. One, he's 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 is a spirit of accomplishment that
   surrounds this touring unit that is really 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're thankful that they were
   rehearsed to the point where, even under the most adverse
   circumstances, they can go out and do a 2-hour show that'll kick yer
   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 discpline is all about.
   A guy who leaves the band and then complains about the discipline...
   he's maybe regretting the fact that he's not in the band anymore and
   so how else is he gonna get his name in the paper than to say that I'm
   a dictator? Well, fact of the matter is, I AM the dictator - I'm the
   guy who signs the checks. I'm also the guy who 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 thats bought a ticket. So it's not really
   being a dictator, it's being the referee between the audience and the
   If the audience buys a ticket I say "Ok 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 that your ticket back to Los Angeles is right over here, and
   everybody knows that. I've sent two guys home already from this tour.
   I think that really what you're saying is very fair, obviously. 'Cause
   what you're requesting out of the musicians is, uh..
   Frank Zappa:
   That they do their job.
   Quite easy really. You buy some goods and you want the delivery of the
   Frank Zappa:
   Right. But see, the people that find that baffling would be people who
   have like 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. And there are a lot of people like this in
   the world who think that that's the way things ought to be.
   My attitude is this: I pay money to have a service performed for me on
   behalf of an audience that pays money for 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.
   Same thing on a record. Whether you like the style of the music is
   irrelevant. The quality of what's put into the show is definitely
   there and that quality is the 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 2
   months of rehearsal, six days a week, eight hours a day; everybody's
   on salary, crew is on salary. I have the cost of all those salaries
   plus the rental of the hall that we rehearse in, the equipment and all
   that stuff - I pay for it before I get a nickel from anybody buying a
   ticket. There's not too many groups that will take that kind of a risk
   and not too many groups that have one man in the group who takes that
   financial risk himself. And that's the way I do my business. So, if
   there's something wrong with that then lemme know. The results speak
   for themselves.
   One of my questions is: You hear the band play live and whether it was
   a good night or a bad night, ther's no doubt about it there's tight
   playing - very tight, very good. Musicians leave your band or get
   fired and they go play somewhere else and they sound like they've
   never been in your band, ever.
   Frank Zappa:
   And you wouldn't say "Has this person actually been in Frank's band?"
   It's unbelieveable.
   Frank Zappa:
   But you know, but 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
   something 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 their career and they don't usually last very long. 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 hear your next album being
   rehearsed. They came here to hear 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 usually
   encouraged to leave. But the guys that are in the band right now have
   a dedication to putting on a good show. It's really a good bunch of
   There must be a sort of looseness as well between... they don't see
   you as a teacher - this teacher-like figure.
   Frank Zappa:
   No. For example, 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 that he's done with electric drums and prior to that he
   was totally sold on acoustic drums and everything. But he made the
   change, I requested that he change over to electric 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 that 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. He didn't
   think that was-
   He didn't want to sing either.
   Frank Zappa:
   And he didn't want to sing. That's right. But, I'm not saying "I told
   you so," but I think that it was good for George to be in there and
   have that kind of encouragement. The way the guys in the band view me,
   I believe, is not so much as their pal because we usually don't hang
   out together in our time off. Everybody is, 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. What more can you want?
   You went through a few hard times there didn't you? A few years ago, I
   think on building your own home studio.
   Frank Zappa:
   Yeah. But it's all done and it's operational and all the new product
   has been done there.
   The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen?
   Frank Zappa:
   Right. It's now a completely digital studio.
   You've had that in mind since "Bongo Fury"?
   Frank Zappa:
   Well I've been wanting to have a studio since 1962.
   The first one was in Cucamonga.
   Frank Zappa:
   That's right.
   Goes a long way back. Last year you had a riot on your hands in Italy
   - or Sicily?
   Frank Zappa:
   You went there for a visit of the old roots.
   Frank Zappa:
   That's right. I wanted to see the town that my father was born in and
   I went there and I saw it and then we played the concert and the next
   thing you know, you have 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 this riot
   with tear gas in our face and everything else, and when it was all
   over we went off the stage and we were trapped inside this place. The
   audience was circling around outside shooting at the police and the
   police were shooting back.
   It wasn't a very nostalgic view of your roots, was it?
   Frank Zappa:
   Well, I got a pretty good idea of what my Sicilian roots are like
   after seeing the town of Partinico - it was pretty bleak.
   After that you were very.. pissed off really about coming back to
   Frank Zappa:
   Oh yes.
   And you swore that you wouldn't come back but-
   Frank Zappa:
   I changed my mind.
   How long do you want to keep doing this? You keep changing your mind
   but is there ever going to be a time when you're actually not going to
   change your mind?
   Frank Zappa:
   Probably. I don't know when. I try and accommodate my body, what my
   body feels like it wants to do. I think that's the only way you can
   live as a True Pagan. You know, 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 gonna do
   Has there been any times where your guitar solos during the concert on
   one specific song been actually transferred onto another song?
   Frank Zappa:
   What do you mean?
   Like you're playing this particular tune live, and you nearly always
   record your live shows.
   Frank Zappa:
   And that particular solo found its place in a totally different song.
   Frank Zappa:
   Absolutely. The whole "Joe's Garage" album is that way. All the guitar
   solos on "Joe's Garage" came from the European tour in 1980. They were
   recorded on a 2-track Nagra, just 2 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 solos I liked and put them on top of the studio tracks and
   that's what's in there.
