11.05.2009 - Rock'n'Roll Confidential: Mojo talks to Stewart Copeland...
You'd think Stewart Copeland might have taken a break after the Police reunion tour - 158 gigs, 921,000 paying customers, $297 million gross. But since their final Madison Square Garden show on August 7 last year, in addition to his TV and movie soundtrack "day job", he's written two more "classical" pieces and the two items for which he spent part of September in London - his autobiography, Strange Things Happen, and the score to the arena spectacular Ben Hur, premiered at the O2 a couple of days after our encounter (he is its The Narrator too).Copeland greets MOJO in his hotel. full of laughter and fulmination as ever, discoursing on the Middle East - where his father, Miles Sr, a CIA founder, conducted opaque ops while Stewart grew up - and the Republicans'folly in savaging Obama's health care reforms while dissing our wondrous NHS.
The book says you didn't play drums for 10 years after The Police broke up.
Yeah, my colleagues had convinced me I was a menace and a detriment and that I should fuckin' give it up.
It was even more unexpected that you started writing operas.
Classical music was always going through my head. Even when I listened to Hendrix I imagined strings around him. I was never into opera, though. I had a problem with the singers. That exaggerated vibrato. It obscures the melody. Then I saw Wagner, Parsifal, and I got it - over wrought dramatic subjects and overwrought dramatic music sobbing with emotion.When the opportunity to write one came, I thought, "There's nothing wrong with opera that a good opera wouldn't fix." [His debut for Cleveland Opera, was Holy Blood And The Crescent Moon, 1989, a Crusades epic.]
You feel comfortable standing alongside Puccini and Wagner? Absolutely. I prefer my music to Wagner's. Of course I do! slay myself. Always have. It may seem arrogant. It's not. It's rare to find a musician 'fess up to it, but it must be the natural order of things. ln my catalogue now I've got something for every mood. It hits the spot!
Turning to the reunion, the clash with Sting does seem to come down to musical differences.
We differ about what music is for. Polar opposite viewpoints. Sting is an artist with a capital 'A' who conceives a beautiful, perfect vision. As a film composer I'm totally in accord with working to the strict parameters of the director's vision. But the drummer guy's different.
Live, drumming is a visceral, animal expression and my job is to get everybody's hair standing on end, (shouts) "Fucking wake up! Burn the building down!" Well, at one of the dreaded band meetings Sting gets Andy lined up and they tell me I'm a liability, I'm screwing up. I say, "Excuse me, have you read a single fucking review? Nobody says I'm playing too loud, too fast, too much. In fact, I have been singled out for praise because of my energy. So fucking get off my back both of you, don't fucking tell me to stop doing what I'm here to do..." Band meetings withered away (laughs).
Did you resolve it between you?
Not until we had our showdown in Singapore [February 4, 2008, the 100th gig] when I was able to say, "Stingo, I am not your problem, you don't need to worry about whether I'm making too much noise, nobody else is worried about it. You may not like it, but that's because you think you're stuck with it. You're not. The end is near. But isn't this fun? Stop resisting it, stop trying to change me and mould me into something you can use. You can't use me because I'm fucking out of here! Don't worry!"
Did he stop worrying?
It took a while, but he did. And by the end of the tour I was proud of our band. When we played Hyde Park [June 29, 2008] I just felt we did it, we're from this city, these people made us what we are and we are one with them and this is it. Earlier in the tour I was not proud of our band, I thought we were faking it, that I could get a better groove with any bass player other than this motherfucker who's just not listening...
"This motherfucker who's just not listening"?
Of course, I'm telling my side and Sting had his own perfectly valid viewpoint,.. But finally we got over that: mistakes weren't mistakes, they were life. You know, I get excited when I reminisce, but actually I'm very happy about it all. We had to go through this and I love my two colleagues and I understand where they're coming from and there's not a trace of bitterness now. It was about what hadn't been said that I wished I'd said - I stopped playing drums for 10 years because I hadn't said it. So the glorious thing about the tour was it all got said.
Tell us something you've never told an interviewer before.
"I can't answer that question."
© Mojo by Phil Sutcliffe