Interview with Adrian Belew in Marquee
Date Submitted: Oct/Nov-1995
Submitted By: Tom Ohsawa (ohsawa at csg dot sony dot co dot jp)
I am translating some of the articles that appeared in Marquee, a Japanese magazine, which did special interviews to KC members and ex-KC members. Please note that the original interview is written in Japanese. So actually, the real spoken words in English are not known.
Interview with A. Belew
M: Why did you put out a CD that is actually a rehearsal tape? Who's proposal was it?
AB: It was Robert's idea to put out "Vroom" in that form. In order to arouse interest in people. Probably he wanted to do something special for Japanese fans. It was also a good start for us to seriously work on the band. It's just like dipping your feet into water before jumping into a pool.
M: How did you feel about releasing this album (Vrooom)?
AB: I also thought it was a good idea. I wanted the band to go further. I needed something that proves the ideas we have been nurturing. Probably Robert wanted to show to everybody that the band had reached this much before releasing Thrak.
M: What do you think of the album Thrak?
AB: In Thrak, there is a relection of a band that is in full swing. It's the album we made after we've played together for a while. We have truly become a band, playing in front of audience based upon the ideas and ways that we have been thinking.
M: Is Thrak a development from Vrooom? Or is it something else?
AB: It's a development. At the time of Vrooom, it wasn't even decided that we will record the Thrak. Many things happened at that time of Vrooom. We had more time for Thrak so we could integrate our ideas. In that sense, it's more perfect. We had re-recorded all the songs that were in Vrooom for Thrak. It's because I qthink we wanted people to compare the band of the beginning and the band a year later. To see the difference. Since the old days, Crimson played live when a new song was written. But we didn't do it at the time of Vrooom. We put our initial ideas on the tape. Thrak is a result of time spent after playing live in front of people. So naturally it would sound different. I think it has become more exciting because we gained more confidence.
M: Were all the other songs written at the time of the mini-album Vrooom?
AB: There were no single song complete but we had ideas for the songs. I knew that Robert was working on Vrooom Vrooom and I had an idea for Inner Garden. Dinosaur was about to be born at the time of rehearsal but was not complete enough to be put into an album.
M: Please describe the process of making Thrak as detailed as you could.
AB: Usually everyone would gather in a studio. I was in a room. Tony was in a different room. I think Pat was also in another room. Robert, Trey and Bill were in the same room. That's how the actual recording was made. After each one completes his own track successfully, corrections will be made per person, especially the drumming. We may overdub some ideas. We don't overdub that much because the band itself makes big sound. The songs in the album are very close to the live versions. In the end, we record the drums. I like to record the vocals by myself alone after having dinner. Of course, with David, our engineer.
M: Have you discussed on the direction of the album while you were making it?
AB: We discussed per each song. The members involved were different. I and Bill discussed while eating. Or, Robert, Trey and me together. There was always somebody talking about the possibility of some song or some idea. But it's difficult to talk about the overall sound of the band. You rarely can say the sound will be like this or that. Most of the time, a song has its own life and we try to put it together as we like it. Both Robert and I had overall ideas on how the band should be but we left it to the songs, and the band took care of the rest.
M: Have you changed your plans after seeing the reactin to Vrooom?
AB: No. When Vrooom came out, all the songs for Thrak were complete. Even at this moment I don't know the reaction to Vrooom. I feel that there are many people who are excited about this band, which I am pleased with, but I don't make music on the basis of people's wish to hear something they like to hear. This band is only making something that we can get excited about. And we hope that it is also exciting for the audience.
M: What is the band King Crimson to you?
AB: I think you know that I do a lot of other activities other than King Crimson. I have my own recording studio, I have my own record label. There are many other things I do in music but King Crimson is for me a very special thing. There are not many bands that I would like to join. The reason why I'd like to join King Crimson is that its members are excellent musicians and great people. There are complicated ideas. There are ideas that makes me think. My ideas change as well. There are influences on my ideas. I cannot make this music alone. I can make my music alone and I'm satisfied with that. But it's also nice to play music which can only be made with an unique combination of musicians. In short, King Crimson has a perfectness which other bands don't have. We can do without fearing anything (laughs). And overall, the band is surrounded by seriousness. This band is not for playing around. It's an intellectual band. It has a music concept that other bands do not possess. That's why I want to stay with this band.
M: Is that where King Crimson as a band differs from other bands?
AB: It's hard to find out which part of King Crimson is different from the other's. But the general characteristic of King Crimson is like that. Of course, it is no doubt that Robert is responsible for the majority of it. He leads the band and if there is certain sound that he likes then it's probably the sound we are creating. He is supporting everything in the back. I, Tony and Bill who have been working with Robert take in the concept and make it into a material we could play. Each person with strong characters and their music identity crash each other and form one material. Though we discuss much about it before we play it, the music itself has its own life in the end and it will move on.
M: I have an impression that Robert is not only an instrument player but also his certain policies of music frame the activities of King Crimson. Which part of Robert do you sympathize with and therefore continue to be a Crimson member?
AB: He is my favorite player but at the same time he is a conceptual musician. He has a very strong ideas and insists on fulfilling those ideas. He will concentrate on those ideas. That's why there is a strong character in his music. The reason why I like to play with Robert is that two of us together can do something others can't do. He always supports my ideas and I feel that we have a very good partnership. He is also a good friend of mine. He is a complicated person so it takes time to understand him. I have spent a lot of time on it and he became a good friend. Even if we didn't play together, I would have been a fan of his activities.
