Stewart Copeland Interview: Would He Replace the Foo's Taylor Hawkins?
Image attributed to Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland rose to fame as the drummer of the British rock band the Police. He has also produced many video game soundtracks, including Alone in the Dark 4 and the Spyro series and written various pieces of music for ballet, opera and orchestra. Composing work also includes the films Wall Street, Men at Work and We Are Your Friends and the television series The Equalizer, Dead Like Me and The Amanda Show.
In 1977, Copeland founded the Police with lead singer-bass guitarist Sting and guitarist Henry Padovani (who was soon replaced by Andy Summers), and they became one of the top bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Copeland was ranked the 10th best drummer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2016, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Police in 2003.
"To remember love, you need to also remember that anger causes the secretion of endorphins of a weird kind combined with adrenalin and it is a good feeling like a cup of coffee."
Ricky Kej collaborated with Copeland on a new album that came to be called Divine Tides. Released in 2021, the album includes nine songs and eight music videos that were shot in locations ranging from the Himalayas to India to forests in Spain. In 2022, Copeland won his sixth Grammy Award and Kej his second Grammy Award in the category of Best New Age Album.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I know that it’s been a few months, but congratulations on winning your sixth Grammy!
Stewart Copeland: Well, thank you very much. I guess I can tick the New Age, Best New Album box. It’s got to be a first for a rock drummer to win that award. Don’t let anyone tell you that drums can’t love. Actually, it could go either way. For a heavy metal album, it would be drums can’t love. Then for the New Age album, drums can love.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did the collaboration between you and Rocky Kej come about on Divine Tides?
Stewart Copeland: We did collaborate years ago on another mission. He is a great friend of the planet. He’s got all kinds of awards for spreading the good word with regard to international peace, the environment and all kinds of earth-friendly stuff. He’s a do-gooder in that regard. It so happens that, in spite of all that, Ricky’s an incredibly gifted musician with a beautiful, melodic sense, interesting ideas and production techniques.
He brought me in to do a record that was for a good cause years ago. Then he came back more recently and said, “Look, I have a whole album.” He started sending me this amazing material, this absolutely mysterious, exotic material that he had collected and was putting together. So the two of us set to work on these elements and knocked it into album form.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What about the songwriting process?
Stewart Copeland: Ricky basically did most of it, and he sent over to me these elements that he had, and I played them on timpani and other melodic percussion instruments, which set him off in a whole new direction. We bounced things back and forth. At the end of the day, over in Bangalore, he made the final assembly and produced the record.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is the theme that all individuals are interconnected?
Stewart Copeland: As I said, Ricky is a friend of the planet. I am just a humble musician. For me, it was all about what it sounds like, the melodies, the rhythms, the beauty of those performances. None of it is in English, so I’m not quite sure basically what’s going on there. I just know that it’s very beautiful.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I believe you said that the spiritual ambience is not something you’re generally known for.
Stewart Copeland: Well, I’m just not very good at expressing these ideas of the cosmos and what life’s meaning might be all about. Actually, what am I talking about? I am the pope of the church of kinetic ritual! Gosh, I’d momentarily forgotten my higher calling as spiritual leader. My main moral conviction is to remember love. Now, the loving part is easy. We do it all the time. The remembering part is the trick and remembering even when there is unlove, one must remember to love. You know, somebody cuts in front of you in traffic, “Gosh, damn it! I love you.” There’s always a better way.
To remember love, you need to also remember that anger causes the secretion of endorphins of a weird kind combined with adrenalin, and it is a good feeling like a cup of coffee. Clickbait is such a blot on our culture because the best clickbait is that which makes you angry, and this is the downfall. That’s another case where a really great idea gets all screwed up by human nature. Communism, for instance, is a great idea for each according to what they can do, and the only problem is it never works. Human nature enters the equation, and fucks it all up. That’s the thing with the internet. Knowledge for everybody. All knowledge is available to everybody at all time. What a wonderful thing but what problems it’s causing because of human nature.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Many people won’t leave the social media pages to actually go to the internet, to search and enjoy all of that available knowledge.
Stewart Copeland: It’s so much information. Everybody has to choose. They may not realize that their process of choosing is infused with that thing human nature, which loves anger, and they’re guided on both sides of the political divide. Both sides are guided by clickbait. The thing that your friends click on is that which gets their attention, and anger is just a very powerful magnet for those clicks. That’s how, in spite of all the information available, all human beings select what they want, and that’s where the problems begin. Old human nature comes back into it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Confirmation bias.
