Scott Thunes 2, Zappaholics only edition

During the 1960’s a lot of artists wanted to merge rock music with that of the classical world and the avant-garde. What sets Frank’s music apart apart from other artists who attempted to do so?

I wish I could help you more with this, but my appetite for music was very limited. I have some understanding of that type of music but mostly from a theoretical standpoint. There was something called the Third Stream, and it attempted to fuse classical and jazz. That brought up a bunch of great stuff, attempting to get classical soloists to improvise within a jazz methodology, but Frank’s music was totally written out. I don’t think the modern-classical sound-scape of Frank’s lent itself to a jazz interpretation.
Unless you’re talking about the Moody Blues or Jon Lord’s stuff, and that’s just pop music with orchestra as an integral part of the orchestration (led by the Beatles, natch) or classical-sounding stuff with rock organ improvised on top of it. Frank’s was merely modern classical music with some rock instrumentation included for coloristical purposes. Also, it lent itself to a different perspective on the part of the listener. Somebody sees some rock instruments on stage and they have expectations, expectations that Frank loved to mess with.

How serious was Frank about using his art to change peoples perceptions and ideas about music, and about society and politics?

I can’t answer that question on my own. it’s been subject to thousands if not millions of words during the past 50 years by people smarter and with larger vocabularies than myself. I’m just a little old bass player.

Frank’s and my conversations were limited, except that one time I asked him a huge open-ended question that cannot be recounted here, to nuts-and-bolts details of our performances together and/or life at his house, which I saw much of over the years.

I can only say that We’re Only In It For The Money was only the third in 60 albums spanning 30 years worth of trying to change people’s perception and ideas about all what you said. That seems rather serious to me.

How intricate was the system of hand signals musicians had to memorize to play with Frank?
Pretty moderate, in my opinion. Not that I can remember many of them, but maybe 10 were used with any regularity. Fuck You Middle Finger for highest note, pointing at the floor for lowest, forming letters with his hands for key changes (A, C, G, and E were quite popular, as they’re rather easy) and twisting his hair for Reggae. There was one for Mr. Rogers, which is ‘making it sound all tinkly’ but I can’t remember what it was. Time changes could be gesticulated, as could any number of gestural meanderings during conducted sections. Swoops and the like.
How well do you think the musicians who appeared on The first three Mothers albums played Franks music?

I loved those albums with a passion (still do) and I think they did excellent work. Two drummers? Killer horn and keyboard players? Singers like Roy Estrada? Nothing like them, ever.
How did Franks interactions with major labels work out for him?

After the debacle with Warner Brothers, and he made a pretty penny winning that lawsuit, I don’t think he had anything else to do with them, at least except for distribution. His problem was with radio not playing his stuff in America, Valley Girl notwithstanding.

If Frank were president, what kind of legislations could you see him backing?

I’m sorry, I can’t say. He was a social progressive but a fiscal conservative (by his own admission). He hated paying taxes. So did George Harrison, so he was in good liberal company there. Pot legalization would probably be backed by him not because, like me, he partook of said drug, but because he believed in personal freedom. But anything else, you might get a better answer from Gail.
How many hours a day did Frank typically work on his music?
Every second of the day he wasn’t sleeping, eating, or doing business. Honestly. He was always in the studio. Always.

Did you ever see or hear Frank interact with his parents and siblings, if so describe their interaction?

That, of course, and this is the point, really a personal question that I don’t feel entirely easy-going about answering (I’m still good friends with Gail and I would like to continue to be so, which is not to say I’m being guilted into silence nor am I being censored, but I feel strongly that my time spent up there was a privilege that I would not be honoring if I were to go into details), but I saw him interact with everybody, and I enjoyed seeing it immensely. He was rather like a king, rarely attempting to ‘parent’ or influence the actions or responses of his children, but coming and going around the house, almost always going from one place to another. But I did hang with him while he sat still and spoke, pontificated or listened calmly, was asked questions by his children and had great conversations with them. He once told me he would let the kids do anything they wanted if they could convince him of their path. I don’t know how often that happened.
What did Frank really think about jazz?

