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AAA Music | 14 October 2019

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A CHAT WITH DWEEZIL ZAPPA

| On 04, Dec 2011

Live @ The Brighton Dome, December 1st 2011

Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank Zappa, was preparing to perform the classic 1974 album Apostrophe with his band, Zappa Plays Zappa.

Access All Areas Music interviewer Anthony Weightman spoke to him ahead of his performance at The Brighton Dome.

Anthony Weightman

In the past you’ve held some pretty tough auditions for fellow musicians so you can get a feel of whether they have the skill, dedication and personality to work with you. Perhaps they’ve been given 2 days to get to grips with something they’d ideally have months to do. Has there ever been anyone who’s slipped through your audition net who shouldn’t have done?  Have you ever thought afterwards that guy was so good, I shouldn’t have let him go?

 

Dweezil Zappa

No, because the auditions are designed to put on display the type of person who has the most appreciation and level of commitment for doing this sort of gig. The right people have been chosen to do the job. There are people I’ve seen play who play very well but their personality might not fit, so that’s another big consideration.

 

 

Anthony Weightman

There is a view that an artists’ original work should remain unchanged to show respect to the creator of that work. An example might be Woody Allen maintaining that early black and white movie films shouldn’t be coloured despite the technology available to do so. Is there a point at which, in your view, it’s possible for someone trying to celebrate a musician to begin to show disrespect in some way?

 

Dweezil Zappa

It’s always going to be a matter of interpretation for the public but, generally speaking, I would find it disrespectful for somebody to take somebody’s work and do something to it in order to draw attention to them as opposed to attention to the work. People do that with my father’s music. They try to re-arrange it and say: “Oh, look at what I can do with Frank Zappa’s music” and it’s not really creating a new audience for the music. It’s supposed to be their tricky little way to get attention for themselves. I associate Frank’s music more with the same way that an orchestra would be doing the works of other great composers, so you don’t have conductors and orchestras taking liberties on the score. They don’t say “I’m going to change this part around here. I’m going to give myself a solo on this. I’m going to change this harmony. I’m going to get a rapper to come in here.” That kind of stuff is unnecessary. I use that example because a lot of people think what you’re doing is a tribute band or a covers band. Technically, an orchestra is a covers band or a tribute band because they’re playing music they didn’t write, but it’s by other people that are probably not alive. So, it’s generally regarded as the highest level of artistic ability and level of respect for composition and music, when you think of it as an orchestra. Frank used a rock band as an orchestra. We really respect the music in the sense that we try to play it as it’s written on the page or as you hear it on the record. We don’t change it and turn it into something to modernise it.  Some of Frank’s music is designed to have improvisational elements that are suitable to be created right there in the moment for that audience, alongside the really strict composition elements. That’s where people get confused. They sometimes think that Frank’s music might not be as structured as they imagined.

 

Anthony Weightman

Much has been said about the difficult and complicated nature of Frank’s music. The irony is sometimes that a sophisticated jazz musician’s most immortalised, loved and appreciated song seems to be the simplest one.  For example, if you look at the work of Tania Maria, the Queen of latin jazz, the song that’s most adored worldwide is probably Come With Me. Can you tell me if Frank found as much beauty in simplicity as complexity?

 

Dweezil Zappa

Sure. There are plenty of songs of his. It just depends how well people know the catalogue. Take a tune like Blessed Relief. It’s very simple and easy going. Not very complicate at all. It’s got a freeform solo section. It’s a beautiful simplistic melody. He’s got a good sprinkling of those throughout his whole back catalogue. He made over 80 albums. That’s the challenge. We try to re-educate an audience to understand the depth and variety of the music because, too often, people just think “he’s the guy with the songs with the crazy names and the kids with the crazy names”. They don’t really know anything beyond, to look at other aspects of his personality.

 

Anthony Weightman

I understand you listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin as a child, as I did myself. It’s sometimes said that Robert Plant has maintained such a high profile because he’s constantly searched for new ideas and headed off on some bold new adventure. Do you feel that this compulsion to never stand still is vital for a musician?

 

Dweezil Zappa

I think it’s definitely something that people should aspire to in their lives in general. It’s good to keep seeking new information and introspection and to understand how to keep evolving and make things more interesting for yourself and people around you. As it relates to music, it’s certainly a good idea. My own musical evolution is still work in progress. I’ve changed a lot in the process of making this project. When it comes time to make my own music in the future, I don’t really know what it’s going to sound like yet. I have so many things I’ve learnt to do over the past five or six years that I should try to put into practice in my own music.

