Adrian Belew Talks About Reuniting with Talking Heads Bandmate Jerry Harrison to Perform ‘Remain in Light’ and More

Adrain Belew (L.) and Jerry Harrison (R.) are reuniting to perform songs from Talking Heads' album 'Remain in Light.' (Photo: Michael Weintrob)

Adrain Belew (L.) and Jerry Harrison (R.) are reuniting to perform songs from the Talking Heads’ album ‘Remain in Light.’ (Photo: Michael Weintrob)

The Talking Heads’ 1981 album, Remain in Light, was ranked as the fourth best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone in 1989. It has even been honored with a place in the Library of Congress as an important part of American music. 

Now, key Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitars, vocals) is teaming up with legendary guitarist Adrian Belew, who played with the Talking Heads as a touring band member and also played on some recordings, to perform songs from Remain in Light. Additionally they will perform other popular Talking Heads songs and hits from Harrison’s and Belew’s solo careers. The North American tour will stop at the Roxian Theatre on Friday, March 3.

Remain in Light Tour

Belew spoke with Entertainment Central from his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee (outside Nashville), where he also has a full recording studio. Belew said of Remain in Light, “We went back and looked at the 1980 Talking Heads concert film Live in Rome and are trying to bring that popular feeling back with some different additions. People liked that it was a happy, joyful period. We’re trying to replicate that spirit, people loved that period. It was a happy, joyful thing and that’s what we’re trying to bring to the world again now. 

“We have an 11-piece band, with a horn section, two female backup singers, a percussionist, a drummer, three to four guitar players and keyboard players. Four or five of us sing so no one person is trying to be David Byrne. Jerry and I talked about this years ago and said wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of music in the world again, and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing. People come and they dance and are so happy. We see people of all ages [at the show].

Belew’s Time with Talking Heads

Remain in Light was the first record to sound like that. It was built in layers in the studio. There were so many layers that when they tried to play it live they realized they couldn’t do it as a four-piece band so they enhanced their band to be a 10-piece touring band. And that’s when I joined and we toured the world.”

I asked what it was like playing with Harrison back with the Talking Heads. Belew replied, “That stage show reminds me of what we are doing now. That stage show was just amazing. You were spread apart on the stage, a straight line across, sometimes it felt like one half of the band was playing something completely different because you were so far away from each other, but the effect was just one big, pulsing, funky, happy thing. All the people in the [band’s] continuum of people, they were all great players, great people; we had a lot of fun.”

When asked if he and Harrison hit it off right away, he said, “Of course, Jerry was the one who really went to bat for me coming and playing on the record in the first place. He sort of took the reins in the band. David Byrne was the front man, but I think Jerry was really behind the scenes with management. Chris [Frantz] and Tina [Weymouth] were instrumental in all of that too.

“Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and David Byrne aren’t really interested in touring right now, but they have all given us their blessing for doing this. They’re all happy we’re doing this.”

What was it like working with David Byrne? I asked. “David is a quirky kind of person who doesn’t say a lot, but can be very funny and interesting. I also did one of his solo records with him,” Belew said. He also worked with Byrne and the band on the live record, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads.

Belew worked with the Franz and Weymouth spin off band, Tom Tom Club. They had a big hit with “Genius of Love.” That song has even been sampled by Mariah Carey in her single “Fantasy.”

Very Versatile Guitar Hero

In addition to performing with Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Belew was also in the bands of Frank Zappa and David Bowie, as well as in King Crimson, the Bears, and Nine Inch Nails. I asked Belew how he adapted his guitar-playing style to so many diverse bands and performers. “Well when I taught myself to play guitar I studied a lot of brands of music and a lot of different artists, not just guitarists, to educate myself,” he said, “and I think in doing that I gave my guitar playing room to have sort of a lot of plasticity to it. I can do whatever I want to do and it doesn’t matter. One day I was doing ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon and a week or two later I was doing Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Downward Spiral.’ They’re about as different as day and night. So I don’t know why, but I have a lot of different ideas and I can make a lot of sounds so I can fit into just about any circumstance.