He thought it wasn’t dead but that it did smell funny, that it was the music of unemployment (this came to him after seeing Duke Ellington borrow some money from his road manager), and used the ‘aroma’ of it in a mostly humorous vein during my tenure with him. Other than that, the deep recesses of his concern for this music remain a mystery
Could you describe Frank’s creative process?

I saw him plonk out notes with two fingers on his then $90,000 Bosendorfer in the 32-foot-ceilinged room in his studio for hours, watched him type with two fingers on his 80’s-era green-screened computer monitor attached to his Synclavier for hours, watched him beat on an Octopad for hours to get raw rhythms to inject into the Synclavier and I watched him sit on his executive lounger in the control booth of the UMRK directing his engineer, rolling tape back and forth, sometimes (in the early part, not after digital) put razor to tape (that was my favorite) while he joked and laughed and put albums together. I also saw him bring music paper and pens to the beach the only time we sat on sand together (St. Petersburg, FL, 1981). I also had a conversation with him where he described the specific, and to him, wondrous properties of a certain ‘set’ of pitches that when manipulated a certain way engendered a miraculous transformation that I almost immediately and promptly forgot. He liked to either make up a set, or ten, and then either put two sets together vertically and horizontally (melodically and chordally) or mix up one set and do the vertical/horizontal thing to it by itself.

Do you think Frank was prejudiced against women in any way?

Not to my knowledge. I mean, we can go back and forth about his infantile focus on bathroom humor, or we can just view it as another form of documentary evidence of the types of women he met on the road, but I never heard him refer to women using terms usually reserved for locker rooms unless he met a total bitch, a fucking cunt, or a female asshole. If he had views on women, it was this: they were meant to stay at home and raise the children, but he didn’t point at women who didn’t do that and call them on it, like telling them to stay home or get off the road. Call it what you will.
Was Frank spiritual in any way?

Nope. Totally atheist and materialist.
How do you rank Frank as a composer?

He’s pretty good. I’m a thematic-leaning Germanic/dodecaphonicist, where, as we discussed before, Frank was a non-thematic composer in general (of course he orchestrated themes, that’s different), so for me, it doesn’t ‘hold together’ like I like music to hold together. He liked things to go from A to B to C to D…To Z and beyond, all the time having whatever else he liked float around the top sides and intra-dimensional parawhosits, which is great, and there are wonderful moments, and I love listening to much of it as pretty sounds. But I really like things to mix in with other things that give my mind something to hang on to. He didn’t need that.

If you like melodies, you listen to melodic music, so there’s something that you can hang along with on the ride from the start of the melody, through the transformative period and then back to the recapitulation, bring it all back together at the end. Or you can listen to crunchy rock guitar chords that, on their own, make for a satisfying musical experience. Or, you can search for meaning in the flurry of audio input, making out a sonic realm here and there, like looking for pretty pictures or apparent structures in clouds, but really it’s all just white noise and your mind is filling in the blanks without being asked. I think Frank preferred that. But I could be wrong.

Benn Jordan AKA The Flashbulb

An amazing electronic musician who is also a virtuoso guitarist, and an astute and innovative business man.

How did you first learn guitar? Self taught?

Upon seeing a kid-sized nylon-acoustic at the age of 6, I threw a fit until my Grandfather buckled and bought it for me. I’ve never had a lesson in my life. This isn’t because I’m confident, bold, and tough. It is because I started playing “inverted” style and nobody ever wanted to teach me. I suppose now I’m thankful for this because it has allowed me to play much more uniquely.

What caused you to get involved with electronic music?

Convenience, at first. I admit that when I was a teenager, I thought of electronic music as “cheating”. I guess I still think it is sometimes. I’m cheating now by using a computer to make my words seem much more legible than my horrible penmanship. Anyways, it was the easiest way to turn my ideas into recordings. Then I started realizing that you could do more with a drum machine than you could with a real drummer. And it seems like electronic music (in all of its shapes and sizes) has the most room for innovation. At least until some more acoustic instruments get invented or people start thirsting for microtonal symphonies.

How did you start scoring commercials?

