For the past decade, Dweezil Zappa has been focused on Zappa Plays Zapppa, the band he started to perform the music of his late father, the legendary Frank Zappa, in concert. He hoped to introduce his father’s music to new generations of music fans and help people recognize the stylistic range and the compositional genius his father brought to his work.
Learning his father’s music turned out to be quite the education for Dweezil. Not only did he gain a world of insights into his father’s music and compositional methods, he basically had to relearn guitar and develop a new range of abilities on his instrument. The son also became a band leader in a true sense, learning how to arrange and orchestrate and directing the various members of his Zappa Plays Zappa band in their performances of the Frank Zappa material.
Now fans are getting a good yardstick for how Zappa Plays Zappa has helped Dweezil Zappa develop his talents, with the release of his first album of original material since 2006, the year he released “Go With What You Know” and put together the original edition of Zappa Plays Zappa.
“It’s definitely for sure influenced by what I’ve learned from my father’s music in performing it for the past decade,” Zappa, 45, said of “Via Zammata.” “I think other production elements, just in terms of arrangement and orchestration, what instruments are used and how they are used, that definitely comes into play on the record.
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“As far as guitar technique, I definitely have gotten to a place where I can do things that I never thought I could ever do before. And in terms of improvisation, it’s good because it gives me many more tools for keeping themes going with more rhythmic and melodic variety.”
In making his new album, Zappa drew from music that spans more than two decades and looked to use his knowledge and experience to and give the songs new life.
“I took several things that were demoed about 20 years ago, or longer than 20 years, and reworked a lot of those things,” he said. “Then I wrote some new stuff as well. So the collection of stuff is interesting in that it took material that preceded anything I did with Zappa Plays Zappa and then allowed me to use my new sort of arranging and orchestrating skills to put those to use with those songs, and then also write some new stuff.
“It’s definitely, I think, different than what people are probably going to expect in terms of a record,” Zappa said. “It’s kind of hard to describe it, but it’s mostly vocal songs that are kind of almost quirky pop songs. Then it has some various instrumentation that is unusual.”
The work on the new solo album doesn’t mean Zappa is stepping away at all from Zappa Plays Zappa, which also features Scheila Gonzalez (saxophone, flute, keyboards, vocals), Ben Thomas (vocals), Chris Norton (keyboards, vocals), Kurt Morgan (bass), Ryan Brown (drums) and Pete Jones (auxiliary instrumentalist/vocalist). The group has toured much of this year and has a concert DVD in the works that captures the group on a 2010 tour performing Frank Zappa’s 1974 album, “Apostrophe.”
In its current tour, which will be winding down soon after it arrives at the Crest Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 6, Zappa Plays Zappa will try to evoke the era 40 years ago when “One Size Fits All,” Frank Zappa’s final album with his landmark band, the Mothers Of Invention, was made.
“Mostly what we try to do in general is to re-create the details of the instrumentation and try to use the same sounds that are really from the era (of) the version that we’re doing,” Zappa said. “So if we’re doing an early ’60s version of an original Mothers of Invention song, we want to try to capture the sound that is evocative of that era, as opposed to doing a modern-sounding version with modern equipment. That’s sort of like the partial time-travel element of it.
“If you can really make it evocative of the era, then it’s much more authentic. That’s the challenge we always have … just really trying to choose which version we’re doing and then try to get the instrumentation as close as we can.”