Stewart Copeland: Yeah. That’s the actual specific feature of human nature. Confirmation bias. Anger is good, and on the other side, security and peace on earth, knowledge of the rightness of right and the wrongness of wrong is also very comforting. So those two have a diabolical relationship. Confirmation versus anger.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Stewart, we have gotten truly profound.
Stewart Copeland: Yes. Yes. You were asking for it there. Was going to try and fly out of it there, but my responsibilities as spiritual leader of the church of kinetic ritual, where all is one, just came bursting through there. Couldn’t help it (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Let me see if I can steer us back into the music world.
Stewart Copeland: What’s my favorite bass drum pedal?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Okay. What is your favorite bass drum pedal?
Stewart Copeland: The Tama Ghost King 5002. By the way, I just made that up. The Tama Iron Cobra.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why is that your favorite?
Stewart Copeland: Because that’s the one I use. Drums are different from a violin where the connection you have with them is you’re separated from the instrument by a piece of wood, the drumsticks. So your real relationship is with the drumsticks. The bass drum pedal is a personal connection, but you learn it. There’s not much variety, and you just learn the one you like, and your foot gets used to that. The bass drum pedal was invented by Dee Dee Chandler in 1898, thereby inventing modern civilization as we know it. Period.
When Dee Dee Chandler invented the bass drum pedal, music coming out of New Orleans had a guy on a bass drum, a snare drum and had a guy playing cymbals. That’s how that music emanated from Louisiana. The basis of all American music came from black music basically. The most distinctive feature of American culture is our music. We make movies, we write books, we have all kinds of different culture, but American music is the most distinctive, conspicuously uniquely American aspect of our culture.
The fundamental foundation of that music is the backbeat, the rhythm, whether it’s jazz, funk, pop, Beatles, K-pop. Any form of music except for reggae has that backbeat. The backbeat derived from the invention of the bass drum pedal by Dee Dee Chandler in 1898. So the combination of those three rhythmic elements, bass drum, snare drum and cymbal into one guy with his foot on the kick, a snare with his left hand and 16 notes in the right hand, thereby created the groove that has sustained popular music from James Brown to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Anything you’d care to mention is based on that big snare 16th on the right, which was the invention of the drum set.
So to review, this rhythm, which is the most distinctive aspect of American music and American music, which is the most distinctive aspect of American culture, started with Dee Dee Chandler in 1898 in New Orleans.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That’s really cool.
Stewart Copeland: Oh, I just made that all up. Just kidding! I’m kidding. It’s true! But I did find it out and extrapolate the greater philosophy from it my damn self. That’s the kind of thing you can do when you’re the pope.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I read that you helped Dave Grohl choose the band’s name Foo Fighters.
Stewart Copeland: Not actually in practice. He has said that he derived inspiration, but he came up with that stuff all by himself. I’m sure he had more than one source of his inspiration.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So how did you inspire him?
Stewart Copeland: I don’t know. Well, he liked the fact that on Klark Kent, which was my first hit back in 1978, I played all the instruments. He liked the fact that a guy could play all the instruments, pretend to be a band and play everything, which is what he did. He played all the drums, the guitar, did all the singing and everything. I suppose the affirmation came from Klark Kent that you can do it all. Everything else is all Dave.
I don’t know how the connection with the Foo Fighters came in or any of that. That’s the only connection where he was inspired. But all that energy, all that creativity, all of what he did for himself, he gets that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So if you were asked to replace Taylor Hawkins as drummer, would you accept?
Stewart Copeland: No. Drumming for the Foo Fighters takes a 50-year-old, not a 70-year-old. That is some hard work. Taylor burned calories. As with most drummers in most rock bands, the drummer carries the band on his broad shoulders all the way down the highway … every foot.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did you meet Taylor?
Stewart Copeland: They invited me to join them on a jaunt. They were playing a show up in San Francisco, a big shed there, and then doing a runner straight off the stage into the cars over the airport and flying to New York to arrive at MTV where they did 24 hours of Foo. I got to New York and pulled into a hotel. They went down to the studio to set their mission in front of the world for 24 hours. Damn. Like I say, a young man’s job.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your first conversation with Taylor?
Stewart Copeland: He said, “Dude, you’ve got to play ‘Next to You’!” They insisted I play the drums on that Police song, so Taylor could go out and do some singing. That was fun. They’re a heck of a band. You know, you kick it up with those guys, and you are surrounded by some very energetic music.
Taylor was a force of nature, forward moving and an unstoppable force, which is why it was so unexpected that he should leave us so abruptly.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In addition to you, Taylor Hawkins cited Neil Peart (drummer and lyricist for Rush), Phil Collins and Queen’s Roger Taylor as his favorite drummers and musical influences. What are yours?
