IT: Is there any basic difference between your new album and the other ones?
Z: Of course—I play most of the instruments on this one.
IT: Do you prefer playing instruments to singing?
Z: Well it's the first time I've had a chance to do that—it's a different experience—I'll probably do some more of it.
IT: About 3 or 4 albums back you suddenly started singing an awful lot.
Z: Well somebody had to—you can't just go hiring lead vocals and expect to get the ideas across—just because somebody's born with a nice voice doesn't mean they should be able to sing my lyrics.
I'd like to get away as fast as I can. I would like to be away from [Warner Bros.]. They are not to be trusted. I'm no longer on Discreet Records because I fired my old manager and partner Herbie Cohen and hired a new one, Bennet Glotzer.
I asked what happened between him and Herbie. Frank says he fired him, "Law suits are, in the usual way, impending."
It sounds as if Frank has been studying the art of English understatement. One alleged "problem" was that Frank couldn't get the 30ips master tape of "Zoot Allures" from The Record Plant.
"Listen to this: I am the chairman of the board of DiscReet and the president of the company—also those guys are supposed to be my friends—but they wouldn't release the master tapes to me unless Warner Brothers indemnified the studio from any legal action that Herbie might take against them."
Warner Brothers agreed—providing Frank indemnified them. "Can you believe it? An individual artist having to indemnify one of the biggest record companies in the world so that they can bring his record out?"
So Frank mastered the album from his own 15ips safety copy of the album. He always takes 15ips safeties home with him after every recording session. "When I go home after 20 hours in the studio, what am I gonna listen to—Bob Dylan records?"
The saftey copies were very good; "You can't tell the difference, only an engineer would be able to tell that the transient response . . ."
[FZ has] filed suits charging fraud, breach of fiduciary responsibility and "various other malignant activities" against Herb and Martin Cohen, his former manager and former attorney.
Sources of the suits ore fairly complex, but boil down to "things looking really stinky in terms of dollars and cents routed into areas where they shouldn't have been routed," according to Zappa.
Points of departure for the suits are what Zappa explained as the "unauthorized use" of some of his touring equipment by Cohen, the "unauthorized and over budgeted issuing" of an album by Kathy Dalton on Zappa's former label, DiscReet, the "unauthorized issuing" of another album by a group called "Growl" ("something I never would have signed"), the "unauthorized sale" of a Zappa film to a German television station, and assorted "chincy" things.
I had this affair with this girl who had a cosmetics company and she said to me, "What do you want to do?" I told her I wanted to be a photographer and it turns out her last boyfriend was a photographer called Norman Seeff.
We went to a studio down on Sunset right next to the Chateau Marmont. Norman was a five-foot-three, longhaired South African ex-doctor who became a photographer and who just so happened to be the top record cover photographer in L.A. He said, "Can you develop film?" I had done a bit of everything but I just completely faked it. That night we were shooting Ike and Tina Turner. All of the jobs were in the evening—it was party time.
I think I worked for him for about a year. I did a couple of record covers for him (I shot Frank Zappa's Zoot Allures) and decided quite quickly that I'd like to do this myself.
"I remember when Frank went through the law-suit," said Terry Bozzio, "he said he might not be able to pay us. We all said, 'Well, we're willing to hang in there for a few months as long as the savings hold out,' in the hopes that things would get better. Frank was really depressed at that time. It was just me and Patrick O'Hearn and Eddie Jobson. I was going to be the sort of lead singer, and do the stuff that Napoleon did. It was a very strange time, you know. Then he got Ray White." [T'Mershi Duween, 28, "One More Time For The World", interview by Andy Greenaway.]
Art Rock: You are on the cover, but you didn't play on this album?
Jobson: I don't think so. Frank makes albums differently from other people. Most people go in studio, record album and they put a picture of group on. Frank doesn't work like that. Frank doesn't really go into studio to record an album. Frank's tape is running constantly. He records everything, even rehearsal. [...] And that goes on tape somewhere...and some future point Frank would take that tape and do something else to it, put somebody else on it, and cut it off and edit it. God knows what he will do with it! And it will show up on an album! You may be in the group when it comes out, or maybe you left the band 5 years before the album comes out. That's how he makes records. I just joined the group here. This album was made up of all different tapes, different thing from different period. I am not even sure Patrick O'hearn is on it. I don't think he played on the record either. Terry was on it because he'd been in the band for 3 or 4 years longer at that point.
The latest Mothers are Zappa plus three, with Ruth Underwood a "possible" return. Their rock and roll event, "Night of the Iron Sausage," is due in September, with Terry Bozzio on drums, Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music) on violin and keyboards, and Patrick O'Hearn on bass while Zappa plays guitar, bass and keyboards. A U.S. tour is planned for the fall.
