Interview: CNN TALK ASIA (2004)

August 01, 2004

The following transcript is of an interview Sting did in August 2004 with CNN's TalkAsia programme. The interviewer was Lorraine Hahn.

British Rock Musician Sting talks to TalkAsia...

TalkAsia: This week on TalkAsia: One of the greatest music legends of our time. Welcome to Talkasia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. British music icon Sting is our guest this week.

The 52-year old rocker has been at the top of the music industry for over two decades. There are few other songwriters who've composed as many hits, or croon as beautifully as Sting. Born Gordon Matthew Sumner, Sting grew up in a rough neighborhood in Northern England. He says he always loved music and dabbled in it a bit, but it was the formation of "The Police" in 1977 that changed his life forever.The group was considered one of the most progressive and sophisticated of its time.

And while with The Police, Sting wrote some of his greatest classics, such as 'Roxanne', 'Message in a Bottle', and the obsessive 'Every Breath You Take'. In 1984, the band split up and Sting began a solo career full time. He's sold more than 50 million albums, and has walked home with numerous awards, including 16 grammies. His raspy, yet soothing voice is his trademark, connecting him with fans across generations, and around the world.

Sting has recently released his latest solo album, 'Sacred Love'. He's here in Hong Kong to talk to us about that and much more. Sting, thank you very much for joining us.

TalkAsia: Before we talk about your album, let me first ask you how did you get the name "Sting"?

Sting: I've had this name since I was 18-and I'm 52 now and I can't do the math. So I've had that name longer than any other name. My wife calls me Sting-my kids call me Sting. People who know me extremely well will call me Sting. It's my name. It's a silly name but you get use to it. It's very short and cryptic for autographs. Where did it come from? I was 18 - I was playing in a trad (traditional) jazz group with people much older than myself. People about my age now. And to find my youth and vigor I would wear this sweater - with black and yellow hoops - I looked like a wasp. It probably looked terrible but I thought it was really cool. And the band all laughed at this sweater and they started to call me Sting as a joke. I thought yeah okay-very funny. Next night they called me the same name-and it went on all week until it was my name. They'd call up my house and ask my mother "is Sting in?" and she'd go "who?" Eventually she ended up calling me Sting. So the name's carried on.

TalkAsia: Let's talk about the latest album - 'Sacred Love' - tell me about that album. Was it very difficult for you to write?

Sting: Well they're always difficult to write. I mean I don't know where they come from. You know you have to - it's a daunting prospect. You have blank page in front of you and a blank computer screen and nothing on it. No ideas no plan, no agenda, just the idea that perhaps you ought to put a record out because that's what you do for a living. I began this process on September 12, 2001 - the day after the tragedy in New York. And I remember feeling extremely traumatized like most people in the world. And empty. Very empty. And from that emptiness though one of the questions on my mind - what is it I do? What use is it? What is my position? Do I have anything coherent to say? Do I have anything that people would want to listen to in this new world that has been landed on our doorsteps? I didn't come up with any easy or quick answers I have to say. But beginning with nothing - beginning with that feeling of emptiness I think was a useful one. After a while when ideas did start to appear, I realized that I was doing what I'd always done, which is write songs about love. Write love songs, write songs about relationships. With a resonance in the bigger world picture. So there are songs about relationships on this record, but there are also songs about my beliefs politically, my philosophical beliefs, my religious beliefs, my ideas about sexuality, about music - just about everything that interests me. So it's a testament to my thinking in the last two years.

TalkAsia: Now so many people connect with your songs with your music. What inspires you to write. Does it have to be an event like September 11th or something that happens in your life...?

Sting: It's a kind of instinct and need to, I suppose, tell stories and that's what I do. I look for stories. If I write a piece of music and I structure it correctly it has a kind of intrinsic narrative to it. Music does have it, but it's abstract. It's telling you a story but you're not quite sure what it is. My job as a lyricist - when I put my lyric hat on - it's as if what is this music telling me. What is the story what is the character, what's the mood. Who's in it... And so they become like little operas - mini operas or little sub-operas if you like. And I like telling stories with a beginning, a middle and an end.

TalkAsia: Now you mentioned just now you started off with jazz-but your sounds have changed. How have they changed though the years?

Sting: Well you know music to me is an ever receding mystery. And the more I find out about it the more I realize I simply don't know. And I imagine I will always be a student forever. But that's a very intriguing and compelling journey to be on - to be constantly discovering something. And I like to think that my albums would indicate some form of progress, that I'm becoming a better singer, better lyricist, a better composer, a better arranger, producer - whatever. But the listener is the judge of that. The intention is to improve but the listener has to judge whether I am succeeding or not. But it's a continuing journey.

TalkAsia: Who or what, these days, is your muse?

Sting: Well a muse is traditionally a female figure. It inspires you to works of art. And I suppose it has to be my lovely wife Trudie. Who's not only my muse but she's my guardian angel. She's very very inspirational, as a person, as my wife, as the mother of my children and uh... yeah, she's my muse.

TalkAsia: Before he became famous, Sting held a number of jobs. They include being a primary school teacher, a soccer coach, and a ditch digger. But he decided to bite the bullet and pursued music full time in his late 20's. Sting let me ask you why did you decide to do it? Why did you decide to do music full time?

Sting: I think I've always had a sort of fantasy or dream that I would like to make a living playing music. It seemed to be the most noble thing I could imagine. I had no idea how it was done, how you actually break into that sphere, but I always had this belief that music, no matter who you were playing to, was always going to be nourishing to me. And so I just continued to believe that, and that the mere act of playing music and or singing was good for the soul. And I say this to young musicians who are trying to break into the business and they say "how do I make it?" And I say to them "it's not important to make it, just keep playing music and its its own reward. And if you're meant to be a big star or not, that's just fate. But a love of music and a passion for music is always going to be a gift for you. So that's been my philosophy, and I've just been very fortunate that I do have an amazing career, I travel the world, and I sing and I get paid! Pots of money for a job that I'd do for nothing.

TalkAsia: And that you love...

Sting: And that I love.

TalkAsia: Let me talk to you about the Police-did fame catch you by surprise?

Sting: Well I think we achieved everything we set out to achieve 100 fold, if not a 1000 fold. We had a sneaking suspicion that we had something original and something to offer the world but we had no idea it would happen so big. Very grateful for that-very proud of that group. But once we'd achieved all of that I decided that to keep repeating it would give me diminishing returns and so against all logic I left the band and started again, and uh... here I am.

TalkAsia: When you look at good bands, great bands whatever - the Police was obviously a great band - what do you think was the main I ingredient to make it such a hit?

Sting: I think what happens in the bands that have made it in the public perception is that they have an instantly recognizable signature. As soon as you hear a record by REM or U2 or the Stones or the Police you instantly know who it is. There's no... there's simply no argument. That's that band. And so again if I'm advising younger musicians you have to find that unique signature that is you and only you.

TalkAsia: That sound right?

Sting: Yeah, and that's not easy. It's very difficult.

TalkAsia: Now you were born in England. Your father was a milkman, your mother a hairdresser - where did these superb music genes come from?

Sting: Ah well there was a lot of music in my family. My mother was a really good classical pianist, although she made money as a hairdresser, and my dad was a really good singer. A really good tenor voice. And my uncle played the accordion - yeah lots of music in my family. My grandad played the mandolin.

TalkAsia: Were they proud of your achievements?

Sting: I think they were baffled by my achievements actually! It wasn't quite in their experience that I became this sort of creature that was on the telly. And it was just their little lad-so they were a little bit bemused and puzzled by the whole phenomena.

TalkAsia: They died though they passed away while you were on tour.

Sting: They passed away in the late eighties...

TalkAsia:.. of cancer?

Sting: They both died of cancer

L: I read you didn't go to the funeral.

Sting: No I didn't go to the funeral. For complex reasons one I didn't want to make the thing into a media circus. I'd already said goodbye to my parents personally so I really didn't feel the need for further ritual. But um... yeah, maybe I'd do things differently now, 20 years later.

TalkAsia: Sting looking back at the times you actually punctured the big leagues, what do you remember most about those days?

Sting: I think the most exciting part of any career is the first time you say-you hear the record on the radio. That's just such an exciting thing to happen. You've written a song in the front room, you've played it to the cat. The cat didn't like and then suddenly it's on the radio! I mean - and like thousands of people are hearing the same thing. You never ever re-live that first excitement it's like making love for the first time, skiing or something like that. It's just fantastic. So it's the first time you play a big concert, first time you're on the radio, first time you're on TV, your first interview. You can never repeat that.

TalkAsia: And you never let fame get to your head?

Sting: Well you know I was fairly old when it all happened. I was 27, but I'd had a job. I mean I'd been a teacher, I had a mortgage. I mean I had a real life before celebrity set in. I think if I'd been 18 I would have taken it much more seriously. Oh well, it really is about me. It was difficult enough any way but having had that real life before - it allowed me some perspective on it. So I don't take it that seriously. I quite enjoy being famous. I don't find it unpleasant at all. I mean people recognize you on the street and they're usually very pleasant. They wave-honk their horns, or people on building sites would sing "Roxanne" to me which I'm always very flattered about cause it's terrible-but um...yeah I quite like it. And if people are rude I'm perfectly prepared to be rude back...

TalkAsia: Sting's more than just a singer and songwriter. He's an actor, an environmental activist, the proud father of six children, and a devoted husband. He's just released his first autobiography, titled "Broken Music". Sting, why now?

Sting: I'm 52 - it's about the first 25 years of my life... largely. I have enough perspective on that period of my life to be able to see the resonant points in my life that made me who I am. I don't really have enough perspective on the period following it to do the whole of my life. But I thought it was an interesting time before celebrity because you can glean celebrity stuff from the tabloids, and the gossip magazine. So I wanted to tell a story that no one had heard before. And I was very proud that I wrote it. It was fun to write - it was also a little painful. I had to bring up memories that I would probably have suppressed. And it was good therapy. I actually feel I understand myself more-I explained myself to myself in the book.

TalkAsia: I was going to ask you about some revealing aspects of the book, talking about some of your toughest times, would you share some of it with us?

Sting: Oh I mean I didn't have a hugely tough life, I didn't have to work down a coal mine when I was seven. There's none of that.

TalkAsia: Okay, ditch digger was as far as it got, right?

Sting: I was a ditch digger but you know, a lot of people have done that. I didn't have the happiest family life and that's kind of in the book. It's my struggle to become a musician, to become something singular, to become something that I was proud of. And something different. To escape, to keep moving. And I didn't get trapped in the kind of life I think had been planned for me.

TalkAsia: Talk to me about your interest in the environment. Where did that come from?

Sting: Well you know I was brought up in a pretty industrial landscape, I didn't see that many trees so I had no sort of in-built love of nature. But having got out of there and been exposed to things like the majesty of the Amazon rainforest and realizing that this wonderful thing was being destroyed daily and huge swades of it was just being completely ruined. Species disappearing, people's livelihood and safety just being dispensed with because of hamburgers or some cheap way of making a dollar angered me. And I thought well I'd like to slow that process down... I'd like to get in the way of that some how. So I suppose what I did was I had access to the media because of who I am so I agreed to use my fame to tell that story for a while.

TalkAsia: You mentioned that your muse was your wife Trudie, I mean how do you stay married for so long-I mean it might be a record I think in your kind of business.

Sting: In show business, 23 years together is like 4 or 5 life times. But how do we do it? We must be doing some thing right, I can't really put my finger on it. I suppose we share a lot of truth and some times, that's not easy. You know she really does know me, and I really know her. I mean she really knows me and still loves me, which is interesting. But we share a lot.

TalkAsia: How do you still have time among, I presume, your very busy schedule to be the father of 6, and the husband?

Sting: That's a balancing act. You know between being a workaholic out in the world, and trying to be a good dad, and a good husband. I think I maintain that balance a lot of the time. Some of the time, I don't. But then I have to make up for it in another way. It's a balancing act the whole time. But it's an interesting challenge. You know my family is not a normal family. We live all over the world. We don't see each other for long periods of time and yet it's still seems to work. (He crosses his fingers) - touchwood. We don't take it for granted, believe me.

TalkAsia: Besides your family and your love for your family, there is another love. Some 50 year fender bass?

Sting: I have a fender bass from 1954, which is almost as old as me. It looks like it's had a lot of knocks even before I got it. It's very sort of battered and care-worn. But I love this thing to death I often try to imagine how much music's been played on it before I got to it. I use that thing every night and it's got maybe another 100 years in it. It'll survive me.

TalkAsia: Do you take it every where you go?

Sting: I do.

L: What keeps you going these days? What is it about life that is important to you now?

Sting: I'm kind of intrigued more and more about what a miracle it is. What a miracle human beings are and meeting human beings and actually contacting them as very impressive beings. And the more you get into that the more rewarding it is. I'm not one of these people who like to sort of shut themselves away from people because I think people are my life-blood. So I'm sitting in a pub and I'll listen to people rabbit on about something. I think - communication.

TalkAsia: Well Sting - thank you for sharing.

Sting: It's a pleasure thanks for listening to me rabbit on!

© CNN TalkAsia


Jul 9, 2004

"I'm happy to make people pay up...£ Film producer Trudie Styler talks to Christa D'Souza about life and love with Sting, jokes that backfire and her passion for her latest fundraising project. There are all sorts of ways to spend a sunny summer's day in London. I'm spending this one with Trudie Styler, looking at a picture of a dump site in Equador. "I'll tell you, this one I went to made me dry retch," says Styler, who has just been appointed national ambassador for Unicef UK's End Child Exploitation fundraising appeal...