NEW MUSICAL EXPRESSJune 01, 1985
The following interview with Paul Du Noyer appeared in a June 1985 issue of New Musical Express magazine...
Stingtime in Paris - the Polce Chief sets himself free...
It's ironic, the Police should be taking this sabbatical, or whatever it is, straight after making the best music of their career. I'd take side two of 'Synchronicity' ('Every Breath You Take', 'King Of Pain' etc) over anything else you did.
"Yes, I would too. But the choice was, do we keep repeating that formula, become like The Rolling Stones? Or do we allow ourselves the time and space to think of something new? There is no plan whatever for the Police to work again. Nor is there a reason to say we've broken up."
So you can't say categorically that you will get back together?
"No. There are no categorical statements to be made. I have deep love and respect for those two guys, as hard as our relationship is. And if we decide to do a record tomorrow, we'd do it. But it's thinking of a new way of presenting the group. I don't want a sentimental nostalgia band."
Is it scary, being out on your own?
"No, I'm really enjoying it. There's as much excitement about this record ('The Dream Of The Blue Turtles') in the record company as there would be for a Police record, which is quite thrilling. It's not Oh, Sting's got to have his little hobby, humour him and let him make his jazz record".
The Police had a reputation as an argumentative group...
"Ha ha! We were!"
And you used to claim this tension was creative. So do you miss it now?
"There's a certain amount of rhetoric in what you tell the press. A lot of the process of making records with the Police was unpleasant, but only because we were committed to doing our best, and the problems usually arose by trying to maintain a semblance of democracy where democracy doesn't really work. This new band is more clearly defined. I hired them to play, and I'm the songwriter and singer. So there are no arguments about roles, which makes the process a lot easier.
"But there's still room for the dialectic to and fro. They're not sidemen, they're too good for that. It was my intention all along to have a band, not a super-session bunch of hirelings. They're too proud to be that, and I'm too clever to want that. I didn't want to be seen as a patrician white pop star with his minstrel band. That's not the idea..."
In the dressing room of a Paris theatre, from where he's just launched a world tour and a solo career, Sting reclines across a sofa. "The interview as therapy," he suggests. I suggest that I charge him 200 guineas. He opts to treat the remark as a small joke. Well, it was worth a try, I thought.
Our patient is a 33-year-old musician from North East England, the father of several small children (the fourth, Jake by name, having got himself born just 24 hours earlier). The man says his ambition is to join a Himalayan expedition in search of the Yeti, but in most other respects he seems approximately normal. He does, however, have this notion that he's a songwriter with something of more than trivial worth to communicate. He might even he right: perhaps this interview will help you decide. Sting is not a man to undervalue his own talents, yet he's acquired a studied charm that keeps any narcissism safely short of appearing obnoxious. I think he takes a pride in his obvious intelligence, and it would please him to be though of as a bit deep.
There's certainly a sure-footed quality to the way he handles other people, and his own career, both as actor and pop star. I don't see him falling off any mountains, Himalayan or otherwise. Not that he doesn't take risks. Branching into films, for instance, has proved a credibility-wrecking step for more than one pop star in the past. But Sting has eased himself in there with notable shrewdness: smallish roles, in carefully chosen movies ('Radio On', 'Dune', 'Brimstone And Treacle', 'Quadrophenia', Macchiavelli in TV's 'Pygmalion'), mean he's yet to make a pillock of himself in that department. His future as an actor looks as bankable as he chooses to make it.
Even now, while he's busy being a musician again, the cameras are never far away. The Paris concerts, and the attendant press conference, are being filmed by director Michael Apted ('Stardust', 'Gorky Park', 'Coalminer's Daughter') for a documentary movie called 'Bring On The Night' which charts the formation of Sting's new group. The new group - the jazz group... Sting isn't keen on all this labelling. He'd rather say the noise they've come up with is "unclassifiable", an attempt to break barriers, because the brightest musical sparks tend to fly when two polarities touch. That's the theory, anyhow.
At the same time, he's quick to stress he's not just fashion-dabbling in jazz. He started out playing jazz in Newcastle - trad, Dixieland, big band - and the Police were the first and only rock group he got involved in. He recently fulfilled a dream by guesting on Miles Davis' LP. Apparently the great man asked him to stand in the studio and shout out the list of rights (in French) that a US cop reads out to an arrested suspect. No, Sting didn't know what was going on either.
The band are black Americans, players with genuine prestige in their field. There's Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, and Omar Hakim of Weather Report on drums. Darryl Jones of the Miles Davis Band plays bass, while the saxman is Branford Marsalis (brother to Wynton, who wasn't pleased about him playing rock, it's rumoured). Backing singers are Janice Pendarvis and Dolette McDonald.