M: Wasn't your visit to Robert's house and your discussion with him in 1991 one of the major triggers for starting King Crimson this time? Did you propose anthing to him at that time?
AB: I proposed to him in the beginning that we should bring in the right players and make it a band or Robert and I only would play together and invite different players per album. You know that in early King Crimson days they had different players per album. So I thought it would be easier for Robert to do like that. He and I would form a core and then invite players who would fit for each song. This song should be played by Bill Bruford, but the next one should be played by Pat Mastelotto. That was my original proposal. If you don't want to do a full band King Crimson with former members, then it could be done in the way I just said. But few years after that Robert thought that he wanted to do everything including that (Laughs). I think that's why he wanted to have both Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford in the band. I was pleased that he arrived at such a conclusion. There's nothing we cannot do now. It's wonderful for me that I can play with them.
M: But why did you at that time proposed the rebirth of King Crimson?
AB: Here in the States, since the atart of the '90's there were rumours here and there that the new King Crimson would be born. I was always asked by everyone if there will be a birth of new King Crimson. So I thought I should meet Robert when I went to England for some other occasion. I met him and asked if there would be a new King Crimson. If there would be one, I said I want to definitely join it. Interesting thing was that Robert was already thinking the same thing.
M: Was that a simple coincidence? Or ---
AB: There was something I think. We realized vaguely that the time has come again for King Crimson to do something. I didn't want to be out of it. Not just watching it from a distance but I wanted to actually take part in it.
M: I think it is quite difficult for bands and musicians with long careers to be engaged in a new activity without losing freshness. From your experience, could you tell us what is the key to keeping the freshness?
AB: First, you have to put yourself under different circumstances. That's the same with a new band. We all have fresh attitude. We have new faces like Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto. I myself am always thinking about music to keep the freshness and always seeking new possibilities. And I try not to repeat myself. As a musician, there are a number of new technologies I should learn and tools I can use . There's a lot I should learn each time. A small thing becomes the bridge to the next inspiration. As long as you move forward, you will always hit both similar ideas and totally different ideas.
M: You said previously that the time has come for King Crimson to do something. I feel that Crimson appears again at the time when the trend of popular music changes. Do you think that Robert has any intention about it?
AB: From what I felt through discussion with Robert, I think that he had much intention. There is no doubt that he was aware of something rising within him. Robert seems to periodically feel the desire to do something that cannot be done within a normal world of rock. Then he starts doing Guitar Craft or something that is more abstract. But like now, he also wants to do a wonderful music in a band with other members. So, it is himself, his mind that made him ready to start King Crimson again. And it's similar with me. There aren't so many people that I want to play with. There aren't many situations, either, in which I sacrifice something for. But this is one of them. It must be something exceptional that makes me get out of my house because usually it is most enjoyable to make records in my own recording studio (laughs). That's why King Crimson is a very special thing for me.
M: I did not feel that a heavy-rock-like sound tendency in the album Thrak was something of an old stuff. Because now we are in the age of digital equipments, it may be possible that we feel the rough-cut style of the album as refreshing. What do you think?
AB: Yes, we wanted to be satisfying in every aspect. We didn't want it to become boring because it is perfectly digital, either. Of course, any recent band more or less uses digital equipments. You can achieve the highest quality through them. But our band has some sort of roughness and we want to keep it that way. We don't necessary want to finish up everything with perfect sound. We like sudden events. The defects in songs are also alright. Most people want to correct those defects but if you do it you might lose the character there. So what I've found in many years playing is that the first, second and third reactions are the best. Even if it's rough, you'd better leave it like that.
M: Double Trio is an interesting configuration. This set-up will probably exercise its power during live stage. The full album this time does not contain songs with much improvisation recorded in Vrooom. Is there any great idea to make good use of the new set-up?
AB: Surely the live performance would be more improvisation oriented. I'd like to mention something about Double Trio here. I don't think we have made full use of this set-up yet. I think there is a lot of space for the band to grow. In the end, I think two trios would play independently or play in turns and this would then be interpreted as Double Trio. At this moment, we haven't reached that point yet. This (Thrak) is our first album and everyone wants to play all the time.
M: You performed in Argentine like that?
AB: Yes. Mostly, all of the members played. Occasionally we did a duet or a trio. In the future, I think that those will be increased. In the songs themselves, those will be built in from the beginning. But in the latest album (Thrak) we are still at a stage trying every possibilities and ideas. That's the exciting thing about this band. There's a lot of possibilities and there's a birght future.
M: But for some time will your music arrangement be fundametally the same when you are performing Vrooom and Thrak, though there will be some improvisations?
AB: Although there will be improvisations, I think the songs will have a form that you will realize this song is from that album. But I think since the old days this band had created interesting results at live concerts. Mostly you could produce bigger and better sound than in the album. There is one more thing that I realized when we did in Argentine. The '80's songs which Tony, Bill, Robert and I had done sounded great when we did them with six of us. It was never so good. And it also sounded new. When you hear the songs like Frame by Frame and Elephant Talk in this new context, you feel like you heard them for the first time.
M: The last question. You are going to record your solo album very soon, I heard.
AB: I started already. There are two albums. One is an instrumental album with only guitar. The other one is with vocals.
M: Are they going to be quite different from King Crimson's?
AB: They are quite different from King Crimson's and the two albums themselves are quite different. Completely different approach is used. There are lots of new ideas.