Stewart Copeland On The Spot

Since The Police disbanded in 1984, Stewart Copeland, 53, has had a prolific career as a composer for films, TV shows, video games, ballets and even the occasional commercial out of Groove Addicts (most recently for Mitsubishi). The founding member and drummer of The Police still tours, most recently with Gizmo, but he hasn’t stopped bugging Sting about a reunion. When he’s not playing his drums, the Los Angeles-based Copeland can be found at his computer composing and, most recently, editing the Super 8 film he shot during his Police days for a documentary due out by Christmas. —Q: Your most recent spot work was for Mitsubishi. Why did you accept that job?

A: Well, I have done quite a few things for BBDO. Almost everything I’ve done for them has won an award of some kind. This here was a new kind of product. But they brought their usual flair to it. I think it’s another really good piece.

What was the brief?

The brief is an organic, powerful rhythm that drives this piece of stunning technology forward. And it’s a combination of deep, traditional, cultural elements and high-tech design. And I suppose the music was the deep, cultural, visceral component. So that would involve big drums. We just went down to the studio and pounded it out.

How often do you work on commercials?

I do very little commercial work, as a matter of fact. But when I do, I enjoy it because the imagery is always so strong. I think the advertisers have more money to spend per frame than in any other kind of filmmaking, hence the production values are high and the visuals are always stunning, particularly the BBDO stuff.

How does your current life scoring movies, commercials and TV shows compare to being on the road with The Police?

How does being a lawyer compare with being a dentist? Playing drums with The Police was a lifestyle, a fairy tale. The lifestyle of a film composer’s very here and now. I have clients I strive to please. I have the people who work for me who strive to please me. I have my place in the food chain. And I’m content with it. I enjoy the challenges of competing with human beings on a normal human level. Film scoring, the real world.

What advertising grabs your attention?

Strangely, I notice things that are wrong. Every now and then I’ll spot an advertiser who understands that and has got a deliberate anomaly, the spelling, a shot out of place, something’s wrong with this picture. And that’s because the brain naturally gravitates towards problems. You know, the human brain is a problem-solving brain.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

Musically, the two strands would be popular music, which would be Jimi Hendrix. But on a deeper level, the music I heard before Jimi Hendrix. I was raised to be a jazz musician, which is why I’m currently immune to the stuff. It has no mystery for me whatsoever. In fact, I enjoy rustling feathers at dinner parties by declaring, “The problem with jazz musicians is that they all suck.” And statements like this always, you know, cause consternation because jazz is held in such reverence, misplaced reverence. My daddy raised me to be a jazz musician. Meanwhile, my mother was listening to Ravel, Carl Orff, Aaron Copeland. And that had a much bigger, deeper impact.

What music are you listening to these days?

I’m exploring death metal, or what a satellite radio station called “heart attack.” My favorite band right now is Slipknot.

Will we ever see a Police reunion?

I don’t think it’ll happen. Just for the sake of form, you know, I call Sting occasionally. Well, we talk a lot, actually, but I harass him about The Police, just occasionally, just to keep it official that, “Look, you son of a bitch. It’s only because you’re holding out.”

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Hiring Sting.

What about the dumbest?

Letting Sting quit.

What is your dream assignment?

I really wanted to score Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. I was working with him and came real close, and then he decided to go for a mainstream composer instead of the art choice, you know. I’d have loved to have done that, not because I’m religious or because it was a real interesting movie, but mainly because it’s an event. It’s not just a movie. That film is an artifact of our time. Love it or hate it, religious or not religious, you have to acknowledge that.

What do you like to do for fun?

When I finish a hard day’s composing on my computer, what I like to do is quit that application and open another: Photoshop or Final Cut Pro or Word or After Effects. I’m a computer-screen junkie. I guess I am what I am and who I am because I have a creative energy and unquenchable fire. In fact, I get miserable if I can’t be writing, drawing, creating, making something outta nothing.

Three words to describe you?

Brilliant, unique, dynamic.

How would others describe you?

Shy, mysterious, deep.

What would you say is the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?

Seven kids. Not a very exciting answer, but you know, there’s really no way around it. Everything else is bullshit.