A glib bid for muso cred on Sting's part? No and nothing like it, he'll say. "And if those guys thought it was just a fad on my part, they wouldn't have jeopardised their careers in serious music. These guys get serious respect."
I was never two sweet on the Police, not the first three albums anyway. Summers and Copeland were obviously musicians in a higher class than we generally settle for in rock, but early Police music - the mannered vocals, the clatter-clatter eeyo-wo-wo of it all - dunno, the sum never seemed the equal of its parts to me. The later stuff was different altogether. From Invisible Sun (off the fourth LP 'Ghost In The Machine') onwards, they were a group renewed, with music of depth and texture, ingenious arrangements, songs of solid content. The fifth and latest (the last) LP 'Synchronicity' was major league. Above all, it spawned 'Every Breath You Take', a number that Sting makes no pretence of hiding his satisfaction with. Now we've got the bizarrely-named 'Dream of the Blue Turtles'. It moves around from what sounds (to my inexpert ears) like straight modern jazz, to pure and simple pop. For the most part, it works, a thoughtful blend of exotic influences, individual virtuosity, and some of the hardest hitting lyrics that Sting has put his name to. He's 33, he's done the pin-up bit, and he wants us to take him seriously. He isn't pissing around.
The new single, 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'...
"It's really the antidote song to 'Every Breath You Take', which was quite evil..."
Yet people used to say, What a nice love song!
"Yes I used to get letters from couples saying, Dear Sting, thank you for writing that beautiful song, it's our song. Sick! It's a very sinister song, but it's seductively dressed up. So I needed to write an antidote to it. I don't think the idea of loving somebody and setting them free is particularly original, yet it's about love relationships in a larger arena than the property market of owning something, surrounding it with protection so you can control it, which is basically what most relationships are about. "I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to actually believe it, loving someone and setting them free. But singing it helps in a way, if you say something long enough..."
And the other tracks. 'Love Is The Seventh Wave' sounds a bit mystical.
"In popular myth, if you count the waves on a sea shore, the seventh wave is supposed to be the strongest, the most profound. And I felt that at present the world is undergoing a wave of evil, if you like. The world's never been as polluted. We've never had as many missiles pointing across the borders, or as many armies in waiting. We seem to be in the grip of this growing sense of doom. And the song is uncharacteristically hopeful, saying that behind this wave there's a much more profound one. It's love, beyond selfishness. And I think if there isn't this wave, then we are finished. "So again, it's singing about something and hoping that by singing about it you'll create it. The alternative, thinking that in five years time the world will end, isn't that helpful. It might sell records, but it doesn't help the people listening."
The song called 'Russians', meanwhile, cops a lick or two off Prokofiev - Sting originally wished to perform it with a Soviet orchestra, but bureaucracy stopped him, for the time being. The lyrics deal in East - West relations, inspired by watching Russian TV, live by satellite in New York City. Russians?
"Very simple idea: The Russians love their children too. Yet I don't think we're meant to believe that... We have to forget the politicians, they're inept. We have to bypass them and in some way look for our counterparts in the Eastern bloc. So in terms of the song, I think of myself as a father of children, and there must be people who feel the same as I do in Russia, there has to be. It's a ridiculous statement to make: the Russians love their children too. And yet it's not. It's the world that's ridiculous. "People should be saying to me, Why the f*** are you writing such a nonsense? It's like saying, people breathe. But people are saying, God, that song's really profound, man, you really said it. Well maybe I have, but what a shame..."
'Children's Crusade' laments the waste of young lives - from the 11th century Holy War, to the 1914-18 war, to the heroin epidemic of today. Again, is this the parent in you, speaking out?
"Having kids, far from making me sentimental and middle-aged, has made me much more aggressive politically. When you have kids you have a stake in the future. It's more than selfishness. I really would like my kids to have fulfilled, happy, worthwhile lives. And the chances of that happening are diminishing day by day. "I've led a very full life, and if I got knocked over tomorrow, or died of AIDS or cancer, I'd know at least that I've lived, had some kind of life. I'd like my kids to have as much as I've had and more. And I don't think any of us can sit back and expect the political system to ensure that. It's up to all of us to do something: what I do is write songs. I haven't got time to be frivolous anymore."
And then 'We Work The Black Seam' a song in defence of the striking miners, coupled with an attack upon the government's alternative to coal, nuclear power. Has your Geordie background got something to do with this?
