Ken Macy does it all

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

Inspired by artists like Tom Petty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Worcester musician Ken Macy recently released, “Goin’ California,” a nine-track album on which he plays every instrument excluding drums. He spent a few months writing the material and another four and a half months recording.

 “The whole idea of the record has to do with California based artists,” said Macy. “I was really intrigued with that sound. The song itself is about stardom and how somebody wasn’t very honest with themselves and everything sort of came back to bite him. I kind of ran with that idea for the rest of the record. It was kind of my ode to them.”

Macy, who is currently doing acoustic shows to promote the album, said he feels as if it’s his most complete to date. He handles vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica, some percussion, and tambourine. Kevin Haverty plays drums on the record.

 “He has a fantastic ear and he is also a songwriter, as well,” said Macy. “He helped produce a couple of tracks and is part of the overall sound. The songs range from all different styles, from rock, to country, to blues. I really like the title track a lot. ‘Season Girl’ has nice harmonies, and ‘Quiet Storm’ has a nice feel to it. Those are my three favorites.”

As he writes, Macy said he often comes up with a guitar line or a chord progression first. Other times, he focuses on lyrics.

“Sometimes I come up with both,” he said. “Then, the songs sort of develop themselves. I just play what I feel and what feels comfortable to me. That’s the stuff that comes out on the record. It’s all natural; there’s no auto tuning. What you hear is what you get. It’s very honest and true.”

Macy began playing guitar when he was thirteen. He started off teaching himself, and was trained musically for four years.

“Guitar was my primary instrument,” he said. “I did a lot of session work and side work with bands and eventually started doing his own songs.”

As time passed, he developed his voice. With each show he performed, the better he became.

“The more you do something the more you understand it,” Macy said.

Macy is a four-time Worcester Music Award winner. He said winning was great, but even just being nominated was “excellent.”

“It let’s me know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with music,” he said. “I really appreciate it.”

Right now, he is looking forward to putting a full band together to tour. He hopes to begin touring by spring or summer of next year to promote, “Goin’ California.”

“I appreciate the great responsces I’ve gotten from fans about the album,” Macy said.

“I’ve really been thankful for everything I’ve had thus far.”

In his spare time, Macy enjoys watching baseball and hockey. He also likes the beach and photography.

“I love taking pictures of people and landscapes,” he said. “I was born on Valentine’s Day, too Even if I’m single, I still get presents. It’s great.”

To find out more about Macy, check him out on kenmacymusic.com. His music is available on iTunes and cdbaby.com. Friend him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/profile.php?id=722617130 and on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/kenmacy.

TSO tribute band tours for charity

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

With a nine-show holiday tour that kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. at Stadium Theater in Woonsocket, R.I., the 11 members of Ornament, Southern New England’s premiere rock orchestra, are ready to get their fans in the spirit of the season. Performing the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the band is touring in order to support several local organizations.

“This is our fifth tour and we’re hoping to make it the best and biggest one,” said Chris Nunes, who plays bass, sings, and produces for Ornament. “We hope everyone can come see us to help raise money for good causes. We use a small portion of the money to cover our expenses, but everything else goes to the charity.”

Nunes, who also works as Band Director at Westport Middle School and helps out with various musicals within the district, said Ornament will also be performing at Twin River Casio in Lincoln, R.I., at the Lighthouse Bar on Saturday, Nov. 27th at 8:30 p.m. Their third gig is at Westport High School on Friday, December 3rd at 7 p.m.

“It is to benefit the Westport Music Boosters Association,” he said. “We want to help raise money for music programs in local schools.”

The next night, Saturday, Dec. 4th at 7:30 p.m., they will take the stage at the Seaport Inn and Marina in Fairhaven, Mass.

“The Seaport Inn show will feature a toy drive with the Salvation Army,” Nunes said. “We’ll be at Keith Junior High School in New Bedford on December 10th at 7 p.m. to support the Veterans Transition House. On December 12th, our show is at Mansfield High School at 4 p.m. The money will go towards the Mansfield High School Youth Hockey league.”

While their Dec. 17th performance at the Whites of Westport in Westport, Mass., at 6:30 p.m. is a regular gig, The Plymouth Memorial Hall show on Dec. 18th at 7 p.m. will feature choral members from both Plymouth North and Plymouth South High Schools. Thirty to forty members will be in attendance.

