TNYO: You created the riff for Genius of Love by the Tom Tom club how did that come about?
|© MMIX, The New York Optimist. All Rights Reserved. The New York Optimist & www.thenewyorkoptimist.com is a registered trademark
of The New York Optimist. The New York Optimist is a registered service mark of Thenewyorkoptimist.com. The New York Optimist logo
and original photos are a registered trademark of The New York Optimist . All other photos are property of the advertiser. And are
rightfully protected under their copyright protections.
|An Interview with Adrian Belew on His Solo
Show Painting With The Guitar
|I had the pleasure of seeing Adrian Belew perform his solo show at Joe's Pub last week Painting with a Guitar.
Were happy to present to you a special and intimate interview with this creative and brilliant musician.
|TNYO: Adrian Belew you completely blew me away at
Joe’s Pub the other night Booom!! My mind was completely blown out.
I just sat there in awe I tried to figure out how the music was making me
feel and also trying to understand and make sense of what I was listening to,
was there a name of the songs or the set of songs.
Adrian Belew: No there’s not a name,
but we call the solo show "Painting With a Guitar"
Which is a reference to the paintings of mine that I brought along and were
on easels on stage the set is made up of a fair amount of new material that
I haven’t put on record yet and a selection of music that I don’t usually do
in concert. I try to shy away from the things that my fans have heard me
do with the power trio which is my normal rock concert band or King
Crimson so this is a different presentation of music that no ones ever heard.
TNYO: My dad and my uncle were in a band called the Mellow Tones my
dad usually played lead and my uncle played rhythm the sets they played
were usually swing and jazz music which was the popular music of their
time. My uncle made guitars in his back yard on a rotary saw in a little
shed and he modeled the guitars after Gibson’s, can you tell me a little bit
about the guitar and the setup you were using?
Adrian Belew: The guitar I was playing is the
Parker Fly Adrian Belew signature model.
It’s the first time that Parker has made an artists model, based on the
recommendations of the artist. The Parker Fly is in my opinion the only
revolutionary thing that’s captivated the world of guitar and since the
fifties most things as you said were modeled after Gibson Style Guitars
ever since then it just took twenty years to sift through all the inherent
problems that electric guitars always had and fix every single one of them.
The Parker Fly is a thoroughly modern design, what I changed about it
has nothing really to do with the guitar itself. I love the way it plays I love
the way it feels I love the way it looks I just updated some of the
electronics put in Midi Pickups so I could play through my guitar
synthesizer and computer and a sustaining pickup that I have become
accustomed to for the past ten twelve years and then I put on the latest
state of the art device called the veriax which models the sound of twenty
guitars like Gibson’s, Fenders, Rickenbakers, twelve strings and all types
of guitars. So that’s what I did to make it my own model, the guitar itself
as far as I am concerned is the best guitar in the world it almost never
goes out of tune, it actually makes me play better. I am really proud to
have my name on one
TNYO: I noticed there are no dots on the fret board.
Adrian Belew: No that’s just one of the things that Ken Parker did to separate it from other guitars the fret markers are at the
top of the neck as you look down on the guitar so that you see them when your looking down at your hands but you don’t
see them from the front of the guitar.
TNYO: Adrian where are you from where did you grow up?
Adrian Belew: I grew up in northern Kentucky right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati, I have been living in Nashville for
15 years now my wife’s family is from there so we set up a recording studio in our home 15 years ago and we have been
going at it ever since.
TNYO: How and when did you decide to become a professional musician?
Adrian Belew: Well I started playing at age 10 in the junior high school marching band as a drummer I knew I wanted to play
something in music, do something in music, but I wasn’t sure what. It was at age 14 when the Beatles arrived it took a hold
of my world and I realized that’s what I wanted to do was become a recording artist. By age 16 I was happily ensconced in
my first teen band playing Beatle songs as the drummer and singer.
But I couldn’t explain the songs I had in my head so I had to teach myself to play so at age 16 I took two months and taught
myself the basics of the instrument and started playing the songs that I could hear in my head. Around that time frame the
great guitarists of the sixties Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton,
Adrian Belew: Well its not a rock opera, it’s a symphonic piece, it’s already on record with my rock trio its called e just a
lower case letter e it’s a 43 minute piece of music in five sections I have developed over the last three years for the power
trio in particular but as I mentioned in concert I also had an eye towards music that could be orchestrated for an orchestra so
what I am doing on February 27th in Amsterdam is I am going to be the guest guitarist in front of a 40 piece orchestra playing
my own 43 minute piece of music called e. It’s going to be a milestone in my career and its something I am very excited
about and a little anxious about.
TNYO: The show at Joes Pub you had some of your paintings on stage they had a childlike playfulness a quality I love in
art, the couple at my table were asking if they could buy them and I heard many people in the crowd saying the same thing.
I was thinking that children are the greatest artists, they are pure and untouched by influences and preconceptions giving the
art they create a certain truth that’s hard to find in adults, whats your take on this?
Adrian Belew: I think that my art (paintings) probably is pure because I don’t really know what im doing, so pretty much
every time I go about making a painting I am experimenting and trying things and changing things around until it looks the
way I would like it to look, I am kind of child like in the way that I do the paintings.
I paint them really for the joy of being creative; I don’t have any intentions of really selling the paintings as much as I have
the desire to keep them in my house.
TNYO: Can you tell me a little bit about your process when your making art,
Adrian Belew: Well when I am painting I make them in my studio in the same place where I make music I have a corner set
aside and I take the canvas that I am working on and just lay it on the floor I don’t put it up on an easel, for me I just like to
get down there on my hands and knees and getting down there into the painting then starting to work.
I put materials in with the paint like sand or pumus or gloss, sometimes I like to control the flow of the paint like drips and
sometimes I will take the canvas outside and wash some of it off. I do a lot of experimental alchemy to get it to do things
Like layers that will cause the painting to have more of a dimensional effect to it
I really for the most part consider my paintings to be abstract I usually don’t try to paint something like the way it should
Most of the time they are happy accidents.
TNYO: How do you end up winding down after a show?
Adrian Belew: Oh.. well.. I always have a book I am reading, I am a voracious reader these days I have been reading with
my ipad so I don’t have to carry books around I have many of them in ebook form, but I am still very attached to books
themselves I like to collect them I like the tactile quality of having pages that you can turn.
Usually at the show ill have a drink or two read some and that’s it.
TNYO: How old are you Adrian?
Adrian Belew: I am 60 years old going on 16.
TNYO: You look great!!! Question do women ever throw panties or bras at you when you’re jamming on stage.
Adrian Belew: (laughs) No it’s not that kind of band.
TNYO: At the show I was hearing a lot of women getting excited yelping and making all kinds of weird noises while you
were up on stage.
Adrian Belew: Well I do have some female fans, a lot of younger fans are coming on board, my audience runs the gamut
really I have people that remember me from way back in the Frank Zappa days and people that have just heard of me
yesterday, it’s a broad audience and I am really happy with my audience.
TNYO: Is there someone you would like to jam with that you haven’t yet?
Adrian Belew: Not really, there are people that I admire there are a lot of great artists out there more than anything I prefer
to meet artists and become their friends like I love the Beatles music, it would be nice to get to know one of them. Jeff Beck
is my favorite Guitar player but he is a good friend of mine and I would almost rather just hang out and be friends than try to
make a project happen but having said that you know there are many things out there happening. There are a number of
collaborations out there that will still happen that I am not aware of. I am so busy with the irons that I have in the fire
already, and I am completely happy with the work that’s on my plate.
TNYO: Can you tell me a little about King Krimson your relationship with the band and how that all came about?
TNYO: You have over 20 solo albums that’s a prolific career, do you have a favorite album?
Adrian Belew: Right now my current favorite is Obzoptowa which is… well I guess that record is probably ten years old
now but I have returned to it for some of the material that I am playing in this one man show and I am really excited about
the way that record was put together like one conceptual piece with no breaks in between songs or interrupted by other
songs and come back later with little bits that happen in between songs. The production techniques that I used which were a
bit Zappa’esque.. I am very pleased with that, I am always happy with my solo records because I don’t put them out until I
am happy with them and I have tried very hard to get them exactly where I want so that later I don’t have any regrets
TNYO: Obzoptowa is there a meaning for that?
