In a cavernous studio on West 26th Street in Manhattan, Sting is rehearsing for his ambitious summer world tour, in which he'll rework solo and Police hits with the 45-piece Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. As the massive band runs through his 1985 single 'Russians', Sting kicks his legs out like a Cossack dancer, and during the Police's 'Next To You', he playfully waves his arms like a conductor. Later, at his apartment on Central Park West, Sting explains that the idea of exploring his catalogue came in 2008, when he was invited to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. "Hearing my music interpreted in that very lush, dramatic fashion was very powerful," he says. "It felt like being tied to the front of a train." Sting rests his feet on a coffee table, next to a stack of Mad Men DVDs. ("I love that redhead," he says.) Three basses lie around the room, and a lute sits on a couch opposite him. Despite his love of Elizabethan music, Sting insists his summer tour won't be a stodgy affair. "Certainly everyone should sing along," he says. It's not going to be a recital. It's going to be fun."
You've borrowed from classical music throughout your career. Where does that love come from?
"Stolen" is a better word. I wasn't educated to think that music should be split into genres - BBC radio played Beethoven's 'Fifth' alongside pop and punk. In the first live satellite broadcast, the Beatles played 'All You Need Is Love' with an orchestra, and that opened a lot of doors.
Can you go the rest of your life without playing with the Police again?
Why do you think that's important?
Because the reunion was insanely successful.
There are hundreds of musicians I have worked with successfully over the years - and no one has asked me if I'll play with those lads again. I'm not a great lover of nostalgia. I get bored easily. Some people find that certain chemistry, and they stay with it for the rest of their lives. That's not good or bad, it just isn't me. My MO is to surprise people, and that was the reasoning behind re-forming the Police: "What would surprise people more than reforming the band I said I'd never reform?"
What was the story behind the old Fender bass you played on that entire tour?
It's from 1954, slightly younger than me. I found it over 20 years ago, and it was like a little orphan that nobody wanted. I know for a fact that Leo Fender wound the pickups himself. That's a magician at work.
You're playing your 1996 murder ballad 'I Hung My Head' on this tour. What do you think of Johnny Cash's version of the song?
Who better to sing that song? He got one of the words wrong, though. He changed "stream" to "sheen". But I wasn't going to call him up and say, "Hey Johnny, you've got to re-record it!"
The song is about a man who accidentally murders someone. What inspired it?
It was just free association. It's not something I experienced firsthand - I wrote 'Tomorrow We'll See', about a transsexual prostitute, which is also something I've not experienced! I just thought 'I Hung My Head' offered an interesting moral argument: "Does this man deserve to die when it was an accident?" The song is really about the idea of guns having a totemic image that will attract their misuse. That's why I don't own any guns.
Is there a place where you like to go to feel the most creative?
When I'm walking. I'll listen to demos, and then I'll walk around with my iPod and mutter to myself like a crazy man. Right now I'm listening to the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. It's minimalist and strange.
Any pop music blowing your mind?
I'm always looking for surprising bubblegum. For pop music to reach me, it has to surprise every eight bars. I really like Lady Gaga. She's clearly smart, and she can play the piano with authority.
I interviewed Madonna last year - she told me that she finds you a little intimidating.
I like Madonna, so I don't know why she's intimidating. It's not my intention. I'm just shy.
She told me you're always sitting in the corner playing some medieval 16-stringed instrument.
[Glances over at his lute] It has 26 strings.
© Rolling Stone by Austin Scaggs