Guitar hero

The Adrian Belew Power Trio performs in Tel Aviv.

January 31, 2016 10:37
4 minute read.
Adrian Belew

Adrian Belew. (photo credit: PR)


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Adrian Belew has squeezed so many sounds out of his guitar over 40 years of playing alongside Frank Zappa, David Bowie and with Talking Heads and King Crimson that he was running out of challenges, so he decided to invent some new ones with his muchheralded FLUX music apps.

“It’s a music processing app called FLUX:FX which allows you to ‘play’ the effects you chose,” the 66-year-old Belew told The Jerusalem Post in an email interview ahead of his shows with the Adrian Belew Power Trio on February 3 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.

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“You can process anything you want (voice, keyboard, drums, etc.), and it has an incredible palette of ways to change those sounds. It’s very cutting edge and has won many awards,” he said.

Even newer is Belew’s artist platform called FLUXbybelew, which mixes songs, music and art in a constantly changing manner.

“The idea is for the music and art to be a different experience each time,” said Belew. “Each time you press “play,” you have a musical and visual experience for 30 minutes, and it is never the same twice… one thing interrupts the next thing in an exciting unpredictable stream. Over repeating listenings, you’ll learn the songs, but don’t be surprised if they sometimes change! FLUX has hundreds of musical pieces, and it is never finished.

I can add to it forever!” It sounds perfect for Belew, who has been adding textures and sonic landscapes to his own catalog of more than 20 albums, as well as his famous admirers without a break since Zappa asked him to join his touring band in 1977.

The then-27-year-old Belew was leading a cover band in Nashville and wondering if his career would ever advance, when Zappa, upon the advice of a chauffeur who had heard Belew’s astonishing guitar playing, stopped in to check out his chops.

Belew acknowledged that it was a life-changing experience that arrived without a minute to spare.

“My faith in my own success was beginning to crumble simply because the music business is so youthdriven,” said Belew. “Back then if you didn’t ‘make it’ in your 20s, you should be worried. But I never faltered in my belief that I had something unique to offer.”

From his work with Zappa, Belew’s career snowballed, with producer Brian Eno touting his skills to confidant David Bowie. Before too long, Belew had jumped ship and was part of Bowie’s touring band and helped him record his 1979 album Lodger.

Long stints with the expanded Stop Making Sense version of Talking Heads and a revamped King Crimson followed, as Belew also launched an active solo career that has thrived until today. Whether he’s the boss or is taking direction from the likes of Nine Inch Nails’s Trent Reznor or Paul Simon, whom he played with on 1990’s Rhythm of the Saints, Belew has generally been encouraged to let it blast according to his muse.

“With very few exceptions, people have wanted me to do what I do without adaptation; they want their musical ideas filtered through my particular talents, so they encourage me to do whatever I want. If there is something in particular needed from me, I’m happy to oblige. After I’m gone, they can decide what works or doesn’t work for them. That’s exactly how it was with Bowie, Talking Heads and NIN. Both Frank Zappa and Paul Simon had very precise ideas what they wanted me to do and I followed their instruction. If I have chosen to be part of something, I try to be as agreeable as possible,” he said.

Speaking to Newsweek last week after Bowie’s untimely death earlier this month, Belew described what the recording process was like with the Thin White Duke.

The first thing that Brian [Eno] and David said to me was ‘We think we’re calling this record Planned Accidents, and we want to get your accidental responses to the music,’” Belew said, explaining that the pair had him listen and play along to tracks he had never heard before and didn’t even know what key they were in.

“I would try to figure out as it was going. I would get maybe two or three tries. But usually by the third try I would know something. That’s not what they were listening for. Then they would take their tracks, and they would make a composite of their favorite moments of me trying to figure out how to play along with the song,” he recounted.

Things are much less complicated with his own trio that he formed a decade ago, which includes Julie Slick on bass and Tobias Ralph on drums.

Their shows focus on Belew’s vast wealth of solo material but also includes some favorites of his storied past with Crimson, Bowie and the Heads.

“We’ve had such a life, 10 years of traveling the world making ourselves and other people happy. All of us have changed together into a world-class band with minimal needs and maximum experiences to draw upon, which has made us very tight as friends and players. I love this trio,” he said.

So will fans who show up at the Barby Club on Wednesday night.

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