Not many opportunities come along in this gig to have a conversation
with the superstars of my youth, so when the invitation went out to
interview The Police's legendary drummer, Stewart Copeland,
schedules were re-routed, work was flexed and arrangements were made
to make certain that amateur drummer and Hybrid Recruit Brian Lumberg
and I could meet up and devise a broad enough plan to ask The Man
everything we could think of in 20 minutes. Stewart's doing publicity
for the DVD release of his home movie collection from his time with
The Police called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. And
while we asked a couple of questions about the film, which we unfortunately
only saw after the interview, we really wanted this to be about Stewart,
the man, rather than any little slice of his career. We hope that
our little chat with him will get you interested not just in his film,
but The Police, Oysterhead, Rumblefish, and maybe even
drumming, should you feel so inclined. Hell, branch out a little and
pick up some Phish or Primus, too.
But not Sting. His ego barely fits on this planet anyway,
and we don't need you feeding it anymore.
SC: Stewart Copeland
BL: Brian Lumberg
HM (JD): We'll introduce ourselves real quick, I'm JD--
HM (BL): And, I'm Brian Lumberg.
SC: Oh, there's two of you. Cool!
HM (JD): And, of course, we know who you are.
SC: I'm not so sure, myself
HM (JD): Since we're on a regimented schedule (or, so we thought)
we'll start off right away and ask you some questions about your movie,
Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. Who is this movie for?
Would you say it's for fans exclusively, or can the regular public-
SC: Well, primarily it started out as for Andy and
Sting, and the rest of The Police crew, and for my kids. It started
out as a common or garden variety home movie. And it pretty much stayed
that way in its final form, but of course I tweaked it and broadened
it; professionalized it and tried to look for ways to make it interesting
to people outside this tiny
slice, but that's pretty
much what it is, because that's the footage that I have. I don't have
footage that demonstrates the creative dynamic of the group, or anything
that would show what effect the band had on music in the '80s or any
of this analytical stuff, that if it was somebody else making a documentary
about a band would get into. What I have is all this extremely subjective
footage, and so that is what the film has to be, is a first-person,
singular adventure, where the viewer is a member of the band. And
you're not learning so much about the band, what you're getting is
what it's like to be in the band.
HM (JD): So, they get a bit of what it's like to be a rockstar?
HM (JD): Since you have gone on to many different careers
since The Police, looking back, is there anything that you would have
done differently, along the way, or even from your very beginning
in the music industry?
SC: I would've been nicer to Sting, I think.
HM (JD): (Laughs at the unexpected confession) Uh,
Ok. Is there, ah
SC: Oh, there's all kinds of little mistakes but, uh
I wouldn't go there.
(More bemused laughter)
No, I've been very fortunate that whatever mistakes I've made, and
I'm sure that there are many, that I seem to have been able to survive.
Sure there were mistakes, and I may regret them, but the way life
has turned out, maybe those mistakes were an important part of the
"Ys" in the road, like maybe that "mistake" was
the right path to go down.
HM (BL): I've got a question about the creative mix of songs
in Oysterhead compared to the creation of songs in The Police.
SC: Oh yeah, very diametrically opposed. Oysterhead is all
about improvisation, and any structure there is, is merely a leaping
off point which hurls us into the unknown. The Police is all about
material, having songs and interpreting songs, and performing the
song, and the center of it all is "the song", and the music
around it is decoration, which is artistically very rewarding; that's
what all pop music is, that's what most music is; you have a theme,
a tune or a song, and the music, the instruments, support that. Oysterhead
is all about improvisation, exploration of the instruments, together.
The guys just set the controls for the heart of the outer, outer cosmos.
And, it's very liberating, in fact, to have an audience that appreciates
this kind of thing. You know, when we walked out in Bonnaroo, it was
pretty amazing; we hadn't played together for five years, we rehearsed
for a couple of days in Sausalito. Actually, the Grateful Dead's
rehearsal place, fittingly enough. And, we spent those two days mostly
goofing off and laughing and chuckling. That's what we do in Oysterhead.
