The Police, Still Playing by Their Rules - Stewart Copeland Discusses the Reunion, The Tour and His Rock-Out Face...
Interview Date: November 2007
Stewart Copeland was born in Alexandria but grew up around the globe - in Egypt, Lebanon, England and that crazy place called California. Eventually, Copeland toured the world as the drummer for the Police. The rock three-piece with jazz and reggae leanings formed in 1977 and became the biggest band in popular music before splintering in 1986. Now, 21 years (and one Puff Daddy remake of 'Every Breath You Take') later, the Police are back: Copeland, guitarist Andy Summers and superstar singer-bassist-lutenist-yogi Sting have reunited for a 30th anniversary tour, now on its second spin through the states. The tour stops tonight at the Verizon Center. We called Copeland, 55, to discuss.
Has the reunion been all that you'd hoped and dreamed?
Well, no. It's been a little more, actually - which is not that difficult, because I hadn't been doing a lot of hoping and dreaming. And amongst all of us, I was the big optimist.
Are you guys getting along?
Yeah, you called at a really unfortunate time. There are no current dramas to regale you with. We're pretty happy campers. But I must say, it is a constant struggle, because we're working out of our comfort zones. We're three different players forced to accommodate each other. Each of us, we have a certain kind of music, a certain level of response from whatever crowd we're after. But together, it's a whole other deal. The reason I'm better with the Police than I am on my own is those two SOBs make me do things I wouldn't do on my own. They force me into better shapes. That's not to say more comfortable shapes. But the response from the crowd makes it all worthwhile. It's what sustains us.
Not long before the tour was announced, you said that you were keen on getting back together with the band - but that the word "Police" gave Sting "the heebie-jeebies." What changed?
Sting is the king of pain. He loves it. And I guess he got to the point where he could think of nothing more painful than reuniting with Andy and me. (Laughs.)
The songs have changed some, too: You're using a lot of new arrangements on tour. Don't most fans just want to hear the hits as is?
This is the big debate. People who buy those tickets bring a lot of the show with them. When we look out at them, what we can see is it's not just that 'Roxanne' is a great song or that we're great players - it's also infused with 20 years of their lives. I think that emotional response is triggered by how much of an identical reproduction of the record you do. It's a question we struggle with, always. We err on the side of freshness and performance, because we can see they're digging it. But you have to find a balance. Some of the songs are almost the same, some are completely different, some are mostly the same but we might do a section differently. It's an ever-changing mix. I think we're the only band on this level that still does sound checks every night because we're still tinkering.
Over the past couple of decades, you've done movie soundtracks, ballet scores, video games - even an opera. Does anything come close to playing live in front of thousands of people?
It's a fairly unique experience. It's very intense. But it's not all euphoria, by the way. But it's something everyone should try.
When you're onstage, is there anything you can do to avoid making those weird drummer-rocking-out faces? It's especially dangerous when you're playing big venues with oversized screens showing close-ups of your face.
It's the central issue I've been dealing with. I've had hours and hours of therapy on this very point. In 40 years, I've made not enough progress in controlling what my children call "The Face." Because it affects my family life as well. Sitting in the living room, if I pick up a guitar and start playing, the kids harass me immediately because of "The Face" - which is a completely zomboid staring-off-into-space-while-your-ears-do-the-walking thing. I hate it.
You're not fond of drum solos. Don't you want the glory?
No, I get plenty of glory.
Why don't you do solos?
I just never got around to working one up. I don't really enjoy watching them that much. And it seems like a thankless task.
Your precise polyrhythms are the key to making the Police sound go. Where...
I will not dispute that.
Where'd you learn to play like that? Who were your influences?
It could be a combination of Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Rich and Ginger Baker plus growing up in a very alien, ethnic culture. I grew up on Arabic music. It's a particular kind of beat that gets ingrained in you. It's a different kind of foundation. So when I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix, I'm hearing it in that context.
Your father was in the CIA. Did you ever consider that as a career option?
The Police were the biggest band going in the 1980s. Then you broke up, and six months later we couldn't avoid Duran Duran. Don't you feel like you should issue a formal apology for that?
No. No. No! I'm sorry, I have to argue this point. We handed the keys to the kingdom not to Duran Duran, but to U2. At the end of the Amnesty International tour, I handed the drumsticks to Larry (Mullen, U2's drummer), Andy handed the guitar to Edge - carefully detuning it, by the way. The other guys were there, too. The kingdom was theirs. And now we want the keys back. So they're taking this year off, and we'll hand it back over when we're done, I guess.
Are you going to do a new Police album after the tour?
We're not planning on it.
If you did decide to record again, would you let Sting write the lyrics? Blender magazine recently named him the worst lyricist in the world.
Considering the rest of that list, it's not such a dishonor. It's like being at the top of Nixon's [expletive] list! It's a position of honor; I'm touched by it. My favorite part is that not only is one of my buddies Number 1, but another of my favorite buddies, Neil Peart, is Number 2.
Wow, you're having quite the year.
Yes. Yes, I am.