Interview with Adrian Belew on CNN
Date Submitted: 16-Jun-1995
Submitted By: Scott Leon (ScottTV66 at aol dot com)
I received a lot of E-Mail concerning my interview with Adrian on CNN. A small part ran on CNN's SHOWBIZ TODAY on Wed June 7.
Since there was a lot of interest..I am transcribing the interview here for whoever cares. Please excuse any ignorance on my part since..after reading many of the postings in "Elephant TalK'..it's evident that there are many more Crimson-ites much more well versed in the groups rich history than I am.
The interview took place at 3pm eastern Monday June 5th,1995 at CNN's New York bureau:The interview informally started with me asking about the origins of "Thela Hun Ginjeet":
Belew: It's actualy an anogram of the original title I had "Heat in the Jungle".robert suggested, "well I don't like that title,Ade..can you find something?"..so I took these Scrabble tiles and I made some anagrams and made it "Thela Hun Ginjeet"...which means nothing but it sounds good to sing.(laughs)...We play about the best,I think, of the 80's material from that band..things like "Frame by Frame". and "Elephant Talk"..and "Matte Kudasai"..they've become kind of minor Crimson classics...we seem to play a lot of stuff from the "Discipline" album..the first album..the "honeymoon" album..and everybody likes that..everybody liked that record the most.
SL:It was a groundbreaking album.
SL: let's start with how King Crimson..after all these years..ended up getting back together?
AB: The short story is that there was so many rumours circulating that there was going to be a new King Crimson ..a few summers ago while I was in Europe..I decided to pop in and see Robert at his house in England and ask him "Is there going to be a new King Crimson and..if so..I want to be a part of it." And I think that started the wheels turning with Robert and myself.Once he had a commitment from me then I think he felt "OK,we can go ahead with this." It's taken quite a few years to put the sub-structure together..to get the band all in one place..it's a band from two continents now...and it's been worth the wait.
SL: Not to mention that your solo career was making incredible strides..you've put out some pretty good music over the past few years..
AB: Well.it still is..I feel great about my solo career andfrankly we will now divide our time between King Crimson and making solo albums.For instance..now we have this tour that's been May and June..and at the end we have 3 months off.I'll go home and my summer vacation will be making a new solo album (laughs).
SL: The new album "Thrak"...you put out an earlier album entitled "Vroom" before this which was basicaly the rehersals for this album?
AB: I think of "Vroom" as kind of a documentation of the beginnings of the band. We were in a recording studio rehearsing and writing all the new material and we recorded it as we went and we decided,"Well some of this is really worth putting out." So we put out a half an hour CD that was supposed to be released..really..only in Asia..and I think there are imports coming into America now..it's an interesting side of the band starting up. What the "Thrak" album is,though,is a much more refined..almost a year later..version of the band after we'd written more material..played in front of an audience. .and recorded properly in a studio...Peter Gabriel's studio.
SL: How would you compare "Thrak" to "Disciplie", "Three of a Different Pair" and your other 80's work?
AB: Some of this album harkens back to the earlier King Crimson ..the 70's version..band..I wasn't a part of...because it has such a heavy ..you know..almost heavy metalish quality sometimes.Some of the songwriting,though,which is one of my primary roles, I think is still similar to the band in the 80's.You get these..I like to try and write classicaly well written songs and then let the band contribute and do them their own unique way...so you get songs like "Dinosaur" or "One Time" ..those are really good strong songs that King Crimson can only do. those songs..no one else could do those songs (laughs) the way this band does.
SL: That;s interesting because you take a song like "People" ..which is a lot like the stuff you were doing in the 80's..but then you have a song like "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" ..and that's a song that sounds similar to the King Crimson of the late 60's.
AB: "Sex Sleep Eat Dring Dream" is an example of the band kind of coming up with something..improvising it..and then I take over as the songwriter and make some chord changes and write a melody and write the lyrics for it. So it's more of a band..a combination of the whole band..that's probably why it sounds more like the band than say my music or Robert Fripp's music.
SL: Does the music evolve in the jamming process or is it written out..?
