ABOUT | ZE RECORDS

INDEPENDENT SINCE 1978

Michael Zilkha

Michael Zilkha • 1979 Blank Tapes Studios*

Michael Esteban

Michel Esteban • 1979 Blank Tapes Studios*

 

 

INTERVIEWS

STRANGE DAYS MAGAZINE : JAPAN 2009 THE DAILY TELEGRAPH : UK 2009 INK 19 MAGAZINE : UK 2009 FLUX MAGAZINE : UK 2009 VMAN MAGAZINE : UK 2009

VMAN MAGAZINE : UK 2009
JOHN NORRIS INTERVIEW WITH MICHEL ESTEBAN

How did you end up in Brazil? Do you live/work there full time, and for how long?

To make a long story short : I discover Brasil in 1985 when I recorded an album here with Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Chet Baker (« One For The Soul ») and felt in love with right away, came back in Paris, decided to move to Brasil, but met another « chanteuse » in Paris, had by biggest hits with her, but most of it a daughter (now 21). We separated 3 years after, but I had my daughter in Paris and did not want to live 10 000 kms from her. So I came in Brasil every year for a couple of weeks or months and promess myself to move permenatly when she will be 18. That is what I did 3 years ago.

I now live in Salvador de Bahia, where I am planning to open an Art Institute ( sort of Sundance films institute for Music and arts) and also involve with social in the district where we are reforming the institute in a colonial 19° century coton factory

What does the 30th anniversary of the beginning of ZE mean to you? Does it feel like 30 years?

I am not a nostalgic person, I live more in the present and next future than in the past. The past is my roots, but time is realy flying, it seems yesterday to me. I am very pround of what we have done in the small world of underground music.

There have been other ZE compilations over the years. What makes this compilation - ZE 30 - different?

A compilation is always one way to make discover some faces of the work we have done. There is so much music available now, it is a way to present to a kid of 15 a reflection of a certain kind of music done in a very special place, N.Y during a very special moment. And if he likes a song, he can discover more of the artist later.

Thirty years is a long time in the life of a city like New York - and NYC in 1979 was a very different looking and sounding place than it is today. What do you remember about the city back then? Do you think maybe sometimes we over-romanticize what NY was like back then?

I came to N.Y in 1974, living a the Chelsea Hotel, came a couple of months every years until I moved permanatly in 1977. For me N.Y was a dream a soundstage for Martin Scorsese future movies ( Mean street, Taxi driver) or the black exploitation films. I always had the felling of being in a film, everything was bigger than live, the building, the cars, the sound, I loved N.Y at that time. For me it was the Velvet Underground, my favorite band, Andy Warhol was hanging out with all his little world at Max’s and I WAS HERE. So for a little parisian in love with a certain american culture, it was paradise for a couple of fascinatives years !

It seems as though a label like ZE could only have sprung out of that particular place and time - do you agree? And why?

Yes definatly, ZE WAS N.Y, it had the energy of it, and the mixture of all culture. I was french, Michael was raise in London from an Irakee background. That what makes N.Y so great, all these imigrents, all pround to be New yorkers.

You even reinforced the NY identification through the label's artwork -- the taxi-inspired black and yellow motif. Why was that important to you?

As ZE for me was N.Y, a reflection of what was appening in that particular place at a particular time, and what could symbolise better N.Y on a visual basic than the Checker cab ! I had a graphic artist background, and NY was so visual.

Speaking of ZE's style - The Face once nominated it the world's "most fashionable label". What did you think of that designation?

I was very pround, because The Face at that time was for me the best magazine in the world...

You and Zilkha first met through John Cale -- what do you remember about that first meeting?

