Archive for June, 2007

Entry for June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007

Tom Dowd On Mingus And More

(In December 1997, I interviewed legendary engineer/producer Tom Dowd in regard to his work on Charles Mingus’s classic 1956 jazz album Pithecanthropus Erectus, then about to be reissued by Atlantic Records. Some fascinating first-hand accounting here–which, as you’ll read, was something he valued highly. Dowd died of emphysema in 2002. Check out Mark Moormann’s documentary on the man, 2003’s Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music if you have the opportunity. –dd)

What are one or two most memorable aspects about working with Mingus for you?

I think about the intensity that he had–and his deportment, when we were in the studio, when we were recording. That’s the first thing that strikes me. The second thing–and I do this in some lectures that I talk about–is that two of the times where I recorded him, the circumstances were so unusual, because earlier in the same day, on one of the occasions, I was doing the Coasters–and I don’t know if I was doing “Yakety Yak” or “Charlie Brown”–and then like 10 hours later I’m doing “Haitian Fight Song” (laughs), thinking, “What am I doing here?” The culture shock was ridiculous. And yet he was very serious. Any time that he was recorded, he was very, very serious–about the endeavor and the preparation.

Did he seem to know exactly what he wanted?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, when he came in [the musicians] were supposed to be fine-tuned–and if they weren’t fine-tuned, they’d watch him, and he’d give them verbatim instruction. He wandered around carrying the bass as he was playing it. Encouraging people, nodding to them or shaking them off or something.

Were these recordings that required a lot of retakes?

There were sections that were drilled in–and when the solos started, you were into another…He’d actually change personality from one portion of a composition to another, so that the ferocity of what he wanted in the composed, prepared sections was predetermined, as opposed to when they were playing solos–they’re going fine, you’re going in the right direction–you know what I’m saying?–but when it comes back around to getting in line or something, it would be hard. No, I don’t remember too many occasions where we went past two, maybe three takes at most.

Did he often seem to know the best as soon as it went down? How was that compared to other people you worked with?

I’ll be honest. It’s one of those things–I have always said I will never fight or argue taste. Something might have gone down and [producer] Nesuhi [Ertegun] or I would sit there and kind of look at each other, or Nesuhi might say. “Oh I think we can do it better than that.” Charles would either say, “Oh, OK,” run off and say, “Let’s go,” and we’d fly–or he’d say, “Let me hear, what’s wrong?” He’d come running in to hear what it was we were protesting. But for the most part, unless it was something really off the wall, he didn’t challenge our saying, “Can we try one more?” And if I said, “Hey, I blew it” or something–if we could not coerce him to try one more, than it would be my turn to be the bad guy, say, “Hey, I messed that up,” and that would be an excuse to get another performance.

How was your relationship with Nesuhi during the making of these sessions?

In those days, the format was that Nesuhi would sign an artist to the label, and go about the preparation of recording. In some instances, he would ask that I meet with the artist or go to a concert or something to become more familiar with what it was they were going to do. And then when it was time to record, he’d say, “OK, we’re going to record so and so next Thursday in the afternoon” or something, and I’d be prepared for it then. Sometimes Nesuhi would be punctual, and other times he might show up anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or two hours late–but know that were hell-bent going in the direction were supposed to go. Because there had been that much preparation, and there was that much accord among us–saying you do this, you do that and so forth.

As an engineer, how did you deal with the various “whoops” that theoretically were off-mic but really weren’t?

Well, you didn’t have too much choice. When I described Mingus walking around the room, the method that I employed to record him was to tie or tape a microphone to the tailpiece of his bass and have a cord on it. I had him fenced off from the obviously bad leakage problems that I would encounter, but he was free to walk around. And if he’d been playing and couldn’t catch somebody’s eye, or something was going that was adverse to what he expected, he would promptly just pick up the bass an start walking as he’s playing for where it was he wanted to get (laughs). Or if he couldn’t get there, he’d just plain yell.

In terms of his personality, how did he interact with the members of the group he assembled?

For the most part, the people that worked with him had a respect for what it was he was trying to do, and they would never argue with him about anything that he wrote. They might argue with him like, “I thought you meant this,” playing something, they’d get into–and now they’d get into taste, which as I say is endless. But most of the band members had a great deal of respect, and through rehearsals and seeing his temperament knew what to expect, so they were prepared for whatever
went down. There were no surprises. And I imagine that during rehearsals, he was just as headstrong and positive about what he wanted as he was during recording.

You’ve worked with literally the best musicians in the world for lengthy periods of time. Is there anyone from the many Mingus bands that struck you as particularly noteworthy, that stood out as being incredible–or even problematic, for that matter?

(pause) I couldn’t…in all sincerity, no. Let’s put it this way: If he was a film director, he’d cast his damn pictures well. That’s about the best way I could surmise. When he hired you to do the role, you’d better damn well do the role, or I’ll kill you!

In terms of the studios used–was there just one, or were there many?

Now here’s the strange thing. There is a reissue of Pithecanthropus Erectus and they have the wrong studio notated. And I can understand why. I was up in Atlantic back in April, May or June, and protested this and so forth, and they showed me the master book. And I realized that somebody translating some information, they did the natural intuitive thing, saying, oh if it was his name, then it has to be there and there and there. Pithecanthropus Erectus was done in the Atlantic studio, 234 W. 56th street. My assistant on that series of dates was a young man named Carl Lustig, whose brother Hall owned a studio called Audio-Video on 711 Fifth Avenue. And Hall and I had know each other for years, and Hall called me up one day and said, “Hey, my kid brother wants to get in the business and I figure you’re one of the guys he should learn from, can you take him on?” So I hired the young man and he worked with me for about two years before he then went to work for his brother. It was during that time that we did Pithecanthropus Erectus And when they see “Lustig,” they say, “Oh, it had to be at Audio-Video.” In a pig’s ear! I can understand the mistake, but when they transcribed some of the books and copied information from smaller books into bigger books and so forth, some people just didn’t put two and two together. And then when they had the fire that destroyed all the tapes, they had no record of anything on the boxes to designate where anything came from. So, boo-hoo. As I say, that album in particular was done in the Atlantic Studio that was an office and so forth. Depending on the instrumentation, what rooms we had to go to, because the Atlantic studio was limited at that time as to how many people that we could take.

How did your technique of recording stereo evolve during that five-year stretch?

Let’s put it this way. Starting in 1952, I made it a point to try to record any Atlantic jazz dates in two-track format. Nesuhi Ertegun became an advocate of that. I was introduced to it by a man named Emery Cook when we did an early Dixieland jazz album, and I because addicted. And the powers that be were not enthusiasts about two-track recording when it came to Joe Turner or LaVern Baker or Ruth Brown, but when I was doing other things, they didn’t really fancy which way I did it, as long as I got the doggone thing done. And so whenever possible, I’d record two-track. Now when Nesuhi came East, and he saw some of the things that we were doing, and the fact that I was recording on two-track, he insisted that all jazz dates be done in two-track. And by 1958, I had installed the first eight-track machine for Atlantic Records, so that everything we were recording was multi-track for the purpose of being able to remix. And that ensured in later years everything we ever did, being able to come out in stereo before stereo was invented. It’s backwards and silly, no one would every think of it that way, but that’s what did happen.

Did that horrible fire you brought up destroy all the multi-tracks but leave the stereo masters?

When that fire took place, every multi-track tape in Atlantic history and some of the early monos all vanished. (exhales) Everything prior to 1971 or 72. It went up in smoke. It’s a long story. I fought tooth and nail for like two or three years, and fought a losing battle. And when I came back from a recording trip, I went asking for some things that I could integrate some earlier things that I had recorded–and that’s how I found out they had a fire. And I cried. That was pitiful. And I was angry, what can I say?

Your estimate in terms of what might’ve vanished in that fire? A lot? A little?

Oh, a lot. A lot.

When you hear Mingus’s Atlantic stuff, does anything seem essentially different than his recordings for other labels?

Mingus was–musically, he was a cut above the rest in the sense of daring. And spirit-wise, and humanity-wise, he was light years ahead of what the society that existed was practicing. And not too many people took kindly to things he stood for or said or did. That didn’t make them right or wrong–he was there before they thought about it, and he was living in that tradition before it was the accepted norm. And whether it was in music or in presentation or in the political or social or racial standing, he was just light years ahead of everybody else. And too many times people took offense at the…if you were equating his music, you didn’t criticize him politically, but that was not the case, if you know what I mean. And if you took exception to this matter–he was always being cross-indexed instead of being taken at face. He would be, if he said something that was racially insensitive–not insensitive but ahead of the times–then his music was no good. Or if you said, “this music, who could understand it?” people would say, “That’s because he’s black.” I mean, he was never taken one-on-one.

Do you think that in all the accounts that have been written about Mingus, people have been missing some essential element about him that guys like you–who worked with him–know very well? Do you know wh
at I mean?

I understand exactly what you’re saying. Its an interesting observation and question, because I fight tooth and nail this day when there are a lot of people who are learned, who are enthusiasts, who have taken hours in libraries and listening to records and all–and decided how this happened or why this happened, etc. In a way, I have an empathy for them, but I object to the fact that they do not interrogate a Rudy Van Gelder, an Al Schmitt, a yours truly, an Orrin Keepnews, a Bill Traut, and find out what the hell went down. They are database, computer-fed people who do not, or have not lived the times or the circumstances, and that I resent. Strangely enough–and this is something that young people don’t grasp quickly–there’s a writer for the Washington Post by the name of Nat Hentoff–Nat was an ardent jazz enthusiast, and would sit in sessions and take notes and live and die jazz before he became a political writer. Nobody asks Nat Hentoff what he thought of this and that–and he lived it, he was there. He was going to the Chockful o’ Nuts and Horn & Hardarts with everyone else, you understand what I’m saying? And nobody–“Nat Hentoff, he’s a political writer, what the hell does he know?” What does he know? He was there, you jackass! You know what I’m saying? If you read your god-blessed [biography] and it says, he did this and he did that–yeah, ask Nat Hentoff, and he’ll tell you the day and whether it was raining or whether the sun was shining. That’s the man you want to ask. It’s funny, because I’m working on a book and I’ve had a number of people say, “Oh, you ought to get so and so to edit this” and so on. And I say, “When, where?” “Oh, well, he graduated from Yale in 1979” and this and that, and I think, he was teething on the goddamn 45s that we were making. And all due respect to–I don’t care what school he went to, he probably knows more about some things than I do, sincerely, and I would not challenge him, but I don’t want him casting opinion on something that I am doing from recall as opposed to something he read on the back of an album and then somebody made a comment in John Wilson’s column…forget that! I don’t resent any of it. But I do enjoy lecturing and talking about it.

Hey, an aside that will just wrap everything and put it in a nutshell: Last year, Ahmet Ertegun and I were invited to a surprise birthday party for a young man in Orlando. Florida. It was his 95th birthday. OK? Ahmet and I went back with this man 40 some-odd years, almost 50 years. His name is Jesse Stone. His other name was Charles Calhoun. If you look at big band arrangements and songs, he wrote the song called “Idaho,” which was a big band favorite back in the ’30s. If you get back into the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, “Money Honey,” “Honey Love,” “Mama Don’t Allow No Rock ‘N’ Roll Music ‘Round Here,” and a little thing called “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” OK? So the man has lived and died music longer than most people ever live! And when Ahmet and I both made silly jokes about him, this and that, everybody’s delighted, and Jesse got up, and he walks without assistance, he reads without glasses, he’s incredible, and Jesse Stone said, “It’s so nice to see all of you here. And I’ve got to tell you. They’re talking about old records and old times. I remember when the man came knocking on the door to my house, he came in and turned off the gas and put in the electricity.” And I thought, “He could write a book.” You understand what I’m saying? He remembered the guy coming in, turning off the gas and putting in the electricity. And that, to me, that’s a credential. If I didn’t know the man and he remembered that, I’d have to say–boy, this guy’s lived, he’s seen change. I mean, I’ve seen flight across the Atlantic, I worked on the atomic bomb, I’ve done all these kind of weird things, I’ve seen radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, crazy kind of things–but this guy remembers going from gas to electricity.

That Fred Goodman book, The Mansion On The Hill–a great book, I love the way its written and I have a great deal of respect for what he said. As compared to things like Hitmen, which are personal things and so forth. I like Stiffed and I like the Mansion On The Hill out of all those books.

Its funny. I was out at NARAS meeting last Wednesday and Thursday in California, it was the Blue Ribbon committee. Al Schmitt and I go back 45-50 years–we’ve known each other for a long time. I looked at the board and I just sat there. There was Orrin Keepnews–I went to college with Orrin in 1945 at Columbia. Hadn’t seen him in 30, 35 years. There was Bill Traut–I did folk dates back in the ’40s, ’50s, I hadn’t seen Bill Traut in 40 or 50 years, and I just looked around at this table and I thought, “Wow, this is a heavy committee. There’s no flakes on this one, I’ll tell you.” But at the same time, I was kidding with [then NARAS head] Michael [Greene] later on. I said, “Hey Michael, this is among the last years you’re going to get this depth of knowledge in one room at one time.” Because we’re expiring little by little, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But there are going to be people who are going to second-guess things we’re saying and they don’t know why we’re saying them. Because we lived it. And none of us would defy the other one–we’d just look at other and say, “You mean…”—and it comes out clean right away.

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Entry for June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007

Tom Dowd On Mingus And More

(In December 1997, I interviewed legendary engineer/producer Tom Dowd in regard to his work on Charles Mingus’s classic 1956 jazz album Pithecanthropus Erectus, then about to be reissued by Atlantic Records. Some fascinating first-hand accounting here–which, as you’ll read, was something he valued highly. Dowd died of emphysema in 2002. Check out Mark Moormann’s documentary on the man, 2003’s Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music if you have the opportunity. –dd)

What are one or two most memorable aspects about working with Mingus for you?

I think about the intensity that he had–and his deportment, when we were in the studio, when we were recording. That’s the first thing that strikes me. The second thing–and I do this in some lectures that I talk about–is that two of the times where I recorded him, the circumstances were so unusual, because earlier in the same day, on one of the occasions, I was doing the Coasters–and I don’t know if I was doing “Yakety Yak” or “Charlie Brown”–and then like 10 hours later I’m doing “Haitian Fight Song” (laughs), thinking, “What am I doing here?” The culture shock was ridiculous. And yet he was very serious. Any time that he was recorded, he was very, very serious–about the endeavor and the preparation.

Did he seem to know exactly what he wanted?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, when he came in [the musicians] were supposed to be fine-tuned–and if they weren’t fine-tuned, they’d watch him, and he’d give them verbatim instruction. He wandered around carrying the bass as he was playing it. Encouraging people, nodding to them or shaking them off or something.

Were these recordings that required a lot of retakes?

There were sections that were drilled in–and when the solos started, you were into another…He’d actually change personality from one portion of a composition to another, so that the ferocity of what he wanted in the composed, prepared sections was predetermined, as opposed to when they were playing solos–they’re going fine, you’re going in the right direction–you know what I’m saying?–but when it comes back around to getting in line or something, it would be hard. No, I don’t remember too many occasions where we went past two, maybe three takes at most.

Did he often seem to know the best as soon as it went down? How was that compared to other people you worked with?

I’ll be honest. It’s one of those things–I have always said I will never fight or argue taste. Something might have gone down and [producer] Nesuhi [Ertegun] or I would sit there and kind of look at each other, or Nesuhi might say. “Oh I think we can do it better than that.” Charles would either say, “Oh, OK,” run off and say, “Let’s go,” and we’d fly–or he’d say, “Let me hear, what’s wrong?” He’d come running in to hear what it was we were protesting. But for the most part, unless it was something really off the wall, he didn’t challenge our saying, “Can we try one more?” And if I said, “Hey, I blew it” or something–if we could not coerce him to try one more, than it would be my turn to be the bad guy, say, “Hey, I messed that up,” and that would be an excuse to get another performance.

How was your relationship with Nesuhi during the making of these sessions?

In those days, the format was that Nesuhi would sign an artist to the label, and go about the preparation of recording. In some instances, he would ask that I meet with the artist or go to a concert or something to become more familiar with what it was they were going to do. And then when it was time to record, he’d say, “OK, we’re going to record so and so next Thursday in the afternoon” or something, and I’d be prepared for it then. Sometimes Nesuhi would be punctual, and other times he might show up anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or two hours late–but know that were hell-bent going in the direction were supposed to go. Because there had been that much preparation, and there was that much accord among us–saying you do this, you do that and so forth.

As an engineer, how did you deal with the various “whoops” that theoretically were off-mic but really weren’t?

Well, you didn’t have too much choice. When I described Mingus walking around the room, the method that I employed to record him was to tie or tape a microphone to the tailpiece of his bass and have a cord on it. I had him fenced off from the obviously bad leakage problems that I would encounter, but he was free to walk around. And if he’d been playing and couldn’t catch somebody’s eye, or something was going that was adverse to what he expected, he would promptly just pick up the bass an start walking as he’s playing for where it was he wanted to get (laughs). Or if he couldn’t get there, he’d just plain yell.

In terms of his personality, how did he interact with the members of the group he assembled?

For the most part, the people that worked with him had a respect for what it was he was trying to do, and they would never argue with him about anything that he wrote. They might argue with him like, “I thought you meant this,” playing something, they’d get into–and now they’d get into taste, which as I say is endless. But most of the band members had a great deal of respect, and through rehearsals and seeing his temperament knew what to expect, so they were prepared for whatever
went down. There were no surprises. And I imagine that during rehearsals, he was just as headstrong and positive about what he wanted as he was during recording.

You’ve worked with literally the best musicians in the world for lengthy periods of time. Is there anyone from the many Mingus bands that struck you as particularly noteworthy, that stood out as being incredible–or even problematic, for that matter?

(pause) I couldn’t…in all sincerity, no. Let’s put it this way: If he was a film director, he’d cast his damn pictures well. That’s about the best way I could surmise. When he hired you to do the role, you’d better damn well do the role, or I’ll kill you!

In terms of the studios used–was there just one, or were there many?

Now here’s the strange thing. There is a reissue of Pithecanthropus Erectus and they have the wrong studio notated. And I can understand why. I was up in Atlantic back in April, May or June, and protested this and so forth, and they showed me the master book. And I realized that somebody translating some information, they did the natural intuitive thing, saying, oh if it was his name, then it has to be there and there and there. Pithecanthropus Erectus was done in the Atlantic studio, 234 W. 56th street. My assistant on that series of dates was a young man named Carl Lustig, whose brother Hall owned a studio called Audio-Video on 711 Fifth Avenue. And Hall and I had know each other for years, and Hall called me up one day and said, “Hey, my kid brother wants to get in the business and I figure you’re one of the guys he should learn from, can you take him on?” So I hired the young man and he worked with me for about two years before he then went to work for his brother. It was during that time that we did Pithecanthropus Erectus And when they see “Lustig,” they say, “Oh, it had to be at Audio-Video.” In a pig’s ear! I can understand the mistake, but when they transcribed some of the books and copied information from smaller books into bigger books and so forth, some people just didn’t put two and two together. And then when they had the fire that destroyed all the tapes, they had no record of anything on the boxes to designate where anything came from. So, boo-hoo. As I say, that album in particular was done in the Atlantic Studio that was an office and so forth. Depending on the instrumentation, what rooms we had to go to, because the Atlantic studio was limited at that time as to how many people that we could take.

