Interview: Adrian Belew (solo, King Crimson, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: March 2016. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary guitarist and vocalist: Adrian Belew. He is best known as a member of King Crimson for 33 years. Also, he has played with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Mike Oldfield and Nine Inch Nails. Recently, he released a set of IOS mobile app platforms called respectively FLUX by belew™ and FLUX:FX. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Did you enjoy the recent European tour of Adrian Belew Power Trio?

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I enjoyed it very much. We had great shows and really applauding audiences and of course we were able to travel around Europe, see other places and meet people.


How did you come up with the idea for FLUX by belew™?

It’s an idea I had in mind since the late ‘70s, when I was touring for the first time with David Bowie in Europe. I was in Marseille, France one day. We had a day off in the harbor. I went down and sat between two cafés and I heard music coming from each of the café and I heard all the sounds of the harbor, boats and people walking by and seagulls and it just broke a nerve with me. I had a kind of an epiphany and I thought that that is the way I want the music to sound. It took me 30 years to figure out how to do that (laughs).


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What is great about FLUX by belew™ is that you can add new music on it. Do you think that aspect makes FLUX by belew™ so unique?

I think FLUX by belew™ is unique for lots of different reasons. Of course, the idea is that every time you listen to it, it’s different. So, it’s a different listening experience of being able to add and continue to grow the music, I think it’s really also very unique. Every other recording that I can think of, once you have put it out, is finished. But in the case of FLUX, it’s never finished. It is just another thing that makes it unique. I loved doing it because it allows me to do just about anything that appeals to me, musically or otherwise and it fits together well.


What are the current projects you are involved in?

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I am just finishing a soundtrack, my first film music. I can’t tell you which the film is, but you will know pretty soon because they have to announce it pretty soon. I am not allowed to say what it is until they officially announce it. I worked on that film project on and off for the last couple of years. It’s a very long process. It’s an animated film. So, for that reason it takes a very long time to put the music to the animation. That’s one thing that I have done and of course we are continuing now to put of the content of FLUX on two CD’s, so the people who don’t want it to have it as an app, can still enjoy the music. The last thing is that now we are looking at the rest of the touring season for us and hopefully coming back to Europe in July and probably touring United States in the fall.


Do you think a power trio is the ideal line-up to perform your solo music live?

I think it is for now. I think it is a great format. It allows me a lot of freedom as the guitarist and singer. It means that everyone in the band has to be in top form more than usual. You have to pull a lot of air at the bass player and drummer. The power trio that I have now it’s been together for many years. We have been around the world playing every kind of venue, every kind of place, so we have an incredibly shared experience between us. We are able to read each other’s mind on stage. Improvising is better on stage. It’s the smallest group of people you can have, so for travelling around the world it’s better in that way. And I think musically what I love about it is that it automatically means whatever songs we play with the trio, they are going to sound different than the original versions and I like that idea.


 “Big Electric Cat” (from “Lone Rhino” -1982) is one of the most addictive songs I have ever listened to. Did you want to make a hit song with this?

Yes, I think I did. When I first started making my solo records in the very beginning of the ‘80s, of course I still had in my mind that maybe I can make songs that would be on the radio. By the end of the ‘80s I think I was done with thinking in those terms and I realized that actually I am not a hit artist. I just want to do very creative things and that suits me better.


Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about your music?

Yes, I think so. I think this is a big advantage because over the past few years I have noticed more and more people coming to my website and my Facebook page and I’ve noticed that some of them are new. Some people have just found out about my music through the Internet. I think it’s a big advantage for an artist who has been around for a while. For a brand new artist who is starting out it might be a lot more difficult because you are trying to get your name out there in the sea of all the other names. There are millions of people who are trying to do that. But I think for an artist like myself who has a catalogue and a history, it’s very helpful.


Have you ever turned down an interesting work offer because you were busy or for any other reason?

Sure, I have. A few times I have been offered to do something, but it just didn’t fit in my schedule. Whenever someone offers me something the first rule it has to pass for me, is the music itself. Do I like the music? Is it something that I want to add to? If it passes that test, the second test is: Can I fit it to my schedule? (laughs)


Can you give us one or two examples of offers that you turned down because of your schedule?

Well, there are one or two groups that asked me to participate either as producer or as player in their groups. I won’t name them but some of them have big name players in them. There are things that I thought musically would work really well but it just didn’t work out time wise. So, I leave it back. Something happens that you can’t actually do. I am very busy, but mostly these days I am concentrated on my own work, my solo music: FLUX and Power Trio, things like that, so I control my destiny more than ever.


Do you wish you were in the current King Crimson line-up?

I would like to be still playing with King Crimson if they were the band that would like to be. But it’s not current line-up the way I would like to be. So, I don’t really care of being in that particular line-up. I don’t like the idea that there are three drummers outside. It’s not something very appealing to me. As a singer and songwriter and performer it sounds too much. But in terms of what I like to continue and do more other things under the banner of King Crimson, I would, but I don’t think that it is going to happen. I think Robert has changed his thought about what he wants to do and he has moved on and I have moved on and I am happy with both of those things.


What was the musical vision of King Crimson on “Discipline” (1981) album?

