The Return Of The Son-Of-Zappa Rap
... or Dweezil In Never Netherlands
By Axel Wünsch and Aad Hoogesteger
T'Mershi Duween, #28, November 1992
On 6 May 1991, during the European leg of his debut tour, Dweezil Zappa spoke to Axel Wünsch and Aad Hoogesteger in Amsterdam. Andrew Greenaway eventually got to transcribe their conversation. (And then it was edited, rather heavily. The full transcript can be seen in the DZ Fan Club newsletters. Address elsewhere.)
How's the tour going?
DZ: It's really been just a bit of a promotional tour – testing the waters over here to see if there's any interest. I've been really surprised at the actual amount of people that showed up at the shows. I'm very pessimistic and I usually imagine that only about 4 people will ever show up. I lied to everyone in the band last night, I told them that the promoter was really unhappy because we'd only sold 30 tickets. I had everybody going for a while. Then they looked outside and saw that there was a lot more than 30 people.
We talked to Mike Keneally and he believed it.
DZ: Yeah, I had him going pretty good. He was saying why don't we just cancel the show – I said we came all this way, we gotta play.
The last record – how was it received?
DZ: The Confessions album? It's been received quite well actually, which I'm happy about because I put a lot of work into it ... it's most representative of me. I'm happy that it's been received a lot better than the other stuff that I've done, based on the amount of work that's gone into it. It's been getting good reviews, which are totally unheard of for anyone with the last name Zappa. And people have been liking the show. After we've finished with all the press and stuff; we're back to the United States to do some East Coast shows, which should be interesting. We do a few things that most people wouldn't ever attempt to do. Probably wouldn't want to!
Could you tell us how and when the band started.
DZ: Well, this is the first band that I've ever put together. It originally consisted of Scott Thunes, Josh Freese and myself – we would just get together and play, and rehearse basically instrumentals. Then I decided to make the record so we recorded it and then invited a bunch of guests to play on it. Mike Keneally guested on the record. And at that point, when we were releasing the record, we decided that this would be the first time we'd ever have to tour. So we rehearsed for about a good six months solid. And instead of me singing the songs, which I never wanted to do, because my guitar parts are complicated. I'd rather play guitar. And then I needed somebody who was gonna be an entertaining front man, but also somebody I could tolerate over long periods of time. That's when Ahmet came into the picture. He was just sitting around being kind of a bit of a bum wouldn't you say, Ahmet?!
AZ: Mmmmm?!? (laughs)
DZ: So I had to put him to work. I think Ahmet had expressed some interest before, but it was my idea to put him in there. Even if Ahmet has a bad night – the monitors are bad and he's not able to sing properly – I still think he's far more entertaining than somebody who is technically a good singer. He's got much more personality than ... one of my favourite bands, Van Halen; David Lee Roth almost never sang in tune but I still liked watching all those guys up there playing.
Did you ever consider, or do you expect, that your sister will play live gigs?
DZ: Oh, she's performed with us in the United States. She'll make an occasional appearance, but probably not too often. We change the show every night, kind of the same thing as Frank; sometimes it's a really good set-list, sometimes it's not.
We were a bit sad that 'Dragonmaster' wasn't in it.
DZ: Yeah, Mike Keneally was telling me. We don't play that song that often because it's actually a very difficult song. The music that I wrote to it is really so ugly on purpose: it's supposed to be this gothic, mega-thrash metal song. The lyrics are hysterical, and we embellish them quite a bit. Ahmet does a whole improvisational satanic rap. It's very funny. But we don't play it that often – unless we get to go through it at soundcheck. But it was still funny to play it. There's all these people just thrashing away to it, this 'Dragonmaster' song, and they didn't know the history behind it.
Do you think that the audiences coming to the shows are heavy metal fans, Frank Zappa fans, or a combination?
DZ: It's definitely a combination. Most young people who turn up really don't know my dad's music, but then the older people do and they're coming to see how similar we are or whatever. It's always been a bit of a combination. There's always musicians, though. That's the one main thing, there's always guitar players.
How similar are you?
DZ: In the live show, quite a bit I think. On record, not very.
And as a person?
