AHMET ZAPPA

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Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa was born in the Hollywood Hills on 15th May 1974. The youngest son of Gail and Frank, his voice can be heard on his father’s album You Are What You Is (1981), and on several with his brother Dweezil, with whom he formed the band “Z” which toured and recorded from 1991 to 1996.
   Ahmet has appeared in a number of feature films – including Pump Up The Volume (1990), Jack Frost (1998) and Ready To Rumble (2000) – and co-hosted the US television cable show Robotica (2001-02).
   In 2005, he was to have been part of Zappa Plays Zappa with Dweezil, but its postponement – coupled with publication of his debut children’s novel, The Monstrous Memoirs Of A Mighty McFearless (2006) – saw him leave the project. He later formed Monsterfoot Productions and conceived, developed and produced The Odd Life Of Timothy Green for Walt Disney Pictures (2012). His picture book, Because I’m Your Dad (with illustrations by Dan Santat), was published in 2013.
   In July 2015, his mother announced that Ahmet would be taking over the daily operations of the family business. When she passed away three months later, he took control of the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT).
   Ahmet married actress Selma Blair in January 2004, but the separated two years later. He is now married to designer, writer and the creator of Disney Star Darlings, Shana Muldoon. They have a daughter (Halo Violetta, born 2010) and son (Arrow D'Oro Leon, born 2016).
   After trying for some time to get Ahmet onto the ZappaCast, ‘Podmeister’ Scott Parker finally succeeded in December 2017. The following questions were posed by listener Steve from the UK:

Tell us of your involvement in writing Frogs With Dirty Little Lips[i] with Frank.
That's a real easy one! There were a few similar moments in my life...Rat Tomago,[ii] Chalk Pie,[iii] Frogs With Dirty Lips, those were all inspired by experiences I had with my dad.
   With Frogs with Dirty Lips, this guy called Muzzy brought me a big red bucket with a few rocks in it and some pond scum, and all these tadpoles – just as they were turning into baby frogs. I was obsessed!
  My dad said, "What have you got there, bubba?" I described how cute these frogs with dirty little lips were, because they had these big smiles. And I was going on and on about how cute they were.
   My fondest memories of Frank are when I could get him to laugh or chortle. So Frogs With Dirty Lips happened because this construction worker up at the house brought me a bucket full of baby frogs...and then I let them all go in the garden!
   With Chalk Pie, we had a conversation about what was the grossest thing you could imagine, and my answer to Frank was chalk pie. The idea of that in your mouth...just disgusting.
   Rat Tomago was 4th July – or maybe it was New Year's – it was some night where there was going to be fireworks. I was five or six, and there was some construction work where my mother and father's bedroom was. They were remodelling the house at one point, and where Frank had set up the studio became a temporary bedroom. So it was really exciting to maybe go and crash with your parents in a new place – it was a whole new kick-ass set-up.
   We were all upstairs drawing and I drew these pictures and brought them downstairs to share with my mum and dad. And they asked me what this one picture was. I told them it was a rat tomago, and he fucking laughed so hard that my mother made my father and I matching rat tomago t-shirts, which I have framed and hung on the wall. You can see how tiny Frank was and how huge I was because they basically look like the same size t-shirts. Pretty hilarious.

On which Vai track do you appear on the Sex & Religion[iv] album?
Oh, I can't remember the name of it. This is super embarrassing. I could Google it... I think I remember singing about a pig.
   But I can tell you that that was a really fun experience, because Steve is so wonderful. My brother idolised him. My father loved him. So I had all these emotions of ...spending so much time with him as a kid. I just wanted to impress him – you know, do a good job. That was a really nerve wracking experience. And I loved it!
   I had never really listened to Steve’s music other than when he was playing with Frank, so I walked into that recording experience thinking it was gonna be something different. It was pretty awesome, though – being in his studio, working with him. He was so kind, so generous. It was fun.
   I wanna say it was the song Pig, but I could be totally wrong.

