Here is another interview with musicians from my vault. This was for an article I published in Guitar Player Magazine on October, 1998, entitled “Progressive ProjeKct: Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn Redefine the Power Trio”.
The band King Crimson was at that time a six-piece (with Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and Bill Bruford). They had decided to take a hiatus but to perform in “subsets” of trios, or possibly duos or a quartet. One of these was called ProjeKct II. I interviewed these three musicians as they prepared for their first public appearances. Because this was Guitar Player, it has a lot to do with instruments, technology and gear; I start out asking Adrian Belew (who was an acquaintance of mine and with whom I had discussed broader musical topics on many previous occasions) to explain how he uses the new Roland electronic drum-kit, the V-Drums. So if you are not into all the techno-garble, skim over those parts and get to comments about the music and the state of the music business in 1998 — Robert Fripp had some interesting points about the latter.
I have to share a personal note: Robert Fripp had a reputation as being a difficult and intractable interview subject who had little patience for journalists. As I was arranging for this interview to take place, I was communicating via email through Adrian Belew who sent messages back and forth to the band’s publicist. At one point Adrian sent an email to the publicist which he copied me on. Adrian wrote, and I quote, “No way should Wheat interview Robert. Wheat is way too nice. Robert will tear him apart.”
Well, I wasn’t afraid, because I felt that I genuinely understood and was knowledgeable about Robert Fripp’s music, and that I was not going to waste his time. I did a lot of research, and I went in with much more than my usual self-confidence.
The other thing about Robert Fripp is that he was well-known for being extremely protective of his personal space. When I went to Adrian’s home for the interview, and Adrian introduced me to Robert, I boldly strode right across the floor and shook Robert’s hand. Adrian, standing next to him, went pale. Robert shook my hand but didn’t react. And we had a fine interview and I felt that Robert respected me.
To this day I tell my prog rock friends, “I shook the hand of Robert Fripp and lived to tell about it.”
Wheat Williams interviews Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, and Trey Gunn at Adrian’s home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Saturday, February 21, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Wheat Williams. All rights reserved.
Adrian: …Then by May or June, by the time everyone has the first record, we can start selling the other record. The second follow-up record, at our shows. So we’re kinda always gonna be a little bit ahead of ourselves. Sort of leap-frogging mechanism. And now, since we have the ability to record live all the time, I’m sure there’s going to be tons of material coming out of that.
We’re going to record everything. The wonderful thing about this, even working here in my studio, it’s all done on six tracks. You have a stereo pair of V-Drums, you have stereo Robert and stereo Trey. Even though the V-Drums can come out on eight separate channels, we’ve always just left it stereo, because I balance the kits the way I want them to sound, and that’s that. You don’t really need to have control over those sets.
Wheat: I noticed on the first album, though, that you deliberately picked some extremely atypical kit selection sounds.
Adrian: At first. I started from that. And then I decided, no, these are the things that really interest me, the unusual sounds. That’s what I really like the most.
Wheat: And I noticed that you were practically getting a simple bass line out of some overtones coming out of your tom sounds.
Adrian: No, what it really is is that the bass drum can trigger a sequence of bass notes.
Wheat: I thought so!
Adrian: So it’s very interesting. Whenever you hit the bass drum, you’re advancing the sequence of notes. So even though it’s a small sequence of notes
Wheat: Kind of like an analog sequencer, but done digitally.
Adrian: Yeah. Even though it’s a small sequence of notes, the bass pattern is always changing due to the fact that you’re always changing your bass drum patterns. So I can break up and play odd kinds of drumrolls and things and it seems to fit okay because of the fact that the bass is going with me. And that leaves these two guys free not to have to play a bass part.
Wheat: Do all of those bass tones come from the V-Drum module, or do you have additional…
Adrian: No, they’re in the V-Drum module. And sometimes I also use a piano line that I can turn on and off from the rim of one of the pads. So you can turn it on while you are playing and turn it off whenever you want it.
Wheat: Where do you get the piano sound from?
Adrian: Same place. It’s built into the V-Drums. I think there are 50 additional sounds. Some of them are loops of funk riffs or something like that that I wouldn’t be so apt to use. But the single bass line is pretty good, and there are several bass tones to choose from. So it gives us the option to actually be a four-piece band because I’m playing bass as I play drums. And that was one of the first things that we discovered, or I discovered, when we were playing together. One of those Space Groove pieces is entirely that. The drum kit is a normal-sounding drum kit when I do that, but in other times now I’ve introduced it into some of my real strange kits.
Wheat: You brought up some pitched marimba rolls at one point.
Adrian: Yeah, I got a bunch of stuff.
Wheat: Any specific information about your tour plans or the marketing plans for these records?
Adrian: We have a two-record set coming out called Space Groove, and it comes out April 6.
Robert: The CDs will be available in England, where they’re being currently pressed, as of Tuesday [February 24, 1998]. And in America, probably toward the end of next week. So if you are in touch with Lori [Discipline Records’ publicist], she will let you have a copy.
Adrian: Lori can also give you better than I could the bits of touring that we’ve got blocked out. But it kind of works on an on/off basis where we go out for about two weeks and then we’re off for about two weeks. At this point, we will cover Japan, UK, West Coast, Midwest, Northeast, East Coast, and Canada.
Wheat: What size venues are you playing?
Robert: 450 to a thousand. Basically club-sized.
Adrian: And they’re being carefully screened by Mr. Fribble [indicates Robert].
Wheat: So that’s generally smaller venues than what you did with the Thrak tour in America, right?
Robert: Oh, yes. That was our intention.
