Guitarist Mike Keneally talks about the formation of the band, the start of the tour and the interpretation of previously unreleased compositions written by Frank Zappa.
The Zappa Band, an ensemble that includes musicians who once played alongside the late influential guitarist and songwriter Frank Zappa, kicked off their first headlining tour in Homer, New York, on Sunday and are expected to perform tonight in New York at Sony Hall.
The band, which includes guitarist and keyboardist Mike Keneally, longtime Zappa guitarist Ray White, keyboardist and saxophonist Robert Martin, bassist Scott Thunes, drummer Joe Travers and guitarist Jamie Kime will perform a host of tracks from all three decades of the legendary musician. long career on the trek. All members except for Kime share vocal duties.
“We were trained, essentially, by [Frank’s son] Ahmet Zappa in 2018 as a band for a tour he designed called “The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa,” known as the “Hologram Tour,” Keneally said. The free press of the new school in a Zoom interview last month. “It was a very moving and heavy emotional experience.”
After the tour ended in 2019, the band members expressed a desire to continue performing Zappa’s music together and began performing at various clubs, without the elaborate visuals included in their previous tour. It was at Baked Potato, a jazz club in Los Angeles, where Ahmet dubbed the band the “officially sanctioned Zappa Band,” according to Keneally.
The group’s first post-COVID lockdown efforts included a string of dates with British prog legends King Crimson last fall.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to perform this music for the Crimson audience,” Keneally said. “But it was also very disciplined in terms of time; we only had 45 minutes and we couldn’t go over a second. So, it’s good with these headlining dates for us to be able to stretch and relax, and not feel like we have to leave the stage in time.
Keneally describes her touring experience in a post-COVID landscape as “surreal,” after a long absence of nearly two years from live performance.
“We were very careful about the tour bubble,” the guitarist said. “Our whole world was the bus and the place.”
The format of the upcoming headlining tour allows the band to play along with their setlists, performing a myriad of material both popular and obscure from Zappa’s repertoire, and often including previously unreleased or rarely performed compositions, some of which have been interpreted from handwritten transcriptions. With such a body of work to play with, fans can expect a unique night-to-night experience.
“Me and Scott Thunes spent several hours going through boxes of Frank’s handwritten manuscripts, and found this piece that was simply called ‘Number 2,'” Keneally said. “I think in the 80s Frank did a series of number compositions, 1-8, and it was 2. A bar of that composition ended up being reused in a song called ‘Drowning Witch’, but it was It was a completely scratched-out melody, with the chord changes, piece shape, and repeats indicated. It was all he specified very neatly, which is a rare thing to find in these boxes. Lots of things we found were just snippets, but it was a complete piece that we could learn to play. It’s a blessing. It’s a beautiful song and it’s a good thing to be able to play for them. people.
Frank Zappa’s music is known for including complex arrangements and challenging instrumental parts. Keneally, who has been credited as a “stunt guitarist” during his time in Zappa’s band, singles out “Alien Orifice” as one of the hardest songs to perform live.
“‘Alien Orifice’ involves me going really quickly from playing really crazy lines on the guitar, sticking the pick in my mouth and performing crazy stuff on the keyboard, and then back to the guitar,” said Keneally. “It’s that kind of dance, going from one instrument to another, and if I think about it, I’m screwed. It can’t be senseless, and it can’t be automatic.
Because many of the members are harboring their own projects and endeavors, the future of The Zappa Group after this tour remains uncertain, so be sure to catch this incredible group of musicians live while you still can.
Tickets for The Zappa Band’s appearance at Sony Hall tonight are available for purchase at ticket master.