Interview: VIZZAVI WEBCHAT (2001)

October 17, 2001

The following transcript is of a webchat that Sting did in October 2001 with Vizzavi...

Sting's Vizzavi Webchat - in full, 31 October 2001. Hosting the chat was Jools Holland.

Jools Holland: First of all I have a question for you. You've just finished recording your record, beautifully, maybe these people are going to ask you this. Tell me what the record is called.

Sting: My record is called 'All This Time' and it was recorded in September, in the North of Italy, in my home, and it's a live record and... I'm on the front cover.

Jools: I heard a bit of it and it's great because you go back and revisit lots of your material.

Sting: We sort of rearranged the songs just for fun. I basically gave the musicians the freedom just to do whatever they want and we just basically reconfigured songs and remade them. It's a nice record. Because we'd been playing these songs for two years. The last thing I wanted to do was just present that, what we'd been doing for two years. I wanted to give some sort of value added. So that people thought 'He's actually made an effort to it'. Live records are normally very easy - you just put the live tapes out.

Jools: But you are very unusual because unlike lots of people you play live a great deal. To do you think that makes you, as an artist, stronger as a live performer?

Sting: Well you know I don't have any choice really. I've been on the road for twenty five years, that's the way I entered the business by travelling up and down the motorway loading Hammond organs out of clubs, so that's the way I do it. Now there are many options for people to get into the business - video star, radio star, a studio star but I began on the road and I don't know any other way.

Jools: That is your way.

Sting: That's my way.

Jools: You are that minstrel. I was looking at these questions at the same time. This one is 'Sting, one of my dreams/goals in life is to meet you just once.' I'm saying this on behalf of the person but it's obviously mine as well (laughs). 'Do you still have any dreams/goals that you want to fulfil? If so, would you tell me?'(from Olivia)

Sting: You know, I'm not a terribly ambitious person, surprisingly enough. All the dreams I had as a young man for example have been realised. I wanted a career in music, I wanted o make my living as a songwriter, as a singer, as a musician. I wanted a family, I wanted a good relationship, and a nice house to live in. And I have that and some good friends. After that, what is there to want? I want to stay healthy, I want to be of use to the world, but I don't have any burning ambition. I've already done it.

Jools: Moving to the next question which is 'We understand that you and Jools perform a duet on Jools' new album. Can you tell us how and why that came about and a little about the song you perform?' (from Dave&Wendy)

Sting: Jools and I have been friends for over twenty years. He was in a band called Squeeze, the piano player. We were in the Police and we were sort of stable-mates both in record company and management terms and we've been friends for a long time and I've performed with him on a number of occasions. And when he asked me to this album which contains countless luminaries, countless other singers, he asked me to pick a song and I picked a song by Willie Dixon, called 'Seventh Son', which is one of my favourite songs. It opens the album, Jools' Big Band album, and I am very honoured to be the first one of very luminaries.

Jools: Well, we're thrilled to have you there and I'm sure Willie Dixon would be very pleased. I'm just getting more of these questions as we go... 'Hello Sting, can you please explain the significance of the bracelet you wear next to your watch?' (from Sophia)

Sting: Okay. This was given to me, I think it was in Spain, I was doing yoga backstage and this guy turned up and said 'Oh, you're doing good work' and he put this on my wrist. I later found it's a Sanskrit inscription, and it means 'Om Namaha Shivaya' which is 'I praise thee Lord Shiva'. Lord Shiva is the God of yoga. So, I really like it. It's a nice design, it's just made of copper and it's quite cheap, but I really like it.

Jools: But even the cheapest things can be the most meaningful, can't they?

Sting: Absolutely. It's a nice kind of mantra.

Jools: Right, this comes from Wendy and Dave. And they ask... I'm not sure where Wendy and Dave are...

Sting: They're in cyberspace...

Jools: 'Are you and Trudie planning to host a Rainforest Benefit show next Spring, and if so, will it be at Carnegie Hall?' (from Wendy&Dave)

Sting: Yeah. I think we have Carnegie Hall booked. I'm not sure what the theme is, but that's really Trudie's department. I shall be there and probably all the usual suspects, I hope.

Jools: Well yes, that's something I wouldn't want to miss. Now here is an interesting question from Olivia. She says, 'Sting, in much of your music, there is a sense of growth and understanding in life. What is one of the most important things you have learned in your life?' (from Olivia)

Sting: I think when I was setting out, when I was in my early 20s, I thought I knew so much. I was very confident about knowing how to write hit songs and thinking I was the bees knees. Now I know far more than I did then and yet I realise there is far more to learn than I'll ever have a chance to. So in a way having more knowledge makes you more humble, it actually makes you realise how big the whole thing is. And so that's a wonderful adventure and will never stop making me curious. I think if I have one quality which has saved me it's my curiosity.

Jools: You do, and in fact I think that's very interesting. If I could say that when I visited you you had a great telescope focused on the moon. I thought that was very interesting, in your spare time to be looking at the moon. Have you learned anything by observing the moon?

Sting: Nothing I could put into words, but it is one of the most beautiful things that man has ever seen and you know, I have this telescope, you can look into the black sky which you see with your natural eye and you look through this telescope and you see a million stars, it's the most exciting thing. I think people should do that, we have these problems in the world at the moment, people should look at the stars, it's much better.

Jools: You're right, absolutely right although I did ask you what the moon was made of and you told me it was made of cheese.

Sting: Prove it's not!

Jools: Hang on, I'm just getting this one now... from miraculix - that's a great name - 'When can we see you next in a movie?' (from Miraculix). So when can we next see you in a film?

Sting: I haven't made a movie since 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,' and I've been so busy in the last three years touring. I don't know the answer to that, I'd like to do another movie.

Jools: If you could play any part at all in a film, what sort of part would you like to play?

Sting: Well, I like to play little roles, not too much responsibility, kind of interesting character role. I don't want to play sort of heroic types.

Jools: Right, here we are. This is from Olivia, 'Sting, you've been an inspiration to me musically, and in so many other parts of my life. Thank you for that. My question is, who has always been an inspiration ti you in your life and career?' (from Olivia)

Sting replies: Hmm. Probably everyone I ever heard. I was very lucky growing up, coming to musical consciousness in the 60s because the world exploded in a creative way in the 60s with the Beatles and Bob Dylan - you know, it was just an amazing time to come to realise the world. And so I think they inspired me, that's why I'm probably a musician, because of the Beatles and Dylan.

Jools: And do you go back and listen to them still?

Sting: yeas, absolutely. Miles Davis too.

Jools: Ok, Mrs.Floyd asks: 'Why there isn't a second part of Jeremiah's Blues?' (from Mrs Floyd)

Sting: Hmm. Mrs Floyd, I haven't written it yet.

Jools: It's a good name, Mrs Floyd, I like that. Right, this from Paulie - I wonder where Paulie is from - 'Your music is very personal, certain tracks reminding me of certain times in my life. Is this the same for you? And which track would go with what memory?' (from Paulie) Are the songs personal to you?

Sting: I like that kind of feedback from people when the say, 'I remember my wedding because your song was played', or the occasion, or the first time we made love your song was playing (laughs) nice memories like that. Or sometimes people say 'My father died, or my brother died and your album The Soul Cages has helped me in the grieving process. I really like that kind of feedback because I feel that's what my job is.

Jools: To help?

Sting: Well to help, just to provide the soundtrack for people's memories, so they can latch things onto them.

Jools: And it also makes those memories better because with that accompanying piece of music it makes a moment better. Even an unhappy moment. Some music helps you get through it, which your music does.

Sting: It's true. It's also a soundtrack to my life because a lot of the emotions that are talked about - although the songs aren't necessarily autobiographical - they are certainly are taken from a reservoir of emotion that I've experienced in my life, and so hearing a song of my own on the radio will bring up those memories and that's good. I think memories are a very important human quality.

Jools: Nicole, who is from Germany writes this. I think she'd like advice really, she says 'Have there been moments in your life when you were so sad that you could drown the whole world in your tears? If so, what did you tell yourself to make yourself feel better?' (from Nicole).

Sting: Well there are moments when you feel overpowered by depression. I think a lot of people suffer and you shouldn't feel so isolated, it something that happens to us all at one stage or another. You basically have to breathe, you just have to breathe in and out and get through it somehow, and find something to focus your attention on, whether it's music, or a cat, a dog, or a friend... actually being objective about it - finding something to help, finding something to care for, is often the best way often of forgetting your own problems. Because there is always someone worse off than you in the world, and that's a very good therapy to find people like that and help them, which in turn will help you.

Jools: Very good advice. Nicole, that is very good advice. Right, from Dine. Interesting name especially when you hear what Dine's question is: What is your favourite meal?' What do you like to dine on says Dine?

Sting: Depends! I'm pretty adventurous food wise. I have a nice garden at home and we grow our own food so it's nice to have food that is grown in the garden and I know how it has been treated. Organic food where you know where it's come from.

Jools: Stuff you've grown yourself. Lots of people probably didn't realise you were a keen gardener.

Sting: Well I'm not really a gardener. I go in the garden, and I have professional gardeners in my house and I go around and am very annoying and say 'Oh that's nice can I have it for lunch?'

Jools: If you were to have a piece of topiary - which for the uninitiated people out there on the web is where you cut a hedge in a particular shape, like a teapot or a pyramid or a geometric shape or whatever - what would your shape this week be?

Sting: I'd probably like a very large pheasant, bird type of topiary.

Jools: With a big tail and all that...?

Sting: Big tail, big beak.

Jools: I could see that, very nice.

Sting: I like topiary.

Jools: Wendy and Dave would like to know 'Have you had chance to visit Segedunum yet, the Roman Fort which is near your old home in Wallsend?' (from Wendy & Dave)

Sting: (correcting pronounciation) Seg-adoon-um...

Jools: That's exactly what I meant to say, Segedunum.

Sting: Segedunum is Latin for the end of the wall. My town, Wallsend, is named because it is the end of the Roman Empire, the end of Hadrian's Wall, and my old house was actually built over the Roman fort.

Jools: Did that influence you when you were small do you think?

Sting: Absolutely. Centurions marching up and down the street, we could never sleep for them.

Jools: I could see you in a film...

Sting: ....a leather skirt?

Jools: Yes, and thongs and all that. I could see you in that sort of a film, very much an 'I Claudius' sort of things. You'd blend in that. Funnygirl2001 she just says: 'Have you drunk from the fountain of youth?! (From Funnygirl2001)

Sting: Yes.

Jools. Good! (laughs) What she should really have asked is where is it? But she didn't so we'll have to keep that till...

Sting: I think the fountain of youth really is curiosity, and flexibility in the mind and the body. I haven't achieved that quite yet, but if I have an ambition, it's that.

Jools: We have a musical question here which is from Wiiliam. 'Thank you'. I like the questions that start thank you - for your fabulous bass riff of Walking on the Moon I decided, back in '79 (I was 12) that that's what I wanted, "to play the bass". I'm still playing it with lots of passion and so are you. I'm curious to know whether it is also your most favourite instrument to play and listen to? Or do you have other favourites? (from William)

Sting: I wish I was a better guitarist, but I'm not. I think the bass allows me in my limitations as a musician to direct things in a band to a great extent, because the bass controls the harmony. Like a piano player can play a C chord, but it's only a C chord if I play a C. I can alter the harmony of the whole band. Also, dynamically I can alter the way the band is playing. Also I have the top line being the singer so the band works within the parameters that I control. It's a very powerful position, it's not the same as waving a stick it's actually much more insidious and much more powerful.

Jools: That's a very good point, I'd never thought of that because you're on the top and the bottom at the same time, it is absolutely right. Let me see, here we are, Wendy and Dave want to know 'Have you ever thought about recording an album of your favourite songs? Most of us love the standards you do for soundtracks such as 'Leaving Las Vegas' and 'Sabrina' but we really need a full length album of them!' (from Wendy & Dave)

Sting: I do have a collection of standards that I've recorded over the years both as duets with various people and on my own. It's something I really love to do. Putting it out? I think it sends a strange signal to people that you haven't got any songs left so you put the standards album out. I would like to put it out but when... when I feel like it. In the future, I don't know when. I'd like to keep recording them.

Jools: Because you could sing anything really. You've got the kind of voice... You could sing opera. I've heard you sing opera - operatic style.

Sting: I can't sing belcanto. I can sing classical songs with a kind of... in my own style.

Jools: Let me rephrase that, you could communicate any sort of music. Any sort of music that you like you could make it your own. Like Ray Charles, or somebody like that. You sing it, make it your own and then people come to it because of the way you sing it.

Sting: Alright, but I could never sing like Pavarotti.

Jools: Going back to the standards, what sort of standards would you do, what ones maybe that you haven't recorded. What songs would you think about doing if you did other people's? You've done 'Seventh Son' with us, which is a blues standard...

Sting: Well, I think my voice kind of suits the romantic ballad more than anything else. That Gershwin era, the thirties, forties.

Jools: Frank Sinatra style, the Nelson Riddle type of thing?

Sting: I like Nelson Riddle, again you don't want to compete with Frank Sinatra, he's already mastered it, you have to bring something different to the genre.

Jools: Let me just click on here, from Adrianna, who wants to know 'Who is your favourite author? Could you choose 3-5 books, which you recommend for everybody to read? (from Adrianna)

Sting: I'm going to be an English teacher here. I think the greatest English novel ever written - actually it's an American novel - is by Mark Twain, who wrote Huckleberry Finn. The reason I say that is because of the perfect combination of plot and characterisation. Often you get books with fantastic plot and the characters are kind of flimsy or you get books the characters are incredibly well drawn but the plot sucks. This, if you drew a graph, 'Huckleberry Finn' in my opinion, is a perfect line between those two things and therefore is a perfect book. I like American novels. I love 'Moby Dick', I like 'Catch 22', 'Gravity's Rainbow' (Thomas Pynchon). 'Bob the Builder...'

Jools: What are you reading now?

Sting: Actually what I'm reading now is a book about the Third Reich. It's not that I have a mawkish interest in it, I just like history. And it's a book by Michael Burleigh called "The New History Of The Third Reich". It's devastating, it makes me cry and is terribly sad.

Jools: This is from Paulie, 'My girlfriend and I saw your last night on tour in Hyde Park. It was a magical evening but I am curious just how you manage to make the event so personal and refreshing for what must be an arduous tour?' (from Paulie). I think what Paulie is saying if I could rephrase that if Paulie would excuse me for a moment is 'How do you make it new each night?' because I've seen you live and it is like a brand new thing when you see it.

Sting: That was the last show of almost 300, we played 51 countries, 2.7m people. You would think I would be sick of it by now. I'm not. There's something about walking on the stage in front of I don't know how many people, 5,000 10,000 people that just gives you the most amazing buzz. There's nothing to replace it, it's a fantastic feeling. I'd do it every night if I could. Only thing that stops me is I'd get a sore throat if I worked more than five nights a week.

Jools: Do you ever become nervous before the show?

Sting: Yes, I'm always nervous before a show. I think it's important to be nervous. I think it's important to take into consideration exactly what you're doing, and to take it seriously, and take nothing for granted.

Jools: I think that comes across in your work. Dessert, says 'Greetings from New York. Fabulous show last week! Curious as to what are you plans after your December tour ends?' (from Dessert)

Sting: Well, I am working up until Xmas really to promote this live album 'All This Time', and then I'm going home to watch the grass grow for a while, watch the river go by at the end of the garden, think, try and figure out what I've learned in the last three years. Do I have anything to say, do I have anything useful to say for other people to listen to? Do I have any new musical ideas? I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But I'll just give myself time to figure out. If the answer is 'I have nothing' then you won't hear anything. Hopefully I'll have something.

Jools: You're a man that seeks all the time I think. Someone once told me that some people are constantly looking for something and asking questions other people aren't asking questions.

Sting: My thing is to keep learning about music and to keep learning about life so you just apply yourself as a student and things come to you. You know, I say I'm going to watch the grass grow but I'm going to be thinking pretty hard while I'm watching that grass grow.

Jools: Right I've got Roxanne005: What kind of things do you like to do with your kids? (from Roxanne005).

Sting: What kind of things do I like to do with my kids? They're all different ages. My youngest is 5, eldest 25, there's 11, 16, 17, 18. So I do different things. With my big son I go to the pub and we talk about music. My little son, who likes stories at night and my 11 year old likes me to read Harry Potter to her, things like that. I play music with one of my kids - go for walks. Normal stuff.

Jools: Here's one, Georgia is asking rather a personal question but I think we're prepared to go with this one... 'Boxers or briefs?' (from Georgia).

Sting: Briefs. I don't feel comfortable in boxers.

Jools: No. I have a chain mail doublet underneath my...

Sting: Really? Sack cloth I hear...

Jools: ...which I like to relax in. Now, hear we are this is interesting from Annaclare... 'Sting if only one of your songs could survive over time, which would you most like it to be and why?' (from Anna Clare). I suppose that's bit like saying what is your favourite song? Is that like asking what is your favourite child?

Sting: A bit. I can't really separate the songs, for me it's all one song anyway, it's all one kind of continuous idea that's evolving, so to separate them... I mean I wouldn't have written 'Every Breath You Take' for example if I hadn't written another fifty songs before that. It's all part of a process - you don't have to arrive at the song from nowhere at least I couldn't. 'Roxanne' or 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' they all were part of a process of me figuring it out, so I'm not sure I can separate them like that.

Jools: What was the first song you wrote - can you remember that?

Sting: I think I wrote songs as a child in my head. I would have tunes and little melodies and now I can't remember any of them but it seemed to be something that I have a facility for, that I had a facility to do from an early age?

Jools: Ok, 'How scary was your near accident at Florence airport earlier this year?' (from Wendy & Dave)

Sting: Well, I landed in a little plane in Florence, which has quite a short runway. There was me and my tour manager in the back and two pilots. We landed and the pilot said 'We haven't got any brakes, we can't stop. And they'd turned the engines off so they didn't have any retro brakes either. So it was quite a long while till the end of the airport and then we hit a fence but we had a long time to think about it. It seemed like time kind of stretched. I felt very detached from it, quite happily. I was looking ways to be and it was probably the most violent thing I've ever experienced and everything kind of flew past my head. My guitar, I remember going past me (laughs). Everybody was fine, we hit the fence. Totally broke the plane, and I remember getting out of the plane and laughing just at the joy of everyone being fine. So I immediately called my wife and said 'I'm sitting on top of a broken plane and I'm alive' It was on the net within 25 mins, a picture of the plane and everything But I was very fortunate and I'm glad nothing happened to any of us.

Jools: I've just pressed a button here which I'm not completely familiar with... which is probably what the pilot did that day... are here we are, 'What do you think about Alanis Morissette's version of 'King of Pain' and would you ever do a version of the song with her? (That would be just great! the two best singers in the world together - except for Janis Joplin). (from Mrs Floyd)

Sting: I like Alanis a lot. She's a very, very original artist and I was thrilled when she covered my song, and very intrigued by it. I mean, do we need to sing a song together? Probably not, but who knows? The nice thing about this business is you meet people in an organic kind of way and you end up working together by accident, so that would be nice.

Jools: Shell would like to know, 'Do you believe that love can last forever?' (from Shell).

Sting: Yes I do. I think it's probably the only thing we can really count on in this world. Everything else is in a total state of flux. Nothing stays the same. Mountains disappear, oceans disappear, I think it's love that holds the whole thing together. I know that sounds terribly romantic but I actually do believe that. All that we have at the end of the day is love for each other, love for the world, love for yourself. I think it's terribly important.

Jools: That is beautifully put, it sounds like a song in the making. There's a question from Narif, now about a song in the making, 'Each of your songs have a meaning, what is the meaning behind the song 'Ghost Story'? This is my best friends favourite song. I have listened to this song about a thousand times, but can't figure out the meaning behind it. Please help me understand.' (from Narif)

Sting: People often interpret my songs in a different way to how they were intended but I would never contradict anybody, unless it was a totally kind of perverse understanding. But it's usually interesting what they come up with and that's the good thing about songs. They have this quality you can invest meaning into them from your own life. So I'm sort of ambivalent about telling anyone specifically what a song is about to me except to say the song is about my father, and that's all I'll say. It's about my Dad.

Jools: Aeiou wants to know 'Why did you change the name of the new album?' (from Aeiou)

Sting: Okay. That's a good question. The album was recorded on September 11, that appalling day, and it was recorded that evening. And obviously none of us will ever forget it. The album was originally called 'on such a night' - that seemed such a ridiculous title in the context of what happened that day. So I altered it to 'All This Time' which is the name of one of my songs. It was recorded then but it's not what we intended. It was going to be a joyous celebration of 2 years of work. A wonderful night under the stars of Tuscany and we were all going to be happy and have a great time and then this terrible cataclysm, this massacre. And it became a different event. We had a webcast that night and we did one song, Fragile, because I thought it was appropriate. Then we then had a minute's silence, as a mark of respect, and then we shut the webcast down. I then asked the audience what they wanted. They were in my house and I needed to help them somehow, they needed some type of human contact. So they said they wanted us to play, so we started playing in a very sort of tentative way. I must admit it really wasn't what I wanted to do. I was in shock, like everyday was. But as the night came on the mood became more and more healing and almost defiant in a way, and so we just kept the tapes rolling, and I have to say the performances... and the band played out of their skins. I sang in a way I'd never really sang before and it's really a memorial of that day. And I wish it wasn't to be honest with you, I'd much prefer it to be what we planned but it's what it is. It happened on that day.

Jools: From Karel, she wants to know, 'Hello Jools and Sting, nice to see you together again. Sting, any chance you cover Squeeze again?' (from Karel)

Sting: Yeah, one of my favourite songs that I never wrote was 'Tempted' and I did actually cover it on some album, somewhere, and it's a great song, and those two are great songwriters, Squeeze were always a great band, and it was nice to cover it.

Jools: Maybe...

Sting: "Cool for Cats"?

Jools: I could see you doing that, yes. It would be perfect for you. People have all got very nice thoughts... Lena wants to know 'Do you enjoy doing these "webchats"? Aren't they boring, talking to people you don't know, always telling how much they love you?' (from Lena)

Sting: You know I've done a few webchats, this is the 3rd or 4th one I've done. I enjoy the challenge, you never really know what's coming in. It's also a way of hearing people's feedback. It's a nice forum, I mean if people are saying nice things it's not bad.

Jools: It's the way forward I would have thought. It's great because people are watching us now in different times and different places. I think that it going everywhere at once is a good thing.

Sting: Yeah, you do feel connected.

Jools: What is your best memory of performing? (From Aeiou) Is there one particular show, you've done lots of shows is there one that really sticks in your mind?

Sting: Well, I'll never forget September 11, that night for a start, for all the wrong reasons. I suppose... there are amazing countries I've been to. This year I've played in Lebanon, a fantastic show in Baalbek at the Baalbek festival, I've played in Jordan, I've played in Egypt... places I haven't been to before. Eastern Europe, South America.

Jools: And when you're on tour is there anything in particular things you always take with you?

Sting: I take my chess set.

Jools: Portable chess set with magnets?

Sting: I have a portable chess set with magnets, but my favourite one got nicked. Yeah, someone stole my bag.

Jools: Who do you play chess with?

Sting: Well I play with Dominic. Dominic's a very good player. Jason Rebello is very good... who else, Chris Botti's a very good player?

Jools: Do you play to win?

Sting: Oh yeah! I'm very competitive. I don't mind losing but I'm very competitive. I'm a good competitor.

Jools: Do have collections of chess sets?

Sting: I have a few nice ones yeah. But I like your standard chess set. A nice wooden, chess set.

Jools: Have you got a garden chess set?

Sting: I don't, no.

Jools: It's something to think about. I have they're rather good.

Sting: Well I'll play you then.

Jools: It's rather nice in the garden in the summer.

Sting: Queen's pawn four.

Jools As much porn as you like! (laughs). From Meg, 'Hello Sting. When you write songs, do you come up with the lyrics first, the music, or is it a combination?' (from Meg) Basically, what inspires you to write? What is the process, how does it come about?

Sting: There's no one way of doing it. Sometimes a lyric, the lyrical idea will come first. I'm always attracted by paradoxical statements, for example, I'm so happy I can't stop crying. That kind of idea.

Jools: Have you written a song called that?

Sting: Yes, I have. Or a musical idea. You know, your fingers find something on the guitar. Or you hear something in your head. Walking on the Moon that riff was in my head. I was awake one night in my hotel room I was singing this bass riff, it just wouldn't go away. Or sometimes you write them both together. Or the music writes the lyrics or the lyrics write the music. Sometimes simultaneously, I wish I knew!

Jools: Well perhaps mystery is the best thing sometimes. A good invention. Mantis wants to know, 'How did you celebrate your 50th birthday?' (from Mantis)

Sting: Well, after September 11 I didn't feel like celebrating at all. I cancelled my birthday. I had a big bash kind of organised. My wife organised it. My wide and I ended up going to the Lake District in the North of England. And we climbed a couple of mountains, and she cooked and I washed up. We were on our own. It was fantastic.

Jools: Did you have chess with you as well?

Sting: Trudie doesn't play chess. She refuses to play chess with me (laughs).

Jools: Now Nicole wants to know 'Why did you choose to wear black today?' (from Nicole)

Sting: Ah, I'm actually wearing green underneath.

Jools: Brown shoes...

Sting: Brown suede shoes. I like this sweater, it's warm but it's light. I mean I'm not in mourning or anything.

Jools: No, neither am I.

Sting: Black is this year's black, isn't it?

Jools: I think so - it's next years pink.

Sting: I've got a fawn coat, a camel coat here.

Jools: Oh that's very nice. It's rather like a bookmaker's coat.

Sting: You've got one similar.

Jools: When you're away sort of climbing up mountains or going to Baalbeck doing you like looking at ruins and historic sites?

Sting: Oh, I like history. I sort of mourn the ancient world. When I was in Lebanon I went to the famous port, Byblos. It was almost intact, you can just imagine what it must have been like two and half thousand years ago with Phoenician galleons sailing in. It must have been so beautiful. I love history, I think it's a fascinating study.

Jools: Yes, I quite agree with you, and we learn so much from studying the same.

Sting: We ought to. We seem to be making the same mistakes.

Jools: Mick would like to know 'Where did you get your bass guitar and why are you so attached to it?' (from Mick).

Sting: My current favourite is the one that I adopted about seven or eight years ago, a very old Fender P-bass from1956 or 1954. I sort of adopt battered old basses, I have like an orphanage for these old instruments. I love them because they were made by Mr Fender himself, on a lathe and they were made with love, not a factory assembly line. And they sound different to me, all basses. My original bass is a Fender Jazz bass from the same period. It just feels... I just love them. I like all the paint coming off and the varnish you know?

Jools: Do you think you find them or do they find you?

Sting: I think they find me.

Jools: Right, a question from Germany, Dear Sting, it is Halloween today! What would be your favourite costume? Who would you like to be? (From Jutta)

Sting: Halloween is not something we celebrate very much in England, All Hallows Eve. It's mainly the Americans who have kept on the tradition. My kids they do things like this trick or treat - it scares the hell out of me. But I don't know what costume I'd... I don't like frightening people very much. I think I'm frightening enough don't you?

Jools: Yes, I do think you are. It's not a good idea. I would have the occasional pumpkin filled with fireworks, but that's about the size of it.

Sting: We used to bob for apples, that's what we used to do as kids. You tie your hands behind your back, you get blindfolded and there's apples in a basin and you have to get them in your mouth. I think we did that on Halloween.

Jools: In England, you weren't really brought up to celebrate Halloween.

Sting: No, Bonfire Night is what we do.

Jools: Yes, burning the Guy.

Sting. Gruesome isn't it?

Jools: It is a pretty gruesome idea. Right, Portenia, '"They build machines that they can't control". You wrote this phrase like 15 years ago. What do you think about it today, right now?' (From Portenia).

Sting: I think I was talking about... that's in a song called 'We Work the Black Seam' which is really told from the point of view of a coalminer during the coal strike. There's lots wrong with burning coal, burning fossil fuels but I was just trying to present a case for communities that were based on the digging of coal, and one of their arguments was that nuclear power, while it might be clean it is dangerous. It's still dangerous. I'm worried about nuclear power, but you know there are arguments against coal as well.

Jools: Lindy says 'What do you think of Elvis?' (From Lindy) I assume she means Presley.

Sting: I like Elvis Costello a lot. I think one of my earliest rock & roll epiphanies is hearing 'All Shook Up' on a 78. My mother brought it in and I went into like a catanonic trance, it was so exciting. I just couldn't stop moving, rolling around and playing it again and again! An incredibly exciting record.

Jools: Who wrote that? Was it Lieber and Stoller wrote that? Somebody told me that one of co-writers who wrote that Elvis's manager Colonel Parker said 'Can you write a song, we need a song for Elvis?' He said well what do you want it about? He said 'Anything!', and all the time Colonel Parker was trying to open a tin of Coca-Cola, and drops the tin of Coca-Cola. Shhhhhzzz!, spills it everywhere where it's all shaken up. He said 'Write a song about that!' And he did.

Sting: All Shook Up, huh huh huh!

Jools: That's the story. Have you ever had a song writing experience like that, where something has just fallen out at you?

Sting: Actually, I think if you open yourself up to what's happening you can find song lyrics. I wrote a song called 'King Of Pain', it opens up "There's a little black spot on the sun today". I actually saw a black spot on the sun. It was probably a sun spot, I was in Jamaica. That was the first line of the song. If you're in the right receptive state of mind you just see stuff.

Jools: 'Sting, what do you think your life would have been like without music? Can you picture it?' (from Olivia).

Sting: I don't really want to think of my life without music at all, I wouldn't be complete without music. There's no reason why anyone of us should do without music. It's all of our birth right, isn't it?

Jools: If you hadn't have been a musician what do you think you might have been? Would you have been an actor?

Sting: No, I don't think I'd have been an actor. I'm not sure I would have been able to function in my life without music. I just can't see it.

Jools: From Holyman,: 'What is left for you to achieve? What motivates you? is it the fans - if it is what do the fans really long for?' (from Holyman) Well, let's simplify, there are a lot of questions there. The question is what motivates you?

Sting: I've never underestimated the audience, or the potential audience for music, never undervalued their ability to understand or to grow with me in understanding of music, because it's a journey and a journey that doesn't really have an end at all, but it's a fascinating journey. I've been rewarded by not underestimating the audience and actually giving them what intrigues me, and it's largely coincided with popular taste, I have to say that. Maybe there'll be a time when it won't. But I would trust that people will be intrigued by what the journey throws up.

Jools: But again you see, I think my view is that it's often the singer not the song. Not necessarily literally the singer, but they person performing the music they bring it, so the music that you play some of it is sophisticated music, but at the same time you don't have to have a great understanding of music to understand it and enjoy it, you can just hear it? And instinctively think 'Oh I like that, those changes are great, wow! That's great.

Sting: I like to have a foot in both camps really, in that I'm a populist, I'm a popular singer, I'm not out to alienate people's hearing. It's not what I do, but I also like to stretch what people consider to be pop music because I don't really believe in definitions, labelling music like 'jazz' or 'folk music' or 'R&B' or any of these labels. They're all completely artificial and really invented by people writing about it rather than the people who actually play it. Most musicians have this very flexible view of what music is and it doesn't have these rigid barriers. You just flow from one to the other. If I do anything it's that I don't take these illusions of barriers at all seriously.

Jools: You break them down or they evaporate?

Sting: They don't exist, they simply don't exist.

Jools: 'What is your favourite memory of your punk period?' (From Lenoil).

Sting: My favourite memory, that was going on the road with the Police, with Stewart and Andy - backing, supporting people like Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers and Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County and all of these exotic creatures that that era brought up. It was a very exciting time. The Damned and The Clash, Eddie And The Hot Rods - it was a fantastic time. Everything was kind of up in the air, nothing was certain anymore so it was a good time to be starting out. Because, formally the doors were shut to everybody you couldn't get in, it was a monolithic music industry, and there was no way in and then suddenly bang, everything changed with the Sex Pistols. God bless 'em.

Jools: Do you think that without that you wouldn't have made it? I think you would have come through whatever happened wouldn't you?

Sting: I have no idea. Who can tell?

Jools: Were those happy memories then, playing in the punk dens with the pogoing and the charged atmospheres?

Sting: Yeah, it was an exciting time. It was largely a flag of convenience to be frank with you. I think the Police were a little more sophisticated in their musical ability than most bands of the era, and I think that allowed us to edge ahead in the long term because we had the energy but we had a little more, a little more musical knowledge.

Jools: Yes, you weren't faux punks, just well on form punks (laughs). 'Are you still an optimist?' (From Iaia).

Sting: Yes. I think pessimism is a disease. I think you have to be optimistic in any situation that you enter for a solution or else it's simply self-fulfilling. Pessimism is self fulfilling. So yes, I'm optimistic. I'm forced to be, it's been my strategy for all of my life and I still am optimistic.

Jools: Corinna would like to know, 'Has yoga helped you to keep a balance in your life?'

Sting: Well, um, astrologically - not that I believe in it - I'm a Libran - and they say they are balanced people. That's nonsense, what we strive for is balance, and yoga is one of those things has helped me achieve more of it that I would have done. An even keel. I'm happy being more balanced than I was. I'm certainly more balanced than I was.

Jools: Eddie from Holland, asks 'What do you drink when you're on stage? (From Eddie).

Sting: I drink tea with honey just to soothe the vocal chords. Or water, or sometimes Gatorade, to give me a bit of energy.

Jools: Now we haven't got much time left now, just a couple of minutes... 'After this best of album are you planning anew album?' (From Liz Sophie). It's not a best of, it's a live album...

Sting: I said before, I'm just going away to think and try and figure out what to do next. I'm not sure. I haven't a clue!

Jools: Well, here's a very hard question now, 'If you could sum up what your life means to you in one sentence, is it possible to do that?' (From Olivia).

Sting: I think, search for meaning. That's it. That's the phrase really.

Jools: That's a beautiful phrase and indeed expression, and I think that will now take us to the end of our webchat. I'd like to thank all of the people for writing in and zapping us and I'd like to thank Sting. Maybe if you all in your homes, wherever you are, do a little round of applause and then you'll find out if the person next door to you has been listening to the same webchat. Thank you Sting.

Sting: I'd like to thank you Jools, it's been nice to talk to you, and to everybody else. Thank you.

©Vizzavi Webchat



Oct 1, 2001

He's as well known for his outspoken defence of human rights and the rainforest as he is for his music. But for the past two years Sting has been concentrating on what he does best - playing live with his band. Alan Franks meets a lord of the rockocracy in his Tuscan palazzo. If the New York terrorists had wanted to spoil Sting's party, they could hardly have shown more lethal timing. As he stepped out to front the band in the courtyard of his Tuscan villa, it was barely five hours after the collapse of the World Trade Centre. This was an audience of just 200 friends, invited from all over the place to hear an intimate version of the concert which he has been taking round the world for the past two years. A live album, to be released next month, was being recorded. The mood should have been exuberant, but it was understandably weird and sombre, with that nightmare footage of planes and buildings still looping through everyone's head...

Jun 17, 2001

Sting believes in taking chances. Here he explains why he quit a steady job for the dole, left the Police at their peak - and how he deals with happiness ONE man's risk is another's sure bet. I may have the reputation for being a risk-taker, but when I look back, I wasn't always conscious of taking them. To me, at the crossroads, there weren't really two divergent paths for me to consider; two stark but equally compelling choices. There was a dead end and the edge of a cliff. So, if it's die or jump, is it risk or destiny? Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe risk is destiny...