Miles [Davis], mostly crap... He was out of tune and he was a fucking junky and it sounded like shit. It was utterly preposterous. The king just wasn't wearing any clothes. Coltrane, same thing.
And at what point did you realize that you had something special; that this might not just be a hobby?
I think seven.
What clues did I have?
Just my own over-inflated imagination. Same as every musician. I assume that all musicians – maybe not jazz musicians, but most musicians hit that spot when they're playing where they know they are doing something beautiful and it touches their own heart, it's the real thing. It may not be absolutely proficient, but you hit the spot. And at that moment you feel like you are the greatest musician that ever lived.
Stewart Copeland by Lynn Goldsmith
And you had that feeling at seven?
I always remember that music gave me that. I don't remember how old I was the first time I had that, but I know music always gave me that. And I was a measly kid, the runt of the litter physically. Around 19 or 20 I started to grow, but up until that point I was a pale skinny kid; and music was the one thing that I had that gave me a reason to get out of bed.
Did spending a good amount of time in the Middle East as a young man have a strong impact on you musically?
The Arabic music totally had a huge influence. Arabic music has that similar thing to reggae where the emphasis is on the third beat of the bar, so when I picked up reggae I already had that deeply engrained.
I'm also curious about the differences between playing live and recording music, what do you value most about both those outlets?
I value recording in the studio not a whit, not a jot, nor tiddle. I hate it. I love playing on stage. My policy now is that I'm never going to record drums in the studio ever again because I hate it. Playing on stage I love. And if I ever need to make a record I'll have to do a concert first.
Can you explain why?
The reason is that when you're playing drums in the studio you're not really playing... your heart and brain are not in the same place. You're trying to remember an arrangement, you're trying to fake it. It's sort of like playing with a rubber doll; it's not the real thing. Actually, for me that only applies to drums by the way. I love over-dubbing on guitar, bass, any other instrument, I love it. It's just the drumming part.
Something else I wanted to touch on was Oysterhead, which turned a whole new generation on to you.
Oysterhead :: Bonnaroo 2006 by Dave Vann
Ahhh, I love Oysterhead.
So first off, this was a trio, as was The Police, where were the similarities and differences?
I can't think of two more contrasting band environments. Oysterhead turns everything I know about stage craft on its head. In The Police it was all about songs. Oysterhead has no songs, it's all about improvisation, it's all about chops and playing and creating excitement that comes from improvisation. The spontaneity of it, the creating here and now is what the buzz of it is. When I'm on stage with Oysterhead and we're completely way out on a tangent – who knows what song we even stared out with, we're way out there – I'm dying thinking this is a horrendous crime against stage craft and I look at the front row and this is their favorite part. They're watching us think. They're watching something that has never happened before and will never happen again. They're in it with us, they're on the journey and you gotta take the rough with the smooth.
In The Police we organized our material and we went and presented it on stage. And every once in a while we would allow ourselves excursions of improvisation which was very rewarding, but it was all in the context of closely arranged material. The set list was very honed so that the lighting guy, the sound guy, the guitar tech, the wardrobe lady – everybody knew what the next song was. We would work on it with great diligence to make that show really work. The pacing from this song to that song, the transitions, everything. In Oysterhead the philosophy is "set lists are for wimps." We would just walk out there and play.
In The Police's day stage attire and image was very important. It was part of your job to look different from the kid on the street. You had to look more outrageous than was possible for a normal civilian. It was part of your job. It would be unprofessional to leave your hotel room looking like you would be safe with children. Nowadays the band - the rock stars, look just like the fans.
Well, Les Claypool could go against that one.
Well that's true, but that's just Les Claypool wearing his street clothes. That's the real Les Claypool, he's a special case. One of the greatest men on the planet. He should be president. One of the craziest yet most sensible people I know. He's the most practical wacko I've ever met.
Copeland with Oysterhead :: Bonnaroo 2006 by Dave Vann
What about Trey? What do you enjoy about playing with him?
He's a force of nature. You remember Mozart in that movie Amadeus, that's our Trey. He's just a cheerful guy. Point him towards the stage, plug him in and cool shit happens. You never know what's gonna happen at any other time – or even on stage for that matter – you never know what's gonna happen with Trey; is he gonna show up, or not? And that's part of his charm.
I find Trey's guitar playing to be rather unique, especially his tone and his style, is that something you agree with?
Absolutely. He can create a whole world of sound and music without really playing his guitar. He uses his guitar to create these sounds, these wafting clouds of atmosphere which are really affective and don't involve finger wiggling.
Is there anybody else you sort of put in that same category?
Not really. I've done a lot of jamming with Jeff Beck and he has incredible chops of a different nature.
The Police at 2007 Grammy Awards
By Kevin Mazur
You've done so much in so many different areas of creativity, what else do you want to do? What else do you dream of?
I really like writing orchestral music and I have to squeeze it in between earning a living by writing film music. I suppose if there's anything I want to do more of it would be that. All the time when I was getting this jazz upbringing my mom was listening to Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, and those things actually resonated more deeply. It's almost a completely different musical personality. When I play drums I hear guitars. At certain times of the day I hear guitar music, but at other times I just have this river flowing of orchestral music and I want to make my own. And I love it when I get an opportunity to make some; when I get a commission from Seattle Symphony or San Francisco Ballet, or any of these people to write this kind of music. And it's so removed from the other aspects of my musical life.
It often seems that people who are very creative in various mediums thrive off of new experiences and new outlets, so that certainly makes sense.
When I look at who I am and what I've done, the orchestral side seems completely anomalous, it's so gentle. I guess it's sort of like the Japanese war commander who while he's planning his military strategies is doing flower arrangements.
THE POLICE 2007 TOUR DATES
05.28 | GM Place | Vancouver, BC
06.06 | Key Arena | Seattle, WA
06.09 | Pepsi Center | Denver, CO
06.15 | MGM Grand Garden | Las Vegas, NV
06.16 | Bonnaroo Festival | Manchester, TN
06.18 | US Airways Arena | Phoenix, AZ
06.26 | American Airlines Center | Dallas, TX
06.30 | New Orleans Arena | New Orleans, LA
07.02 | Scottrade Center | St. Louis, MO
07.22 | Air Canada Centre | Toronto, ON
07.25 | Bell Centre | Montreal, PQ
07.28 | Fenway Park | Boston, MA
08.01 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
08.03 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
Enter here to win The Police Box Set - Message in a Box - The Complete Recordings.
Watch The Police at the 2007 Grammy Awards
JamBase | San Francisco
Go See Live Music!