How did your technique of recording stereo evolve during that five-year stretch?

Let’s put it this way. Starting in 1952, I made it a point to try to record any Atlantic jazz dates in two-track format. Nesuhi Ertegun became an advocate of that. I was introduced to it by a man named Emery Cook when we did an early Dixieland jazz album, and I because addicted. And the powers that be were not enthusiasts about two-track recording when it came to Joe Turner or LaVern Baker or Ruth Brown, but when I was doing other things, they didn’t really fancy which way I did it, as long as I got the doggone thing done. And so whenever possible, I’d record two-track. Now when Nesuhi came East, and he saw some of the things that we were doing, and the fact that I was recording on two-track, he insisted that all jazz dates be done in two-track. And by 1958, I had installed the first eight-track machine for Atlantic Records, so that everything we were recording was multi-track for the purpose of being able to remix. And that ensured in later years everything we ever did, being able to come out in stereo before stereo was invented. It’s backwards and silly, no one would every think of it that way, but that’s what did happen.

Did that horrible fire you brought up destroy all the multi-tracks but leave the stereo masters?

When that fire took place, every multi-track tape in Atlantic history and some of the early monos all vanished. (exhales) Everything prior to 1971 or 72. It went up in smoke. It’s a long story. I fought tooth and nail for like two or three years, and fought a losing battle. And when I came back from a recording trip, I went asking for some things that I could integrate some earlier things that I had recorded–and that’s how I found out they had a fire. And I cried. That was pitiful. And I was angry, what can I say?

Your estimate in terms of what might’ve vanished in that fire? A lot? A little?

Oh, a lot. A lot.

When you hear Mingus’s Atlantic stuff, does anything seem essentially different than his recordings for other labels?

Mingus was–musically, he was a cut above the rest in the sense of daring. And spirit-wise, and humanity-wise, he was light years ahead of what the society that existed was practicing. And not too many people took kindly to things he stood for or said or did. That didn’t make them right or wrong–he was there before they thought about it, and he was living in that tradition before it was the accepted norm. And whether it was in music or in presentation or in the political or social or racial standing, he was just light years ahead of everybody else. And too many times people took offense at the…if you were equating his music, you didn’t criticize him politically, but that was not the case, if you know what I mean. And if you took exception to this matter–he was always being cross-indexed instead of being taken at face. He would be, if he said something that was racially insensitive–not insensitive but ahead of the times–then his music was no good. Or if you said, “this music, who could understand it?” people would say, “That’s because he’s black.” I mean, he was never taken one-on-one.

Do you think that in all the accounts that have been written about Mingus, people have been missing some essential element about him that guys like you–who worked with him–know very well? Do you know wh
at I mean?

I understand exactly what you’re saying. Its an interesting observation and question, because I fight tooth and nail this day when there are a lot of people who are learned, who are enthusiasts, who have taken hours in libraries and listening to records and all–and decided how this happened or why this happened, etc. In a way, I have an empathy for them, but I object to the fact that they do not interrogate a Rudy Van Gelder, an Al Schmitt, a yours truly, an Orrin Keepnews, a Bill Traut, and find out what the hell went down. They are database, computer-fed people who do not, or have not lived the times or the circumstances, and that I resent. Strangely enough–and this is something that young people don’t grasp quickly–there’s a writer for the Washington Post by the name of Nat Hentoff–Nat was an ardent jazz enthusiast, and would sit in sessions and take notes and live and die jazz before he became a political writer. Nobody asks Nat Hentoff what he thought of this and that–and he lived it, he was there. He was going to the Chockful o’ Nuts and Horn & Hardarts with everyone else, you understand what I’m saying? And nobody–“Nat Hentoff, he’s a political writer, what the hell does he know?” What does he know? He was there, you jackass! You know what I’m saying? If you read your god-blessed [biography] and it says, he did this and he did that–yeah, ask Nat Hentoff, and he’ll tell you the day and whether it was raining or whether the sun was shining. That’s the man you want to ask. It’s funny, because I’m working on a book and I’ve had a number of people say, “Oh, you ought to get so and so to edit this” and so on. And I say, “When, where?” “Oh, well, he graduated from Yale in 1979” and this and that, and I think, he was teething on the goddamn 45s that we were making. And all due respect to–I don’t care what school he went to, he probably knows more about some things than I do, sincerely, and I would not challenge him, but I don’t want him casting opinion on something that I am doing from recall as opposed to something he read on the back of an album and then somebody made a comment in John Wilson’s column…forget that! I don’t resent any of it. But I do enjoy lecturing and talking about it.

Hey, an aside that will just wrap everything and put it in a nutshell: Last year, Ahmet Ertegun and I were invited to a surprise birthday party for a young man in Orlando. Florida. It was his 95th birthday. OK? Ahmet and I went back with this man 40 some-odd years, almost 50 years. His name is Jesse Stone. His other name was Charles Calhoun. If you look at big band arrangements and songs, he wrote the song called “Idaho,” which was a big band favorite back in the ’30s. If you get back into the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, “Money Honey,” “Honey Love,” “Mama Don’t Allow No Rock ‘N’ Roll Music ‘Round Here,” and a little thing called “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” OK? So the man has lived and died music longer than most people ever live! And when Ahmet and I both made silly jokes about him, this and that, everybody’s delighted, and Jesse got up, and he walks without assistance, he reads without glasses, he’s incredible, and Jesse Stone said, “It’s so nice to see all of you here. And I’ve got to tell you. They’re talking about old records and old times. I remember when the man came knocking on the door to my house, he came in and turned off the gas and put in the electricity.” And I thought, “He could write a book.” You understand what I’m saying? He remembered the guy coming in, turning off the gas and putting in the electricity. And that, to me, that’s a credential. If I didn’t know the man and he remembered that, I’d have to say–boy, this guy’s lived, he’s seen change. I mean, I’ve seen flight across the Atlantic, I worked on the atomic bomb, I’ve done all these kind of weird things, I’ve seen radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, crazy kind of things–but this guy remembers going from gas to electricity.

That Fred Goodman book, The Mansion On The Hill–a great book, I love the way its written and I have a great deal of respect for what he said. As compared to things like Hitmen, which are personal things and so forth. I like Stiffed and I like the Mansion On The Hill out of all those books.

Its funny. I was out at NARAS meeting last Wednesday and Thursday in California, it was the Blue Ribbon committee. Al Schmitt and I go back 45-50 years–we’ve known each other for a long time. I looked at the board and I just sat there. There was Orrin Keepnews–I went to college with Orrin in 1945 at Columbia. Hadn’t seen him in 30, 35 years. There was Bill Traut–I did folk dates back in the ’40s, ’50s, I hadn’t seen Bill Traut in 40 or 50 years, and I just looked around at this table and I thought, “Wow, this is a heavy committee. There’s no flakes on this one, I’ll tell you.” But at the same time, I was kidding with [then NARAS head] Michael [Greene] later on. I said, “Hey Michael, this is among the last years you’re going to get this depth of knowledge in one room at one time.” Because we’re expiring little by little, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But there are going to be people who are going to second-guess things we’re saying and they don’t know why we’re saying them. Because we lived it. And none of us would defy the other one–we’d just look at other and say, “You mean…”—and it comes out clean right away.

Entry for June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007

A Conversation With Momus

(Here’s a 1998 interview with Nick Currie, known to many as Momus–one of the most creative humans currently making music and someone whose work I suggest you seek out at your earliest opportunity. -dd)

Tell me your impression of America.

It’s the place of comfort and convenience, really, isn’t it? Everything is real on, real off. Basically it’s kind of reassuring and scary at the same time. I didn’t enjoy the South too much—we went as far south as Atlanta, basically picking up all the evangelical stuff on the radio. There’s a sort of fierce irrationality about all that; you’re selling spirituality the same way you’re selling fuel. I kind of liked the West Coast actually; I didn’t expect to, because Los Angeles has represented for me kind of everything evil and manipulative–but somehow, it’s quite reassuring when you meet the devil in person!

I assume this is the second time you’ve played overseas in the States?

Yeah, I played about a year or so ago, I went off in New York. But this is the first event besides New York, yeah.

How have you taken to the reception you’ve received?

Well, it’s nice. It’s almost like being a standup comedian, because songs I know like the back of my hand are kind of being heard for the first time, and lines are getting laughs. Like the line “My girlfriend’s saying she feels privileged I chose her to go straight with.” That kind of thing gets a laugh, and I feel like a comedian. Or I almost begin to feel like a British eccentric character like Quentin Crisp. The Americans like the accent and they like the strange take on things. In a way, when I’m received in Britain, it’s kind of like a lot of my songs are hostile to the British way of life. It’s a love/hate thing, but they celebrate and attack it. In the States, I guess it’s charming and quaint, but I don’t know. I hope it still does some damage.

Do you think that it’s a possibility that pop stardom, in every cliched sense of the word, could be in your future?

Well, I’ve calculated that at this rate of progress, it’ll probably happen in about 2057, so I just hang on.

Are you getting any inquiries from American major labels now, on the basis of this press? It’s confusing to me that it’s taken so very long for you to get an American release. How would you rationalize that?

I think the guys at Creation just wanted to keep America to themselves, basically. They wanted to hang out in the Viper Lounge with all these little brat pack film stars. Momus was the guy who came from a privileged background in Britain and was therefore barred from the privileges you get when you’re a self-made person like Alan McGee is. Creation always had a sort of two-tiered system, I think, but I was quite happy with that because I never assumed that what I do—although it uses the English language at quite a high level—I never assumed it could work here. It’s weird, I’ve spent most of the ‘90s happening in Japan—making all my money in Japan, having top 5 hits and things. That’s fine because I love Japan, I love the psychic transvestitism that happens when I actually write a song for a cute young Japanese girl. But I suddenly realized, hey, they speak English in the United States, and it’s the world’s biggest record market, and perhaps Momus could work there, despite the fact that I’ve never been influenced at all—well, not a huge amount—by American pop music. But maybe there is kind of an appetite there, kind of focused by things like loungecore and Japanese pop. There is a real appetite for this and for the futuristic vaudeville or whatever you want to call it that I do, which has a European feel.

How have live performances been for you? Have they been just you with the guitar? Historically speaking, your records have been very intricately arranged. You have a really great ear for arranging a melody. I wonder how that could ever be duplicated on stage.

What I do is, I’m running MIDI sequences live, and I’ve got someone playing live keyboards as well, and I’m playing guitar and singing on top of that.

What did you do in the early days?

In the early days, I did some shows with just guitar, but I had backing tapes—things like that. I tend to work at home, do the arrangements at home and then sing on top of it. In some ways, it’s not a true live thing musically, but I think people tend to forget that. Because, really, it’s about communication. My songs are so top-heavy in that they’re telling stories, and they’re very much about words—and honestly, like stand-up comedy.

Stepping back a bit to the Japanese thing—I don’t understand exactly how that happened to you. How did you get that connection?

Partly because I was on a label in the ‘80s in London called El Records, which was kind of a fantasia confection idea. In fact, I kind of think it was the loungecore revival ten years too early. Everyone was called “The King of This” and “The Emperor of That,” and I took the name of a Greek God—being a bit more modest than some of the other artists on the label. What happened was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, people in Japan picked up on this and made it a cult fetish label for Japanese consumers, because Japan has the best record stores in the world, with everything that e
ver came out anywhere. It’s very easy to specialize and get into really obscure things there. So this guy, who’s now in Cornelius—he is Cornelius, his record’s just about to be put out by Matador in the U.S.—Keigo Oyamada, he sort of was playing our stuff, and playing the other artists a lot on his radio show in Japan. It kind of all snowballed from that. And I started working with Kahimi Karie, who was his girlfriend at the time, just after my first visit to Japan. I just started going to Japan a lot, and meeting the people there, and something clicked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Britain and Japan are both islands, they’re both kind of formal, aesthetic, maybe even a bit introverted people who have an exterior which is very proper, but an interior, an imagination, that is very wild. You only have to look at Japanese manga or Japanese pornography to see this wild extreme kind of imagination. There’s something about that that British people connect with, and that I certainly connect with.

In looking at your website, at the writings from various fans over the years, they all seem deeply emotionally involved with the stuff you write. I’ve seen this a lot, but it’s more than most cases. Who are your fans? Is there something they all have in common?

They’re geeks, in a word. They’re intelligent people, oddball outsiders. But I think maybe we’re entering the age where the outsider becomes the insider, where in fact intelligence bcomes an important commodity. I don’t know, perhaps it always was. They kind of see pop music as one of a spectrum of things that they’re interested in. Visual art, literature and stuff are equally valid for them. Most of them are Japanese, most of them are in their 20s, I guess. I was playing some college shows on this tour to some really young kids, like 20, and I was surprised that they really seemed to respond. There was that kind of laughter and that kind of sense of “Is this guy for real?” I’m singing a song like “Space Jews,” for instance, saying that Jewish people are extraterrestrials, and people are like, “are you allowed to say this?” I think people are just intrigued by someone taking risks on the lyrical level, because they don’t hear very much of that in pop music. I think maybe my greatest strength is having abandoned hope at a very early age, and saying “to hell with me becoming famous, I’m just going to be ambitious for the medium of pop music and keep myself interested, and laugh, and express myself and have fun.”

Regarding “Space Jews” and other songs: those are interesting topics.

I don’t see the point in holding back. I think I’m more interested in writing about things I don’t quite know my feelings about. Writing is a way of exploring that. Or what I do is I exaggerate a feeling I have and push it so far. Like the baby-killing song, a slight resentment of my little nephew being the center of attention at a family get-together, turns into a murderous condemnation of all infants. It’s an exaggeration. But I think art in general is a laboratory, it’s very important to keep the walls around it and say people in there are playing with mudpies and sand castles and they can do what they want. And we’re going to throw some water on it in a couple of hours, and it’s all going to go back to sand. It’s just a little place where you can make mudpies.

Are you perceived as you’d like to be by the press in general at this time?

I tend to have this rule of thumb, which is that anything the press says is true. It’s just a perspective on what I do. Everything everybody says is true. Including the NME saying it’s arch and coy and not musically ambitious enough. Or that it’s morally beyond the boundaries of decency and taste. You know, perspective. I think what it does in the NME’s case is shows that they take a middle of the road, conservative position on art, which is a bit sad because they have a big influence. I found the American press a lot more welcoming and a lot more understanding. I don’t know why that is. I think maybe the U.S. is a more experimental culture in general. We just invented cloning, for instance, in my hometown of Edinburgh—we made a sheep out of another sheep. That would be a fantastic achievement for the U.S., but in Britain everyone’s saying, “Oh, we’re not sure of the moral implications.” There were no fanfares, just a lot of people saying … basically what they say about my records. “We’re not quite sure if this is morally a good thing.”

There’s a warmth to your new record. How have changes in your own life affected the music that you write?

I think when I turned 30, I hit a weird kind of sentimental phase. Like even the Hippopotamomus album, which on the surface is an outrageous album about animals and sex—in fact, it’s kind of using a childspeak, talking about clean and dirty and making a big mess—I think that was almost like a parenting impulse I was going through there, but I’ve seemed to come out of it. I continue to try and be the child rather than the parent, I guess.

What artists do you admire and think have had successful careers?

It’d be quite weird…Somebody with a world view. Somebody who the moment you hear anything or see anything they’ve done, it takes you into a parallel universe. It’s relating to the world you know and says important things about the world you know, but it’s a totally distinctive take. Those are the people I admire. I love Kafka for that reason. Or Leonard Cohen. People who seem to spring fully formed from nowhere, who have a totally fresh perspective.

You’ve made your own CD-ROM, how was that for you? What did it take to put it together, and what would you like to do further with that?

It’s not for nothing that I’m wearing this eyepatch and sort of trying to resemble an early Hollywood director, a sort of German exiled director. I have this manic control-freak side to me, where if I can do everything myself, I will. I mean, I make my records totally myself, putting in all the cables and setting the mic balances myself. It’s quite easy to learn those skills, and I just set myself to learning dire
ctor and making a multimedia thing at home. Partly because I was living alone in Paris and not a lot was happening in my career. I just had six months to play around. I went through an interesting phase of having to decide each day if I would have an idea or a title, like the six new psychosexual neuroses thing on the CD-ROM, where there was a professor trying to come up with new sexual diseases that have never been thought of. That could have been a song. In fact, it did turn into a song, because “Professor Shaftenberg” is kind of an offshoot of that—this black German who wants to screw the pants off of Japanese girls. That takes its place among the new psychosexual neuroses. Basically, getting up in the morning and saying, “I could make a song of that, or I could make a multimedia presentation of that.” So for me, it’s almost like I don’t need to be a musician at all, I can use these new forms which are multimedia.

One of the things that I thought was probably the most interesting thing that I’ve ever seen anyone write in pop music was the thing on your website about “how to write a Momus song.” There’s sarcasm in that, certainly, but it almost seems that perhaps you shared a tad too much of your creative process. How detached are you from what it takes to be this persona that you’ve crafted?

I never quite know where Momus is and where Nick Currie is. I’m perfectly happy for Momus to be something that other people can step into. I mean, my kind of conception of Momus is that he was a Greek god who was kicked off Mt. Olympus in classical Greek mythology for having criticized the other gods. Although that was in fact his job title—the critic of the gods. He was meant to be like the R&D department of Mt. Olympus and say, “Well, you got this right Zeus, but you could have done this a bit better.” But the other gods got angry and threw him off. So the idea that I had was that Momus wandered through history, being embodied by poets or critics or kind of just troublesome people at points along the way. And that I’m just doing it in the 20th century, but there may be other Momuses later. So, I’ll pass the flame on at that point.

Do you think you’ve handled your career well, overall?

What I like about it is that it’s a long, slow-burning thing, and it’s just a very slow ascent. It’s a bit like being in a glider rather than a jet plane. And I’m slowly being towed up to a point where I can be released and just coast about. I think really unhappy people I know are people who peaked when they were like 25—got famous, and then were forgotten. That’s hard to deal with. What’s happening with me is that I gave up hope at 25—abandon hope, all ye who enter here—and after not caring, I suddenly find myself getting a bit more famous, which is nice.

This record is the first new bit of stuff from you in a while. What do you plan to do next?

Yeah, because I spent the last couple years producing other artists, like Kahemi Karie. What I’m immediately doing when I get back to London is sitting on—and I’m quite excited about this, because I’m doing a bit more journalism and public political stuff, almost—I’m sitting on a panel talking about lyrical correctness via Institute of Contemporary Arts, with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, and Tony Wilson, who started Factory Records, and a conservative MP, Alan Clark MP. We’re going to be sitting there saying, “is there such a thing as lyrical correctness,” and I feel very strongly, obviously about freedom of expression, so it’s something I’m looking forward to a lot. Then I’ll probably make an album with my wife Shazna, who is in Paris at the moment, and then just get back to work on Momus.

I’m going to hold up your records—I have every album you’ve done here, except one, I think—and I’d like to get your comments on each one.

The Man on Your Street. OK. The scene is Scotland, early ’80s, there’s a whole bunch of bands like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Josef K, signed to the Postcards Records label. I’m an English Literature student, I want to be part of this scene, I decide to start a band. Josef K splits up that same week, by sheer chance I get together with them—the bassist, the drummer and the guitarist—and I was like, this is an incredible moment for me. We signed to 4AD, which is the home of Bauhaus and the Birthday Party and people like that, and we make this socialist rock opera called The Man On Your Street which totally fails to impress all the budding goth people on the 4AD mailing list. And not very much happens, and we split the band up after a year, and I go back to studying literature.

Can you give it a grade?

I don’t personally listen to this record. But it’s got some good lyrics on it, and it’s intriguing, and it sort of sets the scene for my infatuation with Europe—the idea of Europe, which is so close to us in Britain yet culturally so far away.

Is it too much to ask to grade it on a scale of pure Momus-ness?

It’s kind of pre-Momus, so it doesn’t sound like me. The voice is very strained and neurotic, I guess I hadn’t done my primal scream therapy. One to 10? I guess about a six and a half.

OK. Circus Maximus.

I’ve moved to London. I’ve got my Literature degree, which is absolutely of no use to me at all. I’m kind of living in Chelsea, and my head’s full of the Bible, and Brecht, and I kind of decide to go off and make songs which talk about … it’s actually about my experience arriving in London as a serious young Scotsman and seeing the kind of suburban and commercial atmosphere that’s in London. Just kind of putting that against what I’ve been reading for the past four years at University and finding comic pathos in that comparison. There’s about three really good songs on that so I’d give it seven again.

Poison Boyfriend?

The El Records thing has been fun, but it hasn’t really worked—Circus Maximus was on El—Alan McGee is running Creation Records, and they actually have money and seem to be going places in terms of the press. So I get headhunted and go to Creation, who weirdly enough think I’m going to be their most commercial act and save their skins financially. Which doesn’t happen, although this record gets great reviews and a lot of press. Alan McGee said he would jump in a river after having made an album like this because I’d never do anything as good, but I don’t think that’s true at all. I personally don’t listen to this a lot; again, I think there’s three fairly good songs on it. It’s almost like a mid-’80s singer-songwriter album, largely acoustic. I quite like “Closer To You,” actually, so I’d give it … again…seven.

Tender Pervert?

It’s 1988, and I’ve begun to realize that you can shock people and you can say things which interest yourself rather than just making emotional songs. I remember there was a lot on TV that year about 20 years after 1968, and I was very interested in the whole idea of the ’60s politicalism and the freedom and everything that we’d seemed to have lost by the ’80s. And I was also getting into Japanese culture a lot, so there’s a lot of Japanese stuff. There’s also a very strong gay subtext in that, because of AIDS being a major issue, and I kind of had the sense that the gay community was being wiped out. So maybe straight people like me should step into that space and say, “Listen, that was an important community, we need to articulate some of the ideals that came out of the gay movement.” I think Tender Pervert is really my most important album. For me, it’s where the Momus style really gels, so I give it a nine.

Don’t Stop The Night?

Don’t Stop The Night is just the continuation, really, of the taboo themes that I started dealing with on Tender Pervert. With a more disco feel, so it’s got a more gay feeling, again…So there are songs about having sex with corpses and little girls and things like that. It was originally going to be titled Sexual Crimes Of The Professional Classes. I guess the idea was that under the patina of normality, British life is full of seething corruption and decadence. And I guess the end of the 1980s, people like Bret Easton Ellis were around, and American Psycho and all that stuff. So there’s a kind of definite sense of moral corruption and greed and materialism of the ’80s, turning into something quite dark and sinister. It’s my scariest record, it’s got some great songs on it, again I give it a nine.

Monsters Of Love?

This is really a Creation compilation that comprises the really early El EP, The Beast With Three Backs, and a lot of b-sides and unreleased stuff. But actually I think it works quite well as a record. It’s quite a dark and threatening record…I’d give it an eight.

Hippopotamomus?

I kind of like this one, it was I guess throwing away the weight of tragic genius off my shoulders and deciding to have fun. I just read a biography of Little Richard and I just love the idea of unchanneled impulse. I think what I had always done in my records up to that point was located guilt inside myself, and tried to look at that guilt and say, here are the world’s standards of moral behavior, and here are my dark subconscious impulses. And then put them up against each other and you get this smog of guilt. So what I did with Hippopotamomus was say, I’m going to throw guilt away entirely and celebrate instinctual impulses, the same way a baby decides to shit or put things in its mouth just for the hell of it. And what interestingly happened, as a result of that decision was that a mother was found—this was a critic on the NME named Betty Page who came along and spanked and thrashed me for having dirty pop music and having left some unsightly mounds. So I was kind of punished critically at this point, for having gone too far. I think in a way it’s a slight record artistically, but some people think it’s the most perfect encapsulation of some of Momus’s more perverse urges. Eight, I guess.

The Ultraconformist?

The Ultraconformist (Live Whilst Staying Out Of Fashion). Mike Always, whom I’d always stayed friends with after leaving El Records, was kind of looking around for any unreleased live material that he could put out, because he’d gone back to Cherry Red. I said, “Well listen, I don’t have any live tapes, but what I’d like to do is make a fake live album, in the spirit of Orson Welles. Let’s make something that was ostensibly recorded in 1910 on wax cylinders in a cabaret—a Vorticist cabaret, Cave Of The Golden Calf in London, which is actually run by the Swedish dramatist Strindberg’s widow. I think at this point I was trying to be a bit mainstream again, and doing the Voyager album for Creation. I had management at that point and it looked like I was going to be the beloved of some boring little synth band. But I’d kept a lot of Cabaret songs that I’d also been writing for my own pleasure, so I put them all on that album. It was recorded by the absolute cheapest means, so it’s not much fun to listen to, but I think the songs are quite strong. I’d give it a seven and a half.

Voyager?

Alan McGee loved it at Creation. It was kind of the album everybody wanted me to make to be in tune with the times. It was the era of the Orb and PM Dawn — I have some affection for that type of music, but in a way, it’s kind of a diversion from what Momus is all about. I think it’s not about “album in the electronic pop genre,” but it’s a kind of yearning spirituality that was maybe a new note in my work. It didn’t have the smug and smarmy kind of lyrical quality that some of my other records had. It’s a good record but not a good Momus record.

Timelord?

An achingly beautiful mistake. It goes further in the kind of wistful, spiritual direction that I think Voyager was going in. One of the things I was trying to do at that point was what I was calling in my own mind “science fiction melodrama,” trying to rediscover innocence after the depravity of the ‘80s. Trying to put myself in the point of view of a Japanese girl, a very shy Japanese girl, and the kind of feelings she would have. Also, Timelord is very influenced by The Man Who Fell To Earth, the David Bowie movie. Just the idea that the character in that film is trying to communicate with his wife who is on another planet far away. My future wife was a Muslim, and had been taken away to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage. So I was in kind of a similar situation. Muslims in Bangladesh are almost like Martians–it’s a very very different mentality. So this album came out just at a point where it looked really uncertain if I’d ever see Shazna again, and it was a really personal record for her, maybe she’d hear it on the radio when she was out there and keep her hope intact. But in the end we managed to get her out of there and we got married. That album is the low point of that whole story. It’s quite painful for me to listen to it, but I think it is quite a beautiful record, if it’s, you know, late at night. Eight.

Philosophy Of Momus?

This is me living with Shazna in Paris. I’ve always thought of Paris as a beautiful place I’d like to live, but when I get there I find that it’s culturally and creatively not very happening, and it hasn’t been very happening since 1910. Because Picasso and Matisse left long ago, and the Daft Punk and Air kind of phenomenon hasn’t started yet when I arrive there. So Philosophy Of Momus is me just kind of saying, well, “who am I,” and let’s throw out some possibilities. I’ve been listening to a lot of Beck, I thought Beck was the future of pop music, and I wanted to experiment with some of the things he’d discovered, those collisions of genres. So there’s kind of weird Balinese scales mixed with distorted guitar, a lot of musical experimentation really. I think it’s an interesting record and it is one that I can still listen to today. It’s also the first time that I’m looking at the digital revolution and saying, this is a really interesting place philosophically as well as technically. It’s the Wired magazine mentality, I guess. We’re entering the 21st century now—what’s it going to be like, and what’s it going to mean for things like personal relationships, now that our memory has been mechanized, that we remember things partially because they are on digital video, or because we have email on our computers? That’s how I remember things now. So I think it’s still got a lot of relevant topics on it, and I give it an eight.

Slender Sherbet?

I’m still in Paris, I’m running out of money, I say, “Help, give me some money, Cherry Red.” So I make remakes of some of my ‘80s stuff. It’s just a way to get reviews so people will remember me. I kind of felt when I was living in Paris that I was in retirement, and I just needed to wave a little flag and say, “I’m still here, I wrote some good songs and I don’t want them to be forgotten.” But it was also drawing a line across the first phase of my career, the first 10 years—that was what I did, now I’m going to go off into the 21st century and do some new stuff. I don’t know if it’s that great of an album, I’d give it a six.

20 Vodka Jellies?

20 Vodka Jellies is the first U.S. release, and it was proposed by Matt Jacobson who runs Le Grand Magestery, which is my label here. Matt I’ve known since about 1990, he was a graphics student at Parsons and then he became a magician—he’s a man of many talents, and a huge enthusiasm for the El label and for what I do, and that was kind of refreshing and energizing in itself. So I got together a lot of things I had, on DAT, demos of records I’d done. Because what was also happening while I was living in Paris was I started having hits in Japan. I wrote for Kahimi Karie who then moved to Paris and lived very close to me. This was a way to say, well, Momus still exists as a solo artist, he’s not someone who just writes for Japanese girls. Actually, I think it’s a lot of fun as a record. I think the light side of what I did with Kahimi Karie really shines through on 20 Vodka Jellies. Just the idea that you can have fun and entertain people while making quite serious points. I’d give that a nine. Some of the tracks on 20 Vodka Jellies are demos that I made for Butch Vig, because apparently in 1992, after doing Nirvana, he was looking for something very different. He approached Creation and said, “This guy Momus might be interesting to work with, can I hear some stuff that he’s doing?” And I made the classic mistake of going off and making some demos in a kinda Nirvana-esque style, because there’s a side of me that’s … I’ve never ever rocked, in any sense, and I’m notorious in the English music press for being afraid to rock. Which is fine with me, I’m not afraid to cabaret or vaudeville or whatever. But I went off and rocked, and there were some interesting elements there, so I stuck a few of those tracks on.

The most current album…Ping Pong?

Ping Pong reflects the fact that I moved back to London in 1997, and London was a stimulating and creative place for a lot of people, especially visual artists. Young British artists. I started hanging out with them on the East side of London, so it’s really a reaction to moving back to London and moving to a different part of London, and swinging with London. But in a uniquely Momus style, because it’s still about transgression. I think a lot of the influence on this came from working with—because I came back and found there’s a bunch of really young bands, like Jack and Orlando, who were listening to what I did and wanted me to produce them. I listened very carefully to the elements of what they were listening to in Momus, and what they liked. They tended to be into the lyrics, and the transgressive side of things. I think that really helped me focus what the Momus signature is, the specification and formula for what I do. It takes a fresh and wickedly transgressive perspective on everyday subjects. So I went off with this newly polished formula, and made some Momus songs almost like someone pastiche-ing Momus would. I realized that I founded a genre of music, and I could be a pastiche artist just like anyone else could. But maybe I’m better at being Momus than all those young bands are. Although they would like to be Momus, they don’t have quite sharp enough pencils. So that’s real
ly the side of me doing that – finding that I can be Momus and maybe I’m just going to be Momus for the rest of my life and do better pastiches than anyone else. I’ll give it nine. Maybe the NME had a point that it should rock more, but I think it rocks mentally. Conceptually, it rocks.

Entry for June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007

A Conversation With Momus

(Here’s a 1998 interview with Nick Currie, known to many as Momus–one of the most creative humans currently making music and someone whose work I suggest you seek out at your earliest opportunity. -dd)

Tell me your impression of America.

It’s the place of comfort and convenience, really, isn’t it? Everything is real on, real off. Basically it’s kind of reassuring and scary at the same time. I didn’t enjoy the South too much—we went as far south as Atlanta, basically picking up all the evangelical stuff on the radio. There’s a sort of fierce irrationality about all that; you’re selling spirituality the same way you’re selling fuel. I kind of liked the West Coast actually; I didn’t expect to, because Los Angeles has represented for me kind of everything evil and manipulative–but somehow, it’s quite reassuring when you meet the devil in person!

I assume this is the second time you’ve played overseas in the States?

Yeah, I played about a year or so ago, I went off in New York. But this is the first event besides New York, yeah.

How have you taken to the reception you’ve received?

Well, it’s nice. It’s almost like being a standup comedian, because songs I know like the back of my hand are kind of being heard for the first time, and lines are getting laughs. Like the line “My girlfriend’s saying she feels privileged I chose her to go straight with.” That kind of thing gets a laugh, and I feel like a comedian. Or I almost begin to feel like a British eccentric character like Quentin Crisp. The Americans like the accent and they like the strange take on things. In a way, when I’m received in Britain, it’s kind of like a lot of my songs are hostile to the British way of life. It’s a love/hate thing, but they celebrate and attack it. In the States, I guess it’s charming and quaint, but I don’t know. I hope it still does some damage.

Do you think that it’s a possibility that pop stardom, in every cliched sense of the word, could be in your future?

Well, I’ve calculated that at this rate of progress, it’ll probably happen in about 2057, so I just hang on.

Are you getting any inquiries from American major labels now, on the basis of this press? It’s confusing to me that it’s taken so very long for you to get an American release. How would you rationalize that?

I think the guys at Creation just wanted to keep America to themselves, basically. They wanted to hang out in the Viper Lounge with all these little brat pack film stars. Momus was the guy who came from a privileged background in Britain and was therefore barred from the privileges you get when you’re a self-made person like Alan McGee is. Creation always had a sort of two-tiered system, I think, but I was quite happy with that because I never assumed that what I do—although it uses the English language at quite a high level—I never assumed it could work here. It’s weird, I’ve spent most of the ‘90s happening in Japan—making all my money in Japan, having top 5 hits and things. That’s fine because I love Japan, I love the psychic transvestitism that happens when I actually write a song for a cute young Japanese girl. But I suddenly realized, hey, they speak English in the United States, and it’s the world’s biggest record market, and perhaps Momus could work there, despite the fact that I’ve never been influenced at all—well, not a huge amount—by American pop music. But maybe there is kind of an appetite there, kind of focused by things like loungecore and Japanese pop. There is a real appetite for this and for the futuristic vaudeville or whatever you want to call it that I do, which has a European feel.

How have live performances been for you? Have they been just you with the guitar? Historically speaking, your records have been very intricately arranged. You have a really great ear for arranging a melody. I wonder how that could ever be duplicated on stage.

What I do is, I’m running MIDI sequences live, and I’ve got someone playing live keyboards as well, and I’m playing guitar and singing on top of that.

What did you do in the early days?

In the early days, I did some shows with just guitar, but I had backing tapes—things like that. I tend to work at home, do the arrangements at home and then sing on top of it. In some ways, it’s not a true live thing musically, but I think people tend to forget that. Because, really, it’s about communication. My songs are so top-heavy in that they’re telling stories, and they’re very much about words—and honestly, like stand-up comedy.

Stepping back a bit to the Japanese thing—I don’t understand exactly how that happened to you. How did you get that connection?

Partly because I was on a label in the ‘80s in London called El Records, which was kind of a fantasia confection idea. In fact, I kind of think it was the loungecore revival ten years too early. Everyone was called “The King of This” and “The Emperor of That,” and I took the name of a Greek God—being a bit more modest than some of the other artists on the label. What happened was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, people in Japan picked up on this and made it a cult fetish label for Japanese consumers, because Japan has the best record stores in the world, with everything that e
ver came out anywhere. It’s very easy to specialize and get into really obscure things there. So this guy, who’s now in Cornelius—he is Cornelius, his record’s just about to be put out by Matador in the U.S.—Keigo Oyamada, he sort of was playing our stuff, and playing the other artists a lot on his radio show in Japan. It kind of all snowballed from that. And I started working with Kahimi Karie, who was his girlfriend at the time, just after my first visit to Japan. I just started going to Japan a lot, and meeting the people there, and something clicked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Britain and Japan are both islands, they’re both kind of formal, aesthetic, maybe even a bit introverted people who have an exterior which is very proper, but an interior, an imagination, that is very wild. You only have to look at Japanese manga or Japanese pornography to see this wild extreme kind of imagination. There’s something about that that British people connect with, and that I certainly connect with.

In looking at your website, at the writings from various fans over the years, they all seem deeply emotionally involved with the stuff you write. I’ve seen this a lot, but it’s more than most cases. Who are your fans? Is there something they all have in common?

They’re geeks, in a word. They’re intelligent people, oddball outsiders. But I think maybe we’re entering the age where the outsider becomes the insider, where in fact intelligence bcomes an important commodity. I don’t know, perhaps it always was. They kind of see pop music as one of a spectrum of things that they’re interested in. Visual art, literature and stuff are equally valid for them. Most of them are Japanese, most of them are in their 20s, I guess. I was playing some college shows on this tour to some really young kids, like 20, and I was surprised that they really seemed to respond. There was that kind of laughter and that kind of sense of “Is this guy for real?” I’m singing a song like “Space Jews,” for instance, saying that Jewish people are extraterrestrials, and people are like, “are you allowed to say this?” I think people are just intrigued by someone taking risks on the lyrical level, because they don’t hear very much of that in pop music. I think maybe my greatest strength is having abandoned hope at a very early age, and saying “to hell with me becoming famous, I’m just going to be ambitious for the medium of pop music and keep myself interested, and laugh, and express myself and have fun.”

Regarding “Space Jews” and other songs: those are interesting topics.

I don’t see the point in holding back. I think I’m more interested in writing about things I don’t quite know my feelings about. Writing is a way of exploring that. Or what I do is I exaggerate a feeling I have and push it so far. Like the baby-killing song, a slight resentment of my little nephew being the center of attention at a family get-together, turns into a murderous condemnation of all infants. It’s an exaggeration. But I think art in general is a laboratory, it’s very important to keep the walls around it and say people in there are playing with mudpies and sand castles and they can do what they want. And we’re going to throw some water on it in a couple of hours, and it’s all going to go back to sand. It’s just a little place where you can make mudpies.

Are you perceived as you’d like to be by the press in general at this time?

I tend to have this rule of thumb, which is that anything the press says is true. It’s just a perspective on what I do. Everything everybody says is true. Including the NME saying it’s arch and coy and not musically ambitious enough. Or that it’s morally beyond the boundaries of decency and taste. You know, perspective. I think what it does in the NME’s case is shows that they take a middle of the road, conservative position on art, which is a bit sad because they have a big influence. I found the American press a lot more welcoming and a lot more understanding. I don’t know why that is. I think maybe the U.S. is a more experimental culture in general. We just invented cloning, for instance, in my hometown of Edinburgh—we made a sheep out of another sheep. That would be a fantastic achievement for the U.S., but in Britain everyone’s saying, “Oh, we’re not sure of the moral implications.” There were no fanfares, just a lot of people saying … basically what they say about my records. “We’re not quite sure if this is morally a good thing.”