Anthony Weightman

As you’re aware, there’s a great deal of controversy in the British media at the moment over the right to privacy. Some stories are about celebrities who’ve been very in frightening circumstances. For example, the intimidation of a woman chased by a group of media men down a dark alley. When intrusions have been made into your private life, have there been breaking points at which you’ve said this has really gone far enough?

 

Dweezil Zappa

I don’t think people are interested in my life. I can see how that can be very problematic for other people, but it’s never been a problem for me. I don’t lead the kind of life that demands that sort of attention. When you have a family and kids you don’t want to have people following everything you do. That stuff can be problematic for people in the public eye.

 

Anthony Weightman

You value your privacy?

 

Dweezil Zappa

I certainly do, but I don’t think anyone cares about my personal life. So, it’s not really been an issue for me.

Anthony Weightman

When Amy Winehouse passed away earlier this year many were aware of yet another tragic loss as a result of a musician dying young. What could they have achieved had they lived? is the natural question people tend to ask. They also ask why. Was it an accident or misadventure? Was it because some problem in their life became accentuated as a result of fame and fortune? Do you feel you have an insight into this subject?

 

Dweezil Zappa

There are a lot of people that have their own demons.  They know that some things are not good for your health….drugs and alcohol and that sort of stuff. So, it’s kind of difficult for a lot of people to have empathy for those who should know better but who live a privileged life. People struggle with trying to understand what has happened. Everyone has their own challenges in life, but when it gets magnified or turned into a story to get peoples attention with headlines, it’s a shame. It’s a shame anytime someone has a problem they can’t overcome and it becomes something that really is unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, as everyone matures and gets older, there’s a time when the information becomes useful. Maybe she just never really learnt the message. It’s a shame, but ultimately you can’t blame the music or the music industry for something like that. It has to do with her own set of circumstances and how she grew up.

 

Anthony Weightman

In a brief 30 second YouTube clip on Frank entitled Bluntly on People, I came across Frank saying ‘I don’t like people very much’ and adding ‘you can watch the news and know that you’re right’. I don’t want to take these comments out of context. What was Frank actually saying here? In general that he was horrified by what dreadful things mankind could do or was he saying something more specific?

 

Dweezil Zappa

Frank was great at observing all the foibles of people…the good, the bad and all that stuff. He really liked to people watch. For him to say he didn’t like people…there may be lots of things he didn’t like about them. He certainly found other things that amused him and inspired him to create. I wouldn’t say he went out of his way to cultivate a lot of traditional style relationships or friendships with people. It’s not like he had his speed dial list of his best friends. He wasn’t that type of person. He was very motivated to create stuff and work on things he was inspired by. He was driven by the creative process…an alternative perspective on life…a different way to go about things.

 

Anthony Weightman

I noticed you’d met Mick Fleetwood in a cameo role in the past. Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac eventually returned to the spotlight & received incredible good will from his audience, when I saw him live. Have you ever had the opportunity to work with him?

 

Dweezil Zappa

No…and it’s funny because he comes with a background that a lot of people have respect for. I’ve not come across too much of his music so far in my life. I’ve heard early Fleetwood Mac stuff. His own stuff I haven’t really delved into, so I should probably check it out.

 

Anthony Weightman

We’re about a month from Christmas and I know you have two daughters, aged 5 and 3. To me, one of the few great moments of Christmas is to have a young child on Christmas Day shouting Daddy I’m So Excited. Are there moments at Christmas that you find charming?

 

Dweezil Zappa

That precisely is the only charming thing about Christmas.  Christmas through the eyes of children, especially your own, if you can make it about creating fond memories, that’s great. It’s one of the things you take with you for the rest of your life… to be so excited about Christmas. For them, I’m happy to try to do all of that stuff and probably I’d do it in a more traditional way than the way I grew up. It’s largely a consumer nightmare for adults.  In the end it’s not supposed to be about what they get, but the thought, but certainly they get concerned about what they get.

 

Anthony Weightman

Thank you very much for spending some time with me and best of luck on your performance tonight in Brighton.

 

Dweezil Zappa

I got to get to that building across the street. It was pretty great… inside, that wild architecture and the chandeliers in particular. The craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Those kinds of buildings fascinate me.

Author: Anthony Weightman