Before the release of "Sausage," Zappa will unleash a recorded performance of the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra; a "classical" album of avant-garde Zappa music.
Frank Zappa is buzzing around the office with test pressings of his 23rd album with the child-like excitement of a first-timer.
At the initial hint of interest in his new Disc Reet Records double-album set, Zappa's ponytail bounces towards the stereo equipment stacked on glass shelves in the corner of the room. "It's called Zoot Allures," he says over his shoulder as his fingers adjust the numerous knobs on the amplifier. "Zoot Allures" is an English corruption of a French expression [Zut, alors] that translates as "oh, shit." Combined with the album's cover photograph, the title makes for what Zappa refers to as a "sight gag."
Zappa returns to his chair just as the first notes fill the air. He whips his briefcase onto his lap, snaps open its lid, and pulls from it a glossy photograph of massive teen appeal. Left to right: Mothers veteran Terry Bozzeo, newcomer Patrick O'Hearn and Roxy Music keyboardist Eddie Jobson Iine up behind Zappa, who hardly looks any older than he does in the earliest shots of the Mothers.
"The album is me playing most of the instruments and Terry playing the drums on all the cuts and a variety of other people playing incidental things. Patrick is playing bass on one of the cuts and Eddie's not on the album."
In the background, Zappa's leading his studio band through "Disco Boy," a typically tongue-in-cheek tribute to one of the ironies of modern civilization. [...] The next tune, "Friendly Little Fingers," is a mystery even to its creator. [...] The table gets a thorough going over as the deep throated lyrics of "Wino Song" squeeze between the room's atoms. [...] Zappa won't reveal the story behind "Night of the Iron Sausage," saying only that "it's a real long story." The song was originally a set item from a past tour, but on the new album it's slimmed down to a basic guitar solo. "Let that be the title of mystery," Zappa offers.
The second side of Zoot Allure is comprised of two extended cuts with minimal lyrics. The first is "Sleep Dirt," a basically acoustic cut that finds Birdlegs Humans trading licks with Zappa. The title cut follows, an instrumental that began as a Jam between Frank on a 12-string and Terry on drums. Patrick O'Hearn later overdubbed bass tracks, and much later Zappa added a guitar solo played through a Pig Nose amp. [...]
The kinkiest song of the whole set opens side three. Entitled "Pinky," the song tells the tale of a hot date with a lifesized doll's head. [...] The next tune, "Filthy Habits," again features a healthy dose of Zappa on guitar, but rather than break-neck time changes, the notes are held and squeezed out for maximum effect. The freedom to conduct lengthy solo excursions that comes from having four sides to play with is used to full advantage by Zappa.
"Finder Finer" offers Uncle Frank's advice to young men in search of one-night love affairs. [...]
Side four opens with a live recording of "Black Napkins" taken from a concert in Osaka, Japan. [...] The fdnal tune is Zappa's current tribute to the old concept of the "freak out." We find the main character trapped in the dark recesses of someone's twisted fantasy where "The Torture Never Stops." The song was originally written for the Bongo Fury album, but Captain Beefheart couldn't get the vocals right so Zappa saved it.
I was left with the new album that will be released this Fall. Frank picked up his attaché case and left for the bank as I sat in a perfect spot listening to his music, full blast. While he was gone I was thoroughly involved with his latest conquest. Just as the fourth side of the album was completed he returned looking no worse from his business trip.
[...] I asked him about the new album scheduled to be released in September. He told me that he wondered if the album might not be too long as a double album and would be released as a single one. Most of the cuts on Zoot Allures were done with just Zappa and Terry Bozzio. Terry Bozzio, Patrick O'Hearn and Eddie Jobson (former member of Roxy Music) are in his new touring band. He was delighted about the new band and showed me a picture. The picture was startling. The three other players were young, blond and very cute and in the center of those angels stood Frank Zappa looking diabolically shrewd.
ZW: There were some rumors the name of your last album would be Night Of The Iron Sausage. Is that right?
FZ: Yeah, I decided to change the name and just keep that one line in one song.
Paul Hill of Pasadena, CA, writes in, "The CD version of Zappa's Zoot Allures is the worst reissue disc I've ever heard, replacing Yes' Relayer on my list. It sounds like it was mastered from a cassette! The drums, bass and vocals have all lost their presence, and the dynamic range and frequency response sound incredibly narrow. The LP is so superior that I recommend that any Zappa fan rush to their local used record shop to find (an LP), before it's too late." [...]