DZ: I think we have similar inclinations – he's my father so obviously it's gonna rub off on me to a certain extent, whatever he does. The one main difference is he smokes and I don't! (laughs)
That's the main difference? Then you have pretty much in common.
DZ: We have quite a few things in common. He's also quite a bit more well-versed in musical information. Frank's also one of those very intelligent, funny kind of people. It's almost like a challenge for any of us in the family to bring up a topic of conversation that he doesn't know something about. It's almost impossible, basically. Unless it has something to do with current pop music, then we can always get him! You could find something in an encyclopedia and he'd know all about it and he'd give you a story about how somehow it affected him when he was little. You sit there and go "Man, how can this guy remember all this stuff?" –
How about your mother?
DZ: She's similar she knows quite a bit about a lot of things...
AZ: She's the head of the CIA.
DZ: She's like the main business person of the house. She's the one who takes care of everything. Frank gets to do all the creative things and makes the big decisions and Gail does all the everyday things.
She keeps them in line. Do you think that your family name is an influence – positive or negative?
DZ: It depends. In certain circles it's great for me. We do instantly get curiosity from most musicians. Then when they see us play, they usually (90% of the time) are satisfied that we can actually play. There's the occasional few who will always pretend that I don't have my own identity, but they're usually misinformed, just idiots. I used to be compared with my dad on record quite a bit before and it didn't really make any sense to me because my music didn't sound anything like his music at all. But with the new record, there's quite a few things on there that are reminiscent but still not anywhere near as twisted as some of the stuff he's done. It leans a lot further outside of basic pop music. I think it does become a problem with business aspects; people are very unwilling to give me an opportunity to do anything. The last name Zappa stirs up quite a bit of controversy. You know, my dad's sued every major label and won. Record companies are nightmares. We shopped this album around and even with all the people that are on it and how good it turned out, no one wanted anything to do with it. We were forced to put it out on Barking Pumpkin, which ultimately is the best thing for me because it sets me up at an early age to be very independent. And if we succeed with this record, I'll never have to talk to a major label ever in my life. A lot earlier on than Frank ever got an opportunity to so that's good. Yeah, the name does become a problem in certain circles, but normally I don't mind the association. It's not that bad for me. Some people I guess, sons or daughters of famous people, try desperately to stay away from questions that regard their parents "I want you to concentrate on me" but I play Frank's music live because no one else plays it except for him, no one else is covering it so I might as well play it: it's good stuff.
You made your first record when you were 13 years old?
DZ: I actually recorded it when I was 12. I'd been playing 9 months. Edward Van Halen actually produced it, and Steve Vai co-wrote the song 'My Mother Is A Space Cadet'. I've had a strange career: I'm 21 and I've got to do quite a few things, nothing has led up to anything that's been monumentally successful or anything, but I've still accomplished quite a few pretty diverse things. I've also had an opportunity to play with a lot of good people: anywhere from my dad to Edward Van Halen, Steve Vai, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Warren DeMartini, all the guys that played on the record, Nuno ... really fine musicians.
Do you have any details, any plans for the next album?
DZ: We play some of the stuff live, like 'Purple Guitar' that was written well after that album was done. I think that the next record's gonna be just a continuation of this record in a way, just stylistically. The music's gonna get a little more complicated, you know, try a few more things. Since we put this touring band together, we've all become much better musicians, so we've been able to perform things lately that we wouldn't have been able to perform I wouldn't have been able to perform a year ago. So I think it's gonna take a definite turn towards the more complex. But still maintain a good sense of humour – we'll probably do a few more twisted covers. I have enough tunes right now for three or four albums.
What is your way of composing a song – is it by playing, or writing...?
DZ: Sitting down and playing. I constantly play, so that's basically what it is. I have a good memory for the things that I'll play that! like – I keep it stored in my head somehow. But if it's a different technique than I'm used to playing, I'll usually put it on tape so I can remember it because otherwise I'll definitely forget it.
Do you deal with commercial subjects, like religion, anti-drugs, homelessness?
DZ: I deal with those things to a certain extent. You have to find a clever way of going about it so it doesn't become preachy or anything like that.
How does this tour get financed?
