PAUL OF ROCK
With a third
appearance at the Zappanale looming,
and the recent
PG: Though it has always been a business, there was still room for art and exploration in those days. This was not out of the kindness of the record labels' hearts, but rather out of their self-aware ignorance; they knew that to a significant extent they did not know what would sell, so there was more of a willingness to take chances and let artistic visions develop. Obviously Freak Out! would not have gotten made today, or at least released once made, and certainly not on a major label. But I would argue this point even further - Dark Side Of The Moon would not have been made, either. Pink Floyd would have been dropped after their second or third album for non-performance. That is really what is missing most of all - letting artists develop over time, over several albums and tours. In our little way, that is what our school does; synthesize this experience so that when our kids are turned loose to make their own music and forge their own careers, this cutting of the teeth period has been simulated. In Almost Famous, the story revolves around a band at just this point - touring the country, climbing the marquee, supported and cultivated by its record label. Nowadays that is practically science fiction.
IB: One of the albums you’d pull out of a burning house would be Uncle Meat – what is it you particularly like about that Zappa album compared to others?
PG: For me, Uncle Meat is Frank Zappa's ultimate masterpiece. It is, for all intents and purposes, his first major classical work but, unlike his later 'serious music', it is the benefactor of its own imposed limitations, and thus suffers none of the excesses of, say, Jazz From Hell (which is an album I love). When practically anything is possible, as in the case of the latter album, there is a tendency by the composer or artist to over-embellish. It is the classic case of knowing when to put the painting away. In the case of Uncle Meat, you get the sense that every note, sound, voice, squonk, etc. was meant to be there, and it could not have been any other way. Recorded during the infancy of multi-track recording and various techniques, the listener is left simply to marvel at the rich musical tapestry woven before your ears, while, intellectually, standing in awe of the time, care, and love that it must have taken to put those notes to tape.
IB: Would you pull Imaginary Diseases out of the burning house?
PG: Sure, but only after 50 or so other Zappa titles – not to mention 150 or so non-Zappa ones.
IB: When and
how did the idea for the
PG: I saw this movie starring Jack Black and decided to start my own school.
IB: Yes, of
course! Did the makers of
PG: They did
not, going so far as to say that they never heard of me. Considering our
website is schoolofrock.com,
something is certainly rotten in
about Gene Simmons' Rock School
(shown recently on the
PG: Never saw it, but I hear that one REALLY stinks.
IB: What sort of music did you play before teaching?
PG: Very prog, lots of fake Hendrix solos.
IB: Do you write music, or do you just prefer to play?
PG: I still write a bit, but my writing always arose from a place of bitter desperation, and I have been pretty happy now with my life for some time.
IB: The film ‘soundtrack’ album must’ve been a dream come true – did you get to pick the track list?
PG: Actually, I was a little disappointed in the end. I did not pick the songs. As a matter of fact, artists were confirming while we were in the studio, meaning that most of what you hear was learned by the kids just hours before we recorded. I would have preferred something more adventurous -maybe the artists doing each others songs, or letting the kids doing some rearranging. I would also have loved some Zappa on there, but that was not to be.
IB: How did you persuade some of the special guests to participate?
PG: It was all the record label, and they paid them.
IB: Was the album a one-off, or can we expect more albums from the School?
PG: There will definitely be future recordings. I am also starting to get heavily into artist development, so there may even be a SOR label in the near future, featuring graduates playing their own music.
IB: You said that by 2007, you hoped to start seeing the fruits of your labours – what has happened to the likes of Madi Diaz?
PG: She is
IB: Do you think that learning the classic stuff influences the sort of music the kids will go on to create, or - to paraphrase Robert Plant - are we all just chipping away at the same piece of rock and this will just give them a good grounding to go away and make their own shapes?
PG: It is really even more fundamental than that. In that music, there are great examples of chord movement, meter, etc. And I feel that, by studying the classics, the kids are assembling the tools that will help make their own music sublime.
IB: What happened to Will from the film?
PG: Will has pretty much divorced himself from the whole thing, and I honour that. I will say that last I heard, he was doing great.
IB: I know that Gail is anti-Zappanale, and FZ cover bands in general. But she seems to tolerate you and your participation in that festival. Is it true she personally advised you on the songs not to play at Zappanale #14? And that she okayed the use of Frank’s songs in the movie?
