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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
JD: JD
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…market…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?

SC: Yeah.

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… anything else?

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?

SC: Ah…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…the pacing 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… rapt adoration 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 stiff feeling."

(all laughing)

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 it…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 about ahh…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, too.

HM (JD): You know, I think that's a very healthy attitude to have.

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 works.

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…actually. 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 that evening.

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 Punk.

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 attitude.

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 the pedal?

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 the way!

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 spaghetti.

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 that separation.

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.

HM: Bye.

-JD & Brian Lumberg


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