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Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

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One thing I learned from working with Frank Zappa is motif. Frank told me that is the way you tie your whole body of work together - by having some kind of motif.
Adrian BelewSince 1977, Adrian Belew has been a guitar and songwriting innovator in the cutting edge rock field. Spending time in bands with Frank Zappa, David Bowie and Talking Heads, he's also clocked serious studio time with other artists including Paul Simon, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Tom Club, Tori Amos and Herbie Hancock. He's fronted the various incarnations of perennial art rockers King Crimson since 1981, as well as putting together several of his own solo projects.

Belew has continued his prolific output since 2005 by releasing four solo records just months apart titled Side One (2005) through Side Three (2006), all on the Sanctuary label, and Side Four (Independent, 2007). He has appeared on Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts Part I-IV (Null, 2008), and has been touring extensively with his new power trio featuring the young wunderkind brother and sister rhythm section of drummer Eric and bassist Julie Slick.



Belew has also just completed an August, 2008 mini-tour with a reformed King Crimson. At the two opening performances at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Belew appeared very much the leader, guiding the band through its labyrinthine arrangements with a sure hand and performing with the same confidence he has shown with Crimson for 27 years.

Chapter Index

  1. The Power Trio
  2. Guitar Talk
  3. The State of the Music Industry
  4. Side Four and The Bears
  5. King Crimson
  6. History
  7. Frank Zappa
  8. David Bowie
  9. Talking Heads
  10. Joining King Crimson
  11. Back to Bowie
  12. Back to Crimson
  13. Painting and Improvisation


The Power Trio



AAJ: The 2008 Power Trio did a west coast run earlier this year and a few east coast shows, and now you're starting another tour here in Nashville. Will there be some new songs performed on this tour?



AB: Yes, in fact Eric and Julie, the brother and sister team I have in the trio, are coming here from Philadelphia on Saturday, and we have three days of rehearsal planned to incorporate some new material. A few things that are from my catalogue, a couple of songs I'd really like to try some stuff with, and then one brand new piece of music that's pretty epic, that I'm sure we'll be working on for all three days. Mainly for this whole year I'm dedicating myself to the power trio touring, and a little bit to King Crimson touring too, this summer. Most of August will be dedicated to King Crimson time. At the same time, I'm trying to develop new material for the power trio; I'd like to make a brand new record, half of which would be the power trio and half of which would be new solo pieces that I'll do by myself.



AAJ: Actually, that was going to be my next question: is there a future studio album with the power trio?



AB: Yeah; [for] the next record I'd like to have maybe five major pieces on it that are for the power trio. I've already got three that I'm writing. We're already doing one of them live, it's called "E," and the new one is called "Planet E," and those are both instrumentals, but I have a few songs that I'm working on too, with them, and it's turning out really powerfully and really well. I wanted to get them into the live show before we actually brought them into the studio, but you know we've only done one record together, which was all live. And I'm really anxious to see what we all can do in the studio.



AAJ: The first time I saw you with Eric and Julie was right here in Nashville last year, and I couldn't believe that two players so young could take the Bruford and Levin parts on some of the King Crimson material and more or less reinvent them.



AB: They're very special people and players; they amaze me all the time. They've got to be the best young players in the States right now, in my opinion. I just don't know where you could get a better bassist-drummer duo, and both separately, they're just amazing individuals, really gifted people. You know, everybody refers to them as, "the kids,' but when you're with them all the time, as I am, you see that they're really not kids at all, they're very smart, adult human beings, who have absorbed so much music, more than a lot of grown, mature musicians that I know.



Eric and Julie know all The Beatles' catalogue—everything that preceded that even—and all the Zappa and Bowie catalogues. Their wealth of information came from their father—he had a collection of records and a collection of bass guitars in his living room, and he had their bass and their drums set up there and he just showed them, "Here, try this, learn this, learn that," you know, with thousands of records worth of stuff since they were little kids. So it's their musical background and depth that really amazes me, and I'm really curious to see now what happens when we invent something totally new. Not taking Tony Levin's and Bill Bruford's parts and redoing them.



 

Adrian Belew / Power Trio

Power Trio l:r: Julie Slick, Adrian Belew, Eric Slick

AAJ: I understand you were connected with Eric and Julie Slick through Paul Green's School of Rock?



