The following article appeared in a July 1997 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Blair R. Fischer talked to Stewart Copeland about Police related matters.
Stewart Copeland doesn't want to put away his Police badge
Few bands that are no longer bands would reinvigorate a lagging summer concert season like the Police. Already selling out stadiums on their 1984 final tour, the early-'80s version of "the biggest thing since Jesus" disbanded three years later after failing to match the artistic height of Synchronicity.
In the decade since, Sting has enjoyed a lucrative solo career, guitarist Andy Summers has worked with John Etheridge and Robert Fripp and Stewart Copeland has written film scores for "Wall Street," "Talk Radio" and, most recently, "Good Burger." The Police haven't completely disappeared - they've released several collections and the recent Police Academy, a collection of recordings by the pre-Police project Strontium 90 - and the group's Every Breath You Take has returned to the top of the charts in the form of Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You." And there's been talk of them returning: Drummer Stewart Copeland said last month that he wasn't ready to rule out a reunion.
The Police never really called it quits officially - they've just been on a long sabbatical - and any news of an impending return would undoubtedly be followed by a collective sigh of relief from the jilted generation, Ticketmaster and Copeland himself. Although he's never broached the subject with Sting or Summers, Copeland has remained vocal about his desire to bring the band back together, even as he continues to score films and make music as a solo artist.
Rolling Stone: The Strontium 90 material released on Police Academy predates the beginning of the Police. What's it like to listen to stuff you recorded 20 years ago?
Stewart Copeland: Well, I'm impressed by what enthusiastic session players we were. We were playing with a lot more chops, a lot more virtuosity, than we ever permitted in the Police. You know, in the Police, we were real streamlined and we chopped it all down, but [former Gong bassist and Strontium 90 member] Mike Howlett wanted chops, so he got them.
RS: Looking back on the work you did in the Police, what kind of place in history do you think the band has?
SC: Well, it's not really for me to say. In our day, we were the Beatles of the '70s or the '80s or whichever...and we were the biggest thing since whatever and then six months after we broke up, Duran Duran were the biggest. After that, somebody else was and, six months ago, Oasis were the biggest. Now the Spice Girls are. So it's kind of hard to take any of that seriously.
RS: When you released Message in a Box, you said there was no more unreleased Police material. Has anything come to light since then?
SC: When we did the box set, we thought we'd gathered everything that was worth releasing. [But to record] Every Breath You Take, we spent two weeks trying different tempos, different rhythms. The finished version of the song is very, very different from the demo that Sting brought. The original demo was like a Hammond organ soul number.
RS: Speaking of Every Breath You Take, the song has been getting a lot of airplay as the musical basis for the Puff Daddy hit "I'll Be Missing You." What do you think of what he did with the song?
SC: I don't have any sympathy for the subject matter, [but] I have great respect for rap artists. In fact, not for the rap artists, but the people who make the music over which they rap. Rap music - the music itself is incredible - but [the people that make the music] are hardly ever credited. The guy who gets the credit, whose picture is on the album cover, is the guy who's making the unpleasant noise with stupid lyrics that don't mean anything to me. But the music underneath it is really important and really creative. Those guys never seem to be credited.
RS: It seemed dangerous for him to borrow from such a classic song.
SC: Dangerous - are you kidding ? It was bankable, certified... They said, "There's 10 million sales right there." It was not exactly a courageous or imaginative move. But I'm nonetheless extremely flattered.
RS: How often do you speak with Andy and Sting?
SC: Very frequently. We were all chatting just last week. In fact, I talked to Andy this week. Neither Andy nor I will be able to attend Sting's wedding anniversary which is coming up in a couple of weeks. The last time the Police played was at Sting's wedding five years ago. So the Police now play weddings and barbecues.
RS: So the acrimony that broke up the band doesn't exist anymore?
SC: Well, it wasn't acrimony that broke up the band. There was a lot of acrimony when we were in the band together, but it never came close to breaking up the group. The reason we broke up was to escape from the golden cage. Because there's all kinds of things we wanted to do and we were in a very good place in our interpersonal relations that, at that time, we decided to take a break, have a hiatus, take a sabbatical.
RS: When did you realize it wasn't a sabbatical?
SC: I haven't.
RS: You said recently that you were interested in a reunion.
SC: I've been saying that for 13 years.
RS: What have Sting and Andy said about it?
SC: Neither of them has any problem with it, but we're all real busy. There's no actual discussion of what, when or how or anything like that... And I'm sort of "the Zen art of group reformation." Which is basically, I'm not doing anything - for the moment.
RS: If you were to never play another show with the Police, could you live with that?
SC: No, I'd have trouble with that, because I enjoy playing my drums. I recognize that my real contribution, what I really have the God-given talent to do, is bang those drums in a unique kind of way. So that gives me a feeling of responsibility - somebody gave me this talent, so I really should use it. But the other side of it, the more important side of it, is that I really enjoy it. I really enjoy playing with a good band and I really enjoy playing the drums on stage.
RS: In your heart of hearts, do you think you guys will play together as a band before you presumably get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in five years.
SC: My heart of hearts doesn't know.
RS: No idea?
SC: Like I say, I'm working on it - in a Zen fashion.
The following interview with Stewart Copeland appeared in the April 1990 issue of Modern Drummer magazine. William F. Miller talked to Stewart Copeland...
While preparing for this interview, I was able to find five different published stories on him. If you're interested in opera, there's plenty of information out there. However, if you want to find out about what one of the most influential drummers of the '80s has to say about drumming, forget it - it's not available.
Obviously Stewart's been up to quite a bit besides drumming since his landmark work with the Police. He wrote and performed several movie soundtracks, including those for Rumble Fish, Wall Street, and Talk Radio. He wrote music for The Equalizer television program, as well as the score for the San Francisco Ballet production of King Lear. That first attempt at high art led Stewart to his monumental work, his opera Holy Blood And Crescent Moon, which was premiered to sold-out audiences last October by the prestigious Cleveland Opera. (In fact, during my first interview with Stewart, he enthusiastically demonstrated the part he wrote for himself where he did battle on stage!)
Even with all of these tremendous accomplishments, to feature him in MD again meant that Stewart had to want to talk about drumming. Well, now with his new band Animal Logic, Stewart has begun to rethink his first love, and with that reflection has come a new interest and excitement in his playing. And having premiere bassist Stanley Clarke in the band also has Stewart pretty fired up about playing drums again. With Animal Logic, Stewart has entered into another phase of his brilliant career, and his drumming has never sounded better.
WFM: I once read a quote of Buddy Rich's, and I've heard other notable performers say, that great musicians have their own unique sound. You can identify them immediately by the way they play.
SC: I'd go along with that.
WFM: I'd say that you have a very identifiable sound. If one compares your drumming from your Police days with your current band, Animal Logic, it's very clear that that's you at the kit. What do you think are the key ingredients that make up your sound and style?
SC: That's the toughest question of all, because everything else about drumming you can learn. Everything else you can sit down and teach your muscles to do, and everything else about my drumming really anyone can do. But what you're talking about is the "x" factor, which I think all comes from an individual's personality. That's what gives a player a real identity. But the question is, how do you make yourself more interesting as a person. Perhaps travelling to Zambezi, or studying the music of Transylvania...to come up with your own sound, you have to immerse yourself in sources that not everyone else has access to or interest in.
WFM: You're talking about developing an individual style, but I'd like to know about the specific things that you want to hear in your own playing - things that you feel make up your sound.
SC: Oh, I don't approach it anything like that. There's no cognisant approach to any of that as far as I'm concerned. The only conscious approach I make is to get my muscles moving, using rudiments or whatever. The identity side, or I should say the character side to it is there without my having to think about it. That's something for other people to notice or not notice. I can't change the character of my playing, because that's my character. This is a question that not only drummers, but all musicians ask: "How do I stand out from the crowd?" It's particularly a problem for drummers because they don't get to play solos and because they have a very subservient role in the music, or I should say they are sometimes placed in a position of having a subservient role in the music. The only practical suggestion I can make to come up with a unique sound and approach is to go out and find different and obscure influences. Check out sources that few others have been exposed to. Otherwise, if you do nothing but study Steve Gadd, you'll sound like Steve Gadd. The thing to do is take some of Gadd, combine it with a little Serbo-Croatian stuff. That's how to make yourself and your playing more interesting.
WFM: How would you describe your sound?
SC: Well, describing the sound itself is simple. I just have my drums tuned high - not so high that they don't ring though. The sounds of drums are much different when the band is playing and when the band is not playing. Here's a useful tip for all your young, student readers: When you tune drums at a soundcheck without the band playing, for instance, they sound great when they're low - pitched, big, and fat sounding. I've seen guys even tuning their kits further down at that point because they think, "Yeah, that's happening." The minute the guitarist plugs in, the tom-toms disappear. The way to get drums to sound good with the band playing is to leave some of that ring on there - let the drums ring. That's crucial in giving the drums the type of things they need to cut through and have impact. Tensioning the skins up a bit also helps with the cut.
WFM: I'm beating this point into the ground, but I'm trying to get at what you think is your sound. When someone is listening to you, what do you want them to notice about your playing?
SC: This is a cliché, but it's really true: The effectiveness of a drummer is really measured in the effectiveness of the group, more so than any other instrument. A guitarist can sound great even if he or she is not focusing on the time. Most guitarists go outside of the groove when they solo - they can shine in other ways, while the rhythm section holds down a riff until the guitarist comes back. In the Police, Andy would get an MXR pedal in the back of his head if he turned his back on the groove too much; you could never turn your back in that band! (laughs.)
To my ears drums are an accompanying instrument. I know that I'm speaking in a drumming magazine, which is in existence to glorify drummers and drums, but really, it has to be recognised that drums are to accompany other instruments. Solos are of limited importance to the repertory. In fact, I've gotten where I've gotten without ever playing drum solos; I refuse to play them. That's how important drum solos are to having a career in music! I've got my own style, and you just told me how identifiable I am, and I've been able to make my mark without playing a drum solo.
All of my work has been as an accompanist, and that's how I've been effective. I don't think drummers realise that the total concentration and knowledge needed to be a good accompanist is far greater than being a great soloist. For example, when playing reggae, even more so than rock'n'roll, the actual rhythm that the drums play isn't all there is to it. A singer can sing rock 'n' roll with just drums - you'd kind of like to hear a guitar - but the rock'n'roll' rhythm would still be there without it. In reggae, it isn't there until you've got that upbeat on the guitar. So in that style the drums are only a part of the rhythm. The point is, you have to know that sort of thing; there's a lot to it.
WFM: Besides not soloing - and I guess this goes along with that thinking - you don't even get involved with longer fills. You seem to just play short little flourishes on the set.
SC: I think you can make a little go a long way when it comes to fills. I think what this all gets back to is making the music happen. As a drummer you shouldn't be thinking in terms of "How am I going to get the attention away from that singer standing in front of me?" That type of attitude isn't going to get you anywhere, except frustrated. It's an attitude I've seen a lot of sidemen have, which frankly is just jealousy. If you enjoy playing drums, just enjoy the sensation of playing drums. Don't expect to be the frontman of a group; it looks ridiculous. Take it for what it is and not for the star quality that it will bestow upon you.
WFM: I saw you give a drum clinic at the P.A.S. show in Los Angeles a few years ago. You came out and announced that you were going to sit down and play the most difficult and challenging thing you knew how to do on the drums, something that requires all of your concentration. Then you sat down and played a powerful, straight rock groove for a couple of minutes without varying it much. I think that made a strong point.
SC: Well, grooving, for lack of a better term, is really at the essence of my playing. If you can make it feel good, really good, you don't have to worry about how long the fills are or how fast your hands are. Something else to keep in mind is when you narrow a drum pattern, where you don't vary it for long stretches of time, when you do play a simple fill, it sounds great - better than if you're filling all over the place. To my ears, lots of fills water down the impact you can have on the music. The little flourishes end up speaking louder than a lot of notes played all the time.
I'm sounding like a lead singer or guitarist lecturing to a drummer. I've got an ego as big as anyone else's, and I'm just as determined to get my name in headlines and in lights, but the things I'm talking about are central to drumming. I'm a wise old dog now. I used to be a punk rocker, but now I'm an opera composer. (laughs) No, wait a minute. I take it all back. What you should really do is step on that singer any time he even comes into the rehearsal room! That's the first thing. Lead guitarists respond best to the boot - kick 'em ! Singers are usually little wimps that all you have to do is yell at to keep them in line. (laughs)
WFM: Well, now that you've alienated guitarists and singers, let's talk about your new band. Animal Logic is the first chance a lot of people have had to hear your playing in quite a long time. Do you think there have been any changes in your drumming over the years?
SC: Yes, there have been. On record, the work that I've done as a composer has had a profound effect on my playing in the studio. On the new record I've probably gone a little bit too far into the producers role. Looking back on it, I had the opportunity to really let it rip with Stanley (Clarke), but we held back a little bit. I say that mainly because that record was recorded before Stanley and I had gottan a chance to really get to know each other musically on-stage with these songs. It's a pity that some of the excitement we have live didn't actually get onto the record. The record is a bit more tame than we are on stage.
The drumming on the new record is really shaped around the compositions. It's very effective, I think. I'm fond of saying that my best drumming is on Every Breath You Take, just because it's solid. That's what I was going for on the new record. So in answer to your question, I think my playing has changed in some ways more in the studio than on stage.
WFM: What would you say are the new types of things you were doing drum-wise in the studio?
SC: I would say that the things that are new are my organisation of the instruments. That's where I made the most progress in my playing. By the way, I haven't played much since my Police days. My drums have been gathering dust.
WFM: Oh, really. I was going to ask you if you kept up with your playing. I don't think of you as the type of drummer who practices all that much. You seem to have a more natural approach, not practised - not full of worked-out licks.
SC: Well, early on I did a lot of practising. From the age of 12 I started on the rudiments. I had a very orthodox drumming upbringing. I didn't have that with harmony and music theory training - I'm getting into all of that now - but as far as drumming goes, I had teachers all the way along the line. I learned the correct, or I should say the "orthodox" approach to the instrument. I think that background has stood me in good stead, because those techniques, which have been arrived at over generations of drummers, have shown me easier ways of getting to the drums, easier ways of manipulating the sticks to get to the tom-toms, to get to the cymbals, and so on. That's just technique. And that has made it possible for me to follow my instincts, since my hands work correctly and efficiently. I don't have to think about it when I'm playing. I can just let it flow out of me.
WFM: Are these the types of things that stay with you, even over a long break in your playing?
SC:No, I need to work them back up after a break. It takes a certain amount of work to get the muscles in shape again, but since I had that training I know what to do to make it happen. As far as preparing for a tour let's say starting cold, it takes about two weeks in rehearsal and then about four or five gigs before all of the stiffness goes away. After that things happen with a lot more ease.
WFM: I read a quote of yours where you said that during a long tour you start to get very strong, and your playing gets better and better, which can be the opposite for some players out on the road.
SC: It's a great feeling. During a tour I feel like I can leap tall buildings. (laughs)
WFM: Since there have been long breaks in your playing schedule, is it tough for you to stay in shape, and is it that much tougher getting it back?
SC: I do like to keep active, and if I don't, with my quick metabolism, my muscles lose their tone very quickly. The polo season ended a month ago, and I've noticed a change in my musculature.
WFM: How did Animal Logic come together?
SC: Stanley and I have known each other for a while now. We've jammed on-stage with each other over the years, and we always tinkered with the idea of creating an amazing band with us as the rhythm section. Since both of us have made so many experimental, exploratory albums, we felt that we should face the challenge of the marketplace, which is actually a more serious challenge for musicians like us than making experimental music. It's actually very easy, and it takes no discipline, to go in the studio and just follow your instincts and be creative. I love doing that and I will continue to do that type of work in the future. But trying to get something together that will actually make it onto the airwaves is a much bigger challenge for me. We said to ourselves, "Okay, these are the parameters: two-and-a-half-minute songs, they have to have a hook, they have to have a certain form, etc." That, to me, is a much tougher challenge than just going into the studio and letting it all hang out. So that's the format of the group. It's a pop group. We figure we're so talented, and so groovy, that we can still shine as musicians within the context of these rather tight parameters. So to do all of this we needed a singer/songwriter. We searched high and low, listening to hundreds of cassettes, listening to groups, listening to word of mouth, and eventually we found Deborah Holland.
WFM: What's her background?
SC: She has no background. She's a piano teacher. However, her songs are very effective. Deborah is exactly what Stanley and I needed, in that she is very mainstream; thinking in terms of pop tunes and arrangements is very natural for her, unlike for Stanley and myself. It's a challenge for Stanley and me to say, "Right, we're going to go straight and narrow - none of this weird shit." Deborah thinks in terms of simpler, pop progressions and hooks, and that's tough to do. What's perfect about this situation is that Deborah can bring in something that is very straight, and we can pull it a bit into the "weird zone," rather than us weirdo's trying to force ourselves into the mainstream.
WFM: Was that something that you did before in the Police - taking Sting's pop songs and making them unique, making them different?
SC: Actually, no. It was an entirely different approach back then. We had a much different objective. We just wanted to piss people off. We didn't try to be weird or unique, we just played the way we played, and came up with ideas that just happened to be different from everybody else. We didn't set out to write pop music, like Animal Logic has.
WFM: It sounds as though a lot of thought and planning went into this new band. How long has Animal Logic been together?
SC: A couple of years, as a matter of fact. We've taken a very long time to get to the marketplace because of, among other things, our extracurricular activities. For me, I've been busy with things like film scoring and writing an opera. By the way, I think this opera has taken about two-thirds of my creative energy, and I've had to make a living with what's left.
WFM: Has Animal Logic had a chance to really see what it can do on stage?
SC: Well, we have done a bit of live playing now. In fact, our audition for Debby was a tour in Brazil. We found the tape with Deborah's songs on it about the same time Stanley was putting together his annual tour of Brazil. He said to me, "Why don't we go down there and check out this girl?" We decided to do it, but we needed a guitarist. I happened to have had lunch with Andy (Summers) that day, and he was wanting to get on-stage and just do some playing. So the first time we all performed together was down in Brazil - Stanley, Andy, Debby, and me. We played down there for a couple of weeks and had a blast, so when we came back we decided to carry on with this project.
WFM: I heard about that tour with Andy, and I was wondering it he was going to be in the band, but I never heard his name mentioned in conjunction with Animal Logic again.
SC: Andy just did that tour. It really wouldn't have made sense for Andy and I to continue working together outside of the Police. It just wouldn't have looked right. I have a lot of respect for Andy. It's just that, as tar as doing anything serious with him, it should really be Sting, Andy, and I, as far as that musical concept goes.
WFM: Talking about the Police, that was an all-male band that played, in general, aggressive pop music. Have you found that playing in Animal Logic, with a female front person in the band, has changed your approach to how you play?
SC: It should, but it hasn't.
WFM: I know my question sounds very sexist...
SC: I know what you're saying, though. She's a delicate female and I'm known for the "big-macho" Police image that the band had. I would think that playing behind a female singer would affect the way I play, but I'm afraid it hasn't. I still pound away at the drums.
WFM: How was recording an album with a new band, and when was it completed?
SC: Well, I know when we finished it, which was way back in August of '88.
WFM: Why did it take so long to get the album released?
SC: That's a good question. It was very difficult for us to get a record deal. One reason why it was difficult was because Stanley and I didn't want to sign a record contract. It had to be a contract that wouldn't sign us up for a five-album, six-year deal, which is the type of deal that labels were interested in having us sign. But I can't be signed to a label; I have to be a free agent so I can do a film score for Columbia, a record date with somebody else, and so on. I just can't be signed to a record company as an individual. So that made it very difficult for a record company to, as they say, bite the bullet and pay the bill. Stanley was in the same position. He's actually signed to CBS, but obviously we can't just give the group to CBS or A&M, my previous label, just because they're the label we've dealt with in the past. It's very important for the right label to work with us. So basically, what made it so difficult to get signed was that we demanded a big commitment from the record company, but we were unable to make a big commitment ourselves. This is a very difficult equation.
WFM: I can imagine. The way you're talking, it doesn't sound as if the band members are completely behind the group. Is the band going to be around for a while?
SC: I think so. We certainly haven't gotten bored with the creative resources of the group. It was difficult last year, actually, to keep it going without being in the marketplace with a product out there. It's been tough for band morale. We all know why it's taken so long, but it's still very tough. When we do play out, the band morale rises dramatically. For instance, we went on tour in Europe, and it was great. Then we did some dates in California. However, in between those gigs there were long lapses of time, while I scored two films and finished staging my opera. I could foresee the band continuing like that for a very long time, because that would give each of us the freedom we need to pursue other things.
In the Police, it got to the point where it was very difficult to do anything outside of the group; that's why we broke up. Anything that we wanted to do outside the group distracted from the corporation that had built up around the band. With Animal Logic, there is no such corporation. When we come together we'll play, and we won't have to meet a certain production schedule.
WFM: Even though it was a while back now, how did you go about recording the Animal Logic album ? Was it a very difficult process with new musicians coming together?
SC: The way we put it together was interesting. Debby came over to England, and we fed all of the chords and melodies to her songs into a Fairlight. I started screwing around with them, making up arrangements and so on. We took those songs into the studio, and the Fairlight became our click track and reference guide. We then ended up replacing most of the Fairlight sounds with live sounds. Even though there's not a guitarist in the band, per se, we used a guitarist in the studio. The poor guy came in with this big rack of stuff, and I didn't let him play guitar until I got about five or six hours of banjo out of him. He hated it. (laughs) I really liked the sound of the banjo on a few of the tracks, so we incorporated it into the songs. A lot of it ended up lost in the mix, but it added a nice touch to the record.
WFM: When recording the new album, did you find that you had any particularly challenging moments from a drumming point of view?
SC: Actually, the drums were very easy to do for this album. The first thing we did was with the Fairlight, so it made it very easy for me to play my drum parts along to it. However, I'm not sure if that was the best way to do the album overall.
WFM: So what you're saying is that most of the parts that were going to be on the album were there when you recorded the drum parts?
SC: Yeah. The bass lines, the guitar parts, the keyboard and horn parts, everything.
WFM: I would imagine that would make it great for your performances because you would know what to play where and have something a bit more stimulating to play along to besides a boring click track.
SC: That's true. It made it great for the solidity and simplicity of my drumming because I could hear the whole song, rather than just playing by myself or with a bass player. Also, if I screwed up my part, the Fairlight would play exactly what it had before with the same effervescent enthusiasm that it had on the very first take. So, that kept me inspired and took a lot of the pressure off, as opposed to when you are recording with an entire band and they don't want to hear any mistakes from you. They want to get it right and get out of there! However, that pressure is not always a bad thing to have, and the advantage to working that way is that you get a genuine dialogue between the instruments. I mean, there was not a dialogue between Stanley and me in the studio the way there is on stage.
In a way, we made the record too early. The dialogue that we as a band have established on stage is far superior to the one-way dialogue on the record. By the time Stanley recorded his bass parts, he was playing to my drum parts, and I had recorded the drums to my own bass lines that I had written into the Fairlight. So in essence, he was playing to a drummer who had played to a different bass player, namely me! And that's not ideal. Stanley did very well at it, though. He actually managed to shine in his own particular way.
WFM: I would think that your playing would be better with live musicians, especially since you have such a wild, somewhat unpredictable style.
SC: But the Fairlight was great because I knew exactly what it was doing, so I could work around it the way I wanted to. Since I programmed the parts, I was completely familiar with the nuances of the arrangements, so it did have some advantages. Back with the Police, there were the occasional beats that didn't match up with what the top line was doing musically. This happened because I had a different idea as to how the song was going to end up, or we changed our minds as to how we wanted the song to go.
WFM: Were you using click tracks in those days?
WFM: Was that a problem for you?
SC: It was a problem, but I was able to overcome it. The problem is, when you use a click track, a Fairlight, a sequencer, or whatever it is that's playing half of the parts it's always right on the money, and real drums never are, no matter who is playing. So when the live drums are recorded, they always sound sloppy, like they're dragging the track a little bit - as if the precision has gone out of the track. However, once you replace the rest of the sequenced parts with live instruments, then the drums become the fulcrum, and it grooves again. The more of the sequenced parts that are replaced, the more it grooves. If you stop halfway, where, for instance, only the drums are live, there's a difference of feel.
To give an example of this, when I'm playing along to a Fairlight, when it comes to the chorus section of a song, the Fairlight seems to be slowing down, because my natural inclination is to take the song up a bit. It might be only minuscule, but measured against a machine the differences are there. Those types of emotional pushes and pulls are something a drummer really has to concentrate on to be able to stay as close to the click as possible.
WFM: There's a song on the record called "I Still Feel For You." On that particular tune it has what I call a 'Ringo beat' because the feel is somewhere between a straight-8th note feel and a swing feel. How do you play a groove like that along to a strict sequenced part?
SC: To me, that type of groove isn't in between straight and swing, it varies between the two. At least that's the way I play it. I don't think of it as something in between; I've experimented with that in my time playing, and that's not the formula for playing it. The formula is going back and forth, playing straight 8ths for a while and then switching into the triplet feel.
WFM: How involved were you with the writing of the tunes on the album?
SC: I wasn't involved in the writing at all. The songs are all Deborah's. The basics of the arrangements are mine. Stanley then came in with his superior knowledge of harmony and really thickened up and enriched the sounds of the tunes. I suppose the rhythmic arrangements are mine.
WFM: I was wondering how much input you had in the grooves, because there are some quirky little things there that I imagined you would have come up with.
SC: Well, my main contribution was in the rhythmic arrangements of all of the instruments, not just drums. I sat in the studio with the guitarist and sang the rhythms to him that I wanted to hear. I'm a frustrated guitarist as it is, but I knew what I wanted to hear rhythmically from the guitar. As far as the material itself, I think it's all very commercial material - we succeeded at that - but what we will have to over come is the fact that people looking for pop music won't turn to this record as a source. The people who will check this record out will probably be expecting an uninterrupted barrage of bass and drums. (laughs) So there is that problem that we will have to overcome.
WFM: On the new album, how much time did you spend experimenting with the drum parts to see what worked best?
SC: Not a lot really. I don't spend a lot of time screwing around trying to make something work. I like to come up with an idea, execute the idea, and move on to another project. If it doesn't work, then forget it and move on. Any of the ideas that you hear in any of my music are arrived at very quickly example or somebody who works exactly opposite to the way I do is Peter Gabriel. He really distils and refines and reworks everything he does. He achieves great results that way, but it's just a different modus operandi.
WFM: Speaking of Peter Gabriel, one of the few times I've seen your name on another artist's recording was on his So album. I guess you're not into session work?
SC: I'm a lousy session player. I could never remember the material. My main contribution is in arranging and producing. On stage I just do it. But in the studio, there isn't the energy to fire my blood, and I get tired of the drummers role and don't perform that well. Also, I'm always out of shape drum-wise. Even back when we would record Police albums we would have to go back and practice for about a week just to get all of our muscles to work right. As far as how the Gabriel thing came about, Peter called me up because we don't live far from each other in England, and we do mix socially anyway, so he wasn't calling a stranger. I went down there for a week and just played and did some stuff, but I wasn't in that good of shape. I didn't have the mental discipline to remember the whole arrangement, and hey, he wasn't paying me! (laughs) So I didn't have a professional attitude on that one. I was just fooling around, but for some reason he was kind enough to give me a credit on his album.
WFM: Getting back to the Animal Logic album, why did you decide to bring in outside musicians like L. Shankar and Freddie Hubbard?
SC: We wanted some strange and exotic sounds on the record. Once again, with Shankar we should have used more of the stuff he recorded. We did that with a lot of the parts. I think when we got into the mixing stage it was, "Uh oh, we've gone over the edge. It's too weird and we've got to pull it back." We might have pulled it back a little too far.
WFM: Are you happy with the end result, though?
SC: Yes, but I'm looking forward to the next album. I want to get more of the atmosphere that we create together on stage. I think we might have been a little bit too strict with ourselves on this last record.
WFM: Is the material that the band performs satisfying to you to play from a drumming standpoint?
SC: Oh yeah, very much. The music's good, and on top of that Stanley is great fun to work with. Many drummers would probably find him too busy or find his bass lines too complex to get a handle on, and it did take me a while to get to know his vocabulary, or at least a part of his vocabulary. It took me a while to internalise his instincts, which is really what a rhythm section is all about. We've got that together now; we have that instinctual contact with each other, so now when he goes way out there I know where he's at. That took a while to arrive at, because Stanley is so complex and because I'd been so used to working with the same bass player for years; Sting is still a part of my bloodstream. When I write bass lines, I'm still writing from the context of how he played the bass. That for me is the definitive role of the bass. But Stanley has taught me that there are other philosophies of bass playing, and it took a while for me to learn that. After we played through our first tour together, Stanley and I had really evolved as a rhythm section.
WFM: How did Stanley's concept of bass playing change the way you play drums, compared to how you used to work with Sting?
SC: Now we're getting into musical nuances that are difficult to articulate. I don't think that I've become a less busy player, though one might think I would have to hold it together more. I would say I'm as busy as I ever was, but just in different places. In certain places I really have to keep it straight and lay it down because Stanley may be out there and in other circumstances I can fly further because he understands where I'm going when I'm out there.
WFM: Animal Logic has been playing many small clubs, like you did back in the early days of the Police. How does it feel to be back in that situation?
SC: It's no big deal, really. The soundchecks are just as effective, the monitors are just as good, the rapport with the audience is just as good; there really isn't that much of a difference. Actually though, I do feel a bit more nervous performing in a smaller club. When you walk on stage in a stadium, you're God before you even start. In a club you have to prove yourself, but that's kind of where my head is at with this band. We want to prove ourselves.
WFM: Do you find that you get nervous before you perform?
SC: No, I think the point when my playing really took off, or I should say when my playing really improved, was the point when I conquered "nervosity." Here's some more useful advice for your young student readers: Before you go on stage, you have to warm up your hands. You've got to get blood into your hands into your muscles before you begin - not by getting nervous and pacing the walls, but by manipulating those muscles so that when you get on that stage your hands, fingers, wrists, and arms are ready to perform. That's just a physical thing. Mentally, it's just the opposite. The more relaxed you can be before and during a performance, the more power you'll get out of your instrument. I've really found that to be a clear-cut trick to achieving better results on stage. Things like reading a book or just casually playing through the rudiments are helpful to me before I go on. But whatever you do, absolute relaxation is the key. When you come out on stage you should walk out there like you're walking through your living room. "Hi folks, anybody out there, so what." Then count off the song.
WFM: Wouldn't you say that a lot of relaxation comes down to being confident?
SC: Yes, in that regard let me say the following: You have to keep in mind on stage that there is no catastrophe that can ruin your show. In fact, the worst catastrophe can help your show. For instance: Madison Square Garden, it's the Police's first time headlining in a big arena. We had made the big jump from playing colleges and so on, and there we were at our first arena date. We had a lot of worries: Could we sell out the Garden? We sold out in a few hours. Would we be able to communicate with the audience from that big stage like the real big bands ? Who knows ? Now, this was a while ago, but these were some of the unknowns that we were concerned about.
So at the gig, during the performance, my bass drum skin broke ! Not a tom-tom that you can just lift off or turn over or a snare drum that you have a back-up for, but the bass drum ! They had to basically take the kit apart to get to the head and change it. I also had all kinds of electronics attached to it; that's probably the worst show-stopper of them all. Well, the roadies dove on that drum like bees. Meanwhile, Sting told a few jokes, Andy and I did a little dance on the front of the stage, we did a running commentary on how the skin was being replaced. We kept the audience focused on us, so that when it was all over and we kicked in the next song, the place went berserk. So that catastrophe ended up helping us. And that was a good lesson, because it taught us that we could over-come anything live, even in a big arena. The attitude to have is, "Hey, my drum-head broke, so what ? So shoot me." If you handle it with confidence, nothing bad can happen to you out there.
WFM: Now that you're working with a whole new set of musicians, are you noticing areas in your playing that you would like to improve on?
SC: Well, yes. It's inevitable that when playing with my previous set of musicians I had to cover up their musical holes, and they would cover up mine. Playing with different musicians, things that I used to be able to count on I can't count on, so I have to cover for it myself. Suddenly, now there are flaws in my playing that are painfully exposed because my good mate Andy isn't there to cover for me. I can't think of anything specific at this point, but it's something I notice while I'm playing that I will have to concentrate more on.
WFM: In every interview with you I've ever read, the topic of your Middle Eastern up- bringing and how it affected your playing is discussed. I was wondering if you felt that any of the English or American rock'n'roll traditions, like the Stones or the Beatles, had any effect on your playing?
SC: Oh yeah, just like everyone else. It wasn't until many years later that I developed a respect for Ringo and Charlie, who I have a very profound respect for today. But when I was a baby drummer, and I wanted to hear drum solos, it was Sandy Nelson, Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell.
WFM: After seeing you live again with Animal Logic, I had forgotten how hard you play. I had also forgotten that you use traditional grip. I'm surprised that you never switched over to matched grip, because you seem to like to play at a certain intensity.
SC: Well, the whole point to using traditional grip is because it's the most efficient way to use your hand to hit a drum. You can hit 50 times harder with traditional grip than you can with matched. Matched gives you no power; you use only the muscles on the top of your forearm with matched instead of the big muscles on the bottom of your forearm with traditional. You can get a much stronger stroke that way.