Stewart Copeland: I would say Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Dee Dee Chandler.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What about Ringo Starr?
Stewart Copeland: As an adult, I appreciate Ringo and Charlie Watts. But when I was a wild teenager, I needed more noise, more aggression, more chops. So that’s why I was into Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Rich. Then I grew up and realized that there’s more to it than flashy stuff, and that’s where Ringo, Charlie and Mick Fleetwood all rule.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Both your parents were secret agents, Stewart?
Stewart Copeland: My Mother wasn’t a secret agent. She worked in a ministry during the war that analyzed train schedules and German logistics. It was intelligence, but it wasn’t secret intelligence. It was all about knowing everything about the German movements. Sort of like the Ukranians knowing exactly what the Russians are doing today, my Mother was doing that in the Second World War.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your Dad was in the CIA?
Stewart Copeland: It was the OSS at that time and became the CIA. His sphere of expertise turned out to be the Middle East because my Mother was also an archaeologist, and that suited her fine to be right there in the Levant digging up 250,000-year-old human culture and tools.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Sounds like fascinating work.
Stewart Copeland: Yeah, well, the doing of it is always in very uncomfortable places like deserts and anywhere where civilization hasn’t trampled it. But she did always say that it’s very inexact, and every day, somebody digs up something new, which blows all the previous theories out of the water. So no hypothesis is sacred.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did you become interested in pursuing music as a career?
Stewart Copeland: I think it was the other way around. Music was interested in me. It came and got me by the scruff of the neck.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: At an early age?
Stewart Copeland: As early as I can remember, I had music going on in my head. The first moments I can remember would be when I was seven listening to “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff, which is a huge oratorio, a giant choir and orchestra and a lot of rhythm. While listening to that, I would be on the floor with my face in these Persian carpets and their intricate, geometric designs with their balance of chaos and symmetry. That’s where the music identity was formed.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Stewart, you have seven children and five grandchildren. Any musicians in the group?
Stewart Copeland: Only one, and of course, he’s a filmmaker. He has the gift of music. Music just comes out of his fingers. He picks up any instrument, and beautiful things happen. But he’s also very clever with film, and he’s got a whole career going as a filmmaker. Some of my children are creative in general, and some of them are more scientific in general.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did it ever irritate you that “Every Breath You Take” would be played at weddings?
Stewart Copeland: (laughs) Of course not. It doesn’t irritate Sting either. We love it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That may be one of the most misinterpreted songs ever. Did you think about that while writing it?
Stewart Copeland: No, although Sting does have a knack for concealing an idea with a beguiling wrapper, an interesting wrapper, and then within, there’s other stuff.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I hadn’t realized the song’s actual meaning until my fiancée explained it in the 90s (laughs).
Stewart Copeland: There you are in your wedding dress on the happiest day of your life, and he goes, “You know what this song’s about, don’t you?” And you go, “What?” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: But I still love the song (laughs). Do you regret that the Police broke up really at the height of the band’s fame?
Stewart Copeland: No. As Sting put it, “If you love somebody, set them free.” I do believe we had maybe an album or two worth of songs that Sting had ready to go. You know, he didn’t need a band anymore. He had his own musical identity, and we were co-dependent in the beginning, but he stuck with us for another two records for which we’ve got five albums. That’s a very good run. But the run was beginning to be felt. When we were young and co-dependent, it was easier. But at that point, we just had different musical trajectories, and it became harder and harder to reconcile our musical purpose together.
So we broke up and great things happened for all of us. Sting had an incredible career. I became a film composer and have had a great time doing that. I got an involuntary education in orchestra out of that process, which is what brings me to today with those songs arranged for orchestra.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Ann Wilson said that it’s harder to keep a band together than a marriage.
Stewart Copeland: It’s very similar. Instead of sex, you have music, a magical, mysterious personal thing that draws you together. But at the same time, you have to fit within the context of other people, and if you have a really strong urge of musical trajectory, it’s very difficult to compromise.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you and Sting ever talk?
Stewart Copeland: Oh, yeah, since we realized that we’re not out to destroy each other. But we have these legitimate differences. We get along just great. Really well. We absolutely get along very well. We’re not birds of a feather necessarily. He’s quiet and deep. I’m noisy and shallow. I guess we’re like siblings, very much in touch but not necessarily hanging out every day.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Any chance you and the guys would ever be writing new music together again?
Stewart Copeland: Oh, of course. I’m absolutely optimistic. I can never say, “Die.” I’m totally optimistic. I would give it a one percent chance. Once again, I jest.
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