“They will do a few numbers with us,” said Nunes. “Part of the proceeds will help restore the piano they use. We are going to be finishing up the tour at LaSalete Shrine Auditorium in Attleboro, Mass. on January 2nd at two in the afternoon.”

Since they toured last year, Nunes said Ornament has had a few line up changes. One of the new members includes violinist, A.J. Salvatore.

“For me, playing in this band is an opportunity to work with some really talented musicians,” said Nunes. “Not only are they very skilled, they are just dedicated to perfecting our craft. I don’t play out with any other bands because we rehearse year-round.”

Nunes said they each work hard to be authentic to the music. They are getting to the point where they are starting to be recognized in the area.

“People have told us that if they close their eyes, we sound just like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for and I think that’s the biggest compliment we can get. People are getting to know what we do and we are finding a lot of new fans, as well.”

Every year, Ornament changes up the set list to keep their show both interesting for their faithful followers and exciting for people who are seeing them play for the first time. Nunes said the light show is completely different, too.

“We are up to 56 lights now,” said Nunes. “It’s fun to play this music. It’s the best of both worlds for me. I get beauty of the classical music with the power and energy of rock and roll and it just combines together to give the music something special.”

To find out more about Ornament and their upcoming tour, visit their website at www.ornamentband.com. Friend them on MySpace at www.myspace.com/ornamenttso and find them on Facebook by searching for Ornament Fan Club.

Structure Fails hopes to be “a force to be reckoned with”

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

Last month, the four members of Structure Fails, a hardcore heavy metal band based out of Quincy, Mass., released their seven-track EP, “As the Burning Skies Come Crashing.”

“I really like the song, ‘Kraken’ because it’s the most chaotic song we play,” said the band’s drummer Eric DiPietro. “Everyone goes crazy when we play it.”

Before they formed Structure Fails over a year ago, DiPietro originally began playing in a different band with guitarist, Chris Couture. Couture said his personal favorite song to play live with Structure Fails is “Let Them Be Nameless.”

“We actually just recorded a video for it about a month ago,” said Couture. “We are just waiting for it to be edited and mastered.”

Bassist Michael Correia agreed that “Nameless,” as the band also calls it, is a great song to play live and thinks they ultimately chose to make this particular track a video because it’s their “most user friendly song.”

“It reveals all the elements of the band,” Correia said. “It showcases our abilities as musicians, too.”

But, vocalist, Joseph “8 Ball” Izayea, said the title track really shows off their skill and talent.

“I think my favorite song on the new record is, ‘As the Burning Skies Come Crashing,’” said Izayea. “There are a lot of really cool melodic harmonies and different time signatures on that song. It was probably my least favorite song to have to write and record, though.”

They said Rob Gil at Human Machine Audio in Providence, R.I., mixed the self-produced the album and their friend, Christopher Robinson, designed the layout of the CD.

“Gil helped us out a lot,” said Izayea. “He really nurtured and supported us.”

When they originally wrote and recorded the album, they had a second guitarist, Derek Sampson, in the band. Currently, they are on the prowl for a new second guitarist.

“We are looking for someone who can help us create what we are trying to portray to our fans,” said Couture. “We need someone to help us paint this picture and who wants it just as bad as we do.”

“We’re looking for someone who is just going to get up there and kill it the way we do,” agreed Izayea. “We want to find someone to complete our roster.”

The band said they meet twice a week for practice and they are pretty persistent about it.

“We are a group of solid musicians and finding dedicated musicians is kind of hard to do these days,” Couture said.

They also said they enjoy the time they have to rehearse because they get the chance to talk about some of their biggest influences as musicians.

“We all bring our respective tastes to the table,” said Izayea. “We all come from different walks of life in terms of what we listen to. We try to put something in there that will please everyone who listens. I draw from a lot of different cookie jars, but I like a lot of deathcore bands.”

“I didn’t listen to hardcore before I played with these guys,” said Couture. “I mostly listened to Metallica, Testament, and Pantera.”

For DiPietro, he said he just tries to stay up to date with new bands.

