Few players are as recognizable on tape as Adrian Belew. One of the most innovative players to pick up the instrument, Belew is a legend among musicians and music lovers for his impressive resume and unorthodox approach. His notoriety began as a guitarist for Frank Zappa on the acclaimed Sheik Yerbouti album in which he endured a rigorous regimen of musical training from the eccentric and brilliant composer. The work paid off in spades, as it resulted in Belew’s talent being tapped by the prolific David Bowie, then collaborations with other greats, such as Talking Heads and ultimately, joining King Crimson. Belew’s labors can also be heard on records by Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Nine Inch Nails, and on his own celebrated solo records, which he’s been producing since 1982 (Lone Rhino). We sat down with Belew recently and picked his brain about his new signature Parker Fly, the future of King Crimson, and his excitement about recording and touring with the Adrian Belew Power Trio.
Photo Jon O’Gara

What are your current plans for the Adrian Belew Power Trio? You seemed to be very excited about the group at NAMM this year. I’ll be recording a new record with Eric and Julie Slick.

It’ll be the first record of new material that we’ve done. We’ve only done project before; that was a live record. I’m so excited about it, I’ve been playing guitar every day, waiting for them to get here!

I’ve heard that the upcoming record will have five distinct sections, or movements that are unrelated.

Well, it’s a piece that I’ve written over the last two or three years. It’s called “e” and yes, it’s in five different sections. Each of them could stand alone as a piece of music, but they do interact in the sense that some thematic things weave through all five pieces and tie them together. I’ve not been able to put much of this down on tape correctly, so I really don’t know what I have on my hands, but in the end it’s probably going to be 40 or 50 minutes long—a power trio playing something almost symphonic. And there are many different sides to it, so if you don’t like one section, hopefully you’ll love the next! [laughs]

How would you compare this to the Side series you released, in terms of its sound? How musically different is it?

It’s different in the sense that it’s more symphonically based, and it’s all instrumental. In terms of the Side records, it cuts out a lot that was great for the orchestration, you know, like the electronica sounds and things like that. Of course, there are no words or voices in there to humanize it. I think it’s radically different really, from what I’ve put on a record before—except that in one sense it has the sound, overall, of something that King Crimson would do.

The beautiful thing about the Power Trio is that we’ve gone everywhere, all over the world, and we’ve had so many experiences. We’ve played every type of venue, every type of event, and we’ve grown so much musically because of that. It’s perfect timing to finally do something brand new and original with this lineup.

Both Julie and Eric Slick—the other members of the Power Trio—have pretty impressive backgrounds and experience. What is it like creating music with their combined talents, as opposed to other acts you’ve worked with in the past?

I’m bringing material to them and expressing the different ways I’d like to see them approach it. What’s nice about it is that they naturally play their instruments the way that I wish I could play those instruments. [laughs] I mean, the kind of approach or orchestration that Eric might do for drumming in a section is quite often exactly what I would have tried to do, and the same goes for Julie’s bass playing. I think it’s because their growing up and studying music involved a lot of things that I was involved in. They learned a lot of the Frank Zappa and King Crimson catalogs, David Bowie’s stuff, Talking Heads… so it turns out that they are really familiar with a lot of things that I do. That’s what will make this record different from most of my solo records. On those records I played all the instruments; this time around I’m going to have a better bass player and drummer than me.

You recently continued work with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, notably on the Ghost I-IV record. That was a massive instrumental record, and your playing is very expressive. What was your mindset during those recording sessions? What were those sessions like in terms of your artistic freedom?

Well, I’ve done three records with Trent now, and all three have been alike: I walk in the door, get my equipment working properly, and he starts playing me pieces of music. He’ll say, “If you find something you want to play, stop us and we’ll record you.” [laughs] It’s usually easy for me to find something to play in his material. It really fits my styles—my sounds and the things I like to do—very well. When you play with Trent Reznor, you don’t want to pull out your normal things; you go do the most extreme things that you can. It’s a lot of fun, because it puts me on the spot to do what I really love to do, which is be creative with the guitar. The sky’s the limit. Nobody is saying “No! No! No!” Everyone is saying, “Yes!”

I really enjoy working with Trent, because it gives me that type of freedom. In a way, it’s the same kind of freedom that I had working with David Bowie. He was also very encouraging, asking me to do more wild things. The same was true with the Talking Heads. Trent Reznor is, to me, a major inspiration in the world of production. I really like the way that his records sound. I’m always keeping my eyes open on the process, so I can maybe learn something.