"Strobe," WCBN, Ann Arbor, MI
November 13, 1967

Recorded at Mixed Media bookstore, Cass & Palmer, Detroit, November 13, 1967
Aired on "Strobe," WCBN, Ann Arbor, MI, November 18, 1967
Interview by Joe Doll and Dave Pierce

Interviewer #1:

As we mentioned earlier, The Mothers Of Invention will be performing at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit, on December 1st, and they will be performing in Ann Harbor, at the 5th Dimension, on December 2nd and 3rd.

Last Monday in Detroit I talked with Frank Zappa, the leader and musical director of The Mothers Of Invention and asked him what differences we could expect between live performances and recordings.

FZ:

Oh, 'bout 500%.

(laughter)

'Cause what we do on stage bares little to no resemblance to what we do on a record, because I conceive them as two different mediums. And the way we approach the two different mediums is, you know, like, we really don't even make an attempt to play a lot of the songs that we've recorded.

Interviewer #1:

Can you give an example between the differences that you might . . .

FZ:

Oh, there'll— Our repertoires are completely different. The songs that we record—or at least the way we've been operating for the past eight months—the stuff that we've recorded, we don't even bother trying and learn it for the bandstand, because the things we do on the stand are suited to live performances—the arrangements have been adjusted so that they're acoustically feasible in large hall environments, rather than trying to simulate delicate effects that might be achieved on a record we can [BEEP] out and do the things that are gonna sound good when you play it loud. And we have a visual presentation that accompanies the program. We do things with our hands and bodies on stage that don't record well.

And there is a big difference between what we sound like on records and what we sound like live. On records we're— we tend to eliminate improvisation, there is not— there's no long solo things except on Absolutely Free there's a six minute, you know, group improvisation, but we do a lot of that on stage. The guys really are proficient players, and we just blow our brains out mostly.

Interviewer #1:

Now, speaking of recordings, I understand that you have a new album coming out.

FZ:

Yeah.

Interviewer #1:

Can we talk about that a little bit?

FZ:

Have a new album called We're Only In It For The Money, and we're having a problem with the release of this album due to the cover of the album. We had a problem with Absolutely Free too. It took seven months before the problem with Absolutely Free was straightened out. We hope this problem won't take that long.

We're Only In It For The Money is completely different than the other two albums. It doesn't even sound like the same band.

Interviewer #1:

On your albums, I'm sure most of the people who'd be hearing your concerts or be familiar with you—

FZ:

Many won't, because a lot of people come to see us just out of curiosity. I've found that most people have not heard our music but might have heard the name of the group mentioned and think that maybe it'd be better than watching television to go out tonight and see this freak show.

And we usually give them what they're looking for.

(laughter)

Interviewer #1:

For their benefit, on the album you come across of being very bitter, and uh—

FZ:

You really think so?

Interviewer #1:

Yeah. Well, you come across to me as being bitter. It strikes me as rather ironic that the society that you're criticizing up and down—for its plasticity and so on—your messages convey to it by vinyl records distributed by short cigar smoking promotion men, you know—

FZ:

Even tall cigar smoking promotion men. I can name you some. And I even go out there and talk with those promotion men. And I make sure that the products that we manufacture are packaged in such a way that those promotion men can make money from selling 'em. And that means they're gonna order more of 'em the next time. We have success at increases on initial orders in albums like uh— Initial orders on Freak Out! were 15,000. 0 to 15,000 first time out. Second album, initial orders were 45,000. On the third album the orders uh, without even seen the cover or knowing anything about the album, it's about 85,000 advance orders, you see?

This is because the distributors know they're gonna make a buck on it. I'm happy that they can earn the money because that does just add much more in getting the so called bitter message out to the public that needs to hear it.

Interviewer #1:

The point I'm making is, uh—

FZ:

It is ironic, isn't it?

Interviewer #1:

Is this an accurate representation of your feelings or do you overdue it?

FZ:

I'm pretty [BEEP] up, yeah.

(laughter)

Interviewer #1:

What are you doing in America?

FZ:

What am I doing in America?

Interviewer #1:

Why are you here? Why don't you split?

FZ:

Why should I leave? I like America. I'd like to see it turn out better.