“I’m sort of like a revolving door when it comes to music,” said DiPietro. “I have my favorite bands, but I pretty much keep up with current stuff.”

DiPietro also said they have performed covers such as ‘No One Like You’ by the Scorpions in the past, but they don’t plan on doing covers unless they are at a special event.

“We don’t really have any cover songs we keep in rotation,” DiPietro said. “But, for Halloween, we have dressed up and played the song from Ghostbusters.”

In fact, Structure Fails will be playing on Halloween night at Tammany Hall in Worcester.

“We’re playing with Scarlitt and it’s going to be their last show ever so it’s going to be huge,” Couture said. “We will have cash prizes for both male and female costumes. I think we are all dressing up that night.”

But, they wouldn’t reveal what they plan on being this year.

“It’s a secret,” said Correia. “We don’t want to ruin the surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.”

A few months later on December 4th, they have another gig lined up at the Beach House in Portsmouth with Thy Will Be Done and Scarecrow Hill.

“We are doing support for Scarecrow Hill,” said Izayea. “We think it’s going to be a show to remember.”

Until then, they are going to be writing and searching for a second guitarist.

“We are going to be working on new music and getting a lot of new stuff out there,” Couture said. “It’s all good stuff from here. We’re all looking at the same goal and we are I feel like we are all looking at the same target.”

Izayea said he isn’t sure what the future holds, but he is optimistic about it.

“We’re just going to keep writing music and doing our thing,” he said. “We will do our best to stay heavy and fresh and keep up with the times. We want to do everything in our power to make sure we are a force to be reckoned with, at least in the Northeast.”

Staind front man brings solo acoustic show to the Z

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

NEW BEDFORD – Aaron Lewis, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the alternative rock band Staind, will be performing a live solo acoustic set this Sunday, Oct. 10, at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford. Born in Vermont, Lewis said he grew up in Massachusetts and is looking forward to coming to New Bedford for a show.

“I love the fact that I can come to New Bedford and fans can see me play,” he said. “It’s always nice to come home. I lived in Vermont until I was eight, in New Hampshire until I was 12, and then from there on, I lived in Massachusetts, so it’s always great to play in New England.”

In addition to being raised in New England, Lewis, who has been nominated for three Grammy’s in the past, said he grew up around music and was heavily inspired by his father.

“First and foremost, my dad is my biggest influence,” he said. “When I was growing up, he played out a couple nights a week as a solo artist in Vermont and had band practice at our house all the time.”

Lewis also cited James Taylor, Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam), The Doors, and Simon and Garfunkel as some of his favorite artists.

“I’ve always been influenced by people who say something in their songs instead of things that are nonsensical,” he said.

Like his father, Lewis began his music career as a one-man band. He said he was elated when the opportunity again presented itself to him about eight years ago.

“I was asked to play a few solo shows in casinos and I did,” Lewis said. “Since then, it has snowballed into three or four months worth of acoustic shows. It’s kind of coming around full-circle now.”

At upcoming gigs, he said his fans should expect to hear acoustic versions of Staind favorites, as well as some new material Lewis composed on his own.

“I’ll play a mix of songs I’ve written over the years that never got brought to the table,” he said. “I’ll also be playing some new songs I’ve written that will be part of what I will be releasing within the next few months as a solo project.”

Although Lewis said the album he is working on is yet to be titled, it is mostly recorded. He hopes to release it within the next few months.

“It’s been an ever-changing process in trying to get it out,” said Lewis. “It went from two songs, to four songs, and now I’m at six.”

He said one of the best things about writing and performing his own material is the change of pace they offer him.

“The cool thing about it is they are both a breath of fresh air from each other,” he said. “It’s nice to go out and play solo shows when I’m at the end of a tour with Staind because it’s completely opposite. It works out good.”

When he’s not busy being a rock star, Lewis is a very busy father of three daughters. In fact, he and his wife started, “It Takes A Community Foundation” to keep RH Conwell Elementary School in Worthington, Mass., the school their children attend, open.

“The school was closed on June 23rd and we had to open it on September 1st,” Lewis said. “All summer long, we refurnished the school, restocked it, re-staffed it, and re-wrote the curriculum. We did everything we needed to do to re-open the school. With the help of the entire community we live in, we did it.”

