Interview: Dweezil Zappa - Proud of dad's legacy but taking care not to be completely Frank

SINCE Frank Zappa died in 1993, aged just 52, the world has become a greyer place. As a composer, instrumentalist and satirist there were few like him. With his trademark moustache and sardonic wit, the original Mother Of Invention changed the face of 20th century music: he pioneered new rhythms, sounds and attitudes towards harmony; he turned rock audiences on to classical music; he took on censorship head-on; and he just might just have become American president.

But while uncle Frank may no longer be around his music is still very much with us, thanks to his son, Dweezil, who has been honouring his Pop since 2006 by recreating Frank's eclectic, meticulous compositions for a new generation under the appropriately-named project Zappa Plays Zappa.

As the 39-year-old Dweezil, suggests, it's not just a bit of nostalgia for the old folks: "This all started when I sensed younger generations didn't really have that much knowledge of my father's music, and what they did have didn't necessarily represent his music very well."

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"Lots of people are under the impression it's comedy music – like "Weird Al" Yankovic – and only ever heard Valley Girl or Dancin' Fool. So I wanted to re-educate the younger generation by giving them a better, broader perspective of Frank's music. In setting out to do this, the issue is: can we reach past core fans and reach a new audience? Yes, we can. But how quickly can we expand is the question, and what we're finding is people coming to see us multiple times. I usually meet and talk with half the audience after a show. They're core fans, but I am seeing more younger people than the first year we did this. It's a grassroots thing, and it's not like there's not enough of Frank's music to keep us busy."

Frank Zappa went through more musicians than most orchestras. Anyone – so long as they had stuntman-like chops and a good, twisted sense of humour – had the chance to play in his band. Some, like Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio, went on to have successful careers of their own. Others went slumming it from one low-grade Zappa tribute band to the next. Nevertheless, there are plenty Zappa fans who'd like to see a few familiar faces from the old days.

"It was never my intention to always include alumni. I initially didn't want to have any," says Dweezil. "The real reason is not because I don't like or respect those people – there are indeed some people I do not like – but the general thing is, I feel like the music stands on its own, and the reason it sounds the way it does is because of the way Frank wrote it – not because of who was in the band. The reason we have had alumni (Vai and Bozzio have been regular "guests" on previous tours), however, is to recognise there is a certain quality of authenticity that paints the picture in a way that the core fans can appreciate. What is important is getting the music played accurately with the right intention. The theory behind it is: if you work hard at it, you can make it sound right, whether or not you had affiliation with Frank previously. Indeed, the entire core band of Zappa Plays Zappa, apart from myself, have zero affiliation. People have actually become fans of this band, not just because how we play Frank's music, but because of the players."

So what does Dweezil reckon his old man would have made of ZPZ's musicians? "Frank had some really great players, but he would have liked this band as well. The hardest thing to find is people that have the skill, right attitude, and willingness to serve the music, not just themselves. Frank ran into that a lot. A lot of people viewed getting into his band as a stepping stone. You know the attitude (adopts smug-sounding voice), 'Well, once I'm done with this, everyone is gonna need my services.' Few went on to have a good career and those delusional concepts were the reason they didn't. Regardless, the band we have now is motivated to play the music for the right reasons, and enjoy it. You can't work that hard on something if you're not having fun, you'd be a tortured soul. This band has been together longer than some of Frank's iterations."

When Frank's first solo album, Hot Rats, was released in 1970 (charting at 99), he called it "another flop". But it from this album that, arguably, Frank's finest instrumental – Peaches En Regalia – spouted, a complex slice of cool jazz and cutting-edge multitracking. Forty years later, Zappa Plays Zappa picked up a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental. The tune? Peaches, of course.

"I thought winning was special," says Dweezil. "Despite the Grammies being tarnished by Milli Vanilli, it's still not easy to win those things. This particular song is 40 years old, and generally regarded as a classic piece of rock history. The song itself – if you're talking strictly of the science of sound – has some textures on there that are truly unique. Frank actually made certain instruments that never existed at that time: for example, some parts sounds like a synth, but pull up the track on the master recording and you realise there was no synth at that time to make that sound. Frank multitracked seven bass-guitar parts, all recorded at different speed, then played them back at normal speed to give it a different texture. It's that inventiveness of using the studio as an instrument that was one of the first instances of that kind of thing. When we play note for note renditions – which Frank never really did live – it struck a chord with old fans."

Last time a Zappa performed music in Scotland, it was Valentine's Day 1979 at the Glasgow Apollo. Thirty years on, Dweezil is bringing Zappa Plays Zappa to the Edinburgh Picture House next week. And while we can expect "a more rock edge" to performances of Frank Zappa's music, what you won't see is elements of Frank's political satire. Frank's humour, as Dweezil attests, is one aspect of Frank's genius you simply cannot recreate live.

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"It's not my job to impersonate Frank, or take on my perception of what he would say about current events. I don't want to politicise anything, either, but certain remarks fly out naturally. There is humour in the actual notes and some of the stuff that we do on stage, but we never really focused on the humour aspect of Frank, because I wanted a broader representation of his music. That doesn't mean we're all serious-looking. If anything funny happens, it happens organically."

Strictly commercial? Only in it for the money? Just another Zappa tribute band? Whatever you think, if you want to hear Frank Zappa's music performed with nothing less than absolute perfection, Zappa Plays Zappa is surely it. "There's people who think, 'Oh, that's a terrible thing for him to do. He's putting himself in a position to be scrutinised and compared.' But once they see it live, they realise it's not 'star time' for Dweezil. It's an ensemble. People really like it."

• Zappa Plays Zappa is at the Picture House, Edinburgh, 18 June.

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