Posted by Iona Singleton on Nov 14, 2016

First steps…


(Fripp) “I took the personal decision to put King Crimson back into action during the second half of 1990 but without a clear idea of how that might be.”


(Levin) “I figure a three-year break is fine, but seven years a bit too long.”


(Gunn) “I knew he was working on it. There were even inklings of it before Sylvian & Fripp. He’d show me a little figure and we’d experiment with it, and I’d think, that sounds a little like Crimson to me.”


An aborted rehearsal with Jerry Marotta


(Gunn) I could tell Adrian was going along with Robert’s idea but not wholly into it, and that night I think I saw Robert the most distressed I’ve ever seen him in his life; he was like, ‘it’s not working’.”


(Mastelotto) “Robert said that things hadn't worked out with Jerry and that he'd had a vision of using two drummers: ‘It'd be you and Bill Bruford’. I said, 'What does Bill think about this?' and he replied 'I don't know. I haven't called him yet. I called you first’.”


(Fripp) “The picture of a Double Trio formation appeared in a flash while I was driving past our village church towards Salisbury one afternoon in the Autumn of 1992. The Double Trio was not what I intended, expected, nor wanted but I trusted this point of seeing sufficiently to act upon it.”


(Bruford) “Really there were very few groups that I’d wanted to have joined. King Crimson’s my spiritual home. Robert’s always had a great big pair of open ears for drums and drummers. I think I’ve always seen King Crimson as one of the very few so-called rock outfits that could begin to accommodate my particular small vision of what it is that drummers can do. Not many other outfits can do that. I mean they have other agendas; they might want songs that are played extremely well or they might be following some other guy’s compositional approach or something, but King Crimson is, or was, and may remain, a nominal democracy, which is the way I grew up - where you could bring whatever you had to the table and negotiate with others and see if you could make it work in a group format.”


(Gunn) “For me, Discipline was the record…I liked a lot of other stuff but that was the shit that just kind of landed from Mars for me. I think if I’d just gotten a call from Robert and he said, ‘do you want to join King Crimson?’ I probably wouldn’t have known how to handle it. But I’d spent so much time with Robert hearing him think about Crimson. So although I wasn’t expecting ever to be asked, I wasn’t totally surprised when he did. Then it was less about being in the band but more about being with those guys. I’d never met Adrian before other than maybe once backstage at a Sylvian & Fripp gig,…and I was pretty nervous because Tony Levin was the guy that was not only the great bass player of all these albums, he was the guy who I knew as the Stick player, he was the guy who did that.”


First double drummer rehearsal at Bill Bruford’s house in February 1994, with Adrian Belew unable to make it over to the UK…

( Mastelotto) “There was a huge volume discrepancy; Bill’s on his jazz kit and I’m about three feet away from him on a big kit Bill borrowed from his neighbour, Kenny Jones, as used touring with The Who, with a massive 26-inch bass drum and power toms,” says Pat who admits to being somewhat awestruck at being in the room with these players. “You can understand that it’s such a fantasy of a young Californian kid to get to play music with these kind of musicians you admire from afar.  I went out and bought a musical dictionary because I couldn’t understand some of the things that were being talked about. For example, a coda - I didn’t know what that was. I’d heard Hey Jude a million times but nobody ever told me that that was a coda. I bought a small pocket-sized one which I could keep near me so I could pull it out of my coat pocket during rehearsals!”


(Bruford) “I said hello to Pat and Pat said hello to me and we really started work. I’d never heard of Pat before other than from the theme song of Friends and I wouldn’t have known that at the time. I didn’t really know what to do with him nor him with me. We sat and practiced a bit and initially it was fairly fruitless and we couldn’t think what to do until the penny dropped: what you do is adopt a character, a musical identity to make this work. Pat was essentially Ringo Starr connecting with the audience and I was essentially Jamie Muir or Elvin Jones upsetting, or terrorising or floating round and causing confusion with that connection. Once you’d adopted those kinds of characters and agreed that that was a great way to go then everything else is easy and after that everything fell into place. In a way it was a reversal of Jamie Muir’s playing off of me on Larks’ Tongues In Aspic; I was the straight good boy and Muir was this creature from hell. I didn’t know what to do with him or him with me. My function was to locate a beat and play it. So, something of a reversal and I think it worked really well.”