“I played with Herbie Hancock, a jazz great. I’ve played with Frank Zappa whose music was completely complex and very hard. Thirty-three years of difficult music that I co-wrote with King Crimson, odd time signatures and all kinds of great stuff. I’m very fortunate, but I think I’m here because I’m supposed to be. If someone wants what I do they call,” Belew said.

Belew feels that he’s worked well with many different bands and performers because he likes to lighten things up and joke around a little bit. Even when playing some darker songs of King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails, he did so with a smile on his face while hopping around on the stage. He says that playing music should be fun.

I asked Belew what guitars he plays. He answered, ”For a dozen years or more I had played a Parker Fly. They made an Adrian Belew model. It’s a very advanced guitar. It weighs only five pounds and it has a lot of electronic things about it that most guitars don’t have. For example, it’s a MIDI  guitar. So you can plug it right into the same kind of things keyboard players use—synthesizers, and samplers, and anything you want.

“I still use that guitar when I need those kinds of sounds. I have a guitar rig set for that, but for what I do with Talking Heads and David Bowie, since that’s from an earlier era, I’ve gone back to using another favorite guitar of mine—the Fender Stratocaster—beloved by everyone. It’s a guitar you play right into an amp, which you can’t do with a Parker Fly. So on this tour I’m mainly using a new Fender Stratocaster, which they’re releasing an Adrian Belew model Stratocaster this year. I’m using that and I bring a Parker that doesn’t have a MIDI as a backup. Those two have really done everything for me throughout my career. Between those two guitars there’s really nothing you can’t get.”

Touring with David Bowie

Being a big David Bowie fan, I had to ask Belew what it was like performing with him. “ Oh my gosh, it’s hard to express how incredible it was. He was a superstar on the order of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and others, so being around him was very interesting. He was a smart guy, interested in lots of things. When he knew a subject, he knew it very well. I did two world tours with him. The first one, he was still in a place where he was protected by a lot of people. We didn’t get to be close friends on that, although we became friends.

“In 1990 I did a much longer tour with him around the world to 27 countries. I was the music director of the band as well. We traveled everywhere together, we had a private jet, we had buses and things. Wherever we played it took two days for them to set up our 12 million dollar stage. So wherever we played we’d have two days off. If we went to Barcelona we’d have two days off before we played on the third day. So David and I spent a lot of time together, going to museums and having dinner. By the end of that I considered us to be very close. He’s fun, a funny guy with a self-deprecating kind of humor. But as I said, just brilliant to be around. I miss him and Frank Zappa a lot. Both of them in their own way were geniuses.” 

What’s Next for Belew

When asked what was coming up next for him, he mentioned, “For the first half of this year I’ve dedicated to touring Remain in Light and more touring with Celebrating David Bowie. That all ends sometime in June, then I’ve already started another solo album, which will be my 26th (chuckling). And I’ve written seven songs already so I’ll get back to that.—the creative side, when you’re in the studio making things happen rather than performing things that you’ve already done. I love both sides of the coin and I need both sides. Unless something else rears its head between there and here, I expect to spend the summer in my studio. Then in the fall I expect to bring out my trio again and tour the United States and Canada. And probably do a lot of world touring next year. I’m excited to be visiting Pittsburgh again; I’ve had many good shows there.”

Adrian Belew was very personable and informative during the interview. Remain in Light with Adrain Belew and Jerry Harrison promises to be an exceptional night of fantastic music. It could sell out. If interested, get your tickets early for their concert at the Roxian Theatre, 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. VIP Meet and Greet experiences are available.The band also includes former members of Turkuaz, Julie Slick on bass, and Yahuba Garcia-Torres on percussion. Cool Cool Cool opens. 

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.

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