Dweezil Zappa talks about his dad's music and siblings' unusual names

Special to Lowcountry CurrentJanuary 30, 2013 

Zappa Plays Zappa will be performed by Dweezil Zappa at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 at Music Farm, 32 Ann St., Charleston. $25-$49.50

PHOTO BY SANDRA RAMPS

  • Zappa Plays Zappa will be performed by Dweezil Zappa at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 at Music Farm, 32 Ann St., Charleston. $25-$49.50

When considering famous "Franks," Zappa likely won't top the list. Sinatra probably earns that honor. But when it comes to Zappa's eldest son, Dweezil, he stands alone. His siblings Moon Unit, Ahmet and Diva qualify as true originals, as well.

The 43-year-old guitar virtuoso -- who once served as an MTV VJ -- is now all about upholding his father's long, strange musical legacy with his nearly 7-year-old touring ensemble, Zappa Plays Zappa. The tour -- which comes to Charleston's Music Farm on Monday -- eschews Dweezil's solo work in deference to bringing his father's vision to audiences that likely never saw him perform prior to his untimely death 19 years ago.

Prior to the ZPZ's local show, Lowcountry Current talked to Dweezil about his early influences, his impact on another famous progeny and growing up "Dweezil."

Question. Growing up, what kind of music were you into?

Answer. Well, the thing was, I didn't hear any kinds of music other than what my dad was working on or listening to at home because we didn't listen to the radio. So my first memories of listening to other music, other than what was just going on in the house, started around 11 or 12 years old, and I started to hear things like Van Halen and Led Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne and The Beatles and Queen and all that kind of stuff. But, before that, I really only heard what my dad was listening to, so it could have been rhythm and blues records, like Johnny "Guitar" Watson and modern composers, everyone from (Edward) Varese to (Karlheinz) Stockhausen. That was the foundation for what I was used to. And the interesting thing was, by the time I did hear the other kind of music, my first reaction was, "Well, where's the rest of it?" Because there just wasn't enough detail or instrumentation. Everything I was used to hearing was so much more complex.

Q. When you got to be on MTV, were you able to have an appreciation of the bands?

A. Oh, I definitely liked all kinds of music. I have nothing against music that has a more simple form. The things I like in music are when it's clear there's creativity involved in the process of making music and the production and all that as opposed to purely following a trend or doing something that's only about marketing to a certain population. Popular music certainly has its place, but I find more value in other things more often.

Q. I was wondering if Jason Bonham ever reached out to you when he decided to do put his Led Zeppelin Experience tour together.

A. I have not had a chance to talk to him in any detail, but the last time I did talk to him was before he started the whole thing. He told me that because he had seen that I pulled together this project that it was on some level somewhat of an inspiration for him to be able to pull the project together that he was doing.

Q. Your daughters are still quite young (Zola, 6, and Ceylon, 4), but have they shown any musical inclinations yet?

A. They certainly like instruments and whenever they're around them; they have a curiosity. I let them play guitar and make noise through amplifiers and talk in microphones through amplifiers, and special effects and delays. They're curious to make sounds but, at this point, they don't see this out as a daily activity. And I didn't either at an early age. I really only got serious when I was 12. If they did, I would certainly do some stuff to help find a path to get the information they need to improve what they do.

Q. You and your siblings were among the first celebrity kids to have truly unique names. Now, it's fairly common.

A. Well, we had nothing to do with getting the names to begin with. But people have made fun of our names in the media for years. The funny thing is if you consider all the celebrity children that people are familiar with, who are anywhere from 20 to 45 at this point, the one thing you've never heard about me or anybody in my family is any of us getting in trouble with the law or going to rehab. So our names didn't affect us how other people thought [they would]. Our names, at least speaking for myself, early on gave me a real sense of identify right away.

My brother wanted to change his name at one point. His name is Ahmet and a lot of people were calling him "Ahmet Vomit" at school. So one day, probably around fourth grade, he got one of those denim notebooks and wanted everyone to know his new name, and said [to me], "I need you to help me write my new name because I'm going change my name" -- he didn't legally change, he just wanted people to know that he was going to be going by a new name. And he needed me to write on his denim notebook in calligraphy. He wanted it formal and proper and he demanded that his new name be written on there, and it was "Rick Zappa." So as soon as he got to school he was now "Rick the d---." So he threw that notebook away and went right back to Ahmet.

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