Transcript "Ten Summoner's Tales Interview Disc"

[Updated: November 7, 1999]

Sting - photosession for tourbook Ten Summoner's Tales - 1993 Transcript from: Sting - Ten Summoner's Tales Interview Disc (USA promo CD)
Date: 1993

Question: The subject matter in Ten Summoner's Tales is far more positive and upbeat than that of your previous album, The Soul Cages.

STING: I just felt that it had served its purpose personally in that I was, um, allowed to exorcise a few ghosts and uh, didn't really feel the need to do it again. So, I wanted to make a record that...get back to just writing songs about having fun, y'know? Um, which is obviously why, why I began the whole thing how many years ago? I'd write songs for, for fun. And um, I have to say that's exactly what happened. I was in a very good mood. I was, uh, with my band and I was writing songs to amuse them, to amuse myself, to amuse my family. And, uh, that kinda makes me smile when I listen to the record.

Question: Did you experience a writer's block on this album as you did on The Soul Cages?

STING: The writer's block on The Soul Cages was really an, an unwillingness to deal with the subject matter. Once that I decided that that's all that was gonna come out, then it started to flow. But I resisted. I resisted it at first. This one, um,...I just wanted to write songs, y'know? That's...and I did it. And I, and I had to do this album this way. I had to make a record that was, um, fun.

Question: Tell us about the title Ten Summoner's Tales .

STING: It's a mild joke. A mild literary joke, because my name, Sumner, comes from the medieval name Summoner. And a Summoner was someone who summoned you to court, or summoned you to see the king, or, you know...something. And, um, and the Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fifteenth century. Um, it's a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims. So, there's a nun, there's a miller, there's a knight, there's a summoner, there's a pardoner, and they each tell a story. And there's a whole different...all kinds of stories. Romantic stories, funny stories, rude stories. All told in different styles. And there's a kind of ragbag. So I thought, there's, there's a connection here because my album is essentially a ragbag of styles, y'know? It comes from everywhere. The only thing that connects it is me. So, I thought with my connection here with this name, Summoner, and this, this, this album being a sort of eclectic ragbag of tunes I'll call it SUMMONER'S TALES, Ten Summoner's Tales . So it's, it's a mild...It's quite complicated to explain to the Japanese, for example, even the French. The interesting thing about this Summoner's tale is that it's actually about farting. And, um, (laughs) It's...I mean there are depths to this joke that I didn't foresee.

Question: The humor in this album brings out a different side of you.

STING: I think that's just been a, a distortion of people's focus on, on previous records, y'know? There's been humor in all of my, all of the records really, apart from The Soul Cages which, which only had a market for the bereaved. But before that, y'know, there's a sort of... I had a tradition of sort of writing songs that were ironic or mildly funny. But people tended to concentrate on, y'know, the songs about issues. The political songs. Because they're easier to write about, y'know? It's, it's...There's a kind of handle there. And I think people got the impression at a distance that I was just writing about these sort of "heavy" issues which wasn't actually the case. Um, and it's certainly not the case about my output, y'know? I think it's a broader output than that.

Question: The album is called Ten Summoner's Tales, but there are eleven songs.

STING: I just like ten, as a number (laughs). I think we get around it by having the last number as a, as an epilogue. You know? It's a sort of after-thought...that you could listen to, at least, these songs and you really should put your amateur analyst hat to one side because...Maybe I'm kidding myself. I'll say you, you could listen to these songs and really, they're not really about me. But maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe they are, y'know? Maybe you find out more from these songs than you would from deliberately autobiographical songs or confessional songs.

Question: You have left the song If I Ever Lose My Faith In You open to interpretation.

