Adrian Belew: 'My Approach Is To Stretch The Possibilities Of Guitar'

On his Melbourne stop over, Joe Matera caught up with Belew for an exclusive interview for Ultimate-Guitar.

Adrian Belew: 'My Approach Is To Stretch The Possibilities Of Guitar'
Adrian Belew was first discovered by Frank Zappa back in the Seventies. Later his phenomenal off-the-wall guitar style graced recordings by David Bowie, Talking Heads, Paul Simon and Trent Reznor. As a member of prog-rock masters King Crimson, he's been the yin to Robert Fripp's yang. And over the years, he's offset his numerous musical outings with a successful solo career that in recent times saw the release of a trilogy of critically acclaimed albums. In April, Belew undertook an Australian tour, his first ever solo venture down under - his last was as a touring band member of David Bowie's 1978 Australian tour. On his Melbourne stop over, Joe Matera caught up with Belew for an exclusive interview for Ultimate-Guitar. Ultimate-Guitar: How does playing live compare to playing and recording in the studio? Adrian Belew: Well, live you're reliant on quick senses, you're improvising so much but you're also playing things that are a certain way. They have to be absolutely right on. In the studio you can stop and fix things. The studio to me is more the canvas where you go and you create something. I'm relaxed in the studio as I'm doing whatever it takes to create what I'm trying to get at. So you can take your time and do it as many times as you want. Live though, people are right there, looking at you and it's very much of the moment. And if you're little tired when you go on, then you've got to wake right up. Whether there are ten people there or ten thousand, you need to be on. I think they're both very important elements to being a recording artist or a player.
"If you're tired when you go live, then you've got to wake right up."
How different is it playing guitar in King Crimson compared with playing guitar as a solo artist? King Crimson is a guitar partnership first of all, so I'm not the only guitarist. That evens it out a little differently in the sense that there are things that I'll do and there are things that Robert Fripp will do. And that combined makes the entire sound. Where as when I'm out on my own it's kind of all the emphasis is on me. But it also gives you a kind of freedom because now you've got to feel the air with all your stuff as you're the only one. I love both though. I love the collaboration that being in Crimson has as it forces me always to challenge myself. You're working with some pretty amazing musicians so you're writing for the band in that format. But right now, it's also very freeing and fun for me to finally get to do my own solo stuff. And I chose the trio format because I thought that's the best format that really makes the players work the hardest and be at their most inventive. Everybody has to really feel their space when there isn't a second guitar player. For the current tour, you've gone the trio route? Yes, I'm enjoying it and it's been great. In the trio setting I'm taking some of the King Crimson material that was done by a quartet or even a six piece band setting. Like with the song 'Dinosaur' that was done originally by a six-piece version of King Crimson, doing it with three people is really like another animal. It gives it a different aggressiveness.
"Right now, it's very freeing and fun for me to finally get to do my own solo stuff."
What do you consider to be the best guitar effect or sound you've created? That's a hard one?I made a record called Desire Caught By The Tail and another one called The Guitar As Orchestra, and on both of those records I designed guitar sounds that emulated other instruments of an orchestra. I think between those two records, there are things there that I'm proud of because it's all done on guitar. We have everything in there like clarinets, animals and percussive instruments and it's all done on guitar. That has always been my approach; to try and stretch the possibilities of the guitar. The last time we spoke you mentioned that your Johnson Millennium amplifier inspired you in developing your "belewps" technique. Does gear in general provide you with the impetus to seek out new and different sounds? That is exactly what it does. I spend endless hours tweaking sounds and trying to come up with something that gives me a new avenue where I go 'whoa, I've got this now'. So what I have to do then is write something with it and find some way to loop my guitar playing so I can write something on top of my own loop. This method opened the door to the last three records I've done. And consequentially gave me the idea of doing the trio thing.
"I'm not a person who sits and listen to a lot of other players."
You've got a Belew Signature Parker Fly model on the horizon? I'm currently using a prototype, but when I finally get the finished version it'll be able to give you every tonal possibility that you can have to date. The signature model will be like a regular Parker Fly in the sense of its body, neck, tuning heads and tremolo, all the normal things that come on a Parker Fly. And of which I find to be revolutionary and makes me play better. I think it's the most incredible guitar. What we have changed about the guitar with my version is the electronics part of it, which comes with a built-in Line 6 Variax. We've simply added all the latest things that you could possibility put together on one guitar and still kept it simple and clean along the lines of the guitar. So my model will have three knobs and a five way switch on it. It'll actually has one knob less than on a