A Few Words With...Adrian Belew

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

It's always something with Adrian Belew. From King Crimson to the Bears to an ever-changing solo career. I grabbed a few moments from Belew to discuss the Crimson ProjeKct, the band camp he, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto conduct in the Catskills, and future solo plans. Join us...

PS: Please bring the readers on the journey from King Crimson to the Crimson ProjeKct.

AB: King Crimson started in 1969. They were one of the premier progressive rock bands. You might say they even started the whole thing along with a few other bands such as Yes, Gentle Giant, and Genesis. Those were the prog rock bands that started it all. That line up of King Crimson lasted from '69 through '74. It was an all English band developed by a guy named Robert Fripp. At the end of that period they stopped. They didn't start again until 1981, but when they started again it was an entirely different line up - half American, half English. Robert Fripp was in the band. Myself. We were guitarists together. We had a bass player - Tony Levin. A drummer from England called Bill Bruford, who also had been in Yes.

At that point our music - the music of King Crimson - changed dramatically and no longer, in my opinion, had much to do with the sound of progressive rock music. We developed a new language. In fact, our first record, called Discipline, I would say is a record that doesn't sound like anyone else ever had and still sounds pretty much on its own in the world of records. That band lasted for 3 years but continued on in various forms since then. For the last 30 years I've been in every one of those forms. Over that time a lot of other bands developed and some of them went back to the original prog rock versions of King Crimson. Some of them went beyond that and did their own things but many of them will now say to you that they were influenced by King Crimson. Bands I would put on that list, and bands that have said that in public are people like Primus, Tool, Dream Theatre, and so forth.

What we have today are 3 remaining members of King Crimson still playing King Crimson music live. They are Tony Levin - the American bassist; Pat Mastelotto - who was drummer in the last couple of incarnations of King Crimson; and myself. I'm the guitarist and songwriter and singer for the last 30 years, by the way. Along with Robert Fripp as guitarist and songwriter. Over the years we've known that this band Dream Theatre were fans of our music and they've offered to do double billing together before, but it never quite worked out for logistical reasons and otherwise. Now it has worked out and what we've done is we've taken 2 trios and put them together. The first trio is Adrian Belew Power Trio. That's me, Julie Slick, Tobias Ralph. We have our own trio which plays King Crimson music as well as my solo music. Tony and Pat have their own trio called Stick Men which also includes a man from Austria named Markus Reuter. The 3 of them play their own music as well as King Crimson music.

Just to catch you completely up to date - In the 90s, the version of King Crimson that we had at that point was a double trio. In other words it was 2 trios put together. Now, for this tour with Dream Theatre, we're putting our 2 trios together, leaving the 3 remaining members of King Crimson playing the music from King Crimson of that period and other periods. You'll see a 6 piece band on stage for 45 minutes playing some of the best music that King Crimson ever did!

PS: I saw one of the "Two Of A Perfect Trio" gigs with this line up last year and loved it!

AB: It's a very powerful band. Obviously, you've got 2 drummers, 2 bass players. It's unusual. You just don't hear a line up that very often. The material is classic Crim material. It's songs and pieces of music which have really stood the test of time. We've kind of chosen through the "best of," and that's what we're doing. It's a way for us personally to celebrate the music of King Crimson that we've been a part of for 30 years.

PS: Do Julie, Markus, and Tobias bring a different vibe to the music?

AB: I think what we're trying to do is to do an updated version of the same music.So, within boundaries we're trying to bring something new to it - but within a boundary. You still want the material to sound like the material, but you are sort of interfacing with it and therefore effecting it in your own way. Julie is a remarkable young bass player. Tobias is a great drummer - reminds me a lot of Bill Bruford. Markus' role within our 6 piece band is more to take the parts that Robert Fripp would've been doing. He's quite good at that. He adds, of course, his own things as well. So it's a little of both. We make it sound like a new band, but we make it sound like the old band as well.

PS: How was the material chosen for these shows?

AB: Originally this was done around the idea that Tony and Pat and I now have a band camp which we put on every year in August in the Catskill mountains at a summer resort called Full Moon. It's a 70 acre resort. We have a week long camp where anyone can come to it and hang out with us and play music and listen to us. We'll tell stories and teach them bits and pieces of music and just have a great old time. Once we did that, Tony and Pat and I, we realized "well, hey, maybe we should also develop this into something where we can play some shows!" That's where we got the idea that the best way to do that would be to bring both of our trios. When we play shows on our own, the Stick Men play a 45 minute set, Adrian Belew Power Trio then plays a 45 minute set. Then the 2 bands join together as a 6 piece band and play an hour of King Crimson music. To get to your question of how we select the material: originally it was material that we felt we could play as 3 people - Tony and Pat and I. Now that it's a 6 piece band all the time, it left some places where Julie or Markus or Tobias would not have normally been playing because we did some of these songs as a trio. So what we've done is we've reworked the material and just simply chosen the things that we felt worked best for a completely, entirely double trio outfit. There's songs like THRAK and Dinosaur that were originally done by a 6 piece band. Some of the other pieces that we do were not. They were usually done by a 4 piece version of King Crimson. What we've done is we've taken some of those songs and elaborated on them and made them correct for playing as a 6 piece band. I think they'll probably sound bigger and even more powerful that way. Choosing the material really came down to which songs did we feel we could do the best? Which songs did we feel would cover the most ground for the actual listeners? We wanted to touch on just a little bit everything.It sort of wrote itself, in a way, because 45 minutes is kind of short for a band like King Crimson that plays a lot of songs that are 6 and 7 minutes long. What we have done, though, is we've put in alternate songs so that the people who may come to more than 1 show will not see exactly the same show. That would be true anyway because there is a certain amount of improvisation in what we play within the songs themselves. Then, of course, the other reason is it keeps us lively and happy for the whole tour!

