MUSIC 365October 01, 1999
The following article appeared in October 1999 on Music365 ...
Sumner Time is here again...
Debuting at Number Five in the UK album charts this weekend (October 3) with his new album 'Brand New Day', Sting marks his return to the public eye after an absence of three years since the Mercury Falling album. Music365 spoke to the jazz-friendly ace of bass - also known to HM taxman as Mr Gordon Sumner - and heard studio tales of long-lamented spaniels and their mistresses, golfing hero Jack Nicklaus' songwriting tips and long walks in the Himalayan mountains...
The way you approached making the new album, 'Brand New Day', was different from other albums, wasn't it?
"Normally I write lyrics and music more or less together. This one was exclusively about making the music first and giving it structure without having any idea what it was about lyrically. It was a sequenced piece of music an hour long, in the order it ended up on the album but without any words. I went on long walks in the hope that a mood or a character or a story would emerge to shape the lyrics. Some days nothing came. Other days there were little snippets. I figured if the music was structured in the right way I would find what the narrative was."
And did you? The theme of the album seems to be that old thing called love...
"Yes they are all love stories in a way so there is a kind of theme although the music is very diverse, which I like. I think it's a very entertaining record. It was done in a carefree way. I didn't admit that I was making an album until very late. I tried to regard it as just playing with some mates."
There's a line about "all you lovers in the world stand up and be counted..."
"Any sexual innuendo in that is purely coincidental!"
It's almost millennial as well...
"It is although I didn't think of it that way. That happened naturally but it wasn't my intention. I would have avoided the millennial thing if I had thought about it. I wouldn't have touched it with a barge pole. As it was done unconsciously, it seemed that the millennium had a say in it."
Tell us about the song 'Ghost Story' on the new record...
"It's about the past and if there is one confessional song on the record it's that one. You have to process the past. I liked the idea of being on trial every night, constantly being haunted by questions about your past behaviour or what happened. And you're not really set free from that until you admit certain things. The song is actually about my father, who died ten years ago. But it's up to anybody who is listening to interpret what it is about. To them it could be about a romantic relationship or whatever. It's often wrong to be dogmatic over what a song is about."
'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' is another interesting song. It's written from the perspective of a dog, isn't it?
"My dog Willie, a springer spaniel, died two years ago and whenever I mention him I get watery-eyed. I adored that dog and I see myself from his point of view. The idea of a dog falling in love with his mistress is not an outrageous one. She's off with this other guy and he is jealous! And she is angry with the dog because he isn't himself. I had her speaking French in the song to emphasise that they weren't actually speaking the same language."
You recorded with the rai singer Cheb Mami as well...
"Cheb Mami has such an amazing voice. I'd written this Arabesque tune and I was struggling with the lyrics. English lyrics didn't shoehorn into at all. It sounded very forced. Then I met Cheb Mami in Paris and I played him the tune.I asked him to write some lyrics but I didn't tell him I thought the song was about longing. A week later he came back and it sounded great in Arabic. I asked him what he was singing about and he said longing. He's going to tour in America with us."
How long will be the tour be?
"A year or 18 months. But I enjoy being with the band and the crew. They are an extended family."
And the tour will be sponsored by Compaq Computers?
"You're always being pursued by cigarette companies or whiskey manufacturers who want to sponsor a tour. This seemed a more natural ally with what we do. It's an expensive business. I don't like to go out and lose money. You can't flog yourself around the world for 18 months and end up with a hole in your pocket."
So what happened to rock'n'roll changing the world?
"You ether ignore the corporate structure or you somehow find some influence over it. At the present moment in history corporations are more powerful than governments. So what do you do? Computers seem reasonably positive. I don't feel too sheepish about it. If it was cigarettes I'd hide it."
Where is your main base now - Britain, Italy or America? You've got houses in all of them...
"We've been living in Italy for the past two years. I like it there a lot but I suppose I don't really live anywhere. I'm used to the nomadic existence."
But people will always knock you for being rich, especially if you still claim to be a socialist...
"That is essentially an English thing. What makes us great as a nation is that we are a very phlegmatic people. But that also makes us a pain in the arse. We like to knock people down a bit."
Do you ever go back to your hometown Newcastle?
"Not very often. My parents died ten years ago. My brother and sister are still there but they tend to visit me. But I'm proud to have been brought up there. At the time it didn't seem a very interesting place but on reflection it was an extraordinary environment. It's still the landscape of my dreams."
There's an average of three years between albums. What do you do in that time?
"I spent a year touring the last album. Then I spend a year in which I am anxiously worrying if I have another song in me and where the next one is coming from. I walk a lot. Last year I went walking in the Himalayas. Then I go into the studio to try something even if it is only making a noise and that takes about a year for the album to come together. So the cycle goes record, tour, worry...."
So, songwriting does not get easier as time goes on?
"I think it is Jack Nicklaus who says, the more I practice the luckier I get... I am very serious about wanting to get better as songwriter and a singer and a musician. So I do practice a lot. I believe in work. I'm not complacent."
Are you impressed with the contemporary music scene?
"Music today is too limiting, especially in terms of radio programming. It is a huge and beautiful language that is complex and developing. That's why this album is so playful. Some of the songs are radio-proof because you can't classify what genre they are in. No radio station is going to play them."
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