Interviewer #1:

America is wonderful.

FZ:

Yeah. Well, I always felt that it had a chance to be wonderful if we could just get some people into the positions of control that really cared about what was happening.

I just get tired of seeing a bunch of [BEEP] running everything.

But unfortunately the so called "youth revolution" which a lot of people talk about in whispers at the coffee shop and how we're gonna take over someday, buddy, and all that stuff, if it were to happen tomorrow it'd be a [BEEP] thing, because the kids aren't really prepared to run anything. They have no real sense of responsibility and most of them are so apathetic that if they had a chance to run their own lives, or run the government, or run somebody else's life, they'd feel miserably. They know nothing of politics and they know nothing of workable systems, and not only that, they don't wanna know.

So something is gotta be done to make them interested, and unfortunately it's probably gonna have to be a thing where the techniques of Madison Avenue are gonna have to be used to sell the idea of responsibility to enough people of a certain age, so that when the time comes and they are the majority and they do have to be faced to the problems of running their own country, that they're gonna be in some shape to do it.

I would uh— I would panic out if all of a sudden we had some eighteen year old president tomorrow. It scares me to death. But by ten years maybe they'll be good. If something like that could be engineered.

Interviewer #1:

You mentioned having difficulties getting your albums released.

FZ:

Yeah.

Interviewer #1:

Particularly because of the cover. Do you have— Do you find that you have to compromise your artistry for the public—or do you do what you want and you more or less push it on them some way?

FZ:

I think that we have more freedom, more control over what comes out with our name on than any other group in the business. That's not saying that we are completely free of compromise, because certain things have to be modified in order to just get it out to where it's gonna do the most good. But we fight for the points that we wanna make, you know. Not against waiting a little while to achieve a certain end with the record company. And we have hustled with them a lot. We'd threaten them up one side and down the other. And fortunately they have responded because during the past year we sold more than a million dollars worth of goods for 'em and they began to like us a lot.

(laughter)

Interviewer #1:

I understand that uh, I don't know if the rumor is true, that you come from the advertising business.

FZ:

I was working at— Not— Let me get this straight. I was not Madison Avenue a go-go. I was national advertising director for a greeting card company in California. I prepared ads. I planned campaigns. I did—was a commercial artist and I did greeting card designs. And that was my involvement with the advertising business.

As a person working in that field with my knowledge of the operations of advertising as a business and what I know about motivational research and certain other devious aspects of the business, you know, I found out about it snooping around, and I've got a pretty good basic knowledge of those techniques.

Interviewer #1:

Would you attribute a large part of your success to your ability to uh— to your position, your knowledge in the field of advertising and, uh, ability to control people in such ways.

FZ:

50% of where we are today is a direct result of the amount of work that I put out in controlling our image and controlling the advertising companies which advertise our products through the record company. In other words, about six months ago we took over the account from the Schneider Advertising Agency which has a whole MGM company uh—you know, they take care of advertise for MGM Films and MGM Records, all spectrum of work is all done by Schneider. And I didn't feel they were competent to advertise what we do, because they were advertising it in a really huckster level.

I would see ads in places like the Village Voice that say, "The Mothers Of Invention in all their scatological splendor." And I puked, you know? So I went and had a giant argument with 'em and they agreed that we could control our own graphics, our own copy, and everything that comes out in terms of promotion or promotional material, banners, or in store displays and stuff like that, is supposed to be approved by us before it goes out.

It's a little bit rough to catch up with 'em because sometimes they manufacture these things and there's a rush in and some of the things sneak out without approval but, I'd say 80% of the printed matter that goes out on the group emanating from an advertising agency is thoroughly screened by our little company before it gets to the public so that they don't say things about us which aren't true. No. They like to take certain shortcuts in order to sell a product, and I don't like to see them taking those shortcuts.

Interviewer #1:

How did you manage to get involved in uh, talk the MGM people—Verve. You are in Verve. The Verve label.

FZ:

Yeah.

Interviewer #1:

Into recording you in the first place?

