A Conversation With Dweezil Zappa

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For 2016, Dweezil Zappa was just trying to reconnect to his solo career with his first album in a decade, Via Zammata’, before going on the road this autumn for his annual Zappa Plays Zappa dates, this year celebrating father Frank’s 50th anniversary of the Mothers Of Invention’s legendarily avant-psychedelic-free-jazz Freak Out. That is, until the hammer came down and the heads of the Zappa Family Trust (brother Ahmet and sister Diva) began tearing apart the rights and heritage/holdings of Dweezil and sister Moon, making it impossible for the former to keep his dad’s legacy (his guitars, let alone the brand-name ZPZ tour celebrating the elder Zappa’s genius. So Dweezil has renamed his October showcase “50 Years Of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants: The Cease And Desist Tour.” Here’s why.

How’s getting back to solo life been? In the last 10 years, we’ve seen you handling your father’s stuff exclusively.
There’s been a different audience for my Via Zammata’ tour than my straight Frank Zappa shows. There wasn’t a direct transfer of fan base. There are people who like what I do, generally a lot younger, as opposed to my Zappa Plays Zappa gig—which is now no longer called that. I will, however, add some Via Zammata’ stuff to the shows.

As a solo artist and a guitarist, do you feel as if you picked up where 2006’s Go With What You Know left off?
Not really, since each album was so different from the next, with Via Zammata’ being a big departure from my other music in that it’s very song-centric. It’s more defined in what my solo music will sound like moving forward. I have song-oriented stuff as well as a guitar-centric album planned next—two different directions.

Speaking of albums, do you have any criticism on those recently released rare Frank records like Frank Zappa For President, The Crux Of The Biscuit, Lumpy Money Project/Object or The Road Tapes? Even the Eat The Question doc?
I love the film. Those records? I haven’t heard them and had nothing to do with them since they’re through the Trust. They’re not exactly sending me copies of what they’re releasing.

That’s a perfect setup for the next questions. I know you all fought over the Zappa Plays Zappa name and the mustache imagery, but you don’t even get a crack at your father’s vaults?
The way they’re operating is without my or my sister Moon’s involvement. We’re shareholders without say in what’s done, so they do whatever they hell they want.

I’ve read many letters between you and Ahmet, or you and the Trust. Are you able to speak to Ahmet as your brother?
I haven’t spoken to Ahmet since my mom’s funeral, so there’s no communication.

You changed the name of the showcase and the tour has no Trust connection. What can you play?
It’s a good thing that I’m now unconnected because I have the freedom to perform what I want. They wanted to control everything: name, songs, merchandise. That didn’t sound appealing, so I emancipated myself from the Trust.

You can play whatever you want of your dad’s stuff, just as I could play it?
But I can’t even use my father’s image onstage. I’m not allowed to promote myself doing a night of Zappa music, though anyone else could. They don’t get cease-and-desist letters.

I know the answer to this, but your dad wasn’t the litigious type. It was your mom’s doing. When did you first gather this, that she was this person?
Was 100 percent her. It was only after my father died that she came into a role that she created—that of an oligarch. The problem was she didn’t have knowledge of the music, but on the outside, she wanted to pretend as if she was protecting his rights, the rights of the music. Nothing to spread the music to the next generations—she didn’t care and shot down so many opportunities. It was always, “How dare you?” rather than welcome anyone to further his music for future audiences.

That’s why you did ZPZ in the first place.
Because his music was stagnating when it deserved to be heard. And what people did know about it, as wrongly categorized by some media, was that it was novelty or comedy music. I wanted to expose people to a broader sense of Frank—more of his strengths as a guitarist/composer, to be better understood. Even as a member of the family, though, I had so many avenues blocked to me. It’s all ridiculous. The one person who did the most for the entire family … well, it’s like that old phrase, no good deed goes unpunished.

Do you know why your mom placed two of you in a situation of greater control and the other two with lesser control?
There’s not one simple answer, but one is that she had run herself and the business into the ground, spent $20 million on lawsuits, and by her demise was $6 million in debt. She had not paid me—on tour monies and merch—for the last 10 years, and I called her out on that. We were embattled. So that’s an easy place to start—she wanted to remain in charge over me even when she passed. It goes beyond all that, though. When my dad died, he gave me all of his guitars, which she later repossessed and is now putting into auction. She told us there was no will of his, which was a lie.

Is there anything the Trust or Ahmet can do to right these wrongs?
Well, it’s within his power to overturn or change a lot of what has been done—say with the guitars—but I don’t think that will happen soon.

—A.D. Amorosi

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