Adrian Belew: No a childhood friend of mine and I had a very long list of gibberish words put together and the part of it that
I remember is Obzoptowa.
they arrived on the scene and that convinced me that maybe the guitar was a voice so I started playing more guitar.
TNYO: You mentioned that when you worked with Frank Zappa who was notorious for complicated musical compositions,
that you didn’t read any music, so you must have been born with perfect pitch.
Adrian Belew: I have Perfect relative pitch in other words if I take the strings off my guitar which I do pretty much after
every show when I restring it, it will be right in perfect pitch where the e string will be right where its supposed to be. I don’t
think I have perfect pitch otherwise but I guess that after 35 – 40 years of tuning instruments you finally get close to perfect
pitch. What I do have and had, as a kid was some sort of understanding of harmonization and things like that so it was there
for me to tap into although I never had formal training. I instinctively understood when I heard records I understood where
the harmony should be and I understood things about rhythms that an ordinary person probably wouldn’t know.
TNYO: Can you tell me about one of your craziest nights on tour?
Adrian Belew: (Giggles) Wow Craziest nights on tour? Gee you should read my blog its full of anecdotes from all of the
different things I have done, I would probably point back to playing Madison Square Garden with David Bowie which was a
memorable crazy night with an audience full of famous people like Andy Warhol, Dustin Hoffman, Mick Jagger, just a super
huge event. That’s the kind of thing that sticks with you, most of my shows I try to make them not to crazy so that they can
actually be what they are supposed to be. I am concerned with the quality of the
TNYO: What was Frank Zappa Like?
Adrian Belew: Well first and foremost a genius of course
Musically speaking, he took me under his wing and he was very generous to me
He was a great teacher and motivator. He told me a lot of story’s which generally were funny story’s but they had lessons to
be learned in them. It was one year in my life which I finally did get some kind of training like having a college crash course
in music.. I went to the school of Zappa Music you know it was a lot to learn but not just about the music Frank was also
open with his thoughts on how to run your own business with him I did a lot of things I made records I made a movie I went
through the mastering process with him for one of his records I traveled the world so it was a daily lesson on how to be a
professional musician and recording artist
TNYO: Did you meet Steve Vai who was another Zappa Musician?
Adrian Belew: Ya I met him a few years after I was with the band and then Steve got in the band and then we crossed paths
many times since yes he’s a good friend of mine.
TNYO: You mentioned you’re a fan of bands like the Beatles The Rolling Stones
What do you think of bands like Radio Head?
Adrian Belew: Well I think they are a logical progression of a lot of music that I like
They’re a great band of course and they have some originality. A lot of bands today are just derivatives of music that I grew
up with, which is a little bit unfortunate I think because if you have the real thing then the derivative thing is not all that
interesting, so it takes a good band like Radio Head one of the few bands that I can think of that make me perk up and listen.
TNYO: What would you classify your music as
Adrian Belew: Whenever people ask me I call it intelligent rock music.. See I know that’s an oxy moron (giggles) I believe its
been classified as hard rock or progressive but I still don’t really feel like its in either of those categories
King Krimson at one point in time before I joined the band was the leader of progressive rock music but the music that we
have made in the last 28 years or the music that I have made on my own doesn’t really fit that categorization.. I don’t know
I hope its just its own kind of music I don’t really have a name for it.
TNYO: I heard a lot of ascending and descending scales and a lot of the rhythms that you were playing that reminded me a
little bit of worker bees building colony’s is there a similar feel in what you see and hear in those songs that your
Adrian Belew: My attitude toward song writing and composing has a visual aspect to it
To stir the imagination of the listener most of my music I think is at heart cinematic
And could easily be adapted to film scores and things like that.
I try to just take pictures with the music that are open to interpretation I don’t like to take away the imagination from the
listener so even in my lyrics I try very hard to make sure that I don’t strip the listener bare of any imagination I try to make a
lot of my lyrics more general or metaphorical so there’s still something in there that you can twist your own way.
TNYO: Well you took me on a journey with the music that you were playing that night
You mentioned you were putting together a rock opera in Amsterdam can you tell me a little about that
TNYO: I hope we can get to Amsterdam to see that.