Adrian: And as I mentioned, while we are here this time, we recorded a whole new generation of Project II material with brand new sounds and things, and we’ll edit that together and put that out as a record, which will hope to come out May, or June? Think?
Robert: Probably in the shops in the autumn, although we’ll be selling it at performances before, and making it available on Discipline mail order. The prevalence of bootlegging would tend to suggest that there is at least a moderate demand for recorded performances.
Wheat: So you’d rather have something to sell right there at the show.
Robert: If people really want to have live recorded music, and they go into bootleg, and the artist says, quite strongly, ‘Please, this is not something that we wish you to do,’ then how can the musicians respond to the audience? Well, what we are doing within Discipline generally across our catalog is to make available live recorded performances, official bootlegs are sometimes better. Since mainstream retail outlets can’t quite handle that bulk, what we do is make them available both at the performances of the artists, wherever they might be, and also by mail order, Discipline mail-order in England, which generally responds throughout Europe and Japan and North and South America, so it’s always available.
Wheat: I’ve been following Gary Davis’ Artist Shoppe, on the Internet, and he’s a big promoter of yours as well. And I must say I really admire what you are doing, because you are creating new paradigms for, as you said, how the band relates to the audience in terms of selling records and getting the recordings to them.
Robert: New understandings and insights generate new institutions. And currently the music industry is a hangover from days of buccaneering and the slave trades. It’s an exploitive, inequitable industry, and because levels of discussion on prime matters like ownership of copyright, they’re stifled by gagging clauses. There are one or two very famous groups who you’d know about who are currently in negotiation for re-acquiring the copyright ownership of their masters, which they paid to make.
Wheat: Oh, yes.
Robert: You might ask, well, why does the record company own the record that the artist made and paid for? Well the answer is it’s common policy. Why is it common policy? Because it’s established by institutions that have overwhelming negotiating clout. Overwhelming.
But no longer is it acceptable, and it’s coming to the area of discussion and debate. And in response to the perception and the understanding that this is inequitable, there has to be a new generation of institutions which are not based on exploitation and theft. And Discipline is one of them; a small company, which is ethically based and has particular aims, led by the music, and is artist-friendly.
Now, you want specifics on where ProjeKct II is touring, since I know you only have a page. So there’s no point in us talking for an hour on Discipline’s operating procedures, ’cause you simply won’t have any use for it. I’ve spent two hours of my time talking in detail about lots of matters to get one paragraph in the local paper. If you can use it, I’m happy to talk about it. But if this is not the time, I won’t waste your time.
Wheat: Well, let’s focus on the band. I just wanted to ask, this is sort of going back to your original philosophy of the small, highly mobile, intelligent unit, but how did you decide…
Robert: We don’t claim intelligence. We aspire to it. But we are small and mobile.
(I allow myself a chuckle, as Robert smiles)
Wheat: Well, how is it that you decided that it was the time for a trio project? Was it just that it was flowing out of the music that was flowing out of you at the time?
Robert: That’s two distinct questions. May I suggest a better one? How did ProjeKct II come about?
Firstly, I suggested to all the six current members of King Crimson that we fractalize, that we break into sub-groups, fractals of King Crimson projects, so that a new generation of King Crimson music can be discovered. So far there’ve been two projects that have gone public now. The first was ProjeKct I in the Jazz Cafe [in London], from December the 1st through the 4th last year. We recorded that, and will be releasing it later in the year. ProjeKct II actually began before ProjeKct I, when we recorded the Space Groove album here, in two or three days last November. This is just being released. These are both fractals of King Crimson, each of which function as research and development departments for the greater Crimson, and each of which are also stand-alone. So that’s how ProjeKct II came about. Is it in response to music flowing? Yes. And it’s also a way of enabling and helping music to flow as well.
Wheat: Well, I know that Thrak was much more of a composed album, and this sort of thing is stressing free improvisation, right?
Robert: Yeah. But it’s not stressing it. That’s essentially what it is.
Wheat: So for once you’re not writing down arrangements and contemplating them a great deal before hand.
Robert: That’s very true with both of these projects. Although my manuscript score and pencil are through the other room. But they don’t play a huge role within this context.
So, where are we touring?
We’re touring in California, in Ventura in the middle of March, moving to Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Los Angeles, then we’re going to Tokyo, Osaka and Nogoya, in April, followed by London and Birmingham, coming back here to begin a tour of the East Coast beginning in Washington, moving to probably Baltimore, Philadelphia and the Irving Plaza in New York, ending the first week of May. We’re coming back at the end of May or beginning of June with an in-store in Boston, probably Tower in Harvard Square. Which will also present to the public Absent Lovers, a two-volume CD of King Crimson’s last performance in Montreal on June the 11th, 1984. We’ll also be presenting at the in-store the Bruford-Levin Upper Limits, which is the group we’re touring with in Japan.
Wheat: So Bruford and Levin are going to be opening for you?
Robert: No, we’re opening for them.
Wheat: That’s so marvellous.
Robert: Well, we’re looking forward to sitting in the audience after our set.
Wheat: Is Pat Mastelotto back to the session player thing?
Robert: No, Pat, Trey, and I have been in close discussions about when we’ll be working together, and the problem so far has been purely technical; I mean, when can we find time to work together? So the next step in terms of my interest is working with Pat, and we’ve talked about different configurations. Pat is currently planning on coming to the Discipline studio in England at the end of March. We were hoping it would be the end of February, but we have a backlog of work. Pat has been doing his own research, and it’s quietly phenomenal. But I’m not going to speak for him or blow the whistle on what we’re up to.