FZ:

When they first heard us, we were working at a club in Hollywood called the Whisky à Go-Go, and the A&R man, uh, producer, Tom Wilson, came in, he heard us play one song, it was the Watts riot song. And that's sort of a R&B type thing. So, he figures, "Oh, topical R&B group! Just what we need!", you know?

(laughter)

So, he phones up the company, "Yeah, we got one," da dat dat da . . . We get into the studio, you know, two months later we go into the studio to record and they didn't know what was happening. He got on the phone, we, first we did "Any Way The Wind Blows," that was the first thing we recorded, and the second thing we did was "Who Are The Brain Police?," and by the time we finished "Brain Police," his head was going around like this, you know, and he says, "Wait, what happened to that other one that I heard at the Whisky à Go-Go?" and he called back to New York and he said, "We got something strange happening here," and the whole project just expanded incredibly, you know. Everybody got real thrilled all of a sudden, they thought they really had a hot item on their hands.

Then the cost of recording Freak Out! kept booming, it, uh— Instead of starting off saying, "Well, you guys, uh, you guys are real swell, we're gonna give ya twenty-thousand dollars, which is approximately four times the cost of the average rock and roll album to manufacture and, uh, you're going to turn out one heck of a good album," instead, they kept trying to keep the budget down, but it expanded up to twenty-thousand dollars. They reached that point, they didn't wanna spend any more and figured, "Well, it'll sell, we'll spend five thousand dollars promoting it." So when it was finally put on the stands, our promotion budget on the album was what you'd call peanuts.

Absolutely Free had a promotion budget of twenty-five thousand dollars and, consequently, got up to about number 20 on the charts. Freak Out! never got up to number 20 on the charts, but it's still selling after about a year and a half and it sells, regularly, between four and eight thousand copies a week and it won't stop.

Interviewer #1:

That brings us up an interesting point. How much in sales in turnover would be attributed to promotion and how much to what's actually on the record. In other words, could you sell any kind of noise you wanted to make with the proper promotion?

FZ:

I'd say, judging from the product that many of the other groups put out, you can.

But we wouldn't ever do that.

Interviewer #1:

No. I wasn't suggesting it.

FZ:

Uh, packaging is very important, you know? And anybody in the business would, I'm sure, agree. The sells of a record, especially in store wards, basically rack sales, are directly in proportion to the picture on the front of the record.

If you can't play the record, the only thing you got to go on is what that picture looks like. And if it turns you on, you'd buy the record on impulse. And if it doesn't, you're gonna forget it.

Interviewer #1:

I understand you're going to be doing something on TV in Detroit.

FZ:

I did TV yesterday.

Interviewer #1:

Got anything else coming up in television?

FZ:

Well . . .

Interviewer #2:

There's a rumor that you will have your own show.

FZ:

No. But I'll tell that— We got a call about four days ago from The Monkees.

(laughter)

And they have a show that they're going to do where each one of The Monkees gets to interview one of his favorite personalities from the world of music. And Mike Nesmith picked me and David Jones— No, uh, not David Jones, uh, what's the other guy's name . . . Micky Dolenz picked Tim Buckley. So we're gonna film that when we're in Hollywood in December.

I don't know when it will be out but, it's probably . . .

Interviewer #2:

Uh, Micky Dolenz have picked uh, new people to appear on their show . . .

FZ:

Tim Buckley.

Interviewer #2:

Tim Buckley. The other cat and you, but . . . If you had to pick a group as far as an exciting trend, then who would you choose? Are there anyone—

FZ:

Eric Clapton.

Interviewer #2:

Clapton.

FZ:

Yeah.

You ever talk with him?

Interviewer #2:

No.

FZ:

He's dynamite. You know, I've never— You know, like I have a lot of respect for him as a musician but I was never so surprised since I sat down and talked with the cat. 'Cause he's really, you know, he's really into something.

Interviewer #2:

Yeah.

Interviewer #1:

That's surprising to me because Clapton is, you know, a blues man as far as I can tell, quite deeply.

FZ:

He's not exactly— He's not all blues. If you listen to what they're doing he's made an attempt to take his blues background and mold it into something, you know, more original. When you hear them in person, uh, lot of their improvisation would start off with a theme based upon, uh—like they'd start with the song "Spoonful" by the Howlin' Wolf and they'll sing the words to that but after that's over they just go completely berserk and they're into something else. It's not all blues. It does grow out of the blues. It's a completely different treatment of blues oriented material than you'd find a Chicago blues band playing.

