October 1981 interview with Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp

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Date Submitted: 4-Sep-1997
Submitted By: Kenneth Fall (kf at melmar dot com)

This interview with Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp was conducted in Boston on October 28, 1981 by Kenneth Fall (kf at melmar dot com), Matthew Mandell (Matt35m at aol dot com), and a student from M.I.T. whose name we did not get. It was recorded in the coffee shop of the Fenway Motor Lodge. (According to Fripp, this was the first hotel Crimson stayed at in the U.S. in 1969, and was also the site of the first discussion between Fripp and Bruford about Bruford joining the band in the 1970s.) The interview was scheduled to be with only Belew, but Fripp joined part way through. We were also joined a couple of times by an Ellen from artist development at Warner Brothers. Some of the interview was previously used for an article in the Boston University newspaper, and probably for one in the M.I.T. newspaper, but it has not otherwise been published, as far as we know. The transcript is edited. Please respect our copyright and ask permission for further use. The interview occurred on the day before the first U.S. performance by the 1980s Crimson, shortly after release of the Discipline album.

Q: How is Discipline selling?

Adrian Belew: I know that it's almost gold album in Holland; it's almost gold in Japan; and they expect it to go gold in Canada, too. Which for King Crimson is really unheard of, let's face it. I don't know much about record sales myself, but I do know, just from all the talk that's going around, I'm learning a lot about it at this point, finally. Because when you're in the position of being a side man, you're kind of sheltered from that stuff; you don't need to know about it. When you finally move into a position where you're actually sharing the responsibilities of all these things, then you start learning about it.

First, it's very disillusioning -- but now I'm starting to come around and realize -- Okay, so there are certain things you do in order to try and sell your records.

Q: What do you mean it's disillusioning?

AB: I don't know. I'm naive, in the sense that I always thought you just make a great record, the better the record is, the more it sells, and that's not at all true. And then you get out and see how many people you have to meet and how many things you have to do, in order to get people excited about your record, and just how much of that goes on in the world, you know?

Q: Like this?

AB: No, not this. I understand talking about music. I mean, interviewing is great. No, I mean like going to radio stations and talking to program directors. You just start seeing all the outside factors that you really are not in control of.

Q: Some of the factors that Fripp wants to change.

AB: I'm not sure. You'd have to ask him. When they start tying together, and you see this big overall picture that you didn't see before as a side man, it's kind of stunning for awhile. And disillusioning, in a sense. But only for awhile; then, for me, I've kind of now come around back to the point where I was before, only a little bit hipper to the facts.

Q: Robert seems to be very against touring, he considers it a necessary evil. How do you feel about it? Do you mind?

AB: Well, I love to play in front of people. I mean, it's very important for me. Robert does not like to play live. He would prefer, as he says, to read a book than to play in front of an audience. For him, it's like pulling teeth or something. For me, it's a very natural thing, even though it does involve a certain amount of pressure when things start going wrong -- you break a guitar string or something. [Laughs] For me, it's very natural, and I like to do it.

So touring for me is not as bad; but it does have -- you know, it's really hard to do. People don't understand. I mean, everyone says this in interviews -- and I remember years ago, before I ever did any major touring, I used to read these interviews and think -- Well, that guy is really crazy. How could it be that hard to go around and tour? It sounds like a gas to me.

But it is kind of physically and mentally draining. And then for me, further, there's also the great big giant loss of being away from the people I love the most.

Q: So at the end of this tour the band members are going your separate ways?

AB: At the end of this tour we have six weeks off before we start rehearsing again, and it will be, for me personally, the first time I'll have had any time off in nearly two years solid. In some cases I've worked projects back-to-back -- like the Tom Tom Club, did in the Bahamas, and then the very next day flew to San Francisco, did Herbie Hancock's album called Magic Windows. The very next day flew to London and started with the original Discipline rehearsals.

Q: When did all this work pick up? You just seem to have, as far as I can tell, materialized out of nowhere, just showed up on an album one day.

