Interview: SKY (1987)

October 01, 1987

The following interview with Danilea Soave appeared in the October 1987 issue of Sky magazine...

Tucked away in a quiet, leafy backwater of North London, lies the period residence of Gordon Sumner, better known to the world as Sting, occasional actor and extremely successful pop star. This morning, the 36-year-old millionaire (a reputed 22 times over if you're counting) has clambered upon the undignified merry-go-round that is known as plugging the new album and has gone to the extraordinary length of inviting journalists - probably the nosiest people in the world - into his home to do so. It is an extremely magnanimous gesture, and at the same time, perhaps, foolish.

Which is why I am prowling round one of his rooms while I wait my turn. Next door, I can hear the muted tones of Sting's voice as he explains himself to the Danish film crew who are recording a TV special. The opportunity to do a bit of detective work is too tempting to resist.

At a glance, Sting's panelled study doesn't give much away about the man himself. A real-flame gas fire flickers quietly in one corner, while the wall opposite is lined from ceiling to rose-carpeted floor with books, the orange spines of Penguin paperbacks vying for space with more ostentatious leather-clad hardbacks. Despite the fact there seems to be no video recorder in this room, a single copy of 'This is Spinal Tap' lies on the bookshelf. It is said to be Sting's favourite movie: he had watched it over 20 times at last mention in print.

In front of the two tall Georgian sash windows is an antique desk, the sort that it doesn't matter which side you sit at because the drawers open both ways. Its surface is bare, save for an extremely large and clumsy modern telephone. There is no number in the plastic window, but there is a list of extension numbers which will get you through to the kitchen or any room you fancy.

The carved wooden fireplace sits below an old print, both being the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a gentleman's study. Above the two-seater tapestry sofa is an oil painting in murky hues. In another corner are two winter scenes, done in chalks. Not one painting particularly complements the others. Not one displays a consistency in taste. Only two things have a human touch about them: an old wing chair next to the fireplace, with it's worn, old-fashioned peacock print, and a box of his children's toys in the far corner, some of which are scattered about the window seat.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I notice a red flashing light in the top corner of the bookcase. It's a video recorder for detecting burglars - and nosy journalists, it seems. Almost simultaneously, one of the two doors open and Sting's assistant announces that the interview will take place in the kitchen.

Through the hall, past two spaniels snoring in their baskets and into the kitchen, a vast room which runs the length of the house and overlooks the velvet green lawn which stretches into the horizon. Sting is at the bottom of this room, clad in an expensive guernsey-type jumper, an expensive diving watch fastened over the cuff of his left wrist, and, I think, blue sweatpants. His hair is clean but dishevelled and he keeps pushing it out of his eyes. There are a few more lines on his forehead since the last time I met him, but he looks much more human than he does in his emotionless publicity pictures.

"Pleased to meet you," he says, turning towards me and pulling out a chair. I tell him I've met him before, when I interviewed him eight years ago. "And was I kind?" he enquires. He takes the news that I found him rather big-headed and smug with good grace and pours me a cup of coffee. "That's how I come across sometimes," he sighs. "It's not intentional. There's a fine line between appearing confident and appearing smug, and sometimes I tread in the wrong side."

With less then 45 minutes to fire my questions, I start my interrogation. This, unfortunately, is not a leisurely chat; a pity as the Sting I meet now is infinitely more honest, despite the tendency to pontificate. Lurking underneath that cool exterior is a sense of humour, but rather like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sting proves rather successful at answering the questions he'd like you to ask if he doesn't like the ones that you have...

Sky: You say this new LP is in celebration of women. Do you think you could have written it five years ago?

Sting: I don't think so. A man needs to accept that part of his psychological make-up is feminine. You mustn't suppress those qualities of creativity, kindness, openness and intuition. Masculine traits are strength, single-mindedness and logic. Without the balance, you end up as Ryan of Hungerford, totally lost. In the past few years, I've had more friends who are women than ever before. I used to see women as sexual conquests, for having your children or massaging your ego. I'm not saying I'm a saint, but I hope I'm moving towards maturity.

Sky: Explain why you think logic is a male quality.

Sting: I don't think women are logical in the same way. When men and women argue, their logic never meets. The way they argue isn't linear. It's very different. A man will argue in a straight line and a woman argues like this (demonstrates a diagonal path with his arm). In order to reconcile differences, you've got to understand how the other thinks. Relationships will not survive because you like each other or have good sex.

Sky: One of the songs is dedicated to Quentin Crisp. How do you know him?