How did you react when Adrian said ‘I want to play drums this time’?
Robert: He didn’t quite say ,’I want to play drums.’ We already had some three-guitar arrangements of music which are underway. It’s intended for the next Crimson, and we thought that was maybe something we’d feature. But when the V-Drums arrived, Adrian set up, and we began. So.
Wheat: Well, I remember when you started the Discipline-era King Crimson, in an interview you said that, or you agreed with the interviewer, that a lot of it was fueled by new technology: guitar synthesizers, the Chapman Stick, the Simmons drums. So I guess you could say that Adrian got quite inspired by the sounds he could make with the V-Drums and the different performance opportunities.
Robert: You must speak to Adrian on that.
Robert: I won’t speak for him. Personally, I find that acoustic drums in a live context, particularly rock, is overwhelmingly doomed to failure. You can’t really hear anything. And live, cranked up through a PA, you can’t really hear a hi-hat. So the situation we had with the last Crimson was that I was in between the two drummers with large Plexiglas screens so that I wouldn’t lose my high range [hearing], and one in front of Tony too. And you still couldn’t really hear everything. So V-Drums for me are, at least in the live context, immediately more practical. You can actually hear what the drummer is doing.
Robert: And you don’t need to screen the other players, so that the hearing remains intact.
I think that technology is primarily a response, once again, to the different understanding or insight about music, which may or may not be taken up. If the technology isn’t taken up by players, it’s a good idea but it’s not the right time for it. Like the Theremin. It’s a really nice instrument that never really happened. But I think the technology that is now available is very practically applicable.
Wheat: Let’s segue over to the guitar then. I have a friend who came up with me to see the show who was in one of your Crafty seminars in West Virginia.
Robert: Who’s that?
Wheat: His name is Jeff Blanks. He did one seminar with you and Trey was there at the time. He remembers it.
At that time you had developed the Crafty tuning, and you veered off into acoustic for a long time. Then when you came back together with Crimson you applied the Crafty tuning exclusively with everything that you played. Right?
Wheat: So what is the state of the art of electric guitar today as you see it?
Robert: Have you seen my rig? [he says with a gleam in his eye]
Wheat: Oh, yeah! Obviously the synthesizers work much better than they used to. I have an old Roland GM-70, it doesn’t track that well.
Robert: I prefer the GR-300 to the 70. Pat Metheney still uses one, too.
Wheat: No kidding.
Robert: What I’ve got is pretty well state of the art, although there’s one or two refinements as well. But having that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be played well. There are far better players than me with far less-developed technology. But my rig at the moment, which looks something like a space module, enables me, in addition to being a guitarist in a power trio, to also work in studio level quadraphonic.
Wheat: which is why you have the four TC Electronics delay units.
Robert: Yeah. And If I’m doing a solo performance live in a church, where we have an opportunity to get into the space ourselves, we generally do six-speaker quadraphonic. So it’s a very sophisticated rig.
Wheat: And the guitars you are playing, are those the Tokai copies that you’ve had for a long time?
Robert: Lori has the list of all the equipment. No, they’re not Tokai, they’re Fernandez copies, both made for me in September and October 1995, and modified by Ted Lees, who does work for me in England.
Wheat: I’ve seen Adrian’s Fernandez that he played during the Thrak tour. I was here exactly a year ago and got a chance to see that.
Robert: And as soon as possible I’d like to have the new, is it Buzz Teitel tuning system?
Wheat: Oh, I’ve heard about it. Feitel, I think. [It is in fact “Buzz Feiten”]
Robert: That’s right. There’s the Washburn, they’ve carried the guitars away, they sent one here for us to check. And as soon as Buzz works out the correct intonation for my tuning, then I’ll have it retrofitted.
Wheat: But the GR-30 and the new generation of guitar synths work even with your Crafty system, even with your extended lower range.
Robert: Oh, sure.
Wheat: I’m fascinated by Trey’s instrument. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say about that. He also got me in touch with Mark Warr.
Robert: Whose litigation with Emmet Chapman is a tragedy.
Wheat: I’ve been following that on the Internet with much interest.
Robert: It’s very sad.
Wheat: I noticed that Tony Levin doesn’t even mention Emmett Chapman on his Web site any more. He probably just wants to stay out of it.
Robert: Um, if anyone made a comment on that, they would probably be sued by Emmett at the moment.
Wheat: Well, I told Trey that I was not going to use the words ‘Chapman’ or ‘Stick’ in my little sidebar on him. We’ll just talk about the Warr instrument, how it’s tuned, and all that.
Robert: In terms of Guitar Craft, I’ve just come from a Guitar Craft course in Seattle.
Wheat: Oh, you have? That was my next question. So you’re still teaching.
Robert: I’m not a teacher.
Wheat: A facilitator?
Robert: Instructor. And I’m off to Chile in a couple of weeks for the first Guitar Craft course there. We’ve had several courses in Argentina, and the Argentinean team is going to Chile.
Wheat: And do you still do all of that teaching on acoustic guitar, or amplified acoustic?
Robert: Just acoustic. It’s very direct.
With an electric guitar, it is a different instrument. And a lot of the tonal response has very little to do with the actual playing. Obviously, on an acoustic guitar, what you hear is what you get, and it’s what you give to it. And if you can’t hit the pick at a decent angle, you get a horrible tone. So the guitar tone will immediately tell you how ‘on’ you are. Whereas if you are an electric player, well, you twiddle your graphics [equalization], or you deal with it that way. So it’s a very direct response.
An electric guitar is schizophonic. The sound emerges from a different place than the point of origin.