STING: Well quite deliberately in that the song is, are, is in two distinct parts. The first part is about the things I've lost faith in. It's quite easy to be, um, precise about the things you've lost, at least I've lost, faith in. Politics. Media. Technology. Things that, y'know, everybody feels this at the moment. And yet I, along with most other people, have a great deal of hope and y'know, a feeling of things can, things will and can get better. But so what do we place our faith in? What do we still have faith in? And I can't define that as easily as I can define what I don't believe in anymore. Uh, and yet it still exists. So I haven't defined it. I've just said, "If I ever lose my faith in you." And you, or you (laughs), could be, uh, my producer (laughs again). It could, it could be, uh, faith in, in God. It could be a faith in myself or a faith in, um, romantic love. It could be all of those things, but I don't define it. I think it's important not to define it, because it's, once you define something it's, it evaporates. I think it's important in, uh, this day and age when we're dictated to by MusicTeleVision that, y'know, what a particular song is about that, uh, the old ambiguity that songwriters had can be retained y'know?

Question: Tell us where you recorded this album.

STING: I really don't like studios very much. I find them sort of prison-like environments. Y'know, where you don't see the air, or breathe the air, or see sunlight for months on end. So, I decided that I'd make a record at home. Y'know, with the kids around and...So I moved everybody out of the dinning room (laughs) and moved this equipment in, and, uh, and the band and their instruments and my producer and engineers. And we made a record at home in the dinning room. And the kitchen is next door so we had the nice smell of food going most of the day. And we could, y'know, walk out in the garden, open the windows and just live a real life instead of this sort of fake, uh, environment that the studio gives you, you know? It just made, it us happier basically.

Question: If I Ever Lose My Faith In You starts off very suddenly, tell us about that.

STING: It starts off with a flattened fifth. Actually flat five is an interesting chord because it was banned by the church. It's called a tri-tone. And it was banned by the church! It was the devil's music. Um, most blues scales - oh, the blues scale is based on a tri-tone - has a tri-tone in it. And in sacred music, from the middle ages, the Pope banned the tri-tone. And banned the flattened fifth. It's dis, dis, disconcerting. It puts you ill-at-ease. That's...It's also my favorite interval. (laughs) So, we start that way so you think the song has been going on for a while, but it hasn't. The album's full of little tricks like this.

Question: Tell us about Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven).

STING: Love Is Stronger Than Justice is a very odd phrase, y'know? It's, "Does the end justify the means?" or "Does the means justify the end?" I really got the idea from - it started when I, I was writing this piece in 7/8 time. Which is actually, one of my, one of my favorite time signatures, because it, it's like a bar of four, then a waltz, a bar of a waltz, and then - it sort of catches up with itself. Very quirky. I, I just love it. So, I thought, well, there has to be some reason to write in 7/8, y'know? You have to, there has to be some logical reason. So, I thought about the seven. Seven days in a week, uh. Seven brides for seven brothers. The Magnificent Seven. The seventh son. So, I sort of concocted this little, uh, story based on the Magnificent, on the movie "The Magnificent Seven." Where they're, where they help this, this Mexican town to get rid of the bandidos. But they're all promised a wife. And, uh, unfortunately there's only one eligible female in the whole place. So the leader of the, uh, seven brothers, uh, decides to kill the other six (laughs), um, to get the women.

Question: There's a cross pollination of musical styles in Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven).

STING: I think that again that's a, that's a humorous trick in that if you go from one time signature to another without any explanation or any warning it does create a kind of humor. You, you sort of laugh and this chorus comes in and it's such a generic country chorus, y'know? It has the pedal steel guitar in it. It was funny when we recorded it we used one of the top, um, pedal steel players in Nashville. His name is Franklin. And, uh, Paul Franklin. And he, uh - brilliant player. He'd never played in 7/8 before. Right? And he thought we were from planet, you know, Tralphamodor, or something. He was like, totally, uh, ill-at-ease with this time signature. Until he got into 4/4 in the chorus and then he was happy! And he played incredible! And then, and we went back into 7/8 and he said, "Ugh! I can't do that!" I said, "How do you think this will go down in Nashville?" And he said, "It won't!"

Question: You have some very funny rhymes in Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven).

STING: Well that's another trick. It's a sorta...a half, half-rhyme...It's often...It's called a feminine rhyme It's a um...It's a humorous thing where it's, it's not really, it doesn't really rhyme. You see you laugh at the inept nature of it, y'know? It's all trickery.

