As a drummer and singer with a teen band that played “all the early ’60s music,” singer-guitarist Adrian Belew says he could hear songs in his head. But he didn’t know to do with them. So when he caught mono and had to stay home, he taught himself to play guitar. The rest, as they say, is rock ‘n’ roll history as Belew has gone on to become a noted producer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and singer. He’s released 20 solo albums and worked with acts such as Paul Simon, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson and Nine Inch Nails.
Establishing his own distinct sound has been key. By the time Frank Zappa saw him playing at a Nashville club in the '70s, he had an arsenal of sounds at his disposal.
“I had started putting car horn sounds and seagull sounds into the cover songs we’d play,” he says. “I could see that people got a kick out of it because you could make your guitar sound like animals. I thought maybe it was a direction that no one else was interested in. In the world of guitars, it’s hard to find your own voice because everything has been done. You’re lucky if you can find your own tiny piece of real estate. I was fortunate to have that happen.”
Belew would go on to join prog rockers King Crimson and release several highly acclaimed albums with them. As a result, he became a sought-after session player and has worked with acts like David Bowie and Paul Simon. He's also logged some serious time with Nine Inch Nails.
“Whenever I go to work with [Nine Inch Nails frontman] Trent [Reznor] in the studio it’s very casual and he lets me play whatever I can come up with,” says Belew. “He’ll usually put on a track and ask me if I want to do anything. I have four or five things I like to do. I do them and he says he loves it. I leave after three or four days of that and he makes choices about what he’s going to use. When I get the new record, I’m surprised like everybody else.”
For the current tour, his first U.S. jaunt in three years, he’s making use of his new app that enables him to draw from his extensive catalog and include snippets of songs that he might not normally play.
“The response from the audience has been wonderful. They’re getting so much more material and so much more of a show. We play 30 songs and some are truncated and interrupted by these snippets,” he says, adding that the idea cme to him one day when he was sitting in a café in France and could hear music mixed with the sounds of boats and seagulls.
“Music should sound like life itself,” he says. “It’s quick and random. It’s all the things that the Internet is now. The audience is loving [the current tour]. I’ve gotten great responses about the experience. You get so much more in one show.”
Adrian Belew Power Trio, Saul Zonana, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $20-$45, beachlandballroom.com.