Finally, what about the Zoot Allures complaints? "I wouldn't willingly send something out the door that I thought was worse than the original," Zappa says. "I've got no explanation for that, but I'll certainly get the CD and try to figure out what he's complaining about. And if it's really horrible I'll make another master. I'm actually flattered that people are listening that closely to the albums, but what's disturbing me is that they're listening to the production more than the music."
Another ex-Mother, Don Preston, is playing with Leo Sayer. This brought up a sore point with Frank because Warner Brothers is paying all the freight costs and subsiding club appearances for the Sayer tour, whereas for his tour he claims he has received minimal support. Normally a tour is used to promote a new album.
"They've been giving me the shits on this new album. Normally you come into town and there's the local Warners representative to take you to the local radio station. Well so far on this tour I've only seen five guys . . . In New York we sold out three nights a the Felt Forum. Warner Brothers bought 15 tickets for the press."
Warners are worried about the breakup of Frank's DiscReet label and don't know how to promote his new album without getting entangled.
Despite no promotion to speak of, "Zoot Allures" did 117,000 in the first week, which ain't bad. I had been expecting the US radio stations to censor the album but apparently not.
"It's getting played everywhere, except oddly enough in Toronto, Canada. I was doing an interview on what used to be one of the most progressive stations there when I noticed that the album had white stickers on two of the tracks: on 'Black Napkins' and 'The Torture Never Stops'."
Frank immediately began to criticise the station over the air and in the end, the station manager came in and he and Frank had an on-the-air discussion about censorship. I bet Frank loved it.
"What it amounted to was that he didn't understand the lyrics. All he knew was that they made him hot so he thought they must be bad!"
If you've been there too, let me see your thumb
"Let me see your thumb" is probably from a commercial TV Spot for "Gulf" gasoline from the sixties. At the end of the commercial one would see a gas-station employee putting up his thumb in order to suggest that Gulf is good. Which corresponds to Good Gulf.
A multitextured free-far-all, the tune got its title from "a black napkin sitting on a table in a Milwaukee hotel, Thanksgiving, 1975."
"Black Napkins" is a song I've had for a year or more but it was finally named last Thanksgiving when we were having this horrible Thanksgiving dinner in Milwaukee. Sliced turkey roll with the fucking preservatives just gleaming off of it, and this beat-up cranberry material. The final stroke to this ridiculous dinner was the black napkins sitting next to the dish.
There were also some live tracks like "Black Napkins" (recorded in Japan—if you listen closely you can hear the little Japanese girls yelling "Telly!—Telly!!" on the record. He always laughed at that!).
Do you ever play slide guitar?
No, but I do have a fretless guitar, and I'm pretty good on that. At one time Acoustic manufactured a fretless guitar, they made a prototype and tried to interest people in it, but nobody wanted it. So the prototype ended up at Guitar Center. I walked in there one day and asked them if they had anything new, and they said, "Have we got one for you!" And they brought out this thing, and it was really neat, so I bought it for $75. The only restriction was they had to take a chisel and some black paint and scratch off the word "Acoustic" on the headpiece, because Acoustic didn't want anybody to know that they had made such a grievous error as to make a fretless guitar. I've put a Barcus-Berry on that, too, and I send the magnetic pickup to the left and the Barcus on the right. The thing that sounds like a slide guitar on "The Torture Never Stops" is actually a fretless. It's also on "San Ber'dino" and "Can't Afford No Shoes" [both from One Size Fits All]. It's different than a regular guitar; you don't push the strings to bend them, you move them back and forth like violin-type vibrato, which is a funny movement to get used to. But you can play barre chords on it—it's fun.
IT: Can I ask you what was happening in "The Torture Never Stops"? I read that you didn't want to tell the interviewer how you went about recording the screams.
Z: Very simply; you set up a 4 track, tape-recorder in the basement, and you get two girls in there, and you work them over, and you put them on the tape, and you put the tape onto the other tape.
IT: Did you have a good time?
Z: Of course.
"The sound effects to 'The Torture Never Stops' were an evening's work," [FZ] told Pauline McLeod. "We did most of it in the bedroom of my house. There were two chicks there—one was my wife—plus myself. I think they enjoyed it very much. We got four hours on tape and then cut it down to just under ten minutes. My friend opens up with the first grunt and it carries on from there. Er, I don't think it's worth telling you precisely what went on . . . you wouldn't be allowed to publish it." [Daily Mirror, February 14, 1977, "Sheer Torture but Zappa has it all taped."]
In the night of the iron sausage
Zappa won't reveal the story behind "Night of the Iron Sausage," saying only that "it's a real long story."