"Maybe. I'm from Wallsend which had two industries: Swan Hunters shipyard, which I was born right next to, and on the other side of town was the Rising Sun pit. So if you didn't go to grammar school, which I did, there were two choices open to you for work in the town, the shipyard or the pit. And now they're closed. I taught in a mining village in Northumberland, all the children's fathers were miners. The area I was brought up in was literally built on coal. There are 300 years of coal supplies left, and they're closing all these pits. And five miles from where I lived they're now building a nuclear power station, where they have to import uranium from South Africa. And I frankly think the government has got its head up its arse. They're destroying communities that are culturally very rich. And the government's offering them no alternative, saying you're completely useless.
"I've just been reading a book by Schumaker called 'Small Is Beautiful', subtitled 'Economics As If People Mattered'. And he's saying there's more to economics than making a profit. The social cost of disintegrating those societies is immense. Kids brought up in that environment now think about the police in a totally different way, and justifiably so. It's become Northern Ireland over again. If that's progress, we've got to get that woman out of power. Also I felt that during the miners' strike the case for coal was never put to the nation. Kinnock didn't explain it, Arthur Scargill didn't even address it, it was complete personality rhetoric with Thatcher. And the case for coal is really strong.
"I have a couple of friends who work in the nuclear power industry, who telephone me occasionally with horror stories about how dangerous and inept the whole system is. It's an industry which exists in the shadows, it's bound up with security and high walls and barbed wire. Those machines were turned on 20 years ago and they don't know how to turn them off. Now they're falling to bits and they don't know how to repair them. It's frightening. There are too many stories of kids with leukaemia around power stations for it to be just rumour, just superstition.
"The good thing is that people are catching on. I was actually pro nuclear power at one time. I thought, well, it's clean, it's efficient. Until you actually start investigating it, it just takes a little bit of nous to realise we're having the wool pulled over our eyes. 'We Work The Black Seam' is about the dignity and heroism of being a coal miner. I think symbolically the miner in our society plays an important part, subconsciously. If you think about it in a symbolic way, the miner digs into the backbone of the country, and brings out power. There's something very noble in the image. "
There's a spooky little jazz number on the LP, 'Consider Me Gone', with lines like "Cancer lurks deep in the sweetest bud". It suggests a pessimistic outlook, rather cynical and bleak. True?
"Well, if I can talk about Brecht without getting pretentious... Brecht wrote two kinds of songs, what he called friendly songs and unfriendly songs. And I'm the same, in that I have a strain of song that is quite evil - a song like 'Demolition Man', 'Every Breath You Take', basically spiteful, mean songs. 'Consider Me Gone' is quite cold, unfriendly. But I do use songwriting and performing as therapy, and I'm allowed to play those roles. I like doing it, as long as I can play the other side and balance it out. In Jungian terms it's bringing the shadow out'. My theory is that unless you admit to having a dark side, a potential for evil, then you can't control it. People who do evil have no idea, they think all they do is good. I think Hitler thought he was good, or he couldn't have behaved in that way. I'm sure Margaret Thatcher thinks she's wonderful for the country.
"So I'm actively pursuing this duality in my personality, where I can sing about 'One World', Peace and Brotherhood, and at the same time be as mean and selfish as I like!" he laughs. "But that's a healthy thing."
The LP's title, 'Dream Of The Blue Turtles', refers to a dream Sting had, in which he saw the said turtles crawl into his London garden, a neat and tidy little patch, which they proceeded to destroy with feats of acrobatics. Sometimes you worry about Sting. The dream must have some significance for you?
"Yes it has. The overriding feeling I had in that dream was joy, watching this spectacle of my garden getting wrecked. And the analogy is this band. By going through this process with this band, I shall destroy a lot of easy options. An easy option is to make a Police record. So it's a frivolous title. I'll give you that, but it offsets the heaviness of most of the album. I didn't want to call it 'Sting Addresses Doom and Destruction', I wanted something more oblique. I did Jungian analysis for a while, and one of the things you're encouraged to do is use your dreams creatively. In my case, I wrote this music. So it's not entirely stupid, there's a grotesque logic somewhere."
The old Brecht/Weill influence seems to crop up on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', a Mack The Knife-style story of a vampire in New Orleans...
"That was inspired by a book by Ann Rice, called 'Interview With A Vampire', a beautiful book about this vampire which is a vampire by accident. He's immortal and he has to kill people to live, but he's been left with his conscience intact. He's this wonderful, poignant soul who has to do evil, yet wants to stop. Once again, it's the duality which interested me."
Finally, 'Fortress Around My Heart' - a love song, but a regretful one?
"It really harks back to 'Every Breath You Take', this image of a building, a structure around a person, ostensibly to protect them but ultimately to control them - so much so that you end up isolated from them. Again, an antidote song."