I was a big fan of John, first with the Velvet and after through his solo carrier. I met him in 1975 through my friend Patti Smith, when I when into producing music in 1977, I asked John to produced my first signed band Marie et les Garçons. Then in 1978 when John and Jane Friedman ( Patti’s manager and then John’s girl friend) started their label SPY records, John asked be to be Art director, we worked a couple of months on SPY, then John told me that we should met a young English man, who was working as theater critics for the Village Voice and had his Mothercare Daddy’s money to invest in the music business… Michael was very shy but very passionate, he was speaking french perfectly, we immediatly get along fine and left Spy after a couple of months to start ZE together.

How much of a clear vision was there when you began the company - was there a specific sound you were looking to represent, and if so, what was it?

No clear vision, just instinct. I had the chance to live my adolescence in the 60’s and this period was amazing for music and art, I mean you had the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, The Beach Boys, Dylan, Phil Spector and also James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Otis Reading, Sly Stone, Hendrix,Tamla Motown, so there was no boundaries between genre, I love it all, it was my background, I was a spoiled child !

Who were the first artists released on ZE - and what attracted you to them?

On my side it was Marie et les Garçons, a french band with a girl on the drums, they reminded me of a french version of the Velvet Underground or Talking Heads. On Michael’s it was Cristina. It is funny to notice that both singles were produced by John Cale. Even if the version of Cristina’s Disco Clone produced by John was only released on a limited edition. Trying in 1978 to make John produce a Disco tunes was a real chalenge and explain maybe the all thing.

While musically the artist roster was pretty wide, it seems to me the unifying quality of the artists on ZE was eccentricity. Would you agree, and what attracted you to these weird and crazy types?

They all had caractere, personality and tallent, they all had something that other artists did not had. While majors companies usely try to a copy of a successful artist. We were looking for individulality, singularity.

Is there one word you could use to describe the 'personality' of ZE?

Freedom

No label has been more associated with the No Wave movement than ZE. Are you comfortable with that association - even though it only describes some of your artists?

I never liked etiquette, New Wave, No Wave, Cold wave, Punk, disco, I guest it is more easy for majors to sell their products or identify a market, for me it is just music.

And when people describe ZE as a 'dance label' - is that accurate?

ZE is also a great dance label, but you can dance to James White Contort Yourself and any Was (Not Was) tunes, dont have to be black ! We produced the music that we liked at that time whatever the genre.

Let me get a quick couple of words on some of the artists features on ZE 30 and what they meant to you:

-- Was (Not Was) / Brillliant guys 20 years ahead of their time, the perfect bridge between MC5 and Funkadelic
-- Cristina : Richard Strange once said and I agreed with him: "In a sassier, zestier, brighter, funnier world, Cristina would have been Madonna." –
-- Suicide/ Alan Vega : Also Avant gardiste, great personalities : Dream Baby Dream is my favorite ZE song.
-- James Chance ; James was a shy boy and a wild cat on stage, a great performer
-- Kid Creole and the Coconuts : August is a brilliant guy, and Andy was great on stage and a very good aranger, they were the most experienced of us in term of proffesional music and the concep of the band was real cool. Loots of fun.
Dont forget to mention: Bob Blank, and his studio Blank tape studio, this guy is responsable for that great sound from Kid Creole to Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam that he produced!

One name notable absent from the record is Lydia Lunch/ Teenage Jesus -- do you have any idea why she is not included?

Because she is unfortunatly a pain in the ass, was then, still is ! ;-)

What does it say to you that there seems to be this lasting interest in ZE and what the label represented?

Like I said before freedom was the key world : Once we had choisen an artist, I think we gave them the freedom to express himself the way he wanted. It was no marketing plan, we were very naive and spoiled, and I guest we had good taste in music and personalities. Our kind of taste anyway !

ZE made a return in France a few years ago with the NY No Wave compilation -- is there any chance we will see a full time revival of the label in the States?

I reissued more than 30 albums in digipack CD between 2003 and 2006, remastered the entire back catalogue that you can find on Digital donwload (zerecords.com and Itunes and most of the platforms). We have a couple of projects with Stunt/K7 an album of Edits and a Box set of the 4 Mutants Disco albums.