Stewart Copeland has been recognized as one of the great rock drummers to emerge during the '70s, thanks to his tenure with the Police, but once the trio called it a day after the success of their fifth and final album, Synchronicity, Copeland landed on his feet, forging a career writing film and TV scores. In addition, he's also found himself a member of a few other bands over the years, including Animal Logic, Oysterhead, and Gizmodrome.
In the midst of his time with the Police, however, Copeland stumbled into a bit of solo success...or at least that's the story as far as just about everyone but Copeland himself is concerned. Under the moniker "Klark Kent," he found a surprise UK hit with the 1978 single "Don't Care," which eventually led to a full-length self-titled album in 1980. The thing is, if you ask Copeland, he'll do everything in his power to assure you that it wasn't really him, that the tapes were handed off to him by a mysterious individual and... Well, anyway, you'll see what we mean soon enough.
This brings us to the newly-released deluxe edition of the aforementioned self-titled album, which - in addition to getting a vinyl reissue - has been released as a 2-CD set which features 18 tracks on disc one, including two tunes that were recorded during the pandemic, and a second disc containing a dozen demos for the original album. Since Klark Kent himself was ostensibly unavailable to chat with Q about this deluxe edition of his album, Copeland kindly stepped in, and since he did, it gave us an opportunity ask him about all of the bands cited in the opening paragraph as well as a few other topics, including guest-starring on The Equalizer and having to be assured by liner notes that he is, in fact, somewhere in the grooves of a classic Peter Gabriel album.
It's a pleasure to get to hear this Klark Kent material again.
Oh, good! Did you get the version with the demos?
I haven't yet. I believe I'm getting a copy of that soon, though.
Yeah, because that's kind of the fun new thing. And there's some new tracks on the album as well!
Well, I believe I know the origin story of the Klark Kent identity, but I'd love it if you'd talk me through what led to it.
Well, I was there back in '77, '78, as you can read in my book which just came out, which is The Police Diaries. It's every day, what we got paid, how well we went, how many people came, and everything, as well as my secret thoughts. [Laughs.] But in those days, I would wake up in the morning, and at night I'd hear kind of a rustling sound coming from my studio room, and I'd come in in the morning, and there'd be a sound of, like, burnt train set, wires melting. And I'd find these recordings! And I knew that I'd had another visitation from Klark Kent!
And the adventure began there, and I somehow was selected by The Kent to be his earthly representative, which I tried to hide at first. But then the dastardly NME spotted me and assumed... Because before that, people were wondering, "Is it David Bowie? Is it Eartha Kitt? Is it Lord Elgin?" You know, the theories were... The zeitgeist in London was asking this question: "Who is Klark Kent?" And eventually they came after me. I was the nearest connection they had!
[Writer's note: This is all complete codswallop, of course. But at least it's amusing codswallop.]
Well, whoever Klark Kent may be, he made a great appearance on Top of the Pops.
Oh, yeah, yeah! And rumor has it that that's Sting and Andy [Summers], that all three of the blond heads are onstage there behind masks.
That's the rumor, sure.
Yeah, and if you watch it, you can spot Stingo's dance moves right away. And Andy.
How much fun did they have doing that?
Oh, well, it was their first time on national television! Which is one of my favorite brags. [Laughs.] I love it when the subject comes up, and I can point out that this mighty band that dominated the world... "Well, it all began..." And to watch Stingo miming Klark Kent's bass line, that's something that I enjoy reminding him of whenever possible.
And to think that the Police could've had that song.
Yeah, they could've. In fact, I have a recording of Stingo singing it.
Yeah. But I'd never release that into the world. I have empathy. The man has brought so much joy into my life, I would not do that to the man. He has dignity! Gravitas!
What led you to break out the demos after all this time?
Well, an interest was expressed in the record, and everyone's into deluxes these days. They said, "What else have you got?" And I said, "Well, I've got a demo for every song...and a few more songs, by the way, that were left like Easter eggs by the Kent."
Do you have a favorite of the bunch from the original material?
God, no, it's hard to say, to pick a favorite. Because I myself was recording on that same equipment, doing demos for Police songs. So I've got demos of Police songs on there as well, and I forget.
Okay, I'll bite: which Police songs?
"It's Alright for You" is a really great demo. In fact, you can hear on that one that the guitar player on my home demo is the same guy as on the record, which reminds me that those lazy bastards didn't bother to learn the song, they just... [Starts to laugh.] I put the drums down to my demo, then I played the guitar, and then at the end of the day Andy came in and played a raging guitar solo and Sting came up with a lyric. Listening to my old tapes, I've joked that I wasn't a bad guitarist. In fact, I could've been a Ramone! But screw that: for one afternoon, I was the guitarist in the Police!
Well, on the Klark Kent front, I like that "Kinetic Ritual" ended up as the theme to The Cutting Edge.
That's right, yes. And I've got the demo of that, too!
So on another matter, by coincidence I recently interviewed Dave Alvin of The Blasters, and he wanted me to thank you for utilizing a piece of his music on the soundtrack to Wall Street.
Oh, really? Is that his song? At the end title.
I think it must be. He said that he'd always heard that you did the soundtrack except for this one scene where his music had been used as temp music, and then either you or Oliver Stone decided that nothing worked any better than what they'd used, so it stayed.
Yeah, there's only one song that I'm aware of that wasn't mine, which is the end titles. It was a brilliant piece of music. And, of course, I wrote something brilliant as well. [Laughs.] But his just kind of nailed it, and everybody involved in post-production had bonded with it. This is a common problem of temp scores: everybody bonds with it. But if you've temp-scored it with John Williams... Well, you can't afford a 120-piece orchestra! So there's always this conflict. But in that case, that was a particularly great song, and you can mention that I've gotten a lot of praise for his material...and thank him for all the compliments that I've gotten on his song!
As far as scoring in general, how did you find your way into that line of work? Did someone approach you first?
Yeah, an incoming call. Francis Coppola called on the line here, and I took the call.
Well, there you go. Was it something that you'd actually expressed an interest in doing, or did he just think that you had the stuff?
I hadn't thought about it. I'd sort of been interested in it, but really never with any idea of actually doing it. So that was kind of unexpected. And I owe so much to Francis Coppola for making that call.
And talk about starting off with a high-profile project.
Really! It was downhill from there.
As far as having a solo career, was that something you had an eye on at any point, or was it something you just stumbled into?
No, I'm not a solo guy. I'm a band guy. And I'm the youngest of four siblings. I'm happiest on a team. Just let me be on a team and I'm a happy guy! In fact, that's why... [Hesitates.] Perhaps Dr. Kent was channeling that when he appeared on television as a member of a band rather than a solo guy. Who wants to be a solo guy? That's why he called up the blond heads to be his band.
Yes. Yes, that would explain it.
But I do see in my diaries, though, that my secret thoughts... I've got my daily stuff, because I was roadie and tour manager for the band as well, and record company, and agent! But I kept my secret dark thoughts, where I had my get-rich-quick schemes, my grandiose theories, grievance nurturing... A lot of grievance nurturing. [Laughs.] And it's all pretty weird, except for with the hindsight. With 50 years distance, I can see the comedy. It now reads comedic to me.
But I'm in there writing back then, "I'm having..." [Hesitates.] "Klark Kent's having this hit. Who needs these other guys? With Klark Kent, I could make SEVEN THOUSAND POUNDS STERLING A YEAR!" Just this untold wealth. All my money problems over. "Can you imagine? Seven thousand pounds sterling a year!" Mind you, that's when a pound sterling was worth two dollars. So, okay, call it $14,000 a year. Man! And, in fact, I'm saying in the diaries, "Screw those other guys and roadie-ing for them!" Fortunately for me, and for them, the Police came along and steamrolled everything in its path just in the nick of time.
As far as your scores go, I did want to ask about doing The Equalizer, because I think that's one of the things that really stood out for a lot of people in terms of your solo work.
Yeah, well, it was the boot camp. Episodic TV is boot camp for film composers, and I would humbly submit that the film composer has the widest set of musical skills among all different kinds of musicians, because he has to. An artist follows their own instinct and goes only where their instinct takes them. A film composer has to go here, he has to go there, because that what his boss, his employer, directs him to do. So when Francis, my boss, turns around to me and says, "Well, this is all really great, but we need some strings," I had to go out and figure out strings! And I call up the contractor and say, "The director wants strings!" He says, "Okay, how many?" "I don't know. Strings! Plural! More than two!" [Laughs.] So he books the session - I got about 16 men and women - and they come in and do the session, and...a couple of things.
The first thing was that with a session guitarist who brings in his cartage and his three Stratocasters and two Les Pauls and some guitar I've never even seen before, I'd spend 20 minutes talking and saying, "Okay, in this scene here, it needs to have this." And then he fires up, and you have a creative afternoon with the guitarist, going through all of his bag of tricks. But these guys come in, and I spend that same amount of time jiving them up and saying, "So in this scene, we need this and we need that..." And instead of them looking inspired, like the guitarist, they're looking more and more anxious. And eventually one of them raises his hand and he says, "Maestro, do you want us to play what's on the page here, or do you want us to play whatever the f**k you're talking about?" I said, "Play the page." And it was a real easy page. It was all whole notes, because I didn't have the technique to write anything more complicated than that.
The second thing was that they were done in 20 minutes. Instead of an afternoon, they were gone in 20 minutes! And I'm looking at the rest of the afternoon, going, "Well, that was easy! Damn, you just put it on the page, and they play it!" And the third thing was that I went, "Wow, that's beautiful!" And so began my decades-long journey with the orchestra. And I never would've gone there if my boss hadn't told me, his employee, to go there! And in the next 20 years as a film composer - I retired 15 years ago - I was forced to go here and hither and yon, and learn all kinds of stuff that I never would've learned if I was just pursuing my own artistic vision. So I thank all those bosses that I had.
You know, the film composer's not even an artist. He's a craftsman. But, man, those two decades, I sure did pick up some craft. So now I'm actually doing the same job, just not in Hollywood. I write opera, which is the same thing. The relationship between story and music is very profound, and I'm still doing that, only with a slightly different business model. The business model of opera is to lose rich people's money. [Laughs.] And it's just art for art's sake, because it's cool. Period. No bottom line.
Before we leave The Equalizer completely behind, whose idea was it to get you to play a pickpocket on an episode of the show?
Theirs! They figured, "We've got this composer who's got a bit of visibility. Why don't we get him on the screen?" So there's one scene in the club where the guy picks my pocket, and they had to set it up real special with my pocket. They had to put something to keep the pocket open so that he could slip his hand in and grab it while I'm strenuously looking the other direction. And then the next scene... "Okay, the Equalizer's in that trailer over there, so when we say, 'Action,' you cross the street, you open the door, and there you go."
So I'm there looking cool, I've got my trenchcoat and this old hat, I'm feeling like a movie star. "Action!" And I cross that New York street with the wind caught in my trenchcoat. I walked the f*** out of crossing that street! [Laughs.] Man, I walked like a panther! And I get up there, I climb the steps of the trailer, I open the door thinking, "I have just f***ing killed that shot!" And I close the door behind me...and in front of me is the Equalizer, and a camera. That wasn't the shot. This is the shot. So I'm looking kind of dumbfounded, and the Equalizer tears into me, and I'm looking absolutely f***ing petrified and intimidated, which was great acting. But I wasn't acting. I was petrified and intimidated! "Cut!" And we got the scene.
A few questions about random projects. First of all, what do you recall about the experience of playing on Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain"?
I never heard the song. I went over there for a wonderful two or three days with him and Tony Levin and...a couple of other musicians as well. I can't remember who. Mainly Tony Levin. Just spending a few days with him is something. But there weren't any songs. We were just doing grooves. Various faint ideas of a groove. And I just had a wonderful, creative time doing grooves. Two years later, his album [So] comes out, he sends me a couple of platinum discs, and I'm on the album. And I've listened to the album - it's a f***ing great album! - but I don't necessarily hear myself in there anywhere. But I'll take his word for it!
He gave me a credit on the album, but I had to read the liner notes to figure out, "Okay, which track am I on?" And I'm in there somewhere, along with Manu Katché and God knows who else. Ten other guys. But he gave me a credit and a couple of platinum discs just for my time. You know, Peter Gabriel is a consummate gentleman. He's a really, really good guy. It's a great record, a great track, but for me - and this is something I've learned - the journey is the mission with art. The thing, "Red Rain" by Peter Gabriel, is all about those three days that I spent there doing it. The end result, I don't care. He hadn't even written the song yet! That's a bonus at the end. But the mission, the purpose, was those three days of getting there. The journey is the mission. The destination is not the mission in art.
I hear from actors all the time that whether or not the movie they've done is any good doesn't matter nearly as much as how much fun they had doing it.
Absolutely. In fact, in recent years, most every album I've made, the minute I hand it over, that's pretty much the last time I ever hear it. Unless it comes on the radio or I have some reason to check out a track for something, that's the last time I will put it on my speakers and experience it and receive it as an audience. Because I'm on to the next one, the journey of creating something else.
How do you look back at the Animal Logic experience?
Oh, it was great. And kind of unfortunate that, at the same time, Stanley and I both, our careers as film composers took off. Wall Street might've even been around that time. And the record company, which did its best, well, suddenly there was no band! "Sorry, can't go out on tour, I've got this Oliver Stone movie..." [Laughs.] So this was one case where the record company didn't screw it up, the band did. What am I talking about, one case? There's so many cases where the band screwed it up...and this is one of 'em!
How much fun has the Gizmodrome experience been?