I guess I always felt like my style of production was molded nicely for picture. I didn’t really have any desire to compose for advertisements until I started working with Vapor Music Group in Toronto. Not only did they give me spots that I enjoyed working on, but they treated me as more of a partner than just a source of music or income. Now I’m often in a position as a producer where I’m able to get friends involved as composers, which is great.

Any offers for films yet?

Sure. I’ve done more licensing than anything, at least in Hollywood. I seem to have a major problem with patience when it comes to a lot of things coming out of that city. After wasting so much time poolside or in a cafe, I’ve learned that working is much more valuable than talking. So out of Hollywood, all of the offers for composing I’ve had have been either insufficient monetarily, or the opposite of what I want to be working on. I must not forget that the way the industry works is very plagiaristic, routine, and judgmental. If I scored one movie about penguins, then the only jobs I’d ever get would be penguin movies. I did do some work on Secret Life Of Bees a few months back, and I have a couple of tentative things happening in the air while films are being produced.

I definitely want to compose for big feature films, but it only makes sense to be discriminatory until the right one comes along.

Do you ever plan on producing for bands?

I’ve worked with bands from time to time, but usually only on a one or two song basis. I wouldn’t be against producing a whole album if I was enthusiastic about the project and paid fairly.

What current artists should people know about?

Loaded question, so I’m going to name off a few electronic guys.

Kettel, Secede, The Great Mundane, Bartel, Jeswa/Josh K, and Polyfuse.

How did you get on the tour with The Dillinger Escape plan?

Ben Weinman was initially exposed to me directly through a Nine Inch Nails mix I did, and he’s also big fan of the genre I reside in. We met up a couple times, and perhaps due to my general apathy, he asked me if I could recommend him an artist who sounded like me who’d be willing to open for them. I haphazardly volunteered and ended up hopping on half-way through after negotiations.

Did you find it hard to connect with the audiences on that tour?

I was afraid it would be, but it wasn’t at all. I was imagining the audiences I saw in the 90’s at Pantera concerts…skinheads, stoners, and bikers. But DEP’s audience is really diverse and really open minded. There were of course a couple kids in the audience that didn’t want to hear anything but screaming metal, but it was genuinely well-received. I think the bigger problem was the press, who….as always, stun me with their ignorance and lack of attention to what they’re writing about. In a couple of the shows, my live set would be billed as “DJ Flashbulb”, or even “DJ Flashlight” in one of them. I remember reading a review describing my set as “a man pretending to play guitar over a prerecorded synthesizer mp3”. I guess MIDI pickups aren’t common knowledge yet?

Any good road stories from that tour?

Nothing too incredible. I got along with everyone well, but most of the time Ben and I would stay up until 7am when everyone else was sleeping and have the big room on the bus to ourselves to work in. Traveling on a tour bus, while far more convenient and comfortable, doesn’t even count as traveling for me. The tours I’ve done in the last 2 years have been in an SUV, usually avoiding freeways and interstate highways. Unless it is an emergency, I refuse to fly unless I’m going overseas…there is simply too much to be missed.

Favorite venue to play at and why?

Good question. The factors are usually sound, turnout, and amenities/backstage/staff. I’m going to stick with the USA since Europe’s worst venues are often better than the best ones on this side of the pond. The Abbey in Chicago or Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh are probably the closest to having it perfect.

What inspired “These Open Fields”

Way back in the day I did this mix/performance for a radio station in York, UK called “Me Touching Dead Air”. To this day I still think it is some of my best work. I was trying to recreate that vibe in These Open Fields, but ended up making something entirely different. Most of the album was made while drifting around the US and Central/South America and not at home.

Do you ever plan on releasing stuff that’s more singer-songwriter orientated rather than electronic based?

Releasing, maybe. I’ve made a lot of stuff that never seemed to fit into albums. I could probably compile it and release a vocal/folk album, but I guess I’m really controlling over the direction my releases travel artistically…and that isn’t on the plate just yet.

What business advice would you give young bands?

