Stewart Copeland Remembers the Police’s Early Days in Documentary: Exclusive Interview
It's hard to imagine this now, but the Police were once considered a boy band, even though their pasts included jazz and prog-rock credentials.
After a show in England sometime in the late '70s, the members of the Police -- drummer Stewart Copeland, bassist and singer Sting and guitarist Andy Summers -- were mobbed by throngs of screaming young fans outside of the venue. The pandemonium was so great that the band had difficulty getting into its waiting car.
“We had been touring in America,” Copeland tells UCR. "And we get a phone call, 'Hey guys, your record's a hit [in England]. 'We get back to England and we have a tour as a support act to a comedy band called Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias. The first night of the tour, their manager is talking to Miles -- Copeland, Stewart's brother and the Police's manager -- "'Man, we should have charged you money to be on this tour.' Well, guess what? We did our opening set and it's pretty clear who all the kids were [for]. That night, we are leaving the gig and don't have any security. The car is 15 feet away. In between us and the car is our first mob.”
The scene from that crazy night appears in Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, a documentary written, produced and directed by Copeland. Spanning the years 1978 to 1982, the movie tells the story of the Police's rise to the top through archival footage recorded at the time by Copeland on his Super 8 camera. First released in 2006— a year before the band's reunion tour – Everyone Stares will be available again on DVD, as well as on Blu-ray and digital for the first time, on May 31.
“Back then, Police world was a different place,” Copeland says. “I could only get licenses for a limited amount of time. Since the reunion tour, things are much more cheerful in Police world, and the magic Sting-dom is under new management — much more congenial. And that enabled me to re-up the licenses without too much pain.”
Watch the Trailer for 'Everyone Stares'
Copeland's first encounter with the Super 8 camera occurred in the winter of 1978, when the British band visited a camera store in Phoenix while on tour in America. “Sting and I both noticed that you can get a movie camera with sound really cheap,” he recalls. “He got one and I got one. I have no idea what happened to his footage. He shot for a couple of days when we went to the Grand Canyon and then soon tired of it. But mine got permanently glued to my eyeball, and I just kept shooting the entire rocket-ship adventure.”
In all, Copeland shot about 52 hours total of Super 8 footage during that period with the Police, but he couldn't do much with it because of the technical limitations at the time. Decades later, thanks to computers and technology, he was able to transfer the old footage onto video.
“I just started editing up and made this little movie pretty much for friends, one of whom was [Primus'] Les Claypool," Copeland notes. "He said, 'Hey man, you should send that to Sundance.' While we were on the phone, I filled out the application for Sundance and forgot about it. The day before Thanksgiving, I get a call from the Sundance people who said, 'We'd like to feature your film.' I re-telecined everything to a much higher level, then rebuilt the movie for the professional release.”
Both the archival footage and Copeland's narration drive the film’s story, a departure from the usual rock-documentary treatment. “The payoff for this style is that it's a first-person shooter,” he says. “Normally, the camera would be here, and the band would be there. But in this case, the camera is in the band. When you watch the film, your name is Stewart. It's a first-person shooter. It's very personal experience. It’s what it felt like to be at the center of it all.”
Everyone Stares shows the progression of the Police's career that began with relentless touring all over America in a van with their roadie Kim Turner. This was a few years before 1983’s Synchronicity album put them over the top. Before the private planes, limos and fancy hotels, the band members can be seen in the film carrying their own gear to the next motel, and making promotional appearances at radio stations and record stores.
“We paid our dues,” says Copeland. “When you discover a band and they're already big, you miss all the parts when they were growing. So you assume that they hit overnight. Generally not so much, certainly not in rock and roll. We worked city-by-city, show-by-show, clawed our way inch-by-inch."
Watch a Scene From 'Everyone Stares'
A huge part of the Police story has always been about the creative and personal tensions within the group. While some of that is featured in Everyone Stares (Sting and Summers are seen getting into a physical, if somewhat playful, altercation inside a railroad car at one point), there's also lighthearted and funny moments where the band members goof off and enjoy their surroundings.
“We had a lot of fun,” Copeland says. “It was a really amazing ride. Yes there was angst, and yes there were shouts and screams. But that was the minority of the time. Creatively we had profound differences, which were part of the reason for the success of the band. But socially we were extremely close.”
In addition to the various live performances, the film also features footage of the band in the studio recording the albums Zenyatta Mondatta (from 1980) and Ghost in the Machine (1981). Looking back, Copeland says the tensions that eventually led to the band's breakup occurred around the Zenyatta sessions. “It was no longer just the three of us," he recalls. "It's now the record company gives a shit. It's actually an issue now that, 'Come on boys, you get another hit here and take it all the way to the top.'
“We were recording in Holland at the time, just outside of Amsterdam,” he continues. “We started to feel the pressure there, but we really strenuously worked at keeping it together. The next two albums [Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity] — we were as far away as possible from the nearest record company executive. But then alone out there without referees, that's when it was harder for us to live with our differences, even though we were aware all way that the differences and the contrasting points of view were kind of a factor in the success of our music. Instead of three guys who grew up in the same village with the same taste of music, we're three contrasting characters. That didn't make it comfortable ... and so that's where the fisticuffs came in. But the social bond was strong. We beat each other up real hard and we're now, in hindsight, very pleased with the result. But it was really difficult.”
Copeland also worked on the score for the film, which includes mashups of Police songs -- something he calls "derangements." These reworkings had Sting and Summers' blessings. “I got the original multi-tracks,” Copeland explains. “I took the vocal from one song [and] put it on the backing track of another. I combined the verse of “Roxanne” with the chorus of “Don't Stand So Close to Me.” I had so much fun that I forgot that part of the process was supposed to be getting Andy over to participate in this free-for-all with the old material, and Sting as well. The derangements will one day be released on a record, because I think they're really cool. It's still totally the Police, but a refreshed, re-imagined version of it.”
While the story of the Police has been well chronicled in previous documentaries and the band members' individual memoirs, don't expect a big-screen biopic moment like Queen received last year with Bohemian Rhapsody.
“The problem has been that it's a really boring story,” Copeland says. “To actually see the adventure happen [in my movie] is good fun. To make a biopic where we have actors playing the three of us — nobody died, nobody ran off with the other guy's girlfriend. It's just three mercenaries got together, made some great music, went straight to the top, then broke up. There's no real heartbreaking drama involved. That's why I doubt you'll ever see a Police biopic.”
In addition to the re-release of Everyone Stares, as well as news of Copeland and Sting reuniting for an upcoming BBC music documentary, the drummer is also performing live with orchestras at shows that spotlight his work with the Police and as a film and TV composer (his credits include Rumble Fish, Wall Street and The Equalizer). He also has upcoming performances with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra that feature his score for the 1925 film version of Ben-Hur.
“I’ve learned how to orchestrate by accident," he says. "The byproduct was learning how to chart an orchestral score. It's very easy. I'll show up in Poland or Edmonton and I have two-to-three-hour rehearsals and we're ready for a show. As opposed to the rock band experience, which is three-to-four weeks of negotiating and trying stuff, which is all very engrossing from dawn to dusk. Whereas the orchestra thing is so civilized. I do all the work at home. And so when I arrive in Edmonton or Vienna, the work is done. By the way, it's not classical music, it rocks! My mission is to burn down the building. If I haven't got those two other guys, how about 60 other guys and girls?”