Frank Zappa Talks Gear, Praises Steve Vai in His First Guitar World Interview from 1982
Frank Zappa talks gear and praises Steve Vai, the inventive young guitarist in his band.
Yeah, that's true for the most part. But, had you always played with other guitars at the same time?
No. Not really.
That is a new thing for you?
It's a fairly recent thing I've been playing with.
Does that represent any ...
Major breakthrough .. .
Well, any working out of long-term concept?
No. I feel comfortable playing with Steve Vai, I mean, I like the way he plays. I think he's really a great guitar player. He does everything on the guitar that I don't do. He does all of the stock Stratocaster noises and he makes everything that Van Halen ever dreamed of and then some. He reads music. He plays sixteenth notes which I don't play. And he does all of this stuff that I don't do; and I think that our styles are kind of complementary. He's a good musician and I enjoy playing with him because he's not just a Mongolian string-bender. And he's a thoroughly trained musical person. And I like working with him.
Do you then change your band according to the musicians in it or do you look for the musicians to change the group?
Well, I have ideals I always shoot for but you can't always get what you want. You know, the musicians are chosen by audition. And they come in and tryout against each other to see who gets the job.
Yeah, but do you know what you're looking for in advance pretty much?
And then once you find . . . well, take Steve for instance. Did you realize you would do those kinds of things with him?
Oh, I think I knew that from the first time I heard his cassette. Because his cassette was intelligent and it sounded like he was a person who was interested in music rather than being just a rock and roll star. I like that.
Is everything absolutely written out, or are there improvisational parts there?
Well, you can tell a guitar solo from a written part, can't you?
Sure. But ...
All of the rest of the arrangements are specified, if not on paper, then they've specified by rote where I will say, "You play this at this point. And then the break goes here and this goes there." I tell them what to do. You don't just walk out on stage and let your mind run wild.
Of course, but while you are in the process of developing the arrangements do you ever . .. just give a sort of general instruction to the musician about what to play?
Only when it's appropriate for the texture of the song. Some things you want to have a loose kind of background. I mean, I don't hum 'em every note of a reggae background. No. They know what the style is and so they modify to suit. And I always try and design the arrangements around the assets and the liabilities of the guys who are playing. There are certain things that some people can't do. So you shouldn't ask them to do it. And there are other things that they are really good at and you are a fool if you don't get them to stick some of that into the song. So, I balance it out.
What direction are you heading in right now?
You don't have anything ...
Oh, I know what I want to do but I can only go where I can afford to go. Remember, I'm self-financed. I can tell you that I want to make a movie tomorrow or I want to go out and do something with a symphony orchestra or I want to do this or I want to do that. I have to wait and see how much money I have to invest in the next project. And that will determine what the project will be.
But given your current group, ... is that pretty much what we see is what we get, or do they suggest another group of songs or ... there were some things you played that I had never heard before.
There are other things that are already recorded that you haven't heard on stage, too. Because we did a bunch of recording before we left LA.
Stay tuned for part two of this interview, coming later this week.
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