They also planned a benefit show to raise funds for the school in which Staind and members of 3 Doors Down and Seether performed.

“I try to do it as much as I can because I’ve been so lucky to do this in my lifetime,” Lewis said. “I’m going to the Middle East very shortly and I’m going to play a week’s worth of shows for the USO’s.”

He said he wants to go overseas and perform for soldiers who are stationed in the Persian Gulf because he respects them immensely for risking their lives for others every single day.

“What motivates them to do something like that for us?,” Lewis said. “I think my desire to go over there and play comes from the same place. I want to go over there and do for them what they do for me. It’s the only way I can show them undoubtedly how I feel.”

Lewis said he loves and values the United States of America and he truly appreciates the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration on Independence. As he has gotten married and has children, he has become increasingly interested in the government.

“I’ve never really been political, but I’m 38 years old with a wife and kids and all the bills that go along with it,” he said. “There are some really broken things in this country. I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. My wife will be the first to say it, I know how to clear a room. It just bothers me so much.”

In order to relax, he said he relies on music and hobbies.

“I need this outlet in my life in order to be able to function as a human being,” he said. “I love old, vintage Gibson guitars. I could go on for days if we’re talking about guitars. I’m also big into hunting and fishing and I play golf.”

But, more than anything, having children makes him happy.

“The best thing about being a dad is everything,” Lewis said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

As far as Staind is concerned, Lewis said being in a successful band also gives him a reason to smile.

“We’re just very blessed and lucky to have a very solid fan-base that has been on board with what we’ve had to offer,” Lewis said. “We’re going to start working on a new album in December.”

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center’s box office is located at 684 Purchase Street, New Bedford, MA 02740. Tickets are priced at $48.50, $45.50, $42, and $35. Box Office Hours: M-F 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and one hour before each performance. For more information, visit http://www.zeiterion.org.

Cyndi Lauper wants to have fun with the blues

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

NEW BEDFORD – After performing to a sold out crowd at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center last year, singing sensation Cyndi Lauper is returning to New Bedford, Mass., on July 27th and will be playing songs from her new covers album, “Memphis Blues.” With over 25 years as a pop artist under her belt, Lauper said she yearned to branch out a bit and made a blues album.

 “I had wanted to do a blues record for eight years,” Lauper said. “I’m glad I waited. It would have been a good record years ago, but it would have been different. I’m grateful to be able to do it now.”

Lauper said she was fortunate to share vocals with blues legend B.B. King on “Early in the Morning,” while guitarist Johnny Lang appears on “How Blue Can You Get” and “Crossroads.” Soul singer and songwriter Ann Peebles also made a cameo on the track “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’”

 “Oh, my God, I sang on the same microphone as Ann Peebles,” Lauper laughed. “Do you know how awesome that was? I can’t even believe it.”

Another artist Lauper said made a big impact on “Memphis Blues” was the multi-talented musician Allen Toussaint.

 “When Allen Toussaint sat down and played, ‘Shattered Dreams,’ it was like Voo-Doo,” Lauper said. “When we were doing it, I really felt like I fell into a dream. It was a great experience. They are all incredible players and I was blessed. Charlie Musselwhite was great on the album and he actually plays with me live. He’s awesome.”

As eager as she was to do a blues recording, Lauper said she still had some reservations about how her fans would receive the music.

 “It was hard at first, but I decided to do it and it’s actually going over pretty good,” she said. “I kept going and I kept trying and I felt that I needed to experience this and this was the right time. I wanted to sing the blues to the people, but with humor.”

She said she believes the songs she selected to cover on the album all have just the right attitude she was searching for.

 “I wanted to sing music that was uplifting because the best parts of the blues are uplifting,” said Lauper. “That was really the motivation in choosing the material. These are all wonderful, old songs that really spoke to what is going on today. They relate to what’s going on now. That’s the timeless thing about the blues. These songs have courage and spit and vinegar because that’s how we get through.”

In addition to performing songs from her new album, Lauper said she plans on playing some of her old songs, too.

 “I wouldn’t not play ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’,” she laughed. “It would be rotten if I didn’t.”