Next day we're out there in front of 80,000 people and we blast away
for two hours
committing heinous crimes against stagecraft.
HM (JD): (Laughs)
SC: 30% of the show was utterly superfluous, we're lost; we
look at each other and say "Anybody got any ideas?" I mean,
we're just lost, adrift, on stage in front of all those people until
somebody gets an idea and we jump on something and suddenly we're
off to the races again. But those moments in between, when we're gasping
for air, you look out at the front rows, and that's the money for
those kids out there who come to jam band concerts. That proves to
them that this is real, that this has never been played before: the
band doesn't even know what's gonna happen next. And that's sort of
the thrill of it for them. When people came to a Police concert, they
have a song that they've heard on the radio; that's what they want
to hear, and you get up there on stage and give a great rendition
of that song. Completely opposite.
HM (BL): So then the songs for The Grand Pecking Order
started out maybe as a jam session and they just formed from there?
SC: Yeah. On the album, many of the songs were brought to
the band and we hammed it up and made it Oysterhead. About half, perhaps,
I'm just guessing now, were just jams which we carved up in Pro Tools,
and we found the best bits and kind of figured out a lyric to put
over the top of it and it's all kind of sprangled. (Sprangled?
Oysterhead, appropriately, has its own set of adjectives it would
seem.) You know, just putting material together because it sounds
cool without too much of an eye on structure.
HM (JD): What has been the happiest, or most satisfying stage
of your career? Which of these different versions of Stewart Copeland
has made you the happiest, or most fulfilled?
recording Regatta de Blanc and Rumblefish
are the two from way back when. Since then, The Night of the Tarantula
in Italy, putting up an opera in Cleveland
HM (JD): So, then it wasn't a particular stretch of time,
but rather specific projects that-
SC: Specific projects that were just thrilling. As far as
periods of my life go, right now I'm about the happiest I've ever
been. My boys are grown up, I'm extremely proud of my four boys who
are all grown up and conquering the world, my girls are still young
and cuddly, and it's a wonderful thing.
HM (JD): And have you learned their names yet?
SC: I can recite all of their names.
HM (JD): I read an interview in which you said you could only
remember them by their ages.
SC: Well, I usually refer to them as "Boy 1", "Girl
2", that sort of thing. They're all called "Bean" actually.
HM (JD): Bean?
SC: Yeah. Bunny rabbit beans.
(Okay, now he's just messing with us.)
HM (BL): I've been an amateur drummer since I was a little
kid, and I'm interested in your use of traditional grip and where
that might have originated from, and if there's an advantage there.
SC: Well, I'm the youngest of four children, and my father
was a musician and an avid music fan as well. He played trumpet. He
was disappointed as his children came by and he thrust musical instruments
into their hands and they wouldn't take. Until the last kid came along;
by the time I came along, the house was full of abandoned musical
instruments and I picked up all of them and was immediately, from
earliest memory, banging, blowing, twanging, plucking, whatever, and
he leapt on that and immediately started sending me to lessons for
every kind of musical instrument you can imagine. The first I can
remember is trombone. Eventually, I sort of gravitated toward the
drums, and was immediately up the wazoo with drum lessons, so the
orthodox grip comes from an extremely conventional training from a
very early age. And also, I still believe that it's more efficient.
HM (BL): I guess since I didn't go through the lessons first,
I was just given a drum set when I was young, and I picked up the
sticks and the match grip just seemed to work better for me.
SC: Well, of course it does, because you didn't have a teacher
smacking your wrist
HM (BL): (Laughs)
SC: But, actually it doesn't seem to make that much difference.
There are great players of both kinds, and people sometimes say "How
can you get so much power out of a snare drum with an orthodox grip,
isn't that for jazz wimps?" And the answer is that if you examine
the musculature and mechanics of the wrist and the thumb and everything,
you realize that since the thumb is the strongest finger, with the
orthodox grip, it is the thumb that brings the hammer down. If you
take a pencil and hold it in the orthodox grip down on the table,
you can get so many (more) pounds of pressure. If you hold it match
grip, you can only get so much pressure. If you use your thumb, you
get much more.
