Questions and Answers with Andy Summers

Earlier this year, Andy Summers and producer, Norman Golightly, visited the Cinema Libe Studio office to talk about the film, the book, and music.

Q: This movie is based on your book One Train Later and uses the photographs you personally took at the time, really “behind the scenes.”  What made you initially decide to even write a book? What was the inspiration or decision-making process?

ANDY SUMMERS: It was interesting with the book because, probably like a lot of people, you get to a certain point in your life and you feel sort of loaded with a life. And I thought that mine had been extraordinary in many respects, because apart from the heights that I eventually ended up with The Police. I'd also had experienced being at the depths and I've had to scramble up again. And if you go back even farther, like everyone else, I started out in England with nothing and aspired and hoped one day be the guy I eventually became. But my story was interesting in the fact that I dropped out of the scene for five years. I went to live in Los Angeles, I went to college, basically starved for five years and then finally returned back to the U.K. And within a fairly short time, I was with Sting and Stewart, and the rest is history, of course. And there were so many stories along the way. Touring around trying to do all these gigs and shows and all the rest of it. But there's also the inner journey of being a musician. The one thing that got me through it all was really my love for music, playing the guitar and really wanting to be good at it. That guided me.

Q: How did the film evolve from that?

ANDY SUMMERS: Well, I felt pretty good about having written a book, gotten it out there and winning an award and all the rest of it. I hadn't imagined in my wildest dreams that it could be a movie. After One Train Later, I was working in England on a photography book with a book designer and we were talking about a film we both really liked, The Kid Stays In The Picture, which was about the famous movie producer Robert Evans. But the picture was made almost entirely of still shots with this very gnarly voice-over. The documentary was directed by Brett Morgen.  And I just thought it was great and unusual and I liked the black and white photographs and how the story was told with these animated photographs. I thought, “I think I can do that." I had two books about my years with The Police and all this photography. And I was thinking I could do the same sort of thing. Then just by chance, I happened to meet someone in Los Angeles who is friends with Brett Morgen and who connected us.  And then around the same time, I met Norman Golightly - he was Nicolas Cage's producing partner for many years and an enormous fan of The Police. We got together to discuss a possible collaboration and the conversation turned to making a documentary.  Suddenly I had, from nowhere, this enthusiastic little team. We got together and through their connections in Hollywood, we literally sold the film the first afternoon. I was shocked. Because I've lived in Los Angeles for quite a while and most of the people I know are in the movie business and it takes years to get films made, most of them don't even get made, so it was quite thrilling to get to this phase so quickly. But making movies is a long process, most of them can be a troubled saga and this one wasn't without its problems along the way. But it took quite a few years to get through the entire process which turned out to be good because in that time, The Police got back together and we went on tour. So were able to capture this very magical moment of one of the great bands getting back together.

Q:  There was a 20-year gap from The Police playing their last gig in ‘86, to the reunion tour. It seems that your book came out in 2006, and received positive notoriety, in a very close prelude to that reunion. Do you think your book played any part in getting the boys back together?

ANDY SUMMERS: It's interesting to look at how we got back together. For a start, I think it's the elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge. It was there like, "Come on, come on." But what happened was in 2006 there were a few little sort of seed events. One was -- all three of us turned up at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006. Stewart had his film out (Everyone Stares: The Police Inside and Out). I went up to support Stewart in that. So I was at Sundance, Stewart was there. Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, had produced a film and Sting happened to be there. We all knew that we were there. Sundance is a very small place, packed with people. This particular night, the word got out to Sting, wherever he was, and Stewart and I were sitting in this little bar/restaurant place, in these big couches, and Sting came in. And we all sat together, and Sting put his arms around Stewart and I. And of course there was an incredible media rush and they took a great picture of us together. And I think this was really the seed moment. And that picture went right around the world in about 30 minutes flat…. “ And they're back!”  I mean, the press basically “pronounced” the tour as it were…it was phenomenal.

Q: So, the “chronicity” of you deciding to make this film, and the band getting back together. What was it like for you in those initial moments, days, and weeks, to get back together with the band after it fell apart because of interpersonal conflict?

