Stewart Copeland On The Police’s Early Days, ‘Civil’ Breakup & Life After Rock

They’re one of the best-selling bands in the world, and this morning Stewart Copeland, drummer and one of the founders of The Police, joined The K-EARTH 101 Morning Show in studio to share stories from his days with the band, life after their breakup, and what he’s up to now.

Stewart told us about his fascinating background growing up in a family that sounds straight out of a spy movie. His father, Miles Copeland, worked in the CIA, something he didn’t find out until he was older. Not only was his father a CIA operative, their family was close friends with the notorious British double agent, Kim Philby.

“There was an English spy called Kim Philby – he was a double agent – he was a good friend of my family. I mean, the Philbys and us had matching children and we played – Harry Philby was my age,” he explained. “One day, my friend Harry’s dad disappeared, and they were true-blue English family and turned out, a couple weeks later, he’d gone back to Moscow. He’d been a double agent all along.”

Many movies and books have been chronicled this wild story with Stewart’s dad right in the middle of it, which he never quite got used to.

“It’s strange to see a movie about Philby and there’s one of his best friends, the CIA guy – my dad – played by some actor,” he laughed.

It was after this went down and his father’s cover was blown while living in Beirut that the family had to “get out of Dodge real quick,” and move to England, where he ultimately met Sting, then later guitarist Andy Summers, and the rest is history.

Stewart shared stories of the good old days with The Police, including the recordings of some their biggest hits like “Every Breath You Take” that was recorded on Montserrat Island in the Caribbean. However, as Stewart noted, the island is “sadly is no more” due to a volcanic eruption that completely covered the island in lava and left their studio under “ten feet of pumice.”

Stewart Copeland2

Another tale many fans may have heard from The Police’s early days was that the band’s edgy, spiky-haired punk look was all created for a Wrigley’s gum commercial. We were surprised to hear, it’s all true!

“We all have a different viewpoint, I personally am very proud of this Machiavellian, mercenary detail in our history, because the thing is, we’d never be caught dead discussing our look,” he said. “We realized soon on that when you’re a pop star, you are the product – your face, your clothes, your hairdo.

“I can say this now because I think the jig is up, the band was designed on paper…we’re gonna be angry, we’re gonna do the punk thing, even though we were too old and too experienced to be ‘genuine punks’ that was a scene we could capitalize on,” he said. “So then when it came to the way the band even looks, a Wrigley’s chewing gum art director designed the look of The Police…and guess what? It worked!”

That’s right, before they hit it big in the music world, The Police shot this commercial in 1978 and were “glad of the work” at the time, but Stewart says it “tested badly and they never used it.” The commercial was ultimately shelved never to be found or seen again, even on YouTube (we tried looking).

Of course, The Police did wind up making a huge splash on the music scene with their breakout hit “Roxanne” and made a quick rise in the UK and was later part of the British new wave invasion in the States. After recording five records, selling over 75 million albums and winning six GRAMMYs during their prime, The Police disbanded in 1987 to focus on solo work.

We asked Stewart about The Police’s breakup and whether he or any of the members felt “insecure” about what lied ahead for them in the future when leaving such a successful music career behind.

“Are you kidding? That’s the whole way bands can break is ‘I don’t need these guys,'” he quipped. “You feel the world is your oyster and in a way you’re locked away from it because you are yourself the golden goose…you’re surrounded by people for whom, that is not a great idea. In fact the best idea for you, Stewart, is your band.”

He explains that all the members were on the same page when they decided to disband to try new things outside of The Police.

“When the band broke up, it was actually when we were all feeling really good about ourselves and each other. We had a nice, civil conversation about it,” he said. “We didn’t break up because we were not getting along, that’s absolutely very far from the truth. In fact we broke up because we were getting along and we could feel confident going out into the world.”

So is he still close with Sting and Andy after all these years?

“Yeah. More like siblings than friends,” he said.

After reuniting with The Police for a one-off tour in 2007-2008, Stewart is now enjoying life after his rock and roll days as a film and stage composer, most recently having scored a concerto, Poltroons In Paradise, for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He also invites many of his musical friends to jam together in his studio, which he uploads to his popular YouTube channel.

He’s also recently gotten on board the booming app business. Stewart collaborated with a friend, Kevin Godley (formerly of the band 10cc and director of many Police music videos back in the day), for a brand new app that aims to bring musicians all over the world together in collaboration. Called WholeWorldBand, Stewart says the app is designed to bring back the communal experience of making music together and easier for all, professional or amateur, to create.

“Music is really a communal thing and it is our advanced society that has developed this concept of specialization in all things, including music,” he explained. “So lowering the bar, making music once again easier for us all to participate, and we are all musicians together, is really what it’s all about.”

According to their website, WholeWorldBand is “allows anyone to make music & video using only an iPad or iPhone.”  The app  already has users ranging from major professionals like Stewart, Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), David Gray, as well as many thousands of beginners and up-and-coming musicians that are collaborating together.

The app allows musicians to lay down their owns tracks, including vocals, guitars, bass lines and more, to ones already created by music stars like Copeland in order to make their own bona-fide rock song. Not only that, the resulting song and video of the recording session may even be thrown on YouTube, where it could start generating revenue that’s split between all the contributing artists.

Stewart praises how advancements in technology within the music world has helped widen the talent pool and discover many unique artists who’d otherwise never would have been discovered.

“The cool thing is, computers have made it easy…to make a record,” he explained. “That means any damn fool could make a record…but the good news is, amongst all those fools, are some talented people that you never would have heard of if they had, like in my day, to go to the man to record an album.”

We went over so much more with Stewart during his visit and broke down the interview into easy-to-listen segments below.

Part one: Stewart talks about his father’s CIA history and growing up family friends with the notorious double agent Kim Philby.

Part two: Stewart shares stories of the recording sessions of some of The Police’s biggest hits, the band’s early career, how the  band got its “punk” from a Wrigley’s Gum commercial (that never aired), and The Police’s reunion tour in 2007.

Part three: Stewart talks about his musical brothers, Miles, who owned a record label called IRS (Go-Gos, Bangels, REM, Oingo Boingo), and Ian, who ran a successful music agency called FBI that represented some of the biggest artists of the 80s like Joan Jett, B-52s and more.

Part four: Stewart talks about the new app he collaborated with his friend on called Whole World App, and even does a little jam with the tracks on air.

More from Britt Bickel
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