HM (JD): I read recently that you're rumored to have another
film project coming up. Do you see yourself as becoming more and more
of a filmmaker, and if you are, do you think you would become the
kind who scores his own films, like John Carpenter has done,
or do you still consider yourself to be a rock musician turned film
composer, like Danny Elfman?
SC: I don't know what I am. I'm an artist, and all of the
multifarious angles that an artist can get into. Primarily music,
that seems to be my real gift. With this movie, I was very fortunate
to have this incredible material to play with. Whether or not I have
a gift as a director
I don't know. I mean, I love my work. I
think it's really cool, I'm very proud of all my little
of the film, the way the film is put together, the little dissolves,
the arty moments that I've slipped in here, and I'm real pleased with
it. But the thing I'm sure that I've got a gift in is the music thing.
HM (BL): I read recently in a Modern Drummer interview from
back in 2001, that according to Trey Anastasio, prior to playing
with Oysterhead, you weren't really sure where your drums were and
had to dig them out of a closet. Is this true, and have you had many
periods where you were away from playing for quite awhile?
SC: Yeah, about ten years. During which, occasionally, I would
have to get up and play something, which was always a drag, and it
was actually Les Claypool who got me out of retirement. Well,
the two of them dragged me to that first Oysterhead gig in New Orleans
and that's where it all started. But, Les Claypool calls out of the
blue and says "Hey could you produce a Primus track, and as part
of that, could we have a jam at SIR?" and
sure, OK. So we
get down to SIR, and my drum roadie from the Police days is still
my tech here at the studio. We've been working together for almost
30 years, so he has to figure out which unit, which locker the drums
are in, and we find the drums and take 'em over to SIR and set them
up, the two of us, and try to remember how they go and wait a minute,
didn't I have a splash? I know I had two splash cymbals in the front
here, but where's the other one go? You know, scratching our heads.
Meanwhile Brain in Primus has completely got his kit tweaked
out and he's like a hungry dog watching this, like a dog watching
dinner being ladled out.
HM (JD): Waiting to help you?
SC: Yeah. And so I start playing, and one of my little high-hat
things is a little clumsy, a little hack-handed, but distinctive.
Immediately, he's on it, and he's got all my chops down, only really
greased up and fine. Kid eats my lunch. But, the funny thing, is that
while he's eating my lunch, he has this look of
on his face. Like, if I'm playing the high-hat pattern a little stiff,
he's sitting there trying to figure out how to get that "Copeland
SC: It was a funny moment. Anyhow, I went home feeling whipped,
you know? I used to be godhead revealed, and now this fucking kid
just ate my lunch. And I get home, not really depressed, since it
had been years since I thought of myself as a drummer anyway, but
fortuitously, I get a phone call from Gene Provencio, the guy
at TAMA, and he says "Hey Stewart, I haven't heard from you in
over a decade or so, are you still playing drums? I mean, what are
you doing these days?" And I told him my little Primus story,
and he says "Stewart, what you need is a new drumset!" I
think it was because they had this new line coming out, the Star Classic
Series or something and he wanted me to try it. So they send over
this drum set, and this fucking drum set arrives, and I start pulling
them out of the boxes, and there's just this beautiful maple finish
on them. And you know, drummers just don't have the same relationship
with their drum sets that guitarists have. You take your guitars to
your hotel at night and you sleep with it. Even drummers do sometimes.
But you don't take your drums home. Your drums get disassembled by
roadies, they get thrashed, they get torn to shreds by roadies, put
into boxes, and you don't see them again 'til the next show. But these
drums just had that lustrous quality, the feeling of the wood, the
burl, they had all of this exposed burl; the metal stands that warm
in the hand
And as I'm pulling them out of the boxes and setting
them up I can just feel my blood is running just a little hotter in
my bloodstream. And I'm setting them up, and I pull out the stands
and kick open the legs and fling that thing up and I pull out what
Paiste has sent over, their new thing, the Signature Series cymbals
and I've got this beautiful drum set and I start blasting away on
and I haven't looked back. It was really Oysterhead that made
me realize that I'm actually pretty good at this drum thing. It's
much cheaper than Polo, and I'm much better at it than Polo!
