Zappa Plays Zappa: Music from the future

Zappa Plays Zappa Friday night at Cargo.
Zappa Plays Zappa Friday night at Cargo.

His full name might be Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa, but you can call him Dweezil.

Zappa will be performing with his tribute band, Zappa Plays Zappa, at Cargo in the Whitney Peak Hotel on Friday Dec. 4, and teaching a guitar class there that day. The group primarily plays songs by Dweezil’s father, Frank Zappa.

“To me its music from the future, people don’t know it well enough to have it be relegated to the past,” the younger Zappa said. “It’s new music for most people.”

Born in Los Angeles, Dweezil Zappa grew up around his father’s famously distinct music, taking up the art himself from an early age. While he began “banging around” on the guitar at age 6, he truly got going around the time he was 12, focusing on the shredding guitar style of the 1980s.

“When I started getting serious about trying to play guitar, it was about 1981, and the most popular music in the world was Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhodes. “That was like the main thing that got me motivated to play guitar.”

While he has come a long way from working on Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption,” that style still maintains a notable influence on his playing, he said.

“There’s still a bit of an edge of that in my playing, in terms of an aggressive sound or attack to how I play,” Zappa said. “But I’m much more interested in diversity in my own music at this point.”

The young musician developed an early respect for his father’s work, particularly its depth and complexity.

“I always like my dad’s music, but I always knew that it was hard. It didn’t sound like something that you could just pick up and start doing,” he said.

“My dad was always doing something with music when he was home, either working on it, playing it or listening to it. That was just a pretty normal thing to have around all the time. I didn’t actually hear anything but his music or what he was listening to until I was 12; I started to hear the radio and stuff like that. I listened to songs on the radio and thought ‘where’s the rest of it?’ ”

Nowadays, he spends equal time on Zappa Plays Zappa and his own music, as well as diverting attention to any number of other musical projects. He just released an album, his first solo release in 10 years.

“We’ve been doing a lot of things; the most different thing is that I made a record of my own, it’s called “Via Zammata’” and it just came out,” Zappa said.

He recorded the album in Los Angeles, at Winslow Court Studio. While Zappa had done some session recording there in the past, this was his first time tracking a full album at the property (which was originally one of the first stages set up for showing films in the L.A. area, he said).

“I wanted to use it because he mostly does Americana type recordings there using acoustic instruments and stuff, so there’s kind of a cool vibe to the room,” Zappa said.

While his work has been primarily guitar-driven in the past, he took a step toward the grander scale that typified his father’s sound on this project.

“It’s pretty much a departure in the record from my old records,” he said. “There’s a lot of new instrumentation and new writing style and just a lot of different music that’s reflective of what I’ve learned over the years playing my dad’s music.”

The album features a wide range of music, including a father-son co-write that was started in 1988. Another notable track happens to feature a rather remarkable guest appearance in the actor John Malkovich.

“He’s reciting Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ and then I have taken what he had done with that and made it into a song with a chorus that poses the question, ‘Malkovich, what the fuck are you talking about?’ ” Zappa said. “The track is really pretty funny; it’s got an atmospheric kind of thing while he talking, and then it goes into a catchy, kind of a poppy chorus.”

Another track pays tribute to his rock guitar roots.

“It’s a preposterous heavy metal song called ‘Dragon Master’; that one, it’s the only thing on the record that sounds anything like that,” he said. “It’s meant to be a real deal, heavy metal song, like Iron Maiden 1980-81 kind of era.”

Zappa Plays Zappa has also been hard at work this year, playing 100 shows or so in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe. Along with Zappa on guitar and vocals, the group is Ryan Brown (drums), Kurt Morgan (bass), Scheila Gonzalez (keys, saxophone, vocals), Chris Norton (keyboards, vocals), and Ben Thomas (lead vocals). While the act stays true to the tunes of Zappa’s father, they are working on more of a crossover appeal, rather than focusing solely on hardcore Zappa fans, Dweezil said. They are also working on expanding the range of sound.

“One of the things that’s happening next year is we’re going to plan some concerts with much bigger versions of the band,” Zappa said. “We’re going to add a horn section so that we can do more orchestral works, so that’s something that I’m looking forward to putting together.”

While Zappa may have done some DJ work in his early years, these days he’s all about authentic music. Cargo concertgoers can expect an evening full of far-reaching sound.

“It’s pretty challenging to play this music, it’s kind of like training for the Olympics,” he said. “They’ll see people playing real instruments, is what they’ll see.”

Zappa Plays Zappa
When: 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4
Where: Cargo Concert Hall, Reno
Tickets: $25
Dweezil Zappa Guitar Masterclass: 4 p.m., $85
To purchase tickets for the concert or masterclass, go to


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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.


One Response

  1. Congratulations Josh. A Zappa interview is a great score. I’ve done a few interviews and would have loved to get this one. I’m just happy to be on the list for photography tomorrow night.

    “Some people like cupcakes better.
    I for one care less for them!”

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