There’s a warmth to your new record. How have changes in your own life affected the music that you write?

I think when I turned 30, I hit a weird kind of sentimental phase. Like even the Hippopotamomus album, which on the surface is an outrageous album about animals and sex—in fact, it’s kind of using a childspeak, talking about clean and dirty and making a big mess—I think that was almost like a parenting impulse I was going through there, but I’ve seemed to come out of it. I continue to try and be the child rather than the parent, I guess.

What artists do you admire and think have had successful careers?

It’d be quite weird…Somebody with a world view. Somebody who the moment you hear anything or see anything they’ve done, it takes you into a parallel universe. It’s relating to the world you know and says important things about the world you know, but it’s a totally distinctive take. Those are the people I admire. I love Kafka for that reason. Or Leonard Cohen. People who seem to spring fully formed from nowhere, who have a totally fresh perspective.

You’ve made your own CD-ROM, how was that for you? What did it take to put it together, and what would you like to do further with that?

It’s not for nothing that I’m wearing this eyepatch and sort of trying to resemble an early Hollywood director, a sort of German exiled director. I have this manic control-freak side to me, where if I can do everything myself, I will. I mean, I make my records totally myself, putting in all the cables and setting the mic balances myself. It’s quite easy to learn those skills, and I just set myself to learning dire
ctor and making a multimedia thing at home. Partly because I was living alone in Paris and not a lot was happening in my career. I just had six months to play around. I went through an interesting phase of having to decide each day if I would have an idea or a title, like the six new psychosexual neuroses thing on the CD-ROM, where there was a professor trying to come up with new sexual diseases that have never been thought of. That could have been a song. In fact, it did turn into a song, because “Professor Shaftenberg” is kind of an offshoot of that—this black German who wants to screw the pants off of Japanese girls. That takes its place among the new psychosexual neuroses. Basically, getting up in the morning and saying, “I could make a song of that, or I could make a multimedia presentation of that.” So for me, it’s almost like I don’t need to be a musician at all, I can use these new forms which are multimedia.

One of the things that I thought was probably the most interesting thing that I’ve ever seen anyone write in pop music was the thing on your website about “how to write a Momus song.” There’s sarcasm in that, certainly, but it almost seems that perhaps you shared a tad too much of your creative process. How detached are you from what it takes to be this persona that you’ve crafted?

I never quite know where Momus is and where Nick Currie is. I’m perfectly happy for Momus to be something that other people can step into. I mean, my kind of conception of Momus is that he was a Greek god who was kicked off Mt. Olympus in classical Greek mythology for having criticized the other gods. Although that was in fact his job title—the critic of the gods. He was meant to be like the R&D department of Mt. Olympus and say, “Well, you got this right Zeus, but you could have done this a bit better.” But the other gods got angry and threw him off. So the idea that I had was that Momus wandered through history, being embodied by poets or critics or kind of just troublesome people at points along the way. And that I’m just doing it in the 20th century, but there may be other Momuses later. So, I’ll pass the flame on at that point.

Do you think you’ve handled your career well, overall?

What I like about it is that it’s a long, slow-burning thing, and it’s just a very slow ascent. It’s a bit like being in a glider rather than a jet plane. And I’m slowly being towed up to a point where I can be released and just coast about. I think really unhappy people I know are people who peaked when they were like 25—got famous, and then were forgotten. That’s hard to deal with. What’s happening with me is that I gave up hope at 25—abandon hope, all ye who enter here—and after not caring, I suddenly find myself getting a bit more famous, which is nice.

This record is the first new bit of stuff from you in a while. What do you plan to do next?

Yeah, because I spent the last couple years producing other artists, like Kahemi Karie. What I’m immediately doing when I get back to London is sitting on—and I’m quite excited about this, because I’m doing a bit more journalism and public political stuff, almost—I’m sitting on a panel talking about lyrical correctness via Institute of Contemporary Arts, with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, and Tony Wilson, who started Factory Records, and a conservative MP, Alan Clark MP. We’re going to be sitting there saying, “is there such a thing as lyrical correctness,” and I feel very strongly, obviously about freedom of expression, so it’s something I’m looking forward to a lot. Then I’ll probably make an album with my wife Shazna, who is in Paris at the moment, and then just get back to work on Momus.

I’m going to hold up your records—I have every album you’ve done here, except one, I think—and I’d like to get your comments on each one.

The Man on Your Street. OK. The scene is Scotland, early ’80s, there’s a whole bunch of bands like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Josef K, signed to the Postcards Records label. I’m an English Literature student, I want to be part of this scene, I decide to start a band. Josef K splits up that same week, by sheer chance I get together with them—the bassist, the drummer and the guitarist—and I was like, this is an incredible moment for me. We signed to 4AD, which is the home of Bauhaus and the Birthday Party and people like that, and we make this socialist rock opera called The Man On Your Street which totally fails to impress all the budding goth people on the 4AD mailing list. And not very much happens, and we split the band up after a year, and I go back to studying literature.

Can you give it a grade?

I don’t personally listen to this record. But it’s got some good lyrics on it, and it’s intriguing, and it sort of sets the scene for my infatuation with Europe—the idea of Europe, which is so close to us in Britain yet culturally so far away.

Is it too much to ask to grade it on a scale of pure Momus-ness?

It’s kind of pre-Momus, so it doesn’t sound like me. The voice is very strained and neurotic, I guess I hadn’t done my primal scream therapy. One to 10? I guess about a six and a half.

OK. Circus Maximus.

I’ve moved to London. I’ve got my Literature degree, which is absolutely of no use to me at all. I’m kind of living in Chelsea, and my head’s full of the Bible, and Brecht, and I kind of decide to go off and make songs which talk about … it’s actually about my experience arriving in London as a serious young Scotsman and seeing the kind of suburban and commercial atmosphere that’s in London. Just kind of putting that against what I’ve been reading for the past four years at University and finding comic pathos in that comparison. There’s about three really good songs on that so I’d give it seven again.

Poison Boyfriend?

The El Records thing has been fun, but it hasn’t really worked—Circus Maximus was on El—Alan McGee is running Creation Records, and they actually have money and seem to be going places in terms of the press. So I get headhunted and go to Creation, who weirdly enough think I’m going to be their most commercial act and save their skins financially. Which doesn’t happen, although this record gets great reviews and a lot of press. Alan McGee said he would jump in a river after having made an album like this because I’d never do anything as good, but I don’t think that’s true at all. I personally don’t listen to this a lot; again, I think there’s three fairly good songs on it. It’s almost like a mid-’80s singer-songwriter album, largely acoustic. I quite like “Closer To You,” actually, so I’d give it … again…seven.

Tender Pervert?

It’s 1988, and I’ve begun to realize that you can shock people and you can say things which interest yourself rather than just making emotional songs. I remember there was a lot on TV that year about 20 years after 1968, and I was very interested in the whole idea of the ’60s politicalism and the freedom and everything that we’d seemed to have lost by the ’80s. And I was also getting into Japanese culture a lot, so there’s a lot of Japanese stuff. There’s also a very strong gay subtext in that, because of AIDS being a major issue, and I kind of had the sense that the gay community was being wiped out. So maybe straight people like me should step into that space and say, “Listen, that was an important community, we need to articulate some of the ideals that came out of the gay movement.” I think Tender Pervert is really my most important album. For me, it’s where the Momus style really gels, so I give it a nine.

Don’t Stop The Night?

Don’t Stop The Night is just the continuation, really, of the taboo themes that I started dealing with on Tender Pervert. With a more disco feel, so it’s got a more gay feeling, again…So there are songs about having sex with corpses and little girls and things like that. It was originally going to be titled Sexual Crimes Of The Professional Classes. I guess the idea was that under the patina of normality, British life is full of seething corruption and decadence. And I guess the end of the 1980s, people like Bret Easton Ellis were around, and American Psycho and all that stuff. So there’s a kind of definite sense of moral corruption and greed and materialism of the ’80s, turning into something quite dark and sinister. It’s my scariest record, it’s got some great songs on it, again I give it a nine.

Monsters Of Love?

This is really a Creation compilation that comprises the really early El EP, The Beast With Three Backs, and a lot of b-sides and unreleased stuff. But actually I think it works quite well as a record. It’s quite a dark and threatening record…I’d give it an eight.

Hippopotamomus?

I kind of like this one, it was I guess throwing away the weight of tragic genius off my shoulders and deciding to have fun. I just read a biography of Little Richard and I just love the idea of unchanneled impulse. I think what I had always done in my records up to that point was located guilt inside myself, and tried to look at that guilt and say, here are the world’s standards of moral behavior, and here are my dark subconscious impulses. And then put them up against each other and you get this smog of guilt. So what I did with Hippopotamomus was say, I’m going to throw guilt away entirely and celebrate instinctual impulses, the same way a baby decides to shit or put things in its mouth just for the hell of it. And what interestingly happened, as a result of that decision was that a mother was found—this was a critic on the NME named Betty Page who came along and spanked and thrashed me for having dirty pop music and having left some unsightly mounds. So I was kind of punished critically at this point, for having gone too far. I think in a way it’s a slight record artistically, but some people think it’s the most perfect encapsulation of some of Momus’s more perverse urges. Eight, I guess.

The Ultraconformist?

The Ultraconformist (Live Whilst Staying Out Of Fashion). Mike Always, whom I’d always stayed friends with after leaving El Records, was kind of looking around for any unreleased live material that he could put out, because he’d gone back to Cherry Red. I said, “Well listen, I don’t have any live tapes, but what I’d like to do is make a fake live album, in the spirit of Orson Welles. Let’s make something that was ostensibly recorded in 1910 on wax cylinders in a cabaret—a Vorticist cabaret, Cave Of The Golden Calf in London, which is actually run by the Swedish dramatist Strindberg’s widow. I think at this point I was trying to be a bit mainstream again, and doing the Voyager album for Creation. I had management at that point and it looked like I was going to be the beloved of some boring little synth band. But I’d kept a lot of Cabaret songs that I’d also been writing for my own pleasure, so I put them all on that album. It was recorded by the absolute cheapest means, so it’s not much fun to listen to, but I think the songs are quite strong. I’d give it a seven and a half.

Voyager?

Alan McGee loved it at Creation. It was kind of the album everybody wanted me to make to be in tune with the times. It was the era of the Orb and PM Dawn — I have some affection for that type of music, but in a way, it’s kind of a diversion from what Momus is all about. I think it’s not about “album in the electronic pop genre,” but it’s a kind of yearning spirituality that was maybe a new note in my work. It didn’t have the smug and smarmy kind of lyrical quality that some of my other records had. It’s a good record but not a good Momus record.

Timelord?

An achingly beautiful mistake. It goes further in the kind of wistful, spiritual direction that I think Voyager was going in. One of the things I was trying to do at that point was what I was calling in my own mind “science fiction melodrama,” trying to rediscover innocence after the depravity of the ‘80s. Trying to put myself in the point of view of a Japanese girl, a very shy Japanese girl, and the kind of feelings she would have. Also, Timelord is very influenced by The Man Who Fell To Earth, the David Bowie movie. Just the idea that the character in that film is trying to communicate with his wife who is on another planet far away. My future wife was a Muslim, and had been taken away to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage. So I was in kind of a similar situation. Muslims in Bangladesh are almost like Martians–it’s a very very different mentality. So this album came out just at a point where it looked really uncertain if I’d ever see Shazna again, and it was a really personal record for her, maybe she’d hear it on the radio when she was out there and keep her hope intact. But in the end we managed to get her out of there and we got married. That album is the low point of that whole story. It’s quite painful for me to listen to it, but I think it is quite a beautiful record, if it’s, you know, late at night. Eight.

Philosophy Of Momus?

This is me living with Shazna in Paris. I’ve always thought of Paris as a beautiful place I’d like to live, but when I get there I find that it’s culturally and creatively not very happening, and it hasn’t been very happening since 1910. Because Picasso and Matisse left long ago, and the Daft Punk and Air kind of phenomenon hasn’t started yet when I arrive there. So Philosophy Of Momus is me just kind of saying, well, “who am I,” and let’s throw out some possibilities. I’ve been listening to a lot of Beck, I thought Beck was the future of pop music, and I wanted to experiment with some of the things he’d discovered, those collisions of genres. So there’s kind of weird Balinese scales mixed with distorted guitar, a lot of musical experimentation really. I think it’s an interesting record and it is one that I can still listen to today. It’s also the first time that I’m looking at the digital revolution and saying, this is a really interesting place philosophically as well as technically. It’s the Wired magazine mentality, I guess. We’re entering the 21st century now—what’s it going to be like, and what’s it going to mean for things like personal relationships, now that our memory has been mechanized, that we remember things partially because they are on digital video, or because we have email on our computers? That’s how I remember things now. So I think it’s still got a lot of relevant topics on it, and I give it an eight.

Slender Sherbet?

I’m still in Paris, I’m running out of money, I say, “Help, give me some money, Cherry Red.” So I make remakes of some of my ‘80s stuff. It’s just a way to get reviews so people will remember me. I kind of felt when I was living in Paris that I was in retirement, and I just needed to wave a little flag and say, “I’m still here, I wrote some good songs and I don’t want them to be forgotten.” But it was also drawing a line across the first phase of my career, the first 10 years—that was what I did, now I’m going to go off into the 21st century and do some new stuff. I don’t know if it’s that great of an album, I’d give it a six.

20 Vodka Jellies?

20 Vodka Jellies is the first U.S. release, and it was proposed by Matt Jacobson who runs Le Grand Magestery, which is my label here. Matt I’ve known since about 1990, he was a graphics student at Parsons and then he became a magician—he’s a man of many talents, and a huge enthusiasm for the El label and for what I do, and that was kind of refreshing and energizing in itself. So I got together a lot of things I had, on DAT, demos of records I’d done. Because what was also happening while I was living in Paris was I started having hits in Japan. I wrote for Kahimi Karie who then moved to Paris and lived very close to me. This was a way to say, well, Momus still exists as a solo artist, he’s not someone who just writes for Japanese girls. Actually, I think it’s a lot of fun as a record. I think the light side of what I did with Kahimi Karie really shines through on 20 Vodka Jellies. Just the idea that you can have fun and entertain people while making quite serious points. I’d give that a nine. Some of the tracks on 20 Vodka Jellies are demos that I made for Butch Vig, because apparently in 1992, after doing Nirvana, he was looking for something very different. He approached Creation and said, “This guy Momus might be interesting to work with, can I hear some stuff that he’s doing?” And I made the classic mistake of going off and making some demos in a kinda Nirvana-esque style, because there’s a side of me that’s … I’ve never ever rocked, in any sense, and I’m notorious in the English music press for being afraid to rock. Which is fine with me, I’m not afraid to cabaret or vaudeville or whatever. But I went off and rocked, and there were some interesting elements there, so I stuck a few of those tracks on.

The most current album…Ping Pong?

Ping Pong reflects the fact that I moved back to London in 1997, and London was a stimulating and creative place for a lot of people, especially visual artists. Young British artists. I started hanging out with them on the East side of London, so it’s really a reaction to moving back to London and moving to a different part of London, and swinging with London. But in a uniquely Momus style, because it’s still about transgression. I think a lot of the influence on this came from working with—because I came back and found there’s a bunch of really young bands, like Jack and Orlando, who were listening to what I did and wanted me to produce them. I listened very carefully to the elements of what they were listening to in Momus, and what they liked. They tended to be into the lyrics, and the transgressive side of things. I think that really helped me focus what the Momus signature is, the specification and formula for what I do. It takes a fresh and wickedly transgressive perspective on everyday subjects. So I went off with this newly polished formula, and made some Momus songs almost like someone pastiche-ing Momus would. I realized that I founded a genre of music, and I could be a pastiche artist just like anyone else could. But maybe I’m better at being Momus than all those young bands are. Although they would like to be Momus, they don’t have quite sharp enough pencils. So that’s real
ly the side of me doing that – finding that I can be Momus and maybe I’m just going to be Momus for the rest of my life and do better pastiches than anyone else. I’ll give it nine. Maybe the NME had a point that it should rock more, but I think it rocks mentally. Conceptually, it rocks.

Entry for June 22, 2007

June 22, 2007

Hang The DJ.

Entry for June 22, 2007

June 22, 2007

Hang The DJ.

Entry for June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007

A Conversation With Sting, 1983

(Here’s a phone conversation that took place with Mr. Sting the day after the previous in-person conversations with his bandmates; everyone’s favorite Blond Reggae Rocker apparently had a bug of some sort that troubled him. Must be that pesky phlegm issue! –dd)

Are you feeling OK?

Yeah, it takes awhile in the morning for my voice to come out. It burrows itself away inside my head somewhere.

I saw both shows and I thought it sounded very good at both shows. I was surprised. Do you expect this bug to pretty much go away?

I don’t know–it’s like a tight-rope walker. I’m playing Cleveland tonight, I just hope it works in Cleveland. It’s just that the show is much longer now than it ever was. It’s two hours.

You certainly have a lot of energy–I don’t think the audience would notice anything, let’s put it that way. Was great that you mentioned onstage being at a ballgame earlier–a nice touch, Detroit loves that. We spoke before at one point–your band, myself and Susan Whitall, when you played here at Bookies, at that bar down the road. It’s interesting how things have changed since then. Did it take you a long time after the Dune film to get into the spirit of being in the Police again?

While I was doing Dune in Mexico, I felt like a bit of an exile, really, because what was happening in England was phenomenal. We went to Number 1 again, the album did–the band was happening without me being there. The record was happening at least. So the excitement and momentum was already going. And we started rehearsing about three weeks ago, we went through the history of the band, which was interesting. We started at Album One and played all the numbers–there were some songs we couldn’t remember, but it was a useful little exercise and it got us back to where we are now. I think night after night we get a little better.

I thought the older material especially sounded very fresh. I was surprised actually. About Dune, though: how would you compare it to other movies you’ve done?

It’s certainly the biggest. I mean it’s a $45 million budget, which is outrageous, and I don’t cost that much, believe me. It’s got about 500 special effects and it’s a two-year shoot. It was just enormous, and I felt like a very small cog in a big wheel–whereas the last movie I did, Brimstone & Treacle, I was on the set every day and was in most of the frames of the movie, so it was quite different.

Have you been a fan of David Lynch?

Oh yeah, the main reason I did the film wasn’t because I love Dune very much–it was because of David Lynch’s very special talent.

That’s great. Do you know when we’re going to be able to finally see this thing?

They say in 1985.

I’m looking forward to seeing it. Back on the subject of the band ��� tell me about the new record. It sounds great to me. Are you generally satisfied with it?

I think it’s our best record. I wouldn’t say I’m entirely satisfied with it. I don’t think it’s in my nature to be totally satisfied with anything. There’s always something that could be improved, something that you would have done differently after it’ s finished.

Do you think that the amount of time you spent on it may have something to do with the polish that you can clearly sense on it?

We didn’t spend that much time on it. I mean, I spent a lot of time writing it, but as far as the actual performance was concerned, it was quite short. I mean, longer than the others, but by present standards of making records, it was quite economical use of time.

Would you say the whole process of coming back from an outside project and getting back to the Police in any sense took on the air of a chore–or something like that–for you? Something you have to do that you don’t want to do–but you know you’d better?

A chore? No. The band isn’t a chore, nor are the things we do outside of it. If you do go outside and do something else, it refreshes you if anything. Otherwise a band can become a kind of prison–a sort of feudal system that you can’t get out of. Our band reserves the privilege and the right to break up at any time. We can basically do what we want ��� there’s no one holding a stick over us, and that allows me a sense of freedom, which I need.

It seems that Andy and Stewart can pretty much explore and do their own things–Stewart’s doing the Rumblefish soundtrack and Andy’s doing the solo records. But with the exception of a few soundtrack cuts, there really hasn’t been any Sting material that wasn’t Police material.

I don’t really feel the need to have to do a solo album. My material is amply utilized in the band. The only reason to do a solo album is to say, oh, I can do it on my own. I mean, it’s a bit pedantry. I just don’t feel the need.

I didn’t mean to harp on something that everyone in the world has been asking you. Are you getting sick of the media attention on you? After all this time, people asking you the big question, in the sense that it’s a far cry from back when you were touring America in a van, playing in very small clubs.

It’s a part of the job. I mean, I don’t relish the thought of talking about the music, because I think it speaks for itself, but it’s a necessary evil. Can I say that? (laughs)

Yeah, I know just what you mean. You don’t think then there’s a danger of becoming a prima donna and believing your own press releases?

Well, I’m a very cynical person–very cynical about myself, too. So I don’t think I’ve become a prima donna. I have what’s called British phlegm.

What?

Phlegm. From phlegmatic.

So having both the band and the outside projects is in a sense a sanity-keeping measure, in a manner of speaking.

Yeah. I mean the band is just one part of our lives. It’s not the entire be all and end all of our lives–if it was, it would be just awful. I couldn’t stand it. I need a private life and I need private modes of expression.

The gossip of your private life, such as it is���

What private life? (laughs)

Is it at the point where you don’t feel you have one, so who cares?

Actually, I’m fairly immune to what the press say, particularly in England, where they invent a private life and then proceed to comment on it. It’s a joke, really. It’s not me they’re writing about, they’re writing about some invention.

It’s interesting, in England you’ve made a jump and now the band has almost attained godhead status. And they can’t knock you, because things have come up in your way, but it’s kind of funny. I imagine you must get a kick out of it yourself.

Well actually, I bait the press a lot. Somebody slags me off, I’ll slag them back. I quite enjoy that. I like the right to say what the hell I like. They say what the hell they like.

Have you been listening to anything interesting lately?

Music.

Anything in particular?

Not really. No. I listen to classical music a lot.

I just read a Musician article that mentioned you taking some bachelors in art training. Have you been keeping up on that?

Yeah, it’s a massive project. It’s years���I’m into the second movement of Vaughan Williams’ 6th Symphony, which I’m programming, rather in the manner that Walter Carlos did, on Bach and Beethoven–except it’s harder than that, because Bach and Beethoven were very mathematical, and they used very simple time signatures, and this piece of music is a 20th century piece of music. It has lots of time signatures all playing at the same time, in different keys. It presents problems that Bach and Beethoven didn’t present. And it’s quite a challenge. I enjoyed doing it.

Did you bring a lot of knowledge from this when it came time to make Synchronicity?

I certainly learned a lot a lot about orchestration and about how an orchestra actually works, physically. But I can’t think of any specific piece of information–almost any knowledge you gain is used somewhere, sooner or later.

Your songs carry a large degree of seriousness these days. Would you say that you’re still a funny guy–that you’ve retained your sense of h
umor?

I have a sense of irony. If that’s the same as a sense of humor, then fine.

Have you been laughing a lot?

I was laughing last night, all through the show. I mean, I find it a real irony to go from Bookies to doing two nights at the Joe Louis Arena. I mean, it’s funny. We’re just the same group. As far as my political beliefs or whatever, my artistic beliefs go, I’m pretty angry at the world, I mean really. And I think it’s my duty to be angry. Because a lot of people are asleep, you know. They don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know the place is being wrecked by… fools. Fools we call politicians. I mean, I am angry, and I am sour about the political state of the world. I think it sucks. But that doesn’t mean to say that I’m crying in my beer.

I don’t like to bring up the Clash because everybody else does, bur still–what’s the difference between the Clash being “14-year-olds” and your telling me the world stinks?

I’m 15 years old. (laughs) No, listen, I do like the Clash, I think that they do protest too much, in a way, they go on soapboxes onstage–which we don’t do, actually. I mean, my private beliefs are my own, and they’re as radical as you could get. But I don’t think it’s entertainment. So on the stage I prefer to make the statements in a veiled way, in a way that’s almost seductive, in a way, rather than get on a soapbox and say this is right and this is wrong. I mean that’s only my opinion. I’d rather do it in a kind of way that’s almost gentle.

That makes sense.

Yeah. I mean, last night the audience was singing my lyrics. Now whether or not that’s effective or not is another matter, but they certainly were singing the lyrics, and they’re singing a viewpoint about what I consider to be serious. I think you can chip away at society, or changing things, but you can’t change it overnight. And you certainly can’t change it with a hammer. When I’m asked what I think of the world in���what’s the word?���in prose, I will tell you. It sucks. You know, the Senate has a budget for 27 more MX missiles? And that’s just this week. What’s going to happen next week? Or the week after? Jesus, let’s wake up.

I imagine your concerns have broadened considerably now that you’re financially set–you can take on more abstract issues���

Well, I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage, but I’m not immune from what’s happening in the world. I mean, I could be, if I wanted to be–I could get drugged or drunk all the time, and be surrounded by women, and all that bullshit, but I think that’s just being asleep. I prefer to be conscious, even though it’s a bit painful.

To shift gears to something a little lighter–how has fame affected your sense of personal freedom? I know there’s a monorail at your hotel that will bring you directly to a mall. Could you take it over there today, or would that be out of the question?

No, it’s certainly not out of the question, I won’t change my life one iota. If I want to go out for a walk, I will. It’s just that the profile has increased a lot, and people who wouldn’t know who you were a year ago know who you are now. And it’s not bothersome, you just have to be aware of it, I suppose. But we’ve had this in England for five years, and only now, sort of in the heartland of America, we’re famous, I suppose, and there isn’t the same anonymity that there was. And it was a nice feeling, sometimes, to be anonymous. That’s gone, apparently.

There’s a certain way a crowd acts at a rock ‘n’ roll show, and it seemed last night that things have changed slightly for the band. You’ve grown into an arty sort of band, in one sense, yet the audience was howling as if they were at a Ted Nugent show, say. Is that a negative? A positive? The mass of that appeal, that maybe a few people like your songs and don’t even know what they’re singing when they sing your lyrics?

Yeah, I mean it’s���we seem to appeal to a lot of people on a lot of different levels. I mean, I can’t really complain about that. I think we can communicate without necessarily being understood, even. It depends on whose level. It’s a value judgement. I’m thinking that I’m intellectual, but maybe I’m not, maybe I’m stupid. Maybe the knuckleheads are clever, I don’t know.

Are you flattered by all the imitation Polices that are sprouting up?

Are they? I’m not really aware of it.

Well, OK, the obvious band is the Men At Work. I was telling Andy there’s a band from Canada called the Tenants who’ve got an album out on Epic–and if you heard it, it would scare you. Doesn’t sound that much like you, but they obviously got a deal because they sound like “the Police,” in quotes.

Well, I suppose it’s flattering in a way. When I started, I copied–I wanted to be Ron Carter on bass, and when I sang I wanted to be Flora Purim.

What about Bob Marley? Everybody said you wanted to sound like Bob Marley.

Yeah, I wanted to be Bob Marley one week as well. You know, I mean you have to start somewhere, and people are very influential in your life, so I suppose it’s a natural process. But then the real artist will develop his own style naturally out of that influence.

Briefly, in the next few years, do you think you’re going to be going through the same rigmarole of staying in strange hotels, playing in strange venues–living this life and watching it get bigger and bigger?

No, I think it’s one of my duties in a sense to change the way bands work and perform. So I would hope that if the band is together in five years’ time, that we’ll be exercising a different form, if you like. I’m not sure what that form will take, but the desire to change it is in there. And it usually works with me–if I want to change something, it usually happens. I don’t want to do the same show in Detroit in five years’ time, or anything remotely like it.

The things that you were dissatisfied with on the most recent album–you know, the one or two things that you’re never totally satisfied with–do you think those things can be changed?

Yeah, we’re going to re-record the album next week.

I don’t believe you. It’s interesting that it’s going to come out on compact disc by the way–that’s pretty neat in itself. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Oh, is it? I didn’t know that.

You didn’t? That’s what I heard.

Yeah, I don’t know about these things–these things just happen.

When I was talking to Stewart, he was talking about it. You know–the wave of the future. I imagine that I’ll be hearing from you on that later.

They sound like an attractive idea–the disc that you can use as a frisbee.

Yeah, put it in your car. It’ll ruin the record industry. Pretty soon you’ll be on the street washing cars again.

Yeah, why not?

Anyway, thanks for thinking about CREEM.

Let’s go to the ballgame! See you later.

Entry for June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007

A Conversation With Sting, 1983

(Here’s a phone conversation that took place with Mr. Sting the day after the previous in-person conversations with his bandmates; everyone’s favorite Blond Reggae Rocker apparently had a bug of some sort that troubled him. Must be that pesky phlegm issue! –dd)

Are you feeling OK?

Yeah, it takes awhile in the morning for my voice to come out. It burrows itself away inside my head somewhere.

I saw both shows and I thought it sounded very good at both shows. I was surprised. Do you expect this bug to pretty much go away?

I don’t know–it’s like a tight-rope walker. I’m playing Cleveland tonight, I just hope it works in Cleveland. It’s just that the show is much longer now than it ever was. It’s two hours.

You certainly have a lot of energy–I don’t think the audience would notice anything, let’s put it that way. Was great that you mentioned onstage being at a ballgame earlier–a nice touch, Detroit loves that. We spoke before at one point–your band, myself and Susan Whitall, when you played here at Bookies, at that bar down the road. It’s interesting how things have changed since then. Did it take you a long time after the Dune film to get into the spirit of being in the Police again?

While I was doing Dune in Mexico, I felt like a bit of an exile, really, because what was happening in England was phenomenal. We went to Number 1 again, the album did–the band was happening without me being there. The record was happening at least. So the excitement and momentum was already going. And we started rehearsing about three weeks ago, we went through the history of the band, which was interesting. We started at Album One and played all the numbers–there were some songs we couldn’t remember, but it was a useful little exercise and it got us back to where we are now. I think night after night we get a little better.

I thought the older material especially sounded very fresh. I was surprised actually. About Dune, though: how would you compare it to other movies you’ve done?

It’s certainly the biggest. I mean it’s a $45 million budget, which is outrageous, and I don’t cost that much, believe me. It’s got about 500 special effects and it’s a two-year shoot. It was just enormous, and I felt like a very small cog in a big wheel–whereas the last movie I did, Brimstone & Treacle, I was on the set every day and was in most of the frames of the movie, so it was quite different.

Have you been a fan of David Lynch?

Oh yeah, the main reason I did the film wasn’t because I love Dune very much–it was because of David Lynch’s very special talent.

That’s great. Do you know when we’re going to be able to finally see this thing?

They say in 1985.

I’m looking forward to seeing it. Back on the subject of the band ��� tell me about the new record. It sounds great to me. Are you generally satisfied with it?

I think it’s our best record. I wouldn’t say I’m entirely satisfied with it. I don’t think it’s in my nature to be totally satisfied with anything. There’s always something that could be improved, something that you would have done differently after it’ s finished.

Do you think that the amount of time you spent on it may have something to do with the polish that you can clearly sense on it?

We didn’t spend that much time on it. I mean, I spent a lot of time writing it, but as far as the actual performance was concerned, it was quite short. I mean, longer than the others, but by present standards of making records, it was quite economical use of time.

Would you say the whole process of coming back from an outside project and getting back to the Police in any sense took on the air of a chore–or something like that–for you? Something you have to do that you don’t want to do–but you know you’d better?

A chore? No. The band isn’t a chore, nor are the things we do outside of it. If you do go outside and do something else, it refreshes you if anything. Otherwise a band can become a kind of prison–a sort of feudal system that you can’t get out of. Our band reserves the privilege and the right to break up at any time. We can basically do what we want ��� there’s no one holding a stick over us, and that allows me a sense of freedom, which I need.

It seems that Andy and Stewart can pretty much explore and do their own things–Stewart’s doing the Rumblefish soundtrack and Andy’s doing the solo records. But with the exception of a few soundtrack cuts, there really hasn’t been any Sting material that wasn’t Police material.

I don’t really feel the need to have to do a solo album. My material is amply utilized in the band. The only reason to do a solo album is to say, oh, I can do it on my own. I mean, it’s a bit pedantry. I just don’t feel the need.

I didn’t mean to harp on something that everyone in the world has been asking you. Are you getting sick of the media attention on you? After all this time, people asking you the big question, in the sense that it’s a far cry from back when you were touring America in a van, playing in very small clubs.

It’s a part of the job. I mean, I don’t relish the thought of talking about the music, because I think it speaks for itself, but it’s a necessary evil. Can I say that? (laughs)

Yeah, I know just what you mean. You don’t think then there’s a danger of becoming a prima donna and believing your own press releases?

Well, I’m a very cynical person–very cynical about myself, too. So I don’t think I’ve become a prima donna. I have what’s called British phlegm.

What?

Phlegm. From phlegmatic.

So having both the band and the outside projects is in a sense a sanity-keeping measure, in a manner of speaking.

Yeah. I mean the band is just one part of our lives. It’s not the entire be all and end all of our lives–if it was, it would be just awful. I couldn’t stand it. I need a private life and I need private modes of expression.

The gossip of your private life, such as it is���

What private life? (laughs)

Is it at the point where you don’t feel you have one, so who cares?

Actually, I’m fairly immune to what the press say, particularly in England, where they invent a private life and then proceed to comment on it. It’s a joke, really. It’s not me they’re writing about, they’re writing about some invention.

It’s interesting, in England you’ve made a jump and now the band has almost attained godhead status. And they can’t knock you, because things have come up in your way, but it’s kind of funny. I imagine you must get a kick out of it yourself.

Well actually, I bait the press a lot. Somebody slags me off, I’ll slag them back. I quite enjoy that. I like the right to say what the hell I like. They say what the hell they like.

Have you been listening to anything interesting lately?

Music.

Anything in particular?

Not really. No. I listen to classical music a lot.

I just read a Musician article that mentioned you taking some bachelors in art training. Have you been keeping up on that?

Yeah, it’s a massive project. It’s years���I’m into the second movement of Vaughan Williams’ 6th Symphony, which I’m programming, rather in the manner that Walter Carlos did, on Bach and Beethoven–except it’s harder than that, because Bach and Beethoven were very mathematical, and they used very simple time signatures, and this piece of music is a 20th century piece of music. It has lots of time signatures all playing at the same time, in different keys. It presents problems that Bach and Beethoven didn’t present. And it’s quite a challenge. I enjoyed doing it.

Did you bring a lot of knowledge from this when it came time to make Synchronicity?

I certainly learned a lot a lot about orchestration and about how an orchestra actually works, physically. But I can’t think of any specific piece of information–almost any knowledge you gain is used somewhere, sooner or later.

Your songs carry a large degree of seriousness these days. Would you say that you’re still a funny guy–that you’ve retained your sense of h
umor?

I have a sense of irony. If that’s the same as a sense of humor, then fine.

Have you been laughing a lot?

I was laughing last night, all through the show. I mean, I find it a real irony to go from Bookies to doing two nights at the Joe Louis Arena. I mean, it’s funny. We’re just the same group. As far as my political beliefs or whatever, my artistic beliefs go, I’m pretty angry at the world, I mean really. And I think it’s my duty to be angry. Because a lot of people are asleep, you know. They don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know the place is being wrecked by… fools. Fools we call politicians. I mean, I am angry, and I am sour about the political state of the world. I think it sucks. But that doesn’t mean to say that I’m crying in my beer.

I don’t like to bring up the Clash because everybody else does, bur still–what’s the difference between the Clash being “14-year-olds” and your telling me the world stinks?

I’m 15 years old. (laughs) No, listen, I do like the Clash, I think that they do protest too much, in a way, they go on soapboxes onstage–which we don’t do, actually. I mean, my private beliefs are my own, and they’re as radical as you could get. But I don’t think it’s entertainment. So on the stage I prefer to make the statements in a veiled way, in a way that’s almost seductive, in a way, rather than get on a soapbox and say this is right and this is wrong. I mean that’s only my opinion. I’d rather do it in a kind of way that’s almost gentle.

That makes sense.

Yeah. I mean, last night the audience was singing my lyrics. Now whether or not that’s effective or not is another matter, but they certainly were singing the lyrics, and they’re singing a viewpoint about what I consider to be serious. I think you can chip away at society, or changing things, but you can’t change it overnight. And you certainly can’t change it with a hammer. When I’m asked what I think of the world in���what’s the word?���in prose, I will tell you. It sucks. You know, the Senate has a budget for 27 more MX missiles? And that’s just this week. What’s going to happen next week? Or the week after? Jesus, let’s wake up.

I imagine your concerns have broadened considerably now that you’re financially set–you can take on more abstract issues���

Well, I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage, but I’m not immune from what’s happening in the world. I mean, I could be, if I wanted to be–I could get drugged or drunk all the time, and be surrounded by women, and all that bullshit, but I think that’s just being asleep. I prefer to be conscious, even though it’s a bit painful.

To shift gears to something a little lighter–how has fame affected your sense of personal freedom? I know there’s a monorail at your hotel that will bring you directly to a mall. Could you take it over there today, or would that be out of the question?

No, it’s certainly not out of the question, I won’t change my life one iota. If I want to go out for a walk, I will. It’s just that the profile has increased a lot, and people who wouldn’t know who you were a year ago know who you are now. And it’s not bothersome, you just have to be aware of it, I suppose. But we’ve had this in England for five years, and only now, sort of in the heartland of America, we’re famous, I suppose, and there isn’t the same anonymity that there was. And it was a nice feeling, sometimes, to be anonymous. That’s gone, apparently.

There’s a certain way a crowd acts at a rock ‘n’ roll show, and it seemed last night that things have changed slightly for the band. You’ve grown into an arty sort of band, in one sense, yet the audience was howling as if they were at a Ted Nugent show, say. Is that a negative? A positive? The mass of that appeal, that maybe a few people like your songs and don’t even know what they’re singing when they sing your lyrics?

Yeah, I mean it’s���we seem to appeal to a lot of people on a lot of different levels. I mean, I can’t really complain about that. I think we can communicate without necessarily being understood, even. It depends on whose level. It’s a value judgement. I’m thinking that I’m intellectual, but maybe I’m not, maybe I’m stupid. Maybe the knuckleheads are clever, I don’t know.

