07.01.1983 - Guitar Heroes
At that juncture the guitarist was just about to release an album he'd made with Robert Fripp and, with Sting and Stewart Copeland both involved in solo projects, many suggested that the Police were actually on the verge of breaking up.
However, Andy declared that this was not true and revealed that plans were already being made for them to go back in the studios before the end of the year. And finally, some nine months later, the Police are back on the scene with the soon-to-be-released 'Synchronicity' album, which features their recent hit single 'Every Breath You Take'.
Once again, the band recorded in Montserrat, where they made their last LP, and when I recently hooked up with Andy at his house in Putney I asked him why they'd decided to return there.
"Actually, we looked around for a number of other studios," he explained, "but nothing seemed to work out too well. The only place that really seemed available was one up in Sweden (Polar) but somehow the the idea of going there for a couple of months in the middle of winter wasn't very appealing. And in the end I think our hearts were really into going back to Montserrat. It's just a great vibe there. You get to feel very good in a short space of time and it's very conducive to work."
Did you have all the material ready by the time you went there?
"Yeah, all the songs were written. We don't go into the studios and write them, although we leave room for that to occur."
Did anything come up while you were in the studio?
"Yes, it did actually - Sting came up with one which I really like. We had a synthesiser pattern for a song called Synchronicity and had it programmed in a number of different ways. The one I really liked was an African thing, but we couldn't apply it to the song in the end. But one night Stewart and I left the studio and when we came back in the morning Sting had written a whole thing around it, which worked extremely successfully and we were able to put just a minimal amount of psychedelic guitar and percussion over it. As I say it worked out great and was one of my favourite tracks."
Did the workload of songwriting spread out a little more this time?
(Laughs)...Well I have one song on the album and so has Stewart - our usual token numbers! I actually wrote a lot of material this time and came up with about a dozen songs, which I think are really good and are the best stuff I've ever done. But they didn't all get on the album - one did and I got two b-sides."
Don't you find that a bit frustrating?
"Yeah, it does get frustrating but there you go."
Does Sting tend to have an over-riding decision about the choice of material?
"Well I don't know if it's an over-riding decision but I think Sting has these tactics to gradually 'out' the songs. I can handle that as long as the material he has is very good. I don't always agree with his choice of material that goes down, but mostly Sting's songwriting tends to to be so good that it's hard to argue. And I enjoy playing his material. Now that we're getting into other things, like me doing the LP with Robert and Stewart doing his soundtrack (for a Francis Ford Coppola movie) it becomes a little less frustrating. Or at least, less of an ego problem if you don't get too many songs on an album.
Were there many ego problems with this LP?
"Oh sure, all the way. There always are and I think they were about par for the course. We had a lot of tension as usual."
How has the working situation changed within the band?
"It's probably gotten harder. It was never easy for us because of the kind of people we are. It's always been sort of tension prone, bit obviously with the onset of large scale success, money, people depending on us and all the attendant pressure, it kind of lends a knife edge to the studio situation."
Had the focus on Sting as a 'star' made things difficult at all?
"That's not really a problem, because it's been going on for so long... and he hasn't left the group."
Are you surprised he hasn't split?
"No, not really, because I think any of us would be very lucky if we did something on our own outside the group that ever matched this. It's hard to get this successful at anything. He knows that too and whether he'd be as good as he is without the group, who knows? I'd like to think that he wouldn't be... (smiles)... well, I mean I obviously like to think that Stewart and I contribute something to it."
How do you feel the new LP differs from previous Police efforts?
"That's always a difficult question. For me, I think it's stylistically more of a return to the earlier Police, but hopefully without para-phrasing or caricaturing that. It was getting more like that around the third album and then I think went off more at a tangent with 'Ghost In The Machine'. On this one the guitar is a lot more upfront than it was before and I'd say that the snare drum sound is different too. It's not as bright as it was before - it's a fatter, dirtier snare drum sound. Also I've done less echoplex-type guitar."
Did you consciously go for new guitar sounds?
"Yeah, but I like them to emerge from what's required from the song more than anything."
What guitars did you use on the album?
"I used my red Stratocaster a lot and in fact that's tending to become the main guitar all the time now."
Why have you moved away from the Telecaster?
"I don't know, I think the Telecaster's great on stage but it loses a few highs in the studio because it's been doctored a bit. It's just lost that edge to a certain degree. So I used the Start and I used the 335. Plus I also used a 175 quite a lot - I started getting into that. It has a very fat sound and edgy sound. It's a very good one. a 1964, and has really got the sound. So those are the three main guitar's I used."
Do you plan to change your stage gear at all before you go out on tour?
"Yeah, I'm actually going in to see Pete Cornish and I'm gonna try and revise my whole outboard gear. Instead of having a big pedal board on the floor, I think I'm gonna rack it and have a couple of different boards on the floor. I'm really just about to start looking into the whole thing again. The thing is, I never really heard much in the last five years that sounds better then the pedal board I've got at the moment. Basically, the effects haven't changed that much - they're still like a compressor, distortion, flanger or chorus. But my pedal board's getting a little tired and it's starting to get noisier and noisier. It's done four or five years now without ever breaking so I hope to have a new set up and may even change my amps."
When are you going out on the road?
"Well we're starting in Chicago in July, although we are gonna probably do three unannounced dates in England in small venues."
"Maybe, that might be one of them actually. We did it once before and we may even announce it beforehand. Last time we kept it so quiet that it backfired a bit and hardly anybody showed up! In December we'll be doing a proper British tour, going everywhere from top to bottom."
Have you missed gigging lately?
"I miss playing yeah, but it was broken in a reasonable manner. We came off the road after playing a lot last years and only had two and a half months off before we were in the studio."
Have you got plans for anymore outside work, like playing with Robert Fripp again?
"Yeah, but it's basically a question of time. I'd very much like to have another shot with Robert, but I'm not quite sure when. It won't be this year because I've got seven months of touring to get out of the way, but certainly next year. I'll probably do a film score in February for a company in New York and there are a lot of other things I'd like to do. One thing I'm really keen to do is a guitar album on my own. And I'd also like to do a more straightforward pop LP."
Were you pleased with the album you did with Robert Fripp last year?
"Yes, and I think it was really quite a success. It didn't cost very much and there wasn't a huge amount of time involved. It was the first time we ever played together and I think musically we had some very nice moments. It sold about 100,000 copies."
Do you think it helped to bring you out of the shadows, so to speak?
"Yeah, it made me feel very good and I think it's why we do all these sort of things. Without doing them I think we would probably split up."
Does it bother you that Sting tends to get all the media attention?
"Well it hasn't actually happened so much this time. When we did a press conference this week everyone seemed to be interested in the group - the Police. I guess Sting's had all his news this year what with all his personal stuff. The big thing seemed to be whether we'd split up or not and we're back to confirm that we hadn't. And that we're really back in business."
It looks like you could come in for a bit of knocking from the press - does that bother you at all?
"Well it's so easy to see it coming, but I don't know how they can knock us down at this point. We'll combat it by album sales and by our show on stage. I don't think there's too much competition frankly. The scene in England is so fast now - the turnaround is incredible. Since we started, apparently Adam & The Ants took over and he's gone. And I think our masterplan, if anything, was to get through this pop scene and not to get completely caught up in it. You can't just rely on the pop single all the time, and we've obviously got away from that because we're now playing huge stadiums in America.
"I talked to Eric Clapton last night and we were saying how lucky it is if you make it in America because without that it's really hard. All these groups that are coming up now, unless they crack it over there, they're not gonna last that long."