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 dosomething else. They keep their job as long as they want it, as long as theyenjoy what they do.
RF: Your relationship with Terry Bozzio seemed excellentmusically. Why did he leave the group?
FZ: He left. He was in the group 3 years and then hedecided he wanted to be a Rock'n'Roll Star, in capital letters. He joined UK ayear and a half ago. When Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio were both in my groupthey were the best of friends. In UK Eddie was the boss, and as well as thathe had two Englishmen and an American who were his slaves. Terry couldn'tstand it. He left.
RF: But isn't there a deliberate willingness on your partto change the line-up from time to time?
FZ: Put yourself in my position. Each time I change amusician I've got to train the newcomer. That takes a lot of time and costs alot 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 hisheart isn't in it, I don't want him any more: there are too many excellentmusicians who are dying to take his place. I get cassettes, scores, lettersfrom musicians all over the world, and that's because I have the only importantgroup recognised everywhere and in existence for a long time that anyone canjoin if he has the ability. I audition everybody who turns up and I'm the onlyone 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 isnever closed. There are people who have auditioned for me several timeswithout success, until their moment comes. Take Craig Steward, for instance:he came for an audition at the time of Roxy and Elsewhere. He wasalready very good, but he couldn't learn his parts fast enough, not as fast asGeorge Duke and the others, he was slowing us down. I said to him: go home andwork, and call me when you're ready. That's what he did, and now he's in thegroup.
RF: In the past you've quoted certain musicians who youlike working with. Are there any musicians you would invite to rejoin thegroup?
FZ: No one well-known. I would always like playing withAynsley Dunbar . . . and George Duke, too . . .
RF: How do you explain that quite a lot of musicians havenever been better than when they are working with you?
FZ: Nothing can take the place of DISCIPLINE, and that'sthe first thing that any musician must learn when they come into the group:discipline. I'm not talking about punishment, just respect for workingtogether. You can't know musicians very well. Have you noticed they're thelaziest people in the world? They never do what you ask them on time, becausethey're lazy as snakes. they think the world is going to overwhelm them withits gifts because they're so wonderful. And they're wrong. Because if you'regoing 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 onyour own, someone's got to make you. That's all I do. I ask musicians to dostuff they've never had occasion to do before; and if they want to stay in thegroup, they've got to succeed at it. That's how I work. After that, when theyleave, they say to themselves, "Free at last! No discipline, at last I'm goingto be wonderful again." And what happens? They're wonderful, and they donothing. Because they haven't got anyone to urge them on and bring them outany more. Most of them stop developing when they leave the group.
RF: Let's come back to Mingus. One finds, in general atleast, a common point between you and him: the same way of working withmusicians, the same strictness in working with an orchestra . . .
FZ: I'm not an expert on Charlie Mingus, I don't know hishabits, but there are one or two things I've heard said; notably that hisdiscipline leads him to belt his musicians to chuck them out. (Laughs). I'venever 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 adomain specially organised in such a way that you avoid this person interveningin the carrying out of your projects, you find yourself in a paradoxicalsituation 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 todo. I take complete financial and artistic responsibility for everything Iundertake. 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 thepeople who are interested in what I do would always prefer to know what Iwanted to do rather than what my producer made me do.
RF: Have you always acted like this? Have all the recordsyou've made been free from all outside interference?
FZ: Not the first 3 that Verve censored quite a bit. Afterthat I did what I wanted.
RF: Haven't you ever made certrain records, likeChunga's Revenge for instance, with a view to financing otherprojects?
FZ: No, in the sense that it's impossible to imagine any ofmy records as capable of financing anything! (Laughs). Above all, releasedand promoted by Warner Brothers. On top of that, most of my records have hadvery uneven commercial fortunes between one country and another. Some of themare big hits in one country and complete flops elsewhere. Chunga'sRevenge has done very well in Italy and Thailand. WakaJawaka and Grand Wazoo have been big hits in Finland. Fillmore East and Just Another Band from L.A. wereGold Discs in Australia.
RF: On the subject of Uncle Meat. You spokesomewhere about the influence of Conlon Nancarrow . . .
FZ: (Astonished) You don't know him? He's a composer wholives in Mexico, but he was born in Kentucky. He writes music for piano whichis humanly impossible to play. So you have to get a machine, it's socomplicated. There's a lot of bizarre canons and strange structures.