Question: Tell us about Fields Of Gold.

STING: Well I moved to the country for the first time in my life in, in England. And, um, there are barley fields right next door. And, uh, I remember walking through one day and, and just, just seeing this crop being moved by the, the, the wind and the sunshine. And it looked like, um, - well there could have been people making love in the barley! (laughs) Or the wind could have been, y'know, the wind seemed like it was making love to the barley. So, I thought that was a great metaphor for love. And, uh, I don't know. It's kind of a love song.

Question: The end of Fields Of Gold sounds like Bob Dylan's My Back Pages.

STING: Well I, I'm perfectly willing to, uh, say that, you know, Bob Dylan was a, a seminal force in my young years. You know, both lyrically and melodically. I 'spose every songwriter has to tip his hat to Bob Dylan at some point, y'know? So I, I don't mind that at all.

Question: As you develop musically do you find it harder to write simple songs?

STING: It's the hardest thing of all to do is to write a simple song. Um, I, I don't think that means you can stop studying. I don't think you should can't get to the end of music. That's the great thing about it. Um, my teachers have been people like Gil Evans. You know? Who, who at the age of seventy-six, was still learning. Was still listening. Still had an open mind. It, you just don't get to the end of it. It's not just about three chords and a relative minor. If you think that then your missing an awful lot. At the same time, you can create beautiful, simple work with just those chords (laughs). So, you know, I-I-I-I, I don't want to rely on just those four chords, but, uh, sometimes that's all you need.

Question: Tell us about Heavy Cloud, No Rain.

STING: We had a big drought in England. But um...A lot of rivers were drying up in England, believe it or not. That green and pleasant land was suffering from a lack of rain, so I started to write this song, "Heavy Cloud No Rain. I think originally it was called "Heavy Guitar No Brain," but we uh, (laughs) we developed this thing. I just like this idea of Louis XVI having an astrologer who would tell him that his, his (laughs again), his execution could be postponed if it rained, y'know? Cause they would...y'know? So he looks up in the sky and says, "Well its heavy cloud, but no rain." It's kind of funny.

Question: Tell us about She's Too Good For Me.

STING: Oh it's absolutely a, uh, a generic sort of rock-a-billy kind of rock 'n' roll vibe. But the reason for that is, is in the string quartet that appears, y'know, sixty-four bars later. Again, with out any warning, much to the chagrin of my record company who said, "You've spoiled a beautiful song!" (laughs) "This could be a hit!" I said, "Well, that, I wouldn't have written it without this idea, y'know? It has to go to a string quartet here." Um...That's what, that's the point of it, you know? I mean I, I really, I can't claim any originality in this song at all, y'know? It's purely a pastiche of great rock 'n' roll. But, um, going to the string quartet in the middle is my idea. OK? (laughs again) That's me.

Question: The song Seven Days has a Broadway show feel to it.

STING: Yeah, I mean I spent some time on Broadway. And had a great time on Broadway. Actually, one of the best times in my life was actually being here in the city walking to work every day and the old cliche is "There are no people like show people." And it's right, y'know? They were great. Um, I suppose one of the first records I really listened to was Westside Story, which is an incredibly sophisticated piece of music, you know, melodically and lyrically. Which is Bernstein and Stephen Soundheim. Um, it's written in 5/4, my song and I suppose it has that sort of - there's a strange hybrid of, of rhythmic, uh, complexity actually. So Broadway, I, I, I don't mind Broadway. It's a pretty frivolous song. I mean it's, you know, it's the story of - it's this sort of Charles Atlas story. You know, of having to face Neanderthal brute to win the hand of his loved one. And, uh, I think he does. I think he wins in the end.

Question: You draw on a lot of religious imagery for Saint Augustine In Hell.

