dweezil ZAPPA plays what­ever the hell he wants!


Australian Guitar - - Feature - BY PETER HODG­SON

No­body has kept the Zappa name and mu­si­cal cat­a­logue alive like Dweezil Zappa. Dweezil is out there ev­ery year, play­ing his fa­ther’s mu­sic with the re­spect, dis­ci­pline and ac­cu­racy it de­serves – and, of course, with the char­ac­ter­is­tic Zappa hu­mour that pushes it over the line. You may have heard that there is con­flict within the fam­ily over the

Zap­paPlaysZappa name, mer­chan­dise funds that never reached Dweezil, and a crowd­funded film be­ing made with­out the sup­port of Dweezil and his sis­ter Moon. With all of that go­ing on, it’s more cru­cial now than ever to recog­nise Dweezil’s con­tri­bu­tion to his fa­ther’s legacy (and to buy a shirt or two to show your sup­port). Dweezil re­turns to Aus­tralia – and, for the first time ever, hits New Zealand – in Fe­bru­ary, and we caught up for a chat about all things gui­tar.

It’s been a while since you last vis­ited us.

We love com­ing down to Aus­tralia, and we’re al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to come down and play. We’re look­ing for­ward to it, and to play­ing New Zealand for the first time is very ex­cit­ing. I think it al­ways comes down to the bud­gets and that kind of thing, and it’s al­ways hard with a big­ger band.

Will you be play­ing stuff from your lat­est solo record, Vi­aZam­mata, on this tour?

We’ve been talk­ing about it. The songs that have come up are “Dragon Mas­ter”, “Funky 15”, “Truth” and “Noth­ing” – we’ve played those in the past, but we haven’t played them re­cently. It might be fun to get those songs up and run­ning again.

I feel like any­one com­ing to your show re­spects who you are as a mu­si­cian, be­yond just want­ing to hear your dad’s mu­sic.

Well, we’ll work on mak­ing that hap­pen then!

Is there a the­matic fo­cus to this tour?

For the past year, we’ve been op­er­at­ing un­der a cel­e­bra­tion of my dad’s first al­bum be­ing 50 years old – so we started off play­ing a fair amount of stuff from FreakOut, but it’s be­come al­most a chrono­log­i­cal show where we start off with Freak

Out and some of the ear­lier records for maybe the first 45 min­utes, and then it branches out from the early ‘70s into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and it kind of jumps around in the fi­nal third of the setlist. The show has been known to go on for up to three hours at times, be­cause there’s just so much stuff that we’re hav­ing fun play­ing. I would ex­pect that we’ll still con­tinue with some of those same el­e­ments, but we’re get­ting ready to go to Eng­land and Eu­rope at the end of this year and we’re look­ing at adding eight-to-ten songs that we haven’t played be­fore. By the time we get to Aus­tralia, we’ll prob­a­bly have an even more com­plete bag of tricks to se­lect from.

You’re also do­ing master­classes on this tour!

Yeah! I haven’t had a chance to do that be­fore, apart from a few in the US. I don’t usu­ally like to call them ‘ master­classes’, though – that’s just a ti­tle that peo­ple seem to use as an easy w ay to ex­plain it to peo­ple. I don’t pro­fess to be the mas­ter, y’know? I like to share in­for­ma­tion that will hope­fully open doors and make play­ing more fun and in­tu­itive.

I have a few skills that, over the years, have been re­ally good things to pass along. They’re things that I’d just de­vel­oped from teach­ing my­self. But it’s funny, be­cause when I show them to peo­ple – even peo­ple who have been play­ing for dozens of years – they’ll say, “I never even thought to look at the gui­tar that way.” But that’s the first way I looked at the gui­tar when I started play­ing at the age of 12. It re­volves around see­ing the gui­tar as three sets of two strings, and un­der­stand­ing that what­ever you can do on one set of two strings, you can do on the other sets. And once you know where your oc­taves are, it com­pletely changes your idea of how much you have to learn on the gui­tar. For ex­am­ple, there are only five shapes that you can make in the pen­ta­tonic scale on a pair of strings, and those are com­pletely re­peat­able on the next set of strings. You just have to start them on the next oc­tave.

And so even­tu­ally, that gives you a com­pletely lat­eral look at the gui­tar’s neck, and you end up not play­ing in boxes any­more be­cause if you want some­thing with higher notes, you move higher up the neck, and when you want lower notes, you just move fur­ther down. And when you sim­plify it to that ex­tent, you help peo­ple break out of the box that usu­ally haunts gui­tar play­ers for a long time! It also helps to un­der­stand the pri­mary shapes of the pen­ta­tonic, and re­alise that all of those shapes ex­ist in vir­tu­ally ev­ery scale you will ever play. It min­imises the process for your brain to have to think about mem­o­ris­ing so many dif­fer­ent scales and other things. You ei­ther have a half step, a whole step or a mi­nor thir d kind of sit­u­a­tion, and that’s all you’re pretty much ever go­ing to run into for ba­sic scale shapes. I usu­ally run through a few sim­ple things to help peo­ple start to see it that way.

Another el­e­ment to it is to al­ways un­der­stand where you are at any time, and pick a base shape. Then, what­ever you look at go­ing to­wards the head­stock or to­wards the body of the gui­tar, I al­ways talk about it as ‘ meet­ing your neigh­bour to the left’ or ‘meet­ing your neigh­bour to the right’. That way, you can ex­trap­o­late on your base shape and know where you are in your range, and wher­ever you are, al­ways know­ing what that re­la­tion­ship is. It helps you to re­ally, truly im­pro­vise in­stead of mem­o­ris­ing gui­tar licks.

A lot of the time, the real strug­gle peo­ple have is one of con­tin­u­ally learn­ing things and then not ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber­ing them or be­ing able to put them into con­text or make them use­ful. Most peo­ple don’t want to prac­tise what they’re good at – they just want to prac­tise what they know, and they’re not go­ing for­ward with that at­ti­tude. That’s what I hear from peo­ple most of the time. Peo­ple are say­ing that they re­ally want to get away from the bad habits, and I think these small tools help to make do­ing that more fun. I have some other things that are a lit­tle more un­usual – for ex­am­ple, I teach peo­ple how to write a melody to their phone num­ber!

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