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Eric Slick of the Adrian Belew Power Trio

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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

In Part II of Ground Control's interview with the Adrian Belew Power Trio, drummer Eric Slick talks about finding the right fit, tour diets and the Philadelphia music scene. For Part I, click here.

Eric Slick – Question & Answer

Ground Control: From what I know about you already, if you meet someone and it feels right for you to play with them you just go with it.

Eric Slick: Absolutely, if it doesn't feel right I really can't do it. If I'm not committed to it musically it's very hard for me to stay on track with it. I've been in plenty of bands I didn't enjoy, and there is nothing worse than that; if your art is superficial and you are not true to yourself it really shows. It shows in the way you respond to the other musicians, it shows in the way you handle yourself on a day to day basis. If you surround yourself with musicians that you like to play with—that will take you to another level musically—that's what you need to follow. You need to follow the music you would love playing every night for the rest of your life, which is why I'm so lucky to play with Adrian, because it's exactly the case.

GC: So when you make a decision about who you choose to play with, what components make up that judgment? Is it the genre of music, or is it maybe a simpler decision that you don't like the people in a band? Or if the music was good but the people were hard to get along with would you go anyway because you like that style of music?

ES: No, it's a mixture of things. You have to compromise and you have to find a balance. You have to enjoy the personalities of the musicians you play with. You have to respect them as musicians. Even if they are lesser of a musician than you. First and foremost the relationship thing is the biggest part of it. I don't care if I was playing in a band with the best guitar player in the world, but if he was a jerk then it wouldn't last. When you are in a van with someone for more than eight hours at a time you learn a lot about them. And you learn a lot about them very fast, so you have to be conscious of that and if you can't get along with them it's not going to work. My main criteria is that the musicians have to play with conviction and have to play with a certain spirit. As long as what they are doing is done well and with conviction, I really can't argue with that. I know plenty of musicians that I may not really like their music, but I can't necessarily say bad things about them because they do it with such conviction, you know?

GC: Now talking about writing your own composition, you said you are not sure about your commitment to instrumentation. Do you play other instruments besides the drums?

ES: I've been playing guitar since 6th grade—about 1998—and I picked up bass around the same time. I picked up marimba when I was in 10th grade so that would be around 2002. I picked up piano and saxophone, but I'm not really good at either of those. I'm not really good at guitar either, but I've been playing it for so long because I'm surrounded by guitars in my house. And one time I got sick with sinusitis and I was around my house for two weeks in 6th grade and I started playing songs on the guitar and going on the Internet and looking up the chords and then realized I had perfect pitch after playing guitar. I realized I was able to memorize the notes so I was very lucky. It was all kind of a surprise. I just realized one day, "Oh, I heard that 'G' on the guitar and then I was listening to the radio in the car and I could remember that that was a 'G'."

GC: So 6th grade was when you started playing instruments or discovering that you had a gift?

ES: Well I've been playing the drums since I was about two.

GC: Are you kidding me? Oh my god, wow!

ES: I've been playing drums for a very long time, but I have to be careful when I talk about this because I guess you could say I started playing percussion when I was two. I got bongos for Christmas but then I tore through those and I got a set of electronic drums the next year, a Yamaha DV-60 or something like that. And then when I was five I got my first real drum set for Christmas after begging and pleading. I didn't really start taking it seriously till I was eleven years old—practicing and understanding how to set up the instrument.

GC: So what I understand about your family history through information from your mother (Robin Slick) you kids were primed to become musicians from an early age based on the love of rock music that your mom and dad had. I didn't know though that you had a natural inclination to play since you were a baby.

ES: My parents would play vinyl records, they'd put on Jimi Hendrix, they'd put on Santana, they'd put on Ella Fitzgerald. Whatever it was I'd play along to it on my crib. I just had a knack for bashing ever since I was a kid. So my parents started taking this bashing seriously and they bought a set of bongos and I'd play along to Guns n Roses and Queen. Whatever they put on I'd play along to it. Especially Eric Clapton, who is my namesake. Yeah, I'm named after Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. My parents decided that whether or not I liked it my destiny was to play music. The good news is that I did like, I love it and I can't imagine life without it.