And it’s part of the training. For Crafties playing live, we had to deal with problems of schizophonia, where you’re playing the acoustic instrument, and the sound is coming out from the PA. So that’s part of it.
But yes, Guitar Craft is ongoing.
Wheat: That’s wonderful.
Is there any new music coming out today that you find appealing, in terms of the craft of the musicians making it?
Robert: I doubt that I would give you names. But is there? Yes. But eternal music is… Some music is outside the time stream. So
Wheat: That’s kind of what you strive for, isn’t it?
Robert: The musician strives to be true. So were you to say, ‘what do I listen to in the bath?,’ which is about the only time, well, a recent selection of what I’ve been listening to is the late Beethoven string quartets, Penderecki, Schnittke, Radiohead, the Verve, Haydn string quartets. I’ve just got Coltrane live in Seattle, but I haven’t had the chance to listen to it. So it’s very broad, very broad listening. To me it’s as if they were one musician speaking in different dialects.
Wheat: I wanted to ask you. I got to see you on the G3 tour, I think it was in December, at the Fox Theater in Atlanta?
Robert: It would have been, I think, October.
Wheat: October? Time flies. But I assume that was a good experience for you, and got you in front of a bunch of Kenny Wayne Sheppard fans that wouldn’t have heard you otherwise.
Robert: In terms of the sheer pleasure of touring, and touring is a very hard and arduous thing, both the legs of the G3 tour were for me the most enjoyable, supportive and friendly tours I’ve been on in 28 years.
Robert: I made friends. I made personal friends on the tour. And I appreciate that probably for a lot of people in the audience I was perhaps a strange character to have. I was originally booked for a 20-minute opening slot, comparable to Adrian Leg when he went out with the early G3s. So although I had my official 20 minutes, I suggested I play when the doors opened. So that in addition to having my 20 minutes, I was also play-on music. For me it was a wonderful experience.
Wheat: Sounds rather risky to me…
Robert: Yeah! of course
Wheat: that the audience is not going to give you the due attention you deserve as a performer.
Robert: Well, I’m not sure I’m due very much attention. But I was happy to play to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise probably ever see me. And the fact that some of them were fairly hostile is not really my prime concern. I’m sorry if they were upset by my playing.
Wheat: I think everybody in the Fox enjoyed it, and I went right out in the lobby and bought a copy of Pie Jesu.
I read a comment in an English magazine, from a young…
[Adrian Belew pokes his head in the room]
…We’re just winding up, Ade.
Adrian: I was coming to rescue you!
Wheat: I’m asking him how the G3 tour went.
Robert: I’ll be two minutes, Ade.
From a young guitar player. I read in a guitar magazine in England where he said, ‘Paul Kossov’s two notes were worth far more than Steve Vai’s 10,000 notes.’ Well, I’ve stood in front of Paul Kossov’s two notes, and I’ve stood in front of Steve Vai, and both have integrity, or had integrity, in their own domains. And for me it’s disappointing that one trades names quite like that. Steve’s ten thousand notes are great, provided they are the right notes, and Steve’s are.
Paul Kossov, I stood in front of his two notes in the Marquee in 1968, and they’re a great two notes, too.
He couldn’t be Steve, and Steve couldn’t be Paul. The beauty is that Paul is Paul and Steve is Steve.
Wheat: I remember your saying about Brian Eno many years ago that he plays very few notes, but that they are the right notes.
[After and exchange of thanks, the interview ends, and Robert goes off to summon Adrian]
Wheat: I’m kind of surprised by the number of people that I talk to that don’t know that you are a drummer. Because you’ve done some wonderful drumming on some of your solo albums. It’s been a very integral part of your music making. But I guess, by and large, people know you from David Bowie, and those kinds of things.
Adrian: Oh, sure. My guitar profile far exceeds anything else even though I play all the instruments on my records. And I do a bit of producing and a lot of songwriting and singing. Always seems to get overshadowed by the guitar playing.
I reserved, up to this point, the drumming just for my solo albums. I felt like I knew what I wanted the drumming to be on my own records, so it was fun for me to do it myself. Not that I’m the most accomplished player or anything, but I could do what I wanted to do. There was only one other time where I sort of went public with it, and that was in the 1984 King Crimson. Bill Bruford coerced me to play live on stage allowing him to be free to be sort of the avant-garde percussionist.
Wheat: And there aren’t really any recordings of that, are there?
Adrian: Well, I’m sure there probably are. Nothing that we really released that I know of officially, but I’m sure that there are recordings of that. It was fun, you know.
Wheat: Did you have a moment of pause, saying, ‘now wait a minute. If I sit down at the drums I’m relinquishing control of a part of the music that I’m used to influencing directly’? The melody? Did you have a moment of pause saying, ‘maybe I should call up Pat Mastelotto, and ask him to do this’?
Adrian: I think eventually Pat will join us for a different project, and I’ll be able to go back and forth between guitar and drums. But, no, the way I approached this was simple. At first I gotta tell you what happened.
The situation was this. I saw the V-Drums at the NAMM show last year, way back in July, and I ordered them immediately. ‘Cause I had been thinking about expanding from regular drum kits that I had to have more sound abilities. And I thought, wow, they’ve really made a leap forward. The demonstration of it proved that to me, that you can get a different sound on the rim, and the head, and it feels great, and you can trigger bass parts, and you can do all sorts of interesting sounds. But it was the sounds that really appealed to me. I approached the V-drumming just like I approach guitar. Trying to orchestrate the songs with interesting sounds is the same thing I try to do with the V-Drums. So I ordered them.
