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Stewart Copeland

​Stewart Copeland - Stay Curious!

Forty years ago the passion and presence he displayed with the Police locked the drum world on his every move. Today, after exploring a multitude of ways in which to express and employ himself through sound, he’s focusing once again on a band setting. Longtime MD contributor Ken Micallef remembers the shock of the new and learns about the drummer’s return to old-time rocking out.

​Stewart Copeland - Stay Curious!

On October 19, 1979, my bandmates and I made the trek from the backwards burbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, to the leafy campus of Davidson College, some forty-five minutes to the north, to witness the three-piece spectacle we’d heretofore only heard on “FM alternative radio,” the Police.

Our band, the Chaplins (don’t ask), traded in new-wave material, our best track a rip-off of the Police’s spiky “Truth Hits Everybody,” from their 1978 debut album, Outlandos d’Amour. Sure, we covered our share of late-’70s megahit wonders: Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ “Pump It Up,” the Cars’ “Good Times Roll,” the Clash’s “London Calling,” Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind.” But really, the Police were it. I was a Stewart Copeland sycophant. The Police played like a band of true punks but with serious musical acumen and terrific songs that were infused with ideas from ska, reggae, Afro-Cuban, and other international styles. Copeland, bassist/vocalist Sting, and guitarist Andy Summers were on a mission to rule the world, or at least its Top 40 charts.

It was with great relish and collected gas money that we drove north to Davidson in my mom’s blood-orange Honda Civic. But nothing prepared us for the aggressiveness, energy, and bombast, for the full-on musical revolution we witnessed that fall night.

A quarter of the way through their 1979-80 Reggatta de Blanc tour, the Police hit the college’s small auditorium stage and destroyed it. Sting was snarky, Summers regal, and Copeland a maniac freed from his cage. Challenging the band, the audience, even his own skinny, seemingly malnourished body, he played with a beautiful yet manic grace that drew on the energy of ’70s punk. But the way he hammered rhythms both spacious and exotic, and his fearless mauling of the barline—always pushing forward—was intoxicating. Soon Copeland’s trademarks, such as dub-tinted rim work, flowing hi-hat flourishes, Caribbean and Middle Eastern bell patterns, and excitable Octoban commentary, all housed within a powerful groove that often adroitly avoided the 1, went global.

Thirty-odd years after the band’s initial break-up (they would reunite for a 2007/08 world tour), and Stewart Copeland is easily the most prolific former member of the Police. His creative output is downright daunting: early solo releases under the pseudonym Klark Kent; the percussion ensemble/chamber orchestra project Orchestralli; the collaborative bands Animal Logic (with Stanley Clarke and Deborah Holland), Oysterhead (with Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio), and Gizmo (featuring David Fiuczynski); TV and movie soundtracks including Rumble Fish, Wall Street, Talk Radio, The Equalizer, Out of Bounds, and his own film, The Rhythmatist; and orchestral works for operas, ballets, and symphonies such as Ben Hur, Tyrant’s Crush, The Tell Tale Heart, and Gamelan D’Drum.

Copeland has received multiple Grammy Awards and, neatly framing his career, topped the Most Promising Newcomer category in the 1981Modern Drummer Readers Poll and was voted into the magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2005. These days he’s reasserting his rock bona fides with Gizmodrome, a supergroup featuring guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew, Level 42 bassist Mark King, and keyboardist Vittorio Cosma. It’s merely the latest example of Copeland’s perpetual challenge to himself, to answer the question: What would this sound like?

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Interview by Ken Micallef | Photos by Alex Solca

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