HM (JD): Does it bother you that The Police might be the number
one thing that you are remembered for? Or, are you just happy to be
able to do what you love?
SC: Aaaaah, not a problem. Not an issue.
HM (JD): Not an issue?
SC: Nah. I'm real proud of The Police.
HM (JD): Well, a lot of people are that way with things that
they become known for, and you get that part (after it's all over)
where they tend to resent it after a while.
SC: No, no. The only thing was that I did go through a slight
Eric Clapton syndrome. Where - I've heard, and I don't know
if this is even true, but I call it the Eric Clapton syndrome anyway
- which is that he hasn't been playing his guitar for a while. As
a guitarist, someone expects him to play. He picks it up and he's
a little rusty. And everyone is looking, expecting godhead. And he's
a little rusty! And, you don't want to cause disappointment, so how
I don't pick up that guitar. And so eventually, you
kind of get further and further away from your instrument. And I had
a little bit of that. But no, I mean, I'm really proud of The Police...
It's not like, you know "I've gotta show interest in The
Rhythmatist", but I'm really proud of The Rhythmatist,
HM (JD): You know, I think that's a very healthy attitude
SC: Well, I think you'd have to be pretty unhealthy not to.
You know? Which many musicians are.
HM (JD): Yeah.
SC: It's actually pretty bruising, the whole fame thing.
HM (JD): I've known a fair share that were kinda screwed up.
SC: Well, it's weird. You know it's a weird journey, and it
affects different people in different ways. It is certainly a journey
through weirdness, where all your friends look at you differently,
all your relationships are just altered, and your self worth is just
exaggerated to a cartoon level. It's not the end of the world, but
it's a little weird.
HM (JD): Of the things that you've done, what did you seek
out, and what opportunities kind of found you?
SC: Of all the different things that I've done, well let's
see. Mostly the symphonic work, the opera and all that stuff. That
was an incoming phone call. The film composing thing was an incoming
phone call. Francis (Ford Coppola) called up and said,
"Do you want to score a movie?", and I had never even thought
about it before... Other things, The Police I designed on a drawing
board and set out to build The Police. I had the name before I had
the band. Oysterhead was an incoming phone call. God, it sounds like
I don't have any fucking sense of direction here because most of the
cool stuff has been incoming phone calls! You know, that's the real
life of a musician, I guess. If I had to suddenly decide (pretentiously)
"I wish to write a symphony", it feels like an exercise
in self indulgence. It doesn't feel like you're really making art
until you get commissioned to write a symphony. You have the Seattle
Symphony call up and say "Please write us a symphony." Then,
it feels like you're doing something.
HM (JD): Hmm. I don't think I've ever heard it put that way.
SC: Well, it's really odd. There's a friend of mine who is
a musician, who is an incredible painter. And, he actually became
a film director, working at this and working at that. One day, he
won a court case where he got ten million dollars in damages, or rather,
punitive damages. That wasn't the amount of money that was at stake.
The judge and the jury just figured that the people who did him in,
and his accountant, were such assholes that they had to pay a punitive.
So he could retire. He said "Well fuck all this. I'm just going
to paint." And so, he just painted. He soon realized that it
just didn't feel right for him to be making paintings that nobody
is going to buy, that nobody has commissioned. He could paint until
the cows come home and it has no meaning; unless you're getting paid
for it, unless that's what you do for a living. Unless your art somehow
sustains you, it just doesn't feel like art. It just feels like some
weird kind of finger painting or self indulgence. Odd, the way that
HM (JD): Also, with The Police, we're interested to know about
how you came around with the name, especially with how it fits in
with the other names like FBI and IRS.
