The following article by Paul Colbert appeared in the April 1993 issue of VOX
Not the fingers of a sensitive artist. More a handful of sausages, really.
Sting is in the middle of a two week stay at a North London rehearsal studio, remarkable for the fact that the most shockingly colourful item in the room is the carpet on the soundproof door. And that's brown. He, and the rest of the band - drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboard player David Sancious and guitarist Dominic Miller - are attired in the universal musicians' colour, black. No, tell a lie, Sancious has a white shirt.
Last year was nothing if not eventful for Sting. Someone ran off with several million pounds of his money. And he got married. But today, in the midst of work he'd probably rather get on with, Sting is promoting his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. The first single, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', is just being released to the mercy of the airwaves, as the star levers himself up onto a tattered flight case in an equally tattered corner. The hands come out for a quick shake, then return to his bass where they sit looking well-used, just about the only clue to his 41 years. Maybe the knuckles wrinkly instead of the eyes, a sort of fistful of Dorian Gray.
'Ten Summoner's Tales borrows a free-ranging template from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - "I did it at A-Level" - having no deeper theme than being stories linked by the journey on which they were told. A Summoner, who gets his own Chaucerian epistle that unusually involves priests and farting, was rogue bailiff, extracting fines for those who couldn't be bothered to go to court. It's also the origin of Sting's real name, Sumner.
The album has jokes - though Bernard Manning, it is not. It is brighter and more accessible than 'Soul Cages', a record which, successful and powerful though it was, he somet9imes remembers as "therapeutic and confessional", and other times as "wrist-slashing... definitely."
"The intention with this new album was really to get out of the cycle of traumatic soul-searching and confessional records, pulling your soul apart every time. I thought, 'what am I - a songwriter or a psychoanalyst?' More than ever before, I just felt the need to work, instead of trying to find some solace in music.
"I'd just come off the tour and I said, 'okay, on April 1st I start writing songs just to amuse myself'. They don't have to be about me, or from anywhere particularly down inside me; they just have to engage the band, and my family - which I suppose are the audiences I write for. Just make a record of four or five months of my life, and say, 'okay, here it is'."
'Soul Cages' dwelt on the sense of loss that followed his father's death, and one of the releases about this new record, he says, was not having to write any more about his own relationships. "I could invent frivolous ones. Like in 'Seven Days' where this guy is threatened with the ultimatum that if he doesn't marry this girl by the end of the week, she'll marry someone else. I mean, that's not me at all."
And 'Fields of Gold' was really inspired by moving to the country for the first time in my life, and I was kind of taken by the fields especially in Summer, the crops blowing in the wind, the lovers in the field..." The bursting bodices, the Barbara Cartland novels, and the Stuka bombers diving out of the sun...? Sorry.
The jokes are "mostly musical, some lyrical," he explains, guarding the punch lines in the same way a magician patrols his rabbit. "There are lots of musical jokes which involve going from one time signature to another, which is always funny, even in classical music. The lyrical jok4s... I dunno, they're funny to me."
It is important that other people get them? Depends who the people are, he deadpans, pulling the unravelling edge of his black roll-neck out of a cup of tea and honey. "I'm asked to explain myself," he smiles, when quizzed on he forever seems to be doing it. "And explaining yourself without boring yourself to death, boring the interviewer, and boring the readers is difficult. I don't have a burning desire to be understood, I'm understood enough. I probably would have preferred not to have given any interviews in my whole life, but I signed a bargain with the Devil 12 years ago and the floodgates opened. Now it's just about damage control.
"I mean, are people really sitting there puzzling over what I do? Are they? Doesn't seem worth it to me."
Yeah, but come on, you set yourself up for it. The British Library could open a cuttings section on "Pretension, Sting for the use of", and your response is to be photographed in Africa, daubed in mud and standing on one leg. It's a game, and you enjoy the chase.
"Yes... aahhh... criticising me is like hitting an elephant with a shotgun - a pretty easy target, you don't get many points. But , yeah, I probably do enjoy the chase. I do enjoy the attention, I have to be honest with you. I am...," he says, girding his ego for the expected look of disbelief, "naturally a quiet, shy retiring person."
The rehearsal room becomes strangely quiet. Assistants cough. "I know a lot of people would think that a very strange idea of me, and that I'm very arrogant, and very confident, and a pain the arse - which is also true - but exhibitionists are normally introverted people who didn't really get a lot of notice taken of them as kids. I think that's probably my modus operandi."
Not a treatment to be repeated with his own offspring. Just the opposite, in fact. Sting's marriage to actress Trudie Styler last year preceded a celeb-rich reception, but followed 12 years of living together. "It was a romantic joke, and I'm glad to say we survived it. I was worried that it would change my relationship - that somehow I'd feel under pressure and the rules would change - but, no, it's actually better."
Why do it at all? The kids wanted us to. They said 'why aren't you married?, and because we're the generation we are, we said (adopts booming and lofty tone), "'why do we have to get married when we make the commitment every day?'" And did they go for it? "Nope. No, they said, 'you have to be married'... they can be demanding, kids." Especially when they're 16, 6ft 2in, have their own band and into Nirvana. "Okay, yes, I do ask my son's advice about music."
Less happily in 1992, there were the stories that Sting had lost a good few million pounds in an alleged fraud. He can't discuss the ins and outs of it - legal reasons and all that - but manages the astonishingly mild-mannered comment that "it was an interesting time". 100 per cent, gold-plated bloody riveting we would have thought. "It mad me realise where my wealth is - it's not in the bank, it's your friends and family, and your ability to create and be happy."
Yeah, as in 'create a very large bruise on someone's arse and be happy if your foot hurts a bit', right? No. Sting is magnanimous. "The real victim of the whole thing is the person who did it. I'd rather be poor and honest than rich and bent... ha ha... really."
I'd rather get the money back. "Well, I think that will be resolved."
"I don't think of the past very much," Sting concludes, as the band begin to rattle wires and tweak knobs in anticipation. "I'm not interested in reproducing past success, not interested in reforming The Police, or having that level of popularity again or being that person again. Things could have been different. When I was a teenager, I could have been an athlete... I was an athlete. But if I'd been a sprinter, my career would now be over. I've survived, okay? I'm alive... I feel good about that.
© VOX magazine