AB: Sometimes it evolves that way.I'd say there's a portion of the music that comes from our just playing together and improvising...taping everything..listening and saying "well that idea there has some merit". Most of the material,however,comes from either the pen of Robert Fripp or myself.Robert generaly writes all the instrumental songs on this album..you have something called "Vroom" ..you have "Thrak".."Vroom Vroom"..those are his pieces..and anything that has a melody and words..it's up to me to write..I'm the singer and so it's my requirement to come up with what I want to sing...and so it's kind of a two headed monster..you know you have the band either being lead by Robert or somewhat directed by me.
SL: That's another interesting thing about this band in that in some ways it's 2 trios... two drummers..two stick players..such a difficult instrument..and now you have two of the greatest in the world..all playing in the same band.How does that work when it comes to figuring out parts and the overall sound?
AB: It really has been fascinating to watch these guys do this.I think they've all done amazing stuff together.They kind of wood-shedded.You have Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto..our 2 drummers ..sitting down and working out some very elaborate thinking on all the different possibilities for 2 drummers working together and they've really done amazing things.The same with Tony Levin and Trey Gunn.They both play stick ..which is an unusual instrument to begin with..it's part bass and part guitar..but Tony Levin is well known for all of the other bass things..he plays an upright bass with a bow..he plays electric bass..so you have all these different combinations in the bass department as well and they've done amazing things.And then you have Robert Fripp and myself sharing the role as guitarist and both of us are notable for all the different sounds textures and approaches we can have..so it's a bit like a rock orchestra or something...you have an amazing sound possibilies..and I'm right there in the middle on the stage..some nights the sound is just overwhelming..it's great.
SL: Sitting in the audience Saturday....at some points it was incredible..the emotional impact of the sound on the audience.
AB: We have great audiences everywhere we go they've all been waiting ten or eleven years now to see this band and so they're all keyed up and I think the show is fairly intense..you know..it's a musical experience ..it's not just a bunch of songs strung together..there's some improvisation..there's some very heavy instrumetal moments..and you have a band that's very confidant and experienced..it would be fascinating to see how many records we've all made.I know I've made 50..I know Bill Bruford has made 60..Tony Levin has probably made 150. so there you go.
SL: The bands status has mainatained all these years..there's a tremendous desire on the part of your audience to hear you play..why is that?
AB: I think it has something to do with the musical integrity of the band.It's not a band that does things in a normal fashion.There's definetly a sound to King Crimson and an attitude that you bring to the music.We dont do the normal things you might do for someone else.It's band that's all about coming up with something new,adventurous..it always has been.and I think our audiences know that and have come to expect that and so it's a special thing for them
SL: That's surely why because there aren't a lot of bands willing to take risks..and you as a musician..you've always been a risk-taker..the people you've played with..Zappa,Laurie Anderson.all people who take risks in their music..is that something you've always been drawn to?
AB: Yeah, I think I like the innovators in music and I've been very fortunate that I've been able to lock horns with some of the best...David Bowie,Frank Zappa,Laurie Anderson,Paul Simon.. amazing musicians..and we always en up being great friends,too. so it goes deeper than that. I have a flexibility in my own musicality ..it's instintual. SO I can walk into someone else's music ..it can be 9 Inch Nails and I can play something they really like...or it can be Paul Simon..very different approach..and yet he'll like what I play.
SL: I talked to Paul Simon about you a long time ago..
AB: I was on "Graceland"..the very first album that someone actualy sent me a Gold Album. Thank you,Paul! (laughs) I've been on many of them..he was the first person to give me one!
SL: I have a recent album..a Beatles compilation..in which you played "Blackbird". how did that come about?
AB: It's a record that has interpretations of Beatles songs by different guitarists..I was approached by the producer of the record who knew that I was a big Beatles fan and "Blackbird" I chose because I thought I could do an interesting rendition of it.it's very similar to the original song and yet more fully orchestrated because the original song just had guitar and Paul McCartney's voice.
SL: When you play with other musicians do you find that not only do you bring something to their music bu you get something that influences your playing?