PS: Has there been any thought that these 6 musicians might someday go into the studio together?

AB: Apart from talking about doing something live with what we already do...no. There has not been any real talk of developing the music in a new way. In other words, writing new music for this particular line up. I kind of see this as a special event type thing. I think from this point on if it continues on, it would do something like maybe play in Japan or South America. Basically do the same thing that we're doing here in the United States for other parts of the world. I don't see it yet as a viable new group to put out new music. The reason I say that is because without Robert Fripp involved in it, it wouldn't really be King Crimson. That's why we don't call it King Crimson. In fact the name Crimson ProjeKct was suggested by Robert. We feel strongly that without Robert wanting to partake in this, it's not King Crimson. It is 3 members of King Crimson paying tribute to the music of King Crimson. I'd like to keep it at that. If we were going to do new music, hmmm... I don't know. We'd have to change directions or do something that makes sense. There has to be a reason...

PS: Oh, I wasn't suggesting the band be a new incarnation of King Crimson. I just think the 6 of you sound tremendous together.

AB: Oh, I agree with you totally! It hasn't gone beyond the point of just learning King Crimson music is I suppose the short answer. Obviously it's not going to be King Crimson because Robert has effectively removed himself from touring - at least as we speak. We're quite happy with this line up. It is a very good line up. We all get along really well. There's a great musical conversation going on there. We've all played a lot of music together between us in various different configurations. I think it's something that could have another life. The only life that makes sense right now is to record live what we're doing and I don't even think we've actually decided on doing that yet. We might.

PS: So, no thought yet to film these dates?

AB: Well, they get filmed every night! (laughter) We don't film them. Not something done with an iPhone! Once again, basically this is just something that's kind of a special event to us. We don't have the organization put together around it to take it any further than that. I think the next step, if you wanted to go beyond that, is you'd want to have some management, and you'd want to have a larger crew and so forth. Enlarge the whole idea. That's not really where we're at with this yet. It may never get to that. If it does, then we could take it seriously as far as putting something together that we'd be proud for people to buy and see forever.

PS: I've been seeing you live as a solo artist since the tour for Twang Bar King. It strikes me that you never do the same thing twice and always seem to be evolving and changing. That must require quite a bit of work.

AB: It is a lot of work but it is a natural thing that I have in my artistic background. It's what I've always tried for. Even if I had never been in King Crimson I think that my career would have had the same things. Adrian Belew would be the guy who's never made 2 records that sound exactly the same because that's just the way I am. I grew up on the Beatles' music for one thing. After they sort of got out of the gate there from playing American roots music, basically, with an English taste to it, they started writing records that were different every time. If you go from Rubber Soul to Revolver...

PS: That's already a jump!

AB: That's what I'm talking about! I grew up with that idea. That was really how you're supposed to make records. You're supposed to keep them interesting and fresh and new and don't stay too long in 1 place. At the end of the day you have a better longevity, I think. Creatively at least. When you look back at what you've done it's a bigger, nicer catalogue because it has so many different attitudes and so many things to offer. That's always been part of my artistic being and plays well to me being in King Crimson. It was also a part of the way King Crimson always was.

PS: What's next for you as a solo artist?

AB: Actually, I'm doing something that I think is really, really different. I've been putting together a lot of new solo music. Playing everything myself and doing everything myself, but it's in a different form than anything I've ever heard before. I can only say that much without ruining it. I don't even know that it'll be on a CD. I don't even think it can be, actually. I'm reinventing my personal wheel once again here. That's what I've been working hard towards. I can only tell you that much. I think I'm about maybe halfway through, even though I've got 114 pieces of the puzzle already done!

PS: Is it stuff you can translate live?

AB: Some of it, yes. Not all of it. I think that at this stage in my life I have so much material to choose from, I wouldn't want to put out a record and then just go out and play that record anymore. I think that's cheating the audience of all the other good things you've done. Whenever I put out a new record now I'm always careful to make sure there's 2 or 3 new things on there that are going to fit for my live work. The rest of it is going to be stuff that I've played with other people or played throughout my career, things from my own catalogue. In other words, you've got more material than you can possibly use already and you just keep renewing it and adding in something new. This new idea doesn't play to that very well. I'm really shooting for something new. It's got a foot in the past and a big foot in the future. That's as much as I'll say!


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