AB: It was interesting. First I started with Frank [Zappa], and that lasted a year. A week later I started with David Bowie. That lasted a year and a half, and then there was a year and a half where I virtually couldn't do anything. I couldn't find work. That's the year and a half I put together my own band. It was very successful, but simply on a club level, you know. Just bars and clubs.

And then, after playing on Remain in Light, everything changed again, and I got to be, as they say, back in demand. And Robert says that that will only last for a couple of years, and then [laughs] there will be another hot guitar player on the scene. So you kind of learn to accept these up-and-downs.

Q: You're hearing this from a person who is always in demand!

AB: You can do that, I think, if you're sensible about what you do, and like I said earlier, be selective. And, basically, if you're always moving forward. Working hard and moving forward is real important.

Q: Are you going to be writing the lyrics on the next album --

AB: Oh yeah.

Q: -- or will that be delegated to anybody else?

AB: Well, basically the policy is, if I want to sing, I sing when the spirit moves me, as we say -- and whatever I want to sing should be of my own invention. It started out Robert had some lyric sheets and stuff, and I just really didn't feel that good about singing them.

I remember an interesting story is -- one day, when I was formulating this thought about putting together just singular words for Elephant Talk. I went to the other guys in the band and I said -- You got any favorite words you want to throw in here? Robert was saying, like, inalgedenomic [laughs] and all these crazy words that I really couldn't imagine myself singing. So after that we agreed -- yeah, if I want to sing, I should sing what I feel like singing.

I think I may actually even get Robert to do a vocal on the next album. [Laughter] Keep it under your hats, but I'm trying.

Q: You should talk to him, and record him when he isn't noticing.

AB: Yes. I really think it would be a good idea to have him do a vocal. It would be great.

Q: We sort of have vocals on his albums, but -- his own vocals anyway.

AB: Yes.

Q: Do you want him to sing outright, or just -- AB: No, I don't want him to sing; I want him to talk. Basically, I want him to tell stories. Robert has this posture, or whatever you would call it -- this pose. It's a very high intellect -- very cold, calculating, whatever you want to call it. But in fact, he can be a very, very warm and friendly person with lots of funny anecdotes and things like that. It's just when he chooses to be that way with you, as in my case. We're very close friends now, you know, so he chooses to be that way with me at any given point.

Now I see that side of him, I kind of want to move into position where you can get that side of him -- a little bit of that. Show him to the people! Because it's interesting; he's got some great stories. So does Tony.

[Fripp passes nearby]

AB: Would you like to say hello, Robert?

Robert Fripp: Hello. [AB laughs]

Q: Mr. Fripp, could I trouble you for an autograph?

RF: Oh, you don't need that.

Q: On your album.

RF: Oh, well, I'll sign a piece of my work.

Q: Sign a piece of your work, please.

Q2: How's the tour going?

RF: [To AB] How would you say the tour was going?

AB: I'd say it's going great.

Q: Are you looking forward to it, the United States part?

RF: I try and go into things without expectation. You know, expectation is like a prison; and if you expect the American tour will be like something, it'll neither be like you thought it would be, or as it is. So you neither get what you want or what you're doing anyway. So I kind of go into things with an open mind as far as possible.

Q: Good luck.

RF: [To waitress] I'm lost here. I hadn't run away.

Waitress: Are you a musician? No, I just heard you speaking. Are you a musician?

RF: I beg your pardon.

Waitress: You're with a group, I gather.

RF: Yes.

Waitress: [Talking to everyone else about Fripp] He's famous, and I should know him -- is that the point?

RF: No, no, no. [Points to AB] This man is the famous one.

AB: [pointing to RF] No, he's the famous one.

[Fripp places an order and joins us at the table.]

AB: Bill and I walked around the corner to this record store called Music City and walked in and just looked around and inquired as to whether our album was selling, and suddenly we were signing albums! It was crazy.

Q: So you haven't set aside any time just for doing that -- signing records or anything?

AB: No, we really don't have the time, at this point. This is a rare day for us, to actually be able to sit down like this.

RF: There are three elements to touring. The actual traveling, the performing, and the promotional aspects -- which is primarily interviews and record shops and so on.

[Road manager Paddy Spinks passes nearby.]

