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Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

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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.



AAJ: When you were cutting tracks on the Ghosts I-IV record most recently, did Trent tell you, "Hey I'm gonna let some of these tracks go for free," did you guys have a discussion of that?



AB: Actually, what I discussed was Trent was very brief, because he said to me, "This is a secret. I don't know what I'm actually going to do here, and I don't know what I'm going to do with the music, maybe it'll be a soundtrack, maybe it'll be a record, maybe I'll use it as downloads, but at any rate I wanna keep it secret, so I don't wanna say much about it, and I don't want you to say anything to anyone about it,, "cause I want it to come out as a surprise." So, I didn't ask any more questions. The nice thing that transpired was that he said, "You know, I feel like you're helping me write some of this." So I had some writer's credit on some of the music and that's usually not the way it works. If I go and I play a lot of wild stuff on Trent Reznor's album, I don't necessarily expect that that makes me a writer. Most of the time you're paid and that's it, but in this case he said no, I'd like you to be more involved, stay here for a longer time and try to write some of it with me.



I really appreciated that, it was the most generous aspect of the offer and for me personally, working with Trent is always eye-opening, I love the way he makes records. His production is phenomenal, and where else do you get to play what I play on his records?



AAJ: Yeah, no doubt. I noticed he did something that I haven't seen anybody do—he had more and more deluxe versions of the record including one on Blu-Ray, you know, that's post SACD and DVD audio, that's as high resolution as it gets.



Adrian BelewAB: It is, and he sent me the box set, which I think sells for three or four hundred dollars, it's just incredible, you know, a lot of artwork, a lot of special things and I think that's the way you should approach it because I look at myself and, on a lesser scale than Trent Reznor, I'm an artist that has a small appeal, you know, small people, but it's a very high-scale thing, so...



AAJ: Niche?



AB: I guess that's the word, yeah. Where you really should offer a lot of versions of what you do, and you should offer it in different scales, you know you should have a three hundred dollar box set or you know a ten dollar giveaway, you know, or a free download, or something. Boutique! That's the word I was thinking of, I'm a boutique artist, as a boutique artist, you're on a different level, you're not out there trying to sell a hundred thousand records anymore, you're trying to do the most high quality presentation of your music that you can. I'm very careful with that. I don't just put out everything that I do and I don't put out anything unless I've done the artwork perfectly and I'm totally happy with the package. I never want to be in a position when I look back and say, oh we kind of slacked on that one, it wasn't as good, you know.

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Side Four and The Bears



AAJ: On the Side Four record, for example, was that recorded in one night or was that picked from multiple shows?



AB: That was all one show. On a very cold, snowy, two foot snow night in Dayton, Ohio in February.



AAJ: Did you plan to record multiple shows?



AB: I planned to record three shows, and we did, we recorded three shows in a row. I actually thought the next night—which was in Cincinnati, where I grew up—I thought that would be the show. But by the time we got to Cincinnati there was a blizzard, so the audience wasn't really there, the show didn't sound as good. The Dayton, Ohio, show, however, had a really nice energy about it, and it was also in a room that just really sounded nice-a nice warm wooden room where you could hear everything, you could hear the excitement of the audience and feel it. The performance was surprising because we didn't know we were being recorded that night. Our engineer John was just trying it out that night.



AAJ: Well he definitely got good sounds. I guess you lucked out.



AB: Well, you see he was getting ready for the next night, which we thought we were going to be recording.

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