The following interview with Serge Simonart appeared in the January 2002 issue of Saga magazine...
Maturity, says Sting, is a "dirty word" in pop music. "It shouldn't be. I think that my music becomes better and more sparse as I grow more mature. I also think it's important to recognise that a significant part of music is the space between the sounds. What you leave out can be almost as important as what you put in. 'Nothing' can almost be a perfect music; near 'silence' can sound great.
"As musicians, we merely create a frame for silence; the real music is nothing. The geniuses of music, like Bach and Miles Davis, used silence beautifully; they were not about using as many notes as possible. They knew that playing almost nothing can be the most elegant and eloquent thing to do."
At the age of 50, with 14 Grammy awards and nearly 25 years of creating pop music behind him, Sting feels lucky for having had the privilege of such a long, fruitful career. Gordon Sumner - Sting's real name - was born in Wallsend and was given his moniker by a bandmate who admired his favourite black-and-yellow striped sweater. He played bass for several jazz and rock bands in England before rocketing to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s as lead singer/songwriter of the pop group The Police. He then went on to a long and successful solo career that is still taking new twists and turns.
For this he thanks his family. "My children and my marriage have stabilised my life," he says. "Actors and musicians tend to be very poor guardians of their own sanity and stability."
After his marriage to Francis Tomelty failed in 1982, Sting found his partner in Trudie Styler, whom he married in 1992. Together they founded Sting's Rainforest Foundation, which both are devoted to and heavily involved with. They are raising six children, two from his first marriage and four he fathered with Trudie.
"I couldn't imagine my life without Trudie and my children," he says. "Certainly it has allowed me to be creative."
Family life doesn't seem to be slowing him down. With a new live CD, 'All This Time', on the shelves, Sting is on a seemingly never-ending tour. "I've done 270 shows on this tour and I haven't cancelled any of them, so my voice is quite sturdy," he says. "But it's true, all the infrastructure hinges on this little muscle in my throat. Singing for an hour and a half each night isn't easy, but I've been trained to do it for 25 years now, so I know the dangers."
So where and how does relaxation enter the picture?
"I do yoga, mostly," he says. "Yoga and swimming are very similar, it's all about control of the breath, putting yourself through stress and relaxing. Yoga is perfect for me."
For solace, he naturally turns to music. "When I'm in a melancholic mood or I need a mental boost, I tend to play classical music, like Bach partitas," Sting says. "I have to play it rather than listen to it. When you play, you have a different relationship with the composer, it's almost like having a conversation with him through the instrument. My classical playing isn't very good but it's interesting, and I do get solace, satisfaction and mental peace from playing it."
Over the years, in reviews and interviews, many people have commented on the aspects of nature that can be heard in Sting's music. He attributes this, among other things, to being able to hear music in nature. "The last remote place I was in was the Himalayas. I walked up to the source of the Ganges in the high Himalayas, and I didn't have any music with me. But the rhythm of walking and the sound of waterfalls and the wind and rain - all of that creates music in your head, so in that sense I'm never without music. But even at home, I don't listen to very much music."
At his beautiful mansion in the English countryside, Sting has a recording studio in his vast garden, making the creative process as therapeutic as it is exciting and challenging. "My two last records were recorded in my home, which is probably as close to nature as possible, and I go for walks in between recordings. I do most of my thinking in the garden, and bring those ideas back to the studio. I'm glad you can hear nature in my music, because that's one of my big inspirations, you know: listen to the grass, talk to the plants, hug trees." He laughs at this, but quickly shows his sincerity. "I mean it, though: hugging old trees works, old trees are great ancient spirits, they've been here longer than we have, and will survive us, so they know more. And I think to interact somehow with their wisdom is a great thing to do."
Sting's recent single, 'Desert Rose', was influenced by his travels and is also one that he "got in touch with nature" to create. It was an unlikely song to rocket to the top of the charts. "I was very happy and surprised that the song did so well", smiles Sting. For starters, it begins in Arabic - and there aren't many pop songs in the Western world that do so.
'Desert Rose' is based on the Sufi belief that romantic love and religious ideas can be linked. "I was advised by a record company person to take the Arabic intro off. He said, 'It will never be a hit in America if you leave that strange intro on, people don't like that sort of thing'. So it was a calculated risk, and I was glad to prove him wrong. Looking back, it was this unusual intro that got people interested in the song, because it's a very compelling rhythm and sound."
All This Time consists mostly of acoustic live versions of Sting's songs. "To me, live albums aren't terribly exciting," he admits. "It's always the same thing: big pop stars re-record their old songs in a huge stadium to prove their status. There's the great roar of the crowd, the band playing very loudly. It's never intimate. So what I wanted to do with this album was to create an intimate feel, as if you're in a small room with a band. That way, you get a real atmosphere. The songs rearrange themselves on tour. A pop musician records an album and then spends one or two years touring those songs, playing them every night. But when you play any song 300 times live, it changes. So new versions of old songs turn up."
Sixteen years ago, Sting released another rare live performance with his concert film, 'Bring on the Night'. A memorable scene from the video is the actual birth of his son Jake, who is "fascinated by it. When he watched it for the first time he said, 'Wow, I just saw myself being born on TV. Thanks very much'", laughs his father. "He seemed a little embarrassed and a little proud. Yeah, he was born on celluloid and it doesn't seem to have done him harm. We explained to him the circumstances. If your son is born when you try to make cinéma vérité, you would be cheating if you didn't show it. I'm not ashamed at having shown a beautiful thing such as new life coming into this world."
Jake, now 16, will soon be at the age when he will have to make decisions about his career and future. When asked if his son would follow in his famous footsteps, Sting said that would be Jake's decision. "I want my children to do something that feeds their souls. It's not about success or power or money. It's about satisfaction. And I think that has sunk in," he says.
Shortly before he died, Sting's father told his son: "We've got the same hands, son, but you've made better use of them."
"My father was proud of the fact that I made my money by singing beautiful music; by doing something positive and nice. He was a milkman all his life, and used his hands to put milk in bottles and put them in crates," Sting remembers. "My father was a smart guy, and his frustration was that because of his upbringing and where he came from and the time he lived in, he never got the chance to use his brain.
"So I found a job that I love, it's a job that I would do for nothing, if I had to. That is very rare. A lot of people work for 40 years doing something they hate. I suppose what I've taught my children is that they have to choose a living which makes them happy, not one that makes a lot of money, or one that other people tell them to do."
"I couldn't imagine my life without Trudie and my children. Certainly it has allowed me to be creative." Sting reveals that these days he gets his musical inspiration from nature by talking to plants and hugging trees.
"It works", he says. "Old trees are great ancient spirits, they've been here longer than we have, and will survive us, so they know more. And I think to interact somehow with their wisdom is a great thing to do." He says he will be happy for his children to follow him into the music industry.
"I want my children to do something that feeds their souls. It's not about success or power or money. It's about satisfaction."
© Saga Magazine