Monday, January 20, 2014

Adrian Belew - On Crimson ProjeKCt, The Crimson Legacy, And Flux - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

The Crimson ProjeKCt - the Fripp approved roadshow put together by King Crimson veterans Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Pat Mostelotto and including Markus Reuter, Julie Slick, and Tobias Ralph are hitting the boards again in 2014, and they'll be bringing their troupe to the 02 Sheperds Bush Empire on March 12th for a special one off in the UK.

I spoke with the always affable and elucidating Adrian Belew at his home near Nashville, Tennessee about the tour and his other plans for 2014 - as always, he's a busy guy, but he also ended out talk with the announcement of something even he has never done, and that is truly saying something.

I started our chat by talking about the weather, but then I turned to the business at hand and asked what fans who bought the band's Live In Tokyo record when it's released on March 3rd could expect in the way of surprises from their setlist:
Adrian Belew: "Yeah, there may be one, or two! I know at least one, or two things that won't be found on that record. 
"Of course, every show is different to begin with because we do some improvising and we try to keep it fresh and new for not just the audience, but for ourselves. While there is some material that comes every night, there's also stuff that only comes each night!"

I asked if, and how the band decided to add new and different nuggets from the expansive King Crimson discography into their shows:
Adrian Belew: "Well, we're still adding things into the mix all the time, but it's kind of something we just juggle night to night. 
"There are things that seem to work vest in certain places, perfect in terms of making the contour of the evening. But, we've always had kind of in this particular spot, say song number four, we could play one these two, or three things, so they all fit the bill there and you can swap them in and out from night to night and keep it different. 
"I hope that we have some time at some point to add in some more material because it seems like it just gets more and more exciting. All of this material has a kind of timeless quality to it, when put in the hands of these players, who are all great players and have something in common with this music. It really come back to life and sometimes it feels like we've just started again."
Turning to the band, I asked Adrian to briefly describe each member - not just what they brought to the band, but to Belew as a musician:
Adrian Belew: "Oh perfect, thanks! 
"Well, Tony Levin has effected my life in a huge manner, all the times I've worked with him in 33 years. 
"Tony is a consummate professional musician. He makes everyone around him better. Kind of like a great quarterback. In my opinion he's the best bass player that ever lived. 
"He can do anything, and he's played with everyone. He's just one of these guys that people love being around, he's very easy to get along with, a great storyteller - most of all, the thing about Tony is that you know when you're playing with him, you've got to be on your toes because he's going to play everything perfectly and he's going to really make you play better. It's just great to have someone on that level in the band. I can see clearly why he's been in every great band from Peter Gabriel to John Lennon."

"Pat Mastelotto, I think is a great drummer, I love the way he mixes rock drumming with electronics and looping and sampling - things like that - there's almost no one else I play with who is adept at doing that. 
"He's a great straight on drummer without that stuff, but when you add that in it gives the band so much of a different texture, because there will be times when I hear a sound and I'm in the middle of six people on the stage, and 'What is that sound? Oh, it's Pat, actually.' 
"And by the way, he's a super nice person to work with. He's a joy to be around. He's a sweetheart guy and everybody loves him like a teddy bear."

"Markus Reuter is amazing! He's new to my fold, so I'm learning a lot about Markus. Naturally, he was a student of Robert Fripp's, so his role in Crimson ProjeKCt is to cover everything that Robert would do, and that's no easy task, of course, at all! 
"He's got all those fast running guitar riffs that Robert plays. He can do soundscapes, he can do all the different sounds and things. I'm learning more and more about Markus and realizing there is a lot more about him. At first, he was kind of quiet. He's Austrian, so he has an intensity about him that's not American, it's not even British, it's something else. The more I'm with Markus the more I'm appreciating all the things he can do - he's amazing!"

