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Interviews

Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

By Published: November 10, 2008
AAJ: I thought that some of those tunes like "Heartbeat," for example, could've been a hit.



AB: Yeah, I sometimes regret that song being put in the hands of King Crimson, because I was talked into it.



AAJ: So "Heartbeat" was one of your tunes?



AB: Yeah, I totally wrote the song by myself. I was talked into it mainly by Bill Bruford who said, "Let's see what happens if we put a song like this in the mix." And I think that probably is the beginning of Robert feeling like this has gone totally different than I wanted. He runs away from popularity.



Adrian Belew / King CrimsonAAJ: So I've heard. I'm interested in the writing process for the '80s King Crimson—say, "Frame By Frame" and the Discipline album. Did you write that? Did Robert write that? How were those tunes written?



AB: Mostly it's Robert and I who do all the writing. The other players, be it Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto or Tony and Bill come up with their parts, but you have to have the blueprint, which is, "What are we playing here? What is the tempo? The time signature? The changes? The notes we are playing to." That's called writing the music, and that's done by me and Robert. Usually in the room that you're sitting in. Quietly, we don't even plug our instruments in because we aren't trying to get sounds and develop solos.



You mentioned, "Frame By Frame." We started with this riff in 7. [Sings the riff]. Now what would you do with that? Well, I could sing this over that. Where would you go from there? Well, I'd have to have it move up to another key somewhere because I don't want to stay in the same key—we're not making another Remain In Light album. [Laughs] So, that's how it goes. It goes in spurts like that. You start out with a simple—well I wouldn't say simple—idea. And you take it as far as you can, day after day. Then we walk away from each other for days or months, even. Then you come back and you say, "What's happened? Well, I've taken that idea we had and added this to it." Or, "I've got this new thing."



Robert and I just bounce the ball back and forth in that way. A lot of the ideas start with him. And end with me. I've learned over the years working with Robert that the best way to work with him is to have his involvement from the beginning. Rather than write a song like, "Heartbeat" and bringing it to the band, I prefer to say "Robert, let's sit down and do you have any thoughts? Here's something I've been working on, let's work on that." And also, there are developmental times where you have a piece of music, and you just need to find its form. You know what the parts are, you know where you want to take it, but you don't know the best arrangement. So, at that time, you bring in the whole band, and you start trying different ways of playing things.



AAJ: How did, "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" come back in the, '80s and then again on ConstruKction of Light (DGM Live, 2000)? How did you decide to continue what was done back in the, '70s?



AB: Well, musically as I mentioned earlier, they are brothers. They are cut from the same cloth. It just kind of made sense to keep a theme going. It's not my idea, probably Robert's. But I totally agree with it, I like that. I like that idea of continuity. I've always thought with King Crimson over the whole period I've been in it and before, that was one of the things about it. It has its own brand. You don't say, "Well, what's King Crimson music?" It's not jazz, it's not prog rock, it's not rock n' roll, it's King Crimson music. It's got its own name because it's got its own elements. And you use those same elements over and over for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years.

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Back to Bowie



AAJ: You did the Sound and Vision tour with David Bowie in 1990. You were the musical director as well. How did that come about? It had been a while since you played with David Bowie.



AB: It had been from 1979 to 1990. It was a long time. I didn't think we'd ever do anything together again. There was no reason not to, but it just didn't seem like it would happen. He went on and did many other things, and so did I. I think it was because I had video out at the time called, "Oh Daddy," and the video was kind of cute and fun. I think it reminded David of how much he liked me. "Oh, there's Adrian. I love Adrian. I would be great to play with him again." I really think that is all it was. David was reminded of me again. He saw me still out there and doing well. "[I] Wonder if he could be the musical director and guitarist?" So I was.



He called me up while I was on tour for the Mr. Music Head (Atlantic, 1989) album I had just made. He said, "Let's get together and talk about this. I want to do a world tour. I want to do all my best hits, and then I'm never going to do them again."



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