Around the same time, Robert was talking to me about doing a trio with Trey, and of course we all assumed it would be three guitar players. At that point he said, ‘Is there anything you can think of that would be really exciting to do?’
I said, ‘Well, I’ve just ordered these really interesting drums, and they’re fairly compact, and if you’re thinking about going and touring and stuff, maybe I could play drums a little bit. I think I’m going to do something cool with these things.’ Well, that excited Robert and me, and by the time they arrived here to actually, quote, ‘rehearse’ ProjeKct II, which in fact turned into making a record without us realizing it.
I just got the drums exactly when Robert was arriving. I had literally like a day or so to play with them, and I wrote one or two really interesting patches. Backwards sounds, and breaths, and glass breaking, all manner of strange things going on in the drumming department. Trey arrived the next day, and so we started to play as the string trio. The three of us sat down with three guitars, and we played a piece that we’ve already been working on called ‘Construction,’ which is probably going to be one of the next-generation pieces for King Crimson. It sounded nice, and we were happy with that, and we stopped and took a little break.
I said, ‘What shall we do next?,’ and Robert was eying the V-Drums sitting in the corner.
He said, ‘I really want to hear your new drum kit.’ I walked over, I sat down, and started playing a really interesting, breathy, weird, strange vibe, and Robert and Trey started playing too. Twenty-two minutes later, we stopped. We all kind of looked at each other, and we said, ‘Wow. What was that?’
And I asked Ken Latchney, our engineer, ‘Did you record that by any chance?’
‘Okay, let’s come and hear it.’ We went in the studio. By the end of that day, we were kind of looking at each other, and Robert said, ‘I think we’re making a record.’ By the end of the second day, we went out to dinner, and Robert said, ‘I think we’re making a double record.’ Because by the end of the third day, we had recorded I think maybe twelve hours worth of stuff. Quite a lot of it we really liked, so we went through them, we mixed all the songs. As I was telling you earlier, it’s a simple procedure because you’ve got stereo drums, stereo guitars, and stereo Warr guitar.
[Tape runs out, is flipped over]
Yeah, Robert and David Singleton did the editing, and there you go, we had Space Groove, with a two-sided CD. That’s how this came about. So that was a very long answer to your question: did I have any doubts about relinquishing my role as a guitar player? No. I really came into it saying, ‘This is going to be fun.’
I’m really enjoying being a V-drummer. It’s very different than being a drummer, I think, because you’re dealing mainly with a lot of sounds and things, and like I say, I’m triggering things, I’m triggering other parts.
Wheat: But every blessed sound comes out of the stock V-Drum machine. You don’t have any additional samplers or anything back there?
Adrian: I don’t have any additional sampling, but there’s almost none of those sounds that are now stock. One of my favorite things to do, and one thing people probably don’t realize, that you have to do if you are an adventurous musician, is the same thing I do with guitar. You spend endless hours creating these programs and these patches, and you have to redesign all the sounds. So now I’ve redesigned about twelve different styles of kits. Each kit has fourteen to sixteen different sounds depending on where you hit. If you hit the rim of one of the pads, you get a different sound than if you hit the pad itself. Some of them have, as I said, sequenced parts that can be triggered by the bass drum or one of the toms. So there’s all kind of strange things going on.
What I’m attempting to do as the V-drummer in ProjeKct II is create very interesting-sounding grooves. But definitely grooves. They’re not odd time signatures, and they’re meant to feel groovy to your body. But they are also made up of components of very strange sounds. So you’ve got all kinds of things that wouldn’t normally be considered parts of a drum kit.
Wheat: How about the physical, visceral problem? Robert was speaking about this, acoustic guitar versus electric, as in why he always has Crafty students play acoustic. The first time anybody went from a real piano to a digital piano it was like, ‘well it sounds fine but I can’t feel the notes I’m playing.’
Wheat: You know what I’m saying? The sound’s coming from across the room. It’s not flowing up through my body from the piano. Do you have that problem with the V-Drums?
Adrian: Well, as you notice, I have a monitor system that I also put together for the V-Drums. It’s a full-range system with horns and bass cabinets and stuff. It’s seated right there [places his hands on either side of his head, about an inch away from each ear], and it’s not feeling like it’s coming right off the drums, but it’s right there, and it is very physical. ‘Cause actually the bass drum really can knock you off of your seat if you turn it up loud enough. Much louder than a wooden bass drum would do.
Wheat: Robert says he very much appreciates the clarity and distinction. He says this is the only time he’s ever been able to hear the hi-hat.
Adrian: Which never sounds much like a hi-hat!
First of all, because there’s two different sounds on that pad. So I could have the hi-hat be a bass drum and a triangle if I wanted.
Wheat: Or a reverse gated open hi-hat. [He uses such a sound.]
Adrian: Anything. I have it being a lot of different things. The show starts out with me playing kind of a drum kit. But the bass drum is triggering a sequenced bass part. So I’m the bass player and the drummer at the same time.
After that, I flip into the mode that I like the most, which is where the V-Drums start to make all sorts of interesting sounds. And that’s where I really consider myself being the V-drummer.
Wheat: Yeah, I noticed that one piece that begins with some marimba rolls, maybe a melodic pattern and then goes from there.
Well, keep in mind that none of those are pieces. Everything is improvised and it will probably be that every night they’ll be different. We don’t even have a starting point. Which is another thing that interests me about this. Why I was able to give up the idea of playing guitar and being melodic is because the idea behind this music is that it’s free-form. You walk on stage and you really don’t know what you’re going to play and there’s not even a song title to even call out. ‘Hey, let’s play ‘Larks Tongues’.’ No, you can’t do that anymore. There are no titles. You are just going to play whatever comes to mind. I respond to them and they respond to me. And of course being the V-drummer I often of set the pace, but sometimes they do. Sometimes Robert and Trey will come in at a certain sort of tempo and I can tell what they are kind of doing and I’ll find something that works to that.
