The following article by Stefan Woldach appeared in an October 1999 issue of the Portuguese newspaper Público. The article has been very kindly translated by Nuno Leite...
New songs on the charts, success, the media - none of that matters now to Gordon Sumner. In his isolated and quiet estate in Wiltshire, the 47 year-old ex-Police will rather dedicate to more important things in life: spirituality, the joy of living, growing old and death. His new album, 'Brand New Day', shows he has made peace with himself, his life and his career.
Q: Each of your album titles has a deeper meaning and is open up to interpretations. What's the meaning of 'Brand New Day'?
To me it's an expression of optimism. At the eve of the new millennium I tried to make a statement in search of a better world. All the songs are about love. Love of course is just a cliché, but it's also the answer to all our problems.
Q: Where do you find the strength for that?
In my faith in my personal strategy. I decided to think positively, despite everything that's wrong in the world. Each one is responsible for his own part of the world. This may sound naïve but the world needs optimism, even bringing a child to the world is an act of optimism.
Q: In that sense you are quite optimistic...
Yes, six times! We have to be optimistic in everything we do. It doesn't make sense to assume from the start that you are going to fail. If you do that your fears will become real. We need mental strength to make the most of life and achieve our goals; otherwise we'll be defeated.
Q: During this last year you've spoken a lot about growing old. You used an expression that sums it up: "Less hair, more ideas..."
[Laughs] Well, it's in my right and it's my intention to grow old. Many of my friends and fellow musicians have already died so I feel like some sort of survivor! It's wonderful to grow old. Of course there are problems related to that but it is something we will all have to go through, sooner or later. As I grow old I feel I have to face the issue, instead of avoiding it.
Q: You once said that a good song should tell a good story. What's your favourite story in 'Brand New Day'?
I find the opening song 'A Thousand Years' very interesting. It's about love surviving through centuries, based on the idea of reincarnation. I don't know if I personally believe in reincarnation, from an intellectual point of view I resist the idea. On the other hand it's a charming, poetic concept, the idea of a future life contains a great deal of optimism.
Q: The more albums are produced the harder it gets giving music a new character. You have created your own sound, on the basis of which you are constantly evaluated.
I know, I've reached a point in my career where people just say "It's a Sting album", to every new record. People know what to expect from me, my voice, and the sound of my music, the instruments and the arrangements.
Q: But being that predictable doesn't mean your music is in danger of being over-played and becoming boring?
Not to me, no. I always try to create a few unexpected moments. Take 'Big Lie, Small World', for example. It's a bossa nova but in a 9/8 tempo. Or 'Fill Her Up', which is a country & western song that turns into a gospel.
Q: Do you think that, like a painter, you've entered a more mature stage in your career, in which you stress the nuances instead of pop's juvenile appeal?
I think that my music, my life and my interests are more clearly defined now. I don't write stadium hymns anymore, I write subtler things that my audience should address in a more careful and concentrated way.
Q: Which assumes the need of higher standards among your fans...
I hope they've become more sophisticated listeners, just like I have as a musician. I know I'm a better musician today than I was three years ago. My goal is to become a better singer, a better composer and a better poet and I work very hard to achieve these goals. I expect the same from my audience, they should grow as well. No one should stay in the same place.
Q: So you must feel frustrated when people scream for 'Roxanne' at your concerts?
No, not at all. People like to hear the old songs and I gladly play what they ask. But part of the deal is that I reserve myself the right to play these songs in a completely different way. That's just how it is: part of me is in the past, part of me is in the present and the remaining is in the future. I would never deny my past, I like the songs and I still have fun singing them.
Q: You've mentioned several times the positive effects that yoga had on your mind, your body and your sexual life. I find it interesting that you've recently said that it had an effect on your voice as well.
Yoga is basically an exercise to develop breathing techniques, which naturally has an effect on your voice. Today I breathe more consciously, more deeply and more intensively than before, and my vocal range has increased. I can sing higher and lower than I used to and I have more volume. These changes are very subtle of course, and I don't know if everybody noticed it. I felt the changes, no doubt about it. Now a days when I sing on a stage, I have the impression that a two hours concert is less tiring than before.
Q: You've had many hits with The Police, but you never had a single Number 1 in your solo career. Does that hurt your vanity?
At this point of my career it's difficult to have a number 1. The people who buy singles these days are between 12 and 15, and this age group won't buy records by 40 year-old musicians. Why should they? On the other hand, adults buy albums, which is good. At the end of the day I still make some money [Laughs]. Even if I don't get as much attention as the Spice Girls or All Saints or Robbie Williams I still sell more records than they do. I'm not complaining, I've had many hits.
Q: What comes to mind when you think of The Police? What sort of images occurs to you?
The beginning. The first success is always the more intense to a band - when you hear yourself on the radio for the first time, when you fill a big room, when you have your first number 1. You don't go through that again. I had a great time and I feel very proud. We were a very good band and the legend is still intact.
Q: For the first time in a long time you appeared as a guest in someone else's album. You did a new version of 'Fields of Gold' with the Corsican band I Muvrini. How did that happen?
They wanted to do a version of the song so they wrote to me asking if I wanted to sing. I agreed, of course. Their version was an enormous success in France, Corsican music, by the way, is very popular in France. It was fun meeting them and I liked their interpretation.
Q: You use passages of French texts in your new album, in 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong', just like you had done in 'Mercury Falling' with 'La Belle Dame Sans Regret'. Was that a concession to commercial?
Maybe. On that song I sing from the perspective of a dog. I love my owner but she has a boyfriend and I'm terribly jealous. I try to express my jealousy but she doesn't understand. She gets angry and starts shouting at me, in French. I don't understand her, there's a communication problem, so the two languages allow me to express that.
Q: Besides Branford Marsalis and James Taylor, Stevie Wonder also plays on this record. As far as I know this was an old dream of yours.
Stevie is a symbol for all the musicians of my generation, a superior being whose music has influenced and still influences many people. When he agreed to play on my record I was very excited. He came to the studio and released the energy that I wanted to put on the record, this optimism he has so much of.
Q: You sing, play the bass, the guitar, piano and many other instruments. Which are the ones you use first when you have an idea for a new song?
It depends. I don't have any rules when it comes to music. If I set some sort of rules I would be limiting myself. That's why I like learning to play new instruments, it gives me inspiration.
Q: So the bass is not that important as a composition instrument?
Playing the bass causes horrible mutations in the muscles of the hands. Just look at my hands! I have great hands for boxing, not for playing the guitar!
© Público (Portugal)