AB: That's how I met them. Originally, I went up to Philadelphia, the original School of Rock, where the founder, Paul Green, invited me for a seminar with his current students. This was two years ago and, while I was there, he said, "I want you to hear my best graduates, I have these two graduates, Eric and Julie Slick, they were in the all-star band for several years, and they're just the best players that I know of."



So he brought them in and we played together a little bit and that's how it happened. It just so happened that I had really been planning and looking for a long time for a trio. I had tried one or two trios, combinations that didn't work for me, and I had just about given up on that idea, even though I had made all this interesting material for it. I spent a lot of time developing the idea of looping guitars so you have kind of a fourth player and putting that into a trio format, and just about the time I thought, "Well, this is really not going to be a trio, I'm not going to get that to happen." I found them, and it was unbelievable, turned around just on a dime.



AAJ: In 2006, I caught some of your live trio performances with Mike Gallaher and Mike Hodges. How does this compare?



AB: Well, there are two differences with Eric and Julie, beyond anything else I've done. One is the energy they bring. I think that's the main difference that makes the material seem so fresh and new, it's because there's this dynamic energy coming off the stage from them. And, of course, it prompts me to join in, and I feel younger than ever when I play with them. And then the other thing is just their own inventiveness and uniqueness. People just can't believe it when they hear Julie Slick play bass guitar, she's a little girl who plays in her bare feet, and when you hear what she's doing it's so powerful and so correct.



AAJ: She seems, when I watch her play, so serene—almost disconnected from this sound that's so enormous.



AB: Yeah, I know, but lately she's changed that a little bit. I mean Eric is a phenomenal drummer, he's always been demonstrative. You watch him because he's doing all kinds of amazing things. But Julie used to stand there, kind of "the queen of cool," but since she got her new bass, a Lakeland bass that she's always wanted, it really has changed her. I've noticed it on the last tour that we did. She started moving around on stage and she's a lot more animated. I kind of like both versions of Julie.



AAJ: I definitely look forward to this show you've got coming up at Mercy Lounge [in Nashville].



AB: But this is going to be interesting because I rehearse three days with the trio, the next day King Crimson arrives. We rehearse for a whole week here in Nashville in a larger rehearsal place, and then the day that that ends, the next day, we play the Mercy Lounge, so on the 27th [July, 2008] I'll be practicing with King Crimson and on the 28th I'll be playing with the trio.



AAJ: You're going to have to revert your arrangements!



AB: So that's true, they are a little bit different because King Crimson is playing some of the same material that the trio plays, but we play it a little differently, so I'm going to really have my thinking cap on the first couple of nights.

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Guitar Talk



AAJ: So, will we ever see the Fender Stratocaster again, or is it Parker Fly guitars from now on?



AB: I love Strats. I think they're fabulous guitars, I always thought their balance and their playability was just, almost perfect, and then I got to the Parker Fly, and it is perfect. So, I don't know, it's always possible to break out the Strats again. I love Strats and I could see myself playing any number of guitars.



If you run in the next room, you'd see that I've got a lot of different varieties of guitars hanging up on the wall. When I play them—little by little, one at a time—I'll pull out the Gretsch, and I'll pull out the Rickenbacher and stuff, but no matter what I do, I am totally married to the Parker Fly. It makes me play better. That's the best comment I can make. Not only is the design phenomenal, it stays perfectly in tune, absolutely no dead notes, the neck is just incredible, the tremolo arm is fascinating, you could do anything. But, it just makes me play better.



I think it's the smoothness of the neck, see, because what they've done with the Parker Fly that's so unique is that they've cut away everything that's not needed on the guitar which cuts the piece of wood down to four pounds. That's why it's called a Fly. Normally, a neck that thin would just break right in half as soon as you put the pressure of the strings on it. What they've done, though, on the back of the guitar, before they paint it and everything, they bake on a very thin carbon poly-compound that makes the strength of the wood ten thousand times stronger, so you could actually stand on top of that guitar neck, I've been told (I'm not gonna try it) and nothing would happen. So, it's because of that it stays perfectly in pitch, it never varies, it's so thin and beautiful to play. It'd be hard for me to get away from the Parker Flys now. I think I've finally found my muse.

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