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Interviews

Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

By Published: November 10, 2008
AAJ: Yeah, I could definitely hear that Beatles influence on THRAK (DGM Live, 1995) and VROOOM (DGM Live, 1994). Especially on the outro of "People." I thought at the time, "Wow, this sounds like something straight off of Abbey Road (Apple, 1969)."



AB: You know, for me, I always thought that King Crimson had that. Even from the very first record [In The Court of the Crimson King (DGM Live, 1969)]. If you listen there is an interesting combination going on that I've always felt was essential to the band. You had the radical instrumental music, dressed as songs, or not, such as, "21st Century Schizoid Man," followed by a very well-written song—the classical, classic rock song, "I Talk To The Wind." Could it have been a Lennon/McCartney tune? Of course. So, they always have that equation. I always felt that was important to King Crimson. Over the years, I've heard people say, "Well, wouldn't it be nice if King Crimson just improvised? Or if they just played the individual pieces of music?" You know what? It wouldn't. You wouldn't have that balance. Without those elements, you would be missing something.

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Painting and Improvisation



AAJ: Before we end here, I wanted to cover two more topics—your paintings and your views on improvisation.



AB: Well, before you leave, I will have to show you some of my paintings. [Points back at his basement studio] This is also my personal art gallery down here, in the living quarters part of the studio. I always thought I would try my hand at painting. I don't know why. I've always noodled around and scribbled and drawn things all my life. But I had no training, I had no reason to believe that I could ever paint. I figured, "Well, when I am 75, I will take up painting." [Laughs] By then, I will be too old to do anything else. It just happened prematurely. You know, there is an event that occurred that caused me to want to paint. That's my first painting right behind you.



AAJ: The first one. Wasn't that one of your album covers?



AB: Yes it is, yeah. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Well, if I can paint something that I like well enough, maybe I can use it as an album cover." I really didn't know that I could paint. I went down to an art store. I got a few canvases; I did a lot of questioning. I found about acrylics and all the mediums you can mix in it to make it different textures and liquidities, glossies, watercolor-like. I loved all that alchemy that you could do, so I chose acrylics.



I chose a canvas size, 30x40, that you could reduce down and be a nice artwork for CDs. I had that in the back of the mind. I thought I'd just try this, and maybe I'll accidentally find something that's cool looking. And I got so immersed in it, I did 60 paintings in about a year. I would just paint forever, all day and all night. I just couldn't stop myself. And every painting I made was entirely different. It was strange. I had no idea what I was doing. Just like teaching myself to play music. So I just figured it out. I just combined this thing and that. Now I'm going use a paint brush, now a knife, now spray paint, and I just kept trying these things.



My excursions were always based on abstract painting, so I never know thought, "Okay, I'm trying to make it look like something." I'm not going to do a portrait of someone or a landscape or a basket of fruit, I'm just trying to do something interesting with colors and shapes and geometrics and dimensions. If you really think about it, that's exactly what you do with music. It relates so well. In music, you're creating dimensional things, you're making depth, you're changing colors like you change sounds. You're using harmonies and contrasts. You're using all the same techniques that I was using with sound, I was now using with paints and a canvas. It really was an explosion of fun for me.



Adrian Belew And I'm still loving it. I still don't know what I'm doing. I still don't know how I do what I do or how to repeat it so that's why mostly all of my paintings are one of a kind.



AAJ: Doesn't Robert have some of your paintings over in the Discipline Global Mobile office?



AB: Robert has actually been here many of the times that I've been painting, so he'll get up in the morning and come in the studio. There's a new painting on the floor drying. [Robert says], "Oh, I love that one!" He's really one of the biggest fans of my paintings, I have to say, "Thank you, Robert." I gave him several paintings. And, he eventually asked to buy some paintings so I sold him eight of them, which now adorn his residence and his working place in England. So that's nice that someone of his taste would appreciate what I do. And he knows exactly what I told you, that I'm doing it just for fun, that it's just another way of expressing myself. I'm not trying to be a painter or an artist. It's just something that I found that I can do, and I love doing it.



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