Welcome! This interview is part of an ongoing series of chats with artists about their creative process. You can find the full set of interviews, including musicians Van Dyke Parks, Dan Wilson, and Jonathan Coulton, memoirist Ianthe Brautigan, and cartoonist Dan Piraro all at about-creativity.com. You can also subscribe to future interviews here. Thanks a lot for dropping by, -Cecil
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Daryl Darko.
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Adrian Belew is a Grammy-nominated solo artist and a member of both King Crimson and the Bears. Belew's big break came in 1977 when he landed a job in Frank Zappa's band. Over the past thirty years, he's played on records as varied as David Bowie's Lodger, Paul Simon's Graceland, the Talking Heads' Remain in Light, Herbie Hancocks' Magic Windows, Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral, Laurie Anderson's Mister Heartbreak, and William Shatner's Has Been. To date, he's released more than fifteen solo projects, starting with 1982's Lone Rhino. His most recent CD is Side 4, a live recording of The Adrian Belew Power Trio, a new outfit featuring Julie and Eric Slick on bass and drums.
Belew is currently posting a play-by-play of his ongoing recording efforts mixed with memories from years gone by over at his highly recommended Elephant Blog.
This is the first part of a three-part interview. Be sure to check out part two to hear about how Belew taught himself guitar at 16, what it felt like to sign on with Zappa's band, and how he writes and performs complex, multi-rhythmic pieces.
Adrian Belew on the Web: Adrian Belew.net, Elephant Blog, Side Four
CV: With both the Bears and King Crimson, you've developed longstanding creative relationships that have spanned decades. What do you attribute that to?
AB: When you know something works, you should continue it. There's a large part of me that's solo oriented. Like a painter, I think sometimes, "Well, I don't really need anyone's help in this. This is me painting a picture or me painting a song." So as much as I can, I try to do everything myself because that's not only the most fun, it's also the most rewarding.
But it's very healthy to step out of that and share something with someone else where you're not the only one in control and you're not the only one with the ideas. Interesting things happen that way. So I've tried to kind of have a diet of both throughout my career, as a way to continue to be fresh and grow.
CV: How does collaborative songwriting differ from when you're writing solo?
AB: Well, most of my collaborative things have been quietly done -- you know, one or two people sitting down together, perhaps, unamplified, where you're just trying to get a basic outline of something. Then you take those ideas away and refine them and you meet again and show each other your refinements.
If I'm working within, say, King Crimson, with Robert Fripp, that's exactly how it works. It's a quiet process and what you're trying to do really is allow each other the freedom to try things and be a sounding board sometimes, or else be the one who's leading the parade.
CV: So with King Crimson, one person typically takes the lead writing a particular song?