Frank Zappa Talks Music, Money and Steve Vai in His First Guitar World Interview From 1982, Part 2
In part two of Guitar World's first interview with Frank Zappa, he discusses Steve Vai, the high cost of being a band leader and the state of music in 1982.
Getting back to what you do perform, the stage act seems to be taking new directions. What gets you off as a "director"?
I enjoy doing anything that is theoretically impossible, and making it work. I mean, you saw some things on stage that were impossible and didn't even know it. If you saw what that music was that they were playing, if you saw it on paper and realized these guys were out there doing it with choreography and kind of dancing all over the stage that was some of the hardest shit anybody in a symphony orchestra would ever be asked to play. They're dancing around and fucking doing it from memory. There's not an orchestra in the world that could have done that.
It was pretty amazing.
Right. And it looks like, "Hey, we're having a good time." They fucking sweated their nuts off to learn that stuff.
How long did you rehearse?
Two months. Minimum of five days a week. Sometimes six days a week. Minimum of six hours a day and sometimes ten hours a day.
Does it ever happen that you put together a band and they seem like the right guys and then they just can't do it?
Sure, all the time ...
What do you do then?
Fire them. Get another band.
But, obviously that didn't happen with these guys. The bass player was really great too.
Great. He's a great guy. His name is Scott T-h-u-n-e-s. And he's really a great guy. He's twenty-one. The drummer, Chad Wackerman is twenty-one. So is Steve Vai.
You have a sort of policy of not staying with anyone lineup for too long.
Well, that's not my policy. That's just the way it works out: Because a lot oftimes you'll hire somebody who's a great talent and he gets in there and says ... as soon as he says to himself, "I've done one tour and thousands of people have clapped for me while I was out there and it's now time for me to launch my own career." And bingo, they are gone. And so you say, "Great, good bye." Have a nice career. And then we get another guy.
You know, it would seem almost like ... that it's like an indulgence for you, not of yourseif, to perform live with a group because it's so expensive and takes so long to work up.
Well, just so you really understand the mathematics involved, what do you think two months of rehearsal costs?
A quarter of a million dollars. That's before I buy the airplane tickets and pay for the hotels in advance. That comes out of my pocket before I get a nickel from any ticket. That's what I have to invest to make a band sound like that. And I don't think the audience has the slightest idea what that means. I am not funded from the sky. The money that they spend on a ticket this year turns into somebody's salary next year. Or it turns into airplane tickets. It turns into new equipment. I have been telling people I don't stick this up my nose and I don't buy yachts.
But, in a way it would be much cheaper for you to just record and compose and try to get your things done that way.
Yes and no. But, I mean, look - I love music. I love to play. And I enjoy going on stage and improvising a guitar solo. You know, you can't do that at home. You can sit around and noodle on your guitar but it's the instant challenge of going against the laws of physics and the laws of gravity and going on stage and playing something nobody ever heard before. And nobody would dare to play. That's what I like to do. That's . . . I mean, that's sex. It's better than sex. That takes you into a realm of science: And you can't do that sitting at home and you can't do it in the recording studios. It's not the same feeling.
So you don't want to take all of the money that you've made and go out and buy a farm and grow tomatoes?
No. Even though I am an Italian I do not wish to grow tomatoes.
Which brings me back to that thought before .. . you know, everybody is making such a big deal about ... Gee, the Rolling Stones are still actually doing this despite having more money than they know what to do with.
And yet here you are making this .. .I mean, actually in a sense a donation to your audience.
Hey, listen. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the audience. I mean, I would still be off someplace scribbling stuff down that wouldn't be getting played. Unless there was somebody who wanted to hear it and paid money to hear it and bought the records, unless that exists we can't do what we do. You have to understand how the ecology of the whole thing works. It's an eco-system.
A person who buys a ticket makes it possible for the event to occur next year. The person who buys the record makes the next record Possible. If you like it support it. If you don't, it ain't going to be there. That's what it's all about. Because I'm not going to get a Rockefeller grant and the government's not going to send me a check. I'm just a small business operation. You know. It's up to you. You like it, help me do it. Help me pay for it.
What about orchestral projects. I know we talked about this last time but do you have any?
Well, here's the orchestral policy. I have alrady spent as much money as I can to make them happy. I can't spend another nickel. I have already invested too much money trying to make it happen and not one note has been played. Okay? Somebody wants the orchestral music, they pay. They pay for everything including the phone calls. I can't put any more money into it.
Is there anybody interested?
Yes. The Orchestra Nationale of Mexico City wants to do three of my ballets. That's the latest. Do you know about the orchestra in Poland? The Polish Radio Orchestra wants to give a complete concert of all of my orchestra works.
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