You were asking about the way V-Drums feel. They actually feel good. They’re soft…
Wheat: They’re real drum heads, right?
Adrian: They’re real drum heads. But when you change the tuning of the drum heads, it doesn’t change the pitch of the sound. That has to be done internally [in the tone generator module], when you are designing sounds. And it has a wide range. I mean it’s unbelievable how high and low each drum can go.
You can pitch the actual head for feel purposes, whether you want it to feel more like a floppy tom-tom or like a real tight snare drum. And so they’re kind of soft to the touch, to play. The only problem that I’ve found so far is that if I start playing really hard, the pads tend to bounce the stick out of my hand. So you probably noticed last night I dropped a stick once or twice. That happens a lot. I don’t know how to get around that, because the harder you play, the more it sort of bounces out of your hand. But I’ll get that under control eventually, too.
Wheat: I want to go back to being in a band with two phenomenal, visionary drummers. I mean…
Adrian: It scares me a bit.
Wheat: Pat Mastelotto is the conventional studio guy who can play anything, and Bill Bruford is the most innovative avante gard drummer of our time, probably. But you have managed to find a unique voice with this new instrument. Are you kind of afraid that those guys are going to go out and buy V-Drums and…
Adrian: Actually, Robert is working heavily towards getting them to do that. He envisions the next generation of King Crimson being three sets of V-Drums, and therefore I can come and go as I please as a drummer in that band too.
Wheat: Wow, that’s powerful.
Adrian: Yeah, it is a powerful vision. Whether or not that will really happen, I don’t know. I think it’s up to Bill and Pat, what they want to play. I think Pat will really like them. I’m not sure what Bill will make of it, ’cause he has some definite ideas about how he likes drums to be. So does Pat for that matter.
You know, it’s been great for me to be in the company of those two players. I think between them there’s nothing that you can’t hear being done on drums. They both have amazing abilities, and they work together extremely well. It’s really been interesting for me to watch that.
So coming into this, my one concern was, as you said, how can I find a place to be a drummer that won’t be constantly compared to Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto? I don’t want to be compared to them. I’m not nearly the drummer that either of them are. What I could do is what I can do on guitar–make drums sound kind of interesting. And so that’s how I’ve approached it. I like playing something that’s fairly simple, but the sounds are really interesting. And they are going together in a unique way. It percolates.
Wheat: Well I’m very fond of the drumming that you did on Op Zop Too Wah, and I thought you were really pushing the envelope beyond anything that you’d done before on drums.
Adrian: I have done that recently. I’ve been playing a lot since I’ve had a studio. You see right here sitting next to us a beautiful set of real drums, Ayotte drums, that I play on record a lot.
I practice a lot. And it’s not on a schedule. I’ll just be doing something, when I’ll go, ‘Gosh, I’d love to play drums right now.’ So I’ll run down here to the studio and play. I think I’ve gotten in a lot more practice time and I’m probably going to get even better now that I’m kind of a professional drummer! I’ll call myself a V-drummer just to be able to delineate between myself and any other person out there.
Wheat: I’m looking forward to hearing the Irresponsibles tonight. Did the success of the Jars of Clay single change your perspective? Obviously you must be being pelted with demo tapes now by people that want you to produce them.
Adrian: Yeah, I have done a lot of fishing through tapes, and it’s rare for me to find things that I feel are not only things that I’m in sync with musically, but also that I have the time and ability to do. Some projects are just simply too long. Like for instance I have really wanted to produce XTC, and that would be great, but they want to do it for six months in England. I really can’t give up my life long enough to do that. They probably have a lot of choices that are better than me anyway. But that’s okay. We did talk about it, though, Andy Partridge and I.
Production is something that I always saw fitting into my life once that I had developed a studio. And now we’ve had that going here for three or four years. Jars of Clay obviously being the most successful thing. But I think the Irresponsibles was a great success, too, because first of all it was one of the most pleasant projects I’ve ever done. The band was great to work with. We accomplished more than I thought we would. The tracks sound terrific. It’s a completely accurate, perfect representation of what that band should sound like. So I’m really pleased with the production. It’s a six-song CD, for anyone who wants to buy it. We have it out on my label right now, but we are shopping to try and get them a major label, because I think they need that kind of major support. And I really was thrilled doing it also because it required that I tweak some string quartet parts together. That was fun, you know. I really love doing that.
Wheat: This is a little off the subject, but you are doing a lot more with strings, aren’t you? You are working with string players here in town. I noticed Peter Hyrka, my old friend from Human Radio played some with the Irresponsibles, right?
Adrian: Well, the way we actually did the string parts is that we brought in Peter Hyrka and friend Gary Tussing, who played cello. We just had two guys. It was really better for me, because I could work out the first two parts, and then I could say, ‘oh, now I want you to play these two parts.’ I could separate them out. They were quick, and they could try a lot of things. They have more of the rock player mentality. So if I said, ‘do this,’ [makes a sliding sound] they didn’t look at me funny.
Wheat: You played cello on the Nine Inch Nails record?
Adrian; I did, on two songs. I played lap steel, I played mandolin, I played a bunch of different strangely tuned guitars that Trent had lying around. I also played string bass. But mostly guitar.
Wheat: Did you play drums?
