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.
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?
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
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.