Captain’s Log: Stardate 4813.7 – A large black monolith has been discovered on a far away planet. It’s contents are being scrutinized, and seem to include a time capsule from a long forgotten orb known as Earth. This planet seemed to have some artistic diversity and passed on wisdom from many of their pioneering artists in this capsule.
Cracking open the area titled “Music,” it seems that one Dweezil Zappa penned this salient bit of advice, and it reads: “Listen to everyone and learn to do your own thing with it. It’s all one big conversation to respond to.” Sage advice ancient human.
It would make sense if Dweezil was included in the time capsule as his playing is often described as other-worldly. He has established himself as far more than just a rock guitarist, but more purely a musician who uses rock guitar as his main mode of expression.
Rock guitar, however, did catch his attention at 12 years old and the light bulb went on and stayed on. “I remember hearing Randy Rhoads and Edward Van Halen, thinking to myself I want to do that! I had always been a fan of my dad’s music and his guitar playing, but knew that it was really hard. I figured I would get to it one day. I had to start somewhere though and for me Randy and Edward provided a road map to develop technique and a style rooted in hard rock.”
Those roots grew deep and led to becoming a recording and touring pro. Dweezil didn’t just float through those times, he learned and absorbed. “The most important lesson I’ve learned from touring is that you must always remain focused on the present moment. It’s also very helpful to do that in life!”
It certainly is. Dweezil is present in his own music, as well as the highly successful Zappa Plays Zappa, which finds him touring and playing material from Frank Zappa’s exhaustive catalog. Fans of the elder Zappa were afraid the opportunity to see these amazing compositions performed live was lost with his passing, but Dweezil not only does the music justice, but brings his own flare and energy to the show.
He says his playing “changed a great deal” from his decade of playing his father’s music. “I worked really hard to build a new vocabulary from which to draw ideas for improvisation. In order to play in context to my dad’s music, I had to try to speak his language with the guitar. His playing was rooted in the blues, but was informed by his intense knowledge of rhythm and harmony. I had to develop a lot more rhythmic diversity first and then start applying new harmonic concepts. All of that work influenced the writing for my new album. You can hear an example of that in the very first song called “Funky 15,” which is an instrumental in 15/8 time signature and it’s a composed piece that incorporates live string quartet, brass textures, and creepy-crawly intervallic guitar lines.”
Dweezil’s new album Via Zammata’ is the first of his own music in 10 years. “I wanted to make a record that allowed me to explore all of the new insights and musical vocabulary that I’ve picked up in the last decade of playing my father’s music with Zappa Plays Zappa. One of the things that might surprise people is that the guitar is, for the most part, a part of the ensemble and it picks its moments to step forward. In the past, I treated the guitar as the most prominent instrument in my music. This record, for lack of a better description, is more like a singer-songwriter record with heavily orchestrated instrumentation. The title comes from a street in Partinico, Sicily. I recently had the opportunity to trace my father’s family history to that very street. In some ways, this record is analogous to that journey. It traces my earliest influences in music and scatters them along the path as you listen to Via Zammata’..
This eclectic scattering of influences can be heard in songs that drip with variety such as, “a vocal intro that sounds like the offspring of the Beach Boys mating with the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.” Or a combo of “Farfisa organ and a marxophone.” “Dragon Master” is the only song Dweezil ever had a chance to co-write with his father. “My Dad wrote the lyrics and asked me to write the music. The goal with the production of this song was to create a legitimate full throttle metal song that could support the preposterous lyrics. I also added an Arabic melody that is a repeating theme throughout the song. It gave me an opportunity to play the oud, which I’ve recently begun learning.”
Variety is indeed the spice of Dweezil’s guitar life, including other players he listens to. “Some of my favorites of the moment are Oz Noy, Tim Miller, Richard Hallebeek, and Tom Quayle. I’ve been getting into microtonal music as well, so I’ve been listening to oud music and sarod, players such as Prassana for the Indian style and Dave Fiucynski for the microtonal style. I’m also very inspired to learn some phrasing from the Bulgarian clarinet player Ivo Papsov. That guy is nuts!”
The new year starts with Dweezil playing to support Via Zammata’, then doing the Experience Hendrix tour. Then it is Zappa Plays Zappa, with some extra Zappa thrown in for good measure. He will be opening ZPZ shows with his own music. Sort of a ZZPZ. Dweezil puts it best when he says “There’s a lot going on!”
So when that monolith is cracked open in the distant future, and those words of wisdom are consumed by some 12 toed, 4 tongued alien beatnik musician looking for a gig, let’s hope he has the soul to respond in kind to the “big conversation.”