Terry: The tradition of the iron sausage was further perpetuated by one of those private-like European urinal stalls, you know, they have those little walls between them. Where John said, "Boy, I gotta stand back," to make room for the salami, you know. But I really couldn't see, you know. And then, man, he made the mistake of, uh, changing into his karate pants one night when I was around. And finally, I looked over and said, "Man, I thought you had some salami in there!"
John Smothers: I told you, that shrunk up in the bay! Oh, Terry . . .
"We saw an ad in a Finnish magazine for a rubber head called Miss Pinky. It's got a vibrator in the throat and a bulb that you squeeze to make the jaws suck in. When in action, Miss Pinky sucks you off. When I saw the ad, I just said 'Jesus!' We got two of them, one for the crew bus and one that Roy Estrada used to sing to during our concerts. I figured something as wonderful as that should be memorialized in song," he says with a straight face.
Ms Pinky is a song about a "lonely person" device. I saw an ad for it in this Finnish pornographic magazine, and when the band got to Amsterdam, I sent Smothers [Zappa's large bald bodyguard] out to see if he could find one. Sure enough, for $69.95 he came back with Ms. Pinky. It was even worse than I had expected. Not only is it a head, it's the size of a child's head. The throat is sponge rubber and it has a vibrator in it with a battery pack and a two-speed motor. Sticking out of the neck is a little nozzle with a squeeze bulb that makes the throat contract.
"Seeing as how the main problem with the teenage male set is today, and always has been, how to get reamed, then maybe some of them haven't figured it out yet. But you're not gonna get any action if you've got any brains, so let's get it together: be as dumb as you can, folks. You can discuss it later with your intellectual friends."
1975 recorded in a dressing room at Hofstra University and over-dubbed at the Record Plant, Los Angeles, California
originally released on the Warner Brothers album "ZOOT ALLURES"
engineer: Davey Moire
original recording medium: 24-track analog tape
musicians: Frank Zappa, various guitars and bass / Ruth Underwood, percussion & ARP 2600 / Roy Estrada, drone bass / Terry Bozzio, drums
guitars: Gibson acoustic-electric, Custom fretless, Hofner bass
This is one of the earliest examples of a technique I developed called Xenochrony (strange synchronizations). [...]
The solo and drone bass was recorded on a 2-track Nagra, 15 ips, with a pair of Neumann U-87 microphones in a rather wet-sounding dressing room, warming up before a concert at Hofstra University on Long Island. This pair of tracks was later Xenochronized to a drum track out-take from 'The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution.' The introductory orchestration was added next, and then the Hofner bass (recorded at half-speed), rhythmically splitting the difference between the two different track tempos.
"There's no reason in the world that that song should exist and here's why: the lead guitar track was recorded at 7 1/2 on a Nagra in a dressing room at Hofsberg University. I listened back to the tape and thought it was a nice little guitar track.
"So one day I tried an experiment in the studio. I transferred that tape to an existing drum track from a song that was already an improvisation. The time signatures don't match, nothing matches, except that it all matches perfectly. And it's one shot. I never tried to adjust any of the synchronizabions or anything. I just laid it on there and let it lay where it may, and it sounds like the drums are right in there with the guitar." It's not often that Zappa expresses wonderment at his own talent.
"That was originally written in 1968 when we were working in a place in Boston called the Ark. I didn't do anything with it until Jeff Simons needed another song for his album. He had an instrumental track that was similiar to the original version, so I suggested we put my words to his song. So the first recorded version of "Wino Song" appears on Jeff's album (Lucille Messed Up My Mind, Straight Records): I've changed the words and music to make it more current."
Sparkie Parker—bg. voc
Sharkie Barker—bg. vocal
"The inspiration for that comes from a place in Copenhagen called the Disc Club. We spent a week in Copenhagen for rest and recreation between the Japanese part of our last tour and the European part."
With arched eyebrows, Zappa continues, "I don't know what you've ever heard about Copenhagen, but you'd think you could have a good time there. Five or six days in that city was the pits. It was colder than shit. The record company people were showing us the amusing highlights of the area and they took us to the Disc Club, which was the local nose-in-the-air discotheque.
"One night I went to the toilet and I couldn't get in because all these guys were in there combing their hair. But they're pretending not to. They look in the mirror and give themselves a quick little checkout and quickly zoot their hair back. They check out their-expression and adjust their clothing and zip out the door. And there's this endless rotating armada of Danish disco gents out outside the room. So I just went back to the hotel, got out some stationery, and cranked it off."
|Zoot Allures (Universal, 2012)||Zoot Allures (Zappa Records, 1990)||Understanding America (2012)||Have I Offended Someone? (1997)|
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos