Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa was born in the Hollywood Hills on 15 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). He also ran Kingdom Comics for Disney.
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 books, Because I’m Your Dad and Because I'm Your Mom (with illustrations by Dan Santat), were published in 2016 and 2023 respectively.
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 is 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, wherein he posed a few questions on my behalf.
Hot on the heels of this, I separately arranged to speak directly with Ahmet myself. Many thanks to Erin Weiss at Monsterfoot and Michael Mesker and Melanie Starks of the ZFT for their help in facilitating this. I started by asking him to let me know if he felt uncomfortable with any of the questions, to which he said, “It’s impossible to make me uncomfortable. But I will say that I hope I don’t disappoint with the answers, because some of the stuff in terms of history and a lot of specific stuff, it’s still a deep dive for me to try to understand. I’m learning as I’m going.”
Less than an hour before our interview started, Eyellusion issued a press release about the “The Bizarre World Of Frank Zappa” Hologram Tour – which was the subject of my first question.
I understand the footage you talk about using on the Hologram Tour is from the DiscReet Studio TV Special, taped a month after you were born. What more can you tell me about the footage, and the tour itself – is that all progressing nicely?
Frank shot this particular footage on video with a TV special in mind. But he didn’t use it, and the KCET footage was shot a month later. In the ‘Ten Years On The Road With The Mothers Of Invention’ scrapbook, Frank mentions an “impending TV special.” We think the ‘DiscReet TV Special’ might be a fan created title.[i]
So yes, right after my birth, Frank shot this show and the thing that’s great about it – what’s useful for us holographically – is there are so many angles that can allow us to volumetrically have a very cool version of Frank. For me, what I was looking for was a certain period in my dad’s life that was different...you know, my brother would play a guitar solo with video of Frank playing in the background on those early Zappa Plays Zappa shows. To be able to do something different here, that was the advantage of doing something holographically, so that there’s more of a shared space on stage, which appears to have more interactivity. But we can also do so much more.
The purpose of that particular footage – because I didn’t even know it existed – it’s so killer, and we have so much of it: it sounds great, it looks great. I lean towards a rocking 70s look of my dad right now – he just looks cool. It felt like a good place to start.
To do what we need to do, we need all the different angles – I’m super particular: you’ve got to have the eyebrows, the nose, the hair, all just right.
The eyebrows especially.
Certainly! Yes! And his facial expressions, it’s all there.
I must admit I was a little taken aback when I first heard about all this. But then I thought that the chance to potentially see Zappa alumni playing with Frank as we’ve never seen him before...sold! It’s an unbelievable line-up. Can’t wait. But you will of course be aware of the negative reaction to the project.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, for sure. But the thing I think is hilarious is when people say that Frank wouldn’t have liked something like this. That’s just comical. So I point out that he writes about it in his own book, and I had conversations about holograms with him. But people just want to believe what they want to believe.
I think there’s a real opportunity here: people have only pushed these kinds of holographic presentations so far. The beauty of Eyellusion and the team there is they can get us to a place that creatively is very different from any hologram show that anyone’s ever put together before.
What we’re trying to do is very ambitious. We’re trying to incorporate a lot of the Frank Zappa aesthetic, capture that lo-fi/hi-fi handmade feel and bring out all of the creative elements from my father’s imagination that went into not just the music, but certainly the visuals. And we have so much footage that we will be able to do some really cool and interesting things. Basically, if Frank was alive right now, I would like to think he would have utilised this technology.
From a technical standpoint, any living artist today could have a three-part harmony on a record, and if you creatively thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to have three versions of that person standing on stage?” This is the only way you could do that!
So it’s interesting technology from a performance standpoint. And when you have all these amazing musicians that played with Frank excited to play, it just feels like the timing is right. And just being way more organised...you know, I love my mom, but once this fell into my lap and I tried to make heads or tails of everything, the first thing I started doing was getting very, very organised and putting all of the material into a content management system so that we can rapidly identify what we have from an audio/visual standpoint.
How does that tie-in with the Alex Winter movie project?
It’s just amazing. We couldn’t have put this system in place at the time of my mother’s passing. There was just so much to figure out, from a financing perspective...what resources does the Trust have? Paying for things, bills, etc. – it was all so chaotic. And the fans really came to the rescue for Frank, and for Alex’s movie. The video assets were really melting – something Joe has to deal with on the audio side, too.
I was intrigued that Gail gave Jenny Brown an honourable mention on FZ:OZ, and that Jen has now penned an essay for The Roxy Performances. What can you tell me about Jen?
You know, I really can’t...I didn’t even speak with her. I’m super appreciative of her involvement, but it was really Joe that suggested her. I was jumping up and down because she wanted to be involved. I thought it was really cool. I look forward to being able to have a cup of tea with her.
Sorry if the answer is not so exciting!
Tell me of your involvement in writing Frogs With Dirty Little Lips with Frank.
That’s a real easy one! There were a few similar moments in my life...Rat Tomago, Chalk Pie, Frogs With Dirty Little Lips, those were all inspired by experiences I had with my dad.
With Frogs with Dirty Little 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 Little 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 the 4th of 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 mom 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.
Do you know the origins of any other song titles that the rest of us may not know about – from family jokes or whatever?
I think people know about Valley Girl, with Moon.
My middle name is Emuukha, and that’s shown up in different places.
Like the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra on Lumpy Gravy.
Yeah. I later found out that it’s a grave women pray on in Israel to get a husband. I don’t know what that says about my name, though!
I didn’t know about Rat Tomago and Chalk Pie, so that was interesting.
Those were just wonderful moments. I like to listen to Joe’s Garage and hear my dad’s laugh before the Watermelon In Easter Hay solo. That is so much of what I remember – of drawing pictures or playing games with him, and getting him to laugh.
That is why I really do feel blessed, as someone who has lost both parents: it is a blessing to be able to have all this media. I can’t imagine what it would be like for anyone else. We’re in a unique situation that there’s so much of my dad out there, I feel so deeply for other people who have lost their parents that don’t have that.
It’s always emotional to look back at the video and audio...there’s certainly cringe-worthy moments too – like my dad was really in the worst mood in that video, or what the hell was happening in that piece of audio. But it takes you right back, and you think, ‘Woo, it must have been tough working for that guy!’
Did you know of Doreen Tracey, who passed away recently? She was a Disney Mouseketeer in the 50s, and then was a Promotion Director at Warners who helped break the Yellow Snow single. She supposedly then worked as a publicist for Frank, and it’s been suggested that the song Doreen was written for her. Any clues?
I read that and I do not know the validity...but it’s certainly great to think that that’s the case. What a cool story. I wouldn’t discredit it. It seems to me like it would make sense – and it’s such a good song!
And hopefully Ray will be singing that on the Hologram Tour?
He, by the way, has been in the studio recording lots of music – he sent me some. It’s fantastic. He was always someone...I mean, Ike and Ray were at the house a lot when I was a kid, so whenever they were there, it was just like...you know [laughs]!
But Ray’s voice, it’s just insane. The guitar playing – oh, he’s just an amazing performer. I could not be happier. Love him!
Do you have any fond memories of recording vocals for the You Are What You Is album, in what was then the newly constructed UMRK? You were quite young.
I remember every situation where it felt like I was working with Frank. Those were always pretty fun experiences. At that time I think I was...
I think I was younger, because I wound up taking the record and playing the b-side – the 45 of I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted, I forget what was on the b-side...
Yeah. I took it to my Show And Tell at pre-school. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
But the experience itself was really fun. I thought that my dad was feeling what I was doing [laughs]. I did a few takes. That was really great because Moon went into the studio afterwards and I was listening to her and she was singing in this affected, character voice. And I thought that was kinda cool...it just felt like I’m doing something with my big sister, and we were all doing something with Frank, and we couldn’t believe it was on the album.
And there was this really cool synthesizer that Frank wanted each one of us to...he recorded each one of us just jamming away. We must have those tapes somewhere.
Joe will find them.
Yeah. That was following Frank’s tutelage.
Those were big days – those days were events. The studio was done, and he was working, so he was home more; we had more access. Those are really great memories.
I have a very sad story to relay. In preparing for this interview, I noted that the audio book for your Monstrous Memoirs Of A Mighty McFearless was narrated by one Katherine Kellgren. I wrote to her at the start of the year asking if she was any relation to Gary Kellgren, the engineer on We’re Only In It For The Money – and for any stories regarding recording the audio book. She wrote a very short message back saying she was feeling very ill and couldn’t respond. I then learned that she passed away just a few days later.
Really? Oof! That’s horrible. I should do something for the family.
But I have no idea if there was a connection – that’s the first I’m hearing about that. That’s bizarre! Everyone says it’s a small world, but that would be strange.
Did the ZFT prevent Dweezil’s Zappanale set from being broadcast live?[ii]
That’s the first time I’ve ever heard such a statement. No. I didn’t even know that that was a thing. 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 – that it would be better to do these projects in conjunction with the Trust. I’m of the mindset of let’s figure out how we can do this together, because I can support these kinds of things 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 delivers the best experience. Let’s just make sure it’s done appropriately.
I think it’s honestly helpful for the Trust to protect Frank’s legacy. 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 have permission, you’ve labelled everything correctly – that we have used the appropriate marks and all of that. That’s mostly what I 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 email@example.com – and let’s figure something out.
Do you have any knowledge of Extraordinary Teamwork – something that was announced by Gail and the ZFT around fifteen years ago? The only thing that seems to have come out of it is the Gene Simmons track, Black Tongue.
I remember being in the studio with Gene Simmons, I sang on the track. But...no!
There was a press release. The idea was that artists could take pieces of Frank’s unreleased material and incorporate it into their own compositions. I asked Dweezil the same question, and he had no memory of it either!
Send the press release to me [iii] – that’s a cool name! I think along the same lines as her, I guess. We found that audio of Frank and Eric Clapton just jamming. It’s pretty cool. So there’s stuff like that, who knows? Maybe those things will see the light of day.
Tell me about two bands that you have 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.
Are there currently any plans for more Orchestra En Regalia shows?
There should be announcements coming out, hopefully pretty soon – working with CAMI on that show was terrific. I would like nothing more than for orchestras to play more of Frank’s music, and slowly but surely more orchestras are playing his music with more regularity.
My commitment here is to have more people experience Frank’s orchestral music, and I really want the fans to have more of what they want.
How is Mr. Thunes settling into his new role as ScoreMeister?
There have been really specific things we’ve had him work on. I love spending time with him, and the more time I get to spend with Scott, the happier I feel. He’s hilarious. I mean, because I played in a band with him, and I first met him as a kid...the connection I have with him...he used to live up at the house. To me, he feels like extended family. The same way that Steve Vai feels like extended family.
Any plans to release Lucy Lawless’s rendition of Flambay - maybe on a future Birthday Bundle? We haven’t had one of those for a few years.
I do not know the answers to these questions! I haven’t even heard it, I didn’t know it existed.
Or maybe I do and it slipped my mind.
Okay. Did you ever verify that Frank composed music for David Cronenberg’s The Fly?
Oh yeah, we have that. He made some samples. Stuart Cornfeld [iv] was a good family friend and he would come over and spend a lot of time, so they totally talked about it. I also heard a legend that Frank turned down Star Wars! That made me feel weird as a kid, because I loved Star Wars so much. I was like, ‘Why the fuck would anyone turn that down?’ And there’s some audio of conversations that Frank recorded – I haven’t listened to the tape, but it’s marked in the vault ‘Barbarella’,[v] I guess that’s him talking about what he would do.
