Music: Many 'Sides' of Belew

Amid numerous other projects, Adrian Belew assembles a new power trio and hits the road

Jul 13, 2005 at 2:06 pm
As if he doesn't have enough to do, Adrian Belew is also a budding painter whose artwork graces the covers of his recent Side One and Side Two albums

"King Crimson is taking a two year hiatus," Adrian Belew says at one point from his home in Nashville. "We're getting back together to write in September of 2007. That sounds weird, doesn't it? 'How does that day work for you?' 'Ooh, I don't know ... I was going to take the kids to the zoo that day.' But that's the way we have to do things."

Anyone who is the least bit familiar with Belew's superhuman multi-tasking will hardly be surprised with his two year day-planning. In the late '70s, Belew, a native of Northern Kentucky and well known in the Cincinnati music community, was one of the most in-demand session and touring guitarists on the planet (including famous stints with Frank Zappa and Talking Heads), a situation that was complicated by his solo success in the '80s. Belew had also joined Prog legend Robert Fripp in a stripped-down version of the aforementioned King Crimson, a move that revived interest in the band, and renewed contacts with friends Rob Fetters, Chris Arduser and Bob Nyswonger (Belew had produced the first Raisins album in 1983) to form their Beatlesque Pop/Rock quartet, The Bears.

Over the past two decades, Belew has gone to great lengths to simultaneously accommodate as many of his creative outlets as he can manage. He still maintains a healthy session schedule (he recently recorded with contemporary Prog Rock band Porcupine Tree) and he continues to field calls for his unique production abilities (he just finished an album for a Southern Prog band called Man on Fire). And in between his work with King Crimson and his sporadic stints with The Bears, Belew has amassed one of the most experimental and voluminous solo catalogs in Rock.

Belew's most recent work is his most exciting and adventurous. Signing this year with Sanctuary Records, Belew has already released a pair of distinctly different albums, Side One and Side Two, within months of each other with plans for a third — Side Three, naturally — by late this year or early 2006.

The first album, Side One, is a return to Belew's idea of a power trio, a concept he is clearly excited about. Side Two is more cerebral, an exercise in adapting his unique guitar styling into an Electronic/DJ atmosphere. When Side Three is eventually unveiled, Belew says it will reflect the eclectic totality of his solo catalog — Pop song structure laced with blazing guitar experiments, goofy humor and his standard Rock weirdness. Although they are distinct, Belew wants them to be considered as three pieces of a whole ... sort of.

"When you get all three of them, you'll get the whole picture," says Belew. "It's not like a trilogy in the true sense, where there's supposed to be some answer at the end. You can kind of tell, getting Side Two now, that it doesn't intermingle terribly well with the power trio stuff on Side One. If you do that, it lessens the effect of each thing."

Belew's immediate concern is his new tour. His current set list features "the most complicated" trio material from Side One, plus a healthy dose of songs from Op Zop Too Wah, his 1996 solo album that he never toured, as well as an assortment of things from his long list of solo records. For the tour, he's put together what he considers the strongest power trio he's ever played with during his career — former Jazz guitarist Mike Gallaher on bass and Belew's high school buddy Mike Hodges on drums. He's so enamored of the chemistry between himself and his rhythm section that he's considering doing his first proper live album with this configuration and calling it Side Four.

"The way we're attacking my material is unique, in the sense that the songs stretch out a little bit, there's more guitar playing than there ever has been before. Anyone who wants to hear me play guitar more than usual should probably come out to the show," says Belew.

Belew continues to be insanely busy. He describes The Bears' next album, slated for release in spring 2006, as "the most rocking album we've ever done," he's committed to solo touring through early next year, and he's currently overseeing the production of the first signature guitar to bear his name. The revolutionary Parker Fly is loaded with electronic gadgetry that will simulate the sound of a dobro, 12-string, mandolin, banjo and a couple dozen other instruments and Belew is excited about its imminent release.

All of it — the power trio, the solo work, the band work, the guitar, the production — is indicative of Belew's restless creative nature. No matter the endeavor, he relishes the challenges, and he will continue to seek them out in every aspect of his career.

"I've been developing a lot of new guitar things, I've learned a lot about looping and new sounds," says Belew. "I've got a lot of new stuff on the burner that I haven't even shown people yet. The reason I've been asked to be a part of a lot of different things is that I really am flexible and able to cross into a lot of categories. If someone brings me a piece of music, I will probably have five very different ideas of what I could enhance it with. And that's because I've never stayed in any one particular style. I like experimenting and finding new sounds.

"People don't know this, but I can fingerpick like Chet Atkins, and I can emulate my favorite guitarists like Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix, but it's not what I wanted for myself because they've already done that. How do you find your own voice? You get rid of the things you've learned and develop something else. What I like is making sounds and stretching the boundaries of the instrument. Modern guitar is endless in its abilities, especially with guitar synthesizers and the pedals and the technologies and the sounds. I don't get drowned in it because it comes down to playing from the heart. But the thing that inspires me is the sound."

ADRIAN BELEW plays Bogart's on Friday.