STING: I mean one of the benefits of a Roman Catholic education - there are a lot of downs to it - is, is a, um, is a rich reservoir of imagery and, um, symbolism. Y'know, something about guilt and hell, fire, and bright colors of blood and torture and all this. And saints and archetypal characters. So I, I don't regret it in that sense. I think its very good to be brought up a Catholic. Actually, it's very good to be brought up in, in any religion that's deeply steeped in history, you know? I think most religions are. So, I'd rather be brought up in a religious way, than not be brought up in a religious way. Um, so I'm, I'm grateful. It gives you something to kick against, or something to argue against, or whatever. But, you know, and the same's true of the Jewish faith and the Protestant faith. I'm not sure you should agree with everything they tell you. Saint Augustine, though, was an interesting character. He, uh, he's - my favorite comment of his was, "God made me pure, but not yet." And I think that's kind of the way I feel.

Question: Tell us about the character in Saint Augustine In Hell.

STING: Well, he, you know the character in the song is sort of tempted by his best, best friend's girlfriend, who's something else. And, uh, he ends up in Hell somehow. His best friend kills him. That's it! His best friend kills him with a switchblade and he ends up in Hell. And, um, the Devil says to him, "Well, you're not alone. There all here. There's judges, there's, uh, lawyers, accountants, music critics." (laughs) Ah, there's a little bit of revenge there, y'know?

Question: Tell us about your keyboard player, David Sancious.

STING: He is such an asset to the band. I mean he, he plays jazz and he plays rock 'n' roll and he plays classical music with such facility and without any gaps, y'know? But he's a perfect musician for me to, to work with because I feel - this is the way I feel about music: It's, it's all there for the taking. And you just, you rob from wherever you choose to. And then you present it seamlessly. I, I don't believe in any, in any sort of purist sense that, uh, you know, "we have to make a rock 'n' roll record." Or we "have to do a blues record." Or we...I'm not interested, y'know? I'm interested in hybrids. That's really what turns me on, y'know. Changing something. Um, bastardizing something, if you like, to make something a little quirky. Otherwise I'm bored. I'm not a musicologist, never will be.

Question: The song It's Probably Me originally appeared on the Lethal Weapon 3 Soundtrack. Which version came first?

STING: This version was second. I wanted this record to be very much a, uh, a, a, record, if you like, of my work over six months. Or seven months. And I wrote this song during this period. I actually wrote it for Eric. Him and Michael Kamen were doing the soundtrack and they phoned up and said, "You know, maybe you could write a theme song." And, um, they played me the theme that they'd used in the previous two movies. So I adapted the changes in that and wrote a melody and a, and some lyrics. The hard thing was, you know, what do you write about? And they said, "Well, it's a "buddy" movie. We want a "buddy" song." So, having, having seen LETHAL WEAPON, I thought, well, they're kind of buddies who can't really express, you know, they can't really say, "I love you." It's that male thing. So there's a kind, there's going to be a kind of reticence. Uh, uh, I was sort of searching my mind for a sort of phrase that would, would give the impression of reticence and yet deep love. And so, so, it's the idea of "it's probably me. (laughs) You know? If there's someone out there who's gonna, you know, save your life or who you can count on. It's probably me. And, and the word, "probably," kind of clenched it for me. So, I sent it back to Warner Brothers and Michael Kamen went, "Oh, we love it! It's great! Why don't you sing it?" I said, "Nah! I'm washing me hair this weekend," y'know? And they said, "Oh, come on!" So, I, I came over to New York and sang it. And Eric played - played a beautiful guitar solo. So, then I decided that I'd like to do it with the band in a different way. And I think, um, it was just different. I don't think it was better or worse. I think that what we arrived at is a slightly more nocturnal sound. And I think it's important too, that the skeleton of a song is, is what you build on. And the record is only a blueprint. And so, uh, you can change and adapt. Change keys, change, change the structure, change the feel, change the vibe. Just breathe new life into it every time you do it, otherwise, it's, you know, you set it in stone and it's dead.

Question: Tell us about Shape Of My Heart.

