LiveDaily Interview: Dweezil Zappa
By DON ZULAICA
Published on LiveDaily.com - June 27, 2007
Dweezil Zappa means business. Of course, if you're going to accept the challenge of tackling some seriously difficult material--never mind that your father, Frank Zappa, wrote it--you've got to put in the time.
"The stuff that we're doing this year that's harder is much harder," Dweezil admits, "and the stuff that is easier is much more blues-oriented, so there's a good combination. I feel the music is going to connect with people, not that it wouldn't under any circumstance, but the primal connections to the rhythms and the substance in this selection of songs, I think people are really going to enjoy the show."
For this, the second year of the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, the guitarist spent a couple years overhauling his technique, assembled a band of young upstarts and Frank Zappa-band veterans (special guests include guitarists Steve Vai and Ray White, drummer Terry Bozzio, and vocalist Napoleon Murphy Brock), and pulled several vintage performance clips out of The Vault to give the audience members the full Zappa experience. Those that can't make the show can look forward to a DVD package that should surface later this year.
Dweezil took some time out to speak with LiveDaily before launching the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, which will touch down throughout the US and Canada in July and August, then take the band to Europe through October.
LiveDaily: When did you get the idea to put this tour together and take on this material?
Dweezil Zappa: I had been thinking about it for a long time. The question was where to start and how to do it. For me, there is also the emotional aspect of it, which I knew was going to be unavoidable. The music just means a lot to me, so I knew there would be times where it could be emotionally overwhelming, but I still wanted to go ahead and try to make it work.
Where did you start?
The very first thing I did was, I listened to every record that Frank ever made in chronological order, so I could basically hear his life's work and the evolution of his music, and become familiar with everything as much as possible. From there, I chose what I wanted to emphasize in a show. When people heard that I was going to do this, [the attitude] was, "Oh man, that's going to suck. He's just going to go out there and try and play the hits and pretend to be Frank," or something like that. The cynicism that was prevailing, I knew that's what I'd be up against, but I wasn't concerned. I knew that whatever we were going to do, as soon as we hit the stage, people would have respect for what we were doing, because I knew how much dedication went into the preparation.
And speaking of preparation, what are the rehearsals like now?
It's been really hard learning a lot of the new stuff. We have a lot more vocal responsibilities this year. We're taking a lot of material from other eras.
Are they long days?
We're pretty much running days that are 11:00-5:00. They would go longer if I had more time, but I have a baby at home, and I'm trying to balance certain things. I'm definitely running behind in terms of the time that I need to really practice.
In putting the tour together, was there an aspect that you saw as the biggest challenge?
Playing the music correctly, and executing it the way I knew it deserved to be executed. Basically, my approach to this is, my own perspective of being a fan of the music is very similar to the people that are totally obsessed with Frank's music--it's about every little detail. The sound of each record is as much a part of the song as the song itself. So, in learning the songs, we're not just learning the right parts. We're going after recreating the sounds from that era, and from the records, as best we can, which is something different than what Frank ever set out to do when he was touring. For him, everything was in a constant state of evolution. When you're presenting something out of Frank's life's work, the quintessential versions of certain things have a personality and a life of their own from certain records. So we try to adhere as strictly as possible to those elements.
Last year, when we were doing a lot of stuff from "Roxy & Elsewhere," "Apostrophe" and "Over-Nite Sensation," we were using sounds that were as close as possible to the actual sounds on the record, to create the musical time-machine feeling of all of this. It's not for the sake of nostalgia or anything like that. I think it would be worse to try to make something sound really contemporary: "Hey, let's change the sound of everything and make it our own." The timbre of the instruments was selected by Frank, and that's how it's supposed to sound.
You also changed your guitar technique for these shows, not only to execute parts that Frank wrote, but also to play parts he wrote for other instruments. How long did it take?
That was a long process. That was part of the two years during the studying of the music and changing my technique in order to be able to execute what I wanted. Implementing that picking technique is still an ongoing process. It's more second nature now than it was last year, but it's like saying, "I'm going to completely change the way I walk." I've been playing guitar for over 27 years or whatever it is, so to suddenly go, "I'm going to do it completely differently now," it's a difficult thing.
Why was it necessary?
The reason it was necessary was because I was taking on responsibilities that were not necessarily guitar roles. I was playing things that were written for marimba or keyboards. There are all kinds of septuplets and crazy madness.
The main reason for me to do that was to understand Frank's music more. Every time I learned a difficult piece, I'd think, "How did he come up with this stuff?" Only Frank thinks this way. Beyond that, it was also to show to the audience my dedication to this. I'm not just going up there and playing a few chords, a guitar solo, and pretending to be Frank. You can't learn this stuff unless you've spent hours and hours, months, years, even, to do it. I wanted it to be quite obvious that his music is a force to be reckoned with and I think [playing non-traditional lines on a guitar] shows a different perspective to the audience, because you can't always see these difficult parts being played on marimba or keyboard, when you're at a concert. So to see that line played on guitar, I think it shows, "Wait, these people aren't f---ing around. This stuff is hard."
It's hard, but you guys look like you're having a lot of fun.
Everybody had a good time last year, but it was funny, because we were on stage for over three hours every night, and it was total concentration to make sure that we got through everything as well as we could. So we have elements of that, but this year there's maybe a touch more breathing room for the band to have a little bit more fun.