That’s right! Absolutely. I know he had conversations with the director, but it didn’t come to anything.
What are your memories of the Peace Choir record in 1991 – how did that come about?
With Lenny Kravitz – that thing? I don’t even know how that came about – probably through publicists, or through our working for MTV: they were doing a video.
My fond memory of that moment was Lenny Kravitz, after we had recorded. He was like, “You can really blow!” Lenny liked how I sang , which for me at that time was such a big deal. It was exciting to work with him. But it was quick: we went into a studio, sang a couple of times, and then they moved someone else in.
Finally, do you know on which Vai tracks you appear on the Sex & Religion 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 – 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.
When I asked Steve many years ago, he didn’t seem sure. But he did mention another track called Manic Panic that didn’t make it onto the record. He also added that, “the best stuff I got of Ahmet is where he’s standing in the studio just talking. He’s possessed, that guy. He’s really funny – totally out there.”
[laughs] I hope he still feels that way! We do kind of crack up on texts back and forth, you know?
He was such a good friend of my mother, and he’s been a real guardian angel for everyone in the family. He’s just such an awesome guy.
And he was one of the ones who spoke out about the Hologram Tour – after all of the negativity, he gave a really positive statement.
We talked about that – he’s excited! He totally gets what I’m trying to do. And when we start really delving into some of the insane visuals, he’s like, ‘You gotta have me down!’ He wants to be creatively involved. He has ideas. Which would be awesome, but he’s such a busy person. Who knows if that’ll transpire.
But I trust him all day long. He’s such a mutant – he’s one of the coolest guys in the universe!
Interview conducted on Monday 5th February 2018. Rat Tomago t-shirt photo courtesy of Ahmet.
[i] It is known by the ZFT as the 'Premore' shoot, after the company who filmed the show.
[ii] 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.” This question was put to Ahmet on my behalf for ZappaCast #35.
[iii] After our interview, I sent Ahmet a facsimile of the press release - see below.
[iv] American film producer, and business partner with Ben Stiller in the company Red Hour Productions.
[v] 1968 science fiction film starring Jane Fonda (in the title role) and directed by her then husband, Roger Vadim.
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 surprise!
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 DVD?
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, digitally?
I’m not, but – great record!
Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of Hot Rats. Anything special planned for that?
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 that.
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 sure.
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.
In early 2019, Ahmet asked to meet me when he visited London ahead of the Hologram tour. He was staying at The Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, where I gave him a postcard of Robert Davidson's famous 'Phi Zappa Krappa' photo which was taken there. We went to a pub opposite where he asked me why his mother hated me. I wasn't aware that she had, so had no answer. Anyway, in May he very kindly gave me (and select pals) VIP passes for the Hologram show at the London Palladium and then, as co-author with photographer Bill Gubbins of the then soon to be released The Hot Rats Book, answered a few more questions for me a few months later.
What was your reaction when you first saw Bill’s photos?
I was obsessed. It was like eating tacos for the first time, and I think we can all agree that tacos are the prince of foods.
And muffins, of course.
Aside from the forthcoming nuggety goodness contained in The Hot Rats Sessions box aside, was the Zappa Trust able to unearth any other goodies for Bill’s book?
There weren’t additions necessary because Bill’s story and his photographs are what’s incredible about this moment in time.
Cool. And were you able to secure any useful insights from any of the other musicians involved – especially Ian Underwood, whose contribution to the album is immense.
I absolutely did, and I hope others will as well when they read the book.
I can’t wait to do just that!
Finally, is the Trust actively trying to get back the iconic Gibson Gold-Top guitar Frank used on the album that is thought to have been ‘liberated’ by a ne’er do well shortly after the Amougies festival?
It would be awesome if the thief who stole it would do the right thing and return our stolen property because it’s a pretty awesome guitar.
Interview conducted on 4 December 2019. Photo of Ahmet sketching backstage at The London Palladium taken by John Campbell on 14 May 2019.