The Beat Goes On
Stewart Copeland—father, filmmaker, film scorer. This summer, he is making a return to a past life, reuniting with Andy Summers and Sting for one more record-breaking go-round with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame power trio the Police.
Though it's been almost 25 years since the Police toured, they have remained in the public eye. In addition to reuniting for their induction into the Hall, the band recently re-emerged in a film that Copeland shot and produced called Everyone Stares. Biding his time until the long-awaited reunion, Copeland has also pursued other projects, including touring with Primus' Les Claypool and Phish's Trey Anastasio as the improvisational supergroup Oysterhead and providing music for the popular television drama Desperate Housewives.
As the trio's triumphant performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards proved, the Police's songs and energy have remained greatly the same. Even so, some things have changed for the multi-talented Copeland. In fact, it was changes in time and technology that led Copeland to release Stares last year."I never thought I'd make a film," he admits, "but I started shooting. Twenty years later, I got Final Cut Pro. I needed something to cut—and what do you know? I had this old Police footage!"
Though it was created on a whim, Stares taught Copeland a great deal not only about video editing and film production but about his own life in music and how it has evolved. "The film was shot by a 25-year-old rock star," Copeland explains, "and edited by a 50-year-old father of many. That allowed me to appreciate what was cool about the footage."
Much of the footage for the film was shot from behind the drum set, offering Police fans a unique perspective on life in a mega-band. "It is so different from an MTV documentary where the camera is here and the band is there," Copeland suggests. "In this footage, the camera is inside the band like a first-person shooter game. The fans are screaming into the lens, and the band talks directly to the lens. The viewer is addressed by name as the drummer in this band!"
Copeland was not totally unfamiliar with film work, having scored well-known films such as Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish and Oliver Stone's Wall Street, but he had never produced an entire film himself. "I have been dabbling in it for a while," he explains. "I had never shot a drama or anything, but I have been in film and live in the post-production world."
As he had so much creative control over the film, Copeland notes many differences from his musical performances. "A rock band is not a great medium for my composing," he admits. "Rock music is what individuals play. I write interlocking melodies for my scores; it is a different kind of music." So different, in fact, that Copeland suggests that his composer self and his drummer self often "come in conflict."
"If that...drummer guy steps on my composing," he says, "I get upset! In the Police, the drummer has to show more respect for the composer because he is a separate guy standing in the room with you."
Though his mono-nomenclatured frontman may be imposing, Copeland says that it is nothing compared to the free-form anxieties and explorations he enjoyed while touring with Oysterhead. "It is the opposite, opposite, opposite kind of band from the Police," he emphasizes. "I was so exposed, and our material was a leaping-off point for wild improvisational jams. About 80 percent was improv [and] that was what the audience came for."
Despite his apprehension about "getting lost onstage," Copeland fully appreciated and loved the experiences he had with Claypool and Anastasio. "We'd find something new, and there would be a surge of energy that you just don't get from playing a good pop song," he says. "It was raw and unique, and it made each moment incredibly intense and joyful."
Even so, Copeland is very glad to have another opportunity to perform his hits. "It is nice to have songs that are high-level all the way through and that leap from one good musical moment to another and the audience is singing right along with every bar," he says. "It is a completely different musical experience and brings a totally different energy arrived at by totally different means."
Whether he is slapping the skins, waving the baton or working the mouse, Copeland appears to be equally comfortable with all aspects of his life. And yet, he admits, there are still frustrations."It drives me nuts that the composer guy doesn't have a job," he says. "But for the drummer guy, the guy who does have the composing gig in his band is really good!"
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