|Skip Daly asked
Andy’s guitar tech, Dennis Smith,
about the rig Andy used both in the studio and on the road,
he offered up the following list:
Sennheiser wireless system
Voodoo Labs Pedal Power Plus 2
Planet Waves accessories
Grover Allman Straps
Dunlop 2mm Picks
Various sizes REAL ROCK picks
4 x Mesa Boogie 2 x 12 Recto cabs
(2 for center dry image – 1 left and 1 right for stereo wet image)
(It’s worth noting that Andy has been using Mesa Boogie cabs for 15 -20 years)
Custom Audio Electronics OD-100 Mono Head (by Bob Bradshaw)
Mesa Boogie 2:90 Stereo Power Amp (for colour)
Crown XTi 1000 Stereo Power Amp (clean)
Carvin DCM-150 Stereo Power Amp (clean)
Bob Bradshaw switching System
Eventide Eclipse Harmonizer
TC Electronics D TWO Delay
TC Electronics 1210 chorus
Love Pedal by Sean Michaels
Klon Centaur 1
Klon Centaur 2
Maxon OD9 Overdrive (copy of a tube screamer should note that it is better than a tube screamer)
Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone by David Koltai
Voodoo Labs Analog Chorus
Diamond Memory Lane 2
Diamond Halo Chorus
Budda Amplification – Budda Wah wah pedal
Boss FV-500L (1) for continuous control
Boss FV-500L (2) for continuous control
Boss FV-500H Volume
Ernie Ball Volume
Andy has well over 100 guitars including:
Andy Summers Telecaster
Andy Summers Signature Gibson 335
Andy Summers Signature Martin Acoustic
– See below what Dick Boak, Director, Artist Relations, Martin Guitar Company told us about his collaboration with Andy.
|Article posted at
Andy Summers Talks about Guitars,
The Police and Mudra Hand Gestures
by Skip Daly
It is a daunting and perhaps completely irrelevant task, in the context of a guitar magazine, to attempt to write an introduction to an interview with Andy Summers. The man is an absolute icon for guitarists everywhere, so what can be said that hasn’t been stated thousands of times previously?
With a career that spans being a member of The Animals, selling a young Eric Clapton his ’59 Les Paul, world domination with The Police in the early ’80s, and again in 2007/2008, and the release of twelve solo albums, in addition to multiple collaborations, this man’s ongoing musical journey has been both compelling and long.
And that is only the musical part of his life. There is also “Andy Summers – Photographer” and “Andy Summers – Author”. With the 2006 release of his memoir, One Train Later, he not only succeeded in delivering the absolute definitive story of The Police’s meteoric rise into the stratosphere of rock immortality, but did so in an extremely well-crafted artistic manner, making readers truly feel as though they were in on the ride. The memoir further serves to place The Police within its proper context, as only a part of Summers’ unparalleled life.
In describing the man himself, and his love of literature and film, his Police bandmates would famously dub him “The Art Monster”. Though I doubt anyone can do a more accurate job describing the integrity and genuine artistic hunger that drives Andy Summers than what The Edge wrote in the forward of One Train Later: “That Andy absorbed the success of The Police, as he did all the other ups and downs he experienced along the road, without losing a sense of himself, his passion for, and his belief in the sacred and life-changing qualities of music is a testimony to the purity of his motivation as a musician, songwriter, and artist.”
Andy’s musical prowess was recognized by the Martin Guitar Company when the company paid tribute to his contributions to music with an 000C-28 Andy Summers Signature Edition issued in 2006, in a limited edition of 87. And, of course, Fender issued a tribute Telecaster for Mr. Summers in “relic” form that captured all the hard driving wear “adorning” his original.
Mr. Summers recently sat down with Guitar International Magazine for an interview to discuss his current works-in-progress, as well as the phenomenon of The Police.
SKIP DALY: Let’s start right in with guitars – what’s the lay of the land there? How many guitars do you have lying around these days, and is your famous ’61 Telecaster still your favorite?
ANDY SUMMERS: I picked it up yesterday. I’m in the middle of working on an album, and I played a solo for it on the Telecaster yesterday. I still love it, yeah. I’m in the rather unusual position of having six of them. Of course, I’ve got the original, but then Fender released the Signature model at the beginning of the Police reunion tour, so I ended up with a bunch of them.
They’re all great. I keep one of the copies at hand – because I keep the original locked up, for obvious reasons. I keep one in the studio and I really enjoy it. I don’t know if I really have…well, yeah, I suppose I do have some quote-unquote “favorite guitars”.
The Tele is definitely up there, and I have my Strat, as far as electrics go – also a copy that Fender made of my 1961 Strat, which I used throughout the Police reunion tour. It’s a great guitar, so I particularly like that. My “third” electric guitar, if you will, would be the 335, outside of getting into classical or acoustic guitars. It depends on the music. I go by the music first and pick up the guitar that will fit. I don’t say “well, it’s all going to be on the Tele or the Strat”, because it doesn’t always work that way.