normal Parker Fly, but you'll be able to turn it on or off, run through any MIDI device or guitar synthesizer, and be able to call up all the sounds from the Line 6 Variax. All from just these three knobs, all in what I consider to be the best guitar in the world. These Parker Flys make you play better, they feel better and they never go out of tune. I use the tremolo as hard as I can and every time, all the notes on the fretboard remain perfectly in tune. The wood has been reinforced by a space age coating they put on it to the degree that it makes it ten thousand times stronger. So you can have the thinnest neck in the world and it'll stay perfect all the time. Bit it takes a bit of getting used to due to the fact it's so light. Currently what live set-up are you using on the Australian tour? I've only brought a fraction of what I normally use in the States. But for this tour, I have the Johnson Millennium 1 amp head and a couple of Line 6 cabinets. For my looping, I use a Fender Twin amp and the looping device is a Boomerang Phrase Sampler which goes straight into the Fender Twin which becomes and my second player so to speak. Everything else I do is coming through my regular Johnson J12 pedal board. The only other effect pedals I have is a DigiTech Whammy pedal, a DigiTech Hendrix pedal and a Boss CS3 Compressor that goes to the input of the amp. I do it this way because it gives me some nice sustain and I have all the settings on that set at 12 o'clock.
"I think Parker Fly is the most incredible guitar."
Sonically you're a predecessor to players like Tom Morello in the way you both use the guitar to create effects, what do you think of players like Morello? I'm not a person who sits and listen to a lot of other players. I spend a lot of time doing what I do but what I know of Tom's playing, I love those kinds of players. I love the guys who are going out on the edge and experimenting and trying aggressively to do something of their own. In any music form there are the top 10% of players who are trying new things and innovating in a sense. Then there are the other 90% of players who are just copying everything that is happening before. And any music form has that. There are always those guys who are the cr?me and setting the stage for the other players. But there is nothing wrong with those other guys who come along and simply copy things, but I always tend to like the guys who are stepping out. Your most recent guest appearance was on the William Shatner's record? Yeah that was gas. I mean playing with Captain Kirk, what can you say? [laughs] I'm able to be selective now so I don't do nearly as much as playing on other peoples records as I used to do back in the '80s and '90s but there is always going to be something coming up that will interest me enough.
"Robert and I are at that stage where we are just starting to reinvent the wheel again for King Crimson."
What is the status with a new King Crimson record? Robert and I are at that stage where we are just starting to reinvent the wheel again for King Crimson. Quietly and a little at a time we're getting together, a week at a time here and there. We're starting to work through material and ideas and filter things out and work on things then go away for awhile and come back and reconvene. At some point we'll bring in the full band and introduce them to the blueprints of what we've made. It's a long process, a two or three year process really. Then the band will bring in their parts, we'll go play it live and it'll change again. Then it'll be down to me to finalise lyrics before going in to record the record. We're not in any hurry though as we don't want to go out and play King Crimson's greatest hits, if there is such a thing. We're keen to go out and do something new again. In the meantime while quietly working on the Crimson record I'm wanting to do as much solo stuff as I can. I feel like I've put that on the backburner for the last five years while we were doing a lot of work with Crimson. So it's now my turn to return to that. Joe Matera 2006
Listen to Adrian Belew (photo) greeting at this location. Here is a photo of his stage effects. Check out a teaser from Adrian's 2005 release, "Side One." Also available on the artist's website is track "Asleep," Budweiser Commercial (MP3) and the original "controversial" version of "I Have A Dream" (MP3). For more Adrian Belew downloads, including commercial videos, head over here.

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    What? an article about Adrian Belew? Man, i guess this is a guitar site. Finger tapping before finger tapping. One of my fav's
    i saw him with eric johnson. He played too long and was technically embarassed by ej.
    mreg wrote: i saw him with eric johnson. He played too long and was technically embarassed by ej.
    And your technically embarassed by any man
    I can easily list King Crimson as one of my influences, Adrian Belew is great.
    lmfao... apparently this guy is king crimsons member read this article's description on the home page
    I bloody love King Crimson, although i am a new comer to their work and dont have much of their material (heck im only a teen). Spewing that i missed Adrian in Australia. Theres just hardly any advertising for the truly good acts. Can't wait to hear what they have in store on their next album and hope i get to see them live some time. Rock on King Crimson and Belew!!!
    You don't know who Belew is? My God, go listen to him, he's one of the most innovative and inventive guitar players out there.
    captain_bunker wrote: king crimson owns any band for sure
    Agreed. Belew kicks total arse on the guitar.