You know him for “Every Breath You Take,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”
But did you know Police guitarist Andy Summers got his start in an acid-rock band? Or that he played with Eric Burden’s Animals and sat in with Mike Oldfield in 1975 for a performance of “Tubular Bells?” Or that Summers teamed with King Crimson guitar guru Robert Fripp on a pair of artsy albums in the early ‘80s?
It’s been over thirty-some years Andy Summers surrendered his Police badge (notwithstanding a 2007-08 reunion tour), but this ex-“cop” has always been keeping a steady beat, plying his considerable guitar knowledge on a string of successful solo albums in the ‘80s and ‘90s (XYZ, World Gone Strange, Synaesthasia etc.) and teaming with like-minded musical pals in exciting new projects like Circa Zero (featuring Rescues bassist Rob Giles).
Summers is also an avid photographer: He honed his shutterbug skills while touring the globe, published a couple books with his images, and has regular art gallery exhibitions to this date.
Indefatigable Andy somehow found time to polish off his memoirs, One Train Later, between all those guitar scales and camera exposures. Now there’s a documentary film based on the 2006 autobiography.
Directed by Andy Grieve (The Story of WikiLeaks), Yuri Film’s Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police cleverly juxtaposes archival footage of Summers on the road with Stewart Copeland and Sting in the ‘70s and ‘80s with contemporary clips of the band’s highly-touted comeback tour—and Andy’s own art installations.
The 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer also just issued the all-new instrumental album Metal Dog on the Flickering Shado label.
Recorded at his Mother Divine studio in Venice, California, Metal Dog finds Summers returning to the jazz fusion and cinematic noisescapes he explored with Fripp in the ‘80s. The music was intended for use with an interpretive dance program, but tunes like “Animal Chatter,” “Bitter Honey,” and “Qualia” took on lives of their own the more Summers tinkered with them.
Police fans won’t find the next “Wrapped Around Your Finger” on the disc, but the tracks are imbued with Summers’ trademark synth-guitar sounds and world music influences: You can’t mistake these tones for anybody else.
Andy played all the drums, bass, and keyboard parts heard on the album—and programmed the electronics and “looped” samples—to architect ten intriguing pieces that push the boundaries of traditional rock and roll guitar music. Title track “Metal Dog” is appropriately menacing, its biomechanical riffs and harmonics prelude to a staccato, Eastern-inspired solo. Conversely, “Animal Chatter” boasts a slinky rhythm, meandering bass, and fluid solo (between klaxon chords and pneumatic whirrs).
Creepy arpeggios ring over resonant drums on “Ishango Bone,” whose watery guitar chords comingle over an elastic groove. Buzzing, blues bends infect the insectoid-like “Vortex Street,” whose call-and-response passages and ethereal squawks and chirps could provide the soundtrack to the twilight hunt of some nightmarish bird of prey. Pastoral “Qualia” percolates over pitter-patter percussion, while “Harmonograph” jars the senses with Doppler-effect sirens and distant automobile alarms.
Contemplative, celestial “Ocean of Enceladus” will appease shred-rock fans (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai) with its shimmery progression, sparse drums, and abundant scales. There’s also a bit of slide work and string-bending, a la Santo & Johnny (of melancholy Hawaiian instrumental “Sleepwalk”). Brooding “Mare Imbrium” embraces sci-fi themes, what with is slow, deliberate build-up, electronically-simulated breezes, and alien drones.
We were lucky enough to discuss Metal Dog with Summers by phone a couple weeks ago. We also got the inside scoop on his Can’t Stand Losing You movie…and reopened a couple Police investigations, too.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hey, Andy! You’re back home in L.A. now, yes?
ANDY SUMMERS: I’m in California, yes.
EXAMINER: Could you tell us a bit about Metal Dog, and how it metamorphosed from a dance-inspired project into something completely different?
ANDY: The original impulse for the record was to do this project with a photographer in New York. We’d done a few things over the years, and we wanted to put together a project based on this kind of music, dance music. We wanted to construct a video with contemporary dance music, to have this evening of live dancing with the music and video on various screens. So I came back to California to put this music together, and obviously it became a little more cutting-edge, experimental, and sonic. I started to write the tracks this way, and as time went on, they just didn’t come out the way they started [laughs]! We only did one of the videos together; we didn’t complete the whole evening’s worth. Nevertheless, the nice part was that it really got me back to doing this kind of music in my studio, which I really enjoy doing. I got about three albums’ worth of material before I finally decided to shape it somewhat, and put a few of them together into this CD.
EXAMINER: What kind of gear did you use to dial up those sounds? What sorts of pedals and effects, I mean.
ANDY: Well, there are all kinds of things. A huge mix of different things. There are some really great pedals—a fuzz box and chorus. I’m looking for that grey, granular sound these days. I don’t know what order you want to hear them in, but for instance I used a pedal called a Rotobone a lot for the solos. I use a Junkie pedal from Z-VEX, and there’s a TC Electronics distortion pedal called Dark Matter. I used a Line 6 a couple times to do some looping. I have an Eventide Eclipse, which is one of the more awesome effects boxes. There’s a whammy. So on and so forth. And all these things are mixed up. Sometimes the sounds are looped, sometimes they’re regressed. It’s like having a set of colors in front of you, and I literally sit over them at a table now—I have them all spread out—and I decide which colors I like to use. I’ll hit the buttons, move from one to another, and try different combinations until I get something that’s interesting to me.
