Guitar World Interviews
Frank Zappa - 1982
BY JOHN SWENSON
GW: How do you feel about
the current state of your guitar-playing?
FZ: I'm playing my ass off. It has definitely
GW: Is there
a point where you can actually feel yourself jumping
beyond anything you were capable of in the past?
FZ: Well, the funny thing about
the way I play is that I never
practise. And every time a tour ends and I put
my guitar away, I don't
touch it until the next season's rehearsals.
And every time I pick it
up it's like learning
to play all over again. I don't have any
calluses, it hurts, I can't bend the
string, the guitar feels too
heavy when I put it on.
I just had a nine-month layoff where
I lost all my technique. Then,
suddenly, one night I didn't have a problem.
I just went out there on
stage and started blasting away.
I think I've actually exceeded my
goals on a couple of nights.
GW: Can you describe how
FZ: Well, it's great.
You get to the point where you know you have
just said something that
nobody has ever heard before. And it's
recorded - you can play it for someone
later and say, "Would you
believe that on such and such a night, at
such and such a time, under
these circumstances, this occurred?"
I am looking for things that are unlikely.
Rhythmic events that are
unlikely. Melodic events that are unlikely.
You've already heard all
the good licks that all the good guitar players
play. You've already
heard every pentatonic scale there
ever was. You have heard all the
chromatic scales that ever were. You've
heard the Aeolian mode played
with a muted palm of the hand.
You have heard all of the nice bent
notes. You have heard clean playing, accurate
playing. You have heard
it all. I don't give a shit about that stuff.
I want to play what's on
my mind, and I think I succeed
when I can directly convert my
compositional idea into sound patterns
right there on stage. And if
the rest of the band accompanies that properly
so that it supports the
musical idea, then I did it.
But there's a lot of variables,
because it means that everyone on
stage has to hear each other enough
and everybody else's musical
imagination is tuned into what I'm doing.
You don't have any go-for-
your-selfers out there, because that is
what usually ruins a solo -
the drummer overplays, or
the bass player or the keyboard player
overplays. If they don't have enough sensitivity
to what I'm doing or
if they aren't smart enough to track the direction
I'm going in, it's
like dragging an anchor.
GW: Does it bother
you that you are not revered as a great guitar
FZ: But I AM revered as a great guitar
player by at least four or five
people. And that's better than none.
GW: What I meant is
that, whereas somebody like Eddie Van Halen can
become a big star...
FZ: Eddie Van Halen is a good guitar player.
He's entitled to all the
adulation he can acquire.
There's a lot of good guitar players out
there. But I'll guarantee you that I am
the only person doing what I
am doing. Because I don't approach it as a guitar
star. I go out there
to play compositions. I want to take a chord
change or a harmonic
climate and build a composition on
the spur of the moment that makes
sense, that takes some chances. That goes some
place where nobody else
wanted to go, that says things that
nobody else wanted to say, that
represents my musical personality. That has some
emotional content and
speaks to the people who want to hear it.
And the ones who don't want
to hear it, who don't like guitar stuff,
can forget it; it will be
over in a minute and I'll be back to another part
of the song. That's
what it's all about.
Actually, a lot of people can't stand to
hear me play the guitar
because of my unusual use of rhythm. You
know, everybody wants to tap
their foot, and when I go crazy they lose continuity.
They can't count
it, they can't think it,
they can't feel it - so they just totally
reject it. They want that nice, safe, straight
up and down stuff. And
there is tons of it to go around. Just don't come
to me for it.
GW: A lot of
people who were once completely mystified by your music
have caught up to it.
FZ: Some people have caught up to
it to the point where they can tell
that it's music; they don't immediately reject
it anymore. But whether
they have caught up to it to the point where they
can comprehend it is
a matter for further discussion.
Because I don't think they really
understand it - I don't think they know WHY it's
done or how it works.
I don't think they want it to work,
because if they understood what
was really going on, then they would have
to reject everything else.
Because what I think I am doing
is the best solution to the musical
problems that are set up at the time. I am going
for optimum solutions
to musical problems. And I think I am doing it
the right way.
I am providing good solutions.
Okay, I think other people are
providing really safe,
really boring, but entirely competent
solutions. To me, a lot
of other people sound like the aural
equivalent of a clowns-on-velvet painting.
You know what I mean? If
you have a piece of
blank, black velvet and wanted to solve the
problem of it being blank, you'd paint a
nice clown on velvet there.
SOMEBODY obviously likes that stuff. And there
it is for them. That is
not my solution. I'm going for something else.