Matters thespian. Sting has two films coming out this August: 'The Bride' and David Hare's 'Plenty', in which he plays alongside Meryl Streep. All other projects have been postponed for now. "I really want to concentrate on the music until next year. I don't want to be an actor, it's not my vocation. I do it, one, because people ask me, and two, because I enjoy learning the craft. I enjoy doing a job. If you're a 'successful pop star' it's easy to fall into a rarefied, protected life with a coterie of sycophants and bodyguards around you. You go from the studio to the private plane, do a tour, back to your island retreat and that's your life, right? You know who I'm talking about.
"I like the idea of getting out of bed at 6 o'clock in the morning, looking like shit, driving to the film set, working among technicians and actors, and doing a workaday job. There's nothing glamorous about making films. I can't rest on my laurels. I can't go on a set and say, 'Here I am, God's gift to acting, big rock star, I sell millions of records'. It doesn't mean shit. If anything, it's a disadvantage. When I go to do a film, I'm learning to act. I'm acting with people who are in the first division. And as soon as people have realised that I'm not some drug taking egomaniac, I usually get on very well, learn a lot and come out unscathed."
Yet you must be aware that when people like yourself, rock figures, are invited to appear in films, it's as box office bait, because the cinema audience is such a young one now?
"Yes, sure. But the roles that are offered to you like that are usually about rock music. The number of times I've been asked to play a rock star who 'has problems relating to people'. I get one a week, turn them all down. What I've done is go for small parts in what I thought might be worthwhile films, and built it up slowly. But I don't want to end up as an actor."
The Band Aid business...
"I'm in contact with Bob a lot. I'm only concerned that the money isn't squandered, but I think Bob's got a pretty good handle on it... There were no ego problems at that recording, no checking out what everybody was wearing, cos we all looked terrible. And you don't very often meet other rock stars, you see them passing another way in a corridor. It was interesting to meet Boy George, Simon Le Bon, it destroyed a lot of prejudices as well.
"The rock'n'roll business is very gladiatorial, in that to go out and do what you do, you have to hate everybody else: f***in' hate Spandau Ballet, hate Depeche Mode. That's the kind of macho thing that everybody goes through to go on-stage and be the best. Meeting all these people, they're actually nice blokes."
Have you ever met Neil Kinnock?
In the NME a while ago he spoke of "a well-known Geordie musician" who'd returned to the Labour fold. But he wouldn't say who the musician was.
"Hmmm, I don't know if he meant me. Interesting. What do I think of him? I wish he'd come out and say something. I actually like him as a person, and he's got integrity. But he's really got to learn how to make himself unpopular and learn how to live with that. I think he wants people to like him too much. If he really wants to become the Paul McCartney of the front benches he can do that, but I think the Labour Party needs someone who's strong enough to say, I believe this, and if you don't like it you can f*** off."
Read more good books lately?
"I read a terrible book last week, by a woman called Ayn Rand, a real reactionary piece about the virtues of selfishness and capitalism. I try not to confirm my prejudices when I'm choosing what to read. I try and readjust about everything. Good books... I spent last year reading conspiracy books: 'The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail' which I couldn't put down, and books about the Freemasons, and a great book about the Vatican called 'In God's Name', about the Pope who only lived for 33 days as Pope, and the accusation that he was murdered by a combination of Mafia, people involved in the Vatican bank, and one or two cardinals as well. Wonderful story for a Catholic to read! Great stuff. I love conspiracy theories, whether they're true or not is beside the point. I like scandal, as long as I'm not involved!"
What sort of things do taxi drivers ask you about?
"I have a very good relationship with taxi drivers. They usually say, Give me a cure for me sore throat, I've got laryngitis. Or they give me one (puts on snuffly cockneyney voice): My old mum says, best thing is vinegar and jelly - or kippers and custard or something! I was driving down Swiss Cottage, I've got this VW Golf. And this taxi driver shouts out, Oy! Sting! Wha? You gotta flat tyre mate! f***!
So I have to pull up at Swiss Cottage, it's about 5 o'clock at night, traffic everywhere. f***, haven't changed a tyre in years. So I get the jack out, jack the car up, people are going whispers), 'Ere, is that Sting? After five minutes of this there's a crowd, about 50 people. Some of them are looking and wondering what they're looking at, but there's a crowd anyway. And no one offered to help me. I'm under the car, filthy, it's raining, and I thought, God, I have to do this with a certain amount of style and aplomb or I'm f***ed! So my God I remembered how to do it. Got up, took a bow while they applauded, and I f***ed off! No one offered to help. They obviously thought, he's a performer, he's doing it for entertainment..."
© New Musical Express