Interview with Adrian Belew in Music Box

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Date Submitted: 29-Aug-2000
Submitted By: George Khouroshvili (nightwatcher98 at hotmail dot com)

Adrian Belew interview March 3, 2000, for March 2000 Music Box (Russian Music Newspaper) by George Khouroshvili

Music Box: First of all I'd like to thank you for the assent to answer some questions. As far as I'm concerned it's your 1st interview for the Russian media. You've celebrated 50 recently. What do you consider as your most important achievement to date?

Adrian Belew: Dobriy dyehn. It is my first Russian interview. What took us so long? My most important achievement? I'm happy with my life.

MB: When did you decide to become a professional musician? Did you have any alternate plans for the future then?

AB: Age 10. I joined the school marching band as a drummer. At the time I knew music was my passion. I thought I might be a band instructor, someone who plays all the instruments and teaches others. But by age 15 I knew I wanted to be a recording artist. Now I have a studio in my home!

MB: You used to play drums in 60's. And you are still a very good drummer. Why did you decide to begin playing guitar in spite of drums?

AB: I love drums and still play frequently. I borrowed a guitar at age 16 and taught myself to play because I wanted to write songs. Eventually the guitar became my main voice, but I enjoy learning different intruments, each of them have a unique character and require a fresh approach. My overall goal is to become a complete recording artist, someone who has mastered every aspect of the art of making records.

MB: You have a very significant style of playing. Are you a self-educated guitarist? And if so, who was your main influence?

AB: Self-educated. I can't read little dots on paper. My earliest influences as writers were The Beatles, Roy Orbison, Harry Nilsson, and Ray Davies; as composers Stravinsky and George Gershwin; and as a guitarist Hendrix and Jeff Beck. After learning from records the styles of a variety of players from Les Paul and Chet Atkins to Segovia I made an effort to stop sounding like other guitarists. I was left with an urge to make the guitar sound like things it shouldn't be able to sound like. So I began imitating things (seagulls, car horns, etc.) and strived to work with these effects in a way which made sense to the music. For example, after developing a sound similar to an elephant trumpeting, I wrote the song Elephant Talk which gave my elephant sound an appropriate place to live.

MB: Well, many famous guitarists are releasing their early works these days. Don't you plan to present some of your 60's or 70's recordings to the audience?

AB: I didn't make my first solo record until 1981 so I don't have any 60's or 70's recordings but I am working on a large boxed set called DUST to be released next year, the 20th anniversary of my first solo record. DUST includes rarities, demos, unreleased songs and instrumentals, live recordings, and more. At this point there are 90 tracks from solo records, The Bears, and King Crimson. It's going to be a boxed set with wheels!

MB: Adrian, you are known as a man who can make a guitar sound like anything from piano to seagulls and elephants. Many of the Music Box readers are professional musicians. Can you share some of your secrets with them (technique, equipment, etc.)?

AB: That would be beyond the scope of this interview. As you can appreciate over my lifetime I've developed a large vocabulary of sounds each requiring certain physical techniques often combined with a specific effect box. I have no secrets; all of these things have been discussed at length in guitar magazines over the years but are far too elaborate to cover in one article. Instead, let me give a general analogy I've often used: If you were a painter you could use so many ways to make your art. You could simply draw with a pencil, like writing a song with nothing but an acoustic guitar; you could glue sand to the canvas, like running your guitar through a fuzztone; you could use an airbrush, like adding an arsenal of electronic effects to your guitar sound; you could even use sophisticated 3-D computer animation software to make your art, like using digital workstations, Pro Tools, or studio automation. The point is all these things are merely tools. Use as little or as much as you need to express your own uniqueness.

MB: You worked with such different artists as Frank Zappa and David Bowie. Whose music was closer to you?

AB: I had very little exposure to Frank's music before working with him, but had played many of David's songs before; so at first I felt more in tune with David's work. But as I've changed musically over the years I now find more interest in Frank's works, especially his modern compositions. I have very fond memories of David and Frank and feel fortunate to have worked with such giant musical icons.

MB: By the way, with whom of the artists you had performed with during your career you liked to work best?

AB: The best rewards come in making my solo records, but I believe it's healthy for me to participate in bands such as The Bears and King Crimson where no one person in always in control and ideas are shared and expounded upon. I have enjoyed all the artists I've worked with. The only drawback is once the work is done you rarely see each other. In a perfect world Paul Simon would live down the street right next to Laurie Anderson, and David Bowie would live next door and go bowling every Friday night with me, Andy Partridge, and Eno.

MB: Is there a possibility of you recording with David Bowie or Nine Inch Nails again? By the way, how did you meet Trent Reznor? I believe that your backgrounds are quite different. Do you have some common interests in music?

AB: I hope to work with both of them again. Trent contacted my management asking me to play on his record. We had never previously met. Trent has the same interest as I do in creating sounds as yet unheard. I have great respect for his music and enjoyed watching the way he works in the studio.

MB: And let's turn to your more recent projects. It's been said that you are planning at least three solo releases this year. Can you give us some details on them?

AB: I'm making a proper solo record which has as it's central theme the sound of an aggresive guitar trio. I'm close to finishing a new Bears record filled with mature pop songs and featuring soloist Robert Fripp on one track. I'm slowly designing my second Experimental Guitar record. And next year I will release DUST, the giant rarities collection mentioned earlier. By the way, selections from all 4 projects can be heard on my latest release just out on Thirsty Ear Records called Coming Attractions.

MB: Can you describe the forthcoming King Crimson release?

AB: The band has more of a heavy rock band sound. The record touches a wide spectrum of music identified with King Crimson and yet manages to go to new places as well. The overall sound is dense and menacing. Pat and Trey have devised a unique landscape for me and Robert to explore.

MB: What do you think of the current King Crimson line-up?

AB: This particular line-up is very good. Perhaps even great. I hope we make many records together. I prefer a quartet, it makes everyone work harder.

MB: Once I read somebody quoted you as saying that to play with King Crimson in 80's wasn't all that easy for you. And recently Robert Fripp wrote in his diary that you had some doubts about your future in King Crimson. It's impossible to overrate your importance for the band both as a brilliant songwriter and a masterful performer. How do you feel yourself in King Crimson now?

AB: King Crimson is never easy; it's challenging. That's why I like it. I'm very happy with the band now and plan to continue dedicating some of my best work and my full enthusiasm to King Crimson.

MB: Besides King Crimson do you plan any collaborations for the nearest future?

AB: I've just finished recording with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones for their upcoming release. Bela has won 4 Grammies and lives here in Nashville. Next week I go to Cincinnati for a week of songwriting with The Bears.

MB: Do you have any plans to tour in the Eastern Europe either as a band member (with King Crimson or even The Bears) or solo?

AB: King Crimson will soon be touring parts of Europe. The only confirmed Eastern European dates I'm aware of are these:

June 9 at the Arena in Pozna, Poland
June 10 & 11 at the Roma in Warzaw, Poland
June 13 at the Archa Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic

MB: What is your favorite song?

AB: Rhapsody In Blue by Gershwin.

MB: Which one of your songs do you consider as your best?

AB: My songs are my children, they're all precious to me. I couldn't pick one.

MB: Thank you very much again, Adrian. Hope to see you performing in Moscow someday. If you ever wanted to say something to your Russian fans - now you have the opportunity.

AB: I hope to see your faces someday. I appreciate your support for my work. Dah sveezhdahnyah.