December , 1979
By John Liebrand
Patrolling Music in America
The Police are taking over. They've taken control in England and are about to take over the United States. Their hit single, "Message In a Bottle," off their second LP, Reggatta de Blanc, is at the top of the charts in England's Top 30, and even as we you read this story, the Police are enforcing their style of music on people that fill up concert halls across the nation to see them perform.
A press release written in January on the Police said 'The new wave suited the Police's purposes, but they are part of a much broader and richer musical tradition.'
"I don't know about the musical tradition," said Police drummer Stewart Copeland, "We are just a broader and richer musical group. I don't care about tradition, but the new wave definitely suited our purpose though.”
"When we originally set the group up, we didn't want to have to play the old wave game of having to get a record deal or something on speculation, you know. They give you a big advance or they send you in with a producer and there’s got to be a killer cut and hooks, and singles and everything like that. We just didn't think that we could offer any of those things because that's not what we're after. So, we formed our own label and went our own way, which was made possible by the punk movement in England, and later became new wave."
Copeland was working in England at the time the punk movement got started.
"I was really into punk at the time," said Copeland. "It was a gas. The early punk groups, the Clash, the Damned, and the Sex Pistols, were great when they started out. It was really exciting music as well as a cultural experience. After a while however, there were just so may Sex Pistol clones, that it got boring. But, the musical revolution that they spawned has branched forth, blossomed, and is thriving and growing today, three years later. The ripples are still growing.”
"We're not embarrassed at all at being tagged new wave, but we don't want to be limited by it. To a lot of people, new wave means punk, and punk is a very restricted musical form. New wave is more of an attitude than a musical form. We don't want to be limited by any tags or categories."
Copeland doesn't believe that New Wave has made that big of an impact on America as it did in England and Europe.
“New Wave in the United States hasn’t really manifested itself into an attractive form,” admits Copeland. Devo, Blondie, the Talking Heads, and the B-52's are alt really good groups, but considering the size of the U.S., there should be more good groups than that.”
"Most of the new wave groups that we have seen here are basically Knack clones, who are in fact Blondie clones. I don't really like the Knack's music, but they've accomplished something that's really good. They are a homogenized, sterilized and packaged band, but, they are called New Wave and they made it to number one.”
"Whatever the group sounds like, the fact that they were there means that any radio programmer, or any media controller, the next time he gets a New Wave record, he's not going to just throw it away. He'll listen to it and that's good for everybody.”
Copeland says he believes that the Knack will help open up groups like the Buzzcocks to this country.
Copeland, who is a native of Virginia, was responsible for forming the Police. He offered an explanation on why they have made it in this country, when a group like the Clash are now just beginning to achieve a degree of commercial success here.
“The thing about the Clash," says Copeland, “is that they're a very exciting group on stage and on record, but they are a bit ethnic musically. Also they have got a message that America can't really relate to. They are articulate in England, but when they got to this country, nobody understood what they were talking about because the social ills didn't apply here. Their political message, like the Sex Pistols, was irrevelent here. There already was exciting music, even if it was played by somebody like KISS or Ted Nugent.”
"What groups like the Knack have done is shown kids that they 'don't have to identify with groups from a bygone era, (Led Zeppelin) that gets handed to them over the mass media. There are other sources of groups, and it's really fun to go out and spot a local group. They can be your heroes even if they don't become millionaires and achieve national notoriety."
The song that broke the Police in the United States was "Roxanne." It is the true story written by Sting as a plea to his lover to stop selling her body on the streets.
"The radio stations started playing "Roxanne," by themselves, explained Copeland, "with no outside pressure. College stations played it because they're not interested in whether a record's gonna be a worldwide hit or not. College stations are made up of kids playing tunes that they like. The listener response on the college stations overlapped- on commercial stations and so they started playing it."
Copeland has spent roughly the last ten years in England. He started out playing in a group called Curved Air, and when they dissolved, he formed the Police with Sting, who he had seen playing in a jazz band, and Henri Padovani, who he later replaced with Summers.
Any group, whether it is a three man or an eight man piece, is made up of different personalities that are drawn together because of the music. The Police are no different.
"Sting is very introspective," admits Copeland. "He looks out at the world and he's very perceptive, but he is also very private. His expression comes out in the very concentrated form of a song, whereas I am a lot more open, and I express myself by taking all day and all night. We each have different things to say."
As for influences. Copeland says he has no major ones, but numerous minor one.
"I'll steal ideas from any source," he admitted. “From Gino Vanelli to the B-52's to Hank Marvin. I’ve always got my ears open and I'll steal an idea from anyone. But, by the time that I use an idea, its mine, because I have personalized it.”
"That's the great thing about reggae, because in looking for the lick that you heard, you end up with ten different other ones and you don't even bother to look for the one that you were originally going for because all of these other ideas have popped up. That's how influences work with me."
One of the most striking things about the Police is their blond hair which Copeland and Summers bleached to match Stings when they were offered a part in a television commercial.
"Well, we got a gig in a Wrigley's chewing gum commercial playing the part of a rock group that sits in the agent's office, pinches the secretary, and steals cigars. For the ad, they wanted three guys with bleached blond hair." he said.
"Sting had already bleached his hair, so the rest of us did it. When we saw all three of us with blond hair, we thought, 'Hey, this looks neat.' So, we kept it. People ask us, 'Doesn't this go against everything we stand for?’ and all that stuff. Nobody knew what we stood for. We stand for music, and besides, it paid the rent for that week, which was another week that we could put off getting a record deal. We'd do anything to pay the rent."
Besides commercials, acting has also stepped into the picture as far as the band goes. Sting had a part in the notorious Sex Pistols movie, WHO KILLED BAMBI.
"Stings' part was deleted," recalled Copeland. "The whole movie should have been deleted. Sting now regrets having anything to do with it. The movie sucks and Sting doesn't want to have anything to do with the Sex Pistols, He played the part of a homosexual something or the other that rapes Sex Pistol drummer Paul Cook.
"That wasn't what he had against the film. It was just a shoddy production. After that, he went on and made QUADROPHENIA, which was a good production and opened his eyes. He didn't need to do that part in a corrupt and crummy movie like, WHO KILLED BAMBI."
Unlike some bands, the Police have kept economics under control.
“We could operate as a realty unheard of, underground group and still make enough bacon to take home. Success has nothing to do with the type of music we play however. We just play music that turns us on,” he said.
"A lot of people say that we're really slick. I'd disagree with that. I challenge anybody to say that our music follows any safe guidelines. You can listen to any of our records, and it'll be a dead certain thing it will turn people on. And, that's not due to it sounding like Fleetwood Mac. It's certain because it is good."
"We don't play reggae, but the influence of reggae is so easily heard in our music that everybody picks up on it. A pinch of reggae is more spottable than two tons of rock 'n' roll. Everybody takes rock 'n' roll for granted."
Copeland doesn't. In fact, when the group is traveling on the road, he spends his spare time filming the places they tour.
"I have got a super 8 camera with sound and I shoot everything that moves," confessed Copeland. "I'm making a documentary of every tour that we do. I shoot everything. They're just personalized collections of images that turn into movies.
"Documentaries are objective, but what I do is totally subjective. I'm also doing a spy thriller called "Matt Hutt," starring Andy Summers. I've been doing movies for about a year, ever since I could afford them."