EXAMINER: Your solo work has always embraced world music and exotic sounds, and that’s certainly the case here. Can you pinpoint where some of that influence comes from?
ANDY: Well, there’s a lot of input. I’ve traveled a lot in Asia and Indonesia. So for some of these tracks you’ve got these orchestral-type sounds. So you pick the sounds you like and find that aesthetic. But yes, it can come from a lot of places. It’s never straight-ahead guitar solo music. It’s influenced by a lot of stuff: Twentieth-century, avant-garde, classical music, Polynesian music, indie music.
EXAMINER: A couple new songs even feature this Paloma, an Indian instrument.
ANDY: It’s another weird instrument. I have my pedals and amps, and my guitars and all that. But I also have an odd collection of various acoustic instruments that I’ve picked up over the years, the Paloma being one of them. It’s this long, sort of green-and white thing, a bizarre thing from India. It’s got strings on it, and you can get the notes—like on a piano keyboard—with the difference being that you’ve got these droning strings. It makes for a really unusual sound. Again, you can treat it for more of a droning sound. And it’s not the kind of thing you use all over everything. But judiciously used, it’s a refreshing kind of sound.
Sample and purchase Metal Dog at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011MGKNW0/ref=dm_ws_sp_ps_dp
EXAMINER: I was intrigued by the song titles. The music is instrumental, but some of the passages often evoke their titles. Then I had to do my homework and look up what some of these concepts and ideas were. Where do the title ideas come from?
ANDY: That’s a good question to ask, because you have to have imagination. When you’re making music for someone to go out and buy, in the old days it was like, you’d walk into a record store and be like, “Fuck! I’m going to get that because the cover’s so great!” It’s part of the package, no question about it. I mean, that aesthetic has not gone away. We’re still playing CDs, even if they don’t sell in such quantities. But there’s that bit of artistic input into titling songs, and you’re saying to the person who’s going to buy it and listen, “This is the attitude on the record, this is the sensibility here, so I’m giving you these titles.” As an artist, I move along in my life, into whatever things I’m doing, and I hear things where it’s like, “Oh, that’d be a great title! I’ll use that!” So I keep a running list of titles on my computer. I’ve got these words and phrases that just sustained my interest. So I’m a step ahead, really, with the titling [laughs]! And that’s certainly no more so than with this one, and what matched with what. Like with “Vortex Street,” it’s very bluesy, and then it goes to this darker place in the middle. So that title seemed appropriate there. And “Ishango Bone” is like, out of some kind of science thing—a paleontological search for this bone that was found in Africa that’s more than two million years old. They discovered this history about it, and how long humans had been on the earth. But anyway, it fit that one. So that’s how I go about all that. I think it’s an important part of the process.
EXAMINER: I relied on some of my high school Latin to decipher a couple titles. Others—like “Oceans of Enceladus” and “Mare Imbrium” are inspired by outer space, with Enceladus being a moon of Saturn and Mare Imbrium being a crater on the moon.
ANDY: That’s exactly right, yeah. It’s fun to do that. And why not? I suppose you could do it the other way ‘round. Start with the titles, and then build the music that goes with them [laughs].
EXAMINER: And the album cover for Metal Dog—is that one of your shots, of the figure in the swimming pool?
ANDY: Yeah, all my photographs, yes.
EXAMINER: Turning to the film, Can’t Stand Losing You, I was taken aback by just how much photography figured into your life the whole time you were in The Police. And a lot of those images from your tours are used on the DVD to tell your story.
ANDY: It’s a love, and it’s a complex progress that’s taken years to get this film out, to the point where you almost lose interest putting it together. This year was more fun, because it got released by a very nice company. This French gentleman owns it. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. It took me took a lot of places where I got to meet a lot of nice people. But of course it’s based on the book, the autobiography that came out in 2006 called One Train Later. And it was picked up almost immediately as a film. I was amazed I actually got to the book and got that out, and then the next thing you know we’re making a movie out of it. Who wouldn’t want to do that? I never thought I’d get to that. So it’s all been very nice in a way. I don’t know if you read the book…I recommend it to you!
EXAMINER: Yep, I read it back then.
ANDY: Right, because there’s a lot more in the book. But in the book I used a literary device where, my story as a musician in life—I set it all in one day, like twenty-four hours. So there’s one day where we play Shea Stadium in 1983, and we’re the number one band in the world—even though we’re breaking up at the time—and then I unfold the whole story. And as we go through that day and get into the choppers to get to Shea and work through the day, I go back into my own history. So that was the device. And in the movie, it’s replaced by a lot of footage from The Police on tour, and a lot of my own photography.
