05.01.1984 - Rock World
With his long, gangling arms and legs, single minded intensity, offbeat way of accenting the flow, Stewart Copeland is the Philly Joe Jones of rock: sly, unpredictable and commanding. And as the rhythmic force behind one of the most popular bands on Earth, the Police, Copeland is in the forefront of popular music. A very satisfying, intoxicating place to be you'd think, right? Well, yes and no.
"The Police started out as a little project I could put all my creativity and ideas into," Copeland sighs, "and now it's become a huge industry. It's not as personal as it used to be...we've become so much more important. I mean, we almost feel a responsibility; we'd hate to break up and leave it to some of the joke groups like Duran Duran. That's a very strong thing that keeps us together, in fact. No matter what we may think of the music we make together, we all know that it's better than most of the stuff that's around today."
But all work and no play makes Stewart a dull boy, and so while Sting has his movie, and Andy Summers his Fripp duets and books of photography, the musical third of the Copeland family has been busying himself (in between recording and touring breaks) with film scoring, and his music for Francis Ford Coppola's 'Rumble Fish' is among the compelling aspects of this fascinating but fatally flawed movie.
"The movie and Francis have really pulled it out of me," Stewart enthuses. "When I left Montreal from mixing 'Synchronicity', I was convinced; I hate music, I'll never play another note, I've lost my talent. But in working on 'Rumble Fish' the ideas were just gushing out, there wasn't enough room to cram it all in. It was just an incredible rush of creativity."
True to form, Stewart's approach to music scoring was decidedly instinctual, unburdened by any preconceptions or any real knowledge about the masters of the form (he draws a total blank when I interrupt a rant about bad movie music to inquire if he'd ever heard Bernard Hermann's cubist score for 'North by Northwest' or Nina Rota's with Fellini and Coppola on 'The Godfather'.
"I don't really think there's anybody out there doing anything interesting," Stewart proclaims with boyish modesty. "They're all really sterile, standard, run-of-the-mill musos using orchestras the way orchestras have always been used. It's really unexplored material. The only time I seem to notice movie music is when it's annoying me. I think, 'God this could be really good if I didn't have that feeling of schmaltz that keeps turning me out."
Originally brought into the 'Rumble Fish' project as a rhythmic consultant, Copeland soon developed an obsessive involvement with the project. "At first I was just going to advise on rhythms, then he was going to get what he called a 'real top flight arranger.' That's how they talk in Hollywood, and that was the idea, but between me and you, that was not my plan. When I saw the story - and I've always been a fan of the director's - I thought, I was really hungry for this gig. So I thought and thought, and came up with ideas, and wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Francis as a director has the ability to bring out talent. He makes everyone from me to the wardrobe lady feel like the entire film is dependant on our efforts which is really inspiring. Like for instance, Francis does a demo video of his rehearsals before he shoots the film, and he'd turn around to me and say, 'Okay, we edit up this scene,' and he told me what the scene should say and what components he wanted in it. And off I go. And it immediately made me think how all the parts of the story fit together, and the effect of it all is, that I'm better equipped to do my job, which is the music...he really gets your imagination going.
"'Rumble Fish' is really grim - it's all about tension, and the music is all about time; time is running out on Rusty James, the protagonist. And the time motif is there visually as well as musically throughout the movie, all very stylised in black and white except for one moment of colour that makes the point very strongly; clocks ticking away, shots of clocks. There's a unity to it all. Anyway, I used a lot of different instruments; typewriter, printing press, jackhammer, metal things of every description, orchestral chimes, bells, timpani, synthesiser of course; and all the rock and roll instruments.
"I took a lot of mechanical sounds, like a printing press or a truck driving past, or a motorcycle revving up, or somebody digging a ditch, or a fight in the kitchen, and put them all onto loops to make rhythms out of them and build them up. So in the rhythm tracks I'm not using drums so much as looping and overlapping these sounds and putting rhythms to them, which is a similar concept to what people like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush have done with the Fairlight Digital Synthesiser, using natural sounds to create music, although that has more to do with putting a tonality to it, which is a different application.
"In a way it was like writing a pop song, but instead of having a vocal as the top line, you have a picture and dialogue as the top line, and the depth of feeling you can generate is much more potent, to me. And since a lot of what I was doing had to be in strict sync with the action, Francis turned me on to this really neat device called Musync. It'll take every frame of the picture, and as you're watching it, it'll map out for you so you can watch the picture and say 'Bang! At that point where someone gets hit in the chin,' and it lets you anticipate because it'll identify these points and print out where they are. So across the top of the page goes the frames, and underneath that are the stave lines, and you can look at the action on paper, and write the music on the staves below it and compose like that.
"So I can start my crescendo and then I hear the count in, and it goes tick-tick-tick-tick-BAP, and that's right where the picture changes and you know how to come in instead of having to guess. In the old days they used to scratch a diagonal line across the top of the celluloid and the conductor watched the line go across the screen when it gets all the way to the side, he conducts, and hopefully he lands on the right point; if not, they had to wind the thing back and do it gain. But with the combination of the Musync to count me in, and watching the screen, it was really something, just absolutely absorbing. And when I watched the music and picture together, my heart almost beat out of my chest, because of the total effect it has. The most exciting thing in my life has been working on this film."