So, I interviewed Ahmet Zappa again. As before, the subject of the imminent “Bizarre World Of Frank Zappa” Hologram Tour was at the forefront of our minds, and was a natural and obvious starting point for our second interview. Ahmet was suffering from the after-effects of a fever, but was his usual ebullient self.
Apart from your cold, how are you
doing? Keeping busy, it sounds like.
Yeah, I wanna get this show finished.
I heard rehearsals start in April?
On the Hologram promo video you
recently issued, the quote from Frank: is that from the Paramount Theatre,
Seattle December 17, 1984 show?[i]
I don’t know. That’s really a Joe[ii] question. But I can find out.
We actually have a few of them – we found a few instances where he spoke of holograms. One of the crazier things was this track with Frank and Captain Beefheart messing around – there’s music and he’s singing in the background, “You wanna see a hologram, one-two-three…” So that was going through his mind then.
I remember him talking about it, and now we have him singing about it too.
There seems to have been a breakthrough with the guys who run Zappanale – I believe you have been in talks about possibly having the Hologram play in Bad Doberan?
Yeah, it all comes down to…it’s not really an issue of wanting to or not wanting to: it’s a costly production. It’s not a matter of, “Hey we’ll bring the guys out and we’ll jam!” It’s multiple screens; we’ve got a projection rig, multi-media content…it’s a much larger production.
I don’t know much about what the event is like out there: how big the stage is, that kind of thing. I’ve been much focussed on getting the show ready. So really it’s down to the booking agent – that’s just what they do, you know?
Sorry for that totally unsexy answer. It’s not like I’m saying, “No, I don’t want to play there!” It’s just, is it financially and, space-wise, actually possible.
Okay. I know Warren Cuccurullo – who
played at Zappanale this year – is excited to be part of the Hologram tour.
Have any more Zappa alumni agreed to take part along the way?
Lady Bianca was the most recent announcement.
Yeah, that was a surprise – a nice
I love her. She’s phenomenal as a singer. The Philly 76 CD has become one of the great releases in the catalogue, and she’s the reason.
Might you yourself join Frank on
stage at some point?
I never planned anything like that. It’s certainly built to have any kind of guests perform. But it’s not like I’ve planned for Frank and I doing something.[iii]
Of course, you did join Frank on
stage in 1988 with your siblings at the Beacon Theater in New York, when you
were 14. What memories do you have of that?
It was pretty nerve wracking to be honest. It was like, “What am I doing up here? Scott makes me nervous. Is Frank liking it? I don’t know!”
I think I tied a bunch of…it may have been rehearsals at the Nassau Coliseum, but I do recall one time tying a bunch of balloons to the back of the belt loop of my jeans…I can’t remember the date of the show, but I tied these balloons and danced so it looked like I was floating across the stage. And I got this, you know, smile…for a moment. And then it was like, “Get the fuck off the stage!” So I think that plan backfired (laughs).
But those were some fun times – in front of a lot of people, you know?
Obviously that was at the start of
the 1988 tour, which turned out not to be altogether harmonious. Were you aware
of that at the time?
No, not really. I was probably more aware of what was happening on Knight Rider,[iv] rather than the politics of the band.
Are there any plans to release
anything more from that tour?
I don’t catalogue it the same way that you do. I’m sure we will. But the stuff I got into – I don’t even know if it’s from the 88 tour – but there were some pretty hard rocking numbers that they were doing, like Dead Girls Of London from the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore series, which I’ve been listening to.
Over two years ago you said that Varèse: The Rage And The
Fury would be out soon. How soon is soon?
That is such a special project. That is the last record Frank put together that has still to have an official release. But I’m a mom and pop operation trying to get the funds together to be able to make some of these things, and I don’t feel like it can be done half-assed.
I do want people to have the whole experience. And what I mean by that is, we have the film footage and, because of the nature of Frank’s health and what was going on, I do want people to have a look behind the curtain of all that with a video companion piece.
That’s the intention with that project.
That’s kind of a boring answer, but with our partnership with Universal I do want to have more orchestral work going out. We’re looking at better ways to support it, so more people can discover it – because it’s really important. We are building up a really strong relationship with Universal and I feel more excited about the future of projects like The Rage & The Fury. We have such a strong team – not just the Zappa team but the Universal team too: new people, passionate people. It’s exciting.
Is there any chance that Zappa’s Universe will ever come out on
Hasn’t that been out on DVD – you mean again?
It’s only ever been out on VHS.
(laughs) This is why it’s fun to talk to you! Is that something that we have?
PolyGram released the video
originally and I think they have now been swallowed up by Universal.
Well, yeah – to the extent that we can do it, that shouldn’t be too…arduous. But I say that, without knowing all the details. Why not? That would be great, if it was possible.[v]
We now have a publication date for
Mick Ekers' Zappa Gear book (which
you described to me as “fucking epic!”).
What about Alan Clayson's official biography?