Watch the Can’t Stand Losing You movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAtOXEGJZm0
EXAMINER: You’ve had books and public exhibits, but the movie was my first chance to see some of your work. I was struck by how your images can take something that looks rather mundane and ordinary, and make it seem alien and otherworldly and extraordinary. Like when you’re walking around taking pictures of these trinkets and tchotchkes in the street vendor shops.
ANDY: I love it that you say that. The thing about photography is, some people surround themselves with extremely strong subject matter. And unless you’re a moron, you’re going to get a really strong photograph. But I admire photographers who can take much more ordinarily subject matter and make it transcend that ordinariness, so that it becomes something else fresh and new. It opens this doorway. I really admire people who can do that with photography.
EXAMINER: There’s a very funny part in the movie where you’re on one of your nightly photo-taking jaunts, and you happen upon a karaoke bar where the patrons are singing “Every Breath You Take.” Where exactly was that? And how cool must it have been for them to have a member of The Police come walking in to join them?
ANDY: It was in Tokyo, in an area called Shinjuku, and within that area is an area called the Golden Gai. You see me walking around the area with all these tiny little Japanese bars and joints. It’s an amazing little area, just a couple streets and alleys. So the film crew was with me—they were filming me all over the place—and we were out very late at night. They filmed me all over the place. It was February, cold and snowing. And I’m walking around shooting things, and we figured, “Well, that’s all we’re going to get for tonight.” And then we hear “Every Breath You Take” coming from somewhere. It was completely spontaneous and amazing. You couldn’t have planned it better [laughs]. So I walk over to that bar, and there they are singing. The film crew couldn’t believe it!
EXAMINER: I also noticed in the movie how you always seem to have a guitar with you. Like, we see you making tea in your kitchen—but you’re noodling on guitar all the while. Is a camera or a guitar always in your reach?
ANDY: Yeah, yeah! Well, I always have a guitar with me. Actually, I’ve got several, but yes—I play every day. I’m a guitar player [laughs]! And I enjoy it. I’m never very far away from them. I swear I only ever get a couple days when I’m away from a guitar, and I never like it! There’s always one close by, and I play every day. Or I’ll be working on something in the studio and play around a bit. It’s an extension of me, really.
EXAMINER: Another funny bit in the movie is when you talk about how Sting refused to play on “Behind My Camel.” And yet that’s the track that earned a Grammy for Best Instrumental. Was there a sense of vindication when that happened?
ANDY: It’s funny, but we couldn’t agree on anything at that point! It was sort of ironic. There was a kind of smug satisfaction, an “I told you so”—not that I ever really pointed it out to anyone. But yes!
EXAMINER: How did that reggae sound first seep in into music of The Police, like with “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You?”
ANDY: Well, with reggae, it was around. And obviously Bob Marley was the greatest reggae artist, and he was around at the time. I think what happened during the very early stages, I flew to America for some reason—to visit my wife’s parents with her over Christmas or something. This must have been 1977 or ’78, and we heard these Bob Marley records. And when we came back, Sting had also picked up on these reggae bass lines. We weren’t a reggae band; I mean, I like listening to reggae, but I’m not especially drawn to playing it. But it became a very cool thing for us, because they’re easier lines to play in a way, and you can vocalize over the top. So it kind of worked very well, musically. We didn’t really identify with reggae at all. It was more of a musical convenience for us.
EXAMINER: The last full Police album was over thirty years ago, but there have been box sets, best-ofs, and remasters over the last couple decades. Do you guys have any say in those, or are they usually record company decisions?
ANDY: We’ve had some say in the re-releases over the years, but it’s not always the case. Like, there was one put out—I think it was called Message in a Box—and the thing was so bloody irritating, because we hadn’t been involved in that, and what they did was put them in chronological running order. Now, when we made the albums we had the songs in a particular sequence, because we felt that’s the way they played off the best. But the record company just put them all in a straight line, almost alphabetically, time-wise, rather than with any of the emotional sequencing we wanted. It was like, “Who the hell did this [laughs]?”
EXAMINER: Between the new music and the film, is there any chance you’d come back to Cleveland any time soon?
ANDY: All things are possible! It’s not like I wake up in the morning and go, “I’ve got to do a gig in Ohio!” It doesn’t work quite that way [laughs]. Actually, my wife is originally from Cincinnati, so Ohio is very much in my life. The last time I remember playing Cleveland, I was really sort of surprised how nice it was. And I say that in the most complimentary sense, because of course we’d played there with The Police in the ‘80s, and a lot of those towns like Cleveland were declining. But then we came back—twenty-some years later—and everything’s cleaned up and nice. I was quite impressed with it!
EXAMINER: What’s next on your work schedule?
ANDY: The film thing is still going on; I’m still waiting to hear about a U.K. release. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of noise with all that, and I’ll have to go tour there and in a few more countries. I just got back from playing three weeks in Brazil, so I’m still recovering! Certainly we’ll go in to make another record. I’m hoping that this month—while I’m in L.A.—I can move into the follow-up to Metal Dog. And I’ve also got more film projects coming up, but in the capacity of a director. Obviously, I’d do the music, too!
movie trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAtOXEGJZm0