The former Police guitarist on his new rockumentary “Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police,” and the greatest rock record you never heard.
The Police was not, as some faux-historians would have you believe, the band that backed Sting. They were in fact a trio of pure geniuses, that included drummer Stewart Copeland and guitar God Andy Summers. As part of that collective, Andy Summers toured the world many times over and helped to sell over seventy-five million records before the band called it quits in the mid-1980s. Then, in 2003, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame got the ball rolling for a sold out reunion tour in 2007 and 2008.
As a solo artist Andy Summers has released more than a dozen studio albums and tried his hand at several multi-media outlets including publishing (his autobiography), photography and film-making. His brilliant documentary “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police” is now available on DVD. I caught up with Andy in Venice, CA to discuss his latest CD, the experimental “Metal Dog,” the documentary, and the possibility of another Police reunion.
Rocker: How long have this studio in Venice, CA?
Summers: Quite a long time. More than twenty years?
Rocker: How did you end up here?
Summers: I was with this woman before I got back with my wife. This is going back into the eighties I was around Venice a lot and it was completely happening. This place used to belong to a very famous art dealer called Larry Gagosian. He had to get out town or something and he was selling this. I bought it and then I left. Moved back to London. Got back with my wife, we had been divorced. My life rebuilt from here. I’m actually very attached to this space because I have done so much in it.
Rocker: Which albums have you recorded here?
Summers: I did “The Golden Wire,” “Charming Snakes,” “Earth And Sky,”… Practically every one including this last one, “Metal Dog.” We did the Circa Zero record here right here where you’re sitting. My whole post-Police solo career has been created in this room.
Rocker: You come from the time when everyone would go into a big studio to record. Were you one of the first people to have your own home studio?
Summers: It was more like that when I first got it. This is a very big space. Nowadays when someone says, “I’ve got a studio” it is half a bedroom because the gear is so small.
Rocker: But this is a real studio not a computer in a corner.
Summers: Very much so. This is a real studio. This is a lovely room. It’s got a good vibe. The acoustics are great for drums. If you put drums in the middle you get a very good drums sound in here. The way I set up technically is I have my amps out the back in a storeroom and I have a panel in the wall I can plug directly through to the amps. The amps come through the speakers here. I’m on the track with the drummer who’s got the whole room and the bass player is at the desk. So we get perfect separation. We’ve got it set up, funky as it might seem, it’s not in little booths, but we definitely achieve it.
Rocker: When ever anyone mentions or writes your name they always add “…from The Police” at the end.
Summers: Yeah. That is a blessing and a curse. I think, “Well I did so much other great shit after the Police. I made some brilliant fucking records. Great stuff! What about the other twelve records I made? I played at Carnegie Hall. What about all these things that were mind bending and so much more advanced and sophisticated than The Police?” Then I get, “You we’re in The Police.” That’s where it’s a curse.
Rocker: And the blessing?
Summers: Because look where we all ended up. We were all very very fortunate that we met and had that great experience. Which I don’t think any of us will ever transcend, in the public view at least. You do personally. I know that I have musically. It is hard to imagine, where would life had gone without it. It was such an all-enveloping life experience. It’s fair to call it a blessing and a curse.
Rocker: When you write a song, do you never think lyrically?
Summers: Yeah. Well unless I’m writing a rock record. The last record I did was my band Circa Zero. That was a fantastic rock record with a really great singer (Rob Giles) I can’t sing like that. That guys has one of the greatest voices in the country. That was very much me writing rock songs with all these choruses, climaxes and hooks. Slight different mindset. We were very much in a rock band place. This record, “Metal Dog” is very free compared to that. I’m not thinking of those tight structures. It is much more experimental.
Rocker: “Metal Dog” didn’t start out as a planned album?
Summers: It didn’t really. I started out to do it with this friend in New York who is a respected photographer. The idea was to come together and do something for fun. But as a soundtrack to modern dance. I envisioned three screens of video, that he was going to shoot, and I would do this avant-garde music and there would be modern dance. But, what happened was I was making loads of music and he was not coming up with the video. (Laughs)
Rocker: Was it intended to be one long piece of music?
Summers: No. I was just thinking it had to be rhythmic pieces because the dancers have to move to something. Some kind of pulse in these pieces.
Rocker: Who played on the record?
Summers: Me myself and I. I play bass, and in terms of the drums, in the early stages I would put down single drums at a time then build the rhythms to a click, to make sure I was on it. Since that time I would play drums for real. I seem to have complete natural rhythm. I am completely engaged with it and want to get going on another record because my drumming has gotten so much better. I’m starting to get so loose with it now.
Rocker: Who are your favorite drummers?
Summers: So many great drummers in history. I actually like Stewart Copeland, John Bonham,… I think the guy who plays with the the Foo Fighters is great…
Rocker: Taylor Hawkins?
Summers: Yeah. He came here. I was going to do something with him. Great fucking drummer. Dave Grohl is great too. I’ve played with many great drummers in L.A. In my own bands I always related to the drummer first, more than the bass player. The drums carry the whole thing. I love Steve Gadd, Jack DeJonette and Max Roach. I practice drumming everyday. I should have done this years ago!
Rocker: Was there more freedom in doing an entire album by yourself?
Summers: I like the freedom of doing myself. Its very much a solo effort. I find it very satisfying and I’m happy.
Rocker: What size venues do you prefer playing stadiums, arenas or clubs?
Summers: There is a huge illusion about stadiums, but they are basically terrible. It’s very hard. A big f**king blank space. There’s no intimacy. You really can’t see the audience. Then you’re just playing for the other guys on the stage. You can still make a good concert, but arenas are better. They’re big, people are around you, but you can feel it more. Ultimately, I like small theaters. Around two thousand. A small theater is the nicest venue. Everyone sitting there in their seats and you play for them I think the best place to see music and really get into it is in a club. You can really get on top of a performer. See and feel what’s going on.
Rocker: What inspired you to make your documentary film “Can’t Stand Losing You?”
Summers: The Movie “The Kid Stays In The Picture” based on the life of Robert Evans (film producer.) The film is all made of still photographs and voice overs. I thought it was such a cool interesting film. Funny and ironic. It occurred to me. “I’ve got the same stuff. I’ve got my biography, and all the photography,…” I met somebody in the film industry and over lunch told I loved what the director, Brett Morgan, had done with it and that I kind of had the same material.
She said, “He’s one of my best friends. Here’s his phone number and email.” What? Really? To me he was this mythical figure. I emailed him and then sent him the book. He read it and got back to me. He said, “This is fantastic. I would like to meet you.” It was that easy in theory. I met him and we got on really well. We went out and pitched it as a movie on a Wednesday and by four o’clock that day we had the deal. Unbelievable. People spend ten years trying to get a movie made and I did it in one afternoon. Out of half a wish it came about. The Police were then going on tour and it worked out pretty well together. Of course making the film went on for years. It was a bit of a saga. But it is now out and has really come to life.
Rocker: How do you think it turned out?
Summers: I think it’s very enjoyable and brilliantly edited. That’s what makes it as good as it it. It is so well edited. People love it. It’s going very well.
Rocker: Have your former Police bandmates think?
Summers: Stewart liked it. He phoned me up. Really nice. Sting emailed me. His manager saw it. I went, “Oh God no. Don’t.”
Rocker: Is that typical of your relationships with them these days?
Summers: Yeah. At first when we started making it I thought, “Can I get it past these two?” I was expecting a possible block put on it from lawyers, but It didn’t happen, and it’s way too late now. Everyone loves it. It’s not hurting anybody.
Rocker: Does it fuel the fire of another reunion?
Summers: Probably. “Oh well why not, might as well…”
Rocker: Would you consider another reunion tour with The Police?
Summers: Yeah! We get out there and play, it’s the three originals back together, people love it. I think we could play stadiums again.
Rocker: Did it bother you a few years back when they put out a greatest hits CD as “Sting and The Police?”
Summers: That would be a sore point. That was the sort of thing that the record company did because they have solo songs by Sting and then the Police, which was the real big seller. It’s just record company bullshit but I’m sure Sting and his manager didn’t stand in the way. It’s a sort of false attempt to step outside the real thing. And you can’t
Rocker: You mentioned the band Circa Zero, what is the future of that band?
Summers: I don’t think there it one. It’s a shame. I do think it was an absolutely stellar record with great songs and a great singer. That record should have gone straight to the top. One of the best rock records around. I think it was as good as anything I have ever done. Rob (Giles) and I had a great chemistry. It took us two years to put the whole thing together. Not just the music but all the business. All the bullshit. We got kind of fucked by 429 – the record company. They spent a lot or money, fought off all the competition to sign us, then they did not support it at all. That really took the wind out of our sails.
Look, I’ve been in one of the most successful bands of all time. I thought we had it in that record. But unfortunately we had the wrong record company. I think one of the great rock and roll records of all time got lost. Such a shame. Rob and I are still friends. But he’s sort of moved on. I’ve moved on. I just do as I always have. I just carry on.
Rocker: Away from music you are also an author, a photographer and now a film maker, which medium do you get the greatest satisfaction from?
Summers: I like all the things and it is great to do them. But music is the thing for me. I still love making music and can’t wait to start on something again and being in that creative flow. I do other things too. I released a book of photography and have a sort of sub career going with that. I do enjoy it. I got off and spend a month on the road just photographing.
Rocker: What’s next?
Summers: I did an album with Andy York that I might release later this year called “Spirit Garden.” I’m going to Brazil to play a bunch of concerts and I have a photography exhibit there as well. After that I’ve got an opportunity to direct some films.