Calling a group that plays the music of Frank Zappa a tribute band is sort of like calling the New York Philharmonic a Bach tribute band. Unfortunately, that’s how Project Object has been labeled. What makes them stand out is their combo featuring Ike Willis, lead vocalist on Zappa’s Joe’s Garage album. The Temple News had the chance to talk this week with band leader Andre Cholmondeley about Project Object, Zappa, and the state of the current world.
Temple News: Why do you play Zappa’s music?
Andre Cholmondeley: Well, there’s a couple of reasons. A little over 20 years ago as a college freshman I had a ‘cursory’ exposure of Zappa [and] I fell totally into the pit. Within weeks I had every record surfacing. I really love the music, and it’s meant so much to me as a musician [and] as a person on so many levels. Musically, politically I’m having a great time looking at how Frank was talking about a lot of the stuff going on right now 20 years ago. Finally, no one else is doing it to the degree [that we do it], I just thought ‘Wait. Here’s a preeminent American composer and no one’s really representing it.'”
TN: Do you stick to Zappa’s rock pieces?
AC: Definitely not. We’re real proud. We’re the only [tribute band] that really goes all the way with it I think. We do the Doo Wop ’50s stuff, we do the funny stuff. We’ve done the entire Joe’s Garage album.
TN: You mentioned Joe’s Garage. Tellus about Ike Willis.
AC: Ike is known as ‘The Bionic Baritone.’ His voice just doesn’t quit he’s amazing even though I wish he’d stop smoking. His guitar playing is great. That’s one of the secret weapons of the Zappa band. Not only would Frank take great solos … but Steve Vai, Ray White, Ike: they all played great guitar. He’s actually quite the secret excellent guitar player.
TN: What do you hope to accomplish with the band?
AC: We’ve actually accomplished quite a lot and I’m grateful for that. We could quit tomorrow and I’d be totally happy with what we’ve done. But what we do want to keep accomplishing is getting new, younger [Zappa] fans. Saying to people ‘Look you can like your Britney and your N’Sync and your … you know … whatever commercial pap that’s out there, but um, there’s something beyond the horizon.’ It’s heartening to know that there’s people who can be reached below the radar of Rolling Stone and MTV.
TN: How do you think Frank would feel if he walked into a Project Object show?
AC: I think he has on a couple occasions. We did the entire Joe’s Garage [album] a couple of New Year’s Eve’s ago and I’ll tell you, he had to have been there. I think he shows up here and there. I think he’d be proud of most of it. He’d probably be tapping his foot and smoking a cigarette and saying ‘OK guys, let’s run that one more time.’
Project Object will play The North Star Bar (27th and Poplar) on Feb. 17 at 8 p.m.