AMS Exclusive Interview with Dweezil Zappa
Recently we sat down with Dweezil Zappa to talk about his music, his dad’s influence and his love of gear. Dweezil offered his insights on his favorite instrument monitoring setups as well as what it takes to be successful musician.
From your time with Zappa Plays Zappa, what would you say is your favorite song to play from your father’s discography?
It’s hard to choose a favorite. Some are fun to play, some are really hard to play and playing those brings a sense of accomplishment. Having learned more than 220 songs since 2006 I would have to say that Dog Meat, a classical composition and G-Spot Tornado rank among the hardest and most rewarding from a challenge stand point and Willie The Pimp and City Of Tiny Lites are always a lot of fun to play.
How did your dad influence your playing style and your overall life as a musician?
My father had a very distinctive style and and unique approach to music and guitar. He had no boundaries within his music and there was an amazing combination of grace and recklessness in his playing. Sometimes when he was really in the moment he would reach for ideas that were beyond his technical ability and I really respect that he would stretch to the maximum limits to create a musical statement. He always used guitar tones that would compliment this, in other words, if something was a little sloppy that was the intoxicating part of it. The raw edge is what hit you so hard as a listener.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently on a US tour but I am also working on plans for the fall ZPZ European tour. I am choosing material that we will play and putting the finishing touches on my own classical composition that I hope to be be able to premiere with an orchestra later this year. I also have some DVD projects I am trying to finish as well as some Live audio recordings. One other thing I am working on is launching my own online guitar lesson forum. More info on all of that can be found at dweezilzappaworld.com.
You are known for your high standards in audio equipment. What appeals to you about the QSC K Series speakers?
The guitar system I use on tour and in the studio is based on the Fractal Audio Axe Effects unit. It’s a high quality amp and effects processor that requires full range speakers for proper monitoring. When programming I like to A/B between my studio monitors Focal SM9s and the QSC K series stage monitors to make sure my tones are translating in both environments. The transition between both sets of speakers in my studio is very smooth and it allows me to trust that when I go on tour I will be hearing the same balanced tones on my recordings. The fact that the QSC K series wedges can accurately reproduce the full range of frequencies and have plenty of headroom left over is what I find most appealing. I use the QSC wedges on stage for directional spill to the first few rows of the audience. The majority of my sound is heard from the PA. Without the stage spill the first few rows of the audience might be hearing my guitar from behind them, if they are in front of the PA. Having the K series monitors on stage has added depth and clarity to my sound. That’s definitely a good thing.
How do you use your QSC speakers? As fold back monitors? As primary instrument amplification?
They are for instrument amplification. As a band we focus on dynamics. We try to keep our stage volume to a minimum. I want the audience to hear the PA in it’s best form. But I do want balance from the amplification on stage. The K series deliver the right punch and detail.
Do you currently have a favorite guitar tone or effect? Is there a different way you go about achieving that tone on stage as apposed to in the studio?
I am always playing with different sounds. I do like this doubling effect that I use that basically has control voltage effecting the envelope pre delay. So it’s a dynamic doubler. Depending on how hard I hit the strings it will alter a short delay which in turn modulates the pitch on one side of the stereo field. It will knock it more out of tune the harder I hit the string or the more gain I send to the envelope. It sounds more like natural doubling of 2 guitars in an over dub situation, but can be made to be even more extreme. I also have a pedal that I use that is a tremelo pedal that makes a crazy internal feedback sound when I change the speed. It feeds back because the expression pedal I use with it is the wrong impedance and the tremelo doesn’t like that. The incorrect use makes for a cool sound though. I use the effects the same on stage as in the studio. I use the studio for other ambient effects but pretty much every thing can be done in my live rig.
Do you have a go-to guitar right now for playing on stage? What do you like about it?
I have Gibson SG that I have played at every show I’ve done since 2006. It plays great and sounds great. It’s a real workhorse. I have been playing my Dweezil Zappa signature model PRS on this tour as well.
As an accomplished musician in your own right, what advice would you give to a musician just starting out with high musical aspirations?
Music is a unique art form. It attaches itself the fabric of our lives through our shared experiences and memories. It’s used in movies to bolster emotional content because it can add that power without words. With that in mind I would say that the lesson I have learned is to try to make music that means something to you. If it means something to you it will have a chance to mean something to someone else and make a connection. Like my dad, try not to have any boundaries in your music and really stretch to your best potential. That is what I find to be helpful and most rewarding. Practicing and always being open to learn new ideas is also good. Understanding how your equipment works and using it to best illustrate your musical point of view is another critical thing.
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