DOMINICALOctober 01, 1999
The following article by Marta Cervera appeared in an Autumn 1999 issue of the Spanish magazine Dominical... The article was very kindly translated by Matias Pirolo.
The British artist wants to launch into 2000 with a chant to hope. His new record 'Brand New Day' is the most romantic and optimistic of his solo career. Like a modern shaman, The Police's ex-leader tries to transfer his good vibrations.
"Love is a sign of progress"
Sting is back with a work full of good vibrations, an optimistic record devoted to love. Flashy? Not at all. His new sound is as refreshing as his message, that goes beyond concealed topics to get inside the mazy universe of feelings and affections. He does it in a very unembarrassed, wide and transcendent way, full of deep honesty and a big desire to explore diversity of sounds.
"I started writing the music without having written a single word. The sound suggested me the stories and characters. It's not easy to work like this, though it's very enriching. The whole process requires more time and it's more mystic, but the result is rewarding because everything has a bigger meaning", says Sting, that has co-produced 'Brand New Day', his new album, together with programmer and producer Kipper.
He had never done such a romantic record before. "Everything is devoted to love, cause if you dig a bit below human's surface you understand that loving is the meaning of our existence. Love is a sign of progress, wars aren't", states the writer of such songs like 'Roxanne', 'Walking on the Moon' and 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.
"Most of good love songs are sad, still beautiful. To write an optimistic song about love is not so common", says Sting referring to 'Brand New Day', the happy and sticky piece that gives name to the record and includes the appearance of Stevie Wonder. Wonder;s collaboration is just one of the many surprises included in his new work, in which James Taylor, Algerian Rai icon Cheb Mami, and jazz sax player Branford Marsalis have had their share too. Besides them, Sting has lined up with his usual musicians: Dominic Miller (guitar), Manu Katché and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums).
In spite of his popularity, Sting is very humble when he speaks about his work and life. "It's an honour to work with such musicians as Branford Marsalis and Stevie Wonder, cause I'm a big fan of them, their records have inspired me. To work with them is a dream come true".
The song 'Brand New Day' opens in a sad way, but as it develops the character starts to see things in a positive way."Optimism is my strategy for living, most of the song in the record reflect that concept", says the English musician, born in Wallsend, October 2 1951 and baptised with the name of Gordon Matthew Sumner.
In the late seventies he formed The Police together with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. The trio was a world-wide success becoming an icon of the eighties. The band split happened in 1985. Sting had his own ideas and decided to fly alone. Since then he has released eight solo records, some better than others, but all with his unmistakable seal. In spite of the criticism received for his latter works, the charismatic singer still has a lot of conviction. 'Fields Of Gold', a compilation including his better songs from 1984 to 1994, stands, with 4 million copies, as one of the last decade's bets selling records in Europe.
Sting has gone through different stages in music. At first, singing was an act of rebellion, then came a period in which he regarded creation impossible without pain, until he found out that happiness is compatible with working as a composer. "My whole life is a quest for a sound, something big, because music is a tool to awaken the spirit. I don't know who I am, but that is a great channel to explore, to find yourself", says Sting. "Right now I feel like a sculptor. Music is like a big piece of wood one has to know how to shape to bring a song out of it."
Trying to look always on the positive side helps him in being happy, but he is not blind. "We are ending a terrible century. We have had dreadful wars in the world for the last hundred years, and then there is Kosovo. We can't let the next hundred years be like this. That's why I want to be optimistic: try to communicate my feelings to people is my task." This is a hopeful message of someone that has meditated a lot and has been involved in different humanitarian causes. Besides collaboration with Amnesty International and his constant support for Amazon tribes in recovering their land, he has gotten involved in other projects.
"We have extended our fight to Thailand and African countries like Mozambique where we concentrate in instructing people so that they know how to stand in front of a court. But I just give away money, I don't get involved further than that."
He appears to be equanimous. He made common cause with the mothers of the missing during the dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, and wrote a song for them. But he doesn't show much happiness regarding the arrest of the general that ended Allende's democrat government with blood and fire." Pinochet is not the sole responsible of what happened in Chile. Obscure forces from the United States took part in that too. My feelings towards Pinochet are mixed", says the artist. "I don't understand he hasn't asked for forgiveness yet. What is he afraid of? No one is going to torture him. I believe he has to face this situation. But I also believe that punishing him is not going to bring back to life all those who have died, neither will it fix the lives of those who have suffered those terrible losses", he adds. "To start with, I agree that he has to be judged, but I don't believe he has to be punished."
The answer sounds a bit weird for an Amnesty International veteran member, but Sting is human, and as such, contradictory. He doesn't care about what others might think. He has demonstrated this in many occasions, like when he advocated for the legalisation of ecstasy, a drug that caused the death of some young adolescents in Great Britain.
"I don't believe taking drugs is a crime, it is a crime to sell them. Addiction is a mental problem and politicians are not interested in solving it. The reason why people take it is not investigated", says the singer and songwriter. He has experienced the effects of different drugs. Many of these experiences arose due to his contact with shamans and wizards of primitive cultures that use hallucinogenous plants to heal and see beyond. "For them hallucinogenous are a formula of knowledge", explains the man that is close to fifty and to whom many people that live in the so-called developed society idolise as much as indigenous do with their shaman.