DZ: Good question! It's coming from 'Zappa Bank Account', that's for sure, and it ain't gonna last very long. I can expect to lose quite a bit of money by doing this, but I have to do it coz it's the only way to prove to people that we can actually play. Maybe we'll get a slot on somebody else's tour and help cushion the expense. But right now it's basically on our shoulders – mine in particular.
That's one of the reasons that your father stopped touring.
DZ: The main reason. It's because it's just far too expensive, especially for the stuff that he does with the amount of musicians – the high calibre musicians – they wanna get paid. He calls musicians extortionists these days. He refuses to work with any live musicians anymore. He's got the Synclavier and that's it.
You said you've had a strange career. Did you have a strange upbringing too?
DZ: No. People would like to imagine that, but it's been really stable: nothing to rebel against in my family. I've never got myself into too much trouble for any reason. I've basically nothing to complain about. The only way to rebel in our house would be to become an accountant or a lawyer. Or the very worse, an A&R guy at a major label! I think my path was already chosen for me at the point when I started to do music. The reason this album is working for me is because it's a direct representation of me, whereas the other albums weren't necessarily ... they were sort of going down a road I wouldn't have easily been accepted into, especially in regards to the last album. The production of it put me in the category of just a regular mainstream artist. I'm not mainstream, I'm a little outside. If I was to be a mainstream artist, and be the son of Frank Zappa, I'd be pummelled with rocks and garbage because people would expect a lot more from me than just to try and be like a mainstream guy. So that's why I have to work 10 times harder than the average fucking guy has to, you know; constantly prove myself.
Your father had a lot to do with voter registration. We know that you're also interested in this. Is there a possibility of some plans for next year, 1992 for selection in America, of you working together with your father?
DZ: Well, I've no idea. We've become active in those things because it seems that Americans and it's probably true in most of the world, anyway there's so little attention paid to what's going on anymore. It might be doing just a tiny bit of good, but at least we're attempting to bring certain things to people's attention. To make them register to vote. But if they don't go out and vote intelligently, there's no point anyway because if they're not paying attention to the issues, then they're just gonna vote in some idiot. Everything's so corrupt, so there's no real way of getting anything done. It's like puppets. But you've got to have some element of positivity left, so maybe – just maybe – the system can still work the way it was intended to work.
Do you expect maybe in the future to do something with your father?
DZ: I'd like to do a guitar album with him, but I don't know how into it he is. It'd be cool. We always joke about doing a 'Zappa Family Christmas Album': puts a lot of people off, I'm sure!
How many people would be involved?
DZ: No idea – we just joke about it. We never actually seriously talk about it. But I think it'd be a good idea!
You've played with your father on stage in '84 and '88. Whose idea was that?
DZ: I would ask him if I could play with him, and he'd invite me whenever it was appropriate. That's much more intimidating than any other live experience I've ever had. I mean, I've played with a lot of my favourite players before, but it's not quite like going up on stage with an excellent band like my dad's band. He himself, the perfection that he strives to get in performances by his bands, it puts quite a bit of pressure ... especially when I was like 14 or 15, going up on stage!
What Zappa tradition is the most difficult to cope with?
DZ: I don't know. I think I'm happy with being a Zappa. I just deal with things as they come, so all in all ... I don't really have an answer to that question.
What's the funniest thing about being a Zappa?
DZ: Gee, I don't know. Just getting to hang out at our house and see the different things that happen in there. We're bizarre only in that we're one of the only families that I know that likes to hang out with the family instead of outsiders. We're always together making jokes. So that's where, once again, we prove a lot of people wrong, because they all imagine "Uh, your dad must be this wild and crazy kind of mad scientist guy. He must be a crazy guy to live with," and he's not. He's just a real simple down to earth kind of guy.
In a lot of American interviews they constantly keep asking you about the names. Does that piss you off?
DZ: It's amazing – no one's done it here so far. Thank God.
Could you tell us something about the names?! (laughs)
DZ: The funny thing is that we always laugh about what the fuck are we gonna name our kids. All of us have these conversations. It's pretty funny – we've no idea. But none of us are even close to having that problem of naming children yet.
During the gig we heard bits of little pieces of some songs.