SKIP: Do you play much these days just for fun, as opposed to work? Do you play as much or more than you did when you were younger?
ANDY: I play all the time. You know, I’m a guitarist – I practice every day. I think about it. I write a lot of music- mostly on the guitar. I would say it is the main pre-occupation for me. I have a lot going on, but the guitar is completely central for me.
SKIP: I think I phrased that question wrong. I was trying to ask if you still get fulfillment from the simple joy of playing, as opposed to thinking of it as “work”.
ANDY: Yes I do, and I’ve never thought of it as work. I still get great pleasure from playing and I enjoy practicing. Sitting down to play for however long I’m going to play…is a pleasure. Rather than work, it’s the opposite – positive feedback maybe. What can you say? You’re talking about someone’s life…and my life is so entwined with the instrument I don’t want to think of my engagement with it as labor. It’s given me everything .
You know, you work on things…sometime you’re working on a discipline, like a certain aspect of technique, or you’re learning pieces of music – there are all sorts of nuance. You go through phases where you’re playing better, and other phases where you feel like you need to practice more. I feel good when I’m playing really well. Usually when you practice with intention you end up playing better, and your sense of self – that is so tied the instrument – improves. The world gets rosier …
Andy Summers - The guitarist, composer, author and photographer...
| SKIP: You were a
pioneer in the use of the Echoplex and various other effects. Do you
have any new pieces of gear that you’ve been experimenting with?
ANDY: I’m always open to an interesting device – some very good stuff is being made these days, but in general it is mostly variations on what has gone before – fuzz echo, chorus looping, etcetera.
I’m not a ‘gear-head’ or a pedal junkie at all. I can talk about gear, but I’m not a guy who buys the guitar magazines and reads about the latest little pedal that’s being made – maybe because I have a studio that’s packed to the rafters with gear!
I have loads and loads of pedals and things. I’ve got the rack that I rebuilt for the Police reunion tour. I’ve got a mini version that I’ve used for many, many smaller trio gigs. I have several amps. Basically, I’ve got my really big gear for stadiums and arenas, and that’s a Bob Bradshaw rig that we rebuilt using Mesa Boogie cabinets. On the Police tour we used two of Bob’s 100 watt heads. The rack was a combination of analog pedals and digitals echoes.
We operated the whole thing from the side of the stage with a remote. I programmed all of the stuff, all of the songs. The guy that works with me is a musician also – it can only be operated by a musician, someone who knows how to count beats, so that the effect is coming in at the head of the chorus, or for the solo, etcetera. We used a three speaker cabinet system, so I split out the echoes and the dry signals side to side. So, that’s the really big rig for the giant gigs.
Then I’ve got a much smaller version with Mesa Boogie cabinets and a few pedals, which is much easier to move around obviously. And then I’ve got amps. Lately, I have just been plugging straight into the amp, and I’ve been getting great sounds with no effects at all.
SKIP: I actually didn’t intend that so much as a straight up “gear” question so much as I was thinking about back when your innovative use of Echoplex really had a profound effect on the actual sound of the music itself.
ANDY: ….an important point – in all sincerity – is that music is made by the mind, the heart and the imagination, not gear. But, that being said, let’s open it up to technology for a minute, as it can be viewed as a two-sided thing. I always say the music comes first, and then you just sort of strap the technology on. But, sometimes the technology can create a way of playing, and I too am susceptible to that!
I find if I pick up an acoustic or a classical or a certain kind of electric, my playing falls in with the instrument. The instrument will draw certain responses from me. It promotes that. It’s the same with gear. Obviously, in the early days of the Police we were looking to sound different, and we were asking ourselves “How can we sound bigger?” Or, put another way, how can we expand the sound of a trio?
When the Echoplex turned up, it was great for the band because our trio sound seemed to expand exponentially and we were able to get into that “space jam” stuff. It was significant and eventually Stewart got one and started playing his drums through one as well.
Andy Summers - Photo credit: Jay Strauss
Back in those times, there were a lot less pedals around. I started off very simply with a Phase 90 and a little bit of reverb, but as we became more successful I got the Pete Cornish board, which had envelope filters and wah wahs and different fuzz boxes, and the whole thing got much better as I began to blend the effects together.
In the late ‘80s, it went into this digital period, which I didn’t enjoy very much because I personally felt like I lost control of it. I wasn’t as hands-on. I felt like I was being controlled by the technology, instead of the other way around.
It’s alright for some of the echoes, but generally I like to be able to interact with the gear as I’m playing, which I think a lot of players do. For this past tour, in ‘07/’08, it was a mix of pedals and digital, all computer-controlled. I mean, I set the sounds for every song but because we were playing gigantic shows that were all about choreography, with the lights and everything hitting at exact moments, I didn’t play around with it very much. But, I did have the facility to override anything that was being done by the remote at the side of the stage. If I wanted to, I could get in there and change it in a second.