The place of an artist in society - he says - is similar to that of a shaman because he can be the focus of attention for matters that are beyond those that concern men daily. To talk about life and love and to make people think why we are here. For Sting, between the artists with shamanic powers, Prince and Stevie Wonder stand out. "Both of them have that sense of mystery. But rock stars can be completely mad too", warns the vocalist. Concerts, would be like a rite of big communion. Though singers usually take from their followers an important economic sum in exchange for some hours of glory.
Sting began singing when records were made of vinyl and musical videos didn't have as much protagonism as they do now. Musical industry has changed since then and not necessarily for the good, according to the singer that works for one of the big multinationals after Universal acquired Polygram. "When I started, music was a rustic industry, a bit mature. Now it has turned into a great corporation. I don't know if this comes together with creativity because creativity needs to be fed constantly. A musician requires time to grow and develop, but the corporations that run music nowadays just look at the shares. Their goal is not creativity, but money, and that can cause a problem."
He doesn't need to worry. He is already famous, has sold millions of records and lives as he pleases in an old 16th century mansion, surrounded by many acres of land, just about 90 minutes away from London. Besides, he owns another six houses all over the world to share with his six children and his wife, actress and producer Trudie Styler to whom he gave support on her last movie 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'. The film made an important success, though Sting's part was brief, more than those he played on previous movies like 'Dune', 'Quadrophenia', and 'Stormy Monday', amongst others. "Music gets all my attention, movies are more occasional", he says.
Like Phil Collins and Elton John, he has written the music for an animated picture called Kingdom of the Sun. Nevertheless, he doesn't know when this work will come out, since Disney has stopped the project for the time being.
He has earned lots of money. Five years ago he took his accountant to court, but this small incident didn't ruin the singer whose fortune is near 40 million pounds.
As every rich man, he assures money doesn't lead to happiness. "My fortune is in the relationships I have and in the happiness I have found amongst those who are near me. I like money, but I'm not concerned about it, and I have to say that this is a privilege. He adds: "My wife and children support all my happiness. Success doesn't make you happy and this is something that every artist learns sooner or later", sentences this 48 year-old that was born from a humble family, his father a milkman and her mother a hairdresser.
His musical taste is eclectic, and this can be seen in his career and in his new album, where he has incorporated Bossa Nova rhythms in 'Big Lie, Small World', country music in 'Fill Her Up'. 'Desert Rose', with the collaboration of the king of Algerian rai Cheb Mami, has an arab inspiration and a little Spanish touch. "What I like about rai is its purity, but this song gathers pop and flamenco elements too because as a musician I always steal from other sounds I like. I feel good working this way and creating a world that is rich in sounds, specially when I work with people like Cheb Mami, that has a magic voice."
Regarding the most vibrating and sticky song of the record, 'Brand New Day', he comments: "It's about reincarnation, something I can't explain but it is a very poetic idea, with a simple message: if you do good you'll be prized if not punished. It is about a love that lives many lives until it solves. "
Sting practices meditation, a mental exercise that has helped him find his place in the world.
"More than helping me in my work it allowed me to confirm my religious ideas. Meditation pushes you towards self-analysis to reach better things. It's a permanent need, but unfortunately people don't have time for this."
He is no fanatic of any religion. He doesn't like sects either. "I'm not interested in belonging to any religious group. I like to meditate. My mind is the church. The god I believe in comes from a creative imagination, it is not the god that puts rules and reflects its greatness in the bricks of churches", he says in a relaxed way. He feels good with his skin, that he tanned in the French Riviera and in Tuscany (Italy) where he spent his holiday with his family while he finished his last record.
He listens to all kind of music. "Now my children teach me music, they recommend me records", he recognises. The last "whole" record he heard was one by Bach. Regarding his reading, he likes adventure books. " love those of Arturo Perez Reverte, I have read them all", he admits.
But in the immediate future he will have few time to read. In October he begins his world tour in the United States. "I haven't toured for a while, and I'm a little afraid because I'm not used to it. But at the end of the concert I am the same again. It's a matter of practice", points out the artist that started touring in 1976 and has played in all five continents. His music has sounded in the most important countries in the world but hasn't still been played in the biggest: China. "I hope I can sing there one day because I don't believe in cultural seizure. Music is a good lubricant to help understanding between people."
While he waits for the permit to sing in the communist country once strictly ruled by Mao the singer prepares to entertain his fans in the United States, the main capitalist land.
He will perform there on New Year's Eve in a gala with extremely high prices, that will take place in New York. His name will be amongst an amazing list of artists that will try to delight millionaires in this special gala organised to celebrate year 2000. Sting doesn't want to talk about the appalling amount of money he is receiving for his performance, but he has no problem in admitting that the sum made him reschedule his plans for new year's night.
"I was going to stay at home with my family, but they offered me such a big amount that I changed my plans, to celebrate it in New York, where I also have a house. I can't deny what they are paying me", says Sting, with an ironical smile, without daring to confess that sum with lots of zeros. With his saddle-bag full of dollars, he will depart then for Europe, where in January he'll start a tour that will bring him to Spain in May, if there are no changes in his schedule.