WFM: There's a lot of people who might disagree with you on that.
SC: If you just look at the construction of the arm it's obvious. The whole point of technique anyway is to have the most efficient way of getting to the notes. I've found for me, traditional grip works the best.
WFM: I notice that your kit is set up in such a way that allows you to use traditional grip in a louder context. The snare and toms are horizontal and your stroke seems to work naturally on that set-up.
SC: That's right. You really do have to set up your kit according to your technique and your build. It pays to examine your kit carefully so that it works best for the way you play.
WFM: Speaking of your kit, have you changed your set-up much since your days with the Police?
SC:: No I haven't. The only thing that has changed is I'm using less technology live then I did before. The Police were playing close to three-hour performances, so I liked to use more of the electronic effects just to keep it interesting for the audience. In Animal Logic, our performances aren't nearly as long, so I can keep things interesting with just my basic kit.
WFM: I notice that you still use a good amount of cymbals, including splashes and all. Are you using the new Paiste Signature line?
SC: I have a set in England, but I'm not using them on the road. Paiste is selling so many of those cymbals they don't have enough left for their humble endorsees. So I want to keep them home safe. But I think they're just brilliant cymbals. They're a quantum leap ahead of any other cymbal out there. I hate to sound like advertising copy here, but Paiste has really landed on something special. Throughout the entire line they sound great.
WFM: I think your work with the Police influenced a lot of people to tune their snare drums up. It's to a point now where a lot of drummers are using piccolo snare drums to get that high sound. Have you thought about fooling around with a piccolo snare?
SC: Well, the reason I tune my snare drum so high is not just because I want a high-pitched sound. I mainly tune it up because I like the feel of the drum when I play it. It behaves better when the skin is tight. In fact, when I record, I use the electronics available to fatten up my snare sound so I can play the drum with the feel I like and still have a full sound. If I were to use a piccolo drum, I would still want to tune the drum high so that it would have the response I like. However, on a drum that narrow the pitch would be too high and thin. It would sound like a toothpick snapping. So I don't see the point in using piccolo drums. In fact, I think it would be better to get a deep drum and tune it way up, so that you could have the response and still have some body to the sound.
WFM: What types of things do you listen to for inspiration?
SC: I have been listening to Wagner quite a bit, but I suppose that's of no use to drummers - well, maybe no use technically, but maybe emotionally. But there are a lot of bands coming up today that I've been checking out that can really play. I come from a generation of musicians that didn't have a lot of chops. We came after the Ginger Bakers and the Billy Cobhams, and before the guys playing today. The groups coming up now, like these speed metal groups, have some serious chops. Whether or not you like the music, these kids can play. The guys in Megadeth have 50 times the chops of the guys in the Thompson Twins or U2. They could technically out-play most of the bands from my era. I think this is a good trend. At this point these newer groups are young and their music is not that intellectually inspiring - it's pretty much a libidinous exercise, which is something I can respond to (laughs) - but it works and the potential is there.
WFM: The video you have out now for the single, "Spy In The House Of Love" has you playing an old set of drums. Tell me about it.
SC: I'm not really a big collector of old drums, but I do have a few old things that I think are interesting. Not all of the drums in the video are my own. But I thought the old drums worked well for the look of the video we were trying to achieve.
WFM: With all of the different projects that you always seem to get involved with, what's coming up in the future?
SC: Animal Logic is going to be my main project now. We'll be touring throughout the spring and then from there, who knows?
The following interview with Stewart Copeland appeared in an October 1980 issue of Musicians Only. The author was Chris Welch.
There's nobody between us and the Beatles now!' An ecstatic Stewart Copeland, surveying the battlefield of rock is convinced that The Police are fast approaching Beatle status.
As their album Zenyatta Mondatta and single Don't Stand So Close To Me, top the charts within hours of release. The Police have consolidated the amazing success story of the past two years. And now fans are anxiously awaiting their unique charity show in a circus tent, at London's Oval Cricket ground, scheduled for next December. The Police have gained the widest ranging audience since Beatles days, from hysterical teenyboppers to serious music students. And they are thoroughly enjoying both success and adulation.
Stewart, their drummer, told Musicians Only at his West London home this week: "We've broken all existing records, attendance-wise and record-wise. In England we're almost too successful now. In America we appeal to an older audience the old sophistos who are really into the group. Every time we play New York, guys like Carlos Santana and Chick Corea turn up to see us. We're considered the hip revolutionaries! But in, England we're too successful to be hip anymore.
Copeland risks sounding cynical and conceited. But his opinions are delivered with a disarming mix of tongue in cheek humour and enthusiasm. He's unnervingly sharp and quick witted. As an American raised in Beirut, he could speak Arabic before he could speak English. His interests range from the mechanics of the pop industry to Middle East politics, from making his own movies to building his own recording studio.
"I'm restless," says Stewart. "I have to be doing something the whole time. The only problem I have in life at the moment is finding the inspiration to write more songs. I guess you need to be hungry to write good songs, and The Police aren't hungry any more!"
It was a bleary eyed Stewart who greeted me at his front door on a sunny midday. "I've just got up - how did you guess?" But numerous cups of coffee and cigarettes revived him and soon the Copeland dynamic drive was shifting into gear, as we talked and roamed around his small terraced house which a previous architect-owner had cunningly enlarged by tinkering with walls and split levels. He'd even dug out a basement, ideal for Stewart's own recording studio, where he spends hours building up tracks featuring himself on drums, bass and keyboards.
Copeland's eyes bore right through you as he delivers his views with rapid, unblinking force. Then he'll pause, to test that this guest is taking it all in and hasn't lapsed into daydreams or lost the thread. He'd make an excellent anchor man on Panorama or News Night and you could imagine him armed with maps putting Complex economic and military situations into perspective.
But he's just as happy to talk about more mundane matters like the way the new Police album was put together, how his drumming style has developed and the personality problems affecting the group - their aren't any.
"No, we don't hate each other yet," says Stewart with a smile. But he revealed that within the ranks of The Police, powerful forces were at work, bringing out the best in each of them, as they ensured that each was pulling his weight. Anybody who slacked off or opted for the easy ride was just as liable to get squashed as any member who pushed his views too hard.
Stewart admitted that getting two number one hit albums in a row posed the problem that if they didn't get another instant smash next time they would be considered to be on the way down. "It isn't a pressure because it's all good news. When it gets to number one, it's a release of pressure. But it sets a precedent and means the next one must get there too. As far as my own self esteem is concerned it doesn't really matter all that much."
Stewart explained that they had a month in the Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum to record the album. "We finished the album at four in the morning, and later the same day we played the first gig of our last tour. Which gives you an idea of how fine we cut it."
Did they record in Holland to get away from interruptions and phone calls, as Genesis producer David Hentschel recently suggested?