"Tobias Ralph has been my drummer now for 3 years in the power trio. 
"He was recommended to me by one of the greatest drummers in the world, Marco Minnemann and Marco said this - 'Anything I could do, Tobias can do', so anything you want, he can play and it turns out great. 
"But, to me, Tobias is actually his own man - very much in the world of drums. He reminds me in a sense of Bill Bruford - a younger Bill Bruford in his tastes, and in what he chooses to play. 
"His ability is remarkable, he can play so fast it astounds you, and talk about a nice guy. He is probably the nicest person in the music business that I have ever known. The kind of guy who will say, 'Mr. Belew can I pick up your luggage for you?' Haha! Just to have that kind of person in the band makes it real nice, plus he's got a great sense of humor, which everyone in this band does. 
"I think Tobias is the perfect drummer to play double drumming stuff with Pat, as well. We've had three version of double drummers - Bill Bruford and Pat, Gavin Harrison and Pat, and now Tobias and Pat. Of course, Bill and Gavin are fabulous, two of my favorite drummers, but I actually think that there is something unique and preferable about the way, for me personally, that Tobias and Pat work together. Their drumming together works very well, and it almost always brings a kind of humor to the double drumming role."

"Julie Slick, as some people know, was a child prodigy of sorts. 
"I found her playing along with her brother in Philadelphia when she was twenty years old. She's been in my power trio ever since, for seven years now, and even back then I was truly amazed that Julie Slick has that rare thing that very few people have - she has her own sound, her own style - even at twenty years old, she had a thing. 
"I'd never heard another bass player play like she does. I am still amazed, and so is Tony, by the way! 
"To hear some of the things that she can play! Sometimes it is very incongruent to look over, and here's this fairly small woman with a huge amount of hair just raging away on this bass guitar!It's pretty funny to see. 
"Yeah, Julie's a great musician, and she's been really, really wonderful to have in the band. She brings a lot of things - she's a great chef, she's very computer aware, she's funny, and I think she kind of holds it all together for us. We know that if we have Julie in the band, we've got to behave!"

It's great to hear anyone talking about fellow bandmates in such glowing terms, and I told Adrian that it was great to hear, especially in light of King Crimson being a band famous for internal tensions:
Adrian Belew: " Well, most of the tension, if you don't mind me saying this, and I'm sure that Robert would agree with this, has come from Robert's tendencies. 
"I mean, he is a very eccentric guy, and he makes it a little difficult on the people around him. 
"Not so much me personally, I've always had a different relationship and friendship with him. But, for example, he and Bill Bruford butted heads all those years, and it sometimes made it difficult. 
"This band is really about playing that music, but the personalities are much different. We can sound authentic, because we did create much of the music. At least three of us were part of it for so many years, and the other players I think belong there, too - they belong in the Crimson family. 
"It's true, there is something unique about this lineup in that that everybody gets along really well. There's no problems, no difficulties, we all just want to celebrate the music, and that's what it's all about!" 
"And we all have other things that we do that are very important to us. We all have new music we're making, so it's not like we're being nostalgic here - we just want to keep this brand of Crimson music alive, and play it for a lot of people who remember it, and a lot of people who never got a chance to see and hear it!"

Before the band arrives in England at the 02 Sheperds Bush Empire, they'll have performed six shows in seven days in countries - quite a travelogue. I asked Adrian what that said about the Crimson legacy:
Adrian Belew: "I think the Crimson legacy is alive and well, and that's being proven to me all the time. 
"When we started this Crimson ProjeKCtidea, it was a one-shot thing. 'Let's go out,' because it was the year that Tony and I had joined the band - it was our 30th anniversary. That's what prompted this! 
"'Let's go out and play this music for people!' 
"And that was just supposed to be a one-off event here in the United States - it grew and grew since then. We keep getting calls from Japan, and all over the world, 'Would you come and play for us now?' It's exciting to know that it's still there, but I kind of felt like there was always something special about the Crimson brand of music. It is somewhat timeless, there's something about it that is innovative enough that its always ahead of its time, somewhat. 
"No one ever really sounded like King Crimson, other than King Crimson - and I felt that way long before I was in the band."

