One of my favourite stops during NAMM was at the Performance Guitar booth in Hall E. I’ve heard of Performance for many years and I know that both Frank Zappa and Steve Vai were early fans of the company, but apart from playing one for about 30 seconds at a guitar clinic by Aussie shredder Joe Cool when I was about 16, I’d never seen one close up. A recent Premier Guitar feature on the company piqued my interest further, so when I saw them at NAMM I zoomed right over to say hello and check out their gear.
I knew about Performance’s guitars, but let’s face it, their guitars come with a price tag which is as high as their quality level (ie: you get what you pay for, which is a good thing!). But what really surprised me was their pedal mods under their TTL (Top of the Line) brand. At NAMM, Performance had set up a rig where you could A/B the modified and unmodified versions of various pedals. I was particularly taken by their Boss DS-1 mod. Performance’s website says:
What has been Modified and Improved:
The input impedance has been changed to the tube amp standard of 1MΩ. Improvements have been made in the area of picking nuance, quicker response time, and overall sound definition. The even harmonics, especially the second harmonic, have been emphasized to recreate the sound of a fully-driven tube pre-amp. This resulted in the thin sound becoming eliminated completely and the overall sound becoming much richer. The gain factor has been re-evaluated at various frequencies to achieve great distortion, even with a single coil pick up. With respect to the original design principle, no switches were added and overall modifications were kept simple.
The company makes a couple of its own pedals too, including the FZ-85, a filter modulation pedal designed in collaboration with Frank Zappa in the 80s. The site says:
FZ-85( F.Zappa Filter Modulation)
There’s an early ’80, Frank Zappa wanted special his own sound. Frank and we collaborate each other to make special effect for Frank. It control and emphasize the particular frequency. This effects pedal has 3 mode select SW. There are low pass mode, band pass mode, high pass mode.
*Low pass mode position cut the higher frequency above the frequency you set up.
*Band pass mode position cut the frequency without the frequency you set up.
*High pass mode position cut the lower frequency below the frequency you set up.
And then you can set up the frequency that you want to make it peak point with “F” control knob. And also you can set up the resonant peak with “Q” control knob. For example, you can have the sound like an eccentric “Wah Wah” with moving the “F” control knob. This effects pedal is different from other effects pedals. Because this effects pedal boosts up the inner voltage. That’s why this effects pedal can get wider dynamic range and works more extremely. You can’t find any other effects pedal like this. You can get this sound only from this one. Frank couldn’t make his sound without this effects pedal. Now this effects is used by Dweezil Zappa, Steve-Vai, Warren-Cuccurullo and many more musicians and they Loved it!!
I was also blown away by the Snake Skin guitar (autographed by Warren DeMartini of RATT) which I used when testing out the pedals. It was very responsive to pick attack and despite the hard rock vibe of the snake skin finish I found it great for bluesier, Hendrixy riffing.
Here are my photos from the Performance booth. Check out that Vai-style flame guitar!
You know what it’s like as a guitarist. You find your favourite players or styles, you put the blinders up, and before you know it you’re swearing to some guy down the pub that you have no idea who Goo Goo Dolls are, even though you know damn well who they are and have maybe sung along to them on the radio once or twice, but you’re a hardcore guitar guy and you don’t dare admit something like that in a crowded room. Someone might be listening, and you have a reputation to uphold, dammit.
Look, it happens to us all. But there comes a time – usually when I’m in the car by myself – where I’ll hear some guitar playing and think ‘Hot damn… they’re actually pretty good…’ So here’s a little list of guitar players who are better than you probably think they are. Starting with…
This might be an odd choice, because among some corners of the guitar community you’ll find people who are well aware of Mayer’s fretboard skills. But others have no idea. If you want to see just how good John Mayer is, check out the amazing Jeff Beck-like solo in ‘Heartbreak Warfare,’ the opening track from his new CD ‘Battle Studies.’ The vocal-like phrasing, the killer tone, the dead-on sense of timing – these are traits you just don’t find every day in the guitar playing a pop artist. But dig a little deeper – say, into his ‘Try!’ album with the John Mayer Trio, and you’ll hear a dude whose blues education went far deeper than Stevie Ray Vaughan’s greatest hits and Eric Clapton’s ‘From The Cradle.’ He can shred too – just check out his solo on Fallout Boy’s cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It.’
We all know the Red Rocker as the dude who can’t drive 55, the guy who doesn’t know why this can’t be love, the dude who can’t tell when it’s love, the dude who’s there when love walks in, and the dude who doesn’t want you to tell him what love can do. But when he’s not crooning about love or rocking out as the vocalist in Chickenfoot, Sammy is one heck of a guitarist. He tempers Led Zeppelin-style blues rock with just enough technical flair to kick his playing up a notch above every other Zep-influenced soloist and riffmeister, and when he really wants to Sammy can slay. Check out Van Halen’s ‘Live Without A Net’ DVD/video to see Sammy going toe to toe and lick for lick against Eddie Van Halen in a killer guitar duel during ‘One Way To Rock,’ or his perfectly constructed solo during the solo track ‘High Hopes’ on his ‘Unboxed’ greatest hits CD. Sure Eddie eventually kicks his ass (and he hits one hell of a clanger right before the harmony bit) but he puts up a valiant fight and is worthy of a hero’s death as Eddie hammers him into the ground with a flurry of classic Van Halenisms.
David Bowie’s been known to strum a guitar from time to time – his late 60s 12-string acoustic work was quite adequate for his material at the time, for instance. But Bowie came into his own as a guitarist when he retired the Spiders From Mars, effectively giving the sack to the legendary Mick Ronson on lead guitar. What was Bowie to do? Play the axe himself of course. So that iconic riff to ‘Rebel Rebel’ and the greaser rock of ‘Diamond Dogs’ emanate from the fingers of Bowie himself. Much later, during the tour to back up his ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’ releases, Bowie’s fuzzy rhythm playing – on a few identical Supro solidbodies – was the perfect foil for Gerry Leonard’s ambient soundscapes and the 70s heroics of Earl Slick. Cool. The video here is Be My Wife and to be honest I’m not 100% sure if he plays it on the album, but his ‘finger synching’ in the video appears dead-on and he has that cool side-to-side classical-style vibrato, so obviously the dude can wail.
Keith Scott (Bryan Adams)
Hey, don’t tell anyone I said this, alright? I have a stack of Strapping Young Lad, Kreator, Sepultura and Morbid Angel CDs right here on my desk to prove I’m still totally metal, but… man, the dude in Bryan Adams’ band can play. Just listen to his solo in ‘Anything I Do (I Do It For You)’ for proof. It’s ok, sit through Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves to hear it over the end credits while pretending you’re trying to figure out who the Key Grip was if you can’t bring yourself to sit and listen to the track by itself and risk being caught. But you’ll hear some great delicate phrasing, perfectly understated whammy bar manipulation and killer note choices. Now, embedding of this video is disabled so instead I give you this:
Again, as with John Mayer there are people who well and truly know how good Frank Zappa was as a guitarist, but there are others who just think he’s that dude with the moustache who wrote songs about getting chicks off, yellow snow and valley girls. But if you need proof of exactly how incredible Zappa was, just listen to Steve Vai – some of his more out-there work sounds like a more polite Zappa, and of course Vai was Zappa’s stunt guitarist in the early 80s. If you’re in the ‘I didn’t realise Zappa was a serious musician’ camp, check out Frank’s stunning solo on ‘Inca Roads’ (where he performs two-handed tapping years before Van Halen), or his perfectly conceived and executed but totally improvised clean-toned solo in ‘Any Kind Of Pain’ – a solo so perfect it’s amazing that it wasn’t painstakingly mapped out note-for-note beforehand. This video is the actual performance used on the ‘Broadway the Hard Way‘ album, although a little bit was edited out for the album.
Do you have any favourite players who you feel are underrated? Comment below!
It’s interesting to note that the tour’s now being billed as ‘Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa’ instead of just ‘Zappa Plays Zappa.’ Now, I think Dweezil deserves to be immortalised in a statue of gold for the amazing work he’s done in furthering Frank’s legacy, and he deserves to use this platform to push his own music again eventually. However, on a purely superficial level, ZPZ and Zappa Plays Zappa both flow so much easier than Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa… although ‘DeeZeePeeZee’ has a kind of charm to it. Does this slight name change signify a shift from amazing reproductions of classic FZ material to amazing reinterpretations? Who knows. But Dweezil’s extremely talented and a nice dude, so I can’t wait to hear what he does next either way!
Nov 19, ’09 Austin, TX Stubbs Amphitheater
Nov 20, ’09 Dallas, TX House of Blues
Nov 21, ’09 Houston, TX House Of Blues
Nov 23, ’09 Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theater
Nov 24, ’09 Aspen, CO Belly Up
Nov 25, ’09 Boulder, CO Fox Theatre
Nov 27, ’09 Lake Tahoe, NV Montbleu Resort
Nov 28, ’09 Eugene, OR McDonald Theater
Nov 29, ’09 Spokane, WA Bing Crosby Theater
Nov 30, ’09 Bend, OR Tower Theater
Dec 01, ’09 Arcata, CA Van Duzer Theater
Dec 02, ’09 Santa Cruz, CA Rio Theater
Jan 3-7, ’10 Carribbean Ocean Jam Cruise 2010
Jan 8, ’10 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Revolution Live
Jan 9, ’10 Tampa, FL The Ritz Ybor
Jan 11, ’10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse
Jan 12, ’10 Charlotte, NC Neighborhood Theatre
Jan 13, ’10 Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theatre
Jan 14, ’10 Richmond, VA The Hat Factory
Jan 15, ’10 Baltimore, MD Rams Head Live
Jan 16, ’10 Montclair, NJ Wellmont Theatre
Most bands don’t even have 15 albums during their entire career. But for Frank Zappa, that’s pretty much the number of records he would release before his first coffee in the morning. With that in mind, I find it impossible to pick just one favourite Frank Zappa album, so here’s my top 15. Click on any of the titles to buy the album from Amazon.com
1. Over-Nite Sensation
Home to a whole barge full of particularly well-known FZ songs: the track listing is ‘Camarillo Brillo,’ ‘I’m The Slime,’ ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Fifty-Fifty,’ ‘Zomby Woof,’ ‘Dinah-Moe Humm’ and ‘Montana.’ Out of all of those, only ‘Fifty-Fifty’ is unlikely to show up on a list of the ‘big ones.’ I’d love to hear this one on vinyl some day. It has that dry, clear sound that is a bit sterile on a CD or MP3 but really comes alive when it’s streaming off a big slab of shellac.
2. We’re Only in It for the Money
Wow. I only heard this one for the first time about, what, a year or so ago? Maybe two years? I dunno. I’m a busy dude and I’ve kinda lost track of my own temporal orientation. What I do know is that pretty much everything I want to hear in music is here: virtuoso performances, unique rhythms, amazing tones, powerful concepts, lyrical diversity, funny stuff, dense arrangements as well as simple clobber-you-over-the-head arrangements… I thought I was getting far too cynical and grouchy to have my life changed by an album these days but We’re Only In It For The Money totally did that for me. If you’re skipping through the CD for the first time looking for good bits, don’t pass over ‘What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body.’ What may sound initially like a straightforward doo-wop tune has the coolest from-out-of-nowhere middle section (the ‘All your children are poor unfortunate victims’ bit) which moves me in ways I can’t describe.
3. Broadway the Hard Way
Most of these songs are about social issues that are uniquely relevant to 1988 America (lyrics about Ronald Regan, Oliver North, Surgeon General C Everett Coop and the Iran Contra scandal are far too overt to be taken as allegory), but while the issues and topics may be dated, there’s something that feels eerily current about this one. It’s almost like listening to a musical production of The Daily Show if it was around in the late 80s. Yet for all its humour, cynicism, criticism and occasional downright meanness (Tammy Faye Baker is described as “an ugly little weasel bout three-foot-nine” in ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’), Broadway The Hard Way includes a couple of my all-time favourite Frank Zappa guitar solos, in ‘Any Kind Of Pain’ and ‘Outside Now.’
4. Zappa in New York
This one would be worth it even if it was only a single with ‘I’m The Slime’ on one side and ‘Titties and Beer’ on the other. But the performances by drummer Terry Bozzio and the inclusion of tracks like ‘The Illinois Enema Bandit,’ a killer ‘Pound For A Brown,’ a crazy ‘Punky’s Whips’ (one of my all-time favourite Zappa tracks) and two totally different and equally headspinning ‘The Black Page’ renditions elevate Zappa In New York from mere cool album to the status of Monolithic Achievement Worthy Of Being Blasted Into Space To Remind Our Future Alien Overloads Who They Were Messing With And What Mankind Was Capable Of Achieving When They Weren’t Being Absorbed For Their Lifeforce By Gelatinous Space Monsters.
5. Uncle Meat
This one is very compositional and eclectic. It may be too trippy for some. For others it’s musical and emotional nourishment of the highest order. It’s all here – the pretty little bits, weird flourishes, songs changing direction almost arbitrarily in ways that don’t make sense in the moment but which reveal themselves as perfect in the wider scheme of things. And ‘Louie Louie’ played on the organ at the Albert Hall. If you’re new to Zappa this is probably either the worst or the best introduction possible, depending on your perspective.
6. Jazz from Hell
FZ, meet computer. Computer, meet FZ. One of the most daring musical extrapolations ever to issue forth from the hard drive of the now archaic Synclavier music system, Jazz From Hell was one groundbreaking mother of an album. Back when you actually had to have a pretty thorough knowledge of musical notation in order to make electronic music in a computer, Frank and his assistants tirelessly fed musical scores into the Synclavier to recreate the music Frank heard in his head but was unable to get live musicians to perform to his satisfaction.
7. The Yellow Shark
If Jazz From Hell is the sound of computers doing the musically impossible, Yellow Shark is the sound of musicians doing the computationally impossible. Recorded with the Ensemble Modern and worth buying just for the liner notes even if they forget to put the CDs in at the store, this set is the last thing Frank released during his lifetime and in many ways it sums up everything about him, from heartfelt sentimentality to artsy extrapolations like ‘Welcoome to The United States’ to downright musical obscenity. There’s an amazing, unmissable rendition of ‘G-Spot Tornado’ from Jazz From Hell to cap off the album.
8. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 6
So there were two Frank Zappas, right? There was the stunningly virtuosic genius musician/composer, and there was the hilarious guy who wrote filthy, filthy songs. Often the two would mix – Frank wasn’t a fan of strict definitions and segregations within his music or life – and so we have You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6. This live album features performances culled from many different line-ups and eras, and it’s full of tawdriness, lewdness, sexual innuendo, sexual outuendo, sexual inandoutuendo, naughty words, provocative squats, fetishes and kinks. Real ‘listen to it with headphones on so you don’t get it confiscated by your parents’ kind of stuff.
9. 200 Motels: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack
Disclaimer: I saw the film 200 Motels again recently and found it a bit too, uh, esoteric to really dig the way I used to. However, in the context of happy memories and impact on personal development this was a pretty big one for me. For some bizarre reason nobody will ever be able to explain to me, my local video store in small town Australia had a VHS copy of this for hire when I was in my teens. I used to take it out every couple of months, wait til nobody was home or at least had all gone to bed, then have my little 14-year-old mind exploded by the psychedelic perversity therein. Don’t go looking for any real sense of plot in the movie. Don’t go looking for much pretty in the music. Just enjoy the ride, and the awesomeness of a track like ‘Magic Fingers.’
A live album recorded here in Australia in the 70s. FZ pulls some very cool guitar tones on this one, and there’s a great spontaneous vibe. Dig FZ’s delay and wah-drenched solo on ‘Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy,’ not to mention a melancholic and restrained ‘Zoot Allures,’ which beat Steve Vai’s ballads to the punch by a decade and a half. Also includes the hilariously filthy ‘Poodle Lecture’ and some great versions of ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Black Napkins’ and ‘Camarillo Brillo.’
Frank’s Shut Up And Play Your Guitar series of albums and the album simply titled Guitar are pretty well known. They’re all constructed pretty much entirely of FZ guitar solos and nothing else. Which is cool. But for those who may have drifted away from Zappadom over the years and not paid any attention to his posthumous releases, there are some great moments on this one. Check it out. Although some of the posthumous Zappa releases are compiled by the Zappa Family Trust, this one was completed by Frank and he always intended for it to be released in this form. Dig the subtle Simpsons reference in the title ‘Good Lobna.’
12. Make a Jazz Noise Here
Mainly instrumental, this one has rearrangements of many a classic Zappa tune, with the focus squarely on the 5 piece horn section. Personal highlights are the ‘Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/Harry You’re A Beast/Orange County Lumber Truck’ medley, a great clean-toned guitar solo on ‘Stinkfoot,’ and Mike Keneally’s tapping extravaganza on ‘Stevie’s Spanking.’ There are also some pretty outstanding pieces that are unique to this set including ‘When Yuppies Go To Hell’ and ‘Fire And Chains.’
13. Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch
This one can be pretty difficult to digest – the majority of the songs are too wacky for most people, but it’s worth pushing through the parody disco beats of ‘I Come From Nowhere’ and ‘No Not Now’ to enjoy what’s below the surface. And if you are able to digest the fiendishly intricate ‘Drowning Witch’ and ‘Envelopes’ (not easy for first timers, such as me when I happened to choose this as my first Zappa album), you’ll find some amazing playing by a very young Steve Vai. Challenging but brilliant.
14. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 2
This one features probably my favourite Zappa line-up – Frank Zappa, Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson – performing tracks like ‘Inca Roads,’ ‘Stinkfoot,’ ‘Village Of The Sun,’ ‘Pygmy Twylyle,’ ‘RDNZL,’ ‘Uncle Meat,’ ‘The Dog Breath Variations’ and ‘Montana (Whipping Floss).’ The band are at the top of their game and their relaxed interplay kinda makes you feel like you were there. I guess the fact that it’s the only one of the six You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore releases to have its own subtitle is evidence that Frank recognized its uniqueness.
15. Apostrophe (‘)
A few indisputable rock classics are on this album. ‘Cosmik Debris.’ ‘Stinkfoot.’ ‘Uncle Remus.’ All that stuff about yellow snow, including the incredible ‘St Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast’ (and did you see Dweezil play the marimba bit on guitar with Zappa Plays Zappa?). By the way, check out the title track for some mournfully teeth-grinding fuzz bass tone courtesy of one Mr Jack Bruce of Cream. I really enjoy this one but it’s probably my least favourite of my 15 favourites.
Dweezil Zappa is currently zooming around the world for another Zappa Plays Zappa tour, in which he pays tribute to his dad’s enduring legacy through the startlingly accurate reproduction of his works, as well as painstaking recreations of Frank’s greatest guitar tones. It’s pretty much impossible exactly copy Frank’s legendary tone without investing in thousands upon thousands of guitar and studio gear, and also hiring a tech like the revered Thomas Nordegg to look after it for you. So that’s what Dweezil has done, even bringing out several pieces of gear actually owned and used by Frank. (Here are the complete Zappa Plays Zappa tour dates, including the Progressive Nation tour with Dream Theater).
One of my favourite tricks for getting a Zappa-esque guitar sound is to construct a virtual amp and effects rig in a software modeller. There are plenty out there, so whichever one you prefer, try this combination simultaneously on different tracks, panned to different locations in the stereo spectrum:
* One track of a completely uneffected clean guitar, equalized to emphasise the high and low ends, so you get that sizzling string noise and a punchy low end. (If you’re into Mothers Of Invention-era Frank, try rolling off the treble and increasing the mids, and maybe throwing on some vintage-style compression to get closer to the sound of an old-school mixing desk and tape saturation.)
* A distorted guitar with a very short delay.
* A distorted guitar with a stationary wah effect or a parametric EQ feeding the amp input. Use the EQ or wah to emphasise certain midrange frequencies for that faux-feedback feel. The exact frequency will depend on other factors such as the amp model and your pickups, so you may need to experiment from guitar to guitar. Frank had complex parametric EQs built into his guitars so he could conjure up feedback and sustain at will.
* A distorted guitar with an envelope filter.
* A distorted guitar with a triggered flanger. A triggered – or dynamic – flanger doesn’t sweep to a set tempo. Instead it begins its sweep upon receiving a signal from the input. In other words, each time you pick a note, the sweep starts again. Listen for this effect on ‘Drowning Witch’ and you’ll see what I mean.
You can hear me doing something similar (minus the triggered flanger because I don’t have one!) on my Myspace, on the ‘Myspace intro’ track. I used IK Multimedia’s Amplitube for this.
By the way, many amp modelling programs feature the ability to use two virtual amp rigs at once, but if that’s just not enough, or if your program only offers one sound at a time, copy and paste the same guitar part onto multiple tracks and process each one differently.
Of course, if you want to get somewhere close to Frank’s sound using an actual amp on a real live stage, you might need to take a different approach, unless of course you want to lug half a dozen amps with you. Splitting at least between a completely clean tone and an effected one is usually preferred, but if you can’t do that then the most important elements are the trigger flanger and a wah wah so you can find those resonant frequencies easily.
1) Sometimes it’s fun to look back on old interviews, and I often find myself searching out past interviews with my favourite artists, and
So here’s my 2007 interview with Dweezil. Enjoy!
Frank Zappa departed the world in 1993 and left behind an exhaustive body of work ranging from hilarious parody songs, to sophisticated jazz-influenced feats of technical wizardry, to orchestral pieces. Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa, himself a respected musician, created the Zappa Plays Zappa concept to honour his father’s music and bring it to a new audience hungry for an alternative to the mainstream. Zappa Plays Zappa will come to Australia in November 2007, with special guests and former Zappa band members Ray White and Steve Vai.
“I’ve been to Australia once before under some peculiar circumstances,” Dweezil said. “I played on a short tour with a female artist who is Australia, I don’t know if she’s still making music, Jenny Morris? I played on a tour in around 1990, so that’s a while ago.”
The Zappa Plays Zappa tour is now in its second year and the mission is proving successful. “We started last year and I was not really sure what we were going to see in terms of an age range at the shows. The main audience was definitely there in force, the 40 and up, then we had some younger people and that kept growing, but this year we definitely had a lot more young people straight out of the gate. It’s definitely working in terms of trying to attract new people. The thing about Frank’s music is when you see it performed live it’s a very different thing and it’s a great way of getting inspired by music. There’s so much detail involved and to do it correctly and to do it respectfully people really notice the work that goes into it, so it’s like their minds have been erased for having any sense of what any other concert is supposed to be like. They say it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen and then their head explodes.”
I tell Dweezil I have a 10-year-old guitar student who loves Frank Zappa, and regularly goes to YouTube to find artists to get into, from modern bands to blues singers from the 1940s. “I think that’s definitely becoming a little bit more prevalent and you’re seeing people having the opportunity to discover about different artists, albeit in a way that completely abuses the artist’s copyright, but if it makes someone a fan and they want to explore the artist’s catalogue that’s a good thing. I’ve noticed even at our shows there are young kids that are singing along to the songs, and that to me is really weird. It’s particular strange when I see young girls who are 15 to 18 singing along, because in many cases you would think that would be the last kind of music that would be available to that age range of young ladies. But there are people who grow up listening to it because their parents or sisters or brothers liked it, and it has a profound effect.”
As a musician with incredible technique himself, Dweezil has a passionate stance on modern production techniques. Once you’re exposed to what all the possibilities are and having no boundaries you can really start changing your worldview of music and other things too. Frank operated in a way that was so different to everybody else, and that was definitely reflected in his music. There’s never been a better time to expose younger people to that because all they hear is so derivative of so many other things, and it’s so calculated that the craft, the actual art form doesn’t seem to be even near the surface any more. It just seems to me, especially in the American scene, that everybody’s just in it for the quick fame and fortune of it all and there’s nothing that will really stand the test of time very well. It’s a great alternative to have people exposed to Frank’s music. Even though some of it is 40 years old it’s still as provocative and contemporary as anything out there, and in many cases way more so.”
“One of the weird things about the advent of all this specialised computer audio technology is that things have become so hyper-realised that people don’t actually understand how far away from reality the sound actually is,” Dweezil continued. “It doesn’t sound the way a real instrument sounds like in a real room, and things are impossibly in tune now because there’s so much pitch correction on stuff that it’s unnaturally in tune. If you compare it to older records, Beatle records or Frank records or other stuff, good musicians just playing songs, there are all these little human elements. All that stuff is destroyed or erased by producers these days because people want extreme perfection in a certain way and they want to take the human quality out of it, and that’s what makes the music so disposable. The human element is missing, and all the subtleties of humans playing music together. That’s why when people see this music played live it really opens their eyes to what’s possible, because it’s composed in such a way, and arranged so masterfully, that you can’t help but notice the sophistication in it. I think a lot of kids, if they didn’t see it played they would think it was done by a computer.”
A DVD of the first leg of the tour will soon be available, and judging by the online trailers, it’s going to be well worth the wait. (2009 note: It was! You can buy the DVD HERE on Amazon.com). “We fell behind in production a little bit and it should be available when we start our European tour in a few weeks, and by the time we get to Australia it’ll definitely be available at the shows. It’s three hours of music from a lot of different eras of Frank’s music, but it focuses pretty heavily on the middle 70s – a lot of things from Apostrophe, Overnite Sensation, One Size Fits All, Roxy & Elsewhere. Last time Frank was in Australia I think was about 1974, 1975, so the music that’s on that DVD should appeal to the people who were lucky enough to see him when he was down there.”
Finally, how does Steve Vai fit into the Zappa Plays Zappa concept? “Steve will be out on a handful of songs that give him a chance to go back to his roots to a degree, and also we get to play some stuff together. It’s nice to hear him on compositions that are very structured, because when he was in Frank’s band he was known for playing these difficult guitar parts but making it look easy. It’s fun for us to play things like The Black Page as a duet and get some more of these crazy guitar parts in there. The audience probably doesn’t know how hard this stuff is or how much practice is required, even for Steve.”
CLICK HERE to search eBay for Frank Zappa stuff.
Photos by Mike Mesker.
I’m off to see Zappa Plays Zappa tonight here in Melbourne, and I’m very interested in seeing how the handle being down two members (keyboard player Aaron Arntz and singer Ray White have both left to do other stuff). Dweezil says on his blog that a new singer should be announced shortly after returning from the Japan/Australia tour. Who will it be? I wish it was Mike Keneally but Mike is so busy preparing his new album that I’d be kinda surprised if this was so.
It’s also cool to see Sonny Landreth on the bill. But ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA! Wooo!!!!! Mrs I Heart Guitar and I are big Zappa fans (I just realised I’m wearing my Mothers Of Invention ‘Freak Out’ shirt right now, as a matter of fact), and we had killer seats when ZPZ played the first of 2 shows in Melbourne in late 2007. I interviewed Dweezil back then for Mixdown Magazine, and hopefully I’ll get to interview him again before this new tour. I’ll keep you posted on other ZPZ tour dates.
The line-up for Bluesfest is:
Ben Harper and Relentless7, John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Lucinda Williams, Zappa Plays Zappa, Angelique Kidjo, Tinariwen, Eric Bibb, Seasick Steve, Tony Joe White, Ruthie Foster, Blind Boys Of Alabama, Drive-By Truckers, Toni Childs, Ayo, Luka Bloom, Alpha Blondy, The Easy Allstars, Special Beat, Watermelon Slim & The Workers, The Easy All Stars, Special Beat, Augie March, Alabama, Blue King Brown, Saltwater Band, Sonny Landreth, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Hot Club of Cowtown, Eugene Hideaway Bridges, The Bamboos, Watussi, Lowrider, Nu Yorican Nights, Benny Gallagher, Bob Log III., Lowrider, Nu Yorican Nights.
The 20th anniversey of Bluesfest will take place at Belongil Fields in Byron Bay between Thursday April 9 to Monday April 13, 2009 over the Easter long weekend.
I recently stumbled upon the excellent Strat-o-blogster blog which features lots of great Stratty goodness. Site owner JP has a very easy-to-read style, is very knowledgable and has a great sense of humour – some of these posts have me spraying coffee out my nose. I’m slowly working my way through backposts, in between practicing my Jason Becker arpeggios and trying to nail the marimba solo from St Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Menage (Vaulternative)
Cryptically, the only information about this one on the Barfko Swill website states: “Newest Corsaga – for NOW! Rare 1975 thrillingness. Be very afraid of being Danish. Or not. Rant & Roll.” However, with pre-orders open now and the first CDs to be dispatched around October 1, we shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out what this one’s all about.
Dream Theater – Chaos in Motion [2 DVD] (Roadrunner)
This release marks Dream Theater’s 12,000th live album and/or DVD. It captures the 2007-08 Chaos In Motion tour. The DVD includes 3 hours of live performance, a behind the scenes documentary, live screen projection films, music videos and a photo gallery. There’s also a 5 disc set limited to 5,000 copies which combines the DVD and 3 audioCDs.
Trivium – Shogun (Roadrunner)
I had the pleasure of hearing early mixes of this one at a listening party attended by the band a few months ago. Some very cool ‘evil waltz’ triplet grooves will invite a few comparisons to Slayer, while Trivium downplays the Metallica influences so prevalent on The Crusade. Lots of hardcore shredding and some very powerful drumming underscore Matt Heafy’s return to demonic screaming, in addition to the more melodic vocal style introduced on the last album.
Neal Morse – Lifeline (Metal Blade)
Former Spock’s Beard guy turned Christian prog artist Neal Morse’s new album features performances by guitarist Paul Bielatowicz, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Ajalon bass player Randy George. Paul Gilbert makes a special appearance on a bonus track. The cover reminds me of Great White’s ‘Hooked’ album, which I’m sure was not the intention. It’s also the 3,057th rock album to feature a song called ‘Leviathan.’
Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman) Rise to Power (Red Int/Red Ink)
Morello’s second album of leftist protest songs, this one gets big points from me for having a song called “The Lights Are On In Spidertown,” and for adding full band electric songs to the acoustic stuff. Morello’s distinctive voice and stripped down song structures are an interesting and valuable departure from the grunt of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, and his forthcoming tour will feature both acoustic and electric sets.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to record something at home, chances are that you had to do it with a clunky four or eight track portable studio set up. My first was a Yamaha unit from the mid 80s, which I bought second hand out of the local paper when I was 14. I logged hours and hours of time on that thing, bouncing down tracks, faking a bass by manipulating the tape speed, recording backwards solos, and generally making a whole lot of noise. One time I created a Ministry-esque rhythm track and recorded Simpsons quotes directly off the VCR, relying on my mad pause button skills to ensure the ‘samples’ were recorded at the right point in the song. Today even the simplest computer can be an entire recording studio, and the rules have changed. You no longer have to worry about losing a little bit of treble every time you play your track, like you would with a cassette. And if you flub a part, it’s really easy to fix a note or two. Try that on a tape deck.
For the last year or so, my recording system of choice has been Pro Tools LE. I’ve stumbled upon a few cool tricks which apply to pretty much any digital work station, so feel free to try these at home. Just don’t hurt yourselves.
TWINKLE PANS: Record a stereo track of a single chord with a panning effect moving from left to right, timed to sweep the sound from one side to the other over the length of each bar. Then chop each bar up into 8th notes, and juggle them around randomly, so you get the chord sort of ‘twinkling’ across the stereo spectrum. You might hear a slight clicking sound at the start or end of each 8th note. If that’s the case, just draw in the tiniest of fade-ins and fade-outs at the start and end of the note, and you’ll be fine. You can also try using a tremolo effect, which you can lock to the tempo of the track, and set to fade in and out of the note naturally.
RHYTHMIC TREMOLO: Similar to twinkle pans, chop a bar into 8th or 16th note segments, but this time, instead of moving them around, delete some of them, to create interesting rhythms. Be a little bit lateral and see if you can find interesting polyrhythms or syncopations you might not have come up with any other way. Even if you’re not sold on the tremolo sound, you can still use it as a songwriting tool to write new riffs, which you can then play ‘manually.’
INSTANT KEYBOARD, JUST ADD REVERB: For fake keyboard sounds, use a reverb effect with the mix turned to 100% effected sound and a second or so of reverb time, then tremolo-pick single notes or octaves as fast as you can. With the un-reverbed note and any sense of definite rhythm removed from the signal, you’re just left with the general harmonic information. If you bring down the bass and treble frequencies and notch up the upper mids a bit, you can create a very interesting texture underneath extreme metal riffing.
DELAYED EFFECT: For a unique delay sound, copy the guitar track to a second track, move it back by 1 or 2 beats compared to the original track, then apply effects only to the shifted track, so you can have, say, flanger or pitch shifter happening only on the delays. Imagine your original melody line being repeated as a diatonic harmony, or drenched in deep vibrato.
THE MULTI AMP VIRTUAL RIG OF DOOM: Many amp modelling programs feature the ability to use two virtual amp rigs at once, but if that’s just not enough, or if your modeler only offers one sound at a time, copy and paste the same guitar part onto multiple tracks, and process each one differently to achieve otherwise unattainable sounds. This is especially fun for getting vaguely Frank Zappa-ish sounds: Try separate tracks of a completely uneffected guitar, a distorted guitar with a very short delay, a distorted guitar with a stationary wah effect, and a distorted guitar with an envelope filter, all at once, panned to various points in the stereo spectrum.
LOOK MA, I’M A SYNTH: Lock a modulation effect’s tempo to the speed of the song and feed it into an envelope filter for crazy synth-like swells. Try it on two tracks, panned hard left and hard right, with the modulation tempo set to quarter notes on one side and whole or 8th notes on the other; set each envelope filter to emphasise a different frequency; and compress the hell out of each side. You should get a phat, rhythmic ‘wub’ sound with a million and one uses, from Tea Party-style post rock apocalyptica to rave freakout.
I hope you have fun with these, and are inspired to come up with new editing tricks of your own.