Interview: Q (2000)

November 20, 2000

The following article appeared in the November 2000 issue of Q magazine...

The Police finally self destruct. One was an 'asshole', the other a 'scumbag', and the drummer wanted to kill. Holed up on a luxury Caribbean Island to record their 'Synchronicity' album, something had to give.

Sting: Following my awful separation from my wife (actress Frances Tomelty) in the early '80s, I went to stay at Golden Eye, the old Ian Fleming house in Oracabesa that Chris Blackwell of Island owns. While I was there, I sat at Fleming's old wooden desk overlooking the ocean, the one at which he wrote all his James Bond books, and I wrote 'Every Breath You Take', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', all these neat songs. And that was also the first time I tried sensimilla. I brought those songs to Montserrat and we cut 'Synchronicity'.

Hugh Padgham: Air Studios had been purpose built by the Beatles' producer George Martin, on this tiny volcanic island in the Caribbean. We flew down from New York in December 1982 and, although the island is a kind of tropical paradise and we all had Mini Mokes to drive around in, making the album turned into a nightmare experience. I'd worked with The Police on the previous album, 'Ghost In The Machine', which had been difficult, but now things were even worse. Apart from pressures in the group, Sting had just broken up with Frances Tomelty and had his new girlfriend, Trudie Styler, with him. Andy's marriage was falling apart and only Stewart was happy in his relationship, but he and Sting really didn't get on. It was difficult right from the start because they were the biggest band in the world at the time and there were always camera crews or journalists dropping in while we were trying to work. I remember Jools Holland came out at one point.

Stewart Copeland: My home town (Beirut) was being bombed. I found out my nanny, who'd raised me was killed by American supplied bullets. I couldn't write about anything except war and hate. I wanted to kill.

Hugh: This was one of the first records I worked on as a producer and, as it progressed, I could see my career going out of the window. The band was close to breaking up. Sting and Stewart in particular were down to fisticuffs and couldn't be in the studio together.

Stewart: Sting and I have very, very different views of the world - very different politics, very different values.

Sting: This was almost a solo record, in the sense that the subject matter was very personal to me. And I couldn't really share it. When I sat down with the band and discussed what we were going to tackle, this was all I could write. 'Every Breath You Take', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' were all about my life.

Stewart: There I was, back on Montserrat with these two scumbags. It was the only place in the world where people weren't worshipping me very time I hit a drum. They were trying to convince me that I was completely useless. I remember one day Sting even sat me down to give me some kindle help with my personal growth. He said, "Stewart, have you ever been in a disco and notices that whenever one of our songs comes on, everybody sits down?"

Hugh: Essentially, Sting was trying to get Stewart to play more in a more direct style, more suitable for rock audiences. Stewart had a very reggae-based style, where the accent falls on the first beat of the bar, whereas most rock songs have the beat falling on the two and the four. Stewart just refused to do it. He just wasn't interested. Another problem for Stewart was the heat. When he was drumming on fast tracks, he'd sweat so much that his drumsticks would fly off across the room. He had to gaffer tape them to his hands in the end.

Stewart: Whenever Sting and I had our fists around each other's throats, Andy would hold this two inch tape - the ring of good vibes - over our heads, chanting "I am nothing" until we stopped.

Hugh: Andy was a bit older, vegetarian, into his herb teas, so he tended to be the peacemaker. If I tried to intervene, Sting would just tell me keep my nose out of their business.

Hugh: Apart from working, there was almost nothing to do on the island. There was a local town, Plymouth, with a bar where you could go and get drunk, but that was about it. I remember how on Sundays we'd try to stop, but by six o'clock Sting would be so bored that we'd be troop back into the studio. Even so, after two weeks we still had nothing on tape and everybody was fighting. I remember ringing up my manager and telling him I wanted to come home. One of the problems was that part of the deal involved Stewart and Andy having one song each on every Police album. So we had to leave off some great Sting songs, like 'I Burn For You', to include things like 'Mother' and 'Miss Gradenko'. We ended up having a crisis meeting. Their manager Miles Copeland, flew out from London and we sat around the pool and seriously discussed whether we should just pull the plug on the whole thing. Although Miles is Stewart's brother, all he really cared about was the money, and he knew that it was Sting who was writing the hits. In the end, Miles said, "Get your shit together, all of you", They respected that and we got back to work, but it still wasn't easy. One of the hardest things was 'Every Breath You Take'. Sting had done a great demo but we just couldn't get a finished version.

Andy Summers: He wrote a very good tune but there was no guitar. It had this Hammond organ thing that sounded like Billy Preston. It certainly didn't sound like The Police, though I secretly liked it. But we'd reached the end of our rope...

Sting: When I wrote it, I knew it was the biggest hit we'd ever have, which is why it was so easy to put on the album despite the cries from the other members of than band that it was simplistic.

Andy: We spent about six weeks recording the snare drums and the bass. It was a simple, classic chord sequence, but we couldn't agree how to do it. I'd been making an album with Robert Fripp and I was experimenting with playing Bartok and had worked up a new riff. When Sting said, 'Go and make it your own,' I stuck that lick on it and knew we had something special.

Stewart: There is an utter lack of groove, It's a totally wasted opportunity for us. We made gazillions out of it but when I listen to it I still think, 'What a bunch of assholes'.

Hugh: There were lighter moments. Andy was fiddling with a piece of silver paper from inside a fag packet, and he rolled it into a ball. Somehow, it got stuck inside his ear so he called for his roadie, Tam, to help get it out. Tam used a pencil and succeeded in only pushing it further in. Then Tam said, "I've got a brilliant idea". He bent a guitar string into a hook shape and tried to hook out the ball, instead of which he just cut Andy's inner ear, so now he's a got a silver ball stuck in his ear which is gushing blood. We had to rush him over to a doctor in the end to get it removed, but he was quite furious.

Stewart: This whole album was recorded in an unbelievably bad atmosphere. We all hated each other, had no respect for each other. I just felt like a piece of shit.

Andy: In Montserrat, the best room for the drums is actually the dining room. And we just cleaned out the entire space and Stewart had his drums there - because it was the best room to get the live sound, much better than the studio. Sting likes to play through the board, and I was able to just line up my six amplifiers against one wall and choose whichever combination at will and blast forth.

Hugh: There were good acoustic reasons why all of the band members played in different rooms, but I have to admit that it was also a very convenient way of keeping them all apart.

Sting: There are times in everyone's life when something you encounter becomes a symbol for your state of mind. Like in 'King Of Pain' where I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on the sun.

Hugh: The album version of 'King Of Pain' is nothing like the multitrack. The whole band is playing all the way through, but Sting didn't like that so we went through it taking out all kinds of things that the others had done until the final track sounded absolutely nothing like the original.

Stewart: In those days, Sting thought he was the Devil. It was my job in life to persuade him that he wasn't the Devil, he was just an asshole.

Hugh: After the New Year, we moved to Le Studio, outside Montreal, which was in a very remote ski resort. We still had a lot to do, including finishing off 'Every Breath You Take', but they just didn't want to be in the studio together, so Sting would go skiing in the mornings and Stewart would come in and lay down some complex drum track, then Sting would come back in the afternoon while Stewart was skiing and say, "What the f***'s that? Take it off." I'd try to get him to discuss it with Stewart, but he'd force me to remove it. We knew 'Every Breath You Take' was a huge hit, but we had this hole in the middle and no ideas, until one afternoon, Sting sat down and kept hitting one note on the piano, a one-finger solo, but just perfect. So ultimately, out of all that tension came a wonderful album but when we were finished we all went our separate ways with an enormous sense of relief.

Stewart: When I left Montreal from mixing 'Synchronicity', I was convinced, I hate music, I'll never play another note, I've lost my talent.

Sting: I realised that I couldn't involve this kind of personal work in a democratic process, at least not about the issues. So it was very clear to me during the making of this record that this was the end of The Police.

© Q magazine



Nov 18, 2000

Sting - New Day Rising: Forty-nine years old and back in the Top Ten, Sting tells his tale of avoiding adult-contemporary. Over the years the beatings [by teachers] continued... By the time I had my last bottom-bashing in the fourth year, my arse was as hard as a fifty-shilling piss-pot. I had merely asked Father Boyle if the Devil had a dick." - James Berryman, from 'A Sting in the Tale', the only authorised biography of Sting (Mirage Publishers, U.K., 2000)

Nov 17, 2000

Spirit in the material world: Sting likes to try new things. The hits keep coming for Sting, but all he really wants is happiness. Don't you just love a good Spinal Tap moment? I do. I'm on the phone with Sting and decide to go in hard. "Er, how are you Sting?" "Not bad," he replies. "I'm in..." He pauses. "Where am I?" The line falls silent as The Pop Star consults his mental tour itinerary. "I'm in Nagoya, Japan," he says confidently. "And it's raining..."