Most recently, Lauper has joined forces with another female artist that just wants to “have fun.” Lauper and Lady Gaga have been appointed as spokespeople for the 2010 MAC Viva Glam Campaign in order to raise money for AIDS research and treatment. The campaign also seeks to educate woman about HIV/AIDS around the world.

 “I wanted to be a Viva Glam Girl since the first time it came out,” Lauper said. “They told me I’d be doing it with Lady Gaga. I met her once and I thought, ‘well, she’s great. I love her work.’ I think she’s a great performance artist.”

Lauper said one of the main reasons she and Gaga were chosen for the campaign is because AIDS is an epidemic in women of their age brackets. The highest new rates of infection are in women between the ages of 17 and 24, and between 39 and 60.

 “When I did the Viva Glam Campaign, I learned a lot about AIDS,” Lauper said. “AIDS has no discrimination. AIDS is the leading killer of African American women in our country. 100 percent of the proceeds (of the campaign) goes to fight AIDS. Spend $14 and give a tube of lipstick to your kid sister and tell her to protect herself.”

Another organization Lauper is affiliated with is the “Give a Damn Campaign,” a movement she designed in order to support the gay community.

 “I did, ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ to raise awareness on the civil rights problem in our country in the LGBT community,” she said. “The money I raised from there I used to start, ‘giveadamn.org.’ It’s been extraordinary to be a part of.”

Lauper originally began her unofficial work as an advocate for civil rights in 1986, when she wrote and recorded the song, “True Colors,” in honor of her homosexual sister. Lauper also said her family has encouraged her music through the years, especially her husband and her son.

“I think getting married and having a child made my music deeper and better,” she said. “I was proud to join the ranks of the many women who came before me who were mothers and artists.”

As a female musician, she said the release of her hit song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” was a milestone and a huge success for both her career and for women everywhere.

“I only hoped it would do what it does now and it did,” she said. “It’s better to spend your life energy working on projects that are bigger than yourself.”

One project Lauper recently worked on was with Mattel. The toy company made a line of Barbie Dolls called “Ladies from the 80s” and they released a Cyndi Laiper doll.

“Who do you think they worked with on the outfits?” Lauper laughed. “I wanted the outfits to look like the cover of the single sleeve. I couldn’t get the earrings, though.”

As flattering as having a doll made after her is, Lauper said the most memorable moments for her life over the years have been hearing other performers cover her music.

“I really loved it when Miles Davis covered ‘Time After Time’ or when Patti La Belle sang it right in my face,” Lauper joked. “I thought to myself, ‘it don’t get any better than that.’ But, it does. Everyday, I pinch myself.”

Folk icon Jonathan Edwards engages his audience

This story originally appeared as an online exclusive in the summer of 2010.

By GEORGE AUSTIN

Jonathan Edwards, at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Friday, July 23, 8 p.m.

Jonathan Edwards took a break from a recording session on July 8 to talk to a writer about his upcoming show at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. He says the album, his first of original material in 15 years, will have a rockier and more energetic sound than past works. But he said there will still be some songs addressing the social problems of the world, as he has been known to do with his lyrics over the past 40 years. But while Edwards wants to send a message with some of his music, he also wants to entertain.

“It’s a tricky balance between having a cause and art,” Edwards said. “You have to know when to articulate. It’s a tough balance. You don’t want to be all about social issues and not about your personal life. I like to write about what’s going on around the kitchen table and hopefully you can relate.”

Edwards, who will be at the Cotuit Center for the Arts on July 23, is of course most well known for his song “Sunshine,” which was written when he was an angry young man during the era of the Vietnam conflict, anti-war rallies and controversial President Richard Nixon. Many years since “Sunshine” was written, he says the song applies today with the United States in the Iraq War and War on Terror in Afghanistan.

“The relevance is still there to sing against and speak against wars that people think are wrong,” Edwards said. “These are still some of them.”

The difference between now and then, Edwards says, is young men were forced to go to Vietnam with the draft. He thinks if there was a draft for the MIddle East wars, they would be over sooner. Edwards talks about the big military effort that the U.S. has made overseas, yet can’t clean up the oil spill in the Gulf.

“You can’t fight insurgency and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Edwards said. “We’re trying to bring democracy by fighting tribes in the desert. It doesn’t make sense.”