Whereas most of the other blues groups start up funky, they stay funky when they blow, and when they get back to the original theme they feel that not only are they ready to be funky all over again but they're might even be a little bit funkier, 'cause they have so much soul as evidenced by the improvisations that they just laid on you. They're gonna get it as close to the original record performance as they can. And that's their criteria for success. They feel they perform well if they play a song just like the record.

Records which most of the young people unfortunately have not heard. But I grew up with those records. I was buying Howlin' Wolf records when I was 15, 16 years old. When they were playing them on the radio on R&B stations in California. You know, so . . . And Muddy Waters stuff. And I listen to this groups playing it now and I say, "Are you kidding?" You know, why bother?

I don't know how they ever got into that sort of unfortunate bag.

Interviewer #2:

You obviously have, you know, a concern for what's happening. You wanna do something about it?

FZ:

Yeah.

Interviewer #2:

Why you choose the manner that you do.

FZ:

I think it's the most expedient. You know, it's the easiest way to get what I have to do done. You know, the way I— I'm a appliance, I have certain amount of ability to get people interested in certain things. And I'm gonna do everything I can to get people interested in the things that I have— they should be interested in.

Interviewer #2:

For me, I don't know if this is attacking the people that should be or, you know . . .

FZ:

I'm not really here to attack anybody, you know. If I— If I do a thing in a song where I'm making fun of such and such a convention or putting somebody on, the attack itself is irrelevant, that doesn't mean anything. It's just the importance of what we do lies in the fact that somebody would just take the time to question a convention.

Where a lot of people uh, they just take things for granted, they don't question anything.

Interviewer #2:

Do you think that reaching to these people, do they need, you know, to question? Need to question?

FZ:

Well. First of all, the real work of rebuilding a society, because that's the way I see it, you know, you don't have to tear it down, but it's possible the society could be rebuild from where it is now, if people had the chops to do it. The actual work is going to be done by a bunch of people, not a vast majority of 'em, like, say maybe five to six hundred people who are just weird enough to motivate other people to do these things, you know. There's always just certain people that in each town, in each social circle, that other people look to to set trends and crap like that. It's like in high school. The first guy to wear his hair long, you know, we're— Crap, you know.

But these are the people who have the ability to motivate change. And if we can reach them, we've done it, it's not so important that we reach all the people who are followers anyway.

Interviewer #2:

You write poetry?

FZ:

Well, my songs are poetry.

Interviewer #2:

I know, but I mean just—

FZ:

See, like people have a tendency now to think of art in boxes. You know? We got a poet here who may at times combine with a playwright who may at times combine with a composer or a painter or a sculptor or a film maker and everybody is in its own bag. [BEEP], I say.

If you've got the ability to bring all these things together why just spend your time working in, you know, little, little parts of bags. I mean that a lot of people— Uh . . . It was like this, suppose you are a plumber, you know, and you're used to working with your hands and you have a certain amount of mech— manual facility for, you know, just putting objects together. It's possible that if you lost your trade as a plumber you could become a [BEEP] good carpenter, you know. And there are probably people now who are writing poetry that if they took the time to find out how to work the mechanics of music could easily transform what they know and what they feel into the language of music, and vice versa.

But nobody is really taking the time to spread out that way.

Interviewer #2:

I want to ask you about your trip to Europe. You found the kids there expressing at the same— They must have the same feeling of disgust that we do, you know. But do they express themselves more of the same way, you know, you find here? Are there groups like yours [...] you know, or what . . .

FZ:

Yeah, there are some groups over there that really surprise you. There is one group in England called the Ars Nova. I didn't get to hear them but some of the other guys were at this club where they performed, and one of their songs, is about 20 minutes long, included tape recorded sound effects of a bombing raid, you know.

And they're really into strange things. We were in Copenhagen and there was another group that worked with us on a concert called The Maxwells. They look sort of like The Beach Boys, they came out on stage and sang a 10-minute atonal Gregorian chant, and then rocked out into some really weird instrumental stuff, you know. Copenhagen.

