Zappa talks Zappa: Q&A with Dweezil Zappa ahead of his Lake Tahoe concert
April 27, 2017
Dweezil Zappa, son of rock pioneer Frank Zappa, is returning to Tahoe this weekend with the 50 Years of Frank tour he launched in honor of his father's career.
Bringing with him a catalog of Frank's music, which was at the helm of rock for a majority of the mid-to-late-1900s, Dweezil headlines Harrah's Lake Tahoe on Friday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the gig begin at $43 and are available online via Ticketmaster.
But there is more to know about the musician, apart from his ability to navigate the intricacies of his father's songs, prior to his South Shore concert.
Action: Have you been to Tahoe before?
Zappa: I have played Tahoe a few times as Zappa Plays Zappa and also I was just recently there on the Hendrix tour.
What are you looking forward to with this gig?
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This particular tour — which is celebrating my dad's first album, "Freak Out!" — it's filled with a lot of songs that we hadn't played on any other tour. So it's a lot of fun to play this early Mothers of Invention stuff, but also the show itself is the closest we've done that has a chronological feel to it.
It starts off with the earliest era, starting with the very first record, "Freak Out!," playing a lot of stuff from that and then after about 40 minutes of the early years we jump into the early '70s and then keep pushing on the accelerator until we get into stuff from the '80s by the end of the show. It's, to me, the best version of the band as well. It's just a really good group of people and we just have a lot of fun playing the music.
Why do you continue to play your dad's music rather than your own?
I think it's a little tricky for people to understand, but my dad's music is very complicated — it's very hard to play. So when I started doing the Zappa Plays Zappa thing — which later changed to just Dweezil Zappa and some other fun names for the tour as well — the thing about it is that it took a lot of time to learn the music, and then once it was learned it takes a lot of time to keep it maintained.
If I was doing, you know, up to 100 shows a year as Zappa Plays Zappa or under my own name playing my dad's music, that equates to about six months of the year with touring and rehearsing. The rest of the time I try to balance it out by spending time with my wife and kids. So it doesn't leave a lot of other time for my own musical stuff, but I have actually been devoting more time to that over the past couple years. I made a record that was called "Via Zammata'" that came out almost two years ago now.
I have got some new stuff I'm doing, but I'm working towards a big event for the end of this year: In Holland I'm debuting an orchestral work of my own, so I'll be working with a 100-piece orchestra. I'm doing stuff, but it's all stuff that takes a lot of time behind the scenes before you get to it.
You mentioned spending time with your family — were you guys just in the Grand Canyon together?
Yeah, we tried out a unique way to see the Grand Canyon, which was a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. That was terrifying, yet beautiful at the same time.
Are you looking to do anything like that while you're in Tahoe? Will you get outdoors?
It's tough when you're on the road to be able to get out and do anything. I know there's some cool landscape nearby, but I most likely will only see the inside of the venue.
You grew up going on tour with your dad. If you could trade that, would you?
I didn't really go on tour with him too much. We visited him occasionally when he was out on the road, but I got to play with him in different cities. I don't think I would trade anything from the period when my dad was alive, other than maybe having a chance to spend even more time with him, doing other things. I'd ask him more questions about his own music and stuff like that, but otherwise the experience I had is what shaped me as the person that I am, so I don't really feel like there's anything else that I drastically missed out on with him or anything. The way things have turned out family-wise since his passing is definitely not my favorite.
Speaking of which, how do you perform complicated music while you're going through the legal battle with your siblings?
The music itself is kind of the ultimate fun part. I mean, yeah, there's a lot of work that goes into learning how to play it and putting it together in a show, and all that. But actually playing it is a point in time where it's almost a zen-like thing because all I'm thinking about at that moment is just playing the music. I'm not concerned about other things that are happening at the same time concurrently. I'm not bothered by any other mundane thoughts.
What's your favorite memory of growing up with your dad?
It's great always when I got to do stuff with him musically, but outside of music there was a really fun game we used to play where we would try to make up words that should be in the dictionary, but aren't in there yet. The game was you would find an example of something that needed a specific name.
So one example would've been the kind of person that always wears a rock 'n' roll t-shirt. I was trying to come up with one word that embodied that idea and he, within a nanosecond, said "insignoramus," which was a combination of insignia and ignoramus. We would have fun with stuff like that.
What do you think he'd make of the current political environment?
Well, you know he was definitely known for his political and social satire, but if you really look at the things that he was talking about in the early to middle '80s he predicted exactly this sort of fascism-type movement stemming from the republicans. If you wanted to, you could look up all of his interviews and it's almost like he's talking about exactly what's going on right now.
He was not a fan of President Reagan and had many things that he would go after him about. The republicans often tout Reagan as being one of the greatest presidents, but my dad was quick to point out some of the very particular flaws that were happening politically, but also just other completely stupid things — like under the Reagan administration ketchup was declared a vegetable in school lunches.
Reagan had a quote that applies to now, which is "facts are stupid things." So when we're dealing with fake news and all of this stuff where there's so much spin on whatever information is out there, it's just so ridiculous to say that facts are stupid things. And now that's just the kind of thing that people want to avoid, facts. They're like "Oh, that's an alternative fact." It's ridiculous.
Out of all the artists you've shared the stage with, who did you enjoy collaborating with the most?
It's all different. There's different challenges, different things that are fun about it. I've been able to play either live on stage or in the studio with various different musicians, from guitar players to drummers and keyboard players.
On one end of the spectrum, obviously my dad would be at the top of the list there, but on [the other end], it was also great to have the opportunity to play with Chick Corea — we did a tour with Return to Forever and each night of the tour he would sit in with us as well just because he was enjoying the chance to do some improvisation. To actually play opposite him and try to answer phrases coming from his vocabulary and then filter it through my own vocabulary — it was a fun challenge.
I've had a chance to play with great players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson — all kinds of different people, so it's just been great for me as a musician to see other people, especially guitar players, up close to see how they play and what their thought process is. One of the things that's great about that now for me too is that I'm hosting a show that's called "Guitar Power" and I get to interview guitar players and talk to them about all that stuff.
Where's the most interesting place you've played the guitar?
Probably one of the stranger places that I had a guitar and took a photograph there was on top of a mountain in Montana. We were at Glacier National Park outside of Kalispell and I played a musical interlude from my dad's song called "Montana" on the top of this mountain there. That would probably be the most unusual place that I took a guitar, but other than that everything else would be quite normal.
If you weren't a musician what would you be doing?
When I was 12 I was really into baseball and I was playing baseball all the time, but then I got really into guitar. I don't know that I would've continued on with baseball, but there were other sports that I was interested in. Who knows, I might've pursued a professional athletic career of some sort.
I like the creative process of music and writing, so I probably would've ended up with some sort of creative element in some way. But definitely I can say that the one way that I would've rebelled in my house would've been to become an accountant or a lawyer. I would've been excommunicated.