But enough of the serious stuff. While he may address some of those issues during his concerts, Edwards said he wants to entertain the people who come to his shows. He will be part of a quartet at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. Edwards is the lead singer, but he also is a multi-talented musician who can play the guitar, bass, piano, harmonica and percussion, when needed. On the left side of the stage will be Taylor Armerding, a mandolin player and vocalist who founded Northern Lights. On banjo, bass and mandolin will be Charlie Rose. On the right of the stage will be Stuart Schulman on bass, piano and fiddle. Stuart played on the early records of Edwards, is the chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Groton and has performed on and off with Edwards since 1969. Edwards has been traveling with the quartet for a couple of years.

“I love playing with all different kinds of lineups,” Edwards said. “I’ve played solo, duo and everything in between. People love the quartet. I kind of got into this business to play music with my friends and that’s what we’re doing.”

Edwards said the quartet allows him to expand his vocals and instrumentals. He said it gives him a chance to go deeper into his songs. He said the quartet allows for more spontaneity during a concert than when he is solo.

After being born in Minnesota, growing up in Virginia and attending Ohio University, Edwards went to Boston to enter the music scene. He has lived on a farm in western Massachusetts, briefly in New Hampshire and now lives in Maine.

“New England has a pretty young population with colleges and schools,” Edwards said. “I’ve always sorts of resonated and gravitated toward young people and their energy and outspokenness.”

But Edwards has some special connections to Cape Cod and said one of the happiest times of his life was in the 1980s when he was looking for a place to live and decided to live in Cotuit.

“I just rented a house and enjoyed the town and went to the beach and had a wonderful summer,” Edwards said.

Edwards also did the soundtrack and appeared “for about a minute” as a preacher in the movie “The Golden Boys,” which was set in Cape Cod and shot in Chatham.

From providing backup vocals for Emmylou Harris, to recording a children’s album that was inspired by his daughter, to scoring the 1996 film “The Mouse,” to touring with a Broadway show and hosting a PBS documentary series on the waterways of America, Edwards has displayed his talents in a variety of venues. There is a 90-minute documentary of his life called “That’s What Our Life Is.”

But playing his music is what he likes the most. The folk icon said he enjoys performing in theaters that hold 200, 300 or 500 people and interacting with audiences.

“More and more, I’m engaging myself and getting to know them,” Edwards said. “It’s a richer experience for me. I love it more and more.”

Edwards has opened up shows for the Allman Brothers Band and B.B. King. He has also worked with local folk singer Cheryl Wheeler, of Swansea, producing the songs “Driving Home” and “Mrs. Pinocci’s Guitar” for her. He said Wheeler is one of the most creative musicians he has worked with and said her songwriting and singing is phenomenal.

As far as the difference between when he started out in folk music during the 1960s and 2010, Edwards said there were a lot less musicians with acoustic guitars showing up to play for crowds many years ago. He said there are many more folk musicians today and more venues for them to display their talent. In the digital age, he said a lot more people can make an album in their kitchen and record it. But Edwards said musicians are not addressing social issues as much today as when he was starting out on the music scene, which is “kind of troubling” to him. He said he writes songs about social issues that he does not play live in concert because people want to be entertained. But he said the wars, immigation and dependence on fossil fuels are issues that musicians today could address with their songwriting.

“It’s difficult to make it interesting and fun to laugh at because because they are such difficult, in-grained problems,” Edwards said. “It’s difficult to make art out of it that people are not going to be depressed by.”

For tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com, call 508-673-3637 or go to the box office at 4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28) in Cotuit. This is an all ages show.

Tech talk with guitar genius Adrian Belew

This story was taken from the summer 2010 issue of Limelight Magazine and the Bridgethink.org monthly e-newsletter.

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

With a tour about to kick off and gigs at both the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonberry, N.H., on June 24, and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass., on June 26, guitar extraordinaire Adrian Belew said he is equipped with fresh new gadgets that enhance his unique, innovative sound. These “toys” will allow him to put on a one-man show that the audience will have to see to believe.