And then there is this group in Sweden called The Tages, which is a pretty popular group, you know, they may not be the number one group in Sweden, but they're pretty clean cut looking guys and I brought back two of their albums and their stuff would really surprise you. Most of it is blues oriented things but some of the tricks they do with studio facilities and uh, vocal effects, and they all sing in English, write their own songs in English. And there's lot— There's weird things going on that nobody ever finds out about, I just couldn't—

Interviewer #2:

[...] find out? I mean, like—

FZ:

Ah, you can write to Polydor Records. Or Parlophone distributes The Tages albums.

Now there's another group in England called Tomorrow that I really like. You ever heard them? They have a record out called "My White Bicycle," I think they played it a couple of times in the United States. I really like what they're doing.

Interviewer #1:

Did you find any difference in response between American and European audiences?

FZ:

Yeah.

Interviewer #1:

What?

FZ:

The Europeans seem more critical, you know, they have— You got the impression that if you played something they would have some basis upon which to judge the quality of what you played. And you don't get that feeling from American audiences.

Interviewer #1:

The message you're putting out is far more closely related to American audiences. You do changes for the European audiences or you let them listen to the American stuff and—

FZ:

First of all, most of the places we played all people spoke English. Second of all, the places we played in Europe had better P.A. systems than any places we played in the United States. The halls in Scandinavia are just fantastic. We had really good halls and good P.A. systems and they could really hear what you were saying. And they understood 70% of it. And I didn't change anything, we just did— Just our normal stuff.

Interviewer #1:

How old are you?

FZ:

26.

Interviewer #1:

What is your own personal musical background from which your music is developed?

FZ:

Uh, I played rhythm & blues since I was 15, I started out playing drums in a rhythm & blues band in San Diego. In those days you didn't have groups, you had bands, and the emphasis was on instrumental music, non vocal music. A band was fortunate if they had a singer. Usually if they did have a singer the guy was such an egomaniac that the band was overshadowed, so most of the good bands didn't even bother to have singers. And they all played their brains out.

San Diego had a scene with heavy guitar players long before it was fashionable to have a heavy guitar player in your group. I remember hearing, uh— There was one guy that I used to work with, it was a kid named Junior Madeo. He's really a good guitar player. And uh, another guy named Manuel Flores, and— You know the names aren't, you know, anything spectacular but these guys could really play. It was a different style of playing but they're playing the blues because their bl— They have a different type of reason for playing the blues.

Now, in 1955, when I was playing that stuff, yeah, they still had Pachucos, they still had knives, they still had fights in the street, and they still punched you out of school. It was really rough, you know. It was a nasty business. And that's the type of funky environment that would breed the type of music that the blues is, you know. It's uh— The blues was initially a sort of protest music. And their brand of blues in San Diego was relevant to their environment. And it didn't sound like Chicago, it sounded like San Diego. And it expressed the feelings of the times, and it was all played by young people.

But eventually it got corrupted into— Like all this kids grew up and they didn't record 'cause it wasn't fashionable to play really blues in those days, they grew up and got themselves jobs playing uh, songs like "Misty" in cocktail lounges in San Diego or they played a bowling alleys circuit where they played shuffle Louis Prima stuff.

Interviewer #1:

[...] talking about poor areas, America, riots and so on. What has been your experience with riots and how do they relate to you?

FZ:

Well, the song that we have on the Freak Out! album about the Watts riot was written during the riot. And I was offended by the fact that the riot occurred not so much as the race problem itself but by the fact that both sides appeared to be really stupid, you know. It gets pretty gross if you have to burn down your own house as a protest for some sort of uh, socioeconomic condition.

It's possible that that is the only answer, but uh, I think with some little constructive thinking you might be able to find other ways to solve racial problems.

Interviewer #1:

Is your background [...]?

FZ:

Ah, I was lower middle class. I started out pretty poor, and gradually working up to uh— We had a tract home, a cardboard house.

When I was really young, uh— My father started out as a teacher of History at Loyola College in Maryland. And after that he went to work for the government as a meteorologist. He was working at a place called uh, Edgewood Arsenal during World War II, which made poison gas. And I remember that the whole family—each member of the family had their own gas mask in case the tanks broke. And we were living in this really flimsy housing units. Uh, it's really [BLEEP].

