This is an interesting story. One afternoon I was kicking around the intergooglewebtubes and I stumbled across the kind of tough looking kid playing solo acoustic guitar. His technique was fantastic and his songs were great, so I did a little poking around and discover that he lives in Sacramento, California — my home base.
So I got in touch and asked him if he’d be interested in doing a quick little email interview, thinking I’d toss out a couple of quick questions, link you guys to his music and move along. But things don’t always go as planned.
A month later I found myself at Hamburger Patty’s, a Sacramento landmark located next to The Beat record store, another great Sacramento landmark. I sat down across from fingerstyle guitarist Adrian Bellue for a conversation that was so weirdly fascinating that I’ve sat on it for the last two months, unsure what to do with it. Bellue’s background, interests, and blossoming career made for such compelling conversation that I couldn’t bring myself to chop it down to 750 words of fluff.
So I won’t. Over the next few weeks I’ll work through our lunchtime chat, and when I’m done you’re going to be as intrigued by this guy as I am. But listen, I know how it is. Why should you burn your time reading about a stranger, even if he is a reformed death metal guitarist and teenaged punk runaway who aspires to master Tuvan throat singing? I get it, so before we get moving let me give you a taste of what Adrian can do. This is “Second Wind” from his new album, Draw Inspiration:
After brief introductions and getting the recorder started, off we went:
Why It Matters: So is Draw Inspiration self released, or are you on a label?
Adrian Bellue: It’s self-released, all independent right now, but I did meet an engineer and producer named Brian Lee Bender. He has a really impressive studio — built the whole thing out of Indian rosewood — so when you strike a chord in there it just bounces around the whole room. I was really stoked to work with him.
WIM: Where did you get the cover art?
AB: I saw this girl drawing during one of my performances, so afterward I asked if I could buy it off of her because the theme around everything I do is drawing inspiration from my listeners or…whoever.
WIM: It’s kind of funny how I found you…
AB: Yeah, I was wondering about that.
WIM: …I’m a life-long Michael Hedges fan…
AB: He’s my biggest influence!
WIM: …so I was kicking around, looking for clips I haven’t seen, and you know how Youtube is. I went down a bunny hole and found you.
AB: That’s awesome, so Michael Hedges led you to me? Yeah, he’s a huge influence of mine.
WIM: I figured Hedges, probably Leo Kottke…
AB: Yep. Alex De Grassi is another one.
WIM: So you’re a big Windham Hill guy.
AB: Yeah, I love Windham Hill and I really like CandyRat Records for a label that’s alive and going. Is Windham Hill still going?
WIM: I think they were gobbled up in some big merger.
AB: Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to stay independent right now. There’s so much room for independent artists to flourish these days if you know how to play your cards right, how to invest your money into promotion and advertising. But if you have good music it will sell itself, really.
WIM: That’s actually one of the things that I was thinking when I was watching your clips, that thirty years ago you would’ve been set. You have the technical skill, there’s no doubt about that. You would’ve ended up on a label like Windham Hill.
AB: That’s what I would’ve loved.
WIM: Yeah, you would’ve had a label to promote you and get you out there, but now you pretty much have to do it on your own, don’t you?
AB: I’m doing it all on my own right now. I haven’t sent anything out to labels because I wanted to build up my fan base and do well locally first before I started expanding out. This past year has been my only year performing. I’ve actually been a closet player for a long time.
WIM: I know what that’s like.
AB: I went to school for about five years for music. I got my AA at Sacramento City College when I was 19, and I was going to work toward transferring to a conservatory or university to study music, and I just stopped because I didn’t want to play other people’s music anymore. I was really beginning to feel boxed in, and I’d met so many classical musicians who were broken by music school.
WIM: Yeah, art schools of any sort are kind of like that. I think it takes a certain kind of ego or self-esteem to survive an art school. They just really beat the hell out of you.
AB: And I understand that’s how things have worked for a long time here in the West, but it was also during a time when I wasn’t playing a lot of music. I mean, I played at home but I was really getting into martial arts and Buddhism. I was training full-time at a martial arts studio and getting ready to open up my own within a year of testing for my black belt, and then I ripped my knee apart and had to get replacement surgery.
AB: After my surgery I pretty much couldn’t do anything but play my guitar, and that’s when something clicked: The fundamentals of martial arts apply to music. So I figured out that I could use circular motion and passing through the target to add percussive elements to the guitar. That’s when I started listening to more of the old stuff like Hedges and Kottke, and some of the newer guys like Andy McKee and Don Ross. That’s when it all came together.
Next time: Adrian hits the open mic circuit.