Much has been said about the social climate of late 70s New York. Can you describe your memories of New York at the time? How did this inspire you?
I first came in N.Y in 1974, lived at the Chelsea Hotel, became friend with Patti Smith who introduced me to all the downtown scene of artists and musicians. To me as parisian born raise with american pop culture N.Y was a dream. And at that time N.Y was not the Disney Yuppie decor it became in the 90’s, it was a Martin Scorcese film set (Taxi Driver / Mean street). I was an art studian and N.Y for me was very graphic and cinemagenic. I was also a big fan of the Velvet Underground and all that N.Y imagery, so hanging out at Max’s Kansas City in the same room with Andy Warhol and his gang was quite a fantasy experience. NY had a very creative energy during the secong half of the 70’s.
What are your memories of the NNew York club scene at the time? What made it unique?
Fist it was Max’s, the CBGB’s, The Pepermint lounge, Hurrah’s and then the Mudd Club, these clubs were more Rock or No wave orientated then around 76/77 underground disco arrived in N.Y and in 77 Studio 54 oppened followed by Paradise Garage in early 78. The « disco wave » was fresh and fun, it was also the begining of the «Gay culture» . It was a turning point in the night entertainement business. And then the film « Saturday night fever » hit the screen and Disco became a worldwilde phenomen. But N.Y with the Studio 54 and Paradise Garage and Paris with the Palace had the best clubs!
Are there any artists you desperately wanted to work with but could not? If so can you name a few?
Not « desperately », but at that time I would liked to sign two bands that I saw at CBGB’s in 1978, The B 52’s and Devo, they were fun and very promising.
You had strong financial backing (from the Mothercare legacy and Island). This meant that you could spend a lot of money on production. How helpful was this? What did this mean in terms of the music you were able to release? Could you have survived without this?
That is a strange question ! Michael had acces to his father money and I had mine from my business in France ( a shop in Paris district les Halles selling Rock merchandising, imports records and books) Then we signed a licence deal with Chris Blackwell’s Island records, wich give us a good distribution and a fee advance on every album we made. So of course money helps to produce music when producing involves expenses like, paying studio time, musician salary, artist advance, art cover and promotion ! I dont think most of the albums we released went to a breakpoint in term of finance. So I guest it helped to invest our own money !
I've interviewed Bob Blank several times - eg for a feature I wrote about Arthur Russell How did you meet Bob and what made him the ideal producer for you to work with?
Bob Blank was one of the owners of Blank Tapes Studio, wich was a very good studio at a very reasonable rate, and Bob was the main engineer. For me he was our own Phil Spector (without the guns…) he almost lived in his studio, he was a (very) white guy ( he rarely see the sun…) with a great black musical culture, his wife was a backing vocals girl for James Brown. He could work with anybody and bring the best out of any project. We recorded most of our first albums with Bob, he was a brilliant engineer and producer, going to Sun Ra to Lizzy Mercier Descloux or Lydia Lunch, to pure disco from Prelude records !
What would you say was Ze's guiding principle?
Freedom and open mind and try to have fun out of it.
What other record labels did you respect or look towards when you set about establishing Ze?
My favorite labels were Motown, Island, Stax, Verve, early Atlantic and Philles Records. Lots of respect for Berry Gordy, Chris Blackwell, Ahmet Ertegün & Jerry Wexler, and of course Phil Spector ( as a producer…)
I am a fan of Optimo. How has the support of a new generation of listeners helped to maintain interest in ZE?
In fact I can say they are responsable for me to relaught ZE in 2003, because I am not a nostalgic person. I am turn to the future, not to the past. But when I saw at the begining of the new century that interest from people like Keith McIvor and Johnnie Wilkes, who had made a tribute web site for ZE, or when I hear the Raptures or the music poduced by Trevor Jackson or James Murphy (both big fans of ZE) on their labels Playground and DFA, I said to myself : it is maybe the right time to made available again for a new generation all these albums we released almost 30 years ago ! And I used the slogan : The Futur is history !
If you had to name five ZE releases you were most proud of on a personal level, what would they be?
On a personal level I am very pround of the 4 Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s albums cause I was directly involved with the production. I also realy like James White’s « Off White », The Kid Creole’s albums and the Suicide album. My favorite track on ZE is Suicide’s « Dream Baby Dream »