Dweezil Zappa on How Learning Frank Zappa's Songs Was Like "Getting a Lobotomy And Then Training For the Olympics"

Categories: Q&A

Wikimedia Commons
Frank Zappa in 1977.

On this tour, you're re-creating Roxy and Elsewhere. Why select this album?

We've played other records on the past, and this one happens to be 40 years old right now and feels like it's from the future. Gibson guitars made a replica of Frank's guitar from that era, the Roxy SG, so it all seems to have some sort of synergy to do that record. But it's also a particularly good record to introduce an audience to the music if they've never heard it before. It has a lot of variety. It's got funky stuff, it's good bluesy stuff, it's got melodic stuff, it's got avant garde things. It's really one of the most diverse records he made, but the core of it is funky and groovy and that makes it fun to play for an audience.

The fact that you're re-creating a live album, does that pose any particular challenges?

Most of Frank's records come from live performances so there's nothing really too different whether it was done in the studio or on stage. When it comes to recreating certain things, like some improvised dialogue that happens in a skit or something, which there is on this record on a song called "Dummy Up," we will use that dialogue as a main frame of reference. There may be a few additional things that creep into it that are modern folklore of being on the road -- certain reference may make it in there -- but we pretty much stick to the core program.

Generally speaking, when we pick an arrangement, we stick pretty close to it. However, there is an historical precedence that when Frank was on tour and things would happen, those things would make it into the show sometimes in the form of dialogue or a secret word or something. So there's an open door for that stuff to appear in a show. It does sometimes.

The original stage set up featured two drummers, a horn section, and vibes. Will have the same band setup?

No, we have a pared-down version of our band. Even percussion and marimba, that's being performed via keyboard. This is the version of the band we call the Rocking Teenage Combo. There's lots of multi-tasking happening, sometimes playing two instruments at once.

You have been doing a consistent number of Zappa Plays Zappa tours. Has this impacted your career? Are you still writing and recording?

I haven't had a lot of time to do that, but during all this time playing Frank's music, I've developed a lot more awareness of things compositionally I could use to write my own music. I'm getting more into the mode of beginning to write again and utilizing the experiences and techniques I've been developing for the past seven/eight years of doing this. My music will sound a lot different now then it did before I started playing Zappa. I have done a little recording over the last year and things are going to start coming out here and there. I think we might incorporate some of my own music into the shows. We've done that once or twice, but I think we might lean toward doing that more. I hear from people all the time that they really like this band and want to hear what they can do outside Frank's music as well.

On some of the Zappa Plays Zappa tours you use videos of your dad and that type of thing. Is that still in use?

It's only happened on a few tours and we don't want to overdo it. There's only a limited amount of material we can do that way. That would be something we're not going to do on this tour.

Finally, you have your dad's hair. Have you ever thought about growing the mustache to complete the look?

Oh, I occasionally toy with it. My wife likes it because I end up looking like a cop or something, but I don't usually keep it to perform with it. I can't take it to that level of detail because I think it's distracting actually. I'm not trying to impersonate my father, I'm trying to play his music and let the music speak for itself.

Dwezil Zappa will bring Zappa Plays Zappa to Celebrity Theatre on Tuesday, February 11.

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Location Info


Celebrity Theatre

440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, AZ

Category: Music

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"They might have known his name, might have heard the kid's names (Dweezil and Moon Unit)"

No love for Ahmet the Vomit, eh?

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