Adrian: No, I didn’t. The drumming was already done. He had forty tracks. It sounded tremendous. And this was done in Pro Tools, utilizing a continual loop of the music. And that means that I could play guitar for as long as I wanted. So what we often did…
Wheat: And he has to do massive editing after you go home?
Adrian: Massive editing.
So what we did is we linked a bunch of little footpedals together. He had every little stomp box, all the vintage ones, you know, and we kept linking them together different ways. We’d get a really interesting sound. We’d say, ‘oh, that’s cool,’ and then I’d start playing, and it would get wilder and wilder. Finally after a little bit of doing this, it was great, and I felt that I was playing some very aggressive guitar. But Trent kept wanting me to change the sounds as I was playing. Well, I said, well, ‘why don’t you just get down on the floor and work the pedals, and I’ll play.’ And so quite a few of the tracks that I played on…
Wheat: And so it becomes like a pipe organ. Stops flying everywhere.
Adrian: Yeah. So he’s operating whammy pedals and wah-wah, and stuff on the floor, and we play together, really intensely for like twenty minutes. Finally he stopped and said, ‘I gotta stop, my hands are sore from turning all the pedals.’ So I said, ‘Between the two of us, we make a really excellent guitar player.’ [Adrian laughs heartily.]
Which was in New Orleans. He has a studio there. It’s a reconditioned funeral home [more laughter], of course.
Wheat: This is the guy that discovered Marilyn Manson.
Adrian: Yeah. The studio is called Hot Snakes. It was really great. I had a terrific time.
Last time I didn’t get to play as much, on Downward Spiral, because the record was kind of in its final stages when I walked in and did my parts. This time they were still building the tracks. There were no vocals. And so I really played a lot of stuff. I mean hours and hours and hours. I played for three days solid. Long days. And the next week I heard from one of the manufacturing people that I work with that they bought one of the fuzz tones that I had brought. They told him that it was gonna take them weeks to sort out all the stuff that I played. But I think that there were some really really good things in there.
Wheat: Any idea when that album might be released?
Adrian: No. I really don’t know what their plan was for it. But it was a lot of stuff and it really sounded tremendous. For me, as a producer and a person who owns a studio and makes records, it was intriguing to see how he makes records. Because he’s got a different way of doing it. I generally work on the basis that’s more typical. You record the songs and you edit things and you do this. But he works on this basis whereby you put it all in the computer, and it’s always running as one big loop, and you just play anything and then you go back later and you get rid of whatever you didn’t like.
Wheat: Non-linear composition.
Adrian: It’s intriguing to see, and something I’ll probably do some of in the future.
Wheat: That’s amazing. Why don’t we get Trey in here…
[break, in which Adrian reveals to me that he has reunited with his former band the Bears, and that they have written and recorded seven new songs.]
Adrian: One of the things that I really love about doing ProjeKct II is the fact that I think in this particular lineup Robert and Trey really get to stretch out. They have to. It forces them to play. There is no one singing. There are no songs. There’s no format. There’s only one drummer, and playing a certain groove. It really opens up the door for Robert and Trey to play, and they’re just playing so well. And I love it, because I’m sitting in between them. Here are two of my favorite players, and I get to hear them finally open up, so it’s fun for me to just be able to accommodate that and be a part of it.
Wheat: That’s great.
[For this interview, I ask Trey to bring his Warr guitar out from its case, hold it on his lap, and show me its features.]
Wheat: Do most people play those things tuned in fourths rather than tuned in fifths, ‘Crafty style’ like you do?
Trey: I don’t think of it as ‘Crafty style.’ Actually it’s basically a cello tuning. I don’t know what most people do. This is not the most common model of the Warr guitar. The common one is the stereo one, the twelve-string.
Wheat: Which you played all through the Thrak tour.
Trey: Yeah. And I still have one, and I still play it. I still do some recording with it.
Wheat: Now this instrument has a monophonic output. It doesn’t split up the bass notes from the lead.
Trey: I think that for your original question, I think the most of the twelve-string players play with the bass in fifths and the melody in fourths. I’ve always used all fifths. When this instrument came about Mark had an idea of doing an eight-string bass. And I had kind of the same idea of just taking the top side of the twelve-string, the melody side, and extending it down into the bass register and coming up with just a simpler configuration.
Wheat: And the string spacing is rather like a conventional electric guitar.
Trey: Yes. It’s not bass string spacing.
Wheat: Do you ever play with a pick?
Trey: I have played with a pick. I did some recording on my last solo record, just one little thing with a pick. But mostly I don’t.
Wheat: Well, the Trey Gunn Band with two eight-string Warrs and I guess a lead guitar, are you usually responsible for the bass end of things?
Trey: No. That’s why Chris, the other Warr guitarist is there, We take turns in the bass register and in the soloing register.
Wheat: Now you actually started out as a classically-minded pianist, am I right?
Trey: Well, if you can call a seven-year-old classically-minded, yeah.
Wheat: But I mean you came up studying the classics, the Mozart and the Bach, and that kind of thing.
Trey: As a kid, yeah.
Wheat: Did you play conventional guitar before you got into that other touch-style instrument?
Trey: Oh, no. I played electric bass when I was a teenager, for years and years and years. And then acoustic guitar, and then electric guitar. Bass in the meantime, and then keyboards a little bit. I kind of left the keyboards behind, once I got really serious into the guitar and bass.
Wheat: What is Mark Warr done to sort of further the evolution of the electric guitar as an instrument?
