NEWS: Zappa Plays Zappa tour dates and slight name change


The latest Zappa Plays Zappa mailout has been sent out with tour dates for the rest of 2009 and early 2010. Dates are 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!


2009

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

2010

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

LESSON: How to sound like Frank Zappa

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.

LINKS: Zappa.com, IK Multimedia Amplitube.

NEWS: New Zappa Plays Zappa vocalist

On May 11 Dweezil Zappa announced on his blog that in the wake of Ray White’s departure, a chap named Ben Thomas has been named new lead vocalist of Zappa Plays Zappa.

Fun fact! Thomas recently appeared in an authorized performance of Joe’s Garage with the Open Fist Theater Company. That’s him at 1:11. (If the embedded video doesn’t work, here’s the direct link)

Here’s an excerpt from Dweezil’s post:

…We made some calls and rounded up a few terrified singers. Imagine the call, “Hello, are you interested in auditioning for a really tough gig, with a highly critical fanbase – with a 5 week tour that starts in less than a week? Still there??? Ideally you’ll need to learn 8 to 10 songs for the first week. You do have a passport, right?”

I told all of the singers that if they could walk in and sing the correct melody to “Inca Roads” without missing an entrance they would have a chance of being hired on the spot. The chances of that happening were quite slim considering we needed them to learn this song in the shortest time possible. For some only a few hours…

A few very talented singers gave it their best shot. We didn’t even make it through the first verse in most cases.

Things were not looking so good but then it happened. A young blonde-haired guy walks in to audition, says he’s heard the song before but never tried to sing until last night.

Joe rolls the toms and Billy initiates the classic marimba figure, first verse arrives – right notes, right rhythms, no mistakes! The song continues and gets increasingly more difficult. After the solo the vocal entrances are pretty tricky, once again no mistakes. After the interludes and keyboard solo we entered the home stretch – no-one made it this far before. The final entrance arrives and… He completes the entire passage on his own, not realizing it’s actually split up into separate phrases between himself and Scheila. Ultimately making it much harder on himself because of the shear lyrical density.

After a slow mo “hollywood” triumphant hand-clapping sequence we hired the guy. Ladies and Gentlemen allow us to introduce you to Ben Thomas, our new lead singer.

CLICK HERE to see my 2007 interview with Dweezil.

INTERVIEW FROM THE ARCHIVES: Dweezil Zappa

Ok, first up, this is not a new interview. It was conducted in late 2007 to promote Zappa Plays Zappa’s then-forthcoming Australian tour. I’m posting it now for 2 reasons:

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

2) I saw Zappa Plays Zappa last night.

So here’s my 2007 interview with Dweezil. Enjoy!

Dweezil Zappa

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.

NEWS: Zappa Plays Zappa DVD preview

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. 

Anyway, here’s an entirely awesome preview of ZPZ’s Son of Roxy & Elsewhere DVD, which was filmed on December 12 – the anniversary of Frank Zappa’s original Roxy & Elsewhere performances at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, CA. I haven’t seen a release date for this DVD yet but when I do I’ll let ya know.

NEWS: Dream Theater, Zappa Plays Zappa on Progressive Nation

Phwoar! Check this out! It’s at this point that I’m going to cash in everything I own to follow this tour around. Who’s with me?

New York progressive metal veterans DREAM THEATER will take their Progressive Nation tour back on the road for its second incarnation with a run through America and Canada in July/August 2009.

In addition to a headlining set by DREAM THEATER, this year’s package will feature the outstanding musicianship of ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA as well as two incredibly talented imports from Sweden: PAIN OF SALVATION and BEARDFISH.

Progressive Nation was created by DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy and its successful inaugural run in 2008 also featured OPETH, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME and THREE.

Portnoy once again hand-picked all of the bands for the 2009 bill based on their diversity and musicality. He comments: “This year’s lineup is so exciting for me. Every band is bringing something very unique to the package to create an incredibly well rounded musical experience. I am just as excited to be watching all the bands from the side of the stage as I am to be performing with mine in the center of it!”

Fresh on the heels of his Grammy win, Dweezil Zappa is pleased to announce his plans to join forces with DREAM THEATER as part of the Progressive Nation 2009 tour: “It’s no secret that I started ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA with the intention to diversify and expand the audience for my father’s music. I figured I’d probably have to do it one concert at a time. Playing with DREAM THEATER on the Progressive Nation tour is a great way to accomplish that goal. Music fans who are seeking something to challenge their senses should definitely consider attending this great bill.”

Portnoy adds: “It is an absolute honor for me to have ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA on board. Frank Zappa is one of my all-time biggest heroes and his music practically invented the term ‘progressive.’ Dweezil is doing an amazing job carrying on the tradition of his father’s daring spirit and like his dad, has surrounded himself with a band of jaw-dropping, incredible musicians.”

Sweden’s PAIN OF SALVATION will bring their unique brand of cutting-edge progressive metal to Progressive Nation. Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw comments: “We are truly very happy to be part of the Progressive Nation tour, and to be back in the States again and bring all the sweat and flesh to our music and our well deserving American fans. We feel honored to have been asked.”

Gildenlöw also joked: “Actually, Mike has been on our backs now for two years in what we believe to be a personal campaign, bordering on harassment, to make us come over. So when he asked us about Progressive Nation, it was a joy to finally be able to say yes. And if Mike didn’t give up on us, then hopefully America hasn’t either.”

Vocalist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom of BEARDFISH is equally excited: “When we read on a website that Mike Portnoy had our album ‘Sleeping in Traffic Part 1’ among his favorite releases of 2007, we just couldn’t believe it and we were really happy about it! And now we once again gasp for air since we’ve been asked to join Progressive Nation 2009 together with DREAM THEATER (one of the biggest bands in this genre today!), PAIN OF SALVATION (hey, fellow Swedes!!!) and ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA (being a HUGE Zappa fan myself, I think this is really cool!). Since we’ve only played the U.S. once before we simply can’t wait to come over and rock out!”

Progressive Nation will be the first North American tour for DREAM THEATER in support of the band’s newest Roadrunner Records CD, which is slated for a June 2009 release.

NEWS: Dweezil reflects on Grammy win

Dweezil Zappa has blogged about the Zappa Plays Zappa/Steve Vai/Napoleon Murphy Brock Grammy win yesterday in the Best Rock Instrumental category.

To see Dweezil and co accept the award, go to THIS LINK and skip to 2 hours 53 minutes. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy, it gets a little emotional.

In a post on the ZPZ website, Dweezil says:

Hello Friends,

Would you Bleev it? We actually won a Grammy last night. I’m quite pleased that “Peaches En Regalia” has finally received some significant recognition from the music industry itself.

This is just my opinion but I believe our note for note performance of the “Hot Rats” version gave voting members a chance to reflect on the real impact the original “Peaches” made to the world of music and the science of recording 40 years ago. They seized the opportunity to create a tiny tastefully decorated condominium sized place for it in music history.

I am honored to have been able to bring it to their attention and even more grateful that they saw fit reward the efforts of all of the exceptionally talented musicians in my band as well as the contributions from our special guests. Without all of their hard work and dedication this perverse twist of fate could not have happened.

Thank you kindly to all the voting members who gave us the nod.

Regards, DZ

Congratulations Dweezil! You’re doing a great job in getting your dad’s music out there for everyone to discover.

CLICK HERE to buy the Zappa Plays Zappa Brilliant Box CD & DVD set from Amazon.com

CLICK HERE to search eBay for Frank Zappa stuff.

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

NEWS: Zappa Plays Zappa wins Grammy!!!

I’m trying to follow the Grammys online (on a work computer that doesn’t have audio or video capabilities) and the Grammys website doesn’t seem to be working too well for me. Luckily Mrs I Heart Guitar came to the rescue with THIS LINK just in time for me to see that Zappa Plays Zappa won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Peaches En Regalia” featuring Steve Vai and Napoleon Murphy Brock. Woo!!!

I also just realised it’s entirely a coincidence that I’m wearing my Mothers Of Invention ‘Freak Out’ shirt today.