"Well that's a wonderful reason. That's the only reason. No, there are lots of good studios in Britain but it doesn't make financial sense to record here. Even working abroad can lead to trouble." Explained Stewart: "When the tape came back into England it was in the boot of the roadies' car, in with a lot of other stuff. The customs saw the big two-inch tape with Police written all over it they said, Ah ha, you are trying to import this without declaring it. And it was just a piece of second-hand tape worth ten quid. But they said it was the new big selling Police album and slapped a value of thirty grand on it. But the fact is, it was just a piece of old tape. The quarter inch tape with the mix-down on it is worth the thirty grand or whatever and that was back in Holland. Anyway they reckoned it was illegal and slapped a huge fine and confiscated the tape. They were welcomed to it because we had finished with it anyway.
"But that's the sort of attitude that makes it impossible to work here, and why all the artists leave town. This is the country that generates all the talent. In my opinion it's the most important country, twenty times over America, as a source of talent. It's one of the things England does best and ought to nurture instead of discouraging legislatively. In Sweden for example, Abba are recognised as a major national industry."
The episode didn't hold up the album and A&M paid the fine. "But it was a way of getting us, and there's no reason why they should want to get us. I suppose it's a story they can tell their mates when they get home. Most of the time we get treated like royalty and the doors open for us, but sometimes you have a lot of fluster and extraneous bullshit. If you don't have a lot of signed albums and photographs to hand over to an official, he takes it personally, whereas he wouldn't give a shit if it was Dexy's Midnight Runners passing through." Stewart allowed himself a mildly malicious grin.
The new album has a remarkably 'clean' and sparse sound, with a beautifully nurtured drum and guitar presence, I observed. "Yeah, it doesn't have any of the heavy metal that I suppose was on the first two albums. But there are plenty of groups providing that already. There's not fuzzy guitar anywhere this time. The World Is Running Down for example started out as a heavy jazz number and then we Policeified it. We always do lots of overdubbing and employ the studio techniques to the fullest and there's a lot of cosmetic surgery on the tapes. We fill up the 24 tracks and more because we bounce down and by the end you could count up to forty or fifty tracks. But we don't use them all. By the mixing stage that's when we lose a few."
It seemed that the drum sound was particularly prominent and Stewart had no shame about this. "Well that's my usual contribution. You could set up a recording of me in the studio shouting "More snare drum". No I don't think the vocals are too far back. You can hear them okay. They are an important ingredient, I suppose. But a lot of bands forget that the drums are supposed to be loud. It's not just that the drummer gets some attention - the beat is really important. It doesn't have to be loud so much as there. Think of Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles. The drums were always positive and loud on their records."
I noticed that on some tracks Stewart stopped playing snare drums and just held the beat on bass drum and cymbals for a few bars. "I do that quite a bit because the back beat, which all drummers are brought up on, is important, unless you can provide another pulse which is understandable. It's easy to do. There are other things that will provide a pulse, a rhythmic hook to hang everything else on. The back beat has always done it in rock and roll up to now, but the watershed in drumming, which West Indian music has brought about means it's no longer so important. Alternatives have been discovered, such as bass drum four in the bar. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And instead of a back beat on two and four, a rimshot on three."
Stewart revealed that in the studio when putting down backing tracks he used a drum box but this was never used on the final product. "Sometimes Sting and Andy will put down some chords with a drum box playing. But we don't keep it in because it always sounds like a drum box. I'd rather duplicate it myself. Another of our favourite techniques, like on Message In A Bottle, is to record the song four or five times in a row without any kind of form. Just verse, chorus, middle eight - playing the different segments of the song in random order for twenty minutes and kind of build up a momentum. That way you don't think "This is the take." You can try a few things and when you've got twenty minutes down, get out the scissors and chop it all down. It's cheating, but then we're making records. On stage we can't do that and that's when we have to show we can actually play. And the general opinion is we are much better on stage than in the studio. So I suppose that means we can actually play the instruments."
One curious aspect of the Zenyatta material was the number of fade-outs employed at the end of virtually every number. Stewart was refreshingly frank about this. Most musicians tend to get defensively hostile or outraged if you even hint at some flaw or imperfection in their genius.
"We often record ten tracks and find that there isn't a single number with an ending. We all scratch our heads and try and think of some endings. So somebody makes a cup of tea, we change the subject and never get around to it. A fade is a good way out because the tune never finishes in your head. I don't mind fades. It's a kind of cop out I s'pose. But it's not serious. I think we can be forgiven for that. Some of the tunes you'll notice, like Canary In A Coal Mine and World Is Running Down run straight all the way through, without any fluctuation in the beat. The drum pattern could have been a tape loop."
Stewart says he can get off on playing a 4/4 beat for hours and does a lot of it on the road. It's something that requires more practice than rolling round the kit. That's just icing on the cake. You have to keep the beat and keep your ear s tuned. You have to lock in to a beat, dum-cha, dum-dum-cha," says Stewart began to vocalise a ferociously solid beat. The boy undoubtedly has rhythm. "I can play that for hours," he said, recovering. "But speeding up and slowing down are weaknesses of mine." I was surprised at this revelation from a drum master.
"I suppose most drummers suffer from it, but I worry less about it. A lot of our tracks speed up and slow down, which makes the later editing stage more difficult. I usually speed up. Well it's organic innit," he said slipping in to his West London accent. The echo gadgets I use on stage have done a lot towards improving my consistency of tempo. But if I get excited, I tend to speed up."
Stewart denied that he used any overdubbing on his tricky closed hi-hat patterns on his album, although he had in the past, causing problems for those drummers who have tried to copy Police arrangements. "I heard an album in a series called something like Top of The Pops where they hired session musicians to play all the current hits. I donÕt know how they made it cheaper that way but they only have to pay session fees and publishing royalties. Their Message In A Bottle is really a killer because all of the drum fills are totally random, and there is this drummer who has learned them all studiously and they're all present and correct. The poor guy, it must have been hard for him to work out the meaning of all those noises, crashes and bangs. 'Cos I do a few percussion overdubs on our records. If there isn't enough bang when a verse goes into the chorus, I'll overdub cymbal and bass drum and go "kerrrash," at the beginning of the chorus."
Stewart uses syndrums, two digital echo machines, claptraps, and as he says, "almost as many knobs and gadgets and flashing lights as Andy. I don't use the syndrums in the normal way. I use it on the bass drum, tuned so it goes 'bow'. A kind of electronic enhancement of the bass drum sound. Also in long jams, I've been known to make sci-fi noises with it. Through the echo it sounds pretty neat. I've now got repeat hold; which I used on the last tour and means the drums literally go into auto-pilot. I can jump off the kit and run around the stage holding the claptrap to get synthetic clapping, while the drums are automatically pounding through the PA. It's a great pose. And it's dynamite to be able to run around halfway through the set and stretch my legs and see what the audience looks like from close up. I've been on stage four years now and never been closer than five feet. I can shake a few hands and kiss a few babies.