Oh, once again, a perfect example. What a blast making that record! I enjoyed it so much. It came out, it sank without a trace. Well, because we couldn't tour it, because to tour it would mean that we have to go play clubs, and... Oh, man, I've done my clubs. I've paid my dues. And like I said, I'm not that interested anymore! I made the record, making the record was the point, and I loved it! Working with those guys was fantastic. So the journey was the mission, and it came out and...that was kind of it for that!
But we did do some dates, and I learned how to play guitar and sing at the front of the stage. And Mark King brought along his drummer, Pete Ray Biggen, who's a f***ing motherf***er. [Laughs.] That little bastard made me feel like an old lion, real glad to have a young lion around the house to do the heavy lifting! He's a monster, that kid! And it meant that I could play guitar without people being pissed off because I'm not playing drums, because we had somebody. "Drums are covered, ladies and gentlemen, so now I get to play some guitar!"
I guess Oysterhead falls into the same realm, then, as well.
No, it's very different. With Oysterhead, I'm on drums, and it's not songs, it's improvisations and jams. What is similar, though, is that those two guys, Les [Claypool] and Trey [Anastasio], are a great hang. And we convene every three or four years, maybe five years go by, and every time we come back, it's a bigger offer, and we end up playing to more people! Last time we played was in Atlanta for 20,000 people who came out to see Oysterhead!
That ain't bad.
Yeah! And it is kind of an event. It is something special. It breaks all the rules of my show business pop music sensibilities. For a two-hour set, we rehearse for...about half an hour. And the rest of the time in bullsh*tting and goofing off. A song we have starts with this bass line... But hang on, Stewart! Trey and Les both have all their gizmotronics, and they want to play with 'em! So, okay, the next song up is "Pseudo Suicide." Okay! [Imitates the sound of the aforementioned gizmotronics.] For four minutes! Until Les finally comes in with that bass line. "Indulgent" does not begin to describe it.
But here's the thing! That's why I love jam fans as much as I love jazz fans. Not so wild about jazz music, but I love jazz fans for the same reason that I love jam fans: they love it when you just make s**t up! That improvisation thing is so much fun! Now, the penalty, the cost, is that some of it sucks. [Laughs.] There are moments where we're dead in the water. And I look at the audience, and I'm dying inside. This is against all my pop sensibilities. And they're more engaged! They're saying, "Oh, man, how are they gonna get out of this one?" The fact that it's crap and that we're obviously lost proves that it's never happened before and it's never gonna happen again...and they were there that night! And then Les comes in with something, or Trey, and we take off. "Whoa!" The release is huge.
Do you think there'll ever be another studio album, or are you guys pretty much just a live band now?
Yeah, pretty much a live band now. We've at various times talked about getting together. But Trey's got four bands, Les has got three or four bands already. Les has the Frog Brigade, working with Sean Lennon, and Primus, to name just a few. Trey, he has Phish, of course, and his solo stuff on the guitar, and then the Trey Anastasio Band, and he also has an orchestral concerto that he plays. So getting the three of us together... I'm easy. I'm the master of my own destiny. I haven't got a band to feed or tours to play or anything like that, so I'm very mobile. But those other two guys are working!
I know we have to start wrapping up, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I've always been a huge fan of "Miss Gradenko."
Oh, bless you.
It's just such a fun, quirky little pop song.
Yeah! About life behind the Iron Curtain. Life in a dictatorship. Romance in a dictatorship.
So looking back at the Police, did you ever think at any point post-Synchronicity that there would be another album?
I was surprised that we got through Synchronicity. It was hell. You know, I was surprised after Ghost in the Machine, which was also hell, that we did, in fact, reconvene to try again for another album, which turned out to be our biggest album. And I am grateful that my two colleagues stuck with it for that last album, after which point we were done. Ol' Stingo wrote us five albums, for which I am very grateful, and we were lucky to get that much...and if you love somebody, set them free!
So what's on the horizon for you at the moment? I know you said that you've been delving into opera.
Yeah! Well, I cannot mention any names - because that's bad luck until the ink has dried, so to speak - but I am deep in it and engaged. Because I've done two years out on the road with my Police arranged for orchestra, and I've played all the big orchestras, all the mid-level orchestras, and...sometimes I feel like Chuck Berry: I pull into town, fire up the local high school band, and count 'em in! You know, because I meet them in the afternoon, we rehearse for two and a half hours, and then the show's that night! Very slick. But I'm done with that now, and I'm back home, I'm not going out till next summer, and I'm in deep compose. In fact, that could almost sound like I'm decomposing. [Laughs.] But, no, I'm deep in composing...as I decompose!