2) I saw Zappa Plays Zappa last night.
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.