Head­stock: adrian belew

Af­ter work­ing the wires for Frank Zappa, David Bowie and King Crim­son, the Twang Bar King moves on to a su­per­group with ex-Police Ste­wart Copeland

Guitarist - - Contents - Words David Mead

Adrian Belew’s lat­est project is a band called Giz­mod­rome that fea­tures Level 42’s Mark King on bass, The Police’s Ste­wart Copeland on drums and Vit­to­rio Cosma on key­boards. “It’s Ste­wart’s ma­te­rial he’s been writ­ing for 10 years with Vit­to­rio, the key­board player,” he tells us. “What they need from me is just to pep­per it with lots of sounds and some smash­ing good guitar so­los. Ste­wart is the sto­ry­teller and then Mark and I blend our voices to­gether and give you a per­fectly sung cho­rus!”

Fa­mous for the abil­ity to con­jure up the sounds of any­thing from wild an­i­mals to heavy ma­chin­ery on his guitar, Adrian has de­vel­oped unique tal­ents that have seen him work with some of mu­sic’s most de­mand­ing artists.

1 First, Try To Find A Unique Voice

“I think I be­gan to de­velop some­thing in the mid­dle 70s, af­ter I had kind of mas­tered the sound of a lot of dif­fer­ent types of styles. I could play like Chet Atkins, I could play like some blues play­ers, I could play like Hen­drix or Jeff Beck – a lit­tle bit. I had dab­bled in a lot of dif­fer­ent things. I knew I could mimic all those styles, but what was there left for me? Ev­ery time I would play a stock lick, I would try to sub­sti­tute some­thing for it, so quickly I found the one thing I liked to do that no-one else seemed to be do­ing was mak­ing sounds.”

2 Don’t Be Afraid To Make A Noise!

“I’d be play­ing a guitar solo in a bar band some­where and at the top of the solo I’d put in some seag­ulls or I’d throw in a car horn at the end – and that seemed to get a chuckle and ev­ery­one liked that. No-one else seemed to be try­ing to go in that di­rec­tion, so I was go­ing to try and see what I could do, sound-wise, with the guitar – and that be­came the be­gin­ning of hav­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. It was just about the time that I got to be on the world stage; the world of ef­fects be­gan to come alive and I loved all that stuff. I couldn’t wait for the next Fuzz-Tone to ar­rive!”

3 A Wise An­i­mal Adapts To The Land­scape

“David Bowie re­ally was great to me; he mainly just wanted me to go crazy on guitar, whereas in Frank [Zappa]’s band, the idea was play his mu­sic the way he’d writ­ten it con­sis­tently and cor­rectly ev­ery night. You’d get a lit­tle spot­light where you get to do your own thing, but mostly you were try­ing to play his mu­sic the way he wanted it, and that was good for me. I needed that sort of dis­ci­pline in my life.

“But by the time I got to David’s band I was ready to fly away on my own and that’s what he gave me the wings to do. And then that went straight in to Talk­ing Heads – they needed the same thing.”

4 Think In Colour

“[Bowie] al­ways had guitar play­ers who could tear up a good solo, and there were places in his mu­sic you could do that, but I felt – in both his band and Talk­ing Heads – that ‘colourist’ was what I would call my­self. They of­ten put things on their records they couldn’t repli­cate live and would turn to me and say, ‘What can you do with this? Can you come up with some­thing?’ and that’s what I would do a lot of times: fill in the gaps where some­thing was sup­posed to be hap­pen­ing but it wasn’t. With Talk­ing Heads, I just knew ex­actly what to play. I felt so com­fort­able with their mu­sic, I could have gone on and on adding things. I could have kept go­ing for ever!”

5 Straighten Up & Fly Right

“When I first joined King Crim­son I was still play­ing the Strat. Later on, I switched to Mus­tangs and then back to Strats, and then fi­nally, in 2000s when we had our last round of King Crim­son, then I started adopt­ing the Parker Fly – pretty much af­ter the band was over. The rea­son I switched was that it’s just a su­pe­rior in­stru­ment for me. It stays per­fectly in tune. It feels per­fect for me. I play bet­ter. It’s smoother, faster. It’s light. It res­onates per­fectly. I mean, there are a hun­dred rea­sons I can tell you… I think it’s the best guitar for me and I also think it’s the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary guitar that’s been made since Strats and Les Pauls.”

