Frank Zappa casts a significant shadow over anyone he’s made music with — especially his progeny. So the challenge for Dweezil Zappa on Via Zammata‘, his first new solo album in nearly a decade, was straddling the line between his Zappa Plays Zappa endeavors and his own artistic identity.
“This record is a chance to take what I’ve learned over the past decade of learning my dad’s music and playing it live and applying some of those elements to my own music — but I didn’t want to do it in a way that made the music seem like just a derivative of my dad’s music,” Zappa tells Billboard. “I wanted to simplify a lot of the music and just make a collection of songs that seemed like they would be fun to listen to. I wanted to make each song have its own sonic fingerprint, a different production or sonic landscape for each song, so it kind of goes into different musical genres — sometimes all together.”
Listen to Zappa’s “On Fire,” which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
Via Zammata’ does sport more intricate vocal arrangements that certainly nod to the elder Zappa’s work, and the palette of instrumentation is greater throughout its 12 tracks. “I’m using certain kind of instruments that I haven’t used before, like a lot of keyboards and other textures that have not been on any of my other records and playing banjo and different stuff,” Zappa notes. “We used a string quartet and wrote some music that has horn arrangements. In the past I would’ve done all those layers just with my guitars. Now there’s just a lot more colors and a bigger vocabulary of things in the musical spectrum on this record.”
Those new elements include Zappa’s wife, children and niece on “On Fire” — “something I never had a chance to do on my other records,” Zappa says. And the song’s line about sitting on a train watching a woman eat a tomato like an apple came from a real-life experience.
“It was actually a pretty hideous sight to witness,” says Zappa, a professional foodie who’s appeared on the Food Network. “Sometimes tomatoes fresh off the vine actually smell like cat urine. So on this train in France it was very hot and there was this smell of cat urine and this lady eating this tomato with all the seeds spilling down her face and it just looked really terrible. And the train was packed so you couldn’t really get away from what was happening there. So that made it into the song in a weird way.”
Via Zammata’ also features “Dragon Master,” which Zappa wrote from a set of fantastical lyrics his father gave to him. He and his brother Ahmet played the song live in their band Z, but Zappa created some new music for its recorded version, which is sung by Shawn Albro. “I just wrote this hilarious and ridiculous metal song, and still maintained its sense of humor,” he says. “It’s a ride through a few different metal styles. It’s a crazy song.” John Malkovich, meanwhile, provides vocals on the track “Malkovich.”
Zappa is planning a short solo tour during early 2016 to support Via Zammata’ and will be part of the Experience Hendrix Tour kicking off during late February. Zappa Plays Zappa is currently on the road and will be back out next year as well, this time celebrating the 50th anniversary of Frank Zappa’s first album, Freak Out!
“It’s going to be a 50 Years of Frank kind of thing,” Zappa promises. “I’m not exactly sure what we’re gonna do. I would love to be able to take out a bigger ensemble. We’ve done a few shows in Europe with the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, so I’d like to be able to play some shows in America and all over the world with that bigger sound so we can do the orchestral works and really bring them to live in a very big way. It’s really insane to think about his first record coming out 50 years ago, so I want it to be something special.”