One On One with Adrian Belew
Part One by Steve Beck
people in the music industry are as busy or accomplished as Adrian
Belew. The list of people with whom he's worked is a "Who's Who"
of the music world. King Crimson, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, David
Bowie, Trent Reznor and Paul Simon are only just a few. With two
releases already this year, Side One and Side
Two, and Side Three which will be released early next
year, there is no stopping this musical troubadour. I was able to
chat with Adrian Belew by phone in the middle of his latest tour
which is now heading out West.
looks like you’ve been on tour most
of the summer. Can you please tell us a little about what you’ve
been up to and who you’re touring with?
trio is myself, Mike Hodges on drums and Mike Gallaher the bass
player. What we’ve been up to is traveling around and doing
as much dates as we can do and different types of dates. We’ve
done some festivals; we’ve done some clubs and some theaters.
We’ve been to Japan, been to Venezuela and being doing a
little bit of everything. All of it is in support of the three
records that I’m releasing this year; Side One, SideTwo and Side
Three. Side One and Side Two were already released
in January and July and Side Three comes out in January
of next year.
did this band come together? Did you hold auditions or know these
guys from before?
I tried to put together something here in Nashville. My idea was
that if it were here in Nashville I could afford a lot of time
to develop the band and, you know, kind of woodshed was what I
wanted to do. My thinking was if people lived here and they were
already settled in here the cost of it would be affordable enough
that they could continue to work the jobs they have here. That
didn’t actually work. So in that first plan, plan A, I did
audition musicians from this area and eventually decided on some
players and worked them for awhile then realized that it was just
never going to be good enough for what I had in mind.
I fell back to Plan B which was playing with people I knew already
who would be great players and would be able to do this music
correctly and add a lot to it. At the time Mike Gallaher lived
in Florida and Mike Hodges lived in Cincinnati since then Mike
Gallaher has moved here to Nashville so that’s made it a
little simpler in terms of our rehearsing and traveling problems.
Mike Hodges still lives in Cincinnati but we were able to do what
I wanted without the woodshed aspect of it simply because they
are such good musicians.
you enjoy touring or do you consider it a necessary evil?
used to…I’ve gone
up and down over my touring life and I’ve been touring since
1977. I’ve done some touring almost every single year. There
have been times in my life where I really despised it and saw it
as a necessary evil. And there were times when I, for instance,
for about 15 or 20 years I had a fear of flying so anything that
had to do with airplanes was horrific for me. I’ve overcome that fear and so that’s
not an issue for me anymore. The other issue is that it took up
so much of my life and time away from my family. I think a third
issue was always to me was that creativity comes to a halt when
you’re touring. When you’re at my home, I have my studio
and engineer, that’s when I can really turn loose and
create something really everyday and accumulate a lot of ideas
are the aspects of touring that I didn’t
like over the years but in the last few years’ things changed.
I don’t know, King Crimson started touring by bus and that
made the travel aspect of it a lot better for me. Better hotels.
You know, just the strategy behind the touring became more livable.
We weren’t touring constantly. We’d go out for short
periods and then come back so you could continue your creative
roll; you could still be with your family and have some semblance
of home life.
where I am currently with touring and with playing live is about
the best place I’ve ever been because I’ve
wanted to do solo touring with a trio for about five years so this
is a little bit of a dream come true for me. Why a trio and why
touring? Because I’ve wanted to be able to stretch out on
guitar like I haven’t been able to do for a long time. When
you have a trio and you’re playing specifically your own
music, you can design the music to have those aspects to it. It’s
not entirely a lot of improvising but there is improvising built
into the arrangements of my songs. And since it’s a trio,
everyone has to work really hard and everyone has to pretty much
play their butt off all of the time. And since I’m the only
guitar player, it affords me a lot of room to do that. I think
it’s the same kind of thinking that Robert Fripp had when
he put together the Projekts and in particular we had Projekt Two
where I was the drummer and he was the guitar player and Trey was
the bass player. That’s a great format for a guitar player
and I developed all of these ideas for looping and things to keep
kind of a fourth player invisible in the band so I could take some
time and explore new guitar things that I’ve been wanting
to do. Lots of new sounds, lots of new techniques I’ve been
working on and hadn’t had any time to put them anywhere
That’s a long answer for your touring question but I’m
really enjoying it again with the music and the players. We still
aren’t back to the bus level with my solo touring. I mean
obviously we don’t make nearly as much money as King Crimson
but I’m hoping that if we can continue next season,
we can get up to that level and that would kind of make
the whole package just perfect.
worked with a number of incredible
players and personalities in long term projects. King Crimson and
the Bears to be specific. What challenges do you see in keeping
a band together and how do you make it work?
are all kinds of challenges in keeping a band together. The ones
that I deal with currently seem to be financial beyond anything
else. That’s always a challenge, how does everyone make enough
money, how do you afford the crew, how do you afford the recording
sessions and all of the things people really don’t take
into account unless they’re right in the thick of it like
I am. It costs a lot of money to do what we do even if you are
semi-famous. Still the money is necessary. I think that’s
one of the hardest things to do. For example with the Bears; the
Bears can only do a certain amount of stuff because we are limited.
