Dweezil Zappa takes a Frank approach to music
Special to The Seattle Times
Frank Zappa said the mind is like a parachute: It doesn't work unless it's open. Thirteen years after Zappa's death, his son Dweezil is on a mission to open minds by playing his father's complex genre-bending compositions, introducing a younger generation to a type of music "they really have no idea they're missing."
"Look at what's available for popular music entertainment," Dweezil said. "People are probably more ready for Frank's music now than ever. ... If I don't do this now, it may never ever get done and there's a chance that the music could fade away more than it has."
Dweezil, 37, and his band mates are on their fifth tour since May, traveling to Europe and across the U.S. under the moniker Zappa Plays Zappa. They'll be at the Paramount Theatre tonight, where they will also shoot footage for a DVD.
The idea of the tour sounds simple: Dweezil, one of Frank's four children and an accomplished musician in his own right, plays the music of his father. The reality: Launching this tour took more than two years of preparation. Dweezil listened to all of his father's albums — more than 60 of them — in chronological order. He chose to concentrate on learning the music he had grown up with: tracks from the latter half of the 1970s.
Dweezil had to essentially re-learn guitar in order to play Frank's intricate arrangements, some of which weren't written to be played on guitar at all.
Listen to just about any Zappa song and you get a taste for the difficulty of the music, which touches on nearly every genre. The composer used pop melodies, but wove in long, jazz-tinged instrumental segments and thick, wild collages of music and sound effects. He's often unfairly mistaken for a Weird Al Yankovic character because his songs were often satirical, Dweezil said, but in reality Frank Zappa is in a class all his own.
After cocooning himself in a studio playing upward of 14 hours a day for more than a year, Dweezil invited three Zappa tour vets to join the project: Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio, who guest on a number of songs during the live show, and Napoleon Murphy Brock, who is part of the new collective's core. Dweezil knew he wanted other members of the seven-member band to be young to help connect a new generation of Zappa listeners to the music.
A grueling audition process and a three-month musical boot camp resulted in a concert Dweezil likens to Cirque du Soleil, only with top-level performers executing acrobatics on keys, strings and horns. He calls it a "thrill ride" that begs from the audience questions like, "How are these people doing this? How are they remembering these things? How do they know when the next part is coming?"
Dweezil is adamant about staying true to the nature of the music. "My job in this all is not to change it in any way," he said. Though he says he'll stop at growing a mustache to replicate his father's iconic facial hair ("I end up looking like a pirate!"), Dweezil wants to give the audience — core fans and the newcomers he hopes will join them — the truest experience of Frank's music as possible. And he doesn't have any immediate plan to slow his grassroots dose of musical education. Zappa Plays Zappa will play 100 shows in the next year.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company