Tell us about two other bands you've been involved with – Sleeps 9 and the Idiot Sevilles?
Sleeps 9 and the Idiot Sevilles were kind of the same...I was trying to go on a naming journey and was never really happy with the names. There were different band members, but since I was in all of those iterations, for the most part it was the same kind of music we were playing.
   I played with some of the people that I'm still very close with to this day.

Has the ZFT placed any obstacles in the way of Dweezil releasing any of Frank’s compositions?
Well, no! As long as it's done in the normal fashion, it's the same scenario for anyone that wants to do it.
   What people don't understand is that when you have a partnership like we do – with Kobalt, who's our publisher, or Universal, who's our distributor and our partners in crime – we have to do things in accordance with our partners, because they're exclusive partnerships...and they really have to be in conjunction with... I mean, it's Frank! So as much as I would love for anyone of us who are the sons and daughters of Frank and Gail, we have parameters – the collective we – to the extent that we all can do something...we all have the same obstacles, which are not really obstacles: you just have to do it in the right way.
   I think the question is whether you want to do it the right way. So there's nothing stopping anybody as long as you're doing it in the appropriate manner that respects our business partnerships. It's a business so, as an example, if Dweezil wants to record a piece of music that someone other than Frank also wrote the music on, we have a bigger responsibility as the Trust – and because he's Dweezil Zappa, there's more of a spotlight on us doing it the right way every time. That's the pressure I feel. Everything needs to be hunky dory.
   So the answer is no, there's no hurdle or obstacle. Let's just do it correctly.

Did the ZFT prevent Dweezil's Zappanale set this year from being broadcast live?[v]
That's the first time I've ever heard such a statement. No [laughs]. I didn't even know that that was a thing! Am I being accused of that one now too?
   Nope![vi]
   My mother had issues with Zappanale that I'm trying to get to the bottom of. It's like this weird position to be in because I love everyone's passion about playing Frank's music. My preference would be – even if it's Zappanale – it would just be better if we were doing it together. Maybe in the future there will be a better relationship with the ZFT and that experience. We've discovered so many assets, so if people want to see imagery or whatever, I feel like that's the benefit of doing it in conjunction – anybody that wants to do a Zappa-related project, I'm of the mindset of let's figure out how we can do this together, because I can support it with so many assets. So that's really my point of view.
   It's not about telling people no, it’s about, ‘Hey, I've got a good idea, let’s see if we can make it better by combining our incredible thinking; let's try to understand the scope of things, and how can we make a better fan experience.’ When people are passionate about something I do think there's a way that you can put projects together that ticks all of the boxes that deliver the best experience. If we have trademarks or copyrights – all of those things, it's all based on Frank’s music, so let’s just make sure it's done appropriately.
   I think it's honestly helpful for the Trust to protect Frank’s legacy. I think people misunderstood any kind of beef that's ever been out there with my mother or anyone else of, like, what the deal is. We have invested a significant amount of money in being able to protect Frank’s legacy. So when projects come about, it's literally the easiest thing to do. Make sure you've labelled everything correctly, that we have the appropriate marks and all of that. That’s what I mostly get up in arms about. We've just got to do it the right way, and then we can figure out all the things around that.
   I don’t want to be a Zappa cop – that takes up a lot of time and resources. If you are passionate about Frank and you want to do a project, it’s really easy – reach out to me (via info@zappa.com) and let's figure something out.

 

Interview conducted on Friday 15th December 2017.

 

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[i] From his father's album Them Or Us (1984).

[ii] From his father’s album Sheik Yerbouti (1979).

[iii] From his father's album Guitar (1988). Chalk Pie was also the title of an unreleased album: most of its tracks were instead released on Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982) and The Man From Utopia (1983).

[iv] Released under the band name Vai in 1993.

[v] Rockradio.de traditionally streams all shows live throughout the Zappanale weekend. On 17 July 2017, in response to a Tweet asking why his set had not been transmitted, Dweezil said, "it would have been a nice opportunity to share the Zappanale experience with a wider audience. The ZFT controls the rights to broadcasting."

[vi] It subsequently transpired that Dweezil did not give permission for his set to be broadcast.