An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
With a career dating back to the ‘60s as a member of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Dantalian’s Chariot and Eric Burdon & The Animals, Andy Summers has been a professional musician for 50 years. His work in the ‘60s was noticed by critics and musicians, but he remained sorely underrated. However, his fortunes changed a decade into his career when he joined forces with bassist Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland in The Police. From 1977 to 1986, The Police were one of the biggest bands in the world and Summers’ unique approach to guitar playing was finally recognized. While Sting and Copeland were rumored to have been at odds throughout most of the band’s career, Summers was seen as the level-headed member. When fame hit, The Police went from being known as a little Reggae-influenced British Post-Punk band to a worldwide Rock phenomenon. With great success comes great responsibility; every aspect of the band’s life became magnified and distorted beyond comprehension. Tensions within the band threatened to break them apart at any given moment, while their personal relationships suffered a worse fate. The pressures and stress of fame led to divorce for Summers and his wife Kate, although that story has a happy ending. In fact, even after what appeared to be an acrimonious split, the story of The Police seems to have had a happy ending as well. All of this is well-documented in the brilliant new documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police.
A long time in the making, Can’t Stand Losing You is a revealing look inside the world of Andy Summers and The Police. However, it is not just a standard Rockumentary – it is also a multi-level love story. On the surface, it appears to be an honest look at The Police’s career and reunion tour in 2007 and 2008. Summers doesn’t dish dirt on Sting and Copeland, nor does he try to hide his own faults. There are a few uncomfortable moments, but they are handled with humor and dignity. Apart from the band’s story, there’s also a love story between Andy and his wife Kate that is inspiring and, dare I say it, heart-warming. Finally, the film is really about Andy’s passion for music, family, photography and contentment. He takes a long and winding road to get to the end of the film, but there’s no denying he is a better person for it. Oh, did I mention the music? There are plenty of music video clips and live performance excerpts to satisfy hardcore fans and make new converts in the process. Can’t Stand Losing You is everything you want from a rock documentary and more.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Andy Summers about the movie, the music and more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police is finally available. How are you feeling about the way it turned out and the reaction to it so far?
ANDY SUMMERS: It’s thrilling, actually. It seems to be going down very well with everyone. That’s really quite gratifying because it’s been a long haul to get to this point.
SPAZ: Wasn’t the film made in 2012 or 2013?
ANDY: Yeah, that’s right. We did show it originally – not a fully finished version – at The First Time Fest in New York and that was it, basically. It did get a release in Japan. Actually, the movie was in three cities in Japan and it was released in Italy last summer. All across Italy, in 130 cinemas. It’s been minimal. This U.S. release, in a way, to me is the first real tangible and exciting involvement I’ve had with it. This is how I expected it to be – it’s very nice to be going through this. We’ve still got all of Europe, UK and Australia to look forward to – there’s a lot of places to go with it yet.
SPAZ: So, in a way, you’re going to be going on tour with the movie then?
ANDY: Oh yeah, I think inevitably I will. Because of how well it’s been received here, I think it’s almost a no-brainer that it’s finally going to come out in the UK. I think it will do really well in Europe.
SPAZ: What inspired you to make the film? Was it because of the reunion tour?
ANDY: It was actually prior to the reunion tour. There is an interesting little story as to how it came about. The first thing is, I wrote the book. I thought, “Wow, amazing! I wrote a book and it’s out and everybody’s looking at it.” It was quite successful. Then around that same period there was a movie out called The Kid Stays In The Picture directed by Brett Morgen, which is basically the life story of Robert Evans, the great film producer at Paramount. The film was made out of only still photographs and his voiceover. It occurred to me that I’ve got all these photographs, I’ve got the book…I could do the same film. And just by sheer coincidence, I met somebody who knew Brett. I was just discussing various projects and said I wondered if I could ever do a film like that. He said, “Well when are you going to talk to Brett Morgen? He’s a friend of mine. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.” I did email him and laid it out and got a very positive response. Eventually, he turned up in LA and we really hit it off. I got him together with another producer who worked on Nicholas Cage’s films – Norman Golightly – and then I had this little team. So we all knew what the idea was to make this film. There was no script or anything, but amazingly, we sold it. We made two calls and sold the idea of the film. It’s pretty amazing. I’m very lucky.
SPAZ: The film does have an underlying tension, but it offers a very fair balance of the good and the bad without tipping the scale either way. It’s also very honest. Was it hard to maintain the integrity and the mystery of the band while also being honest?
ANDY: I think the honesty is very important. I’m not one that’s brutally honest. I don’t know if you have to be brutal about it. But in the book, I certainly told the truth – the difficulties of being in a band that’s got three very strong personalities in it and all that kind of stuff. And then the divorce that comes from being in a band that was a worldwide phenomenon – how it took its toll on our personal lives. There are a few moments of tension in the film, but I just think that’s all part and parcel of being in a band like that – that you have these creative tensions. That doesn’t mean we hate each other. It just means that we’re in a band. We are going to work out what we have to do.
SPAZ: While watching the movie, I already knew that The Police had reunited, but I think I was more pleased with the fact that you and your wife Kate got back together.
ANDY: Yeah, that is the significant subplot of the film because early on, I found the right woman – she was ‘the one.’ Later on, as the film progresses, you see that the pressure is just really difficult and I’m finding it harder and harder to relate to being in a marriage and having a baby and all that. And Kate is extremely wise, and she said “Fuck off, it’s over. I’m not doing this with you,” because it was so intense. We weren’t just a band with a little hit somewhere – it was this raging worldwide phenomenon like The Beatles. That’s what happened to us and we were never at home. We were basically on tour for seven or eight years. We never came off the road. It was too much for marriage. But of course, as you see in the film, fantastically we got back together. There was something there. She immediately got pregnant with twins. (laughs)
SPAZ: Looking back, were you more surprised at you and Kate getting back together or The Police getting back together?
ANDY: I think The Police getting back together was a surprise because the break went on for too long. We should’ve gotten back together within ten years after the initial split, but it took a lot longer than that. Just looking back on it now, 2007 and 2008 were brilliant moments to do it because everyone had the money. It was before the whole economic collapse. It was a worldwide stadium sell-out tour. An incredible tour – one of the biggest of all time. It will be very hard to do that again, I think.
SPAZ: When The Police originally split, was it a relief? And how long did it take you to get a fresh perspective on everything?
ANDY: It was very difficult. It was like being dropped into the abyss for a while. I was sort of drifting around between LA and New York and London – just wandering about. It was very difficult to process. It had been eight years with this entourage – everybody kowtowing to us all over the world and suddenly it’s gone. And what are you going to do? Be in another Rock band and be not as good as the one you were just in? But I am really a musician and that’s what I was born to do. What helped me get my legs back on the ground was going back into the studio and just starting to record again.
SPAZ: Outside of The Police, you’ve had this very eclectic solo career, but it’s not really addressed in the movie. Your guitar playing has always had this nice balance of emotion and innovation.
ANDY: Wow, I really like that you said that. And it’s certainly what I try for. People ask me what I’ve been doing musically – I’ve been working on an album, which I hope I finish in April and release it later this year. It’s called Qualia. I am writing music that I think is emotional and innovative. It doesn’t really fall into any strict genre, but it is sort of experimental. Some people say it’s avant-garde but it’s got real content in it and I try to make it sound fresh. Not the standard Rock song structures. It’s much freer than that. We’ve got all sorts of devices that I use for the guitar. I’m excited about it. It’s coming out great.
SPAZ: The movie also focuses on your passion for photography. Do you feel that releasing and expressing emotion through guitar playing and photography can often say more than poetry and prose, being prone to different interpretations?
ANDY: Yeah, that’s a good point. If I have any innate gifts at all, it’s for music really and I seem to have acquired a pretty good photographic eye. To me, the photography that I like to do is the visual counterpart of the music I like to make. I’m not trying to be a commercial or celebrity photographer. I’m not trying to do any of that. I go out and do very different kinds of photography that, to me, is pretty much the emotional parallel of the kind of music I’m attracted to – they’re almost two sides of the same coin.
SPAZ: What’s next for Andy Summers?
ANDY: I’m finishing off this album over the next weeks. Also, I’m trying to finish a whole book of photography that I’ve shot in the wilds of China, believe it or not. I go to China twice a year. I’ve been traveling in China a lot and I’ve got all these stories from China. And of course, I’m promoting this film. I think the film is going to take up a lot of time over the next year because we’re going to sell it in a lot of countries. I’m probably going to be on the road doing this job for a while.
SPAZ: Will a Police reunion ever happen again?
ANDY: You know, before, I was like, “No way in a million years – not after the last one.” But there seems to be a great love for these “older” bands. They seem to be the biggest selling acts in the world. So, yeah, I think it’s a possibility.
Thanks to Andy Summers
Special thanks to Rick Rieger, Lauren Watt, Dana House, Nancy Bach and Nick Kominitsky