Everyone Stares At Stewart Copeland
And why not?
For a drummer who was last officially on top of the world during Ronald Reagan’s first term, the lanky maestro hasn’t exactly faded away. Now, with the reunion of his most famous musical endeavor, The Police, 2007 may prove to be his most triumphant year yet since 1983, when The Police released the still-astonishing Synchronicity, Copeland has been feverishly traversing the music/media map: he’s been an in-demand film and TV composer, a movie producer, and the drummer for supergroup Oysterhead. Throughout his nearly 25-year break from one of the greatest bands of all time, however, the sound of Stewart Copeland’s drumming has remained a driving force of global modern rhythm — the metalheads, pop snobs, punkers, rock purists, world music adventurers, electronicanistas, the reggae elite, jocks, dweebs, geeks — they all adore him.
Among that crowd, virtually all held out hope that Copeland and his bandmates — a bassist named Sting and a guitarist named Andy Summers — would smooth over their famously vicious differences and rise once more as The Police. In 2007, it has finally happened: The Police are reunited for a stadium tour, and Copeland seems to be headed straight back to that drum throne on top of the world.
“I can confirm to you right now your suspicion that it is fun to be Stewart Copeland,” the rythmatist says, his exuberant cartoon-character-as-3D-adult voice jumping up over a cup of tea. “Why? Because I’ve got this really cool band. For me, playing in a band is a job I used to have when I was a kid. Then I got a real job as a film composer, lost interest in drums, and didn’t play at all for ten years.
“It’s very engrossing to be a film composer. It’s a great job. You get to build a studio and work with movie directors. During that time, the drum set became a place to hang wires. With changing technology I acquired a lot of redundant equipment to pile up on my drums and fill up my drum booth with. It wasn’t until Les Claypool called me up [in 2000] and said it was my civic duty to return to drums that I really came back to them.”
See, everything happens for a reason. Who among the legions of Stewart Copeland fans out there didn’t hope, in their heart of hearts, that Claypool’s Oysterhead brainchild wouldn’t somehow bring their drumming hero a step closer to the band we all know he loves best? Phish’s Trey Anastasio was on board, and with Oysterhead, Copeland was once more on stage where he belonged with a brilliant guitarist and bass player. It was one small step for Copeland.
The Proverbial Call. The rust was out of his system, and Copeland kept the drums in orbit, continued his steady diet of scoring, and also produced the riveting documentary film Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, which makes public the years of Super 8 footage he shot while on tour with The Police. Then, suddenly in November 2006, it was one giant leap for Copeland-kind.
“I got a call from Sting; he wants to get The Police back together,” says Copeland. “That woke me up! This came out of the deepest blue. Remember, I had given up drums for ten years and rediscovered them, and part of that rediscovery was recovering from the cold chills and horrors of The Police at the end. I actually forgot about The Police ten years ago. The Police are so far from my life that this is like if Led Zeppelin called me up and said, ’Wanna play? And here’s the kicker: you get to be the original guy!’”
According to Copeland, the separation of The Police following their successful but emotionally draining Synchronicity tour was not a dramatic event — more like a process. “We never planned on breaking up,” he asserts, “it was about changing and getting away from it. We realized the only way we were going to get away from it was to dissolve everything, strangle the Golden Goose so it will go away. Because at the time it was a huge corporation, we never felt like we were breaking up musically. It was intended to be a sabbatical, and it turned out to be a very long sabbatical.
“As soon as we got away from The Police, I composed the soundtrack to [the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film] Rumble Fish. That was such a breath of fresh air after the band existence. I could build my own studio, didn’t have to compromise, and after six weeks I was CEO of my own corporation.”
Fast forward again to Sting’s surprise communiqué to Copeland and Summers, and the reaction of the musical world is intense. While plenty of ’80s bands are still taking the stage, there’s no denying that the reunion of The Police is special. This is no nostalgia tour. It’s something much more relevant. But with no new material yet emerging from the resurfacing, the big question is: what makes The Police reunion so different?
“There’s a certain pristine quality to The Police reunion — there’s only three of us and it’s the exact same three guys,” Copeland says. “To me, it gives me a really cool band to play with. I get to play to 60,000 people on a really cool stage. I get to make sure that the lights are perfect, that everything’s perfect. Now that I’ve rediscovered playing drums, you can’t ask for anything better. The other thing is, I get to give up my day job [of composing]. The last few years, I’ve been a semipro drummer. Now I can declare myself a professional drummer. We’ll see when I get in front of a paying audience if I’m a true pro.”