RF: I read that you like food with a lot of pepper andmusic with a lot of dissonance. That's a good definition of your music, butcan you give us some details on the way you work. Practically speaking, how doyou compose?
FZ: Most of the time on tour. I've always got myportfolio, with music paper. If I've got an hour to wait at the airport, I getmy 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 allstraight: I play certain passages on the piano, I make corrections, I structurethe 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 tomusic school. They say, "Read this book." It's not necessary to pay forstudies to get to that. You might as well get the facts direct. Do you wantto see the scores?
A moving moment as the Master summons his bodyguard to fetch twogigantic mammoth format bound notebooks containing the complete orchestrationsfor guitar, percussion and 108-piece orchestra of 4 great works: Bob inDacron, Sad Jane, Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation andVOOOOL, bravura pieces of uncertain fortunes. SadJane was to have been performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted byFrank, 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 CBSclassical catalogue so that they could end up with Pierre Boulez. But it seemsmore 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 lookingfor acceptance by the contemporary cultural intelligentsia?
FZ: No. If I send scores to Pierre Boulez it's becausehe's more qualified than me to conduct them. It's not to get a good report fora schoolboy exercise, but because they're difficult scores, and he's anexcellent technician in conducting an orchestra.
RF: Was it the same reason you sent 200 Motelsto Zubin Mehta?
FZ: Yes. Other than devoting the rest of my life tolearning how to conduct a classical orchestra, it's much better to hire theservices of someone with the mechanical ability and training to do it for me.
RF: What do you think of the bootleg which was recorded atthe 200 Motels concert with the L.A. Philharmonic, conducted byZubin Mehta?
FZ: I've never heard it.
RF: You've often made explicit references to contemporarymusic 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 - ifthere 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 buyyour records are also the people who buy Varese and other contemporaries?
FZ: If they do, it's often because it's me who hasattracted their attention to those musicians, not through simple curiosity. Despite everything, I believe that there's a bigger market today amongst youngpeople for contemporary music than ever before. There are more and more peoplewho are looking for something else other than the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt, anew sound, greater freedom. Howver, the usual audience for contemporary musicis still made up too often of intellectuals who discuss mathematics and notmusic after every concert. It doesn't interest me particularly to attractthem.
RF: However, you're the only one to have done it in therealm of music called 'Popular'. A lot of your fans are 'rock intellectuals'.
FZ: In France, perhaps. But it's very different betweenone country and another. And then I was talking about that kind ofintellectualism which leds to a dead end. When you take a musical idea andmake 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 abstractand senseless game.
RF: However, certain passages from GreggaryPeccary are as complex and sophisticated as many pieces of intellectualmusic.
FZ: So what? The important thing is that it doesn'tprevent the kids from liking Greggary Peccary.
RF: Obviously, but why then do Varese, whom you like, andPenderecki, have so much trouble in being appreciated by more people? Isn't itjust that they have a false image?
FZ: I don't know. Personally, the 'image' doesn't botherme much. When I listen to the music I don't worry about where it's comingfrom, 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'tlike it all unreservedly. Most of all I like his orchestral music, although myfavourite work is his opera The Devils of Loudun. I also like thecello concerto. I've got everything by Varese which has been recorded, and Ilike 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'sTale, in particular The Royal March (the call-sign ofFrance-Musique in the evening): it's exactly what I look for in music. Ofcourse, I like the big ballets, The Rite of Spring,Petroushka, Firebird and Agon. I don'tlike the neo-classical period all that much, or the later serial works (apartfrom 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 composewith notes. When I form a group, I create a living sculpture of personalitieswho, amongst other things, play musical notes. Everything I do, I do in termsof composition. Composing is organising events following certain rules. Youcan 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? Isthere a Joe's Garage, Act IV?
FZ: There's no Act IV. I might change my mind, but at themoment there is no Act IV.
RF: So what else is there?
FZ: I've already completed a live album. But I don't knowif it'll be the next one to come out, because the next release is scheduled forSeptember, and I've got time to record a whole heap of things between now andthen.
RF: What's become of the 60's muso who had no commercialpotential?
FZ: You know, commercially I'm still not worth a greatdeal, 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 the60's, and because I kept getting it in my mouth when I was eating.
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