Recording VROOOM at Applehead studios May 1994


(Gunn) “Robert’s approach is pretty hardline: this is what I’m doing so have at it. He really hardly ever told anyone what to play. It was more like this is what I’m doing and what are you going to do? So it was up for us to negotiate what we were doing. A good example is Tony’s bass in the VROOOM fairy fingers section; I was struggling with that for weeks trying to figure out where I could even find a note that fits in that thing. Robert had nothing to offer; he just said ‘we’ll run it again’. Tony just went off and wrote that entire fretless bass melody to go over the top of the fairy fingers.”


(Bruford) “Not being told what to do is a great thing. It requires mature musicians and fairly confident guys, I think. There wasn’t much point in me telling Tony Levin what to play or even barely suggesting things. However, within our pairs, that is to say with Pat, I felt perfectly at liberty to say, ‘you play this and I’ll play that’. He’d say the same thing to me. That worked well with us two. How Tony and Trey got on I don’t really know. I also found it took Trey a while to find a particular spot - I think two basses is very tricky.”


(Belew) – on nearly leaving the band after the first few days - “I didn’t sense or see any of that coming. The first few days had not gone well for me personally. My gear had been destroyed by the airlines on the flight to rehearsal so I arrived with literally nothing to play. That certainly hampered my ability to contribute in my usual fashion. Also there were certain pressures inherent in the band which I had struggled with in our first run in 1981 to 1984 and early on I could see they would continue, but such was my excitement to be part of the new King Crimson, I resolved to simply ignore them. The real issue for me was the proposed touring schedule which was posted on the kitchen wall around day 3 of rehearsals, which if I recall correctly was 10 months in the first year. I knew that amount of touring would not allow me to keep all my plates spinning. Since everyone else seemed enthused by the schedule I felt I might hold them back and that would be unprofessional of me, so we had a meeting.”


(Gunn)  “The hilarious thing about that session was they decided they were going to run through Red or Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 2 but nobody in the room knew it as well as Pat and I,” laughs Gunn. “Of course, Pat knew the record inside and out and I had a general idea. Having been in the band what you realise is that the way they approach tracks like that is not that fixed. You have the sense ‘we do these things, and now we’re going to do them this way; now there’s a new tuning so we’ll do it this way’. Even Robert couldn’t really remember how it went. It was pretty much Pat telling everyone how the form went.”


(Bruford)  “There was no question of me getting out the log drums and pitched drums playing light fabrics and melodies. That was all gone. This was going to be big, dark brooding stuff like Red, only with two drummers…The technical interest in the drums for me was fantastic and great fun and, right there, there was enough of a reason to join King Crimson. Because Pat would be the very solid time keeper, the link between the band and tempo, which would enable me to be the terrorist, which was great. So I could play the fancy shit and he'd play the bit that connected the fancy shit to the listener. A lovely scenario and a very clear and simple understanding of what the two drummers would be doing and I could work well with that.” 


First Live Shows at Prix D’Ami Buenos Aires 1st October 1994


(Mastelotto) “The Prix d’Ami was pretty dingy. It had a pretty high stage, about six feet and then a dance floor. We couldn’t quite all fit on the stage so I went to the extreme at one side in sort of a cage made out of a kind of chain link thing. Maybe it would’ve been a DJ’s booth or something, but essentially it put the band on stage as a five-piece and I was this guy over on the side. That was fine with me; I liked being in the dark and off to the side.” 


(Gunn) “Argentina was awesome. I’d already been there twice before, and over the decades there are certain periods when you can’t go there because it’s completely fucked up. Not fucked up like Iraq-fucked-up, but just financially fucked up. Then there’s some renaissance and there’s money available. Then it goes haywire for another period. I went a few different times in those slots and this was a good one. Buenos Aires is one of my favourite places on the planet. I really can remember almost nothing about the rehearsals. I do remember the shows and that we had to sign 5,000 flats (booklets) for VROOOM. So for every day and for every show we had hundreds of them on the table set up like a factory line. We’d end up taking them to our hotel rooms to sign.”


(Belew) “Getting everyone to land on the same downbeat was hard, we used to joke about it, calling it the ‘Crimson downbeat’. Instead of BAM! it was more of a BRRUUUMPH! Precision playing was not as easy as with the Eighties line-up.”


(Gunn) “First of all, what the hell do you do on Elephant Talk? It doesn’t need anything else. So do you not play? Or who do I double? Frame By Frame doesn’t need it. Also Robert and Adrian have a density to them; there’s not really the room to do the      subtle little thing that you could perhaps do on the record. They already fill up the space. Adrian’s sound is quite small when you listen to him alone but in the band he’s got totally the right sound. So, yeah, what do you do? For most of the Discipline stuff I didn’t feel there was a place for me but Tony found things for us; we eventually started trading off things for Elephant Talk. Tony found things like later in Neurotica in the second verse he sings harmony with Adrian and he was never able to really play the Stick part and sing the harmony, so I took the second verse as the bass. Once you loosened the mortar on the structure there was a lot of stuff you could do, and kudos to those guys for trying it. Once you have a piece then it’s really about the orchestration of it.”