Trey: What seems to be developing is the generic term of ‘touch guitar.’ Mark has addressed the needs of the guitar player who uses tapping technique, either exclusively or at least a lot of the time. He’s got some six-string guitar models where essentially just the setup is different.
The pickups for all Mark’s instruments are custom-built by Bartolini, at Mark’s specification, to get the tapping balanced right. Because the sound is really soft [taps the highest string] and then it gets really loud [taps the lowest string], really loud, just the acoustic sound. Whereas when you pick, you can pick a high string pretty loud. So we’ve had to do some custom pickups. And he’s done some other tricky little things.
Wheat: So in other words the pickups are hotter on the treble end and not so hot on the low end.
Trey: Every string is specifically wound.
Wheat: You mean every pole-piece in the pickup is wound for the response necessary…
Trey: For that gauge of string, yeah.
Bill Bartolini, who’s fantastic, first started working on the twelve-strings and did a lot of prototypes, sending me pickups and new guitars to try. We’d discuss it and agree, ‘These top two strings just aren’t cutting it, but this bass is so intense.’ So Bill had to balance a lot of things. And you can do a lot in your shop, but you can’t really work it all out until a player gets it.
Wheat: Have Fripp or Belew ever been tempted to pick up one of those things?
Trey: You know, I don’t think they have.
Mark did another very clever thing. This is an extended range guitar, really. It’s hard to call it a bass. It’s hard to call it a guitar. It’s not either, and yet it’s both. Because the eight strings range from very small to huge, and this is a .140, on the earlier prototypes, as you were moving across the neck, it felt like the action was getting higher and higher, although it actually wasn’t. So what Mark has done on this is that the neck is basically flat on this side [points out how the neck is situated under the highest string] and then from this point over [indicates the middle strings] it makes a really steep curve, so that it kind of gives you the experience like the ‘center of gravity’ of the string stays the same all the way across. And that was something that we wouldn’t have known until. You just had to make an eight string, and we had to play it.
Wheat: This guy is a master luthier. How many instruments has he made for you?
Trey: I have four.
Wheat: Two twelves and two eights?
Wheat: And what’s the difference between the neck-through and the bolt-on neck designs, in terms of how it plays and how it sounds?
Trey: I haven’t spent much time with the twelve-string bolt-on. The twelve-strings have evolved a lot since my models. All of my instruments are padauk neck-throughs, except for my other 8-string, which is a bolt-on. And that was kind of an experiment. Mark does a lot of bolt-on 12-strings now, and some guys really like them. I guess traditionally the secret is the neck-throughs give you a lot of fundamental of the note, whereas the bolt-on gives you a lot of the upper harmonics and not so much fundamental. So when we were thinking of the 8-string in terms of fitting in with Crimson and fitting in with Tony Levin, he did a bolt. This is the second eight-string. He said, let’s do a bolt -on, let’s try it.
I have a tendency to go for a really big bass sound. So we thought we’d go for a pokier, kind of honkier, cutting sound that would kind of fit above Tony. So we did the bolt-on neck, and it has that quality. It’s a very bright, poky sound. Then he made this one that has the bigger, fuller bass sound. [Turns the instrument over to examine the neck] And the neck is a three piece. But it’s nothing fancy. Chris, the other Warr guitarist in my band, has Mark’s kind of traditional five-piece laminate. They’re not for looks. I don’t know if you’ve talked to Mark yet.
Wheat: Just briefly. He called me literally as I was about to get in the car to drive up here. So I asked him to e-mail me some more info later.
Trey: I don’t know how much he’ll get into it, but the combinations of woods is Mark’s secret. And the shape of the horn [indicates the upper bout of the instrument] is experimental. It really changes the tone.
Wheat: No kidding.
Trey: This is just solid padauk, and padauk has sort of a growly bass sound, which I like. But in some of the other neck-throughs, he’ll put a strip of wenge in. He’ll say things like, ‘Strips of wenge bring out compression in the high frequencies, and then two strips of bubinga, that brings out a certain kind of midrange, not with compression, so it’s really looser, and then with the horn,’ and so on. He’s very much into the wood combinations.
Wheat: So as far as Trey Gunn is concerned, this is the future of the electric guitar, right here.
Trey: Yeah, for me. I can’t speak about other guitarists. I think this instrument [the 8-string] is more appealing to guitarists, although, would I want to unleash a full-range instrument on most guitarists? I think not!
Wheat: Just let them stay in their own little defined part of the frequency spectrum.
Trey: The thing about this is that I can play bass and I can play guitar and I don’t have to switch instruments. Especially within ProjeKct II, I can leave the bass area, and Robert can take it, or Adrian can take it, or there can just be no bass, which is great, or we can all play bass. This is all nice and compact. Eight strings is a lot of strings, but it’s a lot less than twelve. I am really working to learn the neck and the notes all over the place. I’m getting pretty good.
Wheat: How long have you been playing with Robert Fripp?
Trey: I met Robert in 1985, and Sunday All Over The World was in 1987, so you know, between eleven and twelve years. About five or six years there were pretty exclusive. The only stuff we were doing was stuff that we did together, all different sorts of projects: David Sylvian, Sunday All Over The World, the String Quintet, to getting ready for Crimson, to different sessions. Now we’ve branched out and we actually work apart from each other as well.
Wheat: And does Discipline Global Mobile distribute your solo albums?
Trey: Yeah. Do you have them?
Trey: Okay. I’ll get them upstairs.
Wheat: I’d certainly like to get One Thousand Years.
Trey: That’s the first one, which is quite good. The second one, The Third Star, is very good and there’s a lot of the eight-string on it.
Copyright © 1998 by Wheat Williams. All rights reserved.