The following article appeared in a February 2000 issue of the German newspaper Die Welt. The article was very kindly translated by Thomas Fairfax...
The angst is always with you: Big halls don't force Sting to play heavy metal. In Hamburg, he counts on the might of the subtle.
Although "Der Stachel" (the German word for Sting) stings less than he did in the blessed days of Police, the Englishman with a temporary apartment in New York does not care much about it. Sting's songs have a relieving difference in their quality compared to Mainstream-Pop. As part of his world tour, Sting stops in Hamburg today (Sporthalle, 8 pm). Tom Fuchs and Manfred Müller talked to the musician before the concert.
Die Welt: How has the tour gone so far?
Sting: As far as I know, nobody claimed a refund for the tickets! (laughs) However, I always leave the hall before the audience storms in to the ticket office.
Die Welt: How do you succeed in being so motivated every night?
Sting: Angst. To know, that I have to spend nearly three hours, with a cold, in front of more than ten thousand fans, makes me panic seriously. Once I am on stage and I feel the support of the audience, I always get the push necessary to do it. At the end, there is just an unlimited feeling of happiness left. I get huge feedback from my fans and feel that I can't be doing much wrong with my music during those last two hours.
Die Welt: You have had a remarkable change within the last two decades: you moved away from the natural power of the early Police to more sophisticated arrangements. Haven't you ever been concerned, that the subtle beauty of your songs could get lost in these huge halls?
Sting: This is indeed a big challenge, which you have to face. If you want to present an intimate song in such a big a show, you need the necessary skills. The biggest halls often dictate the kind of music to be played there and not the reverse: big pose, Heavy Metal. Recently, in America we just played in theatres in front of three thousand people. I now know our music works in the bigger surroundings, too, or else I would not do it.
Die Welt: On your latest album 'Brand New Day', you are singing with the Algerian Raï-artist Cheb Mami. How did this happen?
Sting: I wrote the song 'Desert Rose', which deals with longing and desire. From the start it sounded very Arabic, but something was missing - it wasn't perfect. So I sent the notes to my friend Cheb Mami and asked him to do something. When I heard the wonderful result, I asked him, what he was singing about. He told me, it deals with longing! Interesting, that the song told us the same story, isn't it?
Die Welt: Is this an indication that you will tend towards World Music in the future?
Sting: I do not like the phrase "World Music" at all. What does it mean, anyway? I think, if Raï is called World-Music, how do I have to call my own? After all, I live on this world, too. This is just the attempt to build up another barrier to make it easier to categorise music. I don't think in such shapes. If I would like to make music with Youssou N'dour or Cheb Mami doesn't that necessarily mean, that I want to participate in the so-called World-Music-Movement. It just happens. Period.
Die Welt: Fans at your concerts demand the old Police hits. How do you handle it, that the past is still present?
Sting: I don't have a problem with it. I can look back at those times in pride. We didn't split in anger; this, in my opinion, is the difference to other bands. My fans accept that I developed my musical skills. I perform 'Message in a Bottle' in a different way to what I did it the past.
Die Welt: When you started your solo career, Jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis or Kenny Kirkland brought the aspect of improvisation into your band. Can you still feel it today?
Sting: Yes, I think so. I still play with Jazz-musicians. Jason Rebello is one of the most proficient Jazz-pianists in England. Within a fixed arrangement, the musicians have every possible freedom, which they use because of their virtuosity. I rather act in the background. I don't want to disturb them in their creativity. I take the upper part, because of my voice and I round it up from the lower with my bass-play.
Die Welt: What inspires you when you are writing songs?
Sting: During a tour, I am unable to write even one line. I need silence to do that. Therefore, I have to sit in front of a piece of paper and wait. However, that won't happen within the next one and a half years. If nothing is going to happen, I'll have a walk.
Die Welt: Have you ever experienced a writing block?
Sting: Of course I have. Especially if you are really try to write something. It took me a while to learn that creativity can't be forced. It returns in regular cycles. The output isn't necessarily influenced by the input. That means, to be able to write something you ought to experience something in life - a journeys for instance.
Die Welt: The responsibility of the artist to society - almost none of your colleagues is more engaged in politics than you are. What happened to the campaign of yours regarding to the endangered native tribes in Brazil?
Sting: First: To believe you could wipe out all the evil in the world because of your own popularity is a pure illusion. Changes only take place step by step and in the case of the natives it changed a bit. With our help, some of them could get a little piece of land. However, I don't make such a big thing about it anymore, as I did a couple of years ago.
Die Welt: Did you get some offers from the film industry?
Sting: Goodness, let me first get over the tour! Then I'll have time to think about other projects.
© Die Welt (Germany)