I suppose I’d tell them not to separate what their doing from any other business. Bands tend to make horrible business decisions because of desperation caused by competition or the eagerness to validate their artistic voice. If people are coming to see your show and paying cover, then you should get paid too. If people are using your music on television or in a film that is making a profit, then you should be getting paid too. There is no exception to this, especially since the standards you set for yourself will ultimately define your value. The more shows you play, the less of a new or unique experience it is for your fans to see you play. So wouldn’t it make more sense to play less, play better, and ask for more?

How have your legal problems with itunes panned out?

I really, really loathe that company. They’ve played ball with me, of course, because they were getting a huge pile of bad press as a result of not doing so. But even the higher level reps they’ve sent to deal with me are condescending. Their whole iTunes business model is proprietary and no different than the sunken ship the major labels set to sail 20 years ago with overpriced CDs. Apple makes a lot of money at the expense of your freedom to listen to music on whatever device you want.

What is your creative process like?

It really depends what I’m working on. For my own music it has gotten much slower and a bit more mature. I used to work out of a bedroom studio and just drink coffee and chain smoke through the nights. Now I have a 3 room studio on my lower level, and my living area upstairs. I set an alarm clock and live by a pretty set schedule. I even have dry erase boards with ideas and goals scratched out on them. Maybe I’m getting old?

Ideally how do you think record labels should behave?

In a way it is kind of like asking how a floppy disk drive distributor should behave. Should they try and invent reasons to bully people who use CDs or thumb drives? Or should they change their business model?
The record label is entirely obsolete. Some will argue that they are still required for promotion, but surely you don’t need an entire company to link an artist and publicist. I would say that every indy label should do business the way I do with Alphabasic (entirely non-profit to everyone but the artist), but you can’t expect people to do that unless they’re really passionate about their artists.

What effect do you think the Internet has had on independently released music?

Artistically, I suppose time will tell. Part of me believes that music will finally be subjected to a more Darwinian approach where bad song writers won’t get heard. Another part of me fears that perhaps Western civilization is more thrilled with fads than actual hard work and dedication when listening to an album. I suppose both are true.
The important thing is that the internet has separated copyright and tangibility. An artist no longer needs a major label record contract to have his or her music widely distributed, but at the same time, if savvy enough, a child doesn’t have to have parents well-off enough to afford premium cable to watch an HBO documentary or the History Channel. A huge part of what keeps the poor starving and the rich wealthy is control of information and education. I think part of this aggressive battle over copyright has more to do with than than anything. When information is free, they can no longer decide who stays ignorant.
Did that get too Sci-Fi?

Scott Thunes

Scott Thunes played bass on some of Zappa’s best recordings. His playing complimented Zappa’s extended solos particularly well, and he aided Zappa in arranging some Bartok pieces, for one of Zappa’s touring bands. Thunes has done tours with a handful of other artists, but has spent most of his time with his wife and two children.

What have you been doing for work these days?

I’m a stay at home dad this decade.

Have you been working on any new material?

I don’t have any old material. Really, I’m just a kind of bass player.

When was the last time you played a gig and how did it go?

Funny you should ask. Right before this weekend my last gig was with my friend Kyle Alden, helping out with low frequencies on his more pop-oriented tunes. It was nice. My wife was there and she got to see me play my flat-wound, fingerstyle which I don’t normally do. I’m more of a round-wound heavy-pick using son-of-a-gun. Mellow. Groovy. Slippy. Not growly. Punchy. Hard. Right?

Have you pursued any artistic endeavors outside of music?

Urm…takin’ pitchers? Starting thinking about writing my book? Clearing the front yard of tons of river rock?

Do you have any all time favorite composers or bands?


Do you keep up with new music, and if so do any artists stick out to you?


If you had unlimited money, highly trained musicians of your choice, and unlimited rehearsal time to produce a piece of music, what kind of ensemble would you bring together for it, and what would it sound like?

It would probably look a lot like the Ensemble Moderne and would sound like shit because I don’t know what I’m doing. On a lighter note, I’d mix up some Hindemith, Tubin, Hartmann, Henze, Busoni, and Reger in a big mental pot and cross my fingers.