DZ: Yeah, we did a few pieces of Frank's songs, and we did a few pieces of a lot of other people's songs! We play a few things that he didn't perform in the last tours. Things like 'G-Spot Tornado' he never would have performed. We liked playing that, but of course it's half-speed because, you know, forget about it – that's a computer playing that. We played a bit of 'Eat That Question'. And 'City Of Tiny Lites', but the part that he never even put in his live show. He always edited that part out. I thought it was a cool part, you know.
I would like to know how you came up with the idea of 'The Medley'.
DZ: There's quite a bit of rehearsal that was necessary for it, but it developed rather quickly. Most people I know were not gonna be familiar with my music and I think audiences enjoy seeing a show and recognising the music so they don't feel like an outsider to what's being performed on stage. So just as the idea of an ultimate encore, why not play a bunch of songs from the 70's that would accomplish it for the older people, but also the newer people; it's really popular to like songs from the 70's these days. So we decided to do a bunch of the best and the worst songs from the 70's. It started off as 30 songs – because we were gorma perform at my sister Moon's birthday party last September. It started as 30 songs, but then we thought "It's a 70's medley, let's do 70 songs," and so we worked it into 70 and then we just got bored, added and added and added, so now it's like 122 songs.
Is it only for live performances – no chance that it'll be on the next CD?
DZ: I doubt whether 'The Medley' would be on the record because it would be ridiculous to try and get the rights to all the songs. It's like a record company nightmare.
Did you rehearse any other of your father's songs that you've not played live?
DZ: Umm, I dunno. Let's see, we played 'Dirty Love' and stuff like that. Ahmet keeps trying to get us to play 'Camarillo Brillo', but we haven't ever really worked on it. We had considered 'Bobby Brown', but that doesn't really fit into our style of show. It's pretty slow moving and, although we do need a spot in the shows to bring it down, we figured it'd be better suited to do something of mine than do that song.
Were there special reasons for doing 'Stayin' Alive' and 'Anytime At All' on the last album?
DZ: Just 'cause I liked the songs. But 'Stayin' Alive' in particular was a challenge to transform it from being considered a silly song from the 70's to kind of a cool song with guitar solos from all these various people and have Donny Osmond sing it. You generally don't expect to hear anything like that, because normally record companies say "No," they won't let people do that. So I was surprised that I got those people. That was a tough thing to do.
How did you come to use Donny Osmond?
DZ: I had to find a replacement for Ozzy Osbourne. And after about 6 months of trying to get permission from all these people, I was running into brick walls all over the place. So I said "Right. Go with somebody that's different, and get somebody who would have nothing at all to lose from something like this." And I thought: Donny Osmond, you know, because people give him a hard time about just being Donny Osmond – I thought he'd be into it. So I called him, and the next week he was in the studio.
You said that in terms of character, Scott Thunes is one of the ten wealthiest men in the world. Who are the other nine?!
DZ: He's got so many sides to his personality, you never know ... he can be the nicest guy one instant, or he can be the biggest asshole you've ever met in your life. It's so wide ranging that I thought it was suiting to say he was the wealthiest person in terms of character. There's just so many characters that he can be. Then again, in just terms of being an individual, wealthy would not be the word to describe Mr. Thunes! (laughs)
What do you think of interviews?
DZ: Interviews aren't bad when I have something to talk about. If I don't have a good subject to talk about then they're a waste of time for all parties involved. Fortunately, with this particular subject it's a necessary thing, so I don't mind doing it. Even though I've done so many in the last few days – I've answered a lot, a lot, a lot of the same questions – I'm still pretty patient.
DZ: Better than I thought it would be, but I'm sure I could get sick of it real soon.
DZ: Since I'm dealing with mainly members of my family at the American record company, I have no complaints. And over here, with Music For Nations, it's been great so far. No complaints. But Liz (Wells) will be the first to know when there's some complaints going on!
DZ: What do I think of Moon? She's a bitch, man! (laughs) No, she's great.
AZ: She owes me $600M.
DZ: I think she's a little bit underrated as a comedian, and as an actress it's fucking impossible to get worse; she's having a tougher time with the name Zappa than I am. But she's a great girl.
Finally, Frank Zappa?
DZ: He's a genius – the guy shreds! (laughs) I think that puts it sweetly.