(Belew) “It was hard to get someone not to play, which is only natural. Soundchecks were a horror show (I can still hear parts of them) but this was all made up for by the intensity of the music; the Double Trio was a thunderous, explosive instrument capable of nearly anything and truly awesome to behold in concert”.


Recording THRAK at Real World 1995


(Bruford)  “I always remember technical complexities with the recording. We were largely invisible to each other at Real World. I’m not even sure that Pat and I even had eye contact. Very tricky. We were very dependent on a headphone mix. In those days the idea of six people all playing at once was going out of fashion rapidly and studios were really just elaborate overdub booths with one pair of headphones and one person at a time. I think we caused some uproar in trying to be able to listen to each other. It was technically difficult to hear what was going on when we were all playing at once, and of course we had six people saying, ‘can we play it again from C?’.”


(Mastelotto) We had six guys who wanted six different headphone mixes. I ended up tracking in the stone room and Bill in the wood room but originally I was in the wood room. For the first day or two I had a decent headphone mix; it was Bill, the last guy furthest away from the control room who had the worst headphone mix and visual vantage points. So, somewhere around the first or second day, in order to keep Bill on course and having him in a more pleasant environment where he could see and communicate better, I swapped rooms. We agreed my drums in the stone room worked better. Then the headphone mix became my big problem. The further you went down the chain meant that everyone had a problem and by the time it got to me it was the worst. My tracking room was connected more for the other control room which is where the Kronos Quartet, who were there at the same time as us, were mixing an album. As time went on it became an issue being the loud drummer adjacent to where they were mixing. I forget what arrangement we made but we made it so that they would have some quiet time, so while we did guitar or vocal overdubs they could be fine-tuning one of their mixes without drums pounding in the wall right next to them.”


(Bruford)  “I liked Bottrill (the sound engineer) a lot. He had the key qualities which were patience and calmness. Five people can turn on you at once; it sounds weedy; it should be louder, or my bass stinks - and everybody says it at once and you do need to be very calm. I thought Bottrill made it sound really good. When it went to tape I thought it was a mess but the final result has this wonderful quality; very ballsy, very big, very strong rock music but it’s also got an airy quality as well. You can see around the instruments. As the sound of a record I love it, it’s absolutely great.”


(Gunn) There was one unbelievable overdub for VROOOM. Tony’s fretless bass melody in the fairy fingers section. Check this out, I bet Tony won’t even remember this, or he probably wouldn’t be impressed because he’s Tony: Bottrill was like, ‘is there something slightly out of tune in this section?’ So they listened to the guitar players - Robert doing the fairy fingers and Adrian doing a line. I think what they figured out was that one of the guitars was slightly sharp or flat, I mean slightly, and Tony was pitching to the other guy. So he just turned that guy down a little bit and replayed the whole thing. To be honest I couldn’t hear any difference, I couldn’t hear anything wrong with the first one. I think Tony just did a single pass again and it sounded fucking amazing.”


Recording the title track THRAK


(Gunn) “We joke that the version on the record THRAK is the kinder, gentler THRAK because it's a little bit sweeter and not very long at all.”


(Mastelotto) “We’d just done THRAK. As I approached the control room I could see through the glass that Bottrill was jumping and gyrating, like a fish thrown up onto the land, moving in these spasms. I realised he’s actually found a rhythm inside of THRAK that makes his body twitch. He looked like a puppet, his arms flexing in weird ways - man, it cracked us up.”


The song “Dinosaur”


(Belew) “When I first heard the term ‘double trio’ I imagined it to mean a sextet which would on occasion operate as two separate trios instead of always performing as a six-piece band. The tenor of the earliest instrumental pieces we were creating like VROOOM VROOOM or THRAK tended to be ‘epic’ in nature. I wanted to apply the ‘epic’ part to an actual song and at the same time break the band into one of the many trios available. So I wrote the middle chamber piece. I envisioned Robert and Tony and me suddenly turning into an ‘orchestral trio’ in the middle of a (more or less) pop song. Robert approved but declined to play, so the chamber section became me, Trey and Tony. It should be pointed out that Dinosaur was already an epic piece. My album The Guitar As Orchestra provided me with the necessary guitar synthesiser orchestral sounds I had programmed, but otherwise had no relevance.”