If you could join any group or musical ensemble what would it be?

I would bring my brother back from the dead, all musty and decrepit, and reform the Young Republicans from the 80s. We’d get so big so quickly that I would have had to think twice about leaving to play with Frank.

Would you ever consider touring with Fear again?

I would have to add some requirements, such as Lee actually paying me for the album I made with him over 13 years ago, he’d have to apologize for the way he treated me and my friend on the last day of recording (and all throughout the tour, starting around D.C.) and he’d have to wear a different fabulous dress every night and have the words “Racist Homophobe” tattooed on his forehead (heh heh, just kidding)

What do you think of Microtonal music?

I’m a big fan. I love Charles Ives’ Three Quarter-Tone Pieces for Piano and the works of Alois Haba in general (did you know that Frank was a follower of Haba’s method of non-thematic Composition?)

What do you think was Frank Zappa’s greatest artistic achievement?

Probably 200 Motels. Or maybe Lumpy/Money. Billy the Mountain rates pretty high. YCDTOSA Complete is a dramatic statement. Solitude.

Do you see yourself becoming more involved in music again once your children leave the home?

I’ve already started the rehabilitation process.

If you could how would you restructure how music is taught at the high school and college levels?

No idea. Never really did high school.

Why do you think orchestral music isn’t as popular as rock music?

Americans, at least, have been radically dumbed-down, and it takes more than an appreciation for a pretty melody to ‘do’ orchestral music.

Where do you stand politically, and what would you like to see change over the course of Obama’s first term?

I’m a lefty, pretty hardcore, and legalizing pot would have to rate pretty high. I don’t smoke and haven’t for two decades, but it’s a sin how many people are incarcerated for things like that. Worse, Bush and his cronies are rich, free, and terminally and inhumanely cluless as to the long-tern damage they’ve done. (Or Are They?!?!) A Truth and Reconciliation committee should be convened as soon as possible.

What do you consider to be the best recorded example of your bass playing?

Sunrise Redeemer, Fire and Chains, Death And Love ( Love and Death?) off of The Waterboys’ Dream Harder, and my entire contribution to the album, In Remembrance (found on by my Junior High School friend, Geoff Wolf.

Glenn Branca

Branca, is an avant-garde composer, who paid his dues playing in experimental rock groups during the No Wave art movement in New York. Branca’s compositions explore just intonations and often incorporate lots and lots of dissonance. His latest piece entitled The Harmonic Series explores, suprisingly, the harmonic series. Four out of the five movements within The Harmonic Series have yet to be commissioned, so if you have any cash and love great music Glenn could use a hand.  Along with being a great musician Branca seems like a nice, well read guy who doesn’t shy away from honest answers, and is quite funny.

Where do your initial ideas for pieces come from?

That’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer.

Does improvisation play in your composing process?

I have often used structured improv and still do at times.

But in general I don’t like the word anymore since it tends
to imply a Zorn style improv that isn’t something that I do
and I don’t enjoy listening to.

Do you leave room in your pieces for improvisation, or is everything written out note for note?

I think that I’ve already answered that one. But most of it is written out note for note. I will say that I’m a big fan of the kind of improv that Miles was doing in the 60’s with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. In fact I’m working on

a “Jazz Symphony” that would develop what they were doing at the time, which was some of the most unique, complex and beautiful music ever recorded.

Do you view yourself as a spiritual or mystical person, how do you think it affects your creative process?

No. I believe that we understand very little of what’s going on here. But I do believe that there is a life force or light within

us all. I don’t think science has come close to explaining what it is, although I’m a big fan a science and math.
How does it effect my creative process? It is my creative process.

Have you ever incorporated aleatoric composition into any of your works?

Yes. Very often. In fact I like music that gives me unpredictable results but always in the context of a structured design.

Why do you think exploring micro-tonal music is important, and what initially drew you to it?

At first it was just a different kind of tuning system. I was doing a lot of work with different tunings in the late 70’s and early

80’s. But when I started working with the Harmonic Series I discovered a whole world: musically, philosophically and even
“spiritually” (which I define as anything outside of what can be rationally defined). What drew me to it was just curiosity and and interest in experimentation.

