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.

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.

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