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Progressive Rock Interviews

Adrian Belew

Interviewed by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill and Grant Hill
Interview with Eric Slick (drums) and Julie Slick of The Adrian Belew Power Trio from March 2008
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Why don't you tell us what inspired you to take up the bass in the first place, and how the PGSORM fast-tracked you to perform with a major artist like Adrian Belew? 

Julie Slick: Eric and I grew up in an extremely musical household.  Our grandfather played with jazz greats and our father performed in local bands.  We were always surrounded by music: Our dad has been collecting guitars and vinyls since the late sixties.  These records were always playing, and we were always dancing or jamming along on one of his awesome vintage guitars. (There was never any "no, kids, stay away from my '65 Jazzmaster" - In fact, I regret to inform you that that guitar's case is covered in crayon scribbles...).  While Eric had taken to drumming at a very early age, I appreciated music but never got into really learning how to play any one instrument.  I pounded away on synthesizers and guitars, but never knowing or caring what I was doing.  I was really more interested in fine arts, like drawing and painting.  Eric and I were always enrolled in art classes on Saturday morning and in the summer we went to day camp at the Moore College of Art and Design. It wasn't until I was in the sixth grade that I really started to feel compelled to play music.  Eric started to bring friends over, and they started jamming together.  They even formed a little band.  Of course, as Eric's best friend I felt betrayed.  How dare these boys come in here and steal my brother from me?  One day, I put down my paintbrush, marched downstairs, and insisted that I become part of the group.  Of course all of the ten year olds in the room rolled their eyes at me.  They all knew that girls couldn't rock.  When they left, I remember picking up a guitar, turning the distortion all the way up, and letting the thing feedback, like I was some sort of mini-Jimi.  Eventually I became frustrated with guitar.  I actually had no desire to solo or play chords or do anything out front.  I looked over at my dad's fretless Gibson Ripper and thought "Hmm... that only has four strings... and I won't have to solo or play chords... so Eric will let me jam if I play that."  My mom noticed I had taken to playing the monstrous instrument. "Honey, do you realize that's a bass?  Aren't the strings too thick for you?  There're no frets on that thing!  Why don't I teach you some chords on an acoustic?"  I shrugged, "It's not hard and I won't have to play chords if I play this."  After some time, Eric became friends with a guitar player who was actually taking lessons.  I was allowed to jam with them because they needed a bass player - I had finally found my way in!  My mom noticed that our friend was getting pretty good, and he always raved about his teacher, Paul Green.  My mom asked me if I'd like to take lessons.  "No way!", I exclaimed.  I was really shy and I knew I would cry and be totally embarrassed - there was no way I was going into a strange 26 year old's apartment.  After a year of prodding and jamming, I came home from school one day only to discover that my mom went behind my back and signed me up to take lessons with Paul.  I sighed, but I knew that I wasn't getting any better, and I did want to keep up.  I was so nervous, I made my mom and brother sit in on the first lesson.  I cried as anticipated, but Paul knew how to handle it.  By the end of our first month, Paul decided that he wanted to do a show featuring his students - a tribute to Pink Floyd's The Wall.  I made sure that he knew that Eric was a drummer.  At the time, Paul only had 18 guitar students, two bass students, and no drummers. (There was no school with multiple teachers at this point).  Every Saturday afternoon we'd go play football with the other kids and at night we'd cram into a rehearsal studio and practice our Pink Floyd songs.  It was great.  After a couple of months, we put on the show, and it was just fantastic.  Paul knew that he had a winning idea.  Eventually the program grew to what it is today, with schools across the country.  After Eric and I graduated, Adrian Belew got wind of what Paul was doing.  He did a tour with some of his best students (called the School of Rock All-Stars) and decided that he wanted to reform his trio around some younger talent.  He called Paul for recommendations.  Paul elected us, informing Adrian that we were just old enough to tour around, being that we were no longer in high school.  And it went just like that:  Eric and I got the call, learned 15 songs in three days, and flew down to Nashville for our audition/rehearsal.
MSJ: Who were your early influences (both bass and in general) and tell us how they influenced you, and how that evolved over time. Who do you enjoy listening to now?
Julie Slick: I think the first bass line I ever learned was "Politician" by Cream.  My dad taught it to me on that fretless bass.  I immediately loved all of Jack Bruce's lines.  My dad's also a huge Beatle fan, so I loved Paul's playing too. Through the rock school I came to appreciate Patrick O' Hearn, John Paul Jones, Chris Squire, Tony Levin, and Jon Entwistle.  These influences have stuck with me over the years, and these days I try not to listen too much to other bassists, because I want to preserve my own style.
MSJ: We love your command of the instrument and the wide range of musical styles you seem to employ with great zealousness. You're aggressive without overplaying, yet you employ a quiet confidence in moving from fingerstyle to slap bass to the avant garde approach. You can also perform a mean counterpoint style. Can you elaborate for us?
