December , 1980
By David Huff
Conquerors Abroad Yet Prisoners at Home
Stewart Copeland, the drummer and co-founder of the Police, sat quietly as he read yet another story on this extraordinary group from England.
"It seems as though all the stories written on us in that past have dealt with new wave," exclaimed Copeland as he broke the eerie silence in the small equipment room we were huddled inside of at the McFarland Auditorium on the SMU campus in Dallas, Texas.
"You know, in a way, I suppose you could call us survivors of the new wave explosion. That is one way you can put it, but also, not only survivors in it...well, I guess you could say survivors...sure,"
With three albums in three years, the Police have gone from a struggling band that once played to a crowd of 15 people in a bar in West Virginia to perhaps one of the world's most recognized bands. Their music has reached several points throughout the world as they've played to crowds in and around Europe as well as offbeat places like Cairo, Egypt, Bombay, India and even countries in South America.
"We have achieved the ultimate level of success just about everywhere else in the world—all except America. We are sitting right on top of the tree everywhere else in the world," exclaimed an extremely confident Copeland.
"I can safely say that outside of the United States, we are the biggest group in the world. In America, that will also be the case, it just takes longer. It is not a burning issue with us and it is not our main objective. Now don't get me wrong, I mean now that we are in the major league we might as well be on top of it, but that is not the most important thing that we think about all of the time.
"For most groups, the U.S. is the major market. England is like the breeding ground and America is the market place. We don't really think in terms of market places and stuff like that. If we were concerned with the market place, we would be over here a lot more working this country a lot harder than we have been. America will come in its own time and it is usually longer than other places."
Time and patience are one thing the Police have mastered since they began hitting the road in in 1978. With profits from two singles they released in England, "Fall Out," and "Roxanne," the group toured this country (despite their label's insistence, A&M, not to come over here) and went down a hit. A&M rush released their first album, Outlandos D'Amour, onto the streets and it was received surprisingly well, eventually landing in the Top Thirty. Outlandos D'Amour, introduced the Police to America, though most of their vinyl success apparently seems to have come from England where they have garnered two number one albums and four No. 1 singles.
"At first, the Police did happen in the United States," recalled Copeland. "This was the first place that we had any kind of success. When we were in England for the first year and a half of our careers, we reached a certain very low level and stayed there. We didn't make any progress at all.”
"We reached a certain level in America and then stayed there. When we went back to England, it just all exploded out of proportion. When we went back to America with our second album, it went the same as the first album on the charts. Today we heard that this album, (Zenyatto Mondotta) went to No. 11 with a bullet. That is the first time that we have cracked the Top Twenty.
"It is so complicated the way things have reversed themselves, it is like the weather—you can see what the contributing factors are but that doesn't mean that you can see exactly what is going to happen. It looks like we will have a Top Ten album and we might get Number One."
Copeland grew up in Lebanon as the son of a CIA agent, hence the name the Police. He speaks fluent Arabic and was just five hours away from a degree at Cal Berkeley when he packed his bags and left for England.
"I was in college in California and I was just five units away from my degree," recalled Copeland. "All I would have had to do was two courses in underwater basket weaving. I had done all of the prerequisites and I was an honor student. Everything was going great and then I got an invitation to join a group called Curved Air.
"They gave me a two way plane ticket so if it didn't work out I could come back. Up until that point, I had been saying, 'No, I don't have the balls to actually be in a band.' I had been a tour manager taking care of business, seeing the guys in the bands going through all of the sweats, going through all of the emotional stuff, you know nervousness, and it wasn't for me.
"As much as I enjoyed it, I could never do with actually 'getting wet,' you know, the way a musician does. To become a musician, you have to take your clothes off and get wet. I never thought I would have the balls until this incredible opportunity came up and I just couldn't turn it down."
Copeland migrated to England in 1975, but grew disenchanted as time went on. In '76, he began to harbor the idea of a three piece band and left Curved Air. Copeland then teamed up with a guitarist named Henri Padovanni and Sting, i.e. Gordon Sumner, whom he spotted in a jazz band called Last Exit. Andy Summers replaced Padovanni the following year and the wheels were set in motion.
"I had a lot of dreams, daydreams, and the detail in which they came true amazed me because in a lot of ways, I suppose the original formation of the group along the lines it was formed under, was the result of just daydreaming, thinking, 'God, it would be great to be the group that had all of those things,"' reminisced Copeland.
"I remember sitting in the car looking out the window and wondering what to do with my imagination for a two hour drive. I would have the same daydreams, but each time I would fill in a few more gaps, and the more you fill in the gaps, instead of it becoming a daydream, it becomes a plan. Do you see what I mean?
"As you daydream, you kind of fill in the gap to make it a realistic dream, and you kind of fill in the little details that would make it come true. Suddenly you realize, 'Hey, wait a minute,’and you start finding yourself taking the first steps that lead to it. So that's fate, my superstitions on the subject I will keep to myself."
How much luck and fate play a role in the success of any rock group is anyone's guess. Almost all musicians will agree that luck is an ingredient in the mixture of any band. Copeland is no exception.
"1 would say that there is a lot of that part called luck in this business. For instance, we know that song "Message in a Bottle" is a smash hit, but it disappeared in America as luck would have it without a trace. "Roxanne" is a smash hit, but the first time it was released in England, it disappeared without a trace. The second time it's released in England, people are calling it the classic of all classics. That first time it was released all involved timing and plain dumb luck," observed Copeland.
"You know, when we originally formed, we were deciding that we were going to be an underground group, the whole thing. Our aspirations were to be able to survive as an underground group, but as luck would have it, it turned out that the noise that we make is the noise that zillions and zillions of people like and we are really lucky in that respect."
Copeland calls "Message In a Bottle" the song that helped the Police gain most of their notoriety in this country.
"That was a very important song for us," admitted Copeland. "It has been our most single important recording. It has the most of our qualities all concentrated into one three minute stretch of music. I think that it is our best piece of recorded stuff where we really did it best, "Roxanne" actually accomplished more for us. Things like "Do, Do, Do" (the single off of Zenyatta Mondatta,) will be like the hit that broke America whereas "Message In a Bottle" disappeared without a trace from this country."
Music hasn't been the only medium the Police have used to gain public attention. One time when they had two concert dates to play in the same evening but at two locations in London, they took a tank to get there. Here in the States, the band decided to put on a free show for 900 inmates at the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, Calif.
"Media hype is not an important part of the Police story," said Copeland, "but doing gigs that are interesting are important. For one thing, It is neat for ourselves to do a gig that is out of the ordinary. It kind of shakes us up and gives us something to think about. And, the fact that it causes a lot of talk, well, that is alright too.”
"It is not media hype. Media hype is if you do something that is not interesting and you try to make it interesting. Media hype is when you tell everybody that this group is incredible and this group is fantastic when basically it is not."
If there is anything that can cross any barriers, whether it be political, military, or religious, it is music. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that music has such a powerful alluring force not only to the ones that play it, but to those who listen as well.
"Music doesn't control people," explained Copeland, "it can inspire them—that is the drug. It is like looking in a mirror. When you meet anybody, or you pick up a girl, whatever it is, it's the same as going on the stage. The responses of people to you is like looking in a mirror, and if they are all freaking out, then it sure makes you feel that it must be something.
"When you build up your following steadily, it has more meaning. That is why it is perfectly okay for America to be taking its time the way it is. It means building up on solid foundations which is much more important than immediately coming in with a smash and disappearing the next day like Dire Straits, or the Knack, and these other groups that went straight in from nowhere to a No. 1 album and then back out again."
Being different, or should I say creative, has become as much a trademark of the Police as the blond mops on top of their head. Not only can this be seen in their music, but their album titles as well. Outlandos D'Amour, Regatta de Blanc, and Zenyatta Mondatta aren't your typical everyday names for records.
"People are always saying, 'Do those titles have a meaning?' Of course they have meaning, they have a very serious meaning. These aren't dictionary names," explained Copeland.
"Titling an album is like an instrumental tune. Just as the melody has meaning, it is not a verbal meaning, it is not a dictionary reading, it is not something that you can write down in a sentence, but it Has a meaning nevertheless. An album title communicates a meaning, it brings a response and everything. Regatta de Blanc means the music on that album.
"Each album is its own goal. We are not thinking of the next album or the last album. When we finish an album and it is in the can, then I think of the next album. The cycle of recording, touring, writing, etc., is not endless. We will come to the end of it in April when the tour ends. That will be the end of the cycle. We are going to take six months off, or however many months we want to take off, and we won't come back together again until we have a good reason to. In fact, we may never even."