STING: I wanted to write about a card player. A gambler. Who gambles not, not to win, but to try and figure out something. To try and figure out some sort of mystical logic in luck. Or chance. A sort, some sort of scientific law or almost religious law. So this guy's a philosopher, you know, and he's not playing for respect and he's not playing for money. He just wants to try and figure out the, the law, I think. There has to be some logic to it. And, um, he's a poker player so he doesn't, it's not easy for him to express his emotions. In fact, he doesn't express any. He has a mask. And it's just one mask and it never changes. That's good for a poker player, but it's terrible for a, for a lover. If you're having a relationship with a guy like this, the poor woman is lost. So, I tried to create a little story that the guy was searching with his gambling. At the same time losing, losing his relationship. And also the cards are - I looked back at the derivation of our playing cards, which are actually tarot cards. And they're very old. Thousands of years old. Where they are, the suits of the cards. The, the diamonds mean money. The, the clubs are weapons. The spades are swords. And the, um, the hearts are, you know, it's love. But, uh, then I, I got, I got more and more involved in this thing, y'know, and the shape of the heart is not the shape of the human heart. And so, there's a kind of conflict there between reality and fantasy.

Question: What is Something The Boy Said about?

STING: It's about prediction, y'know? It's about, it's the Captain's son predicts that all, all will not be well. And uh, he's right.

Question: Tell us about Epilogue (Nothing 'Bout Me).

STING: It's a tongue in cheek, lightheartedly saying, "Well, you've heard the songs. Y'know - Nothin' 'bout me!" I think it's hard to know someone. I think to know someone really well you have to actually love them. And you have to love them for their good points and their bad points. So you have to live with them, really. You know, I, I, I, I've been the victim of a lot of amateur psychoanalysis and yet the only person, people who really know me are, are my family, y'know? And, and they seem to, to put up with me, so.

Question: There's a lot of harmonica on this album.

STING: Well I play the, the, uh, diatonic blues harmonica. Uh, the chromatic harmonica is very difficult. It's the one with the button and all the flats and sharps. And, um, Branford couldn't play on this record. Branford normally does, does a guest spot on my records. He was busy with The Tonight Show, y'know? And he couldn't come over, so...I don't wanna have saxophone on this unless it's Branford, y'know? I'm kind of biased that way! (laughs) And so, I thought, "Well, maybe chromatic harmonica would fit the bill." You know, it's a very, it's a very adaptable instrument. One of the greatest players of the century lives in London. And he's called Larry Adler, who played with Gershwin. He's had symphonies written for him. He's a classical player. He was blacklisted by the McCarthy people in, in the late forties, left the United States and went to live in London. He's been there ever since. Um, and he couldn't work at all. But, um, he, he does very, he thrives very well now. And he's, he's in his seventies. I invited him along to play on the Shape Of My Heart and he was fantastic, you know? Great tone!

Question: Tell us about your upcoming tour.

STING: The tour is gonna be short. Well, short for me. I normally tour for, uh, fifteen or so months. Usually, I do that to postpone the next time I'm going to have to face a blank page. You know, uh, somebody says to me, "Ah, we'll just going to do another month or two." And I said, "Great! Then I don't have to write any songs!" The tour, touring is wonderful because you sort of suspend responsibility. And you don't have to answer the phone. You don't have to answer letters. You, you, you can say, "Ah, I'm the road," you know? You... 'Please, You can't bother me.' It's also sort of modern-day piracy. I'm not going to explain any more than that! Um, (laughs) I love it! I've got a bunch of guys I've been with for twelve years. The crew - I've collected these guys. And, um, and I've got a big family. And we go off on the road, and we...we have a great time! (laughs some more) So, it's six months - this tour. Two months in Europe, two months in the states, and two months somewhere else. Anywhere else that's left! Um, I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be...good.

Question: Tell us about your stadium tour with The Grateful Dead.

STING: I just think that it's such a wacko idea - me playing with The Dead. I, uh, I said yes immediately. I didn't even think about it. In fact, I'm not even going to think about it. It might be totally wrong. I don't think The Dead audience have the faintest idea who I am, so it's like playing to a completely new constituency, you know?

