Outlandish D'Tour - You reform after 20 years and you're ten times as big. What's not to like, says Andy Summers?
Interview Date: October 2007
For a man who a) entertained 55,000 people at Twickenham Stadium last night, and b) is old enough to have been in a band called Dantalian's Chariot (that's a faintly shocking 64), Andy Summers is looking, well, surprisingly like Andy Summers. After 23 years and 16 albums (one just out this summer) in the world of jazz and avant garde, he's clearly very much at home back in the belly of the rock beast, feet on the table of his suite at the Dorchester Hotel, minder next door, limo on standby. But then, tempting though it is to see The Police's reunion as Sting bestowing mercy on his junior partners, Summers is not a man with a confidence problem.
His years out of the spotlight have only confirmed what he knew: "If you haven't got it, you'll never really get it," he says, "and I have it." Fortunately, this also extends to the band. "It sounds fucking fantastic," he declares. "In fact, I'd like to hear any other band sound this good." The Police always were quite keen on being best, and now, incredibly, they appear to be bigger than ever, with this unlikely reunion tour taking on Rolling Stones proportions, rumbling on until at least next August. Summers, for one, is enjoying it.
Your memoir, One Train Later, made it clear that you felt there was unfinished business. Did you think this reunion would ever happen?
When I wrote that, I certainly didn't think we'd go on tour again. Though Sting says he'd never said never...
He said some ruder things than that.
Well, we've all said some ruder things - that's alright! But I gave up on the idea years before. I didn't want to think about it all that much because it's such a waste of emotional energy. I don't dwell in the past. I'm not weak, you know. I was being a musician, doing my own thing, which was one of the reasons it has worked.
Are you three getting on, then?
Well, yeah. I mean, it's not like on Day One we were all hugging and kissing. It was a bit rough at the beginning, we've had to work towards a nice balanced state. But it's hard to moan or bitch about anything in the face of such overwhelming success. It's one of the most successful tours of all time.
How do you keep it exciting?
Well, it's not like playing a Holiday Inn, you don't fall asleep. We're putting on a show - I don't just stand there idly going through the parts, I'm performing, throwing shapes. It's fantastic fun.
What part of the show do you enjoy the most?
One ofmyfavourites to play is 'Synchronicity II'. We do it second in the set and sometimes I think it's a bit weighty for people that early, but it's so dynamic it blows people away.
Which song gets the biggest reaction?
Maybe 'Roxanne' - the moment Sting opens his mouth, they sing the whole thing. Also 'Every Breath You Take', of course, and they love 'So Lonely', one of the simpler songs. But what's mindblowing is that we're playing one hit after the other. There probably aren't many bands that can do this.
Were you really unhappy the first time around, or is that just a convenient myth?
That's such a fucking myth. It's just like any group or any marriage, there are disagreements, but we don't hate each other. We're not dumb people - we recognise what's going on and what we are together. Sting's the singer, and singers always get the front spot. That's just the way it is, and
I could make more comments about it but it's probably not wise. We're all very fortunate to have known each other.
How have you adjusted to being in a band again?
Once we got back into rehearsing, I really enjoyed it. You know, sitting around with the guys, talking about songs, taking tea breaks the rock-band way of rehearsing. Most of my bands, we go on tour after only three hours' rehearsal. Rock bands, you rehearse for ever and ever and ever.
Are you saying you're slumming it?
Well, you could say that. But we didn't just go, "Let's play the record. How does it go?" There's a certain structure - those are the songs, what people are expecting to hear - but within most there are open areas that are improvised. In the old days, no one was supposed to play guitar solos, but now I'm playing them all over the place. The songs are all retooled. There's a couple of them where I think, "Fuck, I wish we'd come up with that at the time."
It must still seem extraordinary that groups can split up in the '80s playing arenas and reform 20 years later to find they're playing stadiums as they've acquired whole new generations of followers.
In our case I think it's just the power of what we did. It's an interesting thing to conjecture about - we did get off at that time and everyone went, "Fuck! Why did you stop?" I think we would probably have petered out by the mid-'90s, but it was a very ballsy thing to do and we left this nucleus of energy in the mythology of the band. And those songs are still there, and they're really great songs.
The press never seemed to like you much.
That's only over here, and the reviews have been very good. But it's so hard for them to give it away - they throw a bit of acid in there. It's incredible. I said to someone last night, "I'm glad the shows went well - you know, London," and she said, "Yeah, London's a cunt." I thought, "Well, that's one way of putting it."
Your solo album, First You Build A Cloud, is very different from all this.
Yes, it's a pretty nongeneric record - it's definitely not a jazz record and it's not a rock record. I made it with Ben Verdery, who's Professor of Guitar at Yale and probably one of the best classical guitarists in the world. We improvised it over a couple of afternoons. I found this sound using sustain and a reverb and a whammy bar and playing an octave higher, it's like a soprano singer with someone playing the accompaniment. It certainly doesn't sound like anyone else.
Will you record with The Police?
Dunno. Whether it's just a reunion tour or whether we're going to continue at this point is an open door. Who knows where it will go? As long as everybody's enjoying it and we're still getting on. Hang on, I need a pee. (From the corridor) I might be the one to get fed up with it this time...