Sting: I've known him for about five years. He was in 'The Bride', a terrible film. I've always admired him as a writer. I consider him heroic. He was flamboyant when it was very dangerous to be; he used to get beaten up regularly with the tacit approval of everyone else. Again. It's a feminine quality. I'm not talking about gayness, more the ability to be yourself. He lives in a very tough area in New York, the Bowery, yet he's still himself, not bitter at all. I'm going to play the song for him next week, I hope he likes it.

Sky: You've said about the music business, "I make up a little ditties on the piano and millions of dollars come in. It's a joke, but I'm laughing all the way to the bank." How can you take yourself seriously if you realise the truth in the statement?

Sting: A lot of statements I make come back to me and it's apparent that they haven't translated into print. Sometimes song-writing is easy and the rewards aren't proportional to the effort. But the creative process is often painful and agonising. You can't force it. You might have a tune and lyrics, but it takes skill and a lot of work to combine them. I don't think I could work in a coal mine, but I don't think people could do my job. I don't think people understand that. They'll just say, "he's a millionaire, what does he know?".

Sky: Since you've become a solo artist, you've used musicians who are legends in their own lifetime, some of the best jazz musicians in the world. How did you feel when you first started working with them, did they make you feel humble?

Sting: I think there was an understanding that I could give them recognition. Jazz musicians are forced to play standards. I wanted to give them a new springboard. I provided the lyrics, the harmony and melody for them to explore. The first album was a new position for me. I'd left the Police, I felt like a duck out of water. There's a lot of nervous energy in it. This album is more relaxed. We all feel very comfortable together, the barriers have come down.

Sky: What do you think of the charts?

Sting: Frankly, I'm bored rigid. It's not even rebellious. Hipness can only be what is unexpected. It can't be what pop music is at the moment.

Sky: You've always looked after yourself physically. Do you still stick to a routine?

Sting: I have a gymnast who tortures me every day. I go running, I ski. I like windsurfing, tennis. I enjoy physical, demanding sport. I think it's essential. I tour for a whole year, which is aerobics with singing and travel in between. The alternative to coping with that lifestyle is drugs, by using Cortisone. It's not a particularly sensible way of living. I try to keep fit - well I do keep fit - whether it's fashionable or not is immaterial. I'm pretty disciplined, anyway. I just don't see why a creative person needs to be sloppy.

Sky: What about clothes. Which designers do you like?

Sting: I like fashion. I think it's very funny. It's very creative now. Jean-Paul Gaultier has a great sense of humour. If I'm on a long plane journey, I'd rather look at Vogue, with it's well-dressed beautiful women, than a girlie mag. I'm lucky - I get sent a lot of clothes. I like Armani and Cerutti.

Sky: You're portrayed as a lonely person, not terrible sociable.

Sting: It depends upon how you define it. I spend a lot of time by myself. I have an apartment in New York where I do most of my work, and I spend a lot of my time there alone. There's only a bed and piano in the flat. My girlfriend and my children don't come there. I love it when I'm with my family, but I'm a great person for balance. I love it when we're all together in Los Angeles, but I relish my time to myself. I wouldn't say, therefore, that I'm a lonely person, but journalists come with that attitude and that's what they see in me.

Sky: You're often painted as a cold, ruthless man. What do you think makes you like that, and where you like that as a child?

Sting: Ruthless¬Ö not only am I ruthless but I'm devious with it. I definitely have long-term plots, although they're not necessarily damaging to other people. I knew, for example, that I wanted a career that would outlast the Police. I spent a lot of time working out how to do it. I decided the best way was to do it gradually. Young men have to go through the male bonding process. You know, going to football matches and the pub. A group is very much like a male gang, but as you get older you need it less and less. Also, when I started expressing my political views in songs, often they were diametrically opposed to the rest of the group. We had to break up, had to evolve. Even if we were offered a million dollars to reform, it would be fake. My ruthlessness has always dictated my sense of rightness. I sound like a little fascist, he said, as he started to grow a moustache (laughs).

Sky: Do you act with people to get them to respond to you?

Sting: I think everyone does. I watch how my kids behave. I can see them do it. I suppose you carry on through life. But you have to be careful. A lot of people play victim and that dictates how they are treated. My dogs are a great example. You can be awful to them, shout at them to go away, and a few minutes later they'll come back wagging their tails. That's how I want to live my life. I'll never act the victim, even if I have been maligned.

Sky: Are you a reflective person?

Sting: I'm a chameleon in many ways. My parents were working class - I'm from the streets - but I hob-nob with the chic or aristocratic or moneyed people, so I suppose I am. I learned early on that I'd succeed if I lost my accent. It pays to be anonymous.

Sky: How did you find being back in Newcastle recently when you were filming 'Stormy Monday' with Melanie Griffith?

Sting: It was a very useful way of assessing my life. I was 36 last week, which is a middle point in a man's life. I visited my old schools, went to the house where I was born - except it had been knocked down - and visited the ship-yard. It was wonderful, sad and very useful. I met people I hadn't seen in 25 years. They're very proud of you but they want to make sure you're still real. I started to drink beer again, which was an experience. I'm not used to drinking seven pints of Exhibition a night. I was sick and fell down a lot. Also, it's a real fantasy to make a movie in your home town. I was doing a scene next to a bus stop where I spent seven years of my life going to school. My old accent came back to me.

Sky: What about 'Julia and Julia', the movie you made with Kathleen Turner in Italy?

Sting: I haven't seen it. Sometimes filming is boring and not very interesting. At it's worst, you're a coat-hanger for other people's clothes; at its best, you get to create with others. There's a great deal of risk involved. That's why I refuse to take responsibility for any film I'm in. It's the directors movie. There's a long time between filming and editing, and I quickly learned that the publicity department of any film will ruthlessly abuse whoever's in it. I've done cameo roles that I thought would be interesting, where I've been amazed at the way my name has been exploited. 'Dune' for example. I'm on for five minutes but when you see the poster it's STING IN DUNE! DON'T MISS IT! I keep a low profile about movies, now. If I have a small part - which I don't mind - I don't do publicity. If my character is essential to the plot, I do my piece.

Sky: You've worked with some of the most respected names in the film industry. Has this made it easier or more difficult for you?

Sting: Easier. The best actors are the easiest to act with It's give and take. Like a game of ping-pong. If the ball doesn't come back to you, you can't play. If the other actor doesn't involve you, which is selfish, you look foolish. The worst actors gave me nothing and the films died. I don't like method acting. It's oppressive. When the cameras roll, you act; when they click off, you stop. I know a lot of actors who are mad. I also know actors who, because they've been my enemies on screen, won't say good morning to me. They've misunderstood the principles of acting.

Sky: Most of your roles have been miserable, serious characters. Do you fancy tackling comedy?

Sting: I think most of my film career has been comedy, darling! 'Brimstone and Treacle' was a comedy, although the Sun didn't quite see it like that. Yes, I'd love to do comedy.

Sky: Finally, does it frustrate you that you can't dedicate more of your time towards Amnesty?

The great thing is how focused it is. I've been involved with Band Aid, Live Aid, etc, and that's been kind of woolly and vague. You drop food out of the sky, sometimes it doesn't work because you make the farmers lazy. I'm not trying to devalue it, but sometimes it isn't properly focused. Amnesty is the complete opposite. Each month they choose four people who are the subject of letter writing campaigns. Thousands of people write letters to governments and occasionally the conditions of the persons we are campaigning for get better. I've met people who have been tortured and all I can say is that if I was held for political reasons, I would be very glad that Amnesty existed. But first of all I'm a singer. I'm not a social worker or a do-gooder. My first function is to entertain and inform.

© Sky magazine


Aug 1, 1987

A rather famous pop star is holding court. "The first time I met Gil Evans was about three or four years ago when I went to see him at Ronnie Scott's in London. I'd been a fan of Gil's since I was 15 and I went backstage and had the nerve to say 'Hello', and 'I admire your work'. I said, 'I'm Sting, I sing' and he said, 'I've heard of you'. I couldn't believe that he'd heard of me. He said, 'Yeah, I remember 'Walking On The Moon', good bass line'. It was like... I couldn't believe this great man knew about me. I said, 'We must work together one day', so Gil said, 'Yeah, sure'..."

Dec 1, 1985

Blue Turtles and Blue Notes - Sting speaks: "I was committed to do an album without the Police, and I went through all kinds of ideas about how I would do it. There are various ways of skinning this cat. I could have done it all on my own, which would have involved synthesisers and sequencers and drum machines and all the rest of it. Actually I wandered to a certain extent along that path and then I thought, 'No, there's too much of that out there already, why add fuel to the fire?' Then I thought perhaps what I needed was a big producer - I think I was going through a need for a big brother figure, somebody to convince me, 'Yes, it's great, do try that'. So I approached Quincy Jones. I sent Quincy some demos, and he was really enthusiastic and said he loved the songs, which was nice. Before that I had approached Gil Evans, who I'm an enormous fan of. I met Gil backstage at Ronnie Scott's club in London. I went to see his show and introduced myself, and surprise, surprise, he'd actually heard of me. And he too was interested...