RF: Paddy, Siouxsie and the Banshees are at the Paradise tonight. I want to go.

Q: They might be sold out, but I don't think so.

RF: We could probably work it.

Paddy Spinks: Instead of eating?

RF: I would see it rather than eat.

Q: Had you noticed at the League of Gentlemen shows the diversity of the audience that you were attracting -- that you had all the people who were into King Crimson and Yes and that sort of style of music, but you also had all the people --

RF: Obviously, one sees a diversely attired audience; and since dress is a vocabulary which reflects different lifestyles and different values and so on, it would be reasonable for me to assume that the diversely-attired members of the audience in fact supported different musical movements with which I've been involved. But I couldn't say that for sure; you'd have to go in and ask them.

Regionally, you get different approaches. For example, in French Canada, the tradition is, essentially, to sit on the floor. You don't stand up. You don't dance. You don't get excited during the show. And part of that tradition also involves smoking a lot of dope.

So the overwhelming ambiance of French Canada would be kind of hippies; whereas in Toronto there would be a little difference. In Toronto, you would have a hipper crowd. It would be a bit younger. In New York, the audience is entirely different again. Germany is different. Spain is different.

We seem to be drawing people, essentially, between the ages of about 16 and 35. I wouldn't have thought that many 16-year- olds would have been interested in King Crimson, until they all turn up backstage with their King Crimson albums.

Q: We were at a League of Gentlemen concert, and you were standing -- I guess watching the audience, downstairs, while, actually, Adrian was playing upstairs. Someone approached you and asked you a question, and you replied -- I'm not here to answer to your questions. I was just wondering -- being out there, aren't you sort of asking people to come and speak to you?

RF: If I say yes, it means that I can never mingle with the public.

Q: And if it's no?

RF: So I have to say that, obviously, I'm aware, to a degree, that my presence might stimulate interest. But I don't go out to mingle with the crowd in order to answer questions. I don't like the separation between the performer and the audience.

In practice, being a member of a first-division band is entirely different than being a member of a second- or third-division band. And the kind of division between the performer and an audience in the first division is not a position which I enjoy.

Q: You are out there to do --

RF: I like going out there to -- there's a number of reasons. One is to get the feel for the audience. Another is, sometimes, to get energy from the audience -- because in order to go on stage and focus all the energy -- in a first-division venture a lot of the energy of the audience is currently hostile.

Very interesting to see how audiences have changed in the past twelve years. At the moment, there's a remarkable amount of hostility. In 1969, you know, we had a lot of faith in our artists. They were trying to do something. They were the same as us. And so on. Throughout the 1970s, we've been painfully aware that that isn't true. Artists, public figures of all kinds -- essentially self-serving. So now we go along, fairly cynical, based on the entirely accurate assumption that people in public life are serving their own ends.

The musician is a person who learns the laws of music. The professional musician is a person who learns the laws of selling music. And the performer is the person who reconciles the relationship between, in this case, music and the audience. It's different.

What you have to do is focus the energy coming from both ways and harmonize it. It means that now, in 1981, climbing on the stage as a member of a first-division band, a lot of the energy directed towards you is hostile.

Q. How so?

Q: Is there a reason behind it?

RF: As I said, we're cynical about our artists. We resent them being up there. We resent the fact that they're taking our money -- because we have no faith in them discharging a role. We see that they're taking money.

Q: Did you hear what happened to Public Image there in New York? Of course, John Lydon likes inciting people and things, but they played at The Ritz behind a screen, and they wouldn't come in front of the screen, but they were showing videos of them playing behind the screen on the front of the screen, and the audience got rather upset and started throwing things at the stage.

Lydon was like -- Well, come on, you like this kind of thing anyway; it's what you pay your money for. They virtually stormed the stage and trashed the equipment. They just barely escaped.

RF: You see, very few young English people understand how do you speak American in the American culture. What they were doing, in terms of an English culture, was totally understandable. But very, very few of the young English musicians that come to America have understood that it's a commercial culture. Europe is far more politically based, socially stratified culture. So if you're going to work to change, essentially you're going to work politically. In America, you're going to work commercially. The politician in America would go into commerce. For the clearly, strongly politically motivated English bands coming to America and being political, it's not the way you work in America. So they make unbelievable faux pas -- perhaps with the best intentions in the world.

