You can call Adrian Belew a guitar hero. His playing style is completely original—he’s never afraid to use a little feedback, as well as effects in unique ways. He’s an exceptional songwriter, something that frustratingly seems lost on quite a few modern day solo rock guitarists. And his playing resume is impressive: Frank Zappa, David Bowie, the Talking Heads, King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails have all utilized his six-string skills. Most recently, Belew has teamed with Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Level 42 bassist Mark King in Gizmodrome. And from June 6-9, he will hit the stage with the Adrian Belew Power Trio at the Iridium in NYC. The rocker dished about the upcoming shows, fond memories of playing in New York and how he’s taking music to the next level with his iPhone apps.
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How did Gizmodrome form?
Gizmodrome started as a summer project for Stewart Copeland and Vittorio Cosma. Every summer for I think 10 years, they had a project called Gizmo. The idea was Stewart and Vittorio would get to work together over the summer in Italy and just hang out and eat pasta. Not a big agenda more than just to get to play in Italy. That developed into some material that they had, and eventually, they called me and Mark King to do the material with them. That turned into a band [which resulted in a self-titled debut issued last year].
What is the story behind your FLUX apps?
There are two FLUX apps. FLUX: FX is an effects processor you can run anything through—your voice, drums, records or anything you want. You can change things a million times. The music app, FLUX by Belew, is the most important thing to me; it is music that is never the same twice. The way it works is that there are hundreds of things in a roulette engine in the computer. When you press play, it’s going to play for half an hour. You will hear a lot of things in half an hour because most things are very short and most things are interrupted by the next thing. It’s seamless; it goes from one thing to another.
The idea behind FLUX is that you don’t know what you’re going to hear and every time it surprises you. And yes, there are many, many songs—hundreds of songs. It has taken me seven years to create all the content, and I’m still doing that. Along with the songs, there are kinds of little pieces of time, things that happen, a loop or a door opening and shutting, to introduce the next song. And there are lots of versions of the song. You may hear the same song with a different guitar solo.
How has it been playing Long Island and NYC over the years?
That’s always a very special place in the world because there is so much activity there. It’s the center of a lot of things, especially in the world of music, film and so many other things to do with art. You’re always feeling a little more nervous because you know it’s an important audience. They’re usually well-versed in music and they know what you’re doing and they know your past. It’s a wonderful place to go and it’s a big shot in the arm because it’s more exciting than most places. I have many great memories of playing so many different places.
Any specific memories of playing with Frank Zappa at the Palladium and with David Bowie at Madison Square Garden in the 70s?
Those are probably two of my biggest memories along with playing at the Royal Albert Hall with King Crimson. Those are three of the ones that stand out in my mind because they are very important venues with a lot of history. For me, that’s sort of reaching the top. When I played Madison Square Garden with David Bowie [in 1978], I really couldn’t believe I was there doing that. I thought, “Well, this is as far as you can get. I don’t know where else you go in the world to play music and be in a more famous venue than that.” That’s your reward when you work hard enough, maybe you get to do one of those things every now and then.
What can fans expect at the upcoming shows at the Iridium?
This is the Power Trio that I’ve had for seven years now with Tobias Ralph on drums and Julie Slick on bass, who has actually been with me in the Power Trio for 12 years. It’s my music mixed in with a lot of King Crimson music. There’s a little bit of the FLUX attitude in it; sometimes songs change quickly when you wouldn’t expect them to…It’s fun, but it’s intense musically because you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing and there are some difficult things involved in what we do. My audience though seems to really love it and they get very excited about it. I think it’s going to be wonderful to be back at the Iridium. It’s a very intimate place where you can see every little move of my eyelashes. [Laughs] And of course, there is also the added thrill of being there in honor of Les Paul’s birthday.