“I think everything I pick up is part of my creative thought process, which is why I’m always trying new instruments or new effects boxes or switching from playing from guitar to piano,” Belew said. “Each one of those things has the same characteristics and will spark an idea. I guess what I’m always trying to do is inspire myself towards creating the next piece of music, the next song, or the next record concept.”

In order to be more creative, Belew said it’s best to continuously experiment with a lot of different equipment, as he is forever on the prowl for the latest and greatest gadgets.

“I went to the NAMM show they had in California in January,” he said. “It’s a huge convention of all the new musical devices and instruments. It’s where all the different music manufacturers show everything they have.”

Belew said he spotted a mechanism on display called the Tenori-on, an electronic musical instrument that consists of a screen, held in the hands, of a sixteen by sixteen grid of LED switches, any of which can be activated in a number of ways to create an evolving musical soundscape. He said he became infatuated with it almost immediately.

“I really loved it,” he said. “I thought it was an amazingly creative tool. It’s small and almost toy-like and anyone can play it instantly. I want to figure everything out about it and master it. Once you’ve mastered it, there is a lot more to it and then you could actually do compositions with it.”

He said playing the Tenori-on is absolutely nothing like playing guitar, or anything else for that matter.

“It’s not like anything I can think of,” Belew said. “It’s not nearly as tactile as playing guitar. So much of playing guitar is physical. Every little thing you do with your fingers, the way you move your fingers on the fret board, the way you strike the strings, or picking, is going to affect the sound. It’s not the same with the Tenori-on. You are just pushing buttons and once you push a button it activates a sound.”

After he experimented with the Tenori-on, he decided to bring it with him to a performance in order to test it out on stage and introduce it to his fans.

“I brought it to the show because I figured there weren’t many people who’ve seen one or heard one yet,” he said. “I wanted to show my audience everything they expect from me, that I’m pushing the boundaries and trying out new technologies.”

Another form of technology Belew frequently has been using on and off stage is an Apple laptop computer, which primarily acts as a looper for all the sounds he composes. He said he became interested in the concept of looping through his desire to play in a trio.

“When you open up a new box of tools like that, especially a computer, you can imagine there are so many things you couldn’t do with just guitars,” he said. “It’s helped me a lot. In a trio format where there’s only one guitar player, I figured if I could make some loops and that would be our rhythm guitar player (so we would) not have an empty place whenever I wanted to do a solo.”

With the Tenori-on, laptop, software, and other devices, Belew said he ultimately wants to be able to replace keyboards, guitar synthesizers, and several other pieces of heavy equipment he’d rather not lug around. More or less, he said this would give him the opportunity to travel lightly.

“I’m making a big effort to downsize all of the gear I have because in the last four years we toured a lot and it’s too much gear to take most places,” he said. “I wanted to see if there was a better way of doing it with smaller tools so eventually I’ll have just a couple of tools with me and I’ll be able to take those around the world.”

As Belew said, he has toured a lot over the years and has written music in multiple bands including King Crimson and his Power Trio, as well as solo material. He said the main difference between writing music within a group versus working as a solo artist is simple: when writing in a band, he needs to consider the style and preference of his fellow band mates. When working on a solo project, anything goes.

“When I’m writing songs with King Crimson, I’m the singer, the lyricist. I’m the person who writes the melodies,” he said. “I have to be careful that I choose ideas that reflect the rest of the members of the band and their taste and well as what the band is about.”

He said that while it may sound limiting, it’s not.

“The good thing about it is the other people are collaborating with you,” he said. “They are creating things for you to work with too. On my solo records, I try to do everything I can myself just because I think it makes it a little more personal. In King Crimson that’s not necessary. I don’t need to play drums because we have a much better drummer. It’s all from the same well and it’s all good.”

Whether he composes music as a collaborative effort or alone, Belew admitted he rarely considers his audience when he writes.

“I’m sorry to say that and it sounds cold, but I do whatever is in my mind,” he said. “I wake up in the morning with certain ideas and thoughts. I have musical problems I want to solve and I go about doing that. My purpose is, ‘this is in my mind and I want to get it out.’ There are times when I think if the audience will like it or not, but I don’t think it causes me to change anything.”

He said he has never been able to write on the basis of what other people like and, while he admits it may sound a bit selfish, he thinks it’s a “more pure” way to express himself.