I've a lot of respect for John Lydon, a lot of respect for The Clash. Both of them had their own difficulties in New York, because they didn't fully understand that they were working according to different values, a different culture. I mean, when in Rome, torture Christians; when you come to America, you learn how to work America. It took me about nine years of being in America [unintelligible].

Q: Well, do you find with King Crimson you have that kind of problem? I mean, there isn't any real overall political things to King Crimson's music. That seems to be a big stumbling block.

Q2: Or is there?

Q: Good question, or is there?

RF: Jacques Ellul -- I don't know if you've read any of his work, fierce intellectual young men, you may have read some of his work. Propaganda, technological society. He wrote in 1948 -- In these times there's nothing more political than a lifestyle. That's just roughly paraphrased. What you are is everything that you are. It's not a question of being political or not political. Everything you are and everything you say is a statement of how you feel about things. But then that's a particularly European viewpoint; everything in Europe is a political thing.

Q: Will you be producing any more outside people?

RF: I'm trying to bully The Roches into letting me produce their next album.

Q: Again? How are you doing that?

RF: Subtle persuasion. Every time I see them I say -- [Haranguing tone] When are you going to record again? [Laughter] Who's going to produce you? I've got great ideas!

Q: How did you meet them or produce them in the first place?

RF: John Rockwell of the New York Times. Whilst sharing a stairwell with him at The Kitchen, going to see Gavin Bryars in February of 1978, he introduced himself. I said -- Is there anyone in town you'd recommend I go and see. He said -- Go and see Roches.

So I went to see them at The Bottom Line -- sat next to Karen ______ [?] -- and was, as they say, blown away. Is that still acceptable American colloquialism?

AB: I suppose.

Q: Did they perform that wonderful rendition of The Hallelujah Chorus?

RF: They certainly did. And my nuts smacked together!


Q: I don't know if that's American colloquialism.

RF: No, that's very English.

Q: How did you come to produce the Matching Mole album -- the Little Red Record?

RF: Robert [Wyatt] asked me. It's very simple. Basically, he wanted me there as a political factor. He didn't want me there for any mixing or musical talents. He wanted me there to pull together some diverse and sometimes conflicting personnel -- which he confessed to me in the toilet at CBS. [Laughter]

Well, Protestant dogma was based on a man so constantly constipated all his work was written on the toilet. I find that some of my best ideas, actually, flow while in the bathroom; and while sharing a bathroom with Robert Wyatt at CBS, he told me this.

Q: Are you as interested in the study of other ethnic musics as, let's say, Dave Byrne is? Or even Eno, for that matter? They seem to be very up these days on gamelan music, African rhythms and things like that. Have you pursued that yourself?

RF: Very few Western rock musicians who are based in four/four [i.e., 4/4 time] can even begin to grasp the complexities of African music, or even European folk music. Some example here is Bulgarian folk-singers, sing in five naturally. If here's our pulse in four, [slapping his thighs] it's going to take about twelve years before you can keep a pulse in four, play five against it, [demonstrates] and keep a part of your attention entirely free to do something else as well.

So I'd say it's virtually impossible for western rock musicians to really get near so-called ethnic music. But you can tilt your hat in that direction, and use it as a kind of influence. [AB attempts to slap four against five] You could do it, Ade. [Laughs] You can tell this man's been playing Discipline for a month or two. [Laughs]

Q: Discipline is in five?

RF: Basically, it breaks down that the rhythm section is in seventeen, and the front line are in fifteen.

AB: That's right.

RF: And it varies a bit along the way.

AB: You know, when I first went to rehearse with these guys [RF laughs], Robert had been telling me how much they were going to play things in four/four, or things, at least, that felt like --

RF: That sounded like four/four.

AB: Sounded or felt like they were in four/four. And the first thing we played was that thing in 17/8 from Discipline. [Laughter] Bill said -- This is just a little something in 17/8: [imitates Bill singing the 17/8 pattern] Now that's the 17/8, okay? You got that?

