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Big Noise Archive:
The Police's Andy Summers 1979 interview

by Al Gomes
The Providence Anchor

First published in September 1979

The following is one of the first interviews that The Police granted during their very first American tour. It was conducted on the evening of September 30, 1979 when the band appeared at Walsh Hall at Rhode Island College in Providence, RI.

The Providence Anchor: How did the name of the band come about?

Andy Summers: Steward (Copeland) thought of the name. There are no political connotations to it. It's just a very strong name. If anything, it has an irony for being the name of a rock group. It's a name people say once and never forget. It's a name of association. It's not that we're for or against the police, or that we're fascists.

The Providence Anchor: You've been quoted recently that you're trying to move beyond the punk scene.

Andy Summers: We're not punks. We don't sound like a punk band, obviously. We started out in the punk scene, but our music is more sophisticated than that. The harmonies, the rhythms we use. The songs Sting writes.

The Providence Anchor: And the reggae influence.

Andy Summers: We do a lot of reggae. Actually, a lot of punk bands have started to do a lot of reggae. We did it fairly early on in our career. We just don't sound punk. Overall, there's this real heavy punk sound out there with real thrashing chords, and we just don't sound like that.

The Providence Anchor: How did reggae find it's way into The Police's sound?

Andy Summers: Well, we live in London. There's a big West Indie community there. Reggae's very popular there. Bob Marley's quite popular, you know. And so we've all been listening to it for awhile. Then it started creeping into our rehearsals. We just started jamming reggae without even discussing it. And when Sting wrote 'Roxanne,' it was the first song we ever really treated as having a reggae feel. And even then, we really didn't think it was reggae. What we did was take the elements from reggae, the basic elements, and used to them to our own end. Because, I felt what we do is not really reggae, it's a blending of rock and reggae. We're one of the first groups ever doing that, really.

The Providence Anchor: Do you still find the punk movement exciting even though you're moving toward a more sophisticated style of music?

Andy Summers: It's very exciting. The scene in London is exciting. It's not really heavy punk there like it was two or three years ago like it is everywhere else around the world. It's sort of broadened out. The initial thrust has gone on and it's changed into a second generation of New Wave bands, as it were. It's very interesting. There's a lot of new clubs and a lot of new bands in London. Big scene.

The Providence Anchor: Does your new album, 'Reggatta De Blanc,' go in a new direction?

Andy Summers: Well, you could say we've dove further into our 'Police style.' The new album is more sophisticated than the last one ('Outlandos D'Amour'). I think at this point we can mold ourselves into anything we want to become. There's stuff on this new record where we go out on the limb that's quite different from the first album. Generally, we're very pleased with it. It's a better album, I think. And we've got the #1 single in England at the moment ('Message In A Bottle') from the new album.

The Providence Anchor: How have the US audiences been reacting to the live shows?

Andy Summers: They've been hysterical. They just freak out. It's incredible. And we're drawing in all different types of fans, something no other punk-oriented band has ever done.

The Providence Anchor: How long have you, Stewart and Sting known each other?

Andy Summers: Two and a half years. It's been two years that The Police have been together.

The Providence Anchor: Is this the most excited you've ever been making music?

Andy Summers: Oh, it's fantastic. It's the most fun band I've been in so far.

The Providence Anchor: Before the debut album ('Outlandos D'Amour') was released, against the wishes of your American label, A&M, you came over to do a short promotional tour. How did that come about?

Andy Summers: Yeah, that was a year ago (October 1978). We had no record out or anything. People were importing the 'Roxanne' single. And WBCN in Boston had it in heavy rotation as an import. So that was where most of our action was. We were signed to A&M worldwide, but we hadn't been issued in America, so the label people here didn't know about us. They just knew we were signed to their label in England. We just came over, and they held up their hands in horror that we were coming over with nothing to promote, and what the hell were we doing here. We started getting some small club gigs. We played Boston and New York, and that was great. We got great reviews and amazing reactions from audiences. Then the record company came to see us. They really dug us. That's how they came to release 'Roxanne,' and very quickly it started taking off. We released 'Outlandos D'Amour' in January (1979) and it charted very well.

The Providence Anchor: A&M changed the cover of the album from the English version. What was the reason for that?

Andy Summers: The English version has the same three faces of us, but it's slightly different. The English back cover's sort of this punky collage. The American company thought it was too punky. If the American radio stations saw this album sleeve, they wouldn't play the music. American stations are very paranoid about playing New Wave music. But, the scene has changed. We're one of the first New Wave bands to be played heavily. And the scene started changing after that.

The Providence Anchor: Do you hold the same opinion as other New Wave artists like Elvis Costello and The Clash do on the state of American radio and on American rock music in general?

Andy Summers: We don't hate it, but feel much the same way. American airwaves have been dominated by, sort of, pop-rock bands for so long, for the last ten years or so. Bands like Kiss and Fleetwood Mac. And anything that really goes out on a limb or strike up some new direction is not commercially reliable as all those really pop-ready bands. I think the thing that's changing a bit more in the last year is that some of the radio stations are a lot less paranoid, because 'Roxanne' was a big hit and it was by a so-called New Wave band. Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson are big too, so things have changed a bit.

The Providence Anchor: Now that you've broken through, what are the immediate plans for The Police?

Andy Summers: Well, basically, we're at the stage where we're going to keep working non-stop for some time to come. We're not at a point to rest right now. This tour goes to the end of December. Right after that, we're flying to Paris because we're appearing on TV. We then have January off to do some writing. February we're playing Japan, Australia and New Zealand. We're going to try to do India and Egypt and Istanbul, Athens, Hong Kong, all these places, and make it a world tour. And we're making a movie as well.

The Providence Anchor: A documentary?

Andy Summers: We're discussing it at the moment. we have some pretty wild ideas, actually. We're going to try to tie in the world tour with it. But...we want it to be a fictional thing, rather than just a straight documentary about a band.

The Providence Anchor: Are you happy with the way the band's success is building or do you sometimes want it to happen all at once?

Andy Summers: No, I think it's very healthy to gain your audience step by step by making good records, and going out there working. It's much more real, you know. Suddenly overnight sensations, well...it doesn't always happen that way. Especially in America. You have to really slug your guts out from touring. America is so big. In England, we made it there in six short months. But here's what happened...once 'Roxanne' was a hit here in the states, then it bounced back to England and suddenly we took off. We were successful here before we were in England. That's the power of America. And now in England, we're #1 there this week. It's incredible. It's like Beatlemania in London for us right now. But we're incredibly grateful for how America has treated us.

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