Digital Minds

Dweezil Zappa
Part 2: The Best of Old and New Technologies
Interview by Marsha Vdovin

Dweezil Zappa
Last month, in Part 1 of our conversation with Dweezil Zappa, we discussed the renovation of his late father's, personal studio; and the ongoing effort to archive and reissue Frank Zappa's recordings. In Part 2, we dig deeper into the technical side, and Dweezil's use of the UAD-1 card on his personal projects.

Dweezil's main DAW is Steinberg's Nuendo, and he considers the perfect accompaniment to Nuendo to be the UAD-1; he's especially into all of the plug-ins.

“When I do get the time, I try to really understand what the tools are, and a lot of times some of the stuff can be confusing or daunting when you have so many options. I think I use the tools better when I understand the principles behind them more. Anything in the UAD-1 is really good.”

"I really like the Pultec Pro," Zappa says. "I use it pretty frequently on at least eighty-five to ninety percent of the stereo mixes. I really like the Cambridge too. I had been checking out a lot of different EQs and that one feels like you could finger-paint with the sound. The first thing I liked about it was that you could create really extreme EQ curves and really do some surgery if you needed to. That is a lot of fun to play around with. I like tweaking things and taking them to extreme limits. It doesn't add any bad artifacts. Sometimes, you get into a really gritty, horrible area with digital EQs, but the Cambridge comes out pretty smooth, even when you are doing a narrow bandwidth. Those EQs get used pretty frequently.

"I also recently got the Precision limiter. I really like it. I was trying to find a specific limiter that would do a very good job of holding the peaks on everything. It really does sound good, and it has some special elements to it. The metering is more precise. When I do get the time, I try to really understand what the tools are, and a lot of times some of the stuff can be confusing or daunting when you have so many options. I think I use the tools better when I understand the principles behind them more. Anything in the UAD-1 is really good.

"The Plate 140 reverb I use on everything," he continues. "It's my favorite reverb of anything I have. The week before I got that, I was having a hard time finding a way to do a pre-delay that sounded natural and sounded like that old kind of Plate reverb. I was trying all sorts of things like creating a fake version by sending a sound to a reverb or tape machine with a slapback delay, using an insert delay on a separate channel. Then I would take the send down and get the entire effected signal back. It was a long tedious procedure to set up, and then it didn't exactly have that old sound because you'd have to EQ the reverb, and then, low and behold, a week later your Plate reverb came out. I got the result I wanted and I've been using it for all sorts of things. I like to do backward reverb things and create weird textures. That's one of the plug-ins that has the most personality when you do backward reverb stuff.

"There's something I like to do where I play acoustic guitar and I'll play single notes, and I'll reverse them and build chords with the single notes, then I'll reverb them backwards, and then I'll mold them down and then reserve them and play them back. It's a great sound. It sounds like a combination of horns and strings at the same time. If you know the chord progression on something you are working on, and you just want to just embellish certain things about it, you can just play the single notes of the chords you want and try that procedure. It's a really cool sound. It sounds like a futuristic orchestra, but it sounds organic; it doesn't sound synthesized. It's pretty cool."

Dweezil also loves classic analog gear, and he owns several vintage 1176s.

"When we're tracking, we go through an analog process and then it ends up in the digital world. Even if we are recording in a digital environment, the chain is usually analog. We do use 1176s on drums and bass. In mixdown, I often use the 1176s for specific effects. I just like the way older records sound in general, so anytime I can keep it in that world I do. I do have some original 1176s and I find that it's just easier to use the one in the computer which has the same character as the hardware."

In addition to all the audio restoration he's been doing, Dweezil has been recording a new solo album titled, Go With What You Know, which is coming out in May 2005.

"I haven't really decided what direction to take this new solo record that' I'm working on," he says. "I have some stuff that's a little more old-school and some stuff that's more modern-sounding. It will include my version of 'Peaches' [Frank Zappa's song 'Peaches en Regalia]. It's going to be a weird combination of things. I went from someone who had zero computer knowledge whatsoever to working on computers eighteen hours a day."

Immediately after the release of his solo album, Dweezil will go into rehearsals with his brother Ahmet and a handpicked band. The brothers Zappa will be touring the world with a project called "Zappa Plays Zappa."

"We have a really big plan for this year, something that we've never done before." Dweezil says. "We're going to put a band together and play only Frank's music. We're going to start in Europe then come back to the states and then go to Japan. We're going to start in October, so we're going to rehearse the band for three months in order to learn close to fifty songs, including a lot of the very difficult instrumentals. I'm learning a lot of stuff on guitar that was never meant to be played on guitar. For me, it will be like training for the Guitar Olympics. We are going to create a core band of people that haven't played with Frank, and then we will have some special guests and Ahmet is going to sing. We want to have our own thing that we do that is free from interpretations of other people's expectations.

"We are going to change the instrumental arrangements. The melodies will be seen and heard in a different way," he continues. "The melodies may be more powerful because they are being played on a louder, more distorted instrument-- guitar instead of keyboard or a marimba. I think [because] my brother and I are related, we have an innate sense of what Frank was going for humor-wise. Those are some of the elements that we'll be able to bring a new and fun interpretation of. The show itself is going to have video footage, and a documentary about Frank will be shown before the show.

For information about Dweezil Zappa and "Zappa Plays Zappa," visit the official Frank Zappa Website.

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