Rich Redmond on Stewart Copeland
By Ilya Stemkovsky
MD: How did you discover Synchronicity?
Rich: Stewart Copeland was my dude growing up. I’m classically trained, but I really learned how to play the drums watching MTV, when they used to show actual concerts! And all the VJs would be talking about Synchronicity. I went to school with a Police concert T-shirt, and I had The Police Live at the Omni on VHS and studied it over and over. Synchronicity and Alex Van Halen on Van Halen’s 1984 were my two gateway drugs. I thought, I don’t know what this is, or what this feeling is, but this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
MD: What made Stewart your dude?
Rich: His style was completely unique. Words that come to mind about Stewart are fire, energy, commitment, conviction, and the way he combines power and finesse. He was a traveling kid, and you can hear the Caribbean, African, South American, and Middle Eastern influences, and of course the punk drumming. Stewart had the high-pitched snare drum and the 8″ tom, which I thought was a killer voice. His style on the hi-hat was constantly percolating. His hats were open, half-open, closed—and there were ruffs and drags and five-stroke and seven-stroke rolls.
I don’t even know if Stewart consciously knew he was doing those things. But I was in marching band in high school, and I realized these were a direct musical application of rudiments. I was a nerdy research kid. I’d play along with the records, but I’d also transcribe, which was good for my reading skills and came into play later in my career.
Another thing I stole was the way Stewart would dance all over the ride cymbal. He played with the tip of the stick, the shank of the stick, on the bell, on the body, on the edge, like he was a swashbuckler just jousting on the ride. Not only was it beautiful to watch, but it sounded like there was a randomness to it, kind of Latin, and I use that every day in the studio. I’ve become very pattern oriented on the things I play on—boom-smack, boom-boom-smack. Those kinds of things are really static. So I’ll apply that concept I stole from Stewart and use the variety of sounds on the ride cymbal to create interest during a chorus or solo or bridge. It creates an attitude and a color.
MD: Are there any other Stewart-isms that you incorporate into your playing?
Rich: Crossing patterns. Many drummers are judged by the quality and consistency of their cross-stick. Especially in Nashville, you have to have a beautiful, singing quality to your cross-stick. Little did I know that by playing cross-stick polyrhythms along to Stewart’s records, I was actually working on a skill set, a sound I would go on to use all the time. He came into my life for a reason. The way he approached the drumset was completely musical, and I stole all of it. [laughs]
MD: What’s your take on specific album tracks?
Rich: “Synchronicity I”—it was so smooth and musical, you didn’t even know it was in 6/4 time. To me that’s the mark of a great song and a great musician. And in “Synchronicity II” he overdubs that choked cymbal—it’s a percussive melody. It takes a brilliant musician to make a choked cymbal have a melodic quality to it. And in “Miss Gradenko,” he’d play a one-drop but had an Octoban or a high-pitched tom play on beat 1. And his fills would be these South American–inspired, timbale-style licks.
“Every Breath You Take” was their straight-ahead, number-one pop song, the most simple I’d ever heard Stewart play. I tell my students that popular music comes down to five “money beats,” and Stewart was playing money beat number two. That was totally foreshadowing a beat I’ve played on a million Aldean songs and every day in Nashville studios.
On “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” there’s the interaction between the high tom, the hi-hat, and the splash cymbal, which is gorgeous—just poetry in motion. And on “Murder by Numbers” [not on the original LP, but added to subsequent issues] there are eight bars of drums out front by themselves, in 12/8 time. And when you’re thirteen years old, you can’t find where the 1 is on a beat like that—12/8, bass drum on 2 and 4, with a cross-stick on the in-between partials of the triplets—like an inverted quarter-note triplet.
For me, playing country music and roots music, one of the things you have to learn is how to play straight rhythms and swung rhythms and how to play in between. And “Tea in the Sahara” is like that. It’s not straight, it’s not a shuffle—they can’t decide what it is, it’s just a feeling. And it’s kind of New Orleans–y with jazz and R&B, and only Stewart can play it like that. He showed that you can fuse so many influences together and have it still make sense. Whether you’re in a band or you’re a session musician or a touring sideman, one of the goals that everyone has in their career is to have a unique, identifiable voice. Stewart achieved that early on, and maybe Synchronicity was his Mona Lisa.