(Mastelotto)  “When that song came together I thought it was fucking brilliant. It had been developed in pieces and when Adrian presented that song including the whole orchestral bridge, that was Adrian all by himself. The other guys found ways to get into the arrangement. I thought the lyric was just perfect. It clearly defines what the band is, or what we as individuals in the band are! And it’s got a good pop hook on top of that!”


The drum duet “B’Boom”


(Bruford)  “I thought King Crimson should have its own little percussion group on that track — Bill Boom as opposed to Max Boom. I was highly influenced by the magnificent Gavin Harrison, who I have been proposing as the country’s hidden national treasure for several years. Of course, now he’s in King Crimson. Gavin at the time was a real specialist in drumming and had released a variety of drum books, manuals and pedagogical stuff that I found to be highly influential, about beat displacement and all sorts of metrical tricks of one sort or another. This became a bit of a bible for me and Pat to work with. I’d play the same thing as Pat but a sixteenth note late for example, or play a meter within a meter. That kind of approach. Often Gavin’s theories depended on one rhythm being played and then another one played against it. So what more fun could you have with two drummers? To me this came to fruition on Sex Eat Sleep Drink Dream which has what I’m talking about in bucket loads, especially around the guitar solos where the thing goes completely berserk. It might sound like the drummers are playing anything they want for a minute but this is absolutely not the case. I could notate entirely for you those passages and Gavin probably has recognised them already as being highly informed by his work.” 


The song “People”


(Belew) “Over time I recognised the songs which were most successful, i.e. the ones that made it to the records and sounded most Crimson-like, were always started with Robert and me writing together. To bring a song of mine to the band, less so. It was never my aim to burden Crimson with songs of mine which already had a place to exist on my solo records regardless. I usually offered them when there was a perceived scarcity of material. People is a good example. At the time I offered it to the band during writing sessions in Argentina, it seemed more uptempo material was needed to round out the record we hoped to make.”


The song “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream”


(Belew)  “It is one of the best examples of the definition of our double trio, especially in the sections where our drummers are playing in different time signatures together; it sounds like two bands at once. With a killer bass line from Tony and blistering solos from Robert, it's quintessential Crimson. The lyrics are a reflection of the madness of the music.”


(Mastelotto) “It’s the first one that comes to mind. But I loved Dinosaur and Walking On Air. When I got married to Debra, we used that as our tune at the wedding. The song makes me cry, man.”


The final piece “VROOOM VROOOM


(Mastelotto) “Around the last day Robert suggested a musical blindfold test, he gathered us around and laid out a plan — ‘four beats of this chord, seven beats of the next, etc, etc,’ as we all scribbled notes. Then we went out to play. We did one take with some of the team falling out on the way. When we finished, we said let’s go again but I asked to lay out as I thought I had stayed true to form. Bill questioned me, saying I had made mistakes and I should replay but I suggested that they all go again and then I would fix the time to them. Well, that's the last track on the THRAK record and I did not go back to punch in anything…My big surprise on hearing the finished CD was my voice at the end going 'Yeah!'. I’d said that as I got up to leave my kit, long after the track had died out, but after additional overdubs it appeared right at the end of the Mellotron decay.”


In retrospect


(Bruford)  “I found the gestation and generation of this music, of all the records I’ve been on, particularly with Robert, difficult. But at the end of it, and in retrospect and hindsight, it was probably the only way it could have been done and I’m enormously proud of the result. You don’t play this stuff for ten years and then you play it like I did today and you go: ‘WOW, this is great!’ They don’t make pop music like this anymore! Or rock, or jazz or whatever we did is called. I do love the album. It just seems to have so much musical information on it in comparison to a standard rock record that you would think of today. It’s oozing hot spices and extra special gravy. A rich meal indeed.”


(Belew) “To me this record needed to have its foot in the future and its foot in the past at the same time — to serve as a wake-up call. I think the music is still traditionally King Crimson, and yet it's progressing onward and forward, as King Crimson always does.”


(Gunn) “I like making records. For some it’s about capturing a performance and I totally get that, but for me it’s more about making a sculpture and that’s what THRAK is. At the start it felt fairly fragmented, you go in dealing with it piece by piece. Then at a certain point you start dealing with the whole recording, like what’s going to work, what’s missing. When it was all put together it felt like one complete thing. I haven’t heard the record in a long time but I do think it’s pretty remarkable that we could pull it off and it not suck, actually. We were really experimenting and you can hear that. I think it came out pretty well.”


Taken from Sid Smith’s sleevenotes to THRAK BOX April 2015