New Jersey-based Frank Zappa tribute band Project/Object will be touring the Northeast United States through October 23rd with stops at Mavericks in Ontario, Canada on Friday, October 7; The Garrison in Ontario, Canada on Saturday, October 8; at The Tralf in Buffalo, New York on Sunday, October 9 and at Lovin’ Cup in Rochester, New York on Monday, October 10.
Founded in 1989 by guitarist/vocalist André Cholmondeley, Project/Object has gone through numerous lineup changes since its inception, hosting more Zappa alumni than anyone other than Zappa himself. Project/Object welcomes back alumni vocalist/guitarist Ike Willis and synthesizer legend Don Preston for a tour “Celebrating 50 years of The Music Of Frank Zappa” featuring material both men recorded with The Mothers Of Invention, The Frank Zappa band, and much more!
NYSMusic’s Amy Cavalier recently caught up with Cholmondeley about the upcoming tour and what it’s like being in the longest-running Zappa alumni tribute band in the world!
NYS Music: Tell me the story behind Project Object’s inception? What was the vision for the project?
Andrew Cholmondeley: My vision for the project was simply to turn people onto music that was very influential and important to me.
Around 1989 I started having a Frank Zappa birthday party at my apartment. We would listen to only Zappa music for 24 hours and read interviews read album covers etc. I realized that many people were showing up and did not know a lot about Zappa and left with names of records and songs scribbled on paper. This is way before the blow up of the Internet so people would come back the next year having searched record stores and maybe built a little Zappa collection.
About the third and fourth year, my band played at one of these parties, performing about a half-dozen Zappa songs. It went over great so we learned another half dozen and soon we played our first gig in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It just blew up from there. Next was Lion’s Den in New York City where we connected with our first managers Howie Schnee and Mike Maietta.
NYS Music: A pretty high bar has been set by Frank Zappa, his son Dweezil other Zappa tribute bands…what makes Project Object so unique?
AC: Indeed Dweezil’s band is incredible.I think what makes us unique in our way is that we went out and did it before other bands, over twenty years ago. We were the first band to tour with so many diverse Zappa alumni across the USA and into Canada since Zappa himself took them on the road. We also were the first to do a wide variety of his music
The Grandmothers (ex Zappa/Mothers members) were out there but they tended to do the very excellent early stuff ONLY. We went out there with Ike Willis then Napoleon Murphy Brock etc. and did material from every period in Zappa’s history.
NYS Music: Is there a lot of pressure to get it right and recreate the songs as accurately as possible? Or is there still room for improvisation?
AC: The fans know every note! We strike the balance between doing some tunes as close to the record as we can, with the correct sounds and timbre and instrumentation. And then other things we do – perhaps one of Zappa’s many live versions – we look for moments in the songs where he would leave room for improvisation.
Improvisation is very important part of the Zappa aesthetic but at the core is doing the music accurately and getting chords and little parts correct. I have been fortunate to have so many of the actual ex-Zappa players in the band so along the way they correct parts and help us get little details right.
NYS Music: There have been a lot of stories about Zappa’s family and disagreements over copyright issues, as well as stories floating around about bad blood between you and Dweezil, in the news. How do you get away with playing songs without infringement issues? And has the air cleared between you and Dweezil?
AC: Early on we got so many threats from Gail Zappa that we sought the advice of a lawyer and I learned a lot about copyright law. It’s very basic and simple. As long as the venue you are performing is paying their American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) membership dues for publishing rights, you are fine. That’s why there is an enormous business in cover bands of every genre imaginable. It was always completely legal to do what we do. In the Project/Object entire career of over two decades we have had to cancel two, maybe three gigs because the venue was not part of ASCAP membership.
I think the NPR interview I did “NPR Zappa Lumpy Legacy” is the final word on it. NPR spoke to me as well as Gail Zappa and independent legal
counsel and they said on national radio that as long as the club is certified it’s no problem playing published music of any artist.
As far as the recent history about the copyright issues and the Zappa family, a lot of what happened was due to the wishes and direction of Gail Zappa. Now that she is gone there is a real splintering of stuff and the siblings are sadly in dispute over many issues.
Even before she passed away I made peace with Dweezil and have seen his band several times. He was very gracious about accepting my apologies for the previous bad vibes. He was aware it flowed in both directions. This thawing of the ice has continued after Gail Zappa’s passing and Dweezil has been very public talking about how the Zappa family trust unfairly charged him for various things and made it difficult for him to just go out and play the music.
I’m happy to say that through his agent, Dweezil and I worked together recently to plan out these historic appearances that Ike Willis is doing with his band. I want to support anything and everything that celebrates Frank’s music.
NYS Music: Your partner was in a serious car accident recently which caused you to postpone your tour. How is she doing and why have you decided to resume the tour at this point in time?
AC: While Robin is still experiencing a fair amount of pain and difficulties she has come a long way in what is almost seven months since the accident. She will be with us on this tour in a very tentative and basic role – we are trying to see how much she can do safely in her regular job as merch and Production Assistant. We hated canceling that tour and she is happy to be out on this one and to be able to personally thank so many of the fans who helped us out.
NYS Music: What is the feeling going into this tour?
AC: We just love to play and get out and travel and this is a great time of year to do so. We have a few things we have never done before, some stuff we have not done in a decade or more, balanced with a couple of the Zappa song-along, crowd favorites that you almost have to do, so it’s a mix!
We are upbeat and excited to get out there playing this incredible music again. Also Zappa lyrics, without even touching them up, have a timeless political accuracy and so getting out right before yet another ridiculous American election season is kind of perfect.