How were The Police standing up to the work load, which included their remarkable world tour to Egypt and India, and the success rate? "Pretty well. We moan about being away from home so much but that's part of being any band. At least we can afford telephone calls home. But we're bearing up pretty well. Morale is high and we're not hating each other yet. We've got the Oval concert coming up soon. It was suggested when we were at Milton Keynes by Harold Pendleton. We had already wanted to do a show in a tent even though it's going to be in December. So we'll do a show at the Oval in a great big heated tent."
Why a tent for God's sake?
"Because other venues in London are just not Éadequate. I've never really enjoyed a concert at Wembley. Even when Stevie Wonder played there. But you can get a really good sound in a tent. We did some in France. The first gig Sting and I ever did with Andy was in a tent, in a band called Strontium 90 - another one of our scams. That was in the early days when we perniciously sold our musical talents in return for transportation to France. Strontium 90 was really a Gong reunion. They had all the different line ups of Gong, and the spin-off groups which included us, patched together for the show. While we were there with our equipment we did five or six Police gigs as well and then used the plane tickets they'd given us to get home. That's the story of The Police all the way down the line. It seems like a long time ago now but it actually isn't."
One problem The Police have learned to surmount is bad reviews and hostile criticism from the jealous and professional hatchet-persons. "We used to want to kill if we got a bad review but now we've got over that. It's all entertainment. I may hate what somebody says about me in the newspapers but it's all part of entertainment. The press is like a mirror and you don't always like what you see." Stewart disappeared towards the kitchen to make more coffee and we continued our conversation at a shout. Did Zenyatta Mondatta mean anything? I bellowed.
"It means everything," he yelled back. "It's the same explanation that applies to the last two. It doesn't have a specific meaning like "Police Brutality" or "Police Arrest", or anything predictable like that. Being vague it says a lot more. You can interpret it in a lot of different ways. It's not an attempt to be mysterious, just syllables that sound good together, like the sound of a melody that has no words at all has a meaning."
I suggested that Jomo Kenyatta might be good for their next project, and Stewart listed some of the rejected titles they had come up with. "Miles (Stewart's brother and group manager) came up with "Trimondo Blondomina". Very subtle. Geddit? Like three blondes and the world. Then somebody thought of "Caprido Von Renislam". That rolls off the tongue. It was the address of the studio. That lasted until next morning."
We descended into the basement to inspect Stewart's music room and recording studio. Tucked in the bay under the upstairs window was a small drum kit which he showed no inclination to play at such an unmusicianly hour of the day. His regular kit is a Tama outfit, which make he has been playing for several years. "Tama are really innovative as far as design goes, and expanding the whole instrument using synth drums and oddly shaped drums. They're still exploring the technology of drums whereas the other companies' drums are designed by retired jazz drummers who just didn't understand that today's drum set gets a lot more wear and tear. Tama are up to date and they sound better. I have really thick wood shells on my drums and some of them are 9-ply. I've got three of their kits. The first one they gave me way back in Curved Air days and the second one I bought because I needed a kit in America and it was cheaper to leave one there. The third one they gave me back in England. But if they were to cut me off, I'd still go out and buy a Tama set."
Stewart has his drums very tightly tuned and despairs of the tendency of most rock drummers to tune their toms very low. "You can't hear them, they just don't cut through. So I have mine tuned very tight and without the PA they sound like tin cans. But with the PA you can fake a lot of roll on bass and get a very fast response while they still sound heavy. That's what I like about Tama. They have a heavy sound on very small drums. I use three tom toms on the front and one on the floor. That's plenty. Some guys use eight, but there just isn't any difference. And I'm much too busy for any stuff like rolling round eight tom toms! You can get that effect just the same on four drums. Sandy Nelson used to do that all the time. Ginger Baker only had four and he was Mr Tom Tom. My snare drum I keep rock hard too. It's really easy for my roadie to tune my drums. He just tightens everything until his knuckles turn white. My roadie is Jeff Seitz and he's a really good drummer himself. All our roadies are good musicians and you get to a soundcheck and find them playing Message In A Bottle."
Stewart explained the working relationship between him, Andy and Sting. "We don't have to shout at each other but you have to have a good record of being right. If you are wrong then you've wasted everybody's time and you feel like a twit, and the other two definitely rub it in. So there's a lot of pressure to be right. On the other hand if any of us sits back and doesn't put in ideas, whether wrong or right, then they start getting hassled as being baggage. We definitely ride on each other, all the time.
"I'll turn up with songs, but Sting turns up with many more songs. On the last album I had three songs and Sting had ten. But for a start, I have trouble with words, because I'm not singing them myself, and I have a hard time putting myself into his shoes and trying to write a song which would mean something to him. I'm automatically in a false situation, unless I try and sing it myself and I personally don't like my own voice. I don't like the noise my larynx makes and I'm embarrassed. So I can't write songs for myself to sing. Besides, why should I sing when there's Sting around? But I participate on Sting's material."
Stewart has a 28 channel Allen & Heath Syncom desk and when he first set up his home studio he got hold of a load of second hand tape which included some stuff by Siouxsie & The Banshees. Bombs Away was written on a Siouxsie & The Banshees backing track. I changed the speed and did things to the EQ to change the drum pattern. So with the desk I can get my song playing, then press a switch and there's Siouxie singing away."
But these are just fun and games for Stewart in between the hard work of keeping Police out on the beat. "Younger and younger kids are coming to the gigs, but I don't think we're losing any of our older audience. It's funny, in America, the local versions of Julie Burchill hate the Cars, because they reckon that's where the Police should be at, whereas in England we're the ones too popular. There isn't any competition. A year ago it was us against Blondie and Elvis Costello. We were in the top thirty bands, along with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Now, as far as Europe is concerned, there isn't anybody between us and the Beatles. We've broken all existing records as far back as the Beatles, at this point, in terms of speed of record sales, the kind of hysteriaÉ There hasn't been such a clear lead for one group, ahead of all the rest. The last group who had a clear lead were Queen, but we're bigger now than Queen were then. We're probably bigger than Led Zeppelin too, because they never had any teen appeal or hysteria. I suppose the Bay City Rollers had hysteria, but they didn't have any music. The fact that we combine those two things, means we have pushed back as far as the Beatles. We'll never surpass them of course. They beat us to it!"
Stewart despairs of America in terms of bringing out new bands. "We're still the hot new band there, and it's three years since we first toured the States. Since then there has been the 2-Tone thing. But we're still their top new band."
He must be satisfied with life and feeling fulfilled. "In some respects. But success leads to dissatisfactions of a different kind. Sometimes the ideas don't come, and artistically, I'm suffering from a lack of hardship! Here I am in a beautiful house with a car and I can do whatever I want, but I can't because what I want is to write tunes, and that doesn't get any easier."