I mentioned to Belew that I had recently spoken with original Crimsonite Greg Lake, and he had told me that it was through no design that the band sounded so unique, it was merely a fact that the voices of the band coming together combined to make something new and different:
Adrian Belew: " That's exactly true, and I feel the same way about when we first got together, Bill Bruford, Robert Fripp, and myself. 
"We made the Discipline record back in 1981 - which is now pointed out as being some seminal record that changed things musically, but I will tell you this - we had no idea. 
"We were just playing together, and we were having a ball! We were just trying to impress each other with the latest and greatest things we could think up, trying to be forward looking. 
"You never realize that you're reinventing the wheel a little bit, if I may be so bold as to say that! 
"At the time, it just didn't occur to us. It was just the sound we made together. It was exciting for us, so we thought, 'Well, someone else is probably going to like it then.' 
"It wasn't like the olds King Crimson, and we knew we would get a certain amount of flack from the older fans saying that this isn't King Crimson, but, in fact, if you think about what is King Crimson, it's always something that's changing, so it does all fit."

Looking back over the expanse of his career, I asked Belew if as a young man from Lexington, Kentucky, he ever thought he'd play shoulder to shoulder with such giants as Frank Zappa, The Talking Heads, David Bowie, and King Crimson:

Adrian Belew: "No, I did not! Ha!
"I will tell you this - when I was in my early 20s, and I was playing gigs all over the lace and starving, the records I would listen to at night when I got home were King Crimson's. 
"My favorite two bands of all time were, first, The Beatles, because they started everything for me. I learned so much from them, and who doesn't love everything they did? But my send favorite was always King Crimson. 
"King Crimson was almost a secret pleasure of mine. I didn't feel like many people were aware of them, and I felt like, 'Wow, this is something really special. There isn't anyone out there who sounds like this.' 
"And, so one day to wake up and be in the band was a total surprise to me. I hadn't planned on that one at all!"

Wrapping up our conversation, I asked Adrain about his plans for the rest of 2014, including the Three Of A Perfect Pair Music Camp in August:

Adrian Belew: "Well, that's one thing we have set up for August that once again involves almost the entire Crimson ProjeKCt - it's a camp that Tony Levin, Pat Mostelotto, and myself run in the summer for people who want to come out and join in. 
"It's huge amounts of fun! It's not very serious, I mean, if you want to learn, we teach you things, but at the same time it's mostly just one big party and celebration. Everybody is so happy to be there, and the food id great! It's up in the Catskill mountains, a gorgeous place to be, and it happens again this year in August. 
"My Power Trio is doing a cruise ship to the Bahamas in February, that's the next thing on my touring agenda. That's in late February - I've never done that, but it sounds like it's going to be fun. Twenty great bands on a fifteen deck cruise ship with twenty restaurants and bars, a gambling casino, a bowling alley, and everything. 
"Then we go do all the Eueopean stuff that you and I are talking about, including the 02 Sheperd's Bush Empire in the UK, and then in June the Crimson ProjeKCt is going to Australia, I believe we may return in July to do one, or two other things in Europe, so that kind of gets us through the first half of the year, touring-wise. 
"For myself, as well as that, I'm continuing to work on my next solo project, which I've been working on for three years! 
"It's music that is never the same twice! It's called Flux - every time you play the music it's different, so it's a technological wonder, and it's something that's never been done. It's something I'm very excited about! 
"I hope to launch Flux somewhere in the middle of this year, and that's what keeps me busy when I'm not on the road!"

And finally, the show on March 12th at 02 Sheperds Bush Empire:
Adrian Belew: "Yeah - it's going to be very special! 
"The show is over three hours long, and you shouldn't miss it. Everybody loves it when they come, and I'm really excited myself to get back to it - it's like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes and going out running around again!"
The Crimson ProjeKCt one off exclusive UK show on March 12 at Sheperds Bush Empire tickets:

Telephone Ticket Sales 08444 77 1000 Doors open 7pm - 3 hour performance, no support.

Available via Ticket Web:

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