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Back in September 2006 I interviewed legendary Police drummer Stewart Copeland. The conversation was focused on his new DVD, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, which was released in mid-September. On the homemade documentary, Copeland used his Super 8 camera to film more than fifty hours of life in the band. With his wry sense of humor, Copeland chronicles everything from the 1977 formation of the band to the final days following 1983's Synchronicity tour when they quit at the top of their game.
The funny thing is, as I was putting together the article on the DVD, rumors began to fly about a Police reunion. The more I poked around, the more sure I became that this was no rumor. Knowing that The Police were going to reunite, we elected to hold off on publishing our interview and drop it on the people when the big news broke. Finally, after a solid rendition of their smash hit "Roxanne" at the Grammy Awards and the subsequent world tour announcement, JamBase is happy to unveil our talk with Stewart Copeland.
Kayceman: When you watch Everybody Stares what do you take away from your time with The Police?
Copeland: Two different things actually; when I look back at life with The Police I take a bunch of things away from that, and when I look back at this film, I take a bunch of different things away.
Kayceman: How do they differ?
Copeland: In terms of looking back on my life as a member of The Police I walk away from that with all kinds of musical validation. I guess I have cause to feel good about what I've given to the world of music and that feels great. When I look at the film, I think wow, what a cool movie and how blessed I was to have such great images to make such a cool movie. And I'm very proud of the movie as a manifestation of film making, and that's my primary emotion regarding the film.
When I was shooting the film these incredible adventures were happening in front of me and I wanted to scrape them off and stuff them into my suitcase so I could play with them later, like any tourist.
Kayceman: What brought you to your involvement with film scoring?
Copeland: I got a phone call from Francis Ford Coppola.
How does your approach differ from scoring music versus being a rock drummer?
They are very different. I chuckle to myself over the conflict between the composer and the drummer. As I'm writing an orchestral piece I know in the back of my mind that the fucking drummer is going to trash this beautiful little flute melody. And I'm pleading in my mind with the drummer guy to show a little mercy. But, as soon as I'm sitting behind the drums and the music that the composer guy wrote is on the stands and I'm blasting away, "Fuck off with your little flute melody! I'm playing now!"
Coming out of your career with The Police a lot of press releases, and people in general, got the impression you shunned your pop past. I'm wondering if you really did shun that past?
I don't think I did, not consciously anyway. It's not a matter of shunning. It's a matter of you go do something else.
Lots of people have discussed the break up of The Police, and from most accounts it didn't seem to be a very clean or easy break. I'm curious if that led you to pursue something outside of rock & roll?
The parting of ways within the band was actually very easy and very amicable. We were all in a really good mood and we decided to make Melbourne the last show.
When you think back on that, what did you feel was the real reason to put The Police on rest?
Two things, both of which I tried to explain in the film. Musically, Sting had become– he always was, but after three or four albums he actually really became a brilliant arranger and producer and songwriter. When Sting was writing his songs, at first he would bring them in as just a few chords and the lyric. But eventually, by the third album [Zenyatta Mondatta], we all had the obligatory rock star country house with recording studio, so he would show up in the studio with platinum demos and he had finished the arrangement. Which is perfectly reasonable. He has a very active brain.
Sting :: The Police
Like Mozart, he completes his composition; every part of it, every aspect, the rhythm, the melody, the harmony, the lyric, everything. Mozart never had to negotiate with the brass section how to play a certain passage. This concept of the composer collaborating with the band is kind of newfangled, and in many ways goes against the grain. It works really well in bands, that collaboration, that's why rock music is so cool. But, it's understandable that the composer, particularly one who is as validated as Sting was – hit after hit after hit – to say, "You know what, I've written a song and I think it should go like this." He was perfectly within his rights to assert the sanctity of the composer. The problem was that for Andy [Summers - guitar] and me, it meant less and less that the band is a vehicle for our artistic expressions. We're just playing parts conceived by somebody else, and that's no fun. In fact, we didn't play those parts. We struggled and that's what the struggle was all about. With hindsight we can see clearly that both points of view had validity and also that the result of that struggle was good. In some cases Sting gave it up and compromised, and in some cases he didn't and we compromised. Sometimes it was Sting and Andy against me, sometimes it was Sting and I against Andy. That was the struggle, the conflict between the band and the composition.
A song like "Every Breath You Take" Sting brought it to the band as a Hammond organ piece, kind of like Billy Preston, these big huge chords with that song over the top of it. We could hear it, this was huge, one of the most important songs he's ever written. But, it didn't sound like us. We don't have a keyboard player. We're a guitar band. So, Andy came up with this guitar figure, which was never part of his original recording, but it was really potent and really changed the whole atmosphere of the song. Sting gave it up, he compromised.
Another song was "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" where Sting had the platinum demo. We heard his demo and it sounded great. He could have just released the demo and it would have been a guaranteed huge smash hit. But, we wanted to Police-ify it so we tried it slower, we tried faster, we tried the reggae version, the punk version, the jazz version, the polka version, but nothing was as good as the demo, so we gave it up and I just over-dubbed my drums to his demo. Some went this way, some went that way. Ultimately all of our records turned out rather well. Also, after eight years of working with us and five albums, Sting was less and less willing to make those compromises, so eventually we parted company.