There’s just not the money there. There’s not the support.
There’s no record label. The fan base is a certain level
where there’s a ceiling to how much you can do. And actually
that’s even true with King Crimson. There is a ceiling as
to what we can do. We have about 300,000 people and that’s
a lot of people but they’re spread around the entire world
and that’s our ceiling. And it doesn’t seem to matter
what record we make, we’re not going to sell more than that.
So you have to work it within those things.
second thing of course is scheduling. Everyone has other things
to do and can do and are offered to do at different times so you
have to take all of that into account. And I think the main thing
is how well is it working? Are the personalities and musical ideas
mixing together to make some fabulous soup or are they making some
horrible stew? You know, I keep coming back and working with the
same people because those are the people that the ideas flow with.
The friendships are there. They are long term so you kind of already
know a lot of things. In a musical friendship the longer you play
together, the more intuitive you become and the more you understand
the other person’s attributes and things that they bring
so that kind of makes it a little easier to work with each other.
I’ve also gone back a lot of times and played with these
people that I just do one record with or something, Trent Reznor,
David Bowie and those kinds of people. I attribute that to the
fact that it works. If it works, they’re going to call you
back. So I did three records with Paul Simon and two tours with
David Bowie and two records with Trent Reznor and so on. I just
think that means that something here is working. Obviously when
you start a musical relationship you don’t really
know each other but gradually it develops into a real friendship
and then as you know people. I think I get along with just
What types of music are you listening to now
and who, if anyone is really pushing innovation on the guitar?
I don’t know. That’s a loaded question for me because
I’m not a person who listens to a lot of other music and
I’m sorry to report that. I’ve had to say this a hundred
times in interviews and people may be surprised to find out that
I simply don’t have time to listen a lot of new music. It
filters down to me through people that I know and respect. They’ll
come to me and say you have to listen to this. For example my bass
player, Mike Gallaher played me the new Bill Frisell record the
other day, a guitarist that I wasn’t really that familiar
with. I’ve heard his name a lot of times. I thought it was
great. I loved it. There are a lot of really interesting things
especially on the first of the two CDs. But I’m not the right
person to say who’s up-and-coming, who’s next or who’s
doing something ‘cause I’m just not well educated at
that. I have, in my mind, something that I need to do everyday.
When I wake up, I generally have a lot of thoughts on things, musical
or otherwise that I have to accomplish. So my recreational listening
time is pretty small.
played with so many different
people in the industry is there anyone in particular who you would
like to collaborate with if given the opportunity?
hate to say names because somehow that seem presumptuous to even
say names but I would limit it to this, when you’re growing
up and you’re most influenced in your teens and your early
twenties, those are the people that influence you, those are the
people that later in your life you say, “gee I wish I could
have played with so and so”. And so it’s the people
that I listened to when I was most vulnerable to influence that
would still be interesting to me. I’d love to catch up with
some of those people now and say “oh gee, now I’m pretty
good maybe let’s do something”. So I won’t name
names but it would probably be any of the people who were influential
and famous in their work or even infamous in their work when I
terms of people who are my current peers which might be people
like Les Claypool or Danny Carey who I just worked with. Those
things are also very exciting to me and they’re
more reachable because most of those people already know your
work and they’re fans of it. I think in November I might
do something with Amon Tobin who is a non-musician who makes
music and it’s
a really interesting approach. He basically samples a lot of
things and puts them together in a musical way. He’s not
a player at all and that’s interesting to me. ‘Cause
I love his work, I love what he does with it but I think now
what would you do if he had a live musician standing there who
could really help you with this so that might be an interesting
collaboration. Collaborations are something that I don’t
have enough time for right now so I don’t really put a
lot of thought into it.
- Read Part Two -
Steve Beck founded OnlineRock in 1999 as a place for musicians to post music and share information. In 2001 Beck launched OnlineRock Records which has released music from Gregory Paul, Autumdivers and Ike Willis (former Zappa front man). He has traveled to Sierra Leone, Montenegro and Zambia on behalf of the US State Department to talk to musicians about the industry. As time permits, Beck records and performs with Julie Cornett under the band name Needle. Contact him at email@example.com