THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALDOctober 21, 1987
Sting's ready to turn a new page...
Sting has a new record out. And he is busy rehearsing his band for a world tour which will bring him to Australia next year. Ben Cheshire reports from New York.
Sting is tearing hungrily at a cream cheese bagel, wolfing down great chunks of it at a time.
In less than a minute the bagel is demolished, washed down by a swig of carrot juice from a styrofoam cup. He looks up, ready for his 23rd interview in three weeks.
The prolific 36-year-old singer, songwriter, bass player and film actor is in a buoyant mood, happy to submit to the interview circuit if that's what it takes to promote his new album, 'Nothing Like The Sun'.
Reclining in a leather chair in his manager's office, a block from New York's Central Park, he begins to talk about... Australia.
"I love Australia. I always say it's one of the places I could live. I love the sea and all the cities are by the sea. And I love all of that open land. America has the same kind of dimensions but there's a lot of bull here transmitted by people. I'm sure there's some of that in Australia, but not as much," he says.
Sting will visit Australia in mid-1988 as part of the world tour which begins next week in Brazil. It will be his second solo tour since leaving The Police, the super-successful rock-reggae band which shot him to fame in 1979. His new band is mostly made up of jazz musicians, a reflection of his view that barriers between different musical styles are starting to disintegrate.
"The whole thing should be mixed up in a giant stew instead of these little ghettos of elitism," he says. "Take this new album - it's all over the place. There's jazz, Latin American influences and chromatic pieces. But I think it does hang together as a record. What I wanted to do was to join everything up and not necessarily dilute it, but just use elements to show a rock audience what was happening elsewhere."
For example, the only two songs not written by Sting are from such musically diverse sources as Jimi Hendrix and Hans Eisler. 'Secret Marriage' was adapted from a melody by Eisler, a German composer who fled to America to escape the Nazis. 'Little Wing' is a cover version of the classic Hendrix song, complete with a sensational but thankfully non-mimicking guitar solo by Hiram Bullock.
Of Sting's original songs, 'Englishman In New York' is inspired by flamboyant Homosexual Quentin Crisp. "I think he's one of the most courageous men I've ever met," says Sting. "We think of courageous as being this sort of Rambo moron with big muscles and a gun. Quentin is this incredibly effeminate, witty man and I think he's much more of a fero to me than Sylvester (Stallone)."
Another song, 'They Dance Alone', condemns the violent regime in Chile.
Sting likes to listen to all kinds of music. His current favourites are an album of cello solos by Yo Yo Man (preferably over breakfast) and a symphony by Witold Lutoslavski. He is also writing a 40-minute string quartet for the Kronos Quartet, the enfants terrible of American classical music. Dressed in radical-chic outfits and spikey hairdos, they perform everything from Mozart to Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.
Needless to say, Sting prefers his new album to the previous one, 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles' - his coalition with several young lions of jazz.
"Turtles was a kind of self-conscious record. We were like ducks out of water and we were thrown together in the studio, wondering what the hell to do. That self-consciousness made it a very nervy, sparkly, tense record. The new one is much more controlled. It's the same idea but it's much more relaxed, layered and calm. I just wanted to refine what I started there, which was to make a record of very disparate elements, but to make it sound as if it's one thing."
Sting's musical flexibility extends to the personnel of his band. Only two of the original musicians from 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles' have made it on to 'Nothing Like The Sun' (named after Shakespeare's Sonnet 130). They are keyboard player Kenny Kirkland, and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, whose sensual, snaking, soprano lines do much to give both albums their distinctive sound.
"I'm not keen on the idea of having the same band again and again for every situation. I really love the flexibility of having musicians just come in," he says.
On th subject of bands, Sting is emphatic that The Police are over. Finished. Although he admits his former bandmates don't always feel the same, he finds it much more of a challenge to work outside that "safe little gang".
"When you start off in a band, you have certain objectives - get a record contract, have a hit record, tour America, tour the world, sell millions of records, play giant stadiums... okay, we did that. What next? Ah, do them again. Okay we do them again. Play another stadium, have another hit record. Then you think 'everything we set out to do we've achieved, tenfold. I'm bored, I want to stop'... so I stopped."
He jokes that there may have to be a money-spinning reunion tour someday if he keeps having children. Sting now has four children, two by his ex-wife and two by his girlfriend of six years, Trudie Styler. Jetting between his three homes in New York, Los Angeles and England, Sting spends about six months a year in his renovated apartment in New York's Soho.
Perhaps surprisingly, he says he is rarely bothered by fans or autograph-seekers when he walks the streets.
"I don't think it's much of a reward for success if you have to hide behind sunglasses or bodyguards or armoured cars. People do look twice but they're usually very nice. If you have a sense of humour you can deal with them. If a screaming teenager ever chased me, I'd say 'please calm down.' Poor old Michael Jackson, I feel sorry for the little bugger. I mean, he hasn't got a life. If you're not living a normal life, then how can you write songs? You can't. You could write about your own navel but I don't know how interesting that is. I don't want to sit in the house."
Sting certainly can't be accused of sitting inside the house. Apart from his music career, he has a double life as an actor in movies like 'Plenty' and 'Dune'. Due out soon are 'Julia and Julia' with Kathleen Turner and 'Stormy Monday', with Melanie Griffith and Tommy Lee Jones. In this he played a gangster in his home town of Newcastle, England, and reverted to his original working class accent. "It's like Swahili - you wouldn't understand it," says Sting, the son of a milkman.
He was also set to play the role of Pontious Pilate in the up-coming Martin Scorsese film, 'Passion'. But the shooting schedule conflicted with his tour commitments, so the role has since gone to David Bowie. "He's the token pop star," says Sting with a mischievous laugh. He has no desire to be a full time actor.
"I enjoy learning how it's done and working with other actors. But I don't know how actors stand it. When they're out of work they go through torture between jobs being rejected and wondering what to do. No, I don't want to be an actor."
Though he dislikes modern formula Top 40 records, he is optimistic about the future of popular music. "I have no shame about being a pop singer, as long as I'm allowed to do what I feel is natural to me. As long as I don't have to pretend that I'm 17 or write songs about taking my Dad's car out or having my first drinks. I do want to sing when I'm 40 but I do not want to wear a wig or fumble myself into tight spandex trousers. As long as I can write about things I care about as an adult, that's fine. But as soon as you have to pretend that pop music is about adolescence and youth, I'm not qualified any more. I'll move aside."
© The Sydney Morning Herald by Ben Cheshire