I think we’re still waiting on contracts with publishers – that stuff moves so slow. But that’s definitely happening. I love Alan. I’m sure he’s written the book ten times already…at least, he could have! I imagine we’re about two years away from the book coming out.
We can provide him with access to content – pictures and so much more – that will make his life a lot easier.
In May, Dweezil issued a statement
saying that three of the Zappa siblings had "got
together with the goal of resolving our differences". I assume the
Trademark debate is now not going to court? What more can you tell me?
A lot of the misunderstandings have been cleared up. We’re in good shape.
That’s good to hear. But that
statement was notable for not mentioning Moon – what’s her position?
Most of the drama and lack of communication didn’t really involve Moon, and she was just like, “You guys go and hash this out.” She’s cool.
Okay. What can you tell me about the demise of the band "Z"?
The ending for me…I’m just trying to I think…
…it seemed to be triggered by the
departure of Mike Keneally and Bryan Beller.
It was more than that. I think my relationship with the guys in the band was completely different than my brother’s. I had a more personal relationship, and I feel like at that point I had a lot of hang-ups about certain things.
I have maintained a good and positive relationship with everybody. I consider Scott to be a brother from another mother. And Mike, I’ve been working with him again on the “Bizarre World Of Frank Zappa” tour, and honestly it’s been a real pleasure. I spoke to him about back then, and I think the politics of it were really just unfortunate – I get snippets of it from Mike and Dweezil – but that would have affected the feeling and the spirit of the band.
And Scott leaving, too.
Are you aware that Dweezil recently
re-issued his Confessions album,
I’m not, but – great record!
Next year is the fiftieth anniversary
of Hot Rats. Anything special planned
We have Bill Gubbins, who took some shots of the sessions. We’ve been talking to him about putting something really special together.[vi] I think he showed some of the pictures he’d taken at Zappanale, but he has all these never before seen pictures, and his story is enough to help make something special. He’s the greatest. We were having a conversation only yesterday of all of the things that we can do.
Cool. I very much look forward to
Anything more you’d like to say about the Hologram tour – or anything else coming up in the future that might amaze fans?
Well, on the Hologram tour, I anticipate people really enjoying themselves. Each show will be different. We go from one look and feel to another. It’s a very vibrant, colourful, surreal experience. Even though there’s holograms – because that’s a cool way to have things appear on the stage and have people react to those images – there’s so much more to the show. We’re putting so much into the stage design and the content that we display throughout. It’s going to be emotional and stunning: it’s like you’re diving into Frank’s mind!
We try to do things that Frank talked to me about, things that he enjoyed. There’s animation, photographs, film footage that people haven’t seen, new video, new compositions, and songs that people love. It’s about a two hour show at the moment, and if you go on a Monday, you won’t see the same show on Tuesday.
One of the misconceptions I think
people have is that it won’t be like going to see a Zappa gig, because there
won’t be the interaction with the crowd, and blah-blah-blah. I try to tell
them, you’re going to a show that will be something more than that.
We try and make it feel like a Zappa gig. I mean Frank would have chunks of the show where he would sit and listen to the band play. Look at any of the recent releases: you’d still hear a lot of the same content every night. And we do the same thing. And we have Frank’s band, right?
I’m organising it so that the band can have these moments where they can play something totally different and it not be difficult for us to still be supportive of that. We can always change up the show. It’s visual storytelling, so of course some things can’t change. But I kind of feel that people will dig…the magic!
You’ve said there will be about 100
shows initially – worldwide?
Yeah. And I want to carry it on longer if people keep going.
Well, I’ll be there in London for
And I’ll be hanging out with you!
That will be very cool.
Ahmet, thanks again for your time, your good humour, and your candour.
Interview conducted on Wednesday 5th December 2018.
Photo of Ahmet in The Goat Tavern, Kensington taken by the Idiot Bastard on 7 March 2019.
[i] On You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 3, Frank introduces the song Bobby Brown Goes Down (recorded at this concert) saying, “A real hologram! I mean: not real, but almost a real hologram.”
[ii] Joe Travers, Vaultmeister for the Zappa Family Trust since 1996.
[iii] At the first show of the tour (at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY on April 19, 2019), Ahmet joined the band on stage to sing My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama and Dead Girls Of London – something he would regularly do as the tour progressed. It also transpired that Frank's hologram had been digitally "painted", using Ahmet as the model for programmers to capture and reproduce the lip-syncing and facial expressions needed.
[iv] An American TV show following the adventures of Michael Knight, a modern-day crime fighter who uses an artificially intelligent automobile named KITT. The first of three series was broadcast between 1982 and 1986, and was followed by three television films, video games, and more.
[v]I asked Gail and Dweezil the same question: both said it wouldn't be high on their list of priorities.
[vi] In October 2019, Backbeat Books will publish Gubbins' photos in The Hot Rats Book: A Fifty-Year Retrospective of Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats.