Stewart Copeland: Guitar Fan?
Legendary drummer/composer talks about his new film, his old band and (!) guitars …
Copeland: Composer, musician, and now filmmaker.
We know, we know—why is Fender News talking to (gasp!) a drummer? Well, Stewart Copeland is no ordinary drummer, after all. And to be fair, his seven-or-so whirlwind years as founding member and drummer for the Police only accounts for a fraction of a remarkable music career now in its fourth decade. Turns out he’s a Fender fan, too.
An energetic and accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Copeland has enjoyed a varied post-Police career that has included numerous film and television composing credits, solo albums, guest performances and stints with groups such as Animal Logic, Oysterhead and, most recently, Gizmo.
He now wears yet another hat: filmmaker. The gregarious Copeland spent a good deal of time during those heady Police days with a Super 8 mm camera welded to his face, shooting miles upon miles of film that documented the rise of the Police from their noisy and “conveniently” punk-ish late-’70s start to their early-’80s reign as the world’s biggest pop group. Part music video, part documentary and part home movie, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out gives the ultimate insider look at the Police, certainly one of the most photogenic and electrifying bands ever (also consistently terrific and innovative), with alternately insightful and amusing narration by Copeland himself. Further, Copeland interestingly sliced and diced many well-known Police hits into new and different arrangements for the film’s soundtrack.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to be in the pictures if you’re the guy taking them, and Copeland appears onscreen only infrequently in his own film. But there’s a ton of footage of his Fender-wielding bandmates, Sting and Andy Summers, and it is on these very subjects—film and Fender—that the seldom-at-a-loss-for-words Copeland chatted with Fender News in mid-September …
FN: What do you like best about your film, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out?
SC: The coolest thing about the film is that it’s shot in first-person singular. It’s not an analysis of the music, the creative forces or the history of the group. It’s really about what it feels like to be a member of a group. It’s not like an MTV documentary of a group, where the band is over here and the camera is over there. The camera is the band. When you’re watching the film, you’re a member of the band. You’re not learning about the band; you are the band, and your name specifically is “Stewart.” Throughout the film, people are looking right into the lens, saying, “Hey Stewart!” Andy looks right into the lens and says, “Too fast” (laughs)!
FN: Had you always intended to make a film about your experience?
SC: Well, the camera was in my hand, and I was in the band! Where I was, the camera was. The footage that I had determined what kind of film it was going to be. Meanwhile, I was earning a living as a film composer. The film I was making in my mind was just putting together my favorite shots and sending them to Sting and Andy, the rest of the crew, and the Police family. I thought they’d get a kick out of it.
The Police backstage at a 1979 festival in Germany.
Photo by Janette Beckman
FN: The soundtrack includes re-worked Police songs that you call “derangements.” What’s that all about?
SC: I really learned to love the hobby of carving up music when I was in Oysterhead. My brother, Miles, suggested that I carve up the Synchronicity live tunes. And there was this moment in “Roxanne” where we always used to go off in a jam, as an improvisation. It was different every night. So I kind of cut the jam up as a new cool track. Then I played the result to Andy, who was all excited about it.
FN: In the film, you and Sting and Andy often seem like brothers, for better or worse. How did your evolving relationships with each other affect the music?
SC: It was separate from the music. Our relationship came from the fact that we had so much in common musically. Also—just as human beings sitting next to each other in the bus, in the car, on the plane, in the airport lounge, in the dressing rooms—there’s a kind of “fraternity” that is inevitable. Also, we were in the “foxhole” together. Our humor traded off each other. We had “in-band” jokes. You really get “in the pocket” with people when you live, travel and work with them like a band does.
FN: What are you most proud of about the Police?
SC: Ah yes—we were able to make really good pop songs with quite interesting musicianship. We had chops and we knew how to use them in such a way as to not kill the song. So we were able to do good strong pop music that had a substantial rock element as well.
FN: You topped the charts while pulling from pop, punk and world music, yet it still always sounded like your own brand of music.
SC: Well, we got away with it all. We were playing in a band where we liked to play, but we were blessed with an incredible songwriter who could sing a bit, too (laughs)!
Film still of Sting doing Ghost in the Machine
FN: Would you do anything differently?
SC: I would probably show more appreciation for those songs. That would be one thing, straight off the top of my head. I would show more of an appreciation for both of the guys, actually. I have much more of an appreciation for their many gifts in hindsight than I did at the time.
And when I look at the footage of us playing at the (1982) US Festival, there’s 150,000 people all screaming. Incredible band. Incredible audience. Incredible music. And I’m looking at the drummer playing, and saying, “C’mon dude, crack a smile. Lighten up (laughs)!” I figure it’s just concentration. But for me, now, playing drums is such a rare event that it’s a rare special occasion, and I’ve got an idiot grin all over my face. But looking back at that guy playing shows every night—I guess it was just deep concentration. I know I was enjoying it at the time!
FN: What are your relationships with Sting and Andy like today?
SC: Very strong. They both have been really supportive of the film. They’ve been keeping up-to-date with the reviews. And, we’re number three in the charts today! It’s f—— unbelievable.
FN: What do you look for in a guitarist?
SC: Pretty much, Andy’s still my favorite guitarist, because of the worlds that he creates. He can play the rhythm parts that I can lock onto. But then he’ll go off into a swirling atmosphere—wafting clouds. Andy has that kind of vocabulary to cover all that ground.
Film still of the Police in Holland, 1979.
Some people are really good at solos. Some people are really good at the rhythm. Some people are really good at atmospheric textures. But from all the people that I’ve played with, from Jeff Beck to god-knows-who to Trey Anastasio, Andy’s the one with the widest vocabulary. And you know, I probably think that because we grew up together. He did a lot of growing before he even met me. But my concept of how guitar’s supposed to be pretty much comes from my experience with Andy. So any other guitarist I play with is, to a greater or lesser degree, up to Andy’s standard. You know, Jeff Beck is f—— incredible. Even within the more “now confines” of his thing, he’s still pretty damn inspiring.
FN: Fender is building an Andy Summers Telecaster® guitar based on his ’61 model …
SC: Oh, you’ve gotta do the Telecaster! How much did you work with Andy on it? ’Cause he f—– it up, you know! I remonstrated with it—I was devastated when he told me that he messed with it. That guitar was the killer guitar! When I was cutting my movie, that’s the guitar that was all the way through (the movie). That Telecaster had such a wide variety of sounds, but it always just cut right through—that kind of bright “guitar-y” sound that it has. I want one of them!
FN: Did you ever play it?
SC: Yeah, I’d pick it up occasionally. I’ve always had a fondness for Telecasters.
The Stratocaster is your basic Swiss Army knife of a guitar. Sting and I both bought our Stratocasters on the same day. One day, when we got our first big check—the first little bit of spare change, I bought a movie camera. Then things ramped up. And there was one point, when we were in New York, where we suddenly got paid a lot of money. Now we’re rich young men (laughs), so we went straight down to Manny’s! Sting and I both bought Stratocasters. And for some reason, that year—which would’ve been ’81, I guess—was a particularly good year. Because he still uses his all the time and I still use mine all the time. He got a black one and I got a blonde one.
Anyway, the Andy Summers Telecaster—can I have one? I would f—— love to have one (laughs)! What was that bass that Sting had forever?
FN: A ’55 Precision.
SC: He’s very loyal to that bass. The last time I saw him play, he had that bass on him.
Visit Stewart Copeland online at www.stewartcopeland.net.