Adrian Belew: I am hoping to film the actual performance and make a DVD about it
I can’t promise that for sure but that’s something I am talking about with the people that are putting this whole thing together.
TNYO: ‘’GUITAR GOD’’ I would definitely say that you are one, what’s it like to be a guitar god
Adrian Belew: Well Frankly I never really think of my self that way its always a nice compliment for someone to list me as
one of the guitarists that they like, its hard for me to put myself in the category of guitar gods because as I mentioned earlier I
grew up listening to Jimmy Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton and they are hard to follow.
I really think of myself as more of a recording artist that uses his guitar as his primary tool but if you want to call me a Guitar
god then I am happy to except that honor.
TNYO: I absolutely will your one of the tops in our book,
Question if you weren’t a musician what would you be?
Adrian Belew: I have no idea, I mean if there’s one thing I could think of …..
I am not sure … how far down the list I would fall, I have a lot of vintage cars and trains maybe I would be something in that
business, I love animation maybe I could be something in that business I love reading books, maybe I would be an author, I
have been doing a lot of painting in the last five years maybe that’s something I would have chose as a profession. I cant see
myself being a professional something like an attorney or a doctor or something like that my choices would always be
something on the artistic romantic side.
TNYO: How many gigs do you play a year?
Adrian Belew: Probably 60, 60 to 70 shows a year sometimes it can be like 90 to 100 but I try to keep it down so that I am
home more often than not and I have my studio at home so when I am actually recording and making records I am able to be
home with my family
Adrian Belew: Well it came about probably in the 80’s my band opened for them for five shows and I think at the end of
those five shows he realized that I was a writer and a singer and a front man not just a guitar player
so then he invited me to be in the band.
So 28 years later were still making music together so it worked out really well. I consider King Crimson to be easily a half of
my legacy and Im really proud of the music and being in that band, for me it’s a band that makes no compromises we do
our own music the way we want without any regard for commercialism or anything like that and in that sense we can go
back to the word pure if you like.
I am waiting right now to see if Wayne Roberts would like to do a solo gig if and when.
Adrian Belew: Chris and Tina the two people who began the Tom Tom Club the Bass player and the drummer of the talking
heads invited me to the Bahamas where the record was recorded and where they lived.
The original idea was just to write some songs it wasn’t necessarily going to be a full record it was kind of this idea of getting
different people in and playing and I was the first up to bat and so you know the first record or song that they did I co wrote
TNYO: Why do you like to create animal sounds with your guitar?
Adrian Belew: You know its just something I found that I can do, I am very good at mimicking sounds and I realize that the
guitar is an excellent tool to do that.
I can do a whole catalog of sounds like animals or orchestral or percussive or electronic and as time went on and I
vindicated myself in the world of guitar I realized that you had to have something that’s all your own you cant continue to
play the same things that your predecessors playing that you learned from their record’s so what I figured out which was
special and unique is my love of sound. Pure sound. I tried to make the sound of an elephant with my guitar, And then once
I began to be successful at that I realized well those things are only gimmicks unless you can put them into some musical
format. You know you have an elephant sound you write a song called elephant talk and that sound has an actual place to
live and a meaning to be there.
TNYO: Like so many artists that I know in so many genres of acting and film making
A lot of them do it because that’s just what they do and I don’t think money is the issue
Or reason why they started it.. It’s just what they do so they will continue to do that no matter what, do you feel that way..
In other words if you weren’t making money or if you weren’t a famous guitarist would you still play anyway?
Adrian Belew: Yes I am sure I would be playing guitar maybe not as a living but I am sure I would play music because its in
me and it wants to come out the more I have done in my life the more I have realized that my work wouldn’t be as
successful…. I have simply scaled my lifestyle to what I can do and I make a very good living considering the strange music
that I make.
TNYO: What was your first guitar?
Adrian Belew: My first Guitar was a Gibson Firebird which at the time was a fairly modern and unique looking guitar like
the Parker Fly is now and that guitar I bought for $170 at the time I paid ten dollars a week on it.
TNYO: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Adrian Belew: My advice is to work hard listen to things you love learn as much as you can from them and then create
something of your own.