Are you flattered by all the imitation Polices that are sprouting up?

Are they? I’m not really aware of it.

Well, OK, the obvious band is the Men At Work. I was telling Andy there’s a band from Canada called the Tenants who’ve got an album out on Epic–and if you heard it, it would scare you. Doesn’t sound that much like you, but they obviously got a deal because they sound like “the Police,” in quotes.

Well, I suppose it’s flattering in a way. When I started, I copied–I wanted to be Ron Carter on bass, and when I sang I wanted to be Flora Purim.

What about Bob Marley? Everybody said you wanted to sound like Bob Marley.

Yeah, I wanted to be Bob Marley one week as well. You know, I mean you have to start somewhere, and people are very influential in your life, so I suppose it’s a natural process. But then the real artist will develop his own style naturally out of that influence.

Briefly, in the next few years, do you think you’re going to be going through the same rigmarole of staying in strange hotels, playing in strange venues–living this life and watching it get bigger and bigger?

No, I think it’s one of my duties in a sense to change the way bands work and perform. So I would hope that if the band is together in five years’ time, that we’ll be exercising a different form, if you like. I’m not sure what that form will take, but the desire to change it is in there. And it usually works with me–if I want to change something, it usually happens. I don’t want to do the same show in Detroit in five years’ time, or anything remotely like it.

The things that you were dissatisfied with on the most recent album–you know, the one or two things that you’re never totally satisfied with–do you think those things can be changed?

Yeah, we’re going to re-record the album next week.

I don’t believe you. It’s interesting that it’s going to come out on compact disc by the way–that’s pretty neat in itself. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Oh, is it? I didn’t know that.

You didn’t? That’s what I heard.

Yeah, I don’t know about these things–these things just happen.

When I was talking to Stewart, he was talking about it. You know–the wave of the future. I imagine that I’ll be hearing from you on that later.

They sound like an attractive idea–the disc that you can use as a frisbee.

Yeah, put it in your car. It’ll ruin the record industry. Pretty soon you’ll be on the street washing cars again.

Yeah, why not?

Anyway, thanks for thinking about CREEM.

Let’s go to the ballgame! See you later.

Entry for June 13, 2007

June 13, 2007

A Conversation With Stewart Copeland, 1983

(This took place shortly after the conversation with Andy Summers included below. Very friendly guy; fascinating to hear his opinions on digital recording–and that he was the first member of the Police to get a CD player. –dd)

Hey. We’ve spoken a few times before, once long ago for a phone interview, then in an actual gay bar named Menjo’s next to Bookie’s in Detroit.

Right. A perfect place…for a. new wave interview.

Heard you just became a daddy. Congratulations.

Yes, that’s right. Thank you very much. I already was a daddy, but still–I’m even more of a daddy. My own equipment works, anyway.

That’s not what Andy said. Hey, I wonder how you feel about coming out on the road so soon, then, to do this tour?

Well, the family’s coming out to meet me in a week, so it’s all right. I’m going to run through the baby’s repertoire of things that he can do, which is gurgle happily, or gurgle unhappily, burp and shit. And pee. And those things are all wonderful and exciting, but you know, actually the next thing he’ll do is focus and look at me. Look me in the eye and tell me that he’s proud to be American.

You can get some good found sounds for your next Rumblefishtype project. Want to tell me about that?

Sure. All right.

How did it all start?

It was a call from Hollywood. Francis [Ford Coppola] called me up, and told me that he was doing movie where time was an important factor. And as we all know, rhythm and time are connected. And so I went over to where he was rehearsing the film, in Oklahoma, and met with him, and we established a fairly instant rapport. He’s a very inspiring man to talk to–he definitely got all my juices flowing.

How does he know you?

I don’t know. He’s got teenage kids, that’s one clue .You know, he called me up–at first, all I was going to do was advise him on rhythms and stuff, and we discussed lots of ways of connecting shooting to rhythm and acting to rhythm, and everything. And by the time I had finished, I’d composed all the music and performed 98 percent of it.

What kind of music is it? You beating on drums?

And me beating on a guitar and me beating on a banjo, and tuned percussion, xylophone, orchestral bells, and pianos and synthesizers and double bass and lots of things.

Will it sound like anything I might have heard before?

I don’t think so.

Didn’t Mickey Hart do music for Apocalypse Now?

Well, he did some of it; a lot of different people were involved in different parts of that. A lot of people lay claim to having done the soundtrack, but actually it was done by a lot of different people.

Your role is significantly different then, in a sense.

Yeah, well I did all of it. There’s some source music–it’s called source music if like they’re walking down the street and there’s a radio blaring out of one of the places, that’s considered source music. Or at one point there’s a band playing–and obviously I didn’t do that. But all the original music, the incidental music and that–I did.

Has that been your major project aside from the Police at this point? How have you kept busy?

Well, there’s that and a 16mm movie I shot as a director as well, which is quite amusing.

Tell me about that.

It’s a film about the decay of British society, using the punks as a paradigm, and the plight of the dispossessed–or those who actually don’t have anything to begin with–in England. The attitude of the politicians is: these poor kids, with no future to look forward to, no job down the mineshaft, no jobs open, no opportunities for them on the factory floor. And that’s fairly tragic for so
mebody who’s been on the factory floor for 30 years, and has a family to support. But his kids, who’ve never had a job–they don’t want a job, they go down to the unemployment office every week, collect their check, and occasionally they have the misfortune to actually have to go out and have a job interview, so they dye their hair an even weirder shade of purple, put on their leather jacket with the sharpest studs, and go on to the interview.

You sound like an American capitalist instead of a socialist.

Well, I’m a capitalist who believes in the welfare state. I think that rather than trying to find pointless jobs for these people, they can have my taxes. I’d rather that the industries turned out product sufficiently and were able to move with the times and so on, rather than have people pointlessly employed, according to the Luddite principle of employment. Which is: The Luddites were people who objected to the inventions of new machines, because they thought they threatened jobs. I think that a job that is threatened by a machine–that can be replaced by a machine–should be replaced by a machine.

Andy was just mentioning he and Sting just got this brand new rhythm box���

Oh, well��� I’ve taught them everything they know about rhythm boxes, I’m very clever with drum boxes, I use them all the time. A lot. They’re very useful tools. The thing is, the point is, that I’m a rhythmatist, not just a drummer. The talent is in having the rhythms in your head, and the other thing is having the ability to play them with your hands. Drum boxes can do things that I can’t do, frankly.

You’re one of the few drummers I’ve spoken with recently���

There are things that drummers can do as well. There’s something about the feel of a band, that you can get with a live thing, of the tempos surging and swelling, and the dynamism, and I can stop and…the communication.

The incorrectness of the rhythm is what’s good?

Well, not that– the correctness of the rhythm is actually something that’s part of life today–the perfectness, the fine, uninterrupted line of rhythm is almost the pulse of today. Not exclusively–it’s one of the many pulses of today, this infallible mechanical rhythm, which is very true to life these days. There are certain things you can’t do if you have a drum pattern or a sequenced keyboard part, you can’t stray from it–like some of our songs onstage are sequenced, which means the drumbox and the sequencer are playing a part, which means that we can’t decide to play that chorus twice if we want to, which we do with all the other material. So it’s a limitation in playing live, in that respect. For composing, and making records, it’s really a good tool. It has a particular kind of sound to it. And I’ve arrived at this feeling about it many times–when I’m making my own demos and stuff, I start with the drum box, do the guitar, do the bass, and then I sit down and try to play what I thought was a good drum part, and it doesn’t sound as good on the drums. And so, in the old days, when drum boxes were made just for a click track, it was a drag. Because then you were stuck with this track, and I’d come up with a different part to it. But now that they come up with such good sounds, I mean you can actually keep that bass drum–the bass drum sound will probably stay on the record, maybe I’ll redo the snare myself or something, to get a better sound. But in making a record, it’s the composition–and somebody’s got to program it, somebody who’s clever with rhythms, preferably.

I’ve always looked at them as tools, myself.

Well, there’s two sides to talent, really. One is the basic talent inside, to think it up, to have emotions that you know how to express; to have, you know, talent for music. And the other thing is the actual muscular ability, to be able to execute these ideas–and to be a good musician, you have to have both. But for me, the basic talent is more important. I mean, I can perform on the double bass, on the trumpet, on any one of a long number of instruments. I couldn’t play a long solo and be a virtuoso, but I can accomplish what’s musically required on all these different instruments. And it doesn’t matter what the tool is���whether it’s me playing two notes rhythmically on a trumpet, or whether it’s a drum box, playing a program that I’ve put into it.

What do you think about the occasional criticisms people like Emitt Rhodes or Todd Rundgren get for all their studio work–that somehow there’s an element of soullessness to it?

You mean just too many overdubs?

Say people in a studio just plopping in a random note here or there���

That’s all very well and good; the way you do it is just a matter of taste. If I can only play two notes on trumpet and one note on guitar, and I only know five notes on piano–if I have to put them all in, then that’s not really all music. The idea is to make music–and if what’s required is something on the top line that does this, then I have to write something that I can play, or find somebody else to play it. I mean, in the band, it’s great, because there’s nothing that Andy can’t play. You know?

How would you compare your compositions on the soundtrack to, say, Sting’s songs?

Composition is a different thing. I mean, my composition goes pretty much to outside projects. Because in the band there’s a kind of a united sound we’ve arrived at on Sting’s material. I know what to do on Sting’s material–I mean, not always, I mean I’m looking for new things all the time, but it’s a challenge. He writes excellent material, and it’s always a pleasure to work on it. And the other side of the coin is that when I do bring in songs to the band, I don’t really feel comfortable with them, I feel as though Sting has to kind of sing a different kind of personality, and his personality is so different, and it comes from a different place.

So to bring it down to basics, are you happy doing this stuff but really more interested in doing your own thing?

No. Artistically, Police albums are perhaps the greatest challenge–because of the momentum of the band and the expectations of the band. That is a challenge–to be “the greatest.” Which the Police is in that position. Me as an individual, doing my other stuff, I don’t have to be the greatest, I haven’t got that track record. I mean, I haven’t done a film score before, so nobody has any expectations at all. And so in a way that’s more fun, in that respect. And also, I���m able to play with toys that–I’m able to play with concepts that wouldn’t have any meaning in the Police. For instance, just the mechanics of doing a movie instead of a song–the top line is a picture, a dialog, a story, and so the music that goes around it can be just one little element that has huge dramatic effect. Whereas with a song, you’ve got to have everything going, you’ve got to have chords, you’ve got to have melody, rhythm, lyrics, hooks–and it’s all got to be condensed on this three-minute thing.

Physically, how do you make a movie soundtrack?

Well, physically, what happens is that the two-inch audiotape is locked to the videotape machine. And for every foot of videotape, it’s put into video for my purposes, it’s shot on film, of course–for every shot of videotape for the movie, there’s a corresponding number of feet of tape, so I’ve got magnetic tape that runs the whole length of the movie. And so as I’m working on it, the picture is running before me, and like a certain line happens–where I want the music to start–and I want it to build to this point–and then when I get to that point in the conversation, that’s the crucial line, and it’s at that point that something’s got to happen–so I mark that point, the action has certain points, and mechanically what you do is–you map it out like that, and you structure the music around it. But conceptually what you’re doing is–you’re directing the audience’s emotions about a scene. For instance, take a scene where a guy walks out of door in the city, looks up at the sky, you know, sort of a medium to a long shot, gets into his car, you see him driving in his car and he arrives somewhere. Now the music can tell you what’s going on. Mournful music will tell you that his wife’s just died and he’s walking out of the doomy music as he gets into his car and weaves it through the traffic and…

So you’re saying it’s all entirely predictable?

No, I mean a different kind of music could tell you that it’s a beautiful day, and he bounces out of bed, and he looks up at the sky and the sky is smiling at him and he gets into…or, I mean, the music can tell you how you feel about a scene, whether to take it seriously, or whether this is a joke. At first, we talked at great length, Francis and I, about the meaning of the movie, and the meaning of the different scenes, and how to build up to these different points. And we had a rapport about the meaning and the atmosphere of the movie. And so once we established that, he left me in the studio–he came down in the studio I think twice or sornething like that. For a while I was recording in the basement of his office block, and he was upstairs. He’s got speakers running from the basement to his penthouse, so he can hear everything that’s going on from there as he’s, you know, enjoying his life–he’s listening to the musicians struggling away downstairs. But that was only for one week. Most of the time I was by myself in the studio–me and an engineer and a film editor.

How much time did it ultimately take you?

It took up–well the whole project, I started it. It first came down on the first day of rehearsals, and a year later I was finished. But the Police album was recorded during that period, and I filmed my punk movie.

You never finished describing that movie, by the way. What can we expect?

Oh, the punk movie. It’s all about punks on the road.

Anyone we know?

I don’t know. The Anti-Nowhere League, Chelsea, Chron-Gen and the Defects are two completely unheard of bands, with great personalities. They’re just cavorting photogenically. But there’s some serious points to be made as well.

Do you miss that? You still seem to be sort of centered around that.

Well I wouldn’t say I’m centered around it–I’m sort of nostalgic about it. I still appreciate it.

Because the new Police album is the antithesis of���

Of the punk movement. That’s all right, I can still appreciate it. When I first appreciated punk, I was in a dinosaur band called Curved Air.

I always liked them, actually–thought they were unjustifiably slagged off. I also liked the Darryl Way’s Wolf LPs as well.

Darryl Way discovered me.

How?

Just in jam sessions around London.

Who else did you play with before that?

Nobody. I was in college before that. I’ve only played in two professional bands–Curved Air and the Police.

What albums did you play on with Curved Air?

Midnight Wire and Airborne were the two I played on–not great moments in the history of music. The previous band was much better.

With your appreciation for punk and your obvious progressive tendencies with both the Police and Curved Air, do you feel any conflict?

I sometimes wonder. I mean, people say, “How do you feel about the fact that you’re playing Shea Stadium in front of 60,000 people, the antithesis of….” And I scratch my head and say, “Really, is there an excuse for it?” I’m sure there is, I can think one up, there’s an excuse because all that many peop1e want to see the band. There’s excuses and rationale, but the main thing is–it’s a buzz playing to a huge audience like that–that���s really exciting. We play small, cozy, intimate gatherings as well, such as the Joe Louis Arena, which is only 18,000.

Have you played there before?

Yeah, we played there once last year, we have to play there twice this year. Yeah, it is kind of the antithesis of the punk movement–but I’m not a punk, I’m 31-years-old and sophisticated in my musical tastes and abilities. And I’m not going to play punk music, because��� I can, I enjoy jamming on two chords with people, and I do that a lot at my place at home, jamming with buddies and stuff. But as far as what I want to do, I’d have to be turning off a lot of my ideas if I wanted to play punk music. I’m not a punk–I just appreciate what they do.

Speaking of Curved Air, what are Sonja’s musical plans for the future?

Well, she’s having a baby at the moment, but she does theater work, you know, she’s done a few musicals, things like that.

I think I have a British recording of Hair that she was on.

Yeah, she was–that was before Curved Air. But she’s not pursuing her career with, perhaps, the fire of her early days, she enjoys getting up onstage–she gets frustrated sometimes if she hasn’t worked for a long time, so she’ll take some job and work in a play, for as long as it runs and then, you know, it’s not really a burning thing with her.

So are you really sick of people asking when the Police are going to break up?

Yeah, it’s gone a bit far–I mean everybody, we talked to Time magazine and Newsweek, and both of them let slip the fact that, “Look, look, what we really want, the editors in New York, what they really want, they’re after a story on the conflict within the group.” And if that’s the story you want, you know? I mean, it’s boring, but they’ve written their story before they even get there. The thing is, we’ve always argued, and we have this dynamic relationship between the three of us. The thing is, it’s more salient now, the Police breaking up, the possibility of the Police breaking up two years ago wouldn’t really be much of a story, and now the Police is such an important group and well known and everything, it’s more of an event, and even the possibility of the event gets headlines. And it’s not because we’re any more likely to break up now then we were then, it’s because it’s a more salient story. The story has greater impact.

One minute: What’s gonna happen to your 16 mm film?

It’s going out as a short. I want to, first of all, put it out on tour, put it in places like Agora ballrooms, where they’re converted movie theaters, right? That are now clubs. And before a band goes on they can show a movie–and hopefully there’ll be a whole class of such movies, like C movies or D movies. The idea is, in moviemaking there isn’t a bottom rung to the ladder. In records, you can borrow a few hundred dollars and make a record, and you can actually be in business. It’s possible. With movies, the bottom rungs of the ladder are way too out of reach of most people. And hopefully–like MTV and videos have opened the door, that’s brought access to the medium a little bit closer to the grasp of most people, and C movies are another thing that can do that.

Why a movie and not a video?

Because I’ve made so many videos, I’m kind of bored of that medium. To illustrate a song–I mean, I’ve already done that, I’ve made songs and I’m bored of illustrating songs, I want to work with a plot, and with characters. To make a movie on one side and make music for a movie on the other side are two different things. But getting back, what’ll happen is it’ll go on tour like that, a live movie, and I’ve made it in such a way that it can go through the PA at loud volume, and hopefully it’ll be watched as if it was a band there, it moves very quickly, there’s lots of gags and so on.

A lot of live performance?

Yeah, a lot of stage material. And then, I’m looking for avenues to get it as a short, as well, in England and America, and over in Europe, too. And the idea is–I’m determined to make a profit in my first movie.

Good luck. And what else have you been doing?

Well, I’ve completed both those two projects and a Police album along the way and, um, my polo’s coming along. But apart from that, I’m just on tour now, and since this tour began I’ve been sitting in my hotel room going bubububub (flicks fingers on his lips) staring out the window, without my phone ringing, without having to get anything finished–I’m on holiday. All I have to do is play my drums for an hour or two hours, or however long our set is now, and not worry about anything. Meanwhile, I’m just getting the beginning of germs of ideas of what to do next–and I’m toying with some ideas…

Any you want to mention?

No, I’m just toying with ideas at the moment. I’ll mention that I’d love to write a musical, because I’d like to actually get more songs, I’d like to get closer���I mean, doing this movie for Francis was very weird, and bizarre and exotic, and that was sort of like my initiation into movie music. But I also have built up a repertoire, or vocabulary, of songs, and I’d like to bring some of that back into it, move a little bit closer to that next time. The only musical that was ever any good was West Side Story or maybe Rocky Horror Show–the music didn’t turn me on too much, but it was a good show, and I’d like to do something that is a good movie, but where the music is cool as opposed to incredibly uncool, which most musicals are.

So you’re thinking in the long term these days.

Yeah, I think long term and short term–short term I’m on this tour and staring out a window plotting.

I guess you’re pretty happy, then?

Yeah, well what could be easier than sitting in a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, on a rainy day, when I’ve already done the mall?

Have you gone to the mall? Can you walk around there? I mean, you do look like an American guy���

I’m an American���I was born here, I never lived here…

Yeah, I know, but I mean you look normal, not like���uh, a punk or…

It’s my day off today, give me a break, eh? I got a ripped shirt���that’s not punk enough for you?