Question: Have you ever seen the Dead live?

STING: I haven't, no, but I've seen, but I've been in town when they've been in town. The last time I was in New York City, last year, they, they were playing in Madison Square Garden and the whole town was in 1968 again. And I was rooting around in my drawer for a tie-dyed T-shirt, but I couldn't find one! (laughs) I think it's gonna be fun. I mean they're, they're, they're good musicians, The Grateful Dead. And so, I think we'll have a certain common ground, y'know? They're interested in rain forests and stuff like that.

Question: What sort of venues do you want to play on your tour?

STING: I wanna play small - I always think when you, when you begin a tour, if you're suddenly in big buildings, y'know, like arenas, then it tends, it tends to dictate the style of the music. So, the, the environment dictates the music and I want the music to dictate the environment. I mean I want the music to create an environment. It's easier to do that in a theater than in a big stadium. Then, y'know, the music can evolve. Um, maybe three or four months down the line then you can play a big place. You can't start big. I, I don't like that. I like to see an audience. I like the human dimension of a theater.

Question: How do you look back on your time spent with The Police?

STING: I'm very proud of being in The Police, I have to say it. I think we're...I listened to the Greatest Hits album the other week. It's relentless, y'know? Hit after hit! So, I think I'm very proud of that, you know? And I'm proud of my association with those guys - Andy and Stewart. I'm just glad I'm still around, y'know? It's a strategy. You have to have a strategy to survive. I think it was a good idea to, to finish at the top. You know, we were like the top band at the time and to finish there gave me the momentum to...If I'd waited another album or two, as we'd slipped down, I think that it would have been less strategic. I just knew it was the right thing to do. For me anyway - I was very selfish.

Question: Tell us about your latest achievements with The Rainforest Foundation.

STING: We had a very big success last year in that what we'd been trying to do for almost five years was, um, demarcate, legally demarcate an area of the Brazilian jungle as Indian land. We got the Brazilian government to recognize it constitutionally as Indian. This is a huge area the size of Switzerland. It's enormous. We then used the money we'd collected to, to, um, put beacons around the perimeter. Um, concrete beacons which are linked to a satellite which monitors the perimeter. So, any time there's an incursion or a, uh, burning the satellite can read it and then they tell the Indians, who police the area themselves and they can do...whatever they do. But, um, that took five years of cajoling and publicity and pain and anguish and we did it. Having done that, we want to carry on doing it, because we could do it again. Uh, but we need money. So, I'm doing a concert next, um, month with James Taylor and George Michael and Tina Turner and Bryan Adams, uh, Herb Alpert. And we're, we're gonna go to Carnegie Hall and, and have an intimate evening of, uh, fun. And festivity. And we hope to raise about a million dollars which would keep us going for another year.

Question: Do you think that "rock stars" can solve the problems of the world?

STING: Far from it! It's good for kick-starting things, you know? Celebrity is good for kick-starting an idea. But then it can be like a, a drawback because people think, "Oh, well, they've done a concert for - isn't that problem over now?" Like African starvation. Which is nonsense, you know? What I've learned over, over the years is that miracles don't happen and what works is the process. Dogged, determined, boring, everyday process. And you have to keep working at it and eventually you get a result. And, um, any result. No matter how small it is, is worth persevering for. Not miracles. They just, they just don't happen.

Question: Tell us about the video you made of the making of this album.

STING: The reason for that is one of the major personalities on the record was my house. I, I made this record in the dinning room of my four hundred year old house in England. And, uh, we were very happy in that environment. And so we filmed the album. And the whole album is on this video of us performing and singing it. And that's, that's the way I want to present how the album was made in this lovely environment, so that's why we did it.

The interview disc also contains the following two station liners:
1. "Hello, my name is Sting. If it's egomania, bad taste, and general insanity you want, well it can be found right here. Stay tuned."
2. "Alright, pay attention! I know it's late, but this DJ is working very hard for you. Besides, he's about to play something from my latest album, Ten Summoner's Tales . Listen up."

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