With the ongoing Sacred Grove project, Stewart Copeland has given the jam session a whole new meaning. The orchestral composer, onetime film scorer, and drummer for The Police sets up his state-of-the-art studio to film and record a host of musical celebrities that might include Snoop Dogg (or possibly Lion), Serj Tankian, Danny Carey, and just about anybody Copeland feels like inviting into his lair to make improvised music in a context they otherwise never would. Copeland filled us in on the process behind Sacred Grove, the transition from rock drummer to impresario of spontaneous grooves, and – after 35 years – just maybe getting one over on Sting.
Sacred Grove is all over the map. That’s because there’s no real mission other than the fun of doing it. It isn’t a project, it’s a hobby. I’m looking around saying, “What other buddies do I got?” Now I’ve got people calling me up saying, “Oh, man. I gotta come over!” And it’s gathering momentum here. I’ve actually got about 20 videos now. I’ve got a couple of tracks from Snoop that I haven’t got a movie of yet. I’ll think of something constructive to do for the whole series, but for the moment it is there for the people to enjoy.
I love that Ben Harper shows up and has no idea that Stanley Clark’s going be there. There’s a buzz to that, too. Sometimes it’s the “drummer gang” and we like to hang and do an uproarious drummer dinner at [West L.A. sushi restaurant] Katsuya’s and we all come charging back here ready to rock. But often they don’t know who the other person’s going to be.
I’m the host, first of all, and occasionally I’ll play on whatever instrument my guests are not playing. But my main role is before they get here and after they leave. Before they get here I remember my roadie chops. Because I am in fact an ex-roadie, but I’m very proud of my roadie chops. And I amuse myself by wiring up my studio. So Sacred Grove is fully wired and miked up. Every square foot of the room is close miked, routed, line-checked. It’s got its own A-to-D converter, all its own preamps, its own channel. I just hit one big red button, and the entire studio’s on record. Also, I have six cameras running. The doorbell rings, the cameras go on, and they stay on for six hours. And they just sit there. None of the cameras move, there’s no camera operators or engineers in the room. It’s just me, and my carefully laid nest of creativity. And I have it because I’ve been in a million jams. I’ve been in a million studios. I’ve been doing this for 50 years! So I’ve figured out every angle, every strategy. I’ve got 9-volt batteries; I’ve got plectrums; I’ve got strings; I’ve got a little place to put your drink. Every detail of it is fine-tuned and honed, so when players come in here they forget that the cameras are rolling.