(Last week Adrian was discussing his idea of music as medicine and the role of the musician as a healer. It’s an interesting notion and one that seems immediately relevant, as we’ll be digging into a couple of Hamburger Patty’s burgers and fries pretty soon. I need a Widowmaker on two, hold the pickles!)
Adrian Bellue: I’ve studied throat singing since I was 14…
Why It Matters: So when you mentioned your interest in Buddhism, then, were you talking about the Tibetan tradition? Is that where you stumbled onto throat singing?
AB: I’m really into the Tibetan tradition, but I wouldn’t say I’m a Buddhist, but more of a “Buddhist enthusiast.” I mean, you can say you’re a Buddhist, but I feel that there should be a certain level of commitment and I’m not quite there yet.
WIM: Yeah, I agree.
AB: But I study Tuvan throat singing, which is derived from Tibetan chant but it’s famous throughout the East because it has such a wide and distinct variety of styles.
WIM: How’d you get into that?
AB: I got into it when I was a kid because before I did all of this acoustic guitar stuff I was into death metal.
AB: Yeah, I had hair down to my knees and a bunch of piercings and was really rude and obnoxious and my parents kicked me out and all of that.
I spent all my time playing in bands, and it was always about being heavier and faster and more technical, and eventually everything just kind of stopped and I thought, “Oh man, this is lame. What am I doing?” So I sold my rig and…
WIM: But how does that fit with throat singing?
AB: Well, I was really into vocalization for metal, and I’d heard that there were some vocalists that experimented with throat singing because you can do multiple tones. I guess they thought they could do like a deep voice/high voice at the same time, I don’t know.
Anyway, I got really into it and started practicing along with videos online until I figured out how to do it. Now I practice along with a lot of traditional songs on banjo — rearranging them for throat singing.
WIM: That’s interesting.
AB: So I sent a couple of letters to this university in Kyzyl, Tuva, and I got a response from a guy who runs a workshop over there. I sent him some recordings and told him I want to buy a doshpuluur [Tuvan banjo]. He told me that my throat singing was good and invited me to come out for the annual throat singing festival.
WIM: That would be quite a trip.
AB: Yeah, he said I could stay with the nomads out in the yurts or in a hotel in the city. The city is relatively new compared to the culture. There are still thousands of people who live in the outlying areas in their yurts with their herds.
Their whole culture is based around music. Everyone learns to throat sing and to harmonize with the sounds of nature and to herd their animals.
AB: And part of your coming of age is traveling around and learning techniques from other young men and women, and then they meet at festivals and perform together. So yeah, throat singing is definitely another one of my passions.
WIM: You know, I’m still stuck on Cookie Monster throat singing.
AB: Yep – RWARWAR [laughs].
WIM: Guys actually studied throat singing to…
AB: That’s what I heard, like Travis Ryan from the band Cattle Decapitation, and a couple of other guys, too. I don’t know how legitimate any of it really is.
WIM: In the eighties Yngwie Malmsteen cited Paganini as an influence and after that every ad for a guitarist listed Paganini under influences. So maybe this is the same kind of thing?
AB: Something like that I’m sure.
WIM: You don’t seem like a very old guy. How old are you?
AB: I’m 23.
WIM: So when was this move from death metal to fingerstyle guitar?
AB: That’s something my parents still can’t wrap their heads around.
WIM: It couldn’t have been very long ago.
AB: No it wasn’t, actually. I’d have to say it was probably in the last 2-3 years that I picked up my acoustic.
Like I said, when I was 19 I had hair down to my knees — dreadlocks, actually — and I was getting off drugs, having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I was going in and out of school, getting jobs, quitting jobs, all that kind of stuff. That’s when I found the martial arts and shaved my head, got rid of everything and started from square one.
Over time I got into Buddhism and started using my guitar as meditation and it just went from there.
WIM: When you were in your death metal phase, were you also listening to acoustic music?
AB: I listened to some stuff, but I listened to a lot of neoclassical metal like Yngwie — classical guitarists who applied their teachings to heavy metal. Occasionally I’d pop an Andy McKee CD in, but I don’t know why it never clicked that I could do play like that.
WIM: Fingerstyle is such a niche, I’m just having trouble imaging the transition. What was your rig before — what did you play?
AB: Oh, I had an 8-string Jackson….
WIM: Okay, so I would imagine like every other player you spent a lot of time sitting in a chair with your unplugged guitar and…
AB: I would just sit there learning licks and doing drills, like metronome training because I always had that thing, “I have to be the best.” It was always that endeavor to get better and better.
Next week: Adrian talks about his formal musical training.