I think first of all there was a strong vision of what two guitar players can do together in interlocking guitar expression that had never been done. The kind of guitar playing that Robert and I, did on those first couple of records. Secondly, I think the idea of bringing in someone like Bill Bruford (ed: Yes –drums) and also using electronic drums and bringing in Tony Levin (ed: Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, John Lennon) who apart of being one the world’s best bass players, he also played the (ed: Chapman) Stick. It gave us all kinds of new musical information that no one else had used. So, I think the idea was to re-invent the wheel a little bit. I think we did that but we didn’t realize it at the time (laughs). I am very proud of that one record because it seems like a watermark for other records and it’s nice to be able to say that you were in a band that did something no one else had done at that point.


Can you describe to us the very unusual recording sessions of David Bowie’s “Lodger” (1979) album?

David Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti were working together as a team and they had an idea for the record to be called: “Planned Accidents”. So, what they wanted me to do was accidently play on the record. The idea was that I shouldn’t know the music or never hear the music beforehand. They would just play a song and I would have to figure out something to do as the song went along. They would give me maybe two tries, maybe three at going through the song and then they would stop and not allowed me to play any further. At that point, they would take everything I had done in the song and they would take the best parts and string them together and make them one composite guitar part. So, it’s a very curious way of making music, but the result was great. I love that record and I loved working with all those guys.


Were you shocked when Frank Zappa said: “Fuck you Captain Tom” to David Bowie in front of you in a Berlin restaurant (“Major Tom” was the name of the astronaut from Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Zappa consciously demoted Bowie)?

I was a little stunned.  Of course I felt a little embarrassed and awkward sitting there in front of those two musical giants and having them kind of battling over what to do with me. But, first of all I thought that Frank did it because he was funny in his way. I don’t think he really had anything personal against David Bowie. I thought David Bowie handled it very well as he did everything, because David was a gentleman. It was just an odd thing to laugh about years later, but not at the time (laughs).


When you finished the recordings for Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light” (1980), had you realized that you created one of the most important albums of all time?

Well, I didn’t think of that at the time, but I thought it really had an amazing sound that I had never heard before. Around that period we did “Discipline” album. Not a long period of time after that. Just in the course of two years, I was part of records that I thought there were really unique and had done something no one else had done. I only found that out when we played that live in concert with a 10-piece band. Then was when I saw how strong response did receive from the audience itself. It had such a wonderful kind of African groove to it and yet it had all the curiousness that the Talking Heads themselves had. It had some wild guitar things and lot of great singing in background. It was a very big picture and a big change for Talking Heads. So, I am proud of being part of it.


Do you have happy memories of the Tool/King Crimson tour in 2001?

Yes, very much so. I really enjoyed that. We were the opening act of course, so we didn’t really get to play our full show, but the good part was that we were playing for a much larger audience of young fans of Tool. I think the idea was hopefully they would like King Crimson and come to our shows to hear the sound of our band. It was a great, great tour and I made good friends. I love the band of Tool, I love the guys from the band and we are still friends today.


Is it possible to play again with Danny Carey (Tool –drums)?

Oh, yes! Of course, yeah! I think Danny and I, are good friends and we can play together anytime. I saw him just before I went on tour. I went to see one of their shows. He is a very good friend of mine and I love him. He’s a great drummer, very powerful. Maybe somewhere down the line, when the circumstances will be right, we will sit down and play some music.


Why you didn’t tour with Nine Inch Nails in 2013?

The idea when it was first presented to me from Trent (ed: Reznor), was that he and I, we were going to re-invent the sound of the band. After I went into rehearsals, it seemed like that wasn’t happening. In fact, I did rehearsals for a couple of weeks and I learned 20 Nine Inch Nails songs that I had learned them exactly as they were on the record. I didn’t really want to go out and play Nine Inch Nails songs exactly as they were on the record. My thought was that I was going to add something new and different to them. When that wasn’t happening, I think both Trent and I, realized that there weren’t the right reasons for me to be there. So, I moved on.


Why you don’t listen to newer artists?

I have a problem when I listen to other music: I am a good mimic. If I listen to something that really has an impression to me, sometimes those things appear in my music. The best example is this: I went to play on “Graceland” (ed: by Paul Simon -1986) record and that of course was a very different sounding record to anything anyone else would make at that point. So, when I came home from that experience and I began recording more of my music, I realized that it was sounding somewhat like “Graceland” and at that point I stopped myself and said: “It’s very dangerous for me to be listening and really enjoying someone else’s music while I am trying to create fresh new music on my own”. Because I think sometimes their ideas did mix together with mine and I would rather have my music being purely of my own invention as much as possible.


I’ve read the same in a Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) interview. He said: “I was a purist”.

I think some people can listen to other ideas and be inspired by them, but for me I need to keep my mind clear. I have a lot of ideas. I don’t need more ideas (laughs). You know, my schedule is pretty heavy in terms that every day I have things that I can do of my own. So, I decided that it’s not good for me to listen too much in the way of new music. I still listen to records that I liked when I was young. That’s enough for me.


Which is your favourite record?

My favourite record is probably the “Revolver” album (1966) by The Beatles.


Tony Williams came out from Boston and joined Miles Davis when he was 17 years old. Are there those kinds of opportunities today?

I think that there are. I mean, for example, Julie Slick (ed: bass) joined my band when she was 20 years old and I think she’s one of the most unique bass players of all the new bass players out there. There are still some great artists to be discovered at all times. I think sometimes is just a matter of someone hearing them, like Frank Zappa heard me, and then giving them the opportunity. I hope that it happens for a lot of new musicians because I think the world needs creativity, it needs newness, it needs people who are in it for the music and not for the money or fame.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Adrian Belew for his time and to Renee for her valuable help.

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