Many would agree that Stewart Copeland is one of the most innovative drummers to come along in the past few years. Judging by radio airplay, record sales and audience response, it seems that the general public feels the same way about the Police.
Forming in January, 1977, the trio, consisting of Andy Summers, Sting and Stewart Copeland, burst onto the English scene with a homemade single called “Fall Out.” It was only the next year that A&M Records agreed to sign them to a single deal and “Roxanne” paved the way for an album deal and a string of hits including “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” “Don’t Stand So Close To Me “and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” To date, there are four albums, Outlandos d’Amour, Regatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost in the Machine, and the Police has made its mark with its unique rhythmic blends.
For Copeland, it is not difficult to see where he adopted his connection with rhythm, the most essential element in his life. As the son of the man in charge of Middle Eastern operations for the CIA (also a former big-band trumpeter) and his archeologist mother, Stewart grew up with a multitude of varied musical and rhythmic influcences in such places as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and later, London and America.
RF: When and why did you begin playing drums?
SC: It was in Beirut. I was born in Virginia and then my family went over to Egypt when I was six months old. From there we went to Syria and then to Lebanon. I was fourteen when I started playing the drums. Rhythm always seemed to be very important. When I was with my mother on archeological expeditions in the Syrian desert, it always seemed that the high point of the day was all the singing and dancing in the evening. I suppose that those are noises that have stuck with me and have always been the basis of my emotions since then.
RF: So drums entered into it…
SC: Well, not so much drums, but music. Music was paramount in my life and drums entered into it when I began to listen to big band and jazz records that my father had in his collection. My father had been a jazz trumpeter in big bands including Glenn Miller’s wartime band and he played with all sorts of old-timers whose names I can never remember.
RF: Did you have any prime drum influences at that time?
SC: At the age of about fourteen, my drum hero was Buddy Rich, and that was about the last hero I ever had. Since I’ve grown up, I realize there are other brilliant drummers.
RF: Such as?
SC: I don’t really like any of the virtuoso drummers. Most of the drummers who are “name” drummers don’t really do all that much for me. I can respect their physical ability to move their fingers at mind-bending rates, but there isn’t really anybody right now. A few years ago, I guess that Billy Cobham would have been an exciting new thing, but now there’s a whole generation of drummers who are playing his licks. I suppose he’s the most recent person who has really made an important contribution, whose name stands out, though. But I’m not a real fan, for although I can respect and appreciate things, I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan.
RF: When did you get a drumset?
SC: When I was about thirteen. By that time, I was banging things and kicking things and tapping my feet hysterically. In Arab villages there’s something they do in the evening which is sort of like what they do in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue or something. They bang things and sing songs at a very early age and I seemed to have a sort of native talent for that. My father, who was a jazz influence, immediately put me on a drumset. At the same time, the much more important side of my talent was being developed around the campfire. All the stuff I learned from the teachers was important, but can be learned anywhere at anytime by anybody. The much more important ingredient was the ethnic one.
RF: What kind of music was that exactly?
SC: Arabic music, which sounds like very slow calypsos. The rhythms have a very slow pulse and they have a very strong sense of syncopation with the emphasis on the downbeat. Melodically it’s a bit mournful and pentatonic and I doubt if it will ever make it in the West.
RF: What about the drumset and formal training?
SC: My first goes on a drumset were all swing. I would suppose that the contact I have with the West is swing. I would describe myself as a drummer who swings rather than one who rocks.
My first drum teacher was an Armenian who played in a hotel jazz band. Beirut is, or was, before it got blown up, like the Switzerland of the Arab world where people could come and drink and spend their money and live the wild life. It always had a kind of decadent atmosphere and it had these bands playing in these hotels and my first teacher was one of those. My father spotted him and he seemed good and he arranged lessons with him. He taught me how to hold drum sticks and how to do a paradiddle and how to read.
RF: How old were you?
SC: Between twelve and thirteen.
RF: How long did you stay with him?
SC: About a year or two. Then I got into a rock band, or what would be called a rock band at the time. We played “I’m In The Mood,” “Tequila” and the likes. When you travel around the world, you hear Western music, which is the electric guitar and drums and stuff, twisted in ethnic ways. In Mexico you hear it with weird trumpets doing weird brass parts and singing funny songs over what is basically the old American band format. I suppose those are the sort of groups they were. I played in quite a few of them, none of which ever lasted more than two gigs.
RF: Did you proceed with formal training after that?
SC: Yeah, when I moved to England I studied with Max Abrams who is actually quite a famous drum teacher. He taught me how to read and that’s about it. From there, I went and studied music for a while, but it was never relevant and I started much too late.
RF: What do you mean by not relevant?
SC: I was already playing music onto a two-track tape machine with a guitar and piano and odd noises. Just basically doodling, actually, quite getting off on it and valuing the work I was doing, although I was only a teenager at the time and it was your average indulgent stuff. It was all pretty native in form. But when I started learning about it, I found that everyone else in my class had been learning about it for a lot longer than I had and from a much earlier age. I couldn’t keep up with the algebra involved.
RF: Are you talking about college now?
RF: So that was Berkeley?
SC: No, that was before Berkeley. I tried to get into the school of music in Berkeley and I couldn’t get into it. I didn’t have the ear training and I couldn’t identify the intervals. I’ve always understood all that, but I could never apply it because I haven’t got it at my fingertips.
RF: Are we leaving anything out of your formal training, private lessons, etc.?
SC: No. I had a long series of teachers, one after another. I suppose I must have been around seventeen before I started to get to the point where none of the teachers could keep up with me.
RF: Why did you choose to go to college?
SC: It was the only thing to do. Those were the years of the draft and there was nothing else to do but go to college. I was growing up in England and I didn’t want to come to America because I would be drafted. So I stayed in England and went to an American college there for a while and then came over when the coast was clear. Gee, does that make me a draft dodger?
RF: What did you major in?
SC: Communications and public policy, which is actually, intellectually, where I’m really at. When we’re talking about my ability to play drums, that’s pretty much of an organic thing and all I can really talk about is in metaphysical terms because that’s what kind of thing it is. But actually, as a person, I regard drumming as being like a sport, which is something that’s good for my body and that’s where it belongs. In my head, there are some other things, though.
RF: Something I read said you never thought you’d be a musician because of the commitment involved.
SC: That’s right. To be a professional musician, you have to get wet, and I never thought I’d have the nerve to do that. I had been a tour manager and had done all the peripheral things around being a musician: working in the music business as a sessionman, as a drummer, an arranger, a tour manager, a disc jockey, a journalist, a manager, and working for a record company. I was doing everything but actually playing in a band, because, at the time, I was going to school. The first professional group I joined, the first group that did more than two gigs, was Curved Air, so I’ suppose I’ve only actually played in two real bands in my life.
RF: But doesn’t session work require a commitment?
SC: Not really. You just have to turn up and be good for a day. You don’t actually get out in front of an audience and for an hour and a half have to have everything right. You’re not actually a piece of the product. It’s not a piece of you.
RF: So what changed and allowed you to take the plunge?
SC: I was finishing off the university and I was just about to graduate. I would have had a degree in communications and I knew pretty much what I was going to do in the music business. Suddenly I got an invitation to join a band. The invitation was for right now, so I hopped on a plane and joined the group.
RF: But why were you able to make the commitment at that point?
SC: I had had a plan, as far as getting through college and I knew that was the step that followed the step before that. At the end of that, it was a bit vague. There were a million things that I could do and had done in the music business, but I was just waiting to see what happened and this is what did happen. If I had been offered a job tour managing somebody, where the money was good and it seemed really at tractive for some reason, I might have taken it, I don’t know. At the time, I didn’t actually regard myself as a professional musician and I didn’t have that kind of dedication to be one. I never practiced and didn’t have a drumset the whole year I was in Berkeley. But during the time I went back to London on summer holidays and stuff, just hanging around there, I jammed with people and had a very good reputation among the musicians there, which is how I got the gig. But while I was over in California, I kinda had given up on being a musician. I got thrown out of a group in San Diego, probably for all the reasons I’m so successful now. It was the things that they couldn’t take, which were the things I excelled at. It was the wrong group and I got thrown out of it. At the tender age of whatever age I was, I thought it was all my fault and I might as well give up. I couldn’t take the emotional trauma of getting thrown out of a group. At that age, without anything else happening for me, I totally identified with playing my drums. When you play drums, it’s an emotional thing. When you’re bashing the drums and it’s happening right and the rhythm is right where you want it and you’re on top of it, you’re winning and it’s just forward motion. Like any kind of amoeba, it sort of gravitates towards what it needs and playing drums is like that. If it’s something you really identify with and you base your whole identity on it as a teenager and you get thrown out of a group, you have to look for something else.
RF: How did you restore your confidence?
SC: I met a guy in Berkeley. I was walking down to my house from the campus and I heard a noise coming out of somebody’s garage. I wandered in and I had my guitar, because I was also a frustrated guitarist as well as a frustrated drummer. So I took my guitar in and there was this other guitarist there and he had a bigger amplifier and generally a bigger ego, but seemed to actu ally want to do something. There was a drummer there who couldn’t play at all, so I basically kicked him out. Having met somebody, I started playing again. Anyhow, this guitarist with the bigger amplifier ditched the other guys and we went over to his place where he had another drumset and a four-track Teac machine and we ac tually made a record. He had this old ten dollar drumset and we played this weird music. He hated everything and he despised music, but he had all these instruments and he made this music, which he played constantly. Whenever I’d go over there, these weird dirges would be coming out of the speakers. He was actually an oscilloscope tuner or something like that. But he made a record and he put it out and it’s actually available in Berkeley.
RF: You mentioned sessions before. When did they actually come into the picture?
SC: When I first got to London, I met musicians and ended up getting work as a session player. Not much, and nothing at all respectable; just dribs and drabs and nothing to live on. This was all summer stuff while I was still going to school.
RF: So this was before Curved Air?
SC: Right. The other sessions happened after Curved Air in the early days of the Police. The band wasn’t making any dough and all three of us had to do sessions.
RF: Can you recall any of it?
SC: There has been some stuff that has surfaced since then, like Eberhard Schoener, who is a German musician, or rather conceptualist. He’s a classical-type musician and actually an opera conductor in Munich. But he’s also interested in electronics and a real old-fashioned composer with a direct line to the muses and he does these weird concepts. He brought a Balinese village orchestra over to tour in Germany with a jazz drummer and weird ethnic mixes like that. Andy got us the gig there because when he joined the group, he said he did have one previous commitment he would have to fulfill and he brought us into it. It was actually quite good. But there were lots of other sessions we did which weren’t very good that wouldn’t be heard of again.
RF: What kind of music was turning you on after Curved Air and prior to the Police?
SC: That’s the point. There was an absence of music that was turning me on, to be quite honest. The last time I had been turned on was by Jimi Hendrix. There had been quite a large gap of actually being turned on by music. I thought at the time that was just because I was playing in a band and that all the magic is bound to wear off when you’re in a group, actually doing it for a living. It’s not true, though. It’s just that you learn to have different kinds of appreciation. I’ve got two sets of ears. I’ve got professional ears and I’ve got actual emotional ears. With one of the sets of ears, I can judge the economic viability of a piece of product and I do that very rarely, where I bother to listen with that in mind. Most of the time I just try not to be impressed and just see if my foot is tapping; if I like it. I probably actually listen to more music voluntarily than most people do on the average. I suppose that doesn’t mean anything, really, but I actually like music.
RF: How did the Police come about?
SC: I was on tour with Curved Air. We had a night off and a local journalist took me around to see his favorite local group, which was a jazz group called Last Exit in which Sting was the bass player and singer. The group was terrible, but Sting was great. Later on, disenchanted with the music industry and dreaming of setting up a small group that could pay its own bills and be its own bosses, I called up Sting and asked him to join me in a group. We had a different guitarist at first. About a year after we formed, Andy discovered us, demanded to join the group and he sort of elbowed the other guitarist out of the group.
RF: Were you still with Curved Air at the time the Police formed?
SC: There was a period of about a week in between Curved Air and the Police. Curved Air didn’t have any more material and we didn’t want to record another album and nobody had any songs or anything. The gigs were booked up to a certain date, which was December 24, 1976. Meanwhile, I had already called up Sting, he had already come down and we met, and about a week after the last Curved Air gig, we were rehearsing as the Police.
RF: How did you conceive of the kind of music that came to be the Police?
SC: We arrived at the music of the Police by accident. We did a song called “So Lonely” four times, so the recorded version is not even where it came from. The song that we did after that was “Roxanne,” and I suppose the progression from “So Lonely” to “Roxanne” tells the story.
RF: Before you put the group together, you must have had a conception of what you wanted.
SC: The conception of what we wanted was only the practical aspects of the group. As far as the music we would make was concerned, I did have an idea, but it changed, as all our ideas changed once we knew each other’s ideas. In other words, I knew that I wanted a three-piece group that had no strings, and that was autonomous from the music industry, and all sorts of practical considerations like that. I knew that I wanted it to be exciting rather than boring; to be entertaining rather than introspective and things like that. Also, I knew that it had to be danceable because I’m a drummer and I’m interested in rhythm. But the actual specific sound that we ended up making came out of thin air.
RF: How does a band become autonomous?
SC: By the availability of gigs. In other words, to be a band, you have to play gigs and the gigs have to exist for you to play. If you’re not playing gigs, you’re not a band. You can rehearse all day and that makes you feel like a band and that can be rewarding in itself, but the communication side of it has to be there. In 1977, in the beginning of the punk revolution, suddenly there weren’t enough bands and so it was possible to form a group and hit those gigs. We went straight on the road and just learned by playing the gigs. We couldn’t take care of the number of gigs that were available. It didn’t last long because by the end of ’77, when Andy joined, the scene had tapered out considerably and there were millions and millions of groups. That’s why we came to America.
RF: But how did you become autonomous?
SC: Well, because those gigs were available, we would get paid thirty pounds and because we didn’t have a record company, it was ours. When you’re with a record company, you think in terms of when the limousine is going to drive me to the gig, and the record company is buying every body drinks, and you have to have a recorddeal. The music industry was just not in volved and every gig sustained itself. We actually did get to take some money home to actually live on. We did sessions as well, and meanwhile we were getting our act together and we were developing our sound, without people in business suits saying, “Oh, I like this song; that’s the hit—that’s the single.” Not having to think along those lines, we had some breathing space, which is what autonomy is all about.
RF: What about when it proceeded to a larger scale and the record company did enter into it?
SC: By that time, we knew what we were doing and the record company has been content to leave us to our own devices, artistically. They won’t tamper with it because it works so well.
RF: When you first came out, you got the labels of “punk” and “new wave.”
SC: That was another practical consideration which had nothing to do with the music. There’s more to music and there’s more to a group, earning its living as a group, than just music. There’s a whole side of it where it has to earn its living. Seventy- five percent of the musician’s time is taken up with doing things other than music— which is selling the music—which fortunately, I won’t have to do so much from now on. That whole thing of the image of a band and the label does not touch us very deeply. If you want to know if I think that label fits, that’s the question that they all ask us, isn’t it? “Do you consider yourselves.. .? Is this an accurate label. . .? Do you answer to the name of. . .?” No.
RF: Where did the reggae come from?
SC: I was inspired by the fact that all the time I had my initial primitive animal introduction to rhythm, it never gelled with the drumset. There was never a connection. There was, in a way, but not nearly in enough of a way. Whenever I sat down behind a drumset, I would play big-band jazz licks, even when I played in a rock band.
Reggae was the first time I heard a completely different kind of music using a drumset. It gave me ideas as to how I could get back to my original roots, I suppose, even though I hate that word. It gave me ideas and it just showed me that you can turn a drumset completely upside down. You don’t have to just play a backbeat.
RF: When did that happen?
SC: I suppose it all started with the tune “The Israelites” by Desmond Decker.
RF: I read in an article where you said there was a period of time where you were unhappy with the actual physical condition of the drumset. You said you thought they were flimsily made, etc.
SC: Drumsets were flimsily made for a long time. Originally, drums were designed by retired jazzers. The drumsets that were made for my generation were made by the last generation. They’re not working in bands anymore, so they get a job in a drum company designing drums. That’s all very well and fine, but they were designing drums for the sort of music they played twenty years ago. They weren’t designing drums for the music of today, which has a much more, shall we say, “athletic” approach. The first time I was really aware of an alternative was when I had my drum set by THE American drum maker, which was considered to be the ultimate hot set-up. Then I needed a new drumset because that one was getting worn out. I was looking through the shops while I was still with Curved Air and I wondered if I could get a deal with somebody. I really couldn’t afford to buy another drumset and so I went to the shops to look for new companies. American drums in England are really taxed and very expensive. I just couldn’t afford them, so I went and looked at other drums. I had never heard of Tama, but I saw them in the shop and they were huge. They had great big stands and they were literally twice as thick around as the American drum stands. You could swing around them and climb on your set almost. So I called them up in England and talked them into giving me a drumset. I was actually the first person to do so, although I think somebody from the States had discovered them also. But in England, no one was using them. Also, the drums themselves, the actual sound of the drums is terrific. I strongly believe in bashing drums before you buy them. So I did bash them and they sounded good because they have very good response. You can tune them very tight; they’re very deep as well as having tight response.
RF: What are some of the gadgets you use and why?
SC: Well, I’ll let Jeff Seitz, my drum roadie, go into that with you, but the reason I use something is really because of him. He keeps his eyes open for all the latest developments. Whenever he sees something, he gets it, I try it out and if I like it, I keep it. What I’ve ended up with is what’s on the drums right now. But that’s changing all the time and the same with the cymbals because there are developments all the time. The only thing I actually do myself is tune the heads, which I do rock hard all the way around. The enitre drumset is about to pop; I have them as tight as they’ll go.
RF: Do you muffle the drums?
SC: Yeah, I use gaffers tape, one or two strips, although not always, just occasionally. Actually, one thing that I do quite like are the black dots.
RF: How many sets do you currently use?
SC: I have three sets; one in England, one in America and one that travels. One of them has the black dots.
RF: Are they identical as far as sizes and pieces?
SC: Yes. Actually, the set that I have with me right now is really terrific. It’s definitely state of the art with the stands. It’s got all the mic’ stands mounted on everything because Tama has got a new set-up with a whole line of things you can stick onto the stands. You can turn one stand into a whole tree of stands. I love these things that have ten different things sticking out of them—mic’ stands and cymbal stands, like small cymbals, little bell cymbals and splash cymbals, and I like to just have them all over the place so I can hit one of them in between hitting other things. These little cymbal attachments that you can stick on anywhere are great for that.
RF: You were mentioning things your roadie would bring you. Can you think of things you’ve vetoed and why?
SC: Everything has its use and I’ll play with it for a while until I get bored. Then it will go to my home studio and I’ll use it there occasionally. I’ve got quite a stack of things. I’ve tried every known form of non-wooden drumstick and there is no successful alternative—yet.
RF: You use a drum echo.
SC: The drum echo is a very important gadget. I use it a lot and it’s just repeat echo on the drums. In different tunes I do, I put different things through it. Most of the time I have the hi-hat; sometimes bass, sometimes snare. I have the Octobans through it all the time and I have a Synare that goes through it as well. Actually, I have one on the bass drum as well. The kind that I have is touch-sensitive microphone; you put it on a drum and the drum triggers it off. I have two of them. One is on a Rototom. The reason why it’s on a Rototom is because the drum itself is totally dead and it’s small so I can stick it anywhere, which is under my left hand, underneath the hi-hat. I keep that one open and I can do anything with it. I also have another one on the bass drum so that every time I hit the bass drum, it sends a signal. I have that one tuned very low, for electronic bass drum enhancement, because I have a very small bass drum.
RF: Where did you first get the idea to do this?
SC: I first started using echo with Eberhard Schoener. The musical concepts were very weird and the show was two and a half hours long. He had lasers, mime artists, all this weird synthesizer stuff, a string quartet and all sorts of strange stuff. I would go “tinkle, tinkle, tinkle” through the quad echos and the ethereal music kind of washed it back and forth. I would hit a woodblock once and it would echo around and stuff, and I got into the echo. Then when we were touring in America and making the customary “English band in New York” stop in Manny’s, I got a Ro land Space Echo and an amplifier. I had it on tour with me, waiting to get home to play with it with my guitar. But it was frus trating having it sitting in the truck and never playing with it. So I pulled it on stage during a sound check and had it sitting right behind me. As I was using the echo, I figured I’d put my snare through it, so I got another microphone, stuck it on the snare, put it through the echo to the amplifier sitting right behind me, and immediately, a new device was born. I’ve developed it since. The Roland has three inputs and I can put three microphones into it and add three microphones to the drumset and it goes into the echo and into the amp. It’s very simple. Jeff took it a lot further than that when I was able to afford a drum roadie. He knew his stuff and really went into it. He’s got two digital delay units, really sophisticated, where you can just punch in the exact delay that you’re requiring, you can switch back and forth, and you can go into repeat and hold. I’ve got an array of foot pedals next to the hi-hat which I hit with my heels to click them on and off. Sometimes I’ll leave them in for a song with just an echo on one of them like a hi-hat or something, and sometimes I’ll have the whole drumset in, but just click it in and out for specific moments. I do that with the different foot switches.
RF: What about for recording?
SC: Occasionally, I use it while we record as well, but usually not.
RF: What about other gadgets?
SC: I also use a Clap Trap which is synthetic clapping. You can have either one set of hands clapping or you can have several pairs of hands clapping or you can have a whole auditorium applauding. It’s two sounds basically. One is a click, or several clicks, and it’s quite cleverly done so it sounds like claps. You can make it deeper or higher and you can add a hiss to it too. I actually don’t use the hand clapping sound; I use the hiss sound. I also have a device on the snare drum so when I hit it, it sends a trigger and Jeff, who is operating the gadgets behind me on stage, clicks on the Clap Trap himself. That’s one that he controls. It just enhances the backbeat, so suddenly, the backbeat will come jumping out for heavy dance items. I suppose that the electronic noise that comes out of the speakers in the PA is like turning my drumset into a drum box. It’s actually the same kind of sounds that are coming out.
RF: You are a very physical player…
SC: And physical person. I suppose I thrive on physical exercise, not of the jogging kind, but I like to be active. You have to be fairly fit. I saw Billy Cobham recently and the guy is a towering inferno of physical fitness. He looks like Muhammad Ali. I suppose you do have to be strong, but what you really have to be is coordinated; you have to know how to use your strength. I suppose I hit my drums harder and more times in an evening than your average drummer, but I’m able to do so without collapsing from exhaustion because I’ve got it to the point where I only use my energy when I really need it. It’s like riding a bicycle downhill when you hit that groove, for lack of a better word.
RF: What do you actually do to keep in shape?
SC: I rollerskate when I’m in London, I row a boat when I’m in the studio in Montreal, I swim in Monserrat, and wherever I am, I generally find something. I also pace a lot. When I was in a boarding school in England for a long time, I only had access to my drums once a week when I could get into the drama room when there wasn’t a class in there. I could set up my drums and bash away at them for an hour until the next class would come in. Meanwhile, there would be complaints that week, so next week, I’d have to go find somewhere else to play. But I found I was actually able to make lots of progress by thinking about drums as I walked along and I would just have drums in my mind. Not just drums, but rhythm, and I’d think in rhythm. In fact, I conceptionalize in rhythm and form word patterns in rhythm. I would find that after a whole week of not actually playing the drums, when I’d go back to them, I had made real progress. Not necessarily playing the things I thought of, but I would just find that my hands were working more smoothly and I could get that feeling more easily.
RF: Coordinating your mind with your hands.
SC: Right. Which is much more important than specific…well, I guess it’s equally as important to the physical thing of your fingers learning which direction to move.
RF: What about pacing on stage? How do you keep going at such a momentum?
SC: That’s when it’s really important. It is a kind of trance that rhythm induces, which it has been known to induce since the beginning of time. It is something that before man learned how to start a fire, he probably was pounding rhythms. It’s something that’s very important and I’ve devoted a lot of thought and research to exactly why that is, but that gets really metaphysical. My research has just been different kinds of music and the different tribal applications and the part it plays in their rituals, mostly religious rituals, which inspire extreme emotional excitation. For instance, in Bali, they do millions of dances, but in one of them, they are in such a trance with the rhythm, they start stabbing themselves with swords. They’ve got that feeling and it does that to people. People walk on splinters to the rhythm. It’s the same in church and the incantations. Any form of ritual and church religious rituals inspire the same kind of emotional response to art that concerts do. Rhythm plays a very important part of the repetition of the incantations; the “amen” and the like.
RF: Can you define what to you is a good drummer?
SC: I can tell you when I hear it, but to say what it is that makes a drummer good, I just suppose rhythm. It’s the same old thing that everyone says—it doesn’t matter how many times you hit your drums, it’s when you hit them and what it feels like when you do. It doesn’t even matter on the sound so much, even though music is sound. It’s the pulse. Either you hit a pulse that is exciting and that makes people move or you don’t, and that’s what it’s all about. There are some drummers that have that pulse and that hit it all the time and there are some drummers who only hit i sometimes. I suppose that everybody does it to varying degrees and how close you can get to doing it all the time, and how intensely you can do it and how exciting you can make your rhythm and how infectious it is, is how good you are.
RF: Do you do anything to warm up before a show?
SC: I have to practice relaxation techniques on myself with breathing exercises. There’s a lot of tension involved in walking on stage in front of 40,000 people, which, in many ways, is extremely conducive to playing a good concert. But it has to be channeled correctly and it has to be approached the right way. In fact, the 40,000 people provides a lot of the electricity that charges the music and the more they provide, the more charged the music can be. Very often when I’m playing, if I can see movement in the audience, even just one person dancing, out of the corner of my eye, I can hook onto him and I can just get straight into the rhythm. It completely locks me in to watch somebody dancing. It was funny when we came to America to do our first American tour—doing our reggae rhythm and watching people lurching around. Their feet were moving and their bodies were moving, but not in any accustomed way because the downbeat was in a different place. That uncomfortable feeling of people sort of lurching around, carried by it, but not really doing their favor ite dance steps, in other words, doing something spontaneous, was very inspiring for me.
RF: Is that why you say your upcoming live album is some of the best playing you’ve done?
SC: Yeah, I think that’s true. It’s been hard to mix and we haven’t really gotten any satisfactory mixes of our live stuff, but it really is good playing.
RF: You mentioned “One World (Not Three)” in another interview as being your best playing. Why is that?
SC: Well, that’s the most recent. It was done in one take; we sussed the chords out and there’s basically just two things that go back and forth, back and forth. Sting sort of shouted some lyrics and we just banged away at it and got it the first time. Usually we learn the chords, go in and play it and then come back and listen to it and go and play it again. That’s usually the take and if it’s not that one, it’s the next take or sometimes three takes, but that’s when it starts to go downhill. This one was the first take. We talked about the chords and I went to the drums, which are in a different build ing, and the guitar was in the recording room and Sting was in the mixing room. We each went to our posts and playd it and that’s what is on the record.
RF: You recorded that in a room with a wooden floor.
SC: It was a wooden living room of the building next to the studio; a dining room/ living room, just a great big room with a wooden floor and glass windows. We were trying to achieve a live sound so I dropped a mic’ from about twenty feet away with lots of compression, a technique called ambient miking.
RF: At the inception of the Police, you were writing a lot more. Is it that second ear, that business sense, that told you to relinquish some of those duties?
SC: It was both sets of ears that told me that it would be wise to proceed with this material that was coming from Sting. It was just inarguably, fantastically good material. I write material and I have a recording studio at home and I spend lots of time doing the same kind of tinkering around that I was talking about earlier. It’s not really relevant to the world outside my basement, but I enjoy doing it. And it’s a discipline to turn that kind of material into a song which belongs on a record, performed by a group, but I do work at that and I force myself to do it because it’s creatively worthwhile. It’s nice to hear a song that you wrote. It doesn’t come naturally to me, though, and I do have to work at it.
RF: Is what you do on your own vastly different from the music of the Police?
SC: It’s different from the music the Police makes as a band, but the effect ends up within the Police music. The elements that are in it are translated and become part of the Police because they’re a part of me.
RF: Why was the solo project under a pseudonym (Klark Kent) and not Stewart Copeland?
SC: I personally feel that it is confusing to be so close to the product. I don’t mean “product” in terms that it is used in the business, but rather just the end product, what you end up with, the piece of art, whatever it is. The person who made it confuses the picture, especially if it is you, yourself from the standpoint of trying to create it and do it. There’s so much emphasis placed on the person who made it, just because it’s an interesting thing. People will, for some reason, want to read about me. There you are—you have a magazine all about drummers. People want to read about the person who is playing the drums, but if you were just to talk about the drums themselves and the skin tension, which sticks and stuff, it would be very boring. People actually want to know about the people behind them, but the people behind them are irrelevant, so I stick to the facts.
RF: If you won’t actually talk about the music, at least answer why it’s such a touchy question.
SC: Because of the rituals involved. This has all to do with kinetic ritual, which is another whole can of worms which would take another six hours to talk about. Kinetic ritual is, I suppose, a general term I’ve hinted at, which are the rituals and exercises involved in generating that feeling.
RF: How does this apply to your solo material?
SC: My solo material was largely connected with a lot of this ritual and is the product of different experimentation with that kind of ritual. It’s like self-hypnotism or yoga or meditation, there’s a million different kinds—trance inducement of a specialized kind.
RF: Could you expound a bit on kinetic ritual and how it applies to you?
SC: Kinetic ritual is the rhythm of life; it really is the pulse. I mean, we all have our hearts beating inside of us, but also, as we walk down the road, life itself moves in rhythms, not only our heartbeat, which are beats very close together, but the seasons which are a year apart and the planets revolving around. Rhythm is the stuff of life and kinetic rituals are a series of exercises which are means of tuning in with these rhythms of life.
RF: And how does that apply to you, personally, and as a drummer?
SC: The fact that I play drums, it’s a rhythmic instrument, so rhythm is definitely the stuff of my life.
RF: What other instruments do you play?
SC: Anything I can get my hands on. There are horn instruments that I obviously can’t play because they require lip technique that is very difficult to learn. There are, I suppose, two different kinds of instruments: basically those instruments you can pick up and play very easily like a guitar and a piano, where all you need to learn is two chords and you have it. Whereas, the other kind is like a violin, where you have to study for a year and practice every day before you can even make a sound that’s attractive. You approach music, and from there, then you can start developing the musical side of it and get some kind of reward for your tribulations and your ear ache. All those in the earlier category, I have dabbled with and I can make them do for me what I want them to do with prodigious use of studio cosmetics at least. I don’t know about playing them on stage. As for the more difficult instruments, such as the violin or serious horns, I can get a few notes out of a saxophone and a trumpet, but I doubt I could ever use any of those noises. There are a lot of ethnic music instruments that I’m into, but of course, I can’t do anything other than pale imitations of what the instrument was made for.
RF: Do you utilize them within the Police or basically just for you?
SC: Basically for myself and my own entertainment and the studio at home, but one place where this material might turn up is in film soundtrack music. I try to step back, which is a very difficult thing to do, and think of the practical application for such music. Once you’ve made it and there it is, what do you do with it? When I put on my professional ears and try to use them, listening to my own music, I have to make certain decisions before I can put it onto a piece of vinyl and into a record sleeve and into a store. Most of the stuff I do, I really like. I have it playing constantly at my house and it’s good for my rhythm. It’s a kind of mantra, I suppose. As for putting it into a record sleeve on a record store shelf, it’s a different story. The only place I could conceivably think of using it would be in film soundtracks, which leads me into talking about films. But I’ve done so much talking about drums, that it would be another six-hour conversation
RF: Could you at least let us know what your plans are with film?
SC: My work is rhythm and what I like doing with film is really just to entertain myself. I’ve become more and more engrossed with Super 8 and less and less interested in any professional film work. Maybe I’ll get around to it eventually, but for the time being, what I really want to do is explore a new kind of film. What I want to do is make something that would be like a photo album. With films, I find that after you’ve seen something a couple of times, it wears off, but I can listen to a good album again and again and again. I think that’s because each track has its own integrity. You don’t have to be following the plot and you don’t have to devote your eyes and your mind, it just kind of goes into your subconscious. Now with films, if you subtract the plot element, I want to see if the same thing can be achieved if you watch it again and again and again, without getting bored. With a series of pictures, where each picture has an artistic value of its own, they sort of connect and there is definitely a sequence which has meaning, but you don’t have to fully concentrate. So I’m doing that with my Super 8 and I’ve gotten to the point where now, instead of boring my neighbors, they actually voluntarily come over and ask if I have any new movies. It’s a whole new art form.
RF: In US Magazine you said, and I quote, “I’ve gone about as far as I want as a rock drummer.”
SC: I suppose that comment pretty accurately reflects the way I feel about the challenge of playing drums. I enjoy it, so I will continue to do it, but as far as a person, life has other challenges. Actually, there’s a renaissance in my attitude towards drumming, meaning that I still really enjoy it a lot and I seem to enjoy it more the better and better I get. As you progress, you reach various levels and I got to the point where I felt I was better than anyone else. I thought that was as far as you could go, but it isn’t. You can actually keep on getting better, no matter what stage you’re at. It’s actually difficult to put into words just how meaningful rhythms are, but when I’m involved with playing and I’m locked into a rhythm, everything is in perspective and it’s like a logger rhythm for the universe. Rhythm is the stuff of life and it pervades every element of our existence.
Jeff Seitz on Stewart’s Drums
RF: Why did Stewart’s drums sound so good at the Forum?
JS: Stewart tunes his drums completely different than rock drummers of the past. From 1970 to 1980 there became this fad of sort of very deep pitched sounding drums, more like a rumbling kind of sound. It first started with Led Zeppelin and like that and then the studios really jumped on it. It became all this dampening and tuning the heads so you actually got a note; a nice, round, pitched note and in a studio or a small hall, that concept can work because you’re not dealing with the amount of bass rumble or certain frequency sounds you get in a big hall. Consequently, drummers who went into big halls like that with drums sounding like that, a lot of the sound dropped off because it was just rumbling around. Now, Stewart is into a very tight sound and he also plays a lot of the rim of every drum he hits, including the snare. I mean, most rock drummers play rimshots all the time, but when Stewart plays his tom-toms, he’s hitting the rims as well. So he’s going for a very, very percussive attack/crack sound and I think you can notice the drums just barking out at you. He developed that concept by going to a lot of concerts and noticing that a lot of drummers’ tom-toms didn’t make it. Plus, the reggae influence is a sound that is very high pitched; sort of a timbale sound. But I think that it comes through as a very percussive sound is really what you’re talking about rather than certain pitched drums. I mean, the drums have pitches on them, but that’s not the most important thing to him.
RF: Would you detail Stewart’s set-up for me?
JS: Okay. They’re all Tama, The Imperial Star Tama, which is a thicker drum with nine-ply shells as opposed to six. They actually take the beating better. The fact that he does go for a percussive type sound also presents a problem that he does want to get a pitch to it, so if by attacking a drum really aggressively, if the drum can’t take the pressure, it will sound very tinny. He wants it to be percussive, but he also wants a nice tone as well, not just a crack where there is no pitch at all. All the tom-toms have Remo Emperor heads and the bottom heads are Ambassadors. The snare has an Ambassador head and an Ambassador snare head on the bottom. The kick drum is the black dot.
RF: How often do you change the heads?
JS: The snare drum is changed pretty frequently. He tightens them up to the point where they actually start to pull out of the rim or they just stretch out and they lose their resonance. He doesn’t break heads very often because they’re so tight. The drum head is actually stronger when it’s tighter, plus the fact that he doesn’t dent them and he doesn’t produce what most drummers do, wear spots. I can’t remember the last time I changed a tom-tom head. The top heads are tuned very tightly and the bottom heads I try to get a general pitch. I have to rotate the bass drum head before every show to change the beating spot so I don’t have to change a bass drum head in the middle of a show. That is also tuned pretty tightly. We go for a basic attack effect on the kick drum. As far as sizes, the bass drum is 14 x 22, the snare drum is 5 x 14 and the tom-toms are 8 x 10, 8 x 12, 9 x 13. The floor tom-tom is 16x 16 and he’s using two supplementary floor rack tom-toms on his left which are 8 x 12 and 9 x 13. He uses a set of four Tama Octobans and that’s it as far as drums.
JS: We’re now using all Paiste, a new kind called the Rude. We have a 24″ ride, two 18″ crash/rides, two 16″ crash/rides, an 8″ ice bell, which is a special little pitched cymbal, and Paiste 2002 hi-hats which are 13″. And we’re using something called an Ictus, which is another ice bell which is a sort of metalic bell-sounding cymbal, and it is also 8″. He also uses 8″ and 10″ splash cymbals and also a Chinese swish cymbal.
RF: Stewart mentioned to me that you usually turn him on to the gadgets and he’ll either veto them or incorporate them into his set up. I wondered what kinds of things you are attracted to for him?
JS: Anything new, really. People send us stuff all the time. He plays through digital delay and presently, we’re using Delta Labs (DL-4) and a memory module. Originally, he played through a Roland Space Echo and the quality of that is good, but not when you’re dealing with frequency ranges from cymbal to bass drum. The Roland Space Echo is fine in sort of a limited range and when I first suggested a digital delay, he said he’d check it out. He liked it because the digital delay reproduces your frequencies from your lowest to your highest. The Roland Space Echo had terrible top and there was no bottom because of the size of the tape, which was small. The digital delay has no tape change. So I’ve brought certain gadgets, such as Syndrums. Whether they’re useful or not really depends on the type of effect you want. We still use the Tama Sniper drum synthesizer (TS-200) and those come with very small contact pickups that you can place anywhere on anything. The pickup triggers an oscillator which also has a built in sweep control. It can sweep down at a very fast rate or a very slow rate. We have pickups on some tom-toms where you get basically, a Syndrum effect; a sweeping sound down. The other one is triggered by the bass drum mic’ itself. I actually tune the oscillator to a very low sound so the live bass drum sound is actually mixed with the synthesized sound and you get a very deep bass drum effect. So the bottom end of the bass drum is actually artificially produced by this drum synthesizer. The effect is much like the Boom Box, which can’t be used on a record. We get it down to around sixty or fifty cycles and you’re giving the bass drum a lower effect without doing it with equalization at the PA board. But in a big hall, you’re dealing with the feedback of the room and if you try to get those low EQ’s on the mic’, you may get feedback from the room feeding back into the mic’. So we don’t have to deal with that at all.
We also use the Clap Trap which can be triggered either manually or by a mic’. We use that on a few special parts just to get a real heavy backbeat feel. That would come up on a separate channel on the main PA as well. When he wants to use it, I just switch it on and it’s there at the right time and then I shut it off again. We used it in recording as well, in “Darkness” on Ghost in the Machine. You wouldn’t notice it unless you’re listening closely for it. For a while we also used another digital delay which also harmonized called an AMSDMX-1580 made by an English company. It’s a digital delay that can also be used as a phasing device and it also can harmonize. The Delta Lab gives you more of a punchier sound, though.
RF: What kind of sticks does Stewart use?
JS: Calato Regal Tip; the Rock model with the wooden tips. It’s not a very heavy stick; he likes a lighter stick. He goes more for a slap rather than a big thud.