Dweezil: Rocking Out Of His Father's Shadow

By Jeff Silberman

Music Connection, January 19, 1984

Dweezil's just practicing his guitar now," says Frank, matter-of-factly. "He started when he was 12, and now he's a virtuoso. People who've played for twenty years can't touch him." His son, Dweezil, at 14 a rather progressive young metalist, has at the least his father's respect. if not his personal guidance. This is not, however, something that the young guitarist expects to receive without first requesting it. "He likes a type of music that I can't really help him with," says Frank. "What kind of advice could I give him? I don't reject heavy metal; I'm just not part of that world. I like listening to it, but I wouldn't buy it. I'm just glad he's good at it:'

Dweezil remains constant in his devotion to the music his father has very little to do with. It is his father's personal dedication to excellence which inspires Dweezil. Though he is only 14 years of age, he finds the music business, and indeed the music world worthy of his most concerted effort. Honest, good-natured, and unexpectedly soft-spoken, Dweezil Zappa offers uncomplicated opinions of his father's influence, his budding journey through the musical maze, and most importantly, guitars.

"Well, its nothing special, having a dad who's a performer," says Dweezil, rather apologetically. "I just happen to think he's more intelligent than most other people's fathers. He's a nice person to be with. So, there's not really anything different, entertainment-wise."

Due to circumstances as yet beyond his control, Dweezil continues his practices without the supposed benefit of peer group camaraderie. In the past, the matter of studio ensemble work was less complex. "The band's been dissolved for awhile, and it's kind of hard to find fourteen and fifteen year-olds who can play to a professional level. They don't practice as much. I go for five or six hours a day, and they go for an hour a week."

Neither does Dweezil see the possibility of working with talented seventeen or eighteen year-olds. "Well, I don't know if I would be able to get along with older kids," he says. "I don't think they'd like to Have a little kid as the leader of a hand. I'd like to be the leader. I wouldn't let somebody else boss me around:: Certainly having a last name so conjurous would be of benefit to the young string strangler. And, as his father Frank gives testament to his son's instrumental ability. Dweezil has yet to assert his musical enthusiasm in foreign environs. He does not deny that, regardless of his talent, his famous name will allow him entrance to numerous recording studios. "Oh, if anything, it helps!," chimes Dweezil. "There's no way I'd be able to go into a studio without it."

Frank asserts the fact that, due to his son's age, he is most interested in things guitaristic. While the senior Zappa spent time composing music for string quartets before learning to play the guitar, his son has chosen the path more in tune with modern tradition. Dweezil does not ignore the impact inherent with exposure to such a committed artist as his father. About any absorption of his father's predilection for heavily arranged music. Dweezil states, "That's come about just recently. but not early on, because I wasn't really interested in that. I just wanted to play really well. Aside from that, I didn't know what I wanted to do."

Dweezil maintains a formidable selection of guitars at the Zappa residence. His tastes tend toward instruments that function as such, and not those of a more cosmetic nature. "I have one in the making. It's a twenty-seven fret guitar. And it will have a rather small body. It's gonna be like a Steinberger, only it's got a different shape. I'm having it built at Performance Guitar in Hollywood. I have stock guitars that I wreck at my house, and then rebuild. I mostly play Kramer guitars. Edward Van Halen gave me one, and I've loved them ever since. I have a Flying 'V', and one of those star-shaped things. Edward gave that to me. and I just gave it a better paint job. I also got a Floyd Rose tremolo from him. And I just stuck two preamps in it that work fine."

The sound of any particular guitar is of prime importance to Dweezil. For this reason he continues to alter many of his guitars, regardless of their commercial value, or lack of it. "Let's see, I have a Hagstrom that's all beat up. It's like, destroyed! It sounds wonderful, but know what kind it is. Right now, it's just out of the ordinary. I have a Strat that's been burned, drilled out. It's been destroyed, too. It's got everything in it. It's got a Floyd Rose, and a preamp in it. It's got two DiMarzios and a Bill Lawrence pickup in it. I have a Super Distortion in the bridge position, and the other one is a regular Distortion. That guitar works wonderfully! (Laughs)"

As with guitars, there is for Dweezil no shortage of amplification. His current favorites are Marshall 100 watt, and Mesa Boogie heads. "The Boogie looks real old and beat up, like it shouldn't work, and I just use that. I just did a couple solos on my dad's new record, and I used it. My dad brought home this little Chiquita amp, made by Billy Gibbons. It's not even as big as my hand, and it's a killer amp. It just screams! I never got into Z.Z. Top, but I bought their new album a while ago, and it's amazing. Billy has a funny sense of humor."

A song written by Dweezil entitled "My Mother is a Space Cadet," released in December, 1982, has become for the young guitarist an immediate reference point from which to judge his studio skills. Never a smash success, the single did enter sales charts throughout California and elsewhere.

"It wasn't really promoted. I think they're two really wonderful songs. I made about a hundred and fifty bucks on that. It's not like your gigantic hit... It was on a whole bunch of college radio station charts, and I heard it was listed in an L.A. bands chart, I don't really know." Undaunted by what he considers mediocre returns on his debut release, Dweezil perseveres in the painstaking composition process. Several attempts have been made already, but for lack of stronger experience, and direction, no cohesive recorded material is available.

"I tried to start about six months ago, and my dad's guitarist, Steve Vai, who was in the band, started out as producer. We stopped after we put down about six tracks and scrapped them because it wasn't really working out. It kinda started to sound a little more like Steve than it did me. It was Steve's first time as producer, and he was a little nervous, I guess. I was real nervous, because I'd never gone in and done a full record, and I was real worn out. We recorded six tracks in four or five days. It took about two weeks for the single. We were working with fourteen year olds then. When I recorded the newer stuff, using a drum machine, and my dad's drummer was gonna come in and re-lay the tracks. That was really strange, because it was only me in the studio. And we just stopped. I've been writing new stuff, so I hope that whenever Frank's finished, I could go in the studio again, and start to put things down. I've got a couple of funny songs. One is called, "The World is Broken:' and one is called "Hall Creature!"

Any fourteen year old with even very limited access to a recording studio would consider himself truly privileged. Dweezil is not blind to the exceptional circumstances that avail him of studio time. His father has assembled a state of- the-art recording facility by the labors of intellect and creative fortitude. Dweezil is fairly certain he will continue to record here. "It's a wonderful studio, so I hope that I would always record here. It's a way to save money, and it's probably 'one of the finer L.A. studios." Dweezil admits to a severe guitar addiction, as his practice schedule attests. With regard to composing, he finds the stumbling blocks more numerous.

"If I watch too much TV, I go into a slump. I cannot write anything for a long time" The disadvantages of trying to make it in the music business while so young are very clear to Dweezil. He is painfully aware that he needs to gain experience in order to succeed in such a highly competitive field. "I'm not really in the business, and I don't know exactly what would sell, and what wouldn't. We saw that 'Space Cadet' wasn't really picked up as well. I guess there are a lot of people who don't have a sense of humor. And it's important to me to have a variety of songs. I don't want everything to sound exactly the same." For this young musician, time allows for development of his most cherished gifts.

For Dweezil, the guitar is a tool for expression, and a lens through which he can focus his individual perception of the world around him. Funny song titles aside, he is a most dedicated guitarist, one with nearly assured success in the coming years. "Well, I aspire to be just a good guitar player," he said. "I'd like to be able to play in a variety of styles. It stems, basically, from guitarists that I admire, like Randy Rhoades, Edward Van Halen, Allan Holdsworth, and my dad. It's a combination of everything I've ever figured out by them, and put into my own style. I'm still working out the rough edges to my playing.

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