“I always create on the basis of what I want to hear,” he said. “You do whatever your heart and your mind are telling you to do. You don’t sit and think, ‘what are my fans going to think?’ because that can derail your creativity quickly. When I started out as a musician, I thought I wanted to be in a popular band or be an artist that made records that loads of people would love. That’s kind of where a lot of people start from but as you mature you realize that’s not the most important aspect of it.”

Belew said the quality of his work is what matters to him most.

“If you’re a musician, you have to live within your own means,” he said. “I’m always conscious that I’m not really a mass appeal, at least not now. You never want to shut that door, it may possibly still happen, but because of that I think it gives me a little extra freedom. I’m not trying to compete with anyone on the radio or with my last hit.”

Hits or no hits, Belew said he has been able to write many rock songs with his bands. On his own, he said he can branch out more.

“The idea behind the (one man) show itself was to demonstrate a part of my music that doesn’t work in other formats,” he said. “It’s more improvising and playing gentler music and prettier things and talking with the audience. You can’t really do that in a rock show because you don’t want to stop the momentum and talk with the audience. In this show, I do all those things, so it’s really put together to show an artistic side of what I do in a very personal way.”

Belew said he hopes to personalize his shows even further by incorporating video to make his sets more of a multi media experience.

“I want to put up two big screens and play with visual things on the screens, sometimes just allowing (images) to float by and do their own thing. But other times being interactive with them so I might be playing something that refers to the pictures you are seeing,” he said. “I’m not really completely finished with what I would like to see happen.”

While he works on perfecting his video, Belew plans to take some of the artwork he recently painted on the road with him and put it on display.

“I’m bringing the paintings along just as a way of showing another side of myself and who I am as an artist,” he said. “A lot of my fans have asked about the paintings and have hinted that they’d like to see them in person. The paintings are really a backdrop. If you come before or after the show you can come and take a look at them close up.”

Belew said he always thought he would start painting when he retired but got the urge and acted on it.

“I just took it up one day out of the blue,” he said. “I thought, ‘well, I’m ready to do this now,’ and I went to a store and started asking a lot of questions about paint.”

He said he knew he wanted to get paint that would work with other substances like sand and gloss so he could add to the dimensional aspect.

“I bought two canvases, took those canvases home and within three or four hours I was ready to start out on the next two,” Belew laughed. “In my paintings, I’ll do a lot of different layers and I’ll put a layer on and then I take some of it off. It’s a way of building dimensions.”

He said he thinks painting is a lot like making music and believes the two forms of art have the ability to inspire one another.

“They come from the same family, from the same side of my brain,” Belew said. “You’re dealing with the same type of things – dimension, tone, and arrangements. I’ve never thought about (music) in the same way as in painting, but it’s true, they are two separate ways of using layering. If you were Picasso, you could draw with a pencil or you could use an airbrush. If you’re a guitar player you could play an acoustic or you could play through a computer.”

Another effective way Belew said musicians and artists can use the computer is via social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

“I think it’s an exciting time because of those elements,” he said. “I think they’ve been good for the music business to reinvent itself because it’s taken the music and the business itself and hoists it in the hands of the artists. You’re more in control of your career through the Internet than you ever were when you were making records on a label. If you do it correctly, you can make more money. It’s a double-edged sword to me. It’s harder, but more rewarding.”

He also said he thinks it’s a bit of a confusing time to be in the music business because too many people are posing as musicians when they are not.

“There are a lot of people that really don’t belong there,” he said. “Maybe as time goes by they get sorted out – who’s truly a musician and who’s just up there because they have a computer and they can. It doesn’t mean you should just because you can. It’s spreading things so thin. There’s no one behind any one movement. When I was starting out, there were movements and a lot of people would get behind those movements. You don’t quite get that same feeling on the Internet because everyone’s doing things. It gives the effect of almost too much information and not enough focus.”

As far as Belew is concerned, he said he is just having fun with his many gadgets and gizmos.

“I never get too wrapped up in one,” he said. “I use all of them for the different needs I have. I’m very careful in my music to balance between the technical and digital aspect of what I do with the more organic acoustic aspect of music so you never lose that part of it.”

Music and entertainment coverage since October 2006!