SC: It didn't fit in with FBI and IRS because it preexisted
those others. And those other names sort of followed. I had The Police
on Illegal Records, my little record company, which had only one artist,
The Police. The name The Police came because I saw it written on the
side of cars. I just figured it was an easy to remember name that
sticks in the brain, that it's unsettling, and sort of not what you
would expect a group to be called. There are 20 different things I
liked about The Police. It was simple, direct, and it just worked
for me. Then I had to go out and find some players.
HM (JD): It didn't have anything to do with your father's
career in the CIA?
SC: No, no, no, no, nothing at all. And then I had Illegal
Records, and then Miles (Copeland) had some other kind
of company that sort of followed that thing. It's kind of a lame gag
The only funny part was my brother Ian (Copeland) who
had the FBI Agency, Frontier Booking International. He was working
at his office late one day and the secretaries had all gone home.
He's still working when the phone rings. He picks it up and says,
"Hello, FBI." and the voice on the other end of the phone
says "No, THIS is the FBI." And he said "Hey look.
You can send one of your agents down here. If you can catch anyone
here impersonating a federal officer I'll buy you a beer."
HM (JD): Ah, that's good.
HM (BL): Stewart, I have something that's been bothering me
over the last couple weeks. I can't figure out what's being said repeatedly
in the background of "Wield The Spade."
SC: Babylonian Impaling.
HM (BL): Abalonean Impaling?
(The telephone conversation sometimes had one person's voice stepping
on another. The "B" got cut off Babylonian, causing me to
misunderstand. I know I'm going to look pretty stupid here, and I
have no fucking idea what Abalonean Impaling is; some kind of food/sex
thing with otters?)
SC: Yeah. Which was the subject of our dinner conversation
HM (BL): OK. It's good to get that cleared up. I could find
nowhere what was being said.
SC: (singing) Babylonian Impaaaaaling.
HM (BL): Right. That's interesting.
(In hindsight, given the subject matter of the song in question,
it was much more interesting than Abalonean Impaling.)
HM (JD): How do you think that The Police fit in the New Wave
movement? Was it a part of it, or was it more in contrast to it?
SC: Well, I think that the word New Wave, as distinct from
Punk, derived from Punk, and The Police was the cusp of that transition.
We were the first Punk group with the correct Punk hairdo. We were
the first short-hair band that played music other than Punk. And Punk
described a specific kind of music and sound, but there was more to
it than that sound. There was an overall rebellion against old ways,
against long-haired bands, against everything that had gone before.
And there were people who were inspired by the revolution, but not
necessarily Punk music, per se. Talking Heads, B-52s,
you know, a lot of the American bands and a lot of the English bands,
too, who were new and different. They were on this side of the watershed,
but that wasn't Punk. And I think we were, I guess, the first group
that - we started out as a Punk band, but the harmonies became more
sophisticated, the music became more layered - and wasn't Punk so
much, but was still on this side of the watershed.
Also, the word "punk" was largely discredited by the Sex
Pistols when they played in America. Fortunately for everybody,
way down in the South where nobody saw them. But it has to be said
that they blew it. They didn't impress anybody. It didn't work. They
didn't cause the outrage that they intended to. They just caused indifference,
and it was a "damp squib." However, the need was still there
for a new movement, for a new style, a new flag to wave. The vacuum
was there in America that was there in England, which created the
gap which the Sex Pistols filled. The Sex Pistols just didn't work
in America. Punk didn't work in America. The word itself had a different
connotation in America. In England, the word punk meant American and
cool. In America, the word punk meant jerk. The word just didn't work.
The Sex Pistols came over and almost blew it for everybody. So, that's
why they came up with New Wave.
HM (JD): Interesting. I've never heard that level of detail
in the development of the transition between those two forms before.
SC: Well, Talking Heads: New Wave.
HM (JD): Right.
SC: The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols: Punk.
HM (JD): Right. It's easy to distinguish. You can point to
a band and say they're New Wave, and point to another and say they're
SC: The way the whole shooting match is determined is by the
hairdo. Even Punk was the same E, A and D chords. Same instruments.