PG: She used to tolerate us, but that is over. I managed to piss her off along the way, which is unfortunate. I really like Gail. She had us to the office two years ago and we got to see a rough cut of the forthcoming FZ composer documentary, which is very, very good. When we were at Zappanale #14, we were there with her blessing, and we have always honoured the three forbidden songs. And yes, she was gracious enough to license three songs for the doc, which I will always be grateful for.
IB: I’m a huge Zeppelin fan – what should we expect you guys to play at this year's Zappanale?
PG: Me too! We are digging pretty deep into the catalogue, and skipping most of the hits. Some highlights: In My Time Of Dying, The Crunge, Gallows Pole, and Down By The Seaside. Now that we have 13 schools to draw our all-stars from, this is the strongest group I have brought over yet, so I know you will be impressed.
IB: Which Zep album would you pull from the burning house - the choice is Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti?!
PG: Tough one. I would say 4 - it is the cliché choice, but there is a reason for that. In this scenario, I will have to go with the double album, Physical Graffiti.
IB: Me too – but it’s a close thing. Given that you’re also playing some Sabbath, will we see Asa & Tucker Collins on stage in Bad Doberan?
PG: Asa and Tucker are no longer in the school. They never
practiced. I am bringing a five year-old wonder child from our
IB: Will you be focussing on Ozzy-era Sabbath – or will you stray into Ronnie James Dio territory and beyond?
PG: For this show it is all Ozzy, but only a few hits.
IB: Some of your teaching methods seem a little unorthodox in today's nannying/politically correct society. Would you agree?
IB: It's clear you piss off the kids on occasion, but they still seem to respect you - is that a difficult balance to maintain?
PG: My pedagogical theory is that the key is to push your students as far as you can without turning them off, a difficult balance indeed.
IB: With new schools blossoming and management being brought in to help guide the kids as they leave, from humble beginnings the venture now seems to be taking on a life of its own. What more do you hope to do - or are you content to simply sit back and carry on doing what you do best - teaching kids how to rock - and let business take care of business?
PG: We have hired a fantastic CEO, Matt Ross, who comes from Clear Channel and radio station management. That being said, I am still deeply involved in the business end of things, and will remain so for some time to come. I do, however, have a personal commitment to spending 12 hours a week teaching, which is what I do best.
IB: What other established musicians would you like the kids to work with?
PG: Jimmy Page (of course), John Paul Jones, Ian Anderson, Ian Gillan, Terry Bozzio, Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Billy Gibbons, George Duke, Flo & Eddie…
IB: Well, my fingers are crossed for you there. You've done the Guitar Gods (Santana, Van Halen, etc), Floyd, Sabbath, Zappa, Beatles, Crimson, Zeppelin - any old faves left to tackle?
PG: In our manual for all of our schools, there are 54 approved shows, and this list is always growing. In addition to the dinosaurs, we have done Radiohead (who I LOVE), Jesus Christ Superstar, and we have a U2 show planned for the Fall.
IB: Ah, Radiohead – now they’ve kind of slipped through the net and been allowed to develop artistically. Do you pretty much dictate the songs you play live?
PG: Almost entirely. Veteran kids, like CJ, do get some say.
IB: What of CJ - no longer the precocious kid we saw at Zappanale #14; is he set to fulfil his dream of becoming the next guitar god or was too much placed on his young shoulders?
PG: Absolutely not. That kid has his head bolted on straight like none I have ever seen.
IB: Will you be seeing any of the upcoming Zappa Plays Zappa shows?
PG: I saw the preview at BB King’s, and will be going to the NYC Beacon show in June.
IB: I’ll catch it in June, too; looking forward to that. Finally, can you give me any clues as to the two people “who should have been” part of the tour that you’ll be playing with in the Fall?
PG: Not right now. But when I close the deal, you will be the first to know.
IB: Okay, Paul - thanks very much for your time. See you in Bad Doberan.
Sadly, it seems unlikely that this interview will ever appear in a future edition of T’Mershi Duween, but you never know. Photo of J-Roc, Paul and The Idiot taken at Zappanale #16 by Uncle Ian.