Julie Slick: Hmm... Well thanks for the compliments!  As I previously mentioned, I have many influences. I kind of see the way I play that it's a blend of all of them.  Also, to have a drummer for a brother and a house full of instruments meant that we were always playing together.  We always challenged each other with odd rhythms and time signatures.  Adrian's an amazing guitar player to be able to play with - he's our perfect melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic match.
MSJ: How has working with Adrian allowed you to grow, musically speaking?
Julie Slick: Ha, well as I just said, he's just the perfect match for us.  His compositions allows us to breathe and impart our own vibe to them.  In the past 20 months, we have really grown together as a trio.  We have this psychic connection - we take the music in directions that almost seem planned, but many times they are totally improvised.  It's really odd hearing the stuff back, because we appear to match up at so many points, but on stage we have no clue how synchronized we really are.
MSJ: Eric and you have such an intuitive musical connection. You seem to know where you're going together at all times. Yet, you both play such complex material in getting there, but it all fits. As we listen to you and watch you guys, a few examples came to mind that I've experienced in the same way.......Rocco Prestia with David Garibaldi (Tower of Power) , Chick Corea with John Patitutcci (The Elektric Band), Bela Fleck with Victor Wooten (The Flecktones), and Dave Meros with Nick D'Virgilio (Spocks' Beard). Can you elaborate on this intuitive yet incredibly musical connection that the two of you share?
Julie Slick: Ha - I seem to be predicting all of your questions!  Well again, I pretty much answered this one.  We are related, we played together our whole lives.  We just have this connection that is just so awesome.  It even transcends our music - like we'll make the same comment at the same time, etc.  It's quite scary, but at the same time I just feel incredibly lucky!
MSJ: As someone who is considered a young virtuoso by any definition, where do you see yourself going musically from here?
Julie Slick: Hopefully we can just keep the good music coming.  As we all know the music industry has fallen on some tough times. Eric and I just hope we can continue to make a career out of it, but more importantly we want to share our music with the world.  It's a shame that Adrian's music is not that well known, and our goal over the next couple of years is to help it gain more and more exposure.  I can't see any gig being better than this one. He's our favorite musician, an awesome indiviual, and we get to play with him!
MSJ: Any side projects going on either now or planned for the near future?
Julie Slick: Eric and I know of a couple great musicians in our area, and we do want to start creating our own music while we're home.  I also have a small studio, and I've produced some local bands.  It's convenient, because I can record our ideas whenever I want.  I hope those projects take off, so that one day I'll really be known as a bass player and a producer.
MSJ: We must tell you, we really love your kit. How long have you had that?
Eric Slick: I've had that kit since 2006. That's a kit that belonged to a Philadelphia drummer and it came with a few more pieces but I only use the four pieces because I believe that less is more. Every time I sit down with a big kit I'm overwhelmed. I have too many ideas, and not all of them are actually good ideas. So, I would rather stick with the good ideas.
MSJ: The “keep it simple, stupid” formula?
Eric Slick: Yeah, and make it more about the phrasing instead of how much you are playing. I can do a lot on a four piece, and I can do an interesting phrase that's more musical than on a big kit where it's very hard to do that, plus I'm actually tuning in melodically or treating it like it was or something.
MSJ: We had a hard time deciding whether to watch you or your sister (during the gig) because both of your techniques, your whole body movement as you play, shows that you throw your entire self into your profession, and that's so refreshing to see. You sound like you're playing on a 60 piece kit because there's so much musical sound as you're playing. You have a nice fat sound with depth, and it just sounds like a much larger setup. We're very, very impressed with what we've seen and heard here tonight. Whom do you like (as players)?
Eric Slick: Well, thank you! Um, as drummers go, my early influences were Terry Bozzio, Keith Moon, Buddy Rich, Ringo Starr, Vinnie Colaiuta......Buddy Rich because my grandpa used to play trombone with him. And, who else, um....Jon Bonham, Steve Gadd. Then later on, I started getting more obscure, looking at the liner notes a little more, I started listening to more jazz, so players like Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and then some of the modern guys like Jim Black, a little bit of Dave Weckl, although not so much compositionally with Dave Weckl as much as with some technique. Mostly many of those techniques are shared by Vinnie, and I've relied on Vinnie more especially since I listened to so much Frank Zappa music while growing up. But Tony Williams, especially. He's my biggest influence by far.
MSJ: That's interesting because when we contacted The Buffalo News to have them set up their interview with Adrian, we were asked what kind of style that you sound like, and we told them that to us you sound like Tony Williams or even Jack DeJohnette, kind of like the early Miles Davis fusion stuff.
