For Frank Zappa’s widow Gail, the fact that Dance Me This is being released now, more than 20 years after it was finished, is not the result of a grand plan.
“It just seemed that’s how it worked out,” she says. “We didn’t do scientific research on when was the right time to put it out. We operate in a world of randomonium.”
Todd Yvega, who was crucially involved in Zappa’s Synclavier compositions on the album, and who describes himself as “Frank’s musical secretary”, is disappointed with the timing of its release.
“It was so pioneering because this would have been the first time anyone in the West would have heard Tuvan throat singing,” he says. “A couple of years later, Massive Attack had huge success using such singers, and then the Kronos Quartet did it. So, the innovative part has gone.”
Despite the delay, the 100th album from Frank Zappa will still excite fans, especially, as Gail explains, because it’s a genuine Zappa album – the original tapes haven’t been altered. “It’s literally the way it was put together by Frank. It’s an artefact of its time. But it is a digital recording. The only analogue recording here was on Frank’s guitar. As far as Frank was concerned, this was the finished album.”
“It would be very difficult to make any changes anyway,” adds Yvega, the only other person who was consistently involved with the album’s recording process. “The hardware we’d need to remix the tapes or alter anything doesn’t exist any more.”
Yvega recalls that putting this album together took considerable time. “Frank approached music the way a sculptor tackles a piece of stone. He’d chisel away until it all made sense. This is what he did here. He had compositions which went back a decade or so, and they suddenly came into focus in the context of this album. He would take a small section of notes and work at this – chisel away – until he was satisfied.”
It’s literally the way it was put together by Frank. It’s an artefact of its time.
Happy with the music, Frank also gave the album its name. “It always had that title,” Gail confirms. “This was a piece he wanted modern dance groups to get hold of and see what they could do with it. But the cover is new. What happened was that I became friends with a woman called Kathy Eldon, whose son Dan Eldon was a photojournalist. He was 22 when he was stoned to death in Somalia by the people he was trying to help. He left behind an incredible journal, with his drawings. I saw this photo in the last several years of a drawing he did of these elephants. They seemed to be dancing in the face of their own extinction. It was a remarkable statement, and I instantly thought this was the perfect cover for Dance Me This.”
So what will fans think of the album? Gail Zappa has no doubts. “This represents the height of Frank’s deep understanding of what music was for him,” she says. “It’s him saying, ‘What can I finish in the time that I have?’ It’s his farewell to making music.”