Being the son of the legendary Frank Zappa is always going to draw
comparisons, but Dweezil Zappa is the perfect successor to his fathers music. A talented musician in his own right he has been bringing Frank's music to audiences in his award winning show Zappa Plays Zappa since 2006.
Dweezil and his band are currently on tour in US performing the seminal album Roxy and Elsewhere and are bringing the show to the UK next month. Speaking to Dweezil whilst on the second week of his US tour he says "we always enjoy coming to the UK, there's always been a very good reception and the fans there are pretty versed in the music."
Many music aficionados from the 60s and 70s will be familiar with Zappa, but there's a whole lost generation who are ignorant of his work and influence. Dweezil tells me that this prompted the origins of Zappa Plays Zappa. He explains, "the whole thing started as a reaction to the younger people that didn't know much, if anything about Frank. You talk to people under 30 and they say Frank who?"
As a result of this, Zappa Plays Zappa was born as a chance to present Frank's music to "the people who didn't have the opportunity, either because they missed it, or they were too young." Despite much of Frank's music being recorded over 40 years ago, Dweezil rightly insists it is not retrospective. "His music is timeless and so modern. It really is like it's from the future... It doesn't sound like anything else, it doesn’t matter when you discover it. "
Frank was a true luminary and musical pioneer, part of the reason his music still endures is because it was so ahead of its time. The avant garde style and sounds created in his music preceded other visionaries like Pink Floyd. The main difference was that Franks music was created and played live without the help of technology. Dweezil adds " there is so much taken for granted using computers. We forget people had the skills to make this music."
In his own Dweezilla guitar master-classes he helps to teach musicians how to create the guitar effects his Dad used and bring them to a new generation of musicians. This is all part of carrying on his Fathers legacy. "Frank had so many musical accomplishments that people aren't aware of. Even people who have some casual awareness of his music don't really have the right idea of what his music is all about. Part of what I wanted to do was re educate the audience."
It's not just the audience who need a bit of Zappaesque education; since Frank's death there have been a spate of people trying to rewrite history. Dweezil tells me about a cartoon published in Rolling Stone with his father holding a joint. This inaccurate depiction of Frank who was always anti drugs, is something that Dweezil is keen to put right as a custodian of Franks work. "We write history... It's important to put the record straight and not perpetuate myths."
Another myth is that Zappa Plays Zappa are just another covers band. Indeed, Dweezil has faced some criticism for this. So how does he defend his project? "Franks music is orchestral by nature, he grew up wanting to be a composer. At 12 years old he went to the library to learn. He was completely self taught. An orchestras job is to play the composers work as they see it on the page.... People can appreciate that music for generations. They don't modernise it or change it." He continues "people don't make the correlation what we're doing is much more like playing the music in the same way than an orchestra would be preserving the music for the future... A covers band dictates oh I can go see anybody do this; we could do this as an evening of nostalgia, but Frank's music is more than that, it's timeless, it's modern...Anybody can pick his music up at any time. They don't listen to it and think, this is the music of my parent's generation. This is music like nothing else."
Frank's music is notoriously difficult to play, so much so that the London Symphony Orchestra had great difficulties in visualising and playing Frank's music on a series of recordings that he did with them in the 1980s. "It's been very difficult to learn, I've had to do quite a bit to make it possible for me to play what I wanted to play in the music. For example, I learnt a lot of parts that were written for marimba and I play them on guitar. Not because I wanted to completely change the sound of the music, but because I wanted to play within the ensemble. I also wanted the give the audience a visual interpretation of the music in a way that wouldn't necessarily get."
He also tells me that he spent two years studying music before he even put the band together. The complexity of the music coupled with the level of involvement needed really does stand Zappa Plays Zappa apart from being a covers band. "There's something particularly exciting about playing Frank's music, in that you have this challenge of playing the difficult written structured parts and then you have this complete opposite end of the spectrum with the wide open improvisation. As a musician there is no better type of environment to be playing. Especially in a live situation where you have the challenge of playing the hard stuff, then you have this expanse to create on the spot. To do that well you have to a good enough vocabulary."
Roxy and Elsewhere has always been a popular album with Frank's fans and is one of Dweezil's personal favourites. He explains why it has been so popular and stands apart in the catalogue of work. "It was at a defined cross road in Franks playing... If you just looked at it in context, his first record came out in 66, Roxy and Elsewhere came out in 74 (it was actually recorded in 73)... In less than a decade, this is the place where Frank is first able to get some of his hardest material performed. At the same time there is something incredibly groovy about the stuff that's happening on that particular record... At that time there was a drive to use horns and clarinet in a certain way... that was the backdrop... His improvisational guitar playing is excellent on this record. It's very melodic... you have some very twisted rhythms. Then you have the Be Bop Tango, which is one of the more avant garde thing on any of his records. All on one record you have multiple layers of variety and texture... that's what makes it stand out... you get a bit of everything."
Entering it's 40th anniversary it is fitting that Zappa Plays Zappa is taking Roxylive on tour. For Zappa fans I am told that the long awaited live recording ofRoxy which Frank did is due to finally get a DVD release. "At the time it was filmed and recorded the technology had not been perfected in terms of synching audio and video. The problems this project faced was it was difficult to get everything in sync." After waiting 40 years for technology to catch up with Frank, I am assured that finally Roxy is able to get a proper synced edit. So be sure to watch out for that in the future.
Zappa Plays Zappa: Roxy and Elsewhere, is on tour around the UK in November and promises to be an exciting musical journey. If you have never heard Roxy I am told by Dweezil that it is something to wait and hear live as there are certain things that really come to life in the live setting. If you are already a Zappa convert don't miss this opportunity and for those of you who are yet to discover the amazing music of Frank Zappa, it's never too late.