I guess the spandex will come out later…

I don’t speak with my wardrobe perhaps to the same extent that I used to, because I suppose I don’t feel the need to draw attention to myself the way I used to. That’s one thing about getting old and boring–but I don’t think I am getting old & boring. I’m just… boring for the moment, because I’m on holiday. I’ll be exciting tomorrow.

Are you a big-headed guy now because you’re a massive success?

No, I always was. We were all three–I’ve answered this question before–very arrogant when we started out and if anything we’re probably more humble having proved it.

Do beautiful girls come up to you on the street and say, “Hey Stewart, let’s do it”?

Every day. Unfortunately, it’s guys coming up and saying, HEY MAN, YOU REALLY ROCK OUT, MAN! Yer BITCHIN’, MAN! WANNA COME OUT FOR A PARTY TONITE, MAN? One out of like maybe 6000 will be.

You wouldn’t believe the volume of interest about you guys…

It used to mean a lot to me. It doesn’t now. I’ve learned to take it in my stride. It used to make me nervous to have people follow me down the street and look at me, and when people asked me for autographs I felt it was an imposition, I felt embarrassed by the whole thing. But now I’ve discovered that it takes more energy to let it get under my skin. I mean if I say NO, and they say “why not?” And I have to say because I’m busy, and they say “Couldn’t you just���?”Then it goes back and forth–it would’ve been easier to just say “Sure,” with a smile, sign the thing, then turn around and walk away. It’s more relaxing to relax. I save my energy for my plots and schemes.

Are you satisfied with the new album?

Yeah, I am. The main thing that I’m satisfied with–the main objective, conceptually–or intellectually–was to do something different and get away from our established style or formula, and I think we’ve accomplished that. And it’s also singable, it’s also got interesting lyrics, interesting rhythms, ladeddadada…

An interesting comment you made elsewhere–about, because of imitators, you “didn’t want to sound like the Police���”

Yeah, well, all of our gags, all of our licks, have been made commonplace by their use by other people.

You’ll have fun if you hear the Tenants’ LP. They got a lot of Andy’s sound down…

Well, a lot of drummers struggle with my licks, and they don’t realize it’s all random, and inspired by an ugly French teacher. But the thing that was uncomfortable was–what comes naturally is the stuff I was doing for Rumblefish. I just couldn’t roll the tape fast enough to get the ideas down. To write Police songs for the Police, with Sting in mind, Sting’s vocal in mind, I felt, “Shit, I’m in a position that a hundred musicians are in all over the country–I’m trying to write a Police song!” And I felt, shit, I couldn’t do that. So I wrote my own material, with my own personality in mind, and brought then to the group and the chance he might say, “Oh, I like that one or this one” and there was one of them he did like, and so he sang it. And that’s what it’s about. A lot of the music was inspiring, but he’s got lyrics up the kazoo as well, you know ? It would be frustrating if there weren’t other outlets, the fact that there is makes it less distracting. We can go for what works for the group.

What form is the music you bring to the group? Self-recorded demos?

Yeah. And there’s an attempt at a vocal, and all the ingredients are there, present and correct–verse and chorus, there’s a hook and a line, all that stuff. And then, to turn it into the Police sound would require Andy doing some things on the guitar to make it more interesting, and Sting putting some personality into the vocals, and then I start getting better ideas for the rhythms when I’ve got those things out of the way.

So you’re saying you have no personality in your vocals?

Actually, to describe my own singing, I would say that I’ve got a lousy set of tubes, but if I’ve got anything at all, it’s a certain character, I suppose, a sort of comedy vocal character. Which isn’t really the atmosphere of the group.

I notice you’ve put a lot of multi-compositions on your 45 B-sides…

Yeah, when got a lot of songs by one person, there’s kind of a momentum of sound of atmosphere���and a lot of the other songs don’t fit on the record.

Is there still a backlog of stuff?

No, we end up using the material sooner or later, on a B-side–and if it’s not any good, then we don’t finish recording it. So it’s not like we put any old outtakes on the B-side. Anything that we finish is good enough to finish, anything that isn’t quite up to scratch doesn’t get finished.

Anything you think wasn’t up to scratch, that you’re a little disappointed in?

Yeah, there are some things I don’t particularly like, but I’m not going to name them, though. I mean, it’s impossible to be together this long, to have made this much music, to not have compromised in some areas, you know? It would be dishonest of me to try to tell you we haven’t.

Are you all pretty happy with the way the press has received the band?

Yeah. Some of the English papers–in two of them we got great reviews, the best we’ve ever done, which was unpredictable. That was a surprise, just because we’re too popular for England. England is a place that likes new bands, and routinely slags off old bands. Which is fine. But two of the reviews we got–I mean, the critic was almost (gnashes his teeth, looks helpless) sharpening his pen, you can hear him gnashing his teeth as he tries to put in every adjective “the worst, this’ll really get ’em.” You could hear him growling and spitting, and that actually amused me. The last two records I’ve been able to read reviews like that without being touched at all, personally, and genuinely amused by their attempts …trying to hurt, to pop the bubble of what obviously must seem like sm
ugness.
Which is fine–I mean that’s their job, and it needs to be done. In most cases. Becauss we can get smug like anybody. We’re human. We need to have the bubble popped, occasionally.

I’ve been told to ask you guys why you’re such prima donnas.

It’s impossible to be otherwise. When you’re so handsome, what can you do?

You guys are regarded here as both musically hip and genuinely hip, on both levels…

Yeah, I mean we’re still hip over there, but I mean, people like David Bowie share the position that I think we do���they’re huge and hip. We seem to fit that category as well.

He’s playing here right after you guys depart.

Yeah. The way it works is, I’m not that big a Bowie fan–I mean I respect him and everything, but I haven’t got any of his records. Actually, my wife does, Sonya’s got all of them, but I mean I never bother to play them or anything. It’s almost like I don’t want to admit that, because he’s so hip, you know? And in a way, people tell me, it’s like that for the Police. It’s almost uncool not to like the band. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, I don’t know.

Who tells you this?

I get this atmosphere from the press. When we do things, I think, “Oh no, we’re not going to get away with this,” and we get away with it.

What music do you like nowadays? What are you buying?

There’s a band called Kissing The Pink that I’m really into, actually their album’s got a lot of good songs on it that could be singles. Who else? Linton Kwesi Johnson, I don’t know. I just got a compact disc system at home, which are like digital records. And the sound is so good. I rushed out to buy the entire catalog of music that’s recorded like that. In rock, there isn’t that much, but in classical, all these classical things–Stravinsky, Copland, are recorded on it. So for the last month or so, ever since I’ve got this thing, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to classical music. As I’ve never heard it before. And the clarity of it, the dynamic range of it���I mean, rock music made for records, written for records, has a dynamic range like that (holds his fingers inches apart), the quiet bits are down here, and you go below that and it’s hiss, and the loud bits are up here, go above that and it’s distortion. But on the compact disc, you have that much room (hold fingers much farther apart), and orchestral music was written with the human ear’s dynamic range in mind, which is much bigger than rock ‘n’ roll. And when you can actually hear that dynamic range reproduced, it has a lot more power than I’ve ever heard from a phonograph recording.

Isn’t A&M going to put out the new LP that way?

Yeah.

But you didn’t record that digitally, did you?

We mixed it digitally

Does that make a difference?

Yes, it will. There’s two aspects–one, is in recording it’s absolutely silent, there’s no tape hiss. You think the tape’s pretty silent, yet actually it’s like the air conditioning here–you don’t notice it until it goes off. We mixed it that way, which meant we mixed in a lot more dynamic range onto the tape than we could’ve done mixing analog.

Think your next album will be completely recorded that way?

I’m the only member of the band with a compact disc system–there’s not that many of them out in the market–but it’s the thing of the future, and as somebody who’s concerned with the overall quality of the thing, I think it’s your responsibility to record with the best technology that can be provided. And the best that technology can provide is beyond Air Studios, our favorite studio, and so it’s a matter of trading off–going to a studio that we like that hasn’t got that system, or like the places in LA, and like we’d never record in LA.

So you’re pretty happy with the way things are going right now?

For the time being, yeah. But it won’t last.

Why?

Because nothing ever does. I’m happy with myself, because of my last two projects���I’ve embarked on the Police tour, everything’s running smoothly, but in about a week I’ll be thinking “Jesus, what have I accomplished this week, apart from the shows?” And I’ll start biting my lip, thinking “Yow, I’ve got to do something.” And I’ll start getting more frantic until eventually I’ll…do something. I mean, I’m not one to rest on my laurels. My awards and the manifestations of my achievements only last a certain amount of time. The thrill of a gold record or a platinum record hanging on the wall only lasts for as long as it takes to start thinking…got to make another one. And so I’m feeling pretty secure right now, but next week I’ll be hungry again. I’m still as hungry as I ever was for achievement.

I imagine real achievements are getting harder to come by.

In feat, the achievements are becoming more diverse, but they don’t get any easier to accomplish. There are more avenues open to me, there are more things I can do–but each of those things doesn’t come easier. Access, though–if I have a great idea I’m in a better position to go out and do it…but that doesn’t make the success of the project any more guaranteed.

Do you feel like you’re locked into this?

No, no. That’s something we’ve been really conscious of since we started. Not being locked in.

This is quite a step up from the two gigs the band did here at Bookie’s a while ago. Do you ever you feel that way, think in those terms at all?

Yeah, occasionally I think it’s great that we’ve come this far–but I’m still thinking about where I’m going to get to. I mean, I can’t play a single brass instrument, for a start. I can play three notes on a trumpet, but I can’t play brass section parts the way I want to, so I’ve go that to get together, there’s still a lot I don’t know about music harmony that I’ve got to get organized. I wish my fingers worked better on keyboards, so I’m practicing on that. The last movie I made, the punk movie, is really good for a first movie, but the next movie’s got to be for real, and there’s a lot of things I think I’ve worked out about it that I want to put into practice, for the next project. There’s lots to do.

Time being the biggest constraint?

Yeah. The only time I’m locked in is when I’m on tour, but then again there’s a lot of planning involved with anything, and I enjoy the opportunity to just be stuck with nothing to do but just stare out the window and dream and scheme. In fact this whole thing is just the result of dreaming and staring out a window, going “Oh God, wouldn’t it be great to have a little band with three people and no problems, our own equipment, we drive ourselves, fuck the record company and fuck the roadies and fuck everybody, we’ll just get paid and…” Everything has always been like a dream, just like staring out a window. And the more you daydream, daydream on a particular subject–if it’s a good daydream and it really turns you on, you keep going back to it. And every time you go back to that particular fantasy, to make it interesting the next day when you come back to it, you play with that idea , you have to���

(tape ends)

Entry for June 13, 2007

June 13, 2007

A Conversation With Stewart Copeland, 1983

(This took place shortly after the conversation with Andy Summers included below. Very friendly guy; fascinating to hear his opinions on digital recording–and that he was the first member of the Police to get a CD player. –dd)

Hey. We’ve spoken a few times before, once long ago for a phone interview, then in an actual gay bar named Menjo’s next to Bookie’s in Detroit.

Right. A perfect place…for a. new wave interview.

Heard you just became a daddy. Congratulations.

Yes, that’s right. Thank you very much. I already was a daddy, but still–I’m even more of a daddy. My own equipment works, anyway.

That’s not what Andy said. Hey, I wonder how you feel about coming out on the road so soon, then, to do this tour?

Well, the family’s coming out to meet me in a week, so it’s all right. I’m going to run through the baby’s repertoire of things that he can do, which is gurgle happily, or gurgle unhappily, burp and shit. And pee. And those things are all wonderful and exciting, but you know, actually the next thing he’ll do is focus and look at me. Look me in the eye and tell me that he’s proud to be American.

You can get some good found sounds for your next Rumblefishtype project. Want to tell me about that?

Sure. All right.

How did it all start?

It was a call from Hollywood. Francis [Ford Coppola] called me up, and told me that he was doing movie where time was an important factor. And as we all know, rhythm and time are connected. And so I went over to where he was rehearsing the film, in Oklahoma, and met with him, and we established a fairly instant rapport. He’s a very inspiring man to talk to–he definitely got all my juices flowing.

How does he know you?

I don’t know. He’s got teenage kids, that’s one clue .You know, he called me up–at first, all I was going to do was advise him on rhythms and stuff, and we discussed lots of ways of connecting shooting to rhythm and acting to rhythm, and everything. And by the time I had finished, I’d composed all the music and performed 98 percent of it.

What kind of music is it? You beating on drums?

And me beating on a guitar and me beating on a banjo, and tuned percussion, xylophone, orchestral bells, and pianos and synthesizers and double bass and lots of things.

Will it sound like anything I might have heard before?

I don’t think so.

Didn’t Mickey Hart do music for Apocalypse Now?

Well, he did some of it; a lot of different people were involved in different parts of that. A lot of people lay claim to having done the soundtrack, but actually it was done by a lot of different people.

Your role is significantly different then, in a sense.

Yeah, well I did all of it. There’s some source music–it’s called source music if like they’re walking down the street and there’s a radio blaring out of one of the places, that’s considered source music. Or at one point there’s a band playing–and obviously I didn’t do that. But all the original music, the incidental music and that–I did.

Has that been your major project aside from the Police at this point? How have you kept busy?

Well, there’s that and a 16mm movie I shot as a director as well, which is quite amusing.

Tell me about that.

It’s a film about the decay of British society, using the punks as a paradigm, and the plight of the dispossessed–or those who actually don’t have anything to begin with–in England. The attitude of the politicians is: these poor kids, with no future to look forward to, no job down the mineshaft, no jobs open, no opportunities for them on the factory floor. And that’s fairly tragic for so
mebody who’s been on the factory floor for 30 years, and has a family to support. But his kids, who’ve never had a job–they don’t want a job, they go down to the unemployment office every week, collect their check, and occasionally they have the misfortune to actually have to go out and have a job interview, so they dye their hair an even weirder shade of purple, put on their leather jacket with the sharpest studs, and go on to the interview.

You sound like an American capitalist instead of a socialist.

Well, I’m a capitalist who believes in the welfare state. I think that rather than trying to find pointless jobs for these people, they can have my taxes. I’d rather that the industries turned out product sufficiently and were able to move with the times and so on, rather than have people pointlessly employed, according to the Luddite principle of employment. Which is: The Luddites were people who objected to the inventions of new machines, because they thought they threatened jobs. I think that a job that is threatened by a machine–that can be replaced by a machine–should be replaced by a machine.

Andy was just mentioning he and Sting just got this brand new rhythm box���

Oh, well��� I’ve taught them everything they know about rhythm boxes, I’m very clever with drum boxes, I use them all the time. A lot. They’re very useful tools. The thing is, the point is, that I’m a rhythmatist, not just a drummer. The talent is in having the rhythms in your head, and the other thing is having the ability to play them with your hands. Drum boxes can do things that I can’t do, frankly.

You’re one of the few drummers I’ve spoken with recently���

There are things that drummers can do as well. There’s something about the feel of a band, that you can get with a live thing, of the tempos surging and swelling, and the dynamism, and I can stop and…the communication.

The incorrectness of the rhythm is what’s good?

Well, not that– the correctness of the rhythm is actually something that’s part of life today–the perfectness, the fine, uninterrupted line of rhythm is almost the pulse of today. Not exclusively–it’s one of the many pulses of today, this infallible mechanical rhythm, which is very true to life these days. There are certain things you can’t do if you have a drum pattern or a sequenced keyboard part, you can’t stray from it–like some of our songs onstage are sequenced, which means the drumbox and the sequencer are playing a part, which means that we can’t decide to play that chorus twice if we want to, which we do with all the other material. So it’s a limitation in playing live, in that respect. For composing, and making records, it’s really a good tool. It has a particular kind of sound to it. And I’ve arrived at this feeling about it many times–when I’m making my own demos and stuff, I start with the drum box, do the guitar, do the bass, and then I sit down and try to play what I thought was a good drum part, and it doesn’t sound as good on the drums. And so, in the old days, when drum boxes were made just for a click track, it was a drag. Because then you were stuck with this track, and I’d come up with a different part to it. But now that they come up with such good sounds, I mean you can actually keep that bass drum–the bass drum sound will probably stay on the record, maybe I’ll redo the snare myself or something, to get a better sound. But in making a record, it’s the composition–and somebody’s got to program it, somebody who’s clever with rhythms, preferably.

I’ve always looked at them as tools, myself.

Well, there’s two sides to talent, really. One is the basic talent inside, to think it up, to have emotions that you know how to express; to have, you know, talent for music. And the other thing is the actual muscular ability, to be able to execute these ideas–and to be a good musician, you have to have both. But for me, the basic talent is more important. I mean, I can perform on the double bass, on the trumpet, on any one of a long number of instruments. I couldn’t play a long solo and be a virtuoso, but I can accomplish what’s musically required on all these different instruments. And it doesn’t matter what the tool is���whether it’s me playing two notes rhythmically on a trumpet, or whether it’s a drum box, playing a program that I’ve put into it.

What do you think about the occasional criticisms people like Emitt Rhodes or Todd Rundgren get for all their studio work–that somehow there’s an element of soullessness to it?

You mean just too many overdubs?

Say people in a studio just plopping in a random note here or there���

That’s all very well and good; the way you do it is just a matter of taste. If I can only play two notes on trumpet and one note on guitar, and I only know five notes on piano–if I have to put them all in, then that’s not really all music. The idea is to make music–and if what’s required is something on the top line that does this, then I have to write something that I can play, or find somebody else to play it. I mean, in the band, it’s great, because there’s nothing that Andy can’t play. You know?

How would you compare your compositions on the soundtrack to, say, Sting’s songs?

Composition is a different thing. I mean, my composition goes pretty much to outside projects. Because in the band there’s a kind of a united sound we’ve arrived at on Sting’s material. I know what to do on Sting’s material–I mean, not always, I mean I’m looking for new things all the time, but it’s a challenge. He writes excellent material, and it’s always a pleasure to work on it. And the other side of the coin is that when I do bring in songs to the band, I don’t really feel comfortable with them, I feel as though Sting has to kind of sing a different kind of personality, and his personality is so different, and it comes from a different place.

So to bring it down to basics, are you happy doing this stuff but really more interested in doing your own thing?

No. Artistically, Police albums are perhaps the greatest challenge–because of the momentum of the band and the expectations of the band. That is a challenge–to be “the greatest.” Which the Police is in that position. Me as an individual, doing my other stuff, I don’t have to be the greatest, I haven’t got that track record. I mean, I haven’t done a film score before, so nobody has any expectations at all. And so in a way that’s more fun, in that respect. And also, I���m able to play with toys that–I’m able to play with concepts that wouldn’t have any meaning in the Police. For instance, just the mechanics of doing a movie instead of a song–the top line is a picture, a dialog, a story, and so the music that goes around it can be just one little element that has huge dramatic effect. Whereas with a song, you’ve got to have everything going, you’ve got to have chords, you’ve got to have melody, rhythm, lyrics, hooks–and it’s all got to be condensed on this three-minute thing.

