Sting - "Let it die. Kill it, Kill Rock!"
14.07.2009, London. The sun is blazing outside. Inside, it is comfortably cool. However, not as cool as the title of Gordon Sumner's upcoming album in October: "If On A Winter's Night" celebrates the coldest, but according to him, most beautiful and fragile season. In an elaborate, led by Sting's typically short but precise way, he tells that he doesn't only love snow as such. The one-time-only Police comeback and its background, his son's music or a life in spirit of Tantra are just as interesting to talk about.
Well, Sting, here we are sitting in the middle of summer - and we are going to talk about winter. You really brought that onto yourself with your idea - recording an album with a winter theme. Is it an ode to a certain season?
Sting: Yes, it is in a way. My record company asked me whether I would like to record a Christmas album, but I refused politely. I don't like Christmas very much, but I am interested in the overall theme of winter. Winter is my favourite season. I love making fires, sitting in the dark, wrapping myself in blankets and going for a walk.
Is there anything you love most about this season?
As a child I loved snow because Newcastle, the city I grew up in was terribly grey-looking and industrial. Snow would transform the whole landscape into something magical.
What is typical for winter to you?
I have researched extensively in order to find songs that reflect my view on Christmas and winter adequately. Winter is mysterious, dark and secret - certainly not the happiest of seasons. Many holiday albums are published in winter but they are all in style of "Frosty The Snowman", "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" or "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". These characters have been ridden to death throughout all these years and I preferred to do something new instead. It is a dark time, but it is an important one.
It is the season for introverts, correct?
Yes, it is and more: I am convinced that we should hibernate like bears, psychologically speaking. In this time we reflect, go inside us; and after having done this we can approach the new year and spring again. I think we Europeans need this. It has been part of our history for thousands of years. I am anxious that winter seems to be disappearing from year to year although we need it.
Are you considering a message of global warming contributing a part to the disappearing of winter?
Of course, glaciers and pole caps melt while we are sitting here. It is no science fiction, it is happening. Of course we can't stop it with releasing an album about winter but this topic, the state of our planet, worries me more and more. I think that people need this circle of the seasons and it shouldn't be taken away from us. I don't know about a future without them.
Maybe your great-grandchildren will never see winter.
That's possible, perhaps it will be sooner than we think.
Does the thought of winter make you nostalgic?
Totally. The whole album has a nostalgic feeling. In much of it my childhood is reflected, my ancestors - how they lived through winter.
Considering this, would you like to live at a place like L.A. all year long?
Although I have got a house there, but I miss having no seasons. Rain in L.A. is no substitute for that, the city looks very dirty and there are mud flows in the streets¬Ö I miss winter there.
You mentioned earlier that you didn't want a collection of Merry Christmas songs. I can relate to that because I find this season very depressing.
You are not alone in this. Many people have problems with Christmas - My album will be exactly suitable for you then (laughs). It is a kind of natural right to spend Christmas with family which is horrible for people who haven't got one. They are lonely, it is dark - small wonder that some of them commit suicide in this situation. I think that this aspect should find its place in my music, too. It is not only the shining party in the center, but also surrounding shadows which are created at the fringe.
You mostly, so it seems, had access to pagan sources.
Well, the Christmas story is based on a pattern that existed before Christianity. In this pagan version, not redemption and salvation were important but regeneration. Rituals had to keep up the circle of seasons and before they weren't properly done, spring or the next day couldn't come. A matter of human imagination - In its essence, religion is no different.
How do you define imagination in this case?
I think we need a ritual meditation. We have to deal with ghosts of the past and painful experiences. As soon as we have done that we can go on and look forward.
That is a bit of a Dickensian Christmas.
Exactly that: Making up with the ghosts of the past.
How about some ghosts in your own life?
There are lots of them. My house is haunted, as all of my houses are. I seem to attract them. My country estate from the 16th century is full of ghosts on Christmas: in the chimney, on the stairs¬ÖI love it! (laughs)
I was more interested in your inner ghosts.
I regularly conjure them up. I firmly believe in treating your inner ghosts well and with respect then you are left in peace by them. If you don't, then you are haunted all year long.
What was it like, recording a winter album in the middle of summer?
We indeed were fine tuning it during a heatwave in New York. We started in Italy though in a very cold February - perfect.
Amongst others, you interpret Schubert and Purcell¬Ö
Yes, that was a big challenge. Albeit a very interesting one.
Did you take any liberty with those traditional songs?
I always do that. It is never a precise translation of what is on hand. I translated Schubert very loosely from the German for instance - but not too much, just to keep it interesting.
What exactly is the connection to your personality?
You can hear the folklore from my heritage in many songs. I have worked with musicians from my hometown and traditional musicians. This whole project is based on them.
You said more than once that you couldn't live without Rock'n' Roll.
Did I say that? (laughs)
That is why you experiment in classical music as well? So that it becomes never boring?
Yes, because I think that in order that Rock'n'Roll doesn't become lifeless and conservative it has to draw from other sources and musical styles constantly - be it Classical music, Folk music or World music.
You haven't been making a record that could be considered a "Rock" record for a very long time now, though.
I am sure that I will be doing that at some point in time. But the things I have been doing in the last few years will be an influence on a future record. You can¬ët always do the same that is simply boring. My instincts tell me never to move back. I am not very good at it - I prefer moving forward.
Do you think that today's Rock music never takes any risks?
Yes, it is very conservative, enormously conservative so to speak.
Nevertheless it must be amusing to watch how many new bands claim to revive Rock music.
Let it die (laughs)¬Ö But seriously: Kill it, Kill Rock! To be honest I worry more about music in general than about a particular style of music. I think there is a lot more possible in music, but this idea of Rock'n¬ë Roll has degenerated to a kind of Holy Cow.
That's easy to say if you are one of the biggest rock stars of all time. Ok, do tell us how you become a rock star.
Well, becoming a rock star¬Ö I think the more interesting question is how to survive being a rock star.
OK. How do you survive being a rock star?
You have to stay curious and discover life without being caught in it. Michael Jackson was the biggest performer of the last 50 years, incredibly successful, but he was caught up in his own, limited world without having any chance to flee. At the end he escaped through death - lonely and desperate. An immense tragedy.
Apropos Rock: What was it like, touring with The Police again?
The tour was very successful. Nobody of us believed it at the beginning. It was easy but it is never easy to take up a divorced marriage again. At the end, we played 150 shows in front of 2.7 million people. And we didn't kill each other. It was all very civilized. But it wasn't easy, no.
My instincts always tell me never to go back. I am not good at this, going back, I prefer moving forward. It was a great challenge to go against my gut feelings and keep at it like that. I think I couldn't do it a second time.
Did the financial aspect appeal to you doing this tour?
Yes. And I have no problem to admit that openly.
Did your record company ask you whether you would record a new album?
Of course they would have liked this, but it would have been just nostalgic feelings and not creating anything new. On tour people wanted to hear no new The Police songs, but the songs they knew - and we delivered that to them. It was a success, nobody wanted their tickets back, but it was just another chapter in a story that is completed now.
You worked with your guitarist Dominic Miller together even longer than that and you haven't killed each other either.
And having been doing it for 20 years now! We love each other and are on the same wavelength for music and thinking. Dominic is extremely versatile and eclectic. Because of that, he is the perfect musician for me to work with as he also wants to try out new things.
Straightforward: What do you think about Fiction Plane, your son's Joe band?
His band is close to my heart and I wish that they become successful in doing their thing. In France and Holland it already works very well but it is difficult. I admire my son very much for his courage and talent. I look at my children and on that what they do and think: Okay, I have done my job.
How do you see your role in the band's career?
I think I often stand in their way. The shadow of "Joe's dad" is always there. But Joe is fighting it and he is really somebody special. And he is crazy. Totally crazy. And he is still my baby. (laughs)
Would you like to work more with him? On the new album he has already done some backing vocals.
We sung together on "Welcome To The Voice", which was great. According to him I shouldn't make music any longer as we have played together when he was still little.
How do you think today about this?
I am very proud of him. I look at my children and what they have done and I think: Okay, my job is done here now.
Are your other children musicians as well?
Well, there are two musicians, two actors, a film maker and there is Giacomo, my youngest son who will aspire to a job that hasn't been invented yet I guarantee you that. He sees beyond one's nose.
I had the chance getting to know your son Joe. He is very grounded. Is he the proof of you being a good parent?
Well, I became successful when I was already 27. What it means that I had a job, a rent to pay and support a family - a normal, real life so to speak. Today you can be a school dropout, go to "Pop Idol" and become a star, but you have no chance to have a real life that helps you to keep balance and that is difficult. Because of that I am lucky that I became successful at a later point and I could see things clearer first. I know that I am enormously privileged and I am thankful for it and this keeps me grounded. So far.
Now, as your job as a father and an idol is done as you say: Where do you nourish your spirit and your soul from?
Nourishment for my soul? Music, sex... and the love for my family. I can watch my children at how they find their way into the world - all of this is nourishment: Music, sex and my family.
Come to speak of it: Are you still a Tantra follower?
I am Tantra! Tantra is more than having sex. Tantra is really about using every occasion in life to give thanks, and that can be the way you breathe, the way you move or the way you speak, how you communicate with other people or cook your food. People flippin' talk about tantric sex like we f¬ó for seven hours! It's a thoughtful state of mind.
Yes. Behind all you do in your life you should have an intention.
You look great being 57. How do you do it?
That's a matter of attitude. Just keep curious.
Is this the reason that you are still happily married?
Perhaps (laughs). Maybe that and the fact that we have four children. We are best friends first. It is important to be intimate and be truthful to each other.
And you still have this chemistry between you?
That's essential, isn't it? I am glad about this, sex is so much better.
Do you regret anything looking back at your extraordinary career?
No, I never do. Je ne regrette rien. I have no regrets. I've made mistakes but I've always learned from them. You can't live a life without breaking eggs or stepping on people's toes or stepping on your own toes. That's not nice, but I wouldn't change anything of it, no. I am very positive about that my life is on the right track right now - I would like to give my full potential whatever that may look like and I haven't reached that point yet.
What about another approaching point in life: that of a grandfather?
I am not really quite prepared to be a grandfather to be honest. I have warned my children about this, but I am afraid that I cannot prevent them from doing it. (laughs)
Why do you think you aren't ready yet?
I simply can¬ët see myself being in this role. Although I was very young when I became a father, just 23. Well, under those circumstances I have the choice left to be a young grandfather one day.
© Galore (Germany) by Lex Martin (Very kindly translated by Anne G?ºntert)