Eric Slick: Those are my two biggest drum influences, so thank you. That means a lot to me. Especially Jack, you know, because he's first and foremost a piano player, so he's coming from a place that is very melodic and with a lot of bass drum phrasing. Tony does a lot of chordal drumming as opposed to a lot of melodic drumming, so I mix some of those ideas together and accomplish something that is, you know, a little bit less like what you hear all of the time. I try to invert phrases because I don't hear a lot of other people doing that.
MSJ: We also hear some Danny Seraphine style lead playing from you.
Eric Slick: Thanks! I love the way that man plays! Especially on the first CTA album during the drum solo on “I'm a Man." I love his playing. And then, I got more into the avant garde drummers, William Wyman, Chris Cutler. I think you have to listen to as many different drummers as possible, but I also learn as much from a piano player as much as from a drummer. To me that's as much inspiration as I can draw from a drummer.
MSJ: You're acting as the total musician, and your career is really just starting.
Eric Slick: I hope so!
MSJ: Tell us about the School of Rock.
Eric Slick: I started when I was about 11 years old in 1998. Julie was 12. Paul (Green) was giving guitar lessons from his apartment in center city Philadelphia. He had a concept of doing these variety shows with all of his guitar students. Paul only had guitar students at that time, no drummers, no bass players, no keyboard players, so, you know it was a wreck! I went to a variety show that they had, and Julie went and she loved it. She saw all of these kids playing together and although she was shy about it, she wanted to do it. So she said (to Paul), “If you need a drummer for any of these variety shows, my brother plays the drums.” At these shows they were basically doing covers, plus letting the students jam together. Paul Green is a good guitarist, and I don't know if I should say this or not, but he's a horrible drummer and a horrible vocalist. (laughs) I don't think he'll mind me saying that. I could barely play a beat back then, but I knew i could do more than Paul could. I at least had a drumming book to practice from. The next show was a big success, so he jokingly began to refer to it as “The Paul Green School of Rock Music”.because he was teaching theory and performance, so it was actually a great idea. So they called it that for about a year before actually opening a school in a building where there were regular lessons, parents coming in, show rehearsals....We used to hold rehearsals in these dank, disgusting studios. I remember we each had to pay 20 bucks to help cover the cost of space because we were running out of room. Then it changed and became this big thing where you had to pay tuition, and of course it's grown from there.
MSJ: Will the trio be your mainstay for a while?
Eric Slick: Absolutely. I'm going to do it for as long as I possibly can. If Adrian wants me to do it, I'll do it. It's the most liberating thing besides maybe doing a free-jazz gig.
MSJ: We're sitting here trying to equate what it must be like for you, and you know it seems like you guys play almost as if it is a small jazz combo from the beat generation, at least as far as free creativity goes.
Eric Slick: I don't have any limitations as far as Adrian is concerned. I play what I want to and what I feel. He just doesn't want us to overplay. He wants it to be tasteful. I think that's the hardest part, knowing what to play...when do you leave things out, how do you incorporate space, which is basically the same thing as a free-jazz trio. The concept is the same except we apply it to a rock band. I'm very influenced by free jazz and Ornette Coleman stuff, so when we get out there modulating and plying in different times, we're always loking at each other so we can lock back into it. The key is to resolve it, just like resolving a chord sequence. So when we go out there, the key is to know when we come back into it together.
MSJ: Do you time it?
Eric Slick: That's where the interesting part of this band comes in. Julie and are so close and we're best friends, so we just know when and how to bring it back. We never fight, either. I know that's a big thing to say, but we even say the exact same thing sometimes simultaneously with the exact same rhythm and same vocal cadence. I know it sounds really bizarre, but it's true. We're only 15 months apart. Before Adrian there was a time when I was playing with a whole bunch of different people. I think it was hard on Julie because she was going through college and she didn't have time to play much with me, so I think she was a little bit jealous, but once Adrian hired us and we had our rhythm section thing intact again, we became the best of friends again. We've been very lucky to have this, and it's been amazing. We get along better than ever now. The only reason I was playing with other bands was becaiuse Julie was too busy with school. I had dropped out of art school because I just didn't want to do it. I wanted to play, and I knew that's what I wanted to do and I was determined to do it. I was hired first, but Julie was there so it became, well, why not hire Julie, too! It was perfect.
MSJ: So you've been with Adrian since.........?
Eric Slick: May of 2006. It was just after my 19th birthday. I was on tour with Project Object when I got the call. I had been out of college for about eight months and I was really bummed out, doing lots of gigs for free, pop gigs, not doing things I really wanted to do. I mean I like pop gigs are fine, it's just not what I wanted all the time.
MSJ: Well, at the risk of being the understatement of the year, it certainly sounds like a gig worth keeping!
Eric Slick: Yes, thanks. Adrian thinks and acts young. I don't think he's going to retire anytime soon, so we want to do this as long as we can with him. He must have more endorphines than anybody!
 
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