Why have you taken to playing a double bodied guitar with one neck?

It’s a “Harmonics Guitar”. Something I invented in the early 80’s. The original was just a long 2×4. Later in the 90’s a friend suggested that I make one that could be played like a normal guitar (the original had to be played sitting down like a lap steel).

If you want more info about what the Harmonics Guitar is check out Bart Hopkin’s book “Experimental Musical Instrument Design”. It’s got a detailed explanation of my original instrument.

How would you change how music is taught in the high school setting, if you had the option to re-arrange it any way you like?

I never studied music in high school so I really couldn’t answer that.

How is your 14th symphony coming along, and when can we expect to hear it?

Only the first movement has been written and performed. You’ll have to wait until I get commissions for the other 4 movements.

And since the piece is for full symphony orchestra that might be a very long time.

What instruments is your 14th symphony written for?

Answer above. But I will tell you that the whole thing is in the intonation of the harmonic series. The name of the piece is in fact THE HARMONIC SERIES.

Could you see yourself producing more rock oriented material in the future, or do you see yourself sticking to orchestra composition?

I will still write pieces for 100 guitars if and when I get commissions. I still think that I can get an orchestral sound that rocks out of 100 guitars. We shall see.

How much music, which abides by the traditional Western 12 note system do you listen to, and do you see it as more or less interesting than micro-tonal music?

I think that good music can work in any system. As Steve Reich once said: “It’s not what you do it’s how you do it.”

Recently I’ve been listening to Beethoven piano sonatas (killer). At the moment I think the best orchestral composer was Debussy.

Which authors have you been reading lately, and has any of their work influenced your composing?

Reading and collecting are my hobbies. Occasionally I’ll lift a name or a quote from something I really like.

Actually tonight I read Ben Jonson’s “A Farewell To The World”. It was on of those things that really
said it for me and I might use it as a title for something. At the moment my fav authors are: David Mitchell, Christopher Brookmyre, Irvine Welsh, Paul Di Filippo, Christopher Buckley, Alan Moore (when he bothers to do something), Martin Gardner and John Shirley. My complete list would include lots of dead people and a number of others who haven’t written much that’s any good recently but nonetheless have done a lot brilliant stuff. Let’s say that would number at least 100.

Jandek-Manhattan Tuesday

Jandek Manhattan Tuesday:

Acoustic bass and drums mix with electric guitar, synthesizer, and Jandek’s unique droning voice to shape an intriguing listen. The music flows along with a jazzy- ambiance, remaining laid back and hypnotic while incorporating a healthy amount of dissonance. Jandek’s voice becomes the focus for extended intervals, the band quiets down, providing a low ambient hum to compliment his poetry. The tracks flow together, making one large piece that shouldn’t be broken up. This is an album you need to listen to beginning to end in order to fully appreciate. Amazing stuff.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone-Vs. Children

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Vs. Children:

Ower keeps his coy yet confessional lyrics, but loses the lo-fi aesthetic. He also bought some better keyboards, and it sounds like theres real drums and piano on some of these tracks. Having not cared for their, previous work I’m surprised at how much I like this album. The musical arrangements are good, as are the keyboard sounds. Ower sings in key, and has written another batch of strong lyrics. I really can’t fault this album, in fact I recommend you spend money on it, so this guy can keep upgrading his keyboards.

Handsome-Furs Face Control

Handsome Furs Face Control:

1980’s worshiping indie-rock. Drum machines and fuzzy guitars provide a backdrop to poetic lyrics, delivered like Bernard Sumner. Not the best thing out there, but it is a fun and danceable record.

Condo Fucks-Fuckbook

Condo Fucks Fuckbook:

Loud, obnoxious, and fuzzed out. The Condo Fucks have produced an album of garage rock covers, so intentionally sloppy it sounds like each member of the band is trying to play a different Kinks song at the same time. Undeniably a blast live, I can’t get through the album in one sitting. Theres no weak tracks, theres just not a whole lot variation going on here. Overall, it a pretty solid release, from a band which must kick ass live.