Sure, I got it.

But being around Bill now, for weeks and weeks, [laughs] I'm getting so used to it, I don't know. I've started thinking fives and sevens and nines.

RF: After working with this team, to begin with, I've found it almost impossible to listen to other rock music.

You say -- Do I like the so-called ethnic music? Yes, I'm very interested in the idea of the gamelan, because it's a system of music which you can't divorce at all from the societal system or the value system which gives rise to it. I mean, it's impossible to have a star system in gamelan.

So if you're interested in obviating a star system, you might go to a musical system that exists in the kind of way that obviates the stars. So you can either pick up the value system which gives rise to the music, or the music which gives rise to the social system.

What we're seeing, in a sense, is this idea of the global community, in media and so on, has got to music. We're getting a cross-fertilization of forms throughout the world because of growing communications; but you're getting an adoption, as well, of the spirit of musics. It's ironical that a lot of the western musicians, while working within roughly western forms, but adopting eastern forms; are picking up a lot more of the spirit of the East, whereas the East is picking up on the spirit of the West. So the East is becoming more materially based, and since mainly the sixties, the West has been picking up on Zen and so on.

Q: I see that in the, for example, Steve Reich Ensemble. It's very much like a small community -- having seen them work together.

RF: Except it's a small community with a head man, who writes all the music. The tradition is directly from the European [unintelligible] tradition, where you get the composer --

Q: He would lead you to believe that changes occur in rehearsals and things that are suggested by the members, but I guess that's not --

RF: Oh, that's entirely true. But then that happened with Mozart. The idea of a fixed classical music tradition is very recent, and has to do, essentially, with middle-class promotion of music in Europe since about 1830. Mozart would've given his violin concerto to a violinist, and the violinist would've fucked around with it a bit, and said -- Hey there, Amadeus, baby. Hey there, Wolfgang. This really doesn't fall too hot, man; I can't get my licks in.

So Wolfgang would have put in a few changes, and it would have changed in performance, and it was simply far more ongoing. But since the development of copyright laws and a certain kind of fix on property, music is seen as a very well-depicted and rigid thing.

How are we doing? Is it time for us to go?

Ellen: Shortly.

Q: In the Musician article, you mentioned that you're wary of deification. Do you see that starting to happen with the new King Crimson? What would you take as signs of that happening?

[Long pause]

AB: [As if counting before a song] One, two, three, four.

RF: Five! [Laughter]

RF: Ho ho! [Pause] I think by now there's very few people who are really interested in my work who would give me a problem with that.

Q: Did you realize that the League of Gentlemen couldn't record in the studio after you had done all your live performances? Did you ever think of recording your live performances?

RF: If the League of Gentlemen tried to record live -- first of all, we couldn't afford to. Secondly, I don't think the gig would have ignited.

Q: It would have created just too much tension, knowing you were --

RF: You know, it's something like making love, and making love while being filmed. [Laughter] You know, there is an entirely tangible difference in the quality that is brought to bear. Not that I've been filmed making that, you understand --

Ellen: We assumed that. [Laughter]

RF: -- but it was a leap of the creative imagination.

Q: You've left little clues through your albums as to what might be coming up. The little things you write in the grooves and things. I notice you have left no message of sorts on the [Discipline] album itself. There are no notes.

RF: Well, that should be a statement in itself. In fact, it is a statement. [Laughs] So the answer is, yes, there is a message there. [Laughs]

AB: Can I ask a silly question?

Q: Sure.

AB: When is Halloween? Tomorrow night?

Q: Saturday night.

AB: Saturday night.

Ellen: That's a perfectly reasonable question.

AB: Well, it is, if you're on the road for a long enough period of time. You start losing a little bit of track of --

Q: Do you have a costume in mind?

Q2: Do you go out trick-or-treating?

AB: I just kind of wanted to know when it was. I would love to go out trick-or-treating, actually.

RF: What's this?

AB: About Halloween.

Q: You could go as Robert. I'm sure he'll lend you some clothes. [Laughter]

AB: I could go as Robert Fripp. That would be funny.