Our friends at QSC Audio have recently interviewed Dweezil Zappa, and PMT publishes the result here for the first time, in a World Exclusive!
Dweezil is an American rock guitarist and the son of musical composer and performer Frank Zappa. Being exposed to music from an early age, Dweezil developed a strong affinity for playing the guitar and making music. Besides composing his own music, Dweezil carries on the legacy of his father’s music by touring with “Zappa Plays Zappa”, a band of musicians playing Zappa’s original material. On the 21st of October, the band performed in Antwerp, Belgium where Dweezil spent some time talking about Zappa’s tour, the music industry and why he decided to become a K for Musicians artist.
Let us start with a little icebreaker. What do you prefer most: Electric or acoustic guitar?
K, KW or KLA Series?
Active or passive speakers?
I really love the KW Series, so I go for active.
Europe or Asia?
Performing or acting?
Live performance or studio recording?
They are both creative processes, I go for both.
So, who is Dweezil Zappa? What can people expect when they buy tickets for your show?
The show that we do – Zappa Plays Zappa – is a show where we present my father’s music (Frank Zappa) so we play it the way it was written to be performed. If you listen to what we do versus the original, it’s a real apples to apples comparison. We don’t try to change it or modernize it or do anything, we play it as it is. You can compare it with classical music played by an orchestra: they play Beethoven or Mozart and they don’t change it, even though it’s a hundred years old. People want to hear it the way that it’s written, and that’s exactly what we do with my dad’s music.
Are you also adding new stuff that isn’t released yet? There is such a big library of unreleased music from your father.
There, indeed, is a lot of unreleased stuff, but we haven’t played much that hasn’t been released. Occasionally we play something that is really not that well known. There was a record that came out called Imaginary Diseases. It had a song by the same name which really nobody knew about because it was only played on one tour in 1971. So, we were playing that song and people were thinking that it was a song I wrote myself, but it was actually a song from my father. So yes, we occasionally do something like that but hey, my dad made over eighty albums in his life so there is always one song that nobody really knows well. We always try to make a balance of stuff that people are aware of, but also giving them things they most likely aren’t expecting to hear.
How do you work towards a new tour and prepare for new gigs?
We usually look for five to ten new songs that we can expand into the repertoire and the choice is based on a mood or a theme or some type of musical area that we haven’t got into that much. Sometimes, something might have a bit more brass texture and more of a jazzy kind of feel and sometimes it’s more rock oriented, but we just play it by feel which direction we want to go with.
So no hard straight direction?
There is so much variety in the music. Typically, there is a handful of songs that will be in the show because those are the ones that people expect up front. There is about a dozen of those that can be changeable, so in a show you might have twenty songs for a two and a half our show, so we just find the material that we want and we put it into blocks. But also, do not forget that a lot of the songs aren’t just three minute songs. Some are even twenty minutes long!
How and when did you decide to work with QSC products for the first time?
I started using Fractal Audio X-Effects which is a digital modeling amplifier and it requires full range speakers so that you can reproduce the sounds properly. The theory behind the set up that I have is that it is direct, it goes directly to the PA. But I use some spill from the stage and I need full range speakers that have a lot of headroom. I’ve tried a bunch of different speakers but the KW Series really had the response like a guitar speaker but it had the full range frequency response as well. It felt like playing through a cabinet, but it had the extended range of the subs and the super high stuff. If I use a piezo pick-up for an acoustic guitar, you have all that real brilliant ‘super highs’ that a guitar cabinet could never reproduce. It’s like using studio monitors, they are rugged and they have a lot of headroom. It’s been a really good combination for my setup. The reason I use four of them is because I have two X-Effects which means that this setup also gives a really cool image for the live sound. My main sound goes through the PA but on the stage there is a spill to the audience, if there wasn’t, people up close can hear my guitar from behind them. What I have is two sets of stereo speakers; the outer speakers are the top machine and the inner speakers are the bottom machine. I can have different pannings where I can have wide, stereo and then a center channel or I can do all kinds of different stuff with the presets. I can have panning between all the speakers. There are lots of cool effects and stereo imaging that happens.
