When Dweezil Zappa formed his Zappa Plays Zappa project a decade ago, one of his goals was to hip younger listeners to the music of his father, Frank Zappa, who passed away in 1993. But the first year he took the band on the road, a lot of people from his father’s generation came out.
“If you put that in perspective, if he was still here, he’d be 75,” Dweezil Zappa says. “So that generation of people is not exactly the concert-going audience. When we started ten years ago, they were 65, and so that was a majority of the audience, because they’re like, ‘Oh, this is what I loved, and it’s of my generation. I’m going to check this out.’ But we’ve seen it shift to where you have college-aged kids and younger, and we have a lot more women at the shows than when we first started.”
A prime example of reaching a younger fan base is Zappa Plays Zappa's keyboardist, Chris Norton, who Zappa says auditioned for the band when he was 23 and had never heard Frank Zappa’s music before hearing the group’s interpretations of his songs. And playing those songs requires more than just heavy chops to navigate through the sometimes technically difficult material: Zappa says what’s required for musicians is a fundamental background, so that each player has an ability to play authentically in different styles, from jazz to funk to rock to fusion to gospel, blues and country.
“Everything has to be in there to where you have the right vocabulary that works when it’s needed, because all of that stuff is touched on in the music,” he says. “And the key to that [is] that you have to be able to do it an authentic way, using the right feel and the right kind of sounds and all that stuff. This is not “Let's just get up there and kind of just go through the motions.’ We’re not fucking around. We take this seriously.”
On this current tour, Zappa Plays Zappa will be celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Frank Zappa’s One Size Fits All by playing the album in its entirety in addition to playing another hour’s worth of Zappa material.
“Like all of my dad’s music, there’s still nothing that sounds like it, so I don’t consider it to be nostalgic. I still think his music is from the future,” Zappa says of One Size Fits All.
While Zappa is on the road, he’ll listen to tracks for his forthcoming album, Via Zamata, which is in the mix-down stage and will be released the second week of May to PledgeMusic subscribers who contributed to the making of the album. Zappa says the album includes new songs and material that he’s had around for a while but completely reworked, including “Dragon Master,” the only song father and son co-wrote.
“I’m not sure what people are expecting from this record, but I’m going to guess they’re not expecting what I made, because it mostly is — for lack of a better description — kind of like a quirky pop record,” he says. “I’ve taken a lot of songs and really focused them on the song-writing-arrangement-orchestration type of element, so that it really is all about the song as opposed to a record that’s all about guitar. So the elements that I’ve been exposed to in my dad’s music my whole life — in particular, the past decade of playing it — some of that stuff has rubbed off in some of the arrangement and elements on this record.”
Zappa Plays Zappa. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 23, Boettcher Concert Hall, 1000 14th Street, 303-623-7876, $25-$75