INTERVIEW: Adrian Belew

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Adrian Belew

The Crimson ProjeKCt is a King Crimson offshoot featuring three current members of that historic, nay, iconic band – Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto – along with Julie Slick, Tobias Ralph and Markus Reuter. And a typical Crimson ProjeCKt concert is a marathon of musical might which shifts through many moods and configurations. Belew explains: “What happens is this: Stick Men (Levin, Mastelotto and Reuter) play a set of their music (which includes a Crimson track or two), then the Power Trio (Belew, Slick, Ralph) plays a set of my music (which also includes a Crimson track), then Tony and Pat and I play a Crimson song (as yet another trio), and then comes the big finale: both trios play more than an hours-worth of Crimson music as a double trio! It’s a helluva show!” And the group is coming to Australia and New Zealand to spread their particular brand of musical majesty in June and July, with shows in Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle.

“To me it’s a celebration of all the things that we’ve done in King Crimson, all the things I’ve been a part of for the past 30-plus years,” explains Belew, who in addition to an extensive Crimson tenure has also worked with the likes of Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads and Nine Inch Nails. “But also there’s improvising so the show is fresh for us as well. It’s the closest you’ll have at this point to King Crimson, at least for the moment. And as well as that you get to hear the Power Trio doing some of my music, and you get to hear Stick Men doing their music. So you put it all together and it’s a pretty nice night of music. A very long set. As a six-piece band we play about an hour and a half of Crimson music and we cover everything, one era to the next. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s part of my legacy and I really enjoy doing it.”

The Crimson ProjeKCtBelew says that at this point there’s no particular need to take liberties with the material or put it into a new context. “These are comfortable shoes for me now,” he says. “I just put them on and I’m ready to run. But that’s not so much what it’s about. It’s not about the invention of something. It’s a celebration of this music. But I will say it’s different night to night. Different things happen that will surprise me. I might know the music so innately after all these years but there’s always going to be something that happens that I’ve never heard before. It’s music that you have to really concentrate on even if you know it really well. You can’t just be looking around. it’s really complicated and everything has to be really connected if you want it to work right. Especially in a band with two drummers and two bass players.”

Curious listeners who might not be well-versed in the Crimson lexicon but would still like to have a jumping off point to appreciate the show should know that the band has explored many different styles, from the vaguely hippy-ish psychedelia of ‘Moonchild’ to the prototypical progressive rock of ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ to the more recognisably prog ‘Dinosaur’ and the angular math-rock of ‘Thrak.’ But Belew has a suggestion for a suitable jumping-off point. “If you want to start with the Crimson that I’ve been a part of that started in 1981, I would start right there with the first record that we did, myself, Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. That was called Discipline, and even to this day the Discipline record is something that people still talk about a lot as being something that was kind of unique. Nothing ever sounded like that before. I think if you heard that record you would know right away if that was something you’d be interested in, and strangely I think it still sounds ahead of its time despite being over 30 years old.”

Belew has unique insight into working with great visionaries such as Zappa, Fripp, Bowie and Trent Reznor. Bowie and Zappa, in particular, required completely different things of the guitarist compared to each other. “David’s way and Frank’s way were different,” he says. “With Frank I can put it in one sentence that he said to me: ‘I want you to play my music correctly and consistently.’ So Frank wasn’t looking for someone to add anything to what he did. He wanted you to play what he had already written. He knew what he wanted to you do, he spelled things out for you, and for me at that time in my life that was something I really needed. I needed a teacher for a while, so Frank was my teacher for a whole year. Right after that I graduated into being in David’s band, and what he wanted was for me to just play as wild guitar as I could. That’s what he needed in his music: someone to colour it with lots of wild sounds and solos and things. And that’s the same thing that Talking Heads wanted from me to, and kind of the same thing that Nine Inch Nails always ask of me: to play as wild as I can. Some people come to me for songwriting or singing, and some people want me to play as wildly as I can. And I like all those roles.”

Adrian_Belew_Signature

Belew has a signature Parker guitar which incorporates all sorts of gadgets and widgets to help him do, well, pretty much anything. “In my opinion it’s the best guitar for me ever,” he says. “It makes me play better. It has such a beautiful-feeling neck and I can actually play smoother and faster. It never goes out of tune, which is super important to me. It has a great-feeling tremolo arm which I use a lot – that’s a big part of my sound and my expression. It resonates perfectly, it weighs four pounds, it looks very modern like a sculpture – so I pretty much loved everything about it when I first started playing one. The thing I did in my own model was I updated all the electronics, because the Parker Fly was designed in the 80s, so when I went to do my own model I thought ‘Well, there’s a lot of things you can do now that you couldn’t do in the 80s, like MIDI guitar, a Sustainiac, Variax…’ so I added those things into the electronics. Otherwise I didn’t change the guitar. I already felt it was perfect. Ken Parker took 20 years to sort out all the different problems inherent in most guitars, things like intonation and tuning and stuff like that, and for me it’s a revolution. Really I do have everything I could probably want out of the guitar, but at the same time it’s put together in a very stylish and simplified way. If you look at it there’s three knobs, but the amount of things that you can get out of that guitar is incredible. I mean, the Variax system alone allows you to sound like 26 other guitar types! That’s one knob that I can just press to sound all of a sudden like a Stratocaster, a Telecaster, a Rickenbacker, a 12-string, an acoustic guitar, a Dobro, a sitar. So just that alone is astounding technology. And the fact that it’s on a guitar that for me makes me play better and stays perfectly in tune, that’s priceless.” For those who want something a little more affordable Parker offers the Adrian Belew Signature DF842, minus the Line 6 electronics and with a Seymour Duncan JB bridge humbucker.

For amplification Belew uses full-range powered monitors driven by a Fractal Audio Axe-FX and a Roland VG-99 Virtual Guitar system. “I can, in a sense, have two different guitar sounds and two different guitarists going at the same time,” he says. “With the VG-99 I can even program it to do different tunings so it sounds like you have two guitarists playing at once. And y’know, I’m working on all kinds of things like that because for one thing, I decided that the best version for me would be a trio that would allow me to do as much as possible on guitar and would also allow an easier time for improvising together. And the thing is, with the trio you have to fill in space a lot, so that’s one of the ways I’ve been doing it, by somehow making my guitar sound like more than one guitarist. And I also do a lot of looping, so if I’m about to solo I might make a rhythm guitar loop that everyone’s playing to and then I can solo over it and it doesn’t seem like the band has become sparse all of a sudden.”

THE CRIMSON PROJEKCT TOUR DATES
Tuesday June 24 – Auckland – the Studio
Thursday June 26 – Melbourne – The Hi-Fi
Friday June 27 – Sydney – The Hi-Fi
Saturday June 28 – Brisbane – The Hi-Fi
Wednesday July 2 – Fremantle – Fly By Night

Limited PREMIUM PASS tickets available – includes:
Exclusive Meet & Greet opportunity with the Crimson ProjeKCt
Official Commemorative Meet and Greet Laminate (not for sale separately)
Crimson ProjeKCt Australia & New Zealand only compilation CD (not for sale separately)
Limited Edition A3 thick card poster (not for sale separately)
2 items signed by Crimson ProjeKCt members
A photo with the Crimson ProjeKCt on your personal phone or camera
Tickets available from tombowler.com.au