ANDY SUMMERS: It was an interesting moment to come back. I mean interesting [chuckles] as a euphemism. Interesting moment to come back to the reunion of The Police, because we were generally reckoned to be one of the great bands and had gotten off right at the pinnacle of our success, when most bands--we could name several bands here--that just go on forever and sort of drivel away finally. Obviously we could have gone on forever, but we didn't, we got off right at the peak. And it being 20 years, coming back and putting it all back together, was a moment that was very emotional, political, fraught with probably a certain amount of definitely tension, and vulnerability. Were we going to be able to pull this off? The music's the easy part--of course we could play the music--I mean, let's face it, all three of us had never stopped playing, toured forever, of course we could play The Police music. And also, technologically, everything was incredible now, from even the 80s. But when we finally got together and really started to tour, it was pretty tense. We went up to Vancouver to rehearse, just to play on the Grammys initially, that was the plan. We'll rehearse, or play on the Grammys - and then we'll announce the tour. So we went to rehearse, we played a few other things, but we really, we just kept playing “Roxanne,” which we didn't need to do, over and over and over. I think it was creating a new mind set. But it was definitely, I thought, very fragile. And I sort of felt, every night I went back to the hotel like “Got to hold this together. This could blow apart like that. "You know, it could be just gone, yeah. Very fragile.”

Q: Whatever the tensions were from the old days were right back? It wasn't as if people had matured in the process? You just snapped back to 20 years before?

ANDY SUMMERS: You would think that three guys, now a little bit older, coming back together would be mature enough and all the rest of it to just go, "All right, it's just business, let's play our parts, let's all be cool." But it wasn't. It was all like we were all back in school together. And difficult, you know? It's sort of like the infantile egos came back, and I just didn't think we were going to make it. But we did. Somehow we managed to keep it together. It was an exercise in self-restraint because, I also believed that at the same time the three fragile egos were coming back together, the big business wheels were rolling. The machine was in place, the insurance was paid, you know about a hundred people were on the payroll. Within two days of being in it, it was too late to get out. There was no turning back really, and so we had to just kind of bite the bullet. The beginning was rough and then I think as the phenomenal success of the tour became very apparent, we sort of smoothed out.

Q: Your Favorite Police song to play, or hear, or both?

ANDY SUMMERS: My actual favorite song, “Message in a Bottle,” because I love the guitar part. I like the whole structure of the song. It's a fantastic drum track from Stewart. It's probably, for me, our finest moment. It's absolute Police. I think that's when we proved to the world, "We're different and check this out." No contest from the record company on that one.

Q: In the book, you describe learning music at a very young age. What do you credit that to?

ANDY SUMMERS: Where does music come from and why do some people just have a thing for--it's an abused word, but--talent. Because you know, actually it is. I think to really be a great musician, is inborn, innate. You can learn music to a certain extent, but if it's not an innate talent, you'll never get it, and if you don't have a feeling for time, you're also never going to be great. These are real hardcore things. You can have the feeling for time, phrasing. It's got to be an innate talent and if you got a great ear for harmony too. I think I was getting music at about five years old by singing things, I remember going to the movies and just loving certain melodies. For some reason Danny Kaye is coming to mind, which is weird. I must have been really young. Then I started piano lessons at six, so it was there for me, one form or the other. At 12 I was given a guitar by my uncle. That was it; that was my world. I never even thought about anything else. I was obsessed with it. I just love to be playing the bloody guitar all the time. But I must have had something natural because I knew at 13, "I'm a guitarist." I knew it. "This is what I'm going to do."

Q: What can people expect from this movie? Other than the tour--which was a mammoth success--there hasn't been any new product from you or the greater entity. What are people going to get out of this?

ANDY SUMMERS: Well one thing – it is new Police “product.” Something that no one's seen before, and you might even hear something in this film that you've never heard from The Police before. It's coming at the story of the Police from a very different angle. You're going to hear a lot of great music. Great new concept footage of The Police that no one's ever seen, plus all the great backstage scenes. There's some, Ohh moments in there. It's intimate, I don't think people have seen this before. It's rock and roll but told from the inside of a band from the rhythm point of view. Andy Summers with guitar strapped on back looking at a lake. Photo courtesy of Taschen.