‘I’m finishing what he started’: Ahmet Zappa on bringing Frank’s vision to life
Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank and co-trustee of the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT), has said the upcoming Bizarre World of Frank Zappa tour is a fulfilment of his “visionary” father’s dream to appear on stage as a hologram.
“If Frank was alive, he’d have been really into this technology, and I think he’d have used it himself,” says Zappa Jnr, speaking to IQ ahead of his appearance at ILMC alongside Jeff Pezzuti, CEO of Eyellusion, the production company behind the Frank Zappa hologram.
“The conversation started way before I met Jeff and we started working in earnest to do a show, when I was a young kid: Frank was a futurologist, and he would talk about having a hologram that could play shows around the world while he was at home working – a kind of world tour in a day…”
The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa – which promises guest appearances by long-time Zappa collaborators, as well as unseen footage and “circumstances, objects, places and subject matter” from the late singer’s music brought to life on stage – kicks off in the US on 19 April, at the 1,800-capacity Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, playing shows along the eastern seaboard before heading to Europe in May. The first European date is at the Playhouse (3,059-cap.) in Edinburgh, with shows in London, Manchester, Ostend and Amsterdam also planned.
Fans caught their first glimpse of the hologram, which follows Eyellusion’s recreation of metal icon Ronnie James Dio, last month, when ZFT released a video showing ‘Frank’ decrying the censorship (to remove a penguin’s buttocks, no less) of the tour artwork:
“The video we put out,” says Zappa, also EVP of business development for Eyellusion, is “really crazy. There’s no other way to describe it – I’m looking at my dad.”
On the choice to model the hologram on Apostrophe-era Frank Zappa, Pezzuti says Eyellusion’s philosophy is to recreate deceased performers based on how they are remembered by most fans. “We try to honour that – what we imagine to be the legacy, and how people immortalise them in their minds,” he explains.
With the show’s production, Zappa continues, “I don’t want to say we’re reinventing the wheel – but we kind of are. The live experience has been the same for a long time, and the fact we’re adding an artist who’s not physically present changes the dynamic. What’s cool about this is coming up with creative solutions to keep the audience engaged for a 90-minute show.”
“We’ve put so much love and energy into this”
“With Zappa we’re making it funny, with Dio it was very metal, and Glenn Gould will be very different again,” adds Pezzuti. (Dates for Eyellusion’s Glenn Gould tour will be announced later this year.)
Visuals are based on Frank’s lyrical content – the infamous bare-bottomed penguin is a nod to ‘Penguin in Bondage’, from Roxy & Elsewhere – as well as Zappa’s own memories of his father, he explains: “We’re visualising elements of the songs, and a lot of the conversations I’ve had with father have influenced how this show looks… it’s drawing on [Frank Zappa] touchpoints throughout history.”
“We’ve put so much love and energy into this,” says Zappa. “My father was an early adopter – of state-of-the-art recording equipment, digital, all kinds of technology” (“Machines don’t get loaded, drunk or evicted,” as Frank noted in 1989’s the Real Frank Zappa Book) – “and I feel, as his son, I’m completing something he started and didn’t get a chance to finish. That was a big part of my motivation here.”
He adds: “When you have this content we’ve made with his vocals, his guitars, his live band… Frank has passed, but this is the closest anyone’s ever going to get to see a Frank Zappa show.”