There are any number of ways that the child of a famous parent deals with the huge shadow that looms ominously over anything they attempt in life. You can flatly refuse to indulge in your parents antics (such as Aimee Osbourne refusing to take part in dad Ozzy’s reality show), change your name (like Emilio Estevez taking his father’s real name rather than his more famous 'Sheen' stage name ), you can sound nothing like your famous parent (such as Norah Jones who sounds very little like her father Ravi Shankar and neither Teddy Thompson nor Baxter Dury have notable similarities to their dads), or just accept your genes and damn the torpedoes, like Sean Lennon, Ziggy Marley and Dweezil Zappa, who, whilst he has released solo albums altogether unlike dad Frank’s, acts as a curator to his father’s extensive back catalogue alongside fronting a tribute show called Zappa Plays Zappa. Having recently toured a live version of the album Apostrophe ('), much to the delight of fans, Andy Basire took the opportunity to ask him if he actually got to see much of his workaholic dad growing up and how much he was shielded from the madness that seemed to gravitate towards FZ?
Dweezil: “My dad did work a lot and toured a lot when we my sister Moon and I were little. By the late 70's he had his own studio at home and began to do most of his work there. He still toured throughout the '80s but less and less. Since he worked at home the rest of the time our house was actually pretty different in that both parents worked from home so they were pretty much always around. Busy but present. So yes, I did get to see my dad quite a bit and I would go listen to what he was working on in the studio every chance I could. We actually never got the sense that there was any 'madness' gravitated towards my dad. We did realize there were weird people in the world though.”
Total Music: You are clearly a gifted guitarist (must be the genes), but that can’t have made it any easier interpreting your dads work live?
Dweezil: “It was a lot more work than people imagine. I had already been a technically proficient guitarist for more than 25 years prior to taking on the challenge of learning my father's music. In essence, I abandoned everything I knew about playing guitar and had to unlearn more than relearn. It was like getting a lobotomy and then training for the Olympics. Through DVD courses and lessons with music teachers I literally changed everything about the physical and technical approach to my playing as well as [to] my mental approach. It was a huge undertaking of over two years prior to actually putting the band together.”
Total Music: How do you go about finding the sort of musicians with the relevant skills (and sense of humour), to handle your dad’s material live?
Dweezil: “The audition strategy was to create an audition so terrifying that only real candidates would attend. That worked and it made it pretty easy to see who was capable of doing the job well and with the right attitude. For example the keyboard audition was, learn and transcribe 'Inca Roads' and the 'Black Page' by ear and come in and play it only with our drummer. The time limit was 2 days. That right there is two 15 hour days of learning even for a top notch player. Incidentally no-one was able to get both done, or have all of the correct notes and rhythms but the person who came the closest got the job.”
Total Music: You have just been touring Apostrophe (‘) but what made you pick this album above, say, Over-Nite Sensation or One Size Fits All?
Dweezil: “I've always loved Apostrophe (‘). As a kid, 'St Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast' was my favorite song. When people say, 'I've never heard your dad's music, where should I begin?' I always recommend Apostrophe (‘) as the gateway. I think it has the best balance of all of the elements that exist in Frank's music, sophisticated rhythms, detailed arrangements and instrumentation, unique timbre of instrumentation and guitar tone, memorable lyrics a huge variety of genres with no boundaries and last but not least amazing audio production. Also the songs are generally more digestible to a first time listener due to their shorter length. After that I usually recommend [they] go backward to the beginning and working forward to Apostrophe (‘) so people can see the huge changes that occurred within the ten years between Freak Out and Apostrophe (‘). After Apostrophe (‘) there is much more evident expansive growth in all aspects of Frank's music.”
Total Music: Several of the original Mothers have joined you onstage through the years, can you tell us who has appeared – we know of Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Terry Bozzio - and who you would like to play with?
Dweezil: “We have had some alumni play with us throughout the years [but] it has never been my main focus to perform with alumni. I am glad to have had the opportunity to present the music to the fans with some extra frosting on occasion but this project has been motivated by letting the music speak for itself, played by people who have previously had no affiliation with the music. The reason for that is that I wanted [it] to become apparent to younger audiences that this music is not nostalgia music, nor is it music that can only sound authentic using alumni. I wanted to cast a [new] light on it for the uninitiated, Frank's music is always relevant and timeless. In fact in many ways it's still ahead of it's time even 40 years later.”
Total Music: What is your favourite of your dads material (to play and to listen to)?
Dweezil: “I love it all. I am particularly fascinated by his orchestral work, especially the Yellow Shark album. I do love his guitar work as well. Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar is always among my top listening assignments. ”
Total Music: Were you surprised by how popular Zappa Plays Zappa has become?
Dweezil: “The real surprise is not that people like the music it's that people have grown to appreciate the core band as a band that they would like to hear more from in different genres. I hear from supporters of the band all the time that they want to hear some 'new' music written for the band. I plan to do that soon.”
Total Music: What is the ratio of FZ newbies to crusty old buggers like us at the shows?
Dweezil: “No pun intended but the ratio is changing annually. The long term goal of this project has always been to achieve a strong connection to the younger generation, anyone under 35. Each year we have toured we have seen more and more young people at our shows and most surprisingly, more and more young women. That is a head scratcher, in a good way though.”
Total Music: Will the Roxy & Elsewhere DVD (the straw poll in the office choosing this as our favourite Mothers line-up) ever see the light of day?
Dweezil: “The Roxy... DVD has been plagued by technical difficulties since the time it was filmed. To explain briefly, there is a synchronization problem that exists between analog audio tape and film rate transfer. The year this footage was shot there was not an effective industry wide standard on how to deal with these issues. The issue with The Roxy... has always been, finding a way to get the film and audio synchronized so that it can be edited properly. With modern technology there are finally some solutions to the problems and we have been exploring these but have not had the budget or man power to complete the process of getting it all synchronized. However, the answer to your question is YES, it will see the light of day and it is closer to happening than ever before.”
Total Music: Obviously FZ fans are delighted that you are keeping your dad’s music alive but what about your solo career (when’s the follow up to Go With What You Know due)?
Dweezil: “I plan to record an album of my own new material in January 2012. I don't have any idea what it will be yet. It may be two different albums. One with vocals and one all instrumental.”
Total Music: How do things currently stand with What the Hell Was I Thinking (a gargantuan, multi-guest guitarist starring project he has been working on since the early '90s)?
Dweezil: “It is still a work in progress. I have many new skills I've acquired since I started the project. The production skills will enhance the music skills. I am very much inspired to finish it now.”
Return Of The Son Of.. is out now on earMUSIC Recordings. For more information on this and other upcoming releases and tours go to Dweezils website