Same everything. Same amps. Just a different hairdo, and a different
HM (JD): Right. If you look at something like The Exploited,
which is considerably more harsh than Talking Heads, you can see there
is definitely a difference.
SC: They are both New Wave, but they are not both Punk. The
Exploited are Punk.
HM (JD): OK. So, New Wave encompasses Punk.
SC: I would say so, yes. I guess I can fucking well say so,
I was there! Yes! It was thus!
HM (JD): We're not going to contradict you.
SC: (laughing) I wouldn't.
HM (BL): I have another drum question, if you don't mind.
I'm looking at your current setup and you have a double bass pedal
on a single bass drum.
SC: Yep. That's from when I saw Slipknot and said fuck
me, I gotta get one of them.
HM (BL): Did you ever try the actual double bass setup, versus
SC: Yes, with Curved Air, pre-Police. I tried that
for a couple years.
HM (BL): Was your preference of the pedal for the positioning
of the toms and hi-hat?
SC: Yeah, when you have two bass drums it spreads the whole
thing out, so the hi-hat is in an uncomfortable position.
HM (BL): Right, that's the problem I'm seeing right now.
SC: So, the guys who really, really, really do a lot of double
bass drum stuff, they need two drums to get the definition. I don't
do enough of it to warrant losing that connection with the hi-hat.
You know, I did a show once with George Martin, the producer,
here in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl. He had the Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, and he played all of the Beatles' orchestral songs.
He played all the orchestral arrangements of everything. He called
me and a couple other players to play the band parts. To play Ringo
Starr parts, I stripped my kit down; one tom-tom in the front
and one on the side. One ride cymbal and two crash cymbals. That's
it! Man, it was so easy to play without all these fucking drums in
HM (BL): Yes, I know what you're saying. There's one other
thing I wanted to ask you about drumming. I've been playing for a
long time, but I haven't always had the time to put into practicing
as much as I probably should. I'm looking for any kind of tips to
develop more right hand independence. Is it just time and hard work,
or are there any shortcuts?
SC: That is a good question. To get independence, it's just
brain scrambling, and very uncomfortable. The place where I learned
it was, once again, in lessons. I remember that the stage of building
that pillar of drumming exhausted me. My teacher at that time was
the famous Max Abrams in London. He kind of wrote the book
on drumming technique. His exercises were all about separation, and
you're reading as well because it was all written down. It was about
keeping ting, ting-ta-ting, ting-ta-ting going, because he was an
old jazzer. All of my training was in the context of jazz, which is
why I'm allergic to the stuff today. And, the patterns on the snare
were written in such a way as to fuck you up while trying to play
ting, ting-ta-ting, ting-ta-ting with your right hand. All that I
can say is that it was hell separating the two hands. Now I find that
when I make coffee, I'm stirring or putting sugar in with one hand,
while getting the milk out of the refrigerator with the other hand.
I don't know. This separation of the hands seems to extend across
being able to button my shirt and doing my belt buckle at the same
time. It is something I would say to confirm your worst fear, that
it's a lot of training, and it's very difficult. I remember catching
the tube home from Max Abram's with my brain feeling like it was just
HM (BL): Just sit down and sweat through it, eh?
SC: Yeah, and you know it's something I don't work on, actually,
which is why it's a trick question. If you had asked me how to even
up your hands, or any of the other technique questions, that's stuff
that I actually work on, and I've got answers for that. But, the separation
part, I don't actually work on. I seem to have that together now.
I haven't evolved an easy, less strenuous exercise for developing
HM (JD): So, it's one of those things that you kind of do
without knowing how you do it? Like it's automatic now?
SC: I guess so, yeah, because I can't think of a shortcut
to creating that freedom. Sorry I can't help you there.
HM (JD): OK. Well, I think that we've overrun our allotment
here a little bit.
SC: Yeah, that's probably why my phone is ringing here. That's
why you guys had to wait. OK, look, I hope you guys got a story.
HM (JD): Yeah, I'm sure we do. We got a lot of good material.
SC: Well, thank you for your interest.
HM: Thank you.
SC: Bye, man.
-JD & Brian Lumberg
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