   What you were playing yesterday, and I think you've done it many times
   before, but yesterday was very very obvious, you're playing very much
   what I could describe as Contrary Notes; not going according to the
   melody - guitar notes that you were playing, uh, is like a totally
   different song altogether. Do you ever shut the rest of the rhythm
   section from your ears and actually concentrate on actually-
   Frank Zappa:
   Well I always concentrate on what I'm playing but I can hear the
   rhythm section and I have the type of discipline where I can either
   play their rhythm... Actually, what was happening last night 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 what the rhythm of the bass and drums were doing. So I
   have a choice of two different established rhythms that I could play,
   plus the option of choosing a third one that was completely between
   There's no reason why the human mind shouldn't be able to compute that
   kind of math when they hear it and it leads you into some interesting
   harmonic and melodic directions.
   For example, a melody functions in a harmonic climate. The chord that
   is being played is the harmonic climate - 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 11th 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 the time that you hit a note which is
   inside the chord which creates the 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. Your ear is computing that, ok?
   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 12-bar thing like I did two choruses on "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 also a lot of skill involved in the rhythm section
   being able to accompany me in what I'm doing. That bass player [Scott
   Thunes] is great at following me. He's one of my favorite bass players
   to work with because his harmonic concept, um - he understands what
   I'm doing when I do those things.
   And one of the techniques I was using last night was: the chord that
   was stored in the loop has no third in it. That means that the pitch
   of the chord which determines whether it's major, minor, augmented or
   diminished, is missing. All 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 more like a neutral piece of canvas that you can
   paint on, and consequently, the bass notes that support that chord...
   a lot of different bass notes can be used and 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 the melody notes will be, how many rub - how many relax and
   all of 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.
   There's always like a key that you've got that you like a lot, I
   think, is it the key of D?
   Frank Zappa:
   On "Zoot Allures?"
   Frank Zappa:
   No, "Zoot Allures" was played in kind of an A7th tonality.
   The napkins.. uh
   Frank Zappa:
   "Black Napkins" is not, uh, that's actually two chords. That goes
   between C#minor and D Major 7th. But there's a lot of different keys
   you can play in there. I play in F# Major on top of that.
   I'm not going to ask technical questions because, uh-
   Frank Zappa:
   You don't know.
   Because I don't know, BUT - what I wanted to ask was how often do you
   hit Bum Notes?
   Frank Zappa:
   Lots. Because especially if you're playing really fast - and all you
   have to do - at the rate I'm going on some of those runs - if one fret
   is sticky you're gonna miss.
   I thought that was evident at the beginning yesterday.
   Frank Zappa:
   That was what?
   Evident at the beginning of the, uh, show... did you do two shows last
   night or one?
   Frank Zappa:
   Like you weren't happy with the way your guitar playing was going or
   were you happy.
   Frank Zappa:
   Uh, it was okay - I mean I think that I played better solos the night
   before in the second show and there was a couple of solos that I
   played last night that I thought were really good but, uh, I'm the
   kind of guy who would prefer to go out there and take his chances
   rather than learn a solo that goes in the song and play it exactly the
   same way every night. I mean, what kind of a life is that, y'know? I'd
   rather have the ups and downs than the assuredness that I was going to
   go out there and amaze everybody with technique - I wanna hear some
   music. And the challenge for me is writing an instant composition
   while I'm playing and that's what I do.
   Do you personally think that you're under-rated as a guitarist?
   Frank Zappa:
   I think that I shouldn't be rated as a guitarist. I think that rating
   guitarists is the kind of a thing that, uh, that's a stupid hobby is
   rating guitar players.
   Q; You're a composer.
   Frank Zappa:
   I'm a composer and my instrument is the guitar. If you like the
   composition, fine - I mean, my technique as a guitar player is ...
   fair. There are plenty of people who play faster than I do, never hit
   a wrong note, and have a lovely sound, okay? 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 onstage in
   front of an audience - and just go out there and have the nerve, the
   ultimate audacity to say "Okay, I don't know what I'm gonna play, and
   you don't know what I'm gonna play, and 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.
   You traveled quite lightly this time it seems. You used only the Strat
   Frank Zappa:
   Is there a specific reason for that?
   Frank Zappa:
   I like that guitar. I have another Strat in the back in case that one
   goes off, but that particular neck ... 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
   pickups are custom and I like the way it sounds.
   What you were talking about limitations before as people want to
   compare you as a good guitarist, bad guitarist against other
   guitarists like some sort of match. Are you disappointed that there
   are so many schmucks probably about who go on and just perform just
   for the sake of the guitar, and ignoring all of the other concepts of
   the music?
   Frank Zappa:
   There's always somebody who wants to consume that and they're entitled
   to consume it and they're entitled to love it and they're entitled to
   worship 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 the guitar.
   One final question, Frank: As always, there's quite a lot of product
   in the can, as they say. You always have. So, what's up now?
   Frank Zappa:
   You know that there's four albums that are coming out right now.
   Frank Zappa:
   You got the Boulez album, which is out. You got "Them Or Us", which is
   just about to come out, which is going to be followed very closely by
   "Thing-Fish" which is three-record box with a book in it, and you got
   Francesco 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, now a vinyl album, and that'll be coming out sometime next
   Are you going to have a breather between each product?
   Frank Zappa:
   No. These first four are going to come 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
   are some people who might like the Boulez album who wouldn't like
   "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
   Very good.
   Frank Zappa:
   Thanks a lot.
   Frank Zappa:
   You're welcome.
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