So did you just do a line-up of several speakers and at the end you thought, the KW’s are the ones I need?
I tried probably four or five different things before I bumped into the KW’s and they were amazing: I didn’t have to adjust any presets, they just sounded great from the first time that I heard them.
On which tours or events do you use QSC products?
Actually, anywhere I go. The good thing about working with QSC is that they have international brand awareness so I can go to a city and partner with some of the local dealers and get provided some speakers instead of getting them shipped from somewhere. That really helps with touring, it’s an awesome partnership.
What do you lay a value on if you decide to use certain products?
It really just depends on how the company works, and in this case obviously it’s also a very good sounding piece of equipment. But there also has to be a partnership; the company helps and supports the touring that I do all over the globe, providing stuff when I go to certain locations, it just helps in keeping the cost down for shipping equipment and stuff like that. And then they end up doing promotions sometimes; after I’ve used the speakers on stage, they turn it into a contest so that somebody can win them. It’s good that they are open to those kinds of things and I think it just works out for everybody.
And you’re also a K For Musicians artist!
Yeah, ain’t that something! I like the technology behind the KW stuff, it’s solid, I never have had any issues with it. I actually have a set of speakers that has been around the world for five years now, they have been beat up a bit and it’s probably time for a bit of tune up but hey, they’re still working!
So if I ask you what is your most wanted QSC product, it MUST be the KW122, isn’t it?
Yeah, that’s the one that sounds right for what I do. I’ve tried the 152 but the 122 reproduce the sound that I’m going for better.
"...I have plenty of other stuff that goes wonky, but never a QSC product."
If you could add one product to the current QSC portfolio, what type of product would it be?
What I have mentioned and what I love to do is to be able to have a way to have the same speaker but customize the look of it so that it will have the look of an amplifier cabinet. I think it would be a fun thing to have it look more like a guitar amplifier cabinet, even though it is a monitor speaker. There is a visual appeal of an old guitar speaker. It kind of sets a mood differently, even for the audience: ‘Oh look, there is a vintage speaker of there! What is that?’ People get curious and always are confused while I’m touring, like where are your amplifiers? Well, I don’t have any! They often don’t know what those speakers are.
If you have to describe QSC in 1 sentence, what would that be?
Regarding what I use: the KW122 have great clarity and head room, and full range response and that is exactly what I need on stage. Oh, not to forget: reliability! I never had to stop a show due to the speakers. I have plenty of other stuff that goes wonky, but never a QSC product.
How do you see the future of the music industry? What are the threats and opportunities?
For the live touring part, there is definitely a move towards digital modeling for everything around. Things are getting smaller, everything is becoming software based, mixing consoles and all that stuff will be replaced by software based products. I can see there could come a day where you don’t have to carry all your stuff around but you just plug a USB stick into the products that your gig venue is using and you have all your sounds, your set-ups etc right there. It’s eventually going to get weird when you can get to a place where technology can help save a lot in terms of shipping and all those things.
Do you also think that it could be a threat? For example, the downloading of music?
Well, all that stuff has been a problem for years and the industry itself has just imploded. It used to be that artists could make a record and sell records and make money from the publishing and the sales of the records, but only the biggest artists in the world can make money out of a record these days. So, it has really become a touring game, and in touring most people make most of their money selling t-shirts, so music is about selling t-shirts haha!
Speaking about going from analog to digital, have you heard about the digital QSC mixer, called the TouchMix?
Yeah, I’ve heard about it. I haven’t played with it yet but I’m really curious about it. We actually are looking into replacing and upgrading some things around. We’ve also always been early adoptors of helpful new technology. However, there is also a bit of a catch: when you go into that world in a live situation and you’re using something that is completely new and has not yet been on the market for long and it stops working… you put the technicians in a difficult situation (which we already had a couple of times in the past). But you know, I have full trust in QSC and in the development of their products so we’re definitely going to look more into using one of those TouchMixes.
To read more about the K for Musicians program: