The following article by Chip Stern appeared in a March 1982 issue of Record
Police: Humans in the machine...
Boston: It was if the Police had parachuted out of the frigid New England skies like some sort of latter day counter-insurgency mission. Coming off the first leg of extended world tour, Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting had just spent the last seven hours on a plane from Europe, endured the customs routine and arrived at the Meridien Hotel only five hours ahead of their sold-out concert at Boston Gardens. This was shaping up as the ultimate test for one of rock's most fuel-efficient vehicles. Jet-lagged and disorientated, without even the benefit of a sound check, the Police would have to reach down for something deeper than mere show-must-go-on professionalism if they were going to establish a real rapport, a sense of intimacy with over 15,000 people in the acoustical confines of a hockey rink.
Sting appeared none too chipper when he slumped into the back seat of the limo to the gig, a dazed Care package look in his eyes, those famous golden locks equally frazzled, fielding questions on the numbing press and radio itinerary that would accompany the first two weeks of the Police's winter offensive.
"Heavy Metal? No, but I'll do Scientific American. Seventeen? No, I'm 30." Shortly thereafter, he and a roadie improvised a hand of cards using backstage passes, and the Police's singer-bassman trumped him.
"An IRS and an FBI?" Well, I've got a Stewart, Andy and Sting, that's high card eh?" Clearly, as comfortable as he is with the image he's created, Gordon Sumner is not Sting 24 hours a day.
An ever-present book at his side ("I was reading a lot of fiction lately, but I've stopped. They are really just five basic plots, when you get down to it, so I've been reading just science and philosophy instead.") Sting is droll, intense, and just a little mysterious. You sense he knows he's the bread and butter of the Police, if only by the way he exploits his beautiful boy image in photos and on film. But the reality behind that image is fairly mundane. He's not infatuated with the sound of his own voice, and chooses each word as carefully as he would a bassline. He shuddered when the limo passed by a couple of "Oh, Sting!" teen dreams, indicating his disdain for most of the stereotyped pleasures of the rock good life.
It's not that Sting isn't into sex (mind you, I'm just guessing). But it doesn't seem to hold the near mythical importance for him that it does for other rock stars. Sting is married, has a young son and his wife's expecting another child soon ("I hope it's a human being," he deadpans). He's become a sex symbol, but very reluctantly.
When on tour, Sting won't even leave his hotel room. The road is for work. There are no groupies hanging around (not even for the road crew), no caches of cocaine, none of the glass of Jack Daniels-needle in the ass-two girls on each arm decadence in which bands slowly waste away while the record company or the manager or both rape them for every dollar they earn.
Backstage at Boston Gardens the Police's manager Miles Copeland is everywhere, grey and understated, quietly preoccupied yet coiled like a winter fox in Colonel Sanders' backyard. As head of IRS Records, he brother Ian (FBI Booking) and several select road, sound and light people keep the machine lubricated and help insulate the Police from the kinds of insidious traps and land mines that scar the rock'n'roll landscape.
"Our strategy all along was to buy time for the band," he says. "We knew that if we could work the marketplace for three years we'd be able to arrive at the point we're at right now." And now it's Miller time, but why the Police and not some other band? "It's called living within your means. We kept costs down to a minimum on the road, and we didn't waste money in the studio. So many recording studios are hurting, and bands starting out ought to do their homework. You don't have to go for some expensive 48 track studio right off, you can find a place where you can make a deal for blocks of time when they are not utilising their facilities - so instead of paying $200 an hour, you pay $50. Our first album was done for $3,000, the second for $6,000, the third for $40,000 and 'Ghost In The Machine' for $100,000, which really isn't that much by current standards. And we did the last one down in the Caribbean in six weeks and we lived comfortably, but by that time we could afford it.
"The mistake so many bands and managers make when they decide who to sign with is what they put too much importance on the monetary aspects of the deal, and all the things being equal, that's important. But they don't have a real understanding of the way the record business works."
Copeland does, though, and that's why he didn't spend too much time courting A&R departments. Rather he looked at the promotion department and at the sales department - at the people who are responsible for getting records to radio stations and into retail stores and, beyond this, talking up a band so that programmers and buyers pay some attention. "When we were negotiating with A&M, we told them that they didn't understand what this music was about, and that we'd have to educate them. We told them to keep their advance and tour support, and to put all their energies into promotion and distribution. Which meant that the company wasn't sinking a lot of money into a high-risk situation. Every little positive development that occurred was a big plus for them."
In the dingy, cold dressing room, Sting and Summers receive an oblique message from the Twilight Zone. A roadie comes back to report that the bridge pickups on their Fenders have both somehow become demagnetised simultaneously. Andy is mortified, because he feels naked without his Telecaster. "My Stratocaster's a good guitar, maybe even better on some rhythm things, but the Tele has that magic. It won't be the same."
Despite the ghosts in the machine, or maybe because of them, when the Police ran onstage to the tape accompaniment of 'Voices Inside My Head', the spark was there; they didn't just play the letter of the law - they played the spirit as well.
Sting, now fully animated, took Brian (the name he's given his solid body upright bass) in hand. Sensing the pent-up expectations of the crowd, he launched into a roiling version of 'Message In A Bottle'.
The Police are the ultimate refinement of the power trio, yet even when playing such high volume heady metal as the opener, they realise that by relying on decibels you're limited to smaller, more direct gestures if you hope to communicate. At that level, you're simply moving air. "I always loved space and silence," Sting enthuses, "maybe even more than notes. I don't like it when music gets really athletic. To me, Miles Davis represents the ultimate achievement in jazz because he refined his art down to practically nothing. He understands the value of a strong melody."
When the Police brought down the level, they maintained the intensity, and on 'Shadows In The Rain' and 'Walking On The Moon' they made a huge arena feel as intimate as a club. Bathed in a red and green ganja light, highlighted by a swirling carousel, their music was like a slow, syncopated cakewalk; you could hear all the details and dynamics of each individual instrument, the belly-grinding syncopations of Stewart Copeland and the broken field haiku of Andy Summers echoing back and forth in space - the sounds of the instruments themselves becoming the hook. "It used to be considered much cooler if you didn't use any effects," Summers observed. "To me, that's a form of reverse snobbism. It's like the idea that all these ethnic rhythms and scales are somewhat more exotic. Believe me, if you practised synthetic scales all the time, when you went back to basic major scale it would sound awful strange, too. Effects have really come into their own time."
On the Traffic-like 'Invisible Sun', the well behaved audience (a broad coalition without any of the mutant scum so prevalent in arena rock) responded instinctively to the prayer-like quality of the tune with lit matches ("People have been responding that way everywhere we've played that song," Summers said), and on 'Roxanne' they sang back the verse so strong and so pure that the band simply stopped playing. It was no longer necessary.
"That was the high point for us," the normally irreverent Stewart Copeland said in plain awe. "That's what we're playing for."
"Well another say, another $50,000," Sting deadpanned back at the hotel on his way to sleep. Yet for all the technocratic efficiency of the Police's machine, their most calculated gestures still maintain a human quality; one still has a sense that even as they blast past platinum into titanium and beryllium, that the Police's music will grow, not to mention their vision.
"We're not a bunch of tourists," Stewart stated emphatically, "and because my brothers and I grew up in Lebanon, we have more direct knowledge of that part of the world than a lot of people. There's something happening there that we want to express. When we toured and went to India and places like that, we saw a level of poverty, a gap between haves and have-nots that people in the West can't even begin to comprehend. But there's something in their religion and philosophy that gives them incredible inner strength and peace, so that they can go about their day-to-day lives and not be crushed by it."
"That's what we were trying to get across with 'Invisible Sun', Sting said the next morning after breakfast, while dipping an oboe reed in warm water so that he could practice for an hour before flying out to the next night's work. "There must be something that we can't see that comes through to us." Sting paused, and began talking about the forces that motivate him and the Police. "I know what people must think," he smiled, "but we're not placebos."
© Record magazine