Physically, how do you make a movie soundtrack?

Well, physically, what happens is that the two-inch audiotape is locked to the videotape machine. And for every foot of videotape, it’s put into video for my purposes, it’s shot on film, of course–for every shot of videotape for the movie, there’s a corresponding number of feet of tape, so I’ve got magnetic tape that runs the whole length of the movie. And so as I’m working on it, the picture is running before me, and like a certain line happens–where I want the music to start–and I want it to build to this point–and then when I get to that point in the conversation, that’s the crucial line, and it’s at that point that something’s got to happen–so I mark that point, the action has certain points, and mechanically what you do is–you map it out like that, and you structure the music around it. But conceptually what you’re doing is–you’re directing the audience’s emotions about a scene. For instance, take a scene where a guy walks out of door in the city, looks up at the sky, you know, sort of a medium to a long shot, gets into his car, you see him driving in his car and he arrives somewhere. Now the music can tell you what’s going on. Mournful music will tell you that his wife’s just died and he’s walking out of the doomy music as he gets into his car and weaves it through the traffic and…

So you’re saying it’s all entirely predictable?

No, I mean a different kind of music could tell you that it’s a beautiful day, and he bounces out of bed, and he looks up at the sky and the sky is smiling at him and he gets into…or, I mean, the music can tell you how you feel about a scene, whether to take it seriously, or whether this is a joke. At first, we talked at great length, Francis and I, about the meaning of the movie, and the meaning of the different scenes, and how to build up to these different points. And we had a rapport about the meaning and the atmosphere of the movie. And so once we established that, he left me in the studio–he came down in the studio I think twice or sornething like that. For a while I was recording in the basement of his office block, and he was upstairs. He’s got speakers running from the basement to his penthouse, so he can hear everything that’s going on from there as he’s, you know, enjoying his life–he’s listening to the musicians struggling away downstairs. But that was only for one week. Most of the time I was by myself in the studio–me and an engineer and a film editor.

How much time did it ultimately take you?

It took up–well the whole project, I started it. It first came down on the first day of rehearsals, and a year later I was finished. But the Police album was recorded during that period, and I filmed my punk movie.

You never finished describing that movie, by the way. What can we expect?

Oh, the punk movie. It’s all about punks on the road.

Anyone we know?

I don’t know. The Anti-Nowhere League, Chelsea, Chron-Gen and the Defects are two completely unheard of bands, with great personalities. They’re just cavorting photogenically. But there’s some serious points to be made as well.

Do you miss that? You still seem to be sort of centered around that.

Well I wouldn’t say I’m centered around it–I’m sort of nostalgic about it. I still appreciate it.

Because the new Police album is the antithesis of���

Of the punk movement. That’s all right, I can still appreciate it. When I first appreciated punk, I was in a dinosaur band called Curved Air.

I always liked them, actually–thought they were unjustifiably slagged off. I also liked the Darryl Way’s Wolf LPs as well.

Darryl Way discovered me.

How?

Just in jam sessions around London.

Who else did you play with before that?

Nobody. I was in college before that. I’ve only played in two professional bands–Curved Air and the Police.

What albums did you play on with Curved Air?

Midnight Wire and Airborne were the two I played on–not great moments in the history of music. The previous band was much better.

With your appreciation for punk and your obvious progressive tendencies with both the Police and Curved Air, do you feel any conflict?

I sometimes wonder. I mean, people say, “How do you feel about the fact that you’re playing Shea Stadium in front of 60,000 people, the antithesis of….” And I scratch my head and say, “Really, is there an excuse for it?” I’m sure there is, I can think one up, there’s an excuse because all that many peop1e want to see the band. There’s excuses and rationale, but the main thing is–it’s a buzz playing to a huge audience like that–that���s really exciting. We play small, cozy, intimate gatherings as well, such as the Joe Louis Arena, which is only 18,000.

Have you played there before?

Yeah, we played there once last year, we have to play there twice this year. Yeah, it is kind of the antithesis of the punk movement–but I’m not a punk, I’m 31-years-old and sophisticated in my musical tastes and abilities. And I’m not going to play punk music, because��� I can, I enjoy jamming on two chords with people, and I do that a lot at my place at home, jamming with buddies and stuff. But as far as what I want to do, I’d have to be turning off a lot of my ideas if I wanted to play punk music. I’m not a punk–I just appreciate what they do.

Speaking of Curved Air, what are Sonja’s musical plans for the future?

Well, she’s having a baby at the moment, but she does theater work, you know, she’s done a few musicals, things like that.

I think I have a British recording of Hair that she was on.

Yeah, she was–that was before Curved Air. But she’s not pursuing her career with, perhaps, the fire of her early days, she enjoys getting up onstage–she gets frustrated sometimes if she hasn’t worked for a long time, so she’ll take some job and work in a play, for as long as it runs and then, you know, it’s not really a burning thing with her.

So are you really sick of people asking when the Police are going to break up?

Yeah, it’s gone a bit far–I mean everybody, we talked to Time magazine and Newsweek, and both of them let slip the fact that, “Look, look, what we really want, the editors in New York, what they really want, they’re after a story on the conflict within the group.” And if that’s the story you want, you know? I mean, it’s boring, but they’ve written their story before they even get there. The thing is, we’ve always argued, and we have this dynamic relationship between the three of us. The thing is, it’s more salient now, the Police breaking up, the possibility of the Police breaking up two years ago wouldn’t really be much of a story, and now the Police is such an important group and well known and everything, it’s more of an event, and even the possibility of the event gets headlines. And it’s not because we’re any more likely to break up now then we were then, it’s because it’s a more salient story. The story has greater impact.

One minute: What’s gonna happen to your 16 mm film?

It’s going out as a short. I want to, first of all, put it out on tour, put it in places like Agora ballrooms, where they’re converted movie theaters, right? That are now clubs. And before a band goes on they can show a movie–and hopefully there’ll be a whole class of such movies, like C movies or D movies. The idea is, in moviemaking there isn’t a bottom rung to the ladder. In records, you can borrow a few hundred dollars and make a record, and you can actually be in business. It’s possible. With movies, the bottom rungs of the ladder are way too out of reach of most people. And hopefully–like MTV and videos have opened the door, that’s brought access to the medium a little bit closer to the grasp of most people, and C movies are another thing that can do that.

Why a movie and not a video?

Because I’ve made so many videos, I’m kind of bored of that medium. To illustrate a song–I mean, I’ve already done that, I’ve made songs and I’m bored of illustrating songs, I want to work with a plot, and with characters. To make a movie on one side and make music for a movie on the other side are two different things. But getting back, what’ll happen is it’ll go on tour like that, a live movie, and I’ve made it in such a way that it can go through the PA at loud volume, and hopefully it’ll be watched as if it was a band there, it moves very quickly, there’s lots of gags and so on.

A lot of live performance?

Yeah, a lot of stage material. And then, I’m looking for avenues to get it as a short, as well, in England and America, and over in Europe, too. And the idea is–I’m determined to make a profit in my first movie.

Good luck. And what else have you been doing?

Well, I’ve completed both those two projects and a Police album along the way and, um, my polo’s coming along. But apart from that, I’m just on tour now, and since this tour began I’ve been sitting in my hotel room going bubububub (flicks fingers on his lips) staring out the window, without my phone ringing, without having to get anything finished–I’m on holiday. All I have to do is play my drums for an hour or two hours, or however long our set is now, and not worry about anything. Meanwhile, I’m just getting the beginning of germs of ideas of what to do next–and I’m toying with some ideas…

Any you want to mention?

No, I’m just toying with ideas at the moment. I’ll mention that I’d love to write a musical, because I’d like to actually get more songs, I’d like to get closer���I mean, doing this movie for Francis was very weird, and bizarre and exotic, and that was sort of like my initiation into movie music. But I also have built up a repertoire, or vocabulary, of songs, and I’d like to bring some of that back into it, move a little bit closer to that next time. The only musical that was ever any good was West Side Story or maybe Rocky Horror Show–the music didn’t turn me on too much, but it was a good show, and I’d like to do something that is a good movie, but where the music is cool as opposed to incredibly uncool, which most musicals are.

So you’re thinking in the long term these days.

Yeah, I think long term and short term–short term I’m on this tour and staring out a window plotting.

I guess you’re pretty happy, then?

Yeah, well what could be easier than sitting in a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, on a rainy day, when I’ve already done the mall?

Have you gone to the mall? Can you walk around there? I mean, you do look like an American guy���

I’m an American���I was born here, I never lived here…

Yeah, I know, but I mean you look normal, not like���uh, a punk or…

It’s my day off today, give me a break, eh? I got a ripped shirt���that’s not punk enough for you?

I guess the spandex will come out later…

I don’t speak with my wardrobe perhaps to the same extent that I used to, because I suppose I don’t feel the need to draw attention to myself the way I used to. That’s one thing about getting old and boring–but I don’t think I am getting old & boring. I’m just… boring for the moment, because I’m on holiday. I’ll be exciting tomorrow.

Are you a big-headed guy now because you’re a massive success?

No, I always was. We were all three–I’ve answered this question before–very arrogant when we started out and if anything we’re probably more humble having proved it.

Do beautiful girls come up to you on the street and say, “Hey Stewart, let’s do it”?

Every day. Unfortunately, it’s guys coming up and saying, HEY MAN, YOU REALLY ROCK OUT, MAN! Yer BITCHIN’, MAN! WANNA COME OUT FOR A PARTY TONITE, MAN? One out of like maybe 6000 will be.

You wouldn’t believe the volume of interest about you guys…

It used to mean a lot to me. It doesn’t now. I’ve learned to take it in my stride. It used to make me nervous to have people follow me down the street and look at me, and when people asked me for autographs I felt it was an imposition, I felt embarrassed by the whole thing. But now I’ve discovered that it takes more energy to let it get under my skin. I mean if I say NO, and they say “why not?” And I have to say because I’m busy, and they say “Couldn’t you just���?”Then it goes back and forth–it would’ve been easier to just say “Sure,” with a smile, sign the thing, then turn around and walk away. It’s more relaxing to relax. I save my energy for my plots and schemes.

Are you satisfied with the new album?

Yeah, I am. The main thing that I’m satisfied with–the main objective, conceptually–or intellectually–was to do something different and get away from our established style or formula, and I think we’ve accomplished that. And it’s also singable, it’s also got interesting lyrics, interesting rhythms, ladeddadada…

An interesting comment you made elsewhere–about, because of imitators, you “didn’t want to sound like the Police���”

Yeah, well, all of our gags, all of our licks, have been made commonplace by their use by other people.

You’ll have fun if you hear the Tenants’ LP. They got a lot of Andy’s sound down…

Well, a lot of drummers struggle with my licks, and they don’t realize it’s all random, and inspired by an ugly French teacher. But the thing that was uncomfortable was–what comes naturally is the stuff I was doing for Rumblefish. I just couldn’t roll the tape fast enough to get the ideas down. To write Police songs for the Police, with Sting in mind, Sting’s vocal in mind, I felt, “Shit, I’m in a position that a hundred musicians are in all over the country–I’m trying to write a Police song!” And I felt, shit, I couldn’t do that. So I wrote my own material, with my own personality in mind, and brought then to the group and the chance he might say, “Oh, I like that one or this one” and there was one of them he did like, and so he sang it. And that’s what it’s about. A lot of the music was inspiring, but he’s got lyrics up the kazoo as well, you know ? It would be frustrating if there weren’t other outlets, the fact that there is makes it less distracting. We can go for what works for the group.

What form is the music you bring to the group? Self-recorded demos?

Yeah. And there’s an attempt at a vocal, and all the ingredients are there, present and correct–verse and chorus, there’s a hook and a line, all that stuff. And then, to turn it into the Police sound would require Andy doing some things on the guitar to make it more interesting, and Sting putting some personality into the vocals, and then I start getting better ideas for the rhythms when I’ve got those things out of the way.

So you’re saying you have no personality in your vocals?

Actually, to describe my own singing, I would say that I’ve got a lousy set of tubes, but if I’ve got anything at all, it’s a certain character, I suppose, a sort of comedy vocal character. Which isn’t really the atmosphere of the group.

I notice you’ve put a lot of multi-compositions on your 45 B-sides…

Yeah, when got a lot of songs by one person, there’s kind of a momentum of sound of atmosphere���and a lot of the other songs don’t fit on the record.

Is there still a backlog of stuff?

No, we end up using the material sooner or later, on a B-side–and if it’s not any good, then we don’t finish recording it. So it’s not like we put any old outtakes on the B-side. Anything that we finish is good enough to finish, anything that isn’t quite up to scratch doesn’t get finished.

Anything you think wasn’t up to scratch, that you’re a little disappointed in?

Yeah, there are some things I don’t particularly like, but I’m not going to name them, though. I mean, it’s impossible to be together this long, to have made this much music, to not have compromised in some areas, you know? It would be dishonest of me to try to tell you we haven’t.

Are you all pretty happy with the way the press has received the band?

Yeah. Some of the English papers–in two of them we got great reviews, the best we’ve ever done, which was unpredictable. That was a surprise, just because we’re too popular for England. England is a place that likes new bands, and routinely slags off old bands. Which is fine. But two of the reviews we got–I mean, the critic was almost (gnashes his teeth, looks helpless) sharpening his pen, you can hear him gnashing his teeth as he tries to put in every adjective “the worst, this’ll really get ’em.” You could hear him growling and spitting, and that actually amused me. The last two records I’ve been able to read reviews like that without being touched at all, personally, and genuinely amused by their attempts …trying to hurt, to pop the bubble of what obviously must seem like sm
ugness.
Which is fine–I mean that’s their job, and it needs to be done. In most cases. Becauss we can get smug like anybody. We’re human. We need to have the bubble popped, occasionally.

I’ve been told to ask you guys why you’re such prima donnas.

It’s impossible to be otherwise. When you’re so handsome, what can you do?

You guys are regarded here as both musically hip and genuinely hip, on both levels…

Yeah, I mean we’re still hip over there, but I mean, people like David Bowie share the position that I think we do���they’re huge and hip. We seem to fit that category as well.

He’s playing here right after you guys depart.

Yeah. The way it works is, I’m not that big a Bowie fan–I mean I respect him and everything, but I haven’t got any of his records. Actually, my wife does, Sonya’s got all of them, but I mean I never bother to play them or anything. It’s almost like I don’t want to admit that, because he’s so hip, you know? And in a way, people tell me, it’s like that for the Police. It’s almost uncool not to like the band. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, I don’t know.

Who tells you this?

I get this atmosphere from the press. When we do things, I think, “Oh no, we’re not going to get away with this,” and we get away with it.

What music do you like nowadays? What are you buying?

There’s a band called Kissing The Pink that I’m really into, actually their album’s got a lot of good songs on it that could be singles. Who else? Linton Kwesi Johnson, I don’t know. I just got a compact disc system at home, which are like digital records. And the sound is so good. I rushed out to buy the entire catalog of music that’s recorded like that. In rock, there isn’t that much, but in classical, all these classical things–Stravinsky, Copland, are recorded on it. So for the last month or so, ever since I’ve got this thing, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to classical music. As I’ve never heard it before. And the clarity of it, the dynamic range of it���I mean, rock music made for records, written for records, has a dynamic range like that (holds his fingers inches apart), the quiet bits are down here, and you go below that and it’s hiss, and the loud bits are up here, go above that and it’s distortion. But on the compact disc, you have that much room (hold fingers much farther apart), and orchestral music was written with the human ear’s dynamic range in mind, which is much bigger than rock ‘n’ roll. And when you can actually hear that dynamic range reproduced, it has a lot more power than I’ve ever heard from a phonograph recording.

Isn’t A&M going to put out the new LP that way?

Yeah.

But you didn’t record that digitally, did you?

We mixed it digitally

Does that make a difference?

Yes, it will. There’s two aspects–one, is in recording it’s absolutely silent, there’s no tape hiss. You think the tape’s pretty silent, yet actually it’s like the air conditioning here–you don’t notice it until it goes off. We mixed it that way, which meant we mixed in a lot more dynamic range onto the tape than we could’ve done mixing analog.

Think your next album will be completely recorded that way?

I’m the only member of the band with a compact disc system–there’s not that many of them out in the market–but it’s the thing of the future, and as somebody who’s concerned with the overall quality of the thing, I think it’s your responsibility to record with the best technology that can be provided. And the best that technology can provide is beyond Air Studios, our favorite studio, and so it’s a matter of trading off–going to a studio that we like that hasn’t got that system, or like the places in LA, and like we’d never record in LA.

So you’re pretty happy with the way things are going right now?

For the time being, yeah. But it won’t last.

Why?

Because nothing ever does. I’m happy with myself, because of my last two projects���I’ve embarked on the Police tour, everything’s running smoothly, but in about a week I’ll be thinking “Jesus, what have I accomplished this week, apart from the shows?” And I’ll start biting my lip, thinking “Yow, I’ve got to do something.” And I’ll start getting more frantic until eventually I’ll…do something. I mean, I’m not one to rest on my laurels. My awards and the manifestations of my achievements only last a certain amount of time. The thrill of a gold record or a platinum record hanging on the wall only lasts for as long as it takes to start thinking…got to make another one. And so I’m feeling pretty secure right now, but next week I’ll be hungry again. I’m still as hungry as I ever was for achievement.

I imagine real achievements are getting harder to come by.

In feat, the achievements are becoming more diverse, but they don’t get any easier to accomplish. There are more avenues open to me, there are more things I can do–but each of those things doesn’t come easier. Access, though–if I have a great idea I’m in a better position to go out and do it…but that doesn’t make the success of the project any more guaranteed.

Do you feel like you’re locked into this?

No, no. That’s something we’ve been really conscious of since we started. Not being locked in.

This is quite a step up from the two gigs the band did here at Bookie’s a while ago. Do you ever you feel that way, think in those terms at all?

Yeah, occasionally I think it’s great that we’ve come this far–but I’m still thinking about where I’m going to get to. I mean, I can’t play a single brass instrument, for a start. I can play three notes on a trumpet, but I can’t play brass section parts the way I want to, so I’ve go that to get together, there’s still a lot I don’t know about music harmony that I’ve got to get organized. I wish my fingers worked better on keyboards, so I’m practicing on that. The last movie I made, the punk movie, is really good for a first movie, but the next movie’s got to be for real, and there’s a lot of things I think I’ve worked out about it that I want to put into practice, for the next project. There’s lots to do.

Time being the biggest constraint?

Yeah. The only time I’m locked in is when I’m on tour, but then again there’s a lot of planning involved with anything, and I enjoy the opportunity to just be stuck with nothing to do but just stare out the window and dream and scheme. In fact this whole thing is just the result of dreaming and staring out a window, going “Oh God, wouldn’t it be great to have a little band with three people and no problems, our own equipment, we drive ourselves, fuck the record company and fuck the roadies and fuck everybody, we’ll just get paid and…” Everything has always been like a dream, just like staring out a window. And the more you daydream, daydream on a particular subject–if it’s a good daydream and it really turns you on, you keep going back to it. And every time you go back to that particular fantasy, to make it interesting the next day when you come back to it, you play with that idea , you have to���

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