Interviewer #1:

Did this create any alienation between you and your parents?

FZ:

No—

Interviewer #1:

[...] any psychological—

FZ:

No, but I, you know, never got alienated because my father was making poison gas and I grew up with a gas mask—I used to go around the yard with that thing on 'cause I thought it was a space helmet.

(laughter)

Interviewer #2:

What do you think of religion?

FZ:

Organized religion is stupid. I think that God is alive and the church is dead.

Interviewer #2:

How about the stuff The Beatles are doing?

FZ:

What stuff?

Interviewer #2:

They seem to have changed their style—

FZ:

Their style of music? Or their style of living?

Interviewer #2:

Both.

FZ:

I think they're entitled to change anything they want. I think that when you get that rich anything to keep you from being bored gotta be really wonderful for you, I don't know.

'Cause I'm sure they've probably done just about everything there is to do. And I guess the Maharishi is the next logical step.

And their new music, I like it. I like most of what The Beatles do except when they do plastic versions of Chuck Berry. Shake it up, baby, a go-go.

Interviewer #2:

What do you think's gonna be next, after psychedelic?

FZ:

Somebody's gotta prove to me first that "psychedelic music" exists. Really, you know. Let's— Let's be serious about this, if you say "country and western," yes, that exists as a label for a type of music, but "psychedelic," you know, what is that? It's just a label that somebody in a company stuck on it. And right now they're using the same word to sell dresses in somebody's store.

Interviewer #2:

Yeah, okay. Well, what do you think the next gimmick is gonna be?

FZ:

The next gimmick? Eh, I don't know, you think it up.

Anything. Somebody's gonna put a band together that, uh, the music is made on a '39 Chevy. And they've got contact microphones on different parts of the engine. And a special microphone that picks up the upholstery. And in live performance, they need very special amplifiers to get this sound across to the audience. Of course, they still have to have somebody standing out in front shaking a tambourine to keep the beat for the kids, but the rest of the music is very mechanical-organic. It comes right from the soul of the Chevrolet. And I think this is gonna be one of the first, uh, really underground groups produced by Motown.

(laughter)

It'll be a mixed, it'll be a mixed group. A mixed group, because some of the kids that'll be in the group will be Polish because they know how to work on the engine.

Interviewer #1:

What do you think will be the next, you know, like . . .

FZ:

After that?

(laughter)

Interviewer #1:

. . . the next, like, youth rebellion fad that . . .

FZ:

Youth rebellion fad? Well, let's see . . . Eh, next step is that the kids'll all cut their hair off and go bald. I'm sure that'll happen.

Interviewer #2:

[...] What about the other guys in the group? Can you sort of like, you know, give us some smattering detail?

FZ:

Sure. Billy Mundi has an insane desire to crossbreed with an animal known as a yak.

(laughter)

Which he'll discuss with you at length if you're interested.

Jim Black used to drink 10 quarts of beer a day until he decided that it was making him feel bad. And then he stopped. He's kick the habit.

Uh, Roy Estrada is a lot happier now that he's not living with his parents.

Ian Underwood is 28 years old and he looks like he's 14.

Bunk Gardner used to play uh, swing band music, as a member of the saxophone section of some big band.

And . . . Motorhead, our road manager who plays with the doll when he's onstage, is a friend of mine that I've known since by 1956. He's— He's just bizarre. On tour in Europe he was under instructions from his mother to take pictures of every church he saw and send them back to her. And he did.

(laughter)

That's a little strange.

They're just normal kids.

Interviewer #2:

[...] area . . .

FZ:

No. They're from all over.

And the average age of the group is about 30.

Interviewer #1:

That was how things went last Monday afternoon in Detroit. As we talked cabbages and [keens] and green things in general with the leader and musical director of The Mothers Of Invention, Frank Zappa.

 

All compositions by Frank Zappa except as noted
Site maintained by Román García Albertos.
http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/
Original transcription for new material by Román
The parts available on The MOFO Project/Object and The Lumpy Money Project/Object are printed this way
This page updated: 2017-07-30