AB: I think I have learned a lot about recording from all those experiences..The recording studio is my favorite domain..I'd rather make a record than anything. And in fact I;ve just installed a beautiful studio in my homeso that's what I like most.It's the creative process..the problem solving..trying to get your ideas into something called a CD..correctly,the way you originaly heard them.So yes..you learn things from all these people and I'd liek to think I bring things to their records too.
SL: You still live in the MidWest?
AB: A year ago I moved to the Nashville area..I have a beautiful home there with woods and a little creek and lots of birds and things ..a very nice area for me to be in especialy during creative times.
SL: I remember when you were on the "Night Music" program and you played with Elliot Sharpe,Pop Staples,Nona Hendryx and that great Sanborn band..that must have been something..
AB: That show was noted for bringing together lots of different styles of music in one show..and then what they would do at the end is..they'd get you all lined up and have you play something together that you'd never played ..it was amazing (**Note: the song was "Take me to the River") I remember standing standing next to the saxaphone player Ivan Popovich ..from..I believe a Czecheslovakian wedding band (*note: Bulgarian) they played very odd time signatures and played very unusual music and there I was playing with the saxophonist.
AB: Clarinet,that's right..
SL: I have a tape of it (laughing)
AB: You do? He know's everything about me! I'm impressed! (laughs)
SL: Are there any plans for Crimson to put a live album out after the tour is over?
AB: I think so..I think we'll probably try and do that.there are a lot of bootlegs of the band and we'd like to do something more official.The performances have been excellent and we record some of them...so maybe we'll cull that into a live album.We're already talking..Robert and I..about some of the ideas we have for the next record..and I'm sure he'll be at my studio in Nashville as soon as he can be there.The way the music generally begins is with Robert and I sitting casually like you and I are doing now with guitars..not even plugged in..and we'll try this..and this will sound a little like this..you know..start doing some outlines and..sort of a blueprint..and they evolve from there.
SL: His solo spot (in the concert) was just amazing..I can't even describe to people what he was playing ..
AB: It is unbelievable..it's different from night to night.I can't explain it either.Robert Fripp has a masterful approach ..he can do things with guitar that no one else can do..and I'm a big fan.
SL: Then again..so can you.
AB: It's a mutual thing..we're kind of cheerign each other on from the sidelines.Even in the recording sessions.I remember when we did "Dinosaur"
and I had reserved a section in the middle in which I wanted Robert to play
one of his great soaring solos and I stood there with him and said " That was
great..now..if we can just get a better ending here.." and he kind of needs
that and I do too..you need a partner in those things sometimes.
SL: How did "Waiting Man" start?
AB: "Waiting Man" started with Tony.,from a line on the stick. and then I introduced chord changes and added melody and lyrics later.
SL: One of the great things about Crimson is how the middle parts often take off in totally different directions from the original concepts..how do they come about?
AB: It would depend on the song."Dinosaur" has a copletely irrelevant middle section..it goes completely to another sound and turns from being a six piece band into a trio with me playing sort of an oboe thing and Tony bowing the bass..that whole section I specificaly wrote to take the song in a different direction.We had songs on the record that were starting to be monumental in their scope..big,seven minute instrumental pieces but all of the songs with vocals were still 3 or 4 minute pop songs so I thought lets try to apply this monumental epic song approach to a song with words and that was one way of doing it.
SL: Then you take the middle of "People" which is a great solo..even though its a short piece of the song..but I was looking forward to hearing that live because I wasnt sure who was playing that solo..and now I know you all were. AB (laughs) That one was something the band came up with .I presented that song in a very simple form.then the band said "Lets do more with it" and put the middle section in and 'Lets do a long involved ending" and so forth.
SL: I think it's one of the most succesful pieces on the album. AB Really? That's great.The nice thing about King Crimson's music is that includes so many different areas.I find people who like this..dont care as much for that..you really have choices with this band..it's definetly not a one trick pony (*Note: did he know of Levin's acting career?Hmm) You have lots of differnt styles and tastes there and it's a pretty full pallette.
At this point the official interview ended..but:
SL: What made you decide to move to Nashville?
AB: My wife,Martha..She was born and raised about an hour and a half south of there.
A very nice man who made it easy for me.