GC: About a year ago when you guys were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then you drove south through Ohio. You played one night in Dayton and I just remember following the weather reports worrying while you guys were driving that route and I remember praying that you guys had the safest journey.

ES: That was a rough one. We were supposed to have a flight and the flight was canceled because of the storm, so at the last minute our dad had to drive us. Not only did he have to drive us but our windows broke on the car. No one broke into the car—the power windows broke and we drove in the freezing temperatures with duct tape all over the car.

GC: You mean the power windows broke in the open position?

ES: There was a recall on the Jeep Liberty because of this and we didn't know about this—that eventually the power windows were going to break. It was unbelievable. We drove from Philadelphia to Cleveland, from Cleveland to Dayton, then from Dayton, Ohio to Lexington, Kentucky without working windows in the middle of a blizzard.

GC: And when you guys got to Lexington that must have been the ultimate experience for you to do a live performance that was going to be recorded for Side Four.

ES: The funny thing is that performance didn't actually get used for Side Four. The Dayton performance was the one that was used.

GC: Ok, that is where I was confused. So the plan was for the Lexington show to be it but it was the Dayton show.

ES: The Dayton show was a better show. The Lexington show was good but I was nervous, and it showed. I mean I was still nervous before the Dayton show, but I was particularly nervous before the Lexington show. This was going to be my first big statement in the music world and I wanted to make sure it was good. Not to mention that we hadn't played together as a trio for three months before that recording was made. Adrian had decided that it was time to record Side Four and that we were going to book three dates around it. It was cold, so I was doing so much warming up back stage so that by the time we got on stage the tempos were just flying, you know. They were 30 beats faster than they were supposed to be. The things I do like about it is it gives the live recording a sense of urgency, a sense of attention, you know, you listen to how energetic this is and any kind of flubs or bum notes, if they mattered to me then they don't matter to me now because I'm so happy with the energy that is pumping through the record.

GC: Did the other band members have the same nervousness about playing? Was it a synchronicity of discomfort that you guys had?

ES: I don't think so. Adrian has played so many shows in his lifetime. I can't imagine Adrian being nervous in front of 90,000 people with David Bowie in an arena. I mean I would be inconsolable if I were in that position. I don't think he was nervous. Julie is never nervous. She is so cool and calm about all of these shows. She goes up there and kills it every night. I don't know how she does it—I'm pacing around backstage nervously eating things I shouldn't eat. I'm a wreck before some of these shows.

GC: Maybe it's something different about being a drummer. You've got a different physical energy that you've got to exert.

ES: Absolutely! I have to give it 100% every night and it's a workout. With the Adrian set it's 100% all of the time—every song has to match the intensity of the first song. To maintain can be very difficult but I've come up with a concept called "Salad Touring" meaning that every night before a show no matter what, I eat a salad. And I swear by my "Salad Touring" concept. I used to barely make it through these shows but ever since "Salad Touring" has become a part of my life there has been a monumental difference. Next tour I'm going to try "Brown Rice Touring," and then I'm going to eradicate sweets. Because I do have an obsession with chocolate. I'm going to have to calm down with that.

GC: That may be a wise decision.

ES: I'm also going to have to cut back on the caffeine. I tend to have four cups a day. I'm already high strung enough. Thats why I don't do drugs. I can't possibly do drugs for several reasons. I'm already insane. If anything drugs would ground me. I like being insane. I can't do drugs. Or maybe I don't want to be artificially insane. I dunno.

GC: You don't need 'em!

ES: Absolutely not, Frank (Zappa) didn't. He is an idol of mine. When I see the output of work and I see the quality of work you can't argue with that. His art and his output of art is so massive and complex and dense that he couldn't have created that with drugs, although caffeine is a drug. And so are cigarettes, but he considered those more like food. Read his interviews, he'll say that is his "meat." That's what he eats to pump out those amazing compositions. By the way when I said "compositition" earlier I meant a large piece that would last awhile, not just a song.

GC: So like an orchestral piece, you mean?

ES: Yeah, I would really want to do that. To push it forward a little bit because there hasn't been…let me think of a good way to put this. I very rarely hear contemporary classical music that sounds any different than the classical music written since the 1960's. Or from the 70's with some of the Steve Reich pieces, like MUSIC FOR 18 MUSICIANS and Tehillim. I haven't heard anything radically different since then and I'd like to use the device of classical music as in a large ensemble piece that is lengthy. I think more electronics need to be incorporated. Extended techniques need to be included. There needs to be a different spin on it, something that is more like every day sounds as opposed to a violin. Even more concrete sounding. Not music concrete per se. It's going to take a lot of thought and I probably won't finish it this year—I still have a lot more reading to do on music theory before I even get to that point—but that's what I want my first solo contribution to be to the world. I'd like it to be one long piece that could be played by an ensemble on a stage. Thats my goal.

GC: There is a huge difference between east coast music and west coast music. Or at least "the scenes." The music coming out of the northwest is really different than the music coming out of your area (Philadelphia).

ES: The Philadelphia music scene is very weird. Which is a good thing. There is a band in particular that I really like called Make a Rising. They are really awesome. They remind me of late 70s Henry Cow mixed with Daniel Johnston with a touch of King Crimson, and they're great. And then there is a band called Normal Love that's more along the lines of Mr. Bungle in terms of the genre hopping that they do. They'll go from metal to repetitive figures to twelve tones, Weberns, excerpts. They're really great and they are all part of the West Philadelphia music scene. You can't really say "Philadelphia Music Scene" because when you say that people automatically think about "soul music." There is the "neo soul," like The Roots or Jill Scott, because that's the mainstream out of Philadelphia, but West Philadelphia has quite an art scene thats going on.

GC: Your sister mentioned a trend—or I don't know if it's an actual event—named "Psychedelphia"?

ES: Oh, I had no idea about that. What's Psychedelphia?

GC: Apparently theres a psychedelic music…

ES: Oh yeah, there's a psychedelic movement. My sister's boyfriend's band is a part of the movement. They're a band called Cheers Elephant.

GC: Right, but she made it sound like it's something that is taking root in Philadelphia…

ES: Oh it is! There are bands like Teeth, bands like Dr. Dog. Those bands are becoming more and more successful. They're straight-forward pop bands, like psychedelic pop to the core. They are very, very accessible. I hate to sound pretentious but I don't listen to much of that stuff anymore because I'm looking for things that are inaccessible on purpose I think. Or I'm subconsciously doing it, I'm not really sure. I tend to follow things that are more dissonant and quote-unquote "ugly sounding." Just because that's always been the way I am. Being a fan of Frank and being a fan of Captain Beefheart and being a fan of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman and later John Coltrane.

GC: Hey, there would be a thing for you to do. Start a Sun Ra cover band. And I bet no one else has done it.

ES: Oh my god, that would be great. But The Arkestra does a fine job of maintaining the legacy. Marshall Allen is only going to be alive for so much longer so someone is going to have to take over. The Arkestra is never going to go away and they still play in Philadelphia from time to time

GC: Really, now see, you guys get to hear music on the east coast that we don't get to hear out here. And my big awakening to this separation between the coasts was Project/Object. Are you guys ever going to make it out here to the west coast?

ES: Probably not. Zappa Plays Zappa is the premiere Frank Zappa tribute act and the fact is, we're not a money making band as it is. I would love to tour the world with Project/Object but it is very difficult though. It is absolutely a labor of love and when people try to argue that with me I have to give them the facts and the truth hurts but I love that band and I love playing with Project/Object and I love playing that music but its hard to tour when you are going to lose that much money. But that is why my love and undying respect goes to Andre and Eric and Dave and Josh and any previous members of Project/Object because it is absolutely a labor of love. If we did have enough money to do it, of course we would do it. We'd go out and even if there was money to fund it, you know, we'd probably still not make money off of it because it's always a break even kind of thing.

For more on The Adrian Belew Power Trio, including tour dates, visit www.adrianbelew.net

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