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Interviews

Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

By Published: November 10, 2008
AAJ: I seem to recall seeing you not too long ago, maybe it was a Bears show, and I thought you had Fender amps?



AB: No, I've always pretty much used, in the last few years, this combination—at the top, a pair of Johnson 150 millenniums, at the bottom, a pair of Line 6 Vettas.



 

Adrian Belew

Adrian Belew's guitar collection

When you saw me with The Bears it was probably just with the Johnsons. They do look a little like Fenders. About 80 per cent of what I do comes from the Johnson amps, really. I add the Line 6 in for extra sounds and overdubbing sounds live, and then this Bose setup, which is absolutely fantastic. I love this setup, called the Bose L1, these columns that you see with the bass cabinets on each side, those are for the high fidelity things that I want to use, like my keyboards, my synthesizer sounds, and my loops. So it keeps them separate from the actual guitar. So you have really a quad guitar system there, both of those amps being stereos, with stereo sounds in there, and then a stereo high fidelity system. So really it's like three guitar rigs in one. It keeps my feet busy.



AAJ: I noticed you were having to sit for part of the show.



AB: Well, yeah, well let me just demonstrate since we're sitting in front of my rig. There are many times when I'm doing something with this pedal and I'll have to do this pedal too. This [pedal] is controlling the Johnson and this [pedal] is controlling the effects. You can't do it standing up. So, there are times now when I get to that point I just sit down. Plus, I'll tell you the truth, I've learned sitting down you play a lot better. You have a lot more control over what you're doing. You know, I get excited, I still want to stand up and sing and jump around.

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The State of the Music Industry



AAJ: To change the subject a little bit, I wanted to read you a quote here, that the most recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Billy Joel, said to John Mellencamp. Mellencamp had suffered some heart attacks and was a buddy of Joel's. Mellencamp was getting inducted into the Hall of Fame and Joel says, "Well John, congratulations, not only have you made it through some heart attacks, but you've outlived the music industry." What I'm leading to is, CD sales are down by a large percentage, file sharing is not going to go away, Radiohead and your buddy Trent Reznor have been giving away records or downloads for free. I wanted you to discuss your view of the music industry as it is now. I know you've been selling downloads on your website.



AB: For the last year I've been tempted to restructure what we do by getting more and more involved in the internet and the online store and blogging, and having a weekly download of a rare cut that was never released. That's my attempt at joining in with the new way of doing things. But it's not all that new to me because, since 1992, I've had my own record label, Adrian Belew Presents, which a lot of my stuff came out on because there were no major labels interested in what I did. My music doesn't really do much on radio, it's always been a little too out there, so I've always had a good strong live performance aspect to what I do, and a following because of that. That's where I've been able to sell most of my CDs. All of those trends that are happening now for everybody else, they're not that new to me.



AAJ: So it wasn't a big surprise.



AB: No, not a big surprise. Now, giving away free downloads, that's a different thing, that I think you can only do that if you are somebody like Radiohead or Trent Reznor, who you know you've got a million people there who are going to do something and so you know you're going to get some money back out of that. Now, if you're like me and you sell two thousand records, well you've got to sell every one you can sell.



Adrian BelewAAJ: Is that a typical number, say, when Side Four came out?



AB: I wanna say Side Four sold about three thousand copies, yeah.



AAJ: And that's pretty typical for an Adrian Belew release?



AB: It is now. Not years ago, with eighty thousand records typical.



AAJ: Was that when you were on a major label?



AB: That was when you're on a major label, and the funniest thing is you made no money being on a major label, selling eighty thousand records. You sell three thousand records, and you do it the right way—you go out and you tour and you sell them to the fans who are right there—and you make all the money. And it's a lot more money than you would ever see from the record labels.



AAJ: That's a great irony, isn't it?



AB: It's truly what we all knew—that the whole time everybody was being recorded and put out on these big record labels, we were being screwed blind; everybody knew it. It was the old school way of doing it from the fifties, there are books written about it, saying how everyone is being ripped off, and always have been ripped off, so that's kind of why, way back in the nineties, I said, "Well, I'd rather make all the money, even if it's less sales, and I'd rather have all the control and do everything myself,," "cause I never found anyone in the music business who understood how to market what I do, never once. I mean, I've met a lot of really smart people in the music business, and with many different record labels—EMI, Virgin, Warner Bros, Atlantic, Island, MCA... On all those labels, in various associations I've had—King Crimson, The Bears, my solo records—no one ever figured out how to market what I do. So, I figure, I guess it's just pretty weird and I'll market it myself.



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