6 It Can Be Tough On The Front Line

“Back in the day, when I was do­ing all the stuff with Crim­son, one of my prime con­cerns was I was the front man; I had to kind of keep things rolling. I couldn’t stand around be­tween songs and yet the Strat would be badly out of tune by the end of al­most ev­ery track with the way I play and all the tre­molo abuse. I no­tice that when I see Jimi Hen­drix, he had sim­i­lar prob­lems! When you re­ally go crazy with the tre­molo arm on a Strat or any of those in­stru­ments, it’s hard to keep them in tune. Not so with the Parker Fly, so that re­lieves me of that prob­lem af­ter about 20 years.”

7 Small Cer­tainly Can Be Beau­ti­ful

“I don’t use amps any more. Tour­ing around the world with my Power Trio I’ve had to get my gear as small as I can, so it’s a very small setup now. It mainly re­volves around the Frac­tal Audio Axe-FX. Also, I play through a lap­top and a Boss GP-10, all of which is in a four-space rack and that goes into a box. On top of that box go my ped­als: three dif­fer­ent vol­ume ped­als, a Liq­uid Foot MIDI con­troller and a DigiTech Har­monyMan. I run the guitar straight into a Kee­ley Com­pres­sor, which is the back of the rack and re­ally that’s it…”

8 It’s Not Just Gear, It’s A Mo­bile Zoo!

“My setup now weighs 70lbs. It’s got a han­dle on the top: you roll it through the air­port just like you do one of your cloth­ing bags, put it on the belt and you’re done. The more gear you have, the more prob­lems you’re go­ing to have trav­el­ling around the world. Not nec­es­sar­ily in the United States, where we keep the tour on the ground, but if you’re go­ing to Lithua­nia, good luck! I’m re­ally, re­ally happy with this sys­tem and, yes, I can do pretty much what I want: whale sounds, ele­phant sounds, mos­qui­tos, what­ever. I’ve got all that and plenty more.”

9 If You’re Not In Sync, You’re Sunk!

“I was us­ing Roland JC-120 Cho­ruses [with King Crim­son] then Robert [Fripp] started us­ing the same as he liked the sound of them. We were try­ing with our in­ter­lock­ing guitar style to have a sound that ac­tu­ally matched in some ways. In fact, I re­mem­ber when we fi­nally went in to the stu­dio to make Dis­ci­pline [in 1981], we couldn’t get those gui­tars to be in tune. Then I re­alised, ‘Wait a minute, we both have our cho­ruses on!’ That stereo cho­rus. ‘What we should do is take the cho­rus off, record the tracks and then we can have the en­gi­neer put cho­rus on it…’ And that’s what we did.”

10 Sit Back & En­joy The View

“The time I was most in awe of what was hap­pen­ing? I’d say stand­ing on stage at Madi­son Square Gar­den with David Bowie. It was pretty eye-open­ing. First of all, it’s a very large place – 18,000 peo­ple, I think. It’s very his­toric. The front two rows as far as you can see from the front of the stage are all peo­ple that you recog­nise be­cause they’re fa­mous. When you play with David Bowie, you’d have Andy Warhol sit­ting there, you’d have Talk­ing Heads sit­ting there, you’d have Mick and Bianca [Jag­ger] sit­ting there, you’d have Dustin Hoff­man…”

11 Cher­ish The Mo­ment

“It’s re­ally kind of a mo­ment where you re­alise where you’ve come to. From rid­ing in a lit­tle bro­ken down Volk­swa­gen one day up 21st Av­enue in Nashville and hear­ing Heroes for the first time and go­ing, ‘Ah God, I love David Bowie – ah, what is that guitar sound?’ and then, you know, 18 months later be­ing on stage and play­ing Heroes with David Bowie. So that’s the mo­ment of re­al­i­sa­tion for me where I said, ‘Wow, I can’t be­lieve I’m ac­tu­ally do­ing this!’” Giz­mod­rome’s self-ti­tled de­but al­bum will be re­leased on 15 Septem­ber on earMUSIC www.adri­an­belew.net

Adrian with key­board player Vit­to­rio Cosma, his band­mate in su­per­group Giz­mod­rome, along­side Level 42’s Mark King on bass and The Police’s Ste­wart Copeland on drums

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