Interview with Adrian Belew: The Guitar Man

Have you considered doing the one-man show in Europe since your gear setup is smaller?

I’m planning to do everything I can with the one man show. I think it’s in its early stages here. Not many people or promoters or people on the business side of it have any idea what it is yet. You’re planting new seeds and you kind of have to grow that. It would be helpful for example for me to get some DVD material from the one-man show and get that up on the Internet so people can start seeing what the show is and getting excited about it. I think that’s the beauty of this plan. It’s almost like General Motors, where if you can’t afford the Cadillac then you have the Chevrolet (laughs). That’s kind of my approach to this. The one man show is by nature simpler and less expensive to put on. I can offer more than one aspect. If you want something that’s more personable and maybe doesn’t cost quite as much as bringing in the big guns, like the Power Trio or especially King Crimson, we’ve got different levels of music can try (laughs).

A lot of different options in the Adrian Belew package.

Right now I hope so. I’d like to get this settled in by the end of this year, I think it’ll be there, and I’d maybe have some new music to represent the one man show and I’ll put together some new music as well for the trio as well. You keep feeding this machinery. The whole problem of course is just getting people to know about it. That’s why I’m doing interviews and that’s why I blog and try to get exposure, as much as you can, there are so many people doing so many things.

I live in Nashville, and when I look at the Nashville Scene, our local paper, there are 150 bands every week playing. It just makes you wonder how do any of us survive, but I’m fortunate. I have developed something that has a following and I’m not worried about anything. I can live this way forever. Course I would like to grow it a little bit, that would be nice.

You have the benefit of some great back catalog and some popular back catalog with King Crimson, but for many players of your caliber that are doing your thing, it’s incredibly difficult to make any money or survive. Are all these various pursuits sustainable for you if you didn’t have that base?

Well, I really don’t have it actually. King Crimson is on leave right now for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s up to Robert really. Everybody’s just waiting for Robert to say he wants to do something (laughs).

In a sense, you’re right, that was always kind of the anchor to what I did financially. You always knew that the most money you’re gonna make is doing something with King Crimson, and if that does something every year, that’s a large part of your income.

I’m fortunate in this way: my wife is really a business wizard. She figured out how to do this stuff years and years ago. She foresaw the effect the Internet would have, downloading, burning CDs, record labels caving in, all the new directions that the music business has taken. As far back as 1992 she was already working on that stuff, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’

In 1992 we started our own small label, well ahead of the curve, for anything that I wanted to put out that a record label might turn their nose up at. Not commercial enough or whatever. Then we began working on how do you do all the other aspects of it? We invested in our own home studio, we bought a van that I can travel in on my own so you don’t have to be always renting something.

Lots of little things like that that have gotten us to the point here where we actually make good money doing this. Better money than I made when I was on a big label and had a manager and all that stuff. It’s a lot more work, especially on her, but a lot of it is that you’re doing it yourself, and so you’re not paying 15 percent to someone for what they’re doing, you’re just doing it yourself.

A lot of it is due to the Internet, that’s given you an almost endless amount of free advertising if you use it the right way. But of course, it takes a lot of time to do. For me, the whole thing that has changed in the music business is that all of the effort now has been put on the back of the artist themselves. You can do it yourself now and most people do. Unless you’re kind of a mainstream star, you probably have to do it yourself.

And the thing that was such a blessing for me personally is my wife knew how to do that and figured it out. And she still is to this day doing it all for me. She’s my manager I suppose you would say, and some people go ‘Wow, your wife is your manager.’ But let me tell you, that’s the best you could have, because no one will look out for you better than your own wife or your own brother or sister, that’s why family businesses work so well.

I’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to sustain all this stuff. I think it’s very sustainable the way it is right now. There’s stuff coming in every day that we could do and some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t. It’s a lot of work to sort through it all and then decide which things you can and can’t do.

The Power Trio has been a big boon for me because Eric and Julie don’t require a lot of money, they’re not on that level. And the band has done well, it’s generated a lot of excitement, I think there’s like 600 YouTubes of the band. It’s very successful, it’s gone around the world three times in a row, gone to Australia, Japan, South America, Europe, Russia. For a two person operation, working out of their own home in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, it’s surprisingly good.