In the early days of the Police, I had a lot of gear on a little table on the side of the stage, and I could move the Echoplex around at will, and change the sounds. Depending on the acoustics of the hall, or if we wanted to do something crazy…I could adjust it. It was very primitive technology by today’s standards, but in some ways it felt more organic, and I think people have come back to that. ‘Retro’ is back, as it were…
SKIP: One of the things that has always struck me about your guitar playing, aside from the inventive use of effects and tone, is how demanding the material is to play. I mean, the typical “guitar hero”, so to speak, might play fast, flashy solos…but with your guitar work, even the verses are pretty challenging, with your used of stacked fifths, etcetera. “Every Breath You Take”, for example, sounds deceptively simple, and doesn’t even have a guitar solo, but that is not an easy song, technique-wise, to play. How did you develop this style, and was it a deliberate approach to employ such long stretches and tough chord fingerings or was it more organic?
ANDY: Well, to some extent it was just that I had the ability to do it. Before I joined the Police I played classical guitar for several years, and my hands were really strong so I could make those stretches naturally. But, I think it really comes down to the kind of music we wanted to play, and how we didn’t want to sound like anyone else…not playing big barre chords with thirds in them. We tried to avoid that sort of thing, and came to the idea of playing with added ninths – three parallel fifths.
So, a lot of it was promoted by those concerns, I suppose. When you talk about a band like The Police, it was a happy confluence. Pure chemistry. It was the three right people together at the right time – there’s no formula . It comes out of years of playing, reacting, and a music sensibility that is influenced by many, many things – not just rock – and bringing these diverse strands into a specific context. And, in my case, I was working with a singer who had the ears for it. All of this translates into the hands in a very instinctive way.
SKIP: You mentioned working on a new solo record…can you talk about that a little bit? What do you have in the works?
ANDY: Yeah, after the Police tour I took a break – who wouldn’t – but this year I’ve decided to really get started again and right now I’m making an album with a pretty well-known guitarist named Andy York. He was in the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet for many years. He left a couple years ago. He’s got quite a whole profile on the guitar scene and has made a lot of records. He’s a great player, essentially a classical player, and a very good composer.
Basically, we got together in my studio and both brought music in, but the real task is finding out how to play together beyond any formal compositions that were already in place. After a couple of weeks of playing we started coming up with some really exotic material and that was what I was looking for. Essentially, in a situation like that, you create a ‘third person’ that is born from your creative striving together – like any good band I suppose.
We’re almost finished with it. It’s essentially two guitars – some of the tracks are only two guitars, but some of the tracks have a few overdubs. It varies between two nylon string guitars to a combination of steel and nylon, and then I play a bit of electric here and there. It sounds pretty great right now actually. I’m very pleased with it.
SKIP: So the thrust of the record is more acoustic, as opposed to a full band thing?
ANDY: Oh yeah, mostly acoustic – no drums apart from some nifty guitar percussion from Andy York.
SKIP: So, hand-in-hand with that, can you talk a little bit about what the inspirations for this were, in terms of what you’re listening to these days. Or does what you’re currently listening to even tend to influence your current work?
ANDY: Well, it’s a good question. My answer would be that I am mostly influenced by a sensibility in music, the feeling that you get from it. That’s what gets me interested more than a flash lick. For instance, I’m mad about the baroque composer Biber right now. I love the feeling from his music. I don’t think I will be recording anything quite like it. Although you never know! I don’t know, I think everyone’s the same in that if you’re listening to something you like, you want to go and do it. I think that’s one of the prime forces, although it’s may be not always practical to literally try to play everything you like. But, the important thing is to have your sensibilities, your imagination shaped in a good way.
When I was beginning on the guitar, I would hear something and immediately think “How do I do that?” But, that was a healthy thing, absolutely fine when you are starting out. After a few years though you may want to be listening to your own voice.
SKIP: I guess I was just wondering if you happened to hear something that might inspire you…
ANDY: Yeah, obviously there are people I like. The only musical style that I can think of that might relate slightly to this current recording is that of Ralph Towner. We’re talking about a different kind of music, that’s really about composition and texture and coming together in a way that’s non-generic.
I’m always looking for the non-generic in music. No matter what you do, there’s going to be an influence from somewhere, because art is not created in a vacuum. It has to come out of something. The best way to learn is to start by copying other people. Eventually, if you’ve got innate talent, then you’re going to find your own voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re Miles Davis or John Coltrane, you’ve got to start somewhere. Then – hopefully – you find your thing and you develop it. It’s a process.
Andy Summers – Mickey Goes to Africa
SKIP: Not to veer off into left-field here, but this is pretty topical these days, especially with you working on a new record – I have to ask what your take is on the current state of the music business, with rampant free downloading of music, etc.
ANDY: Yeah, well, it’s a pertinent question. I mean, I’ve been working away at this record and it’s a small voice, but it does come up – “Why the hell are you doing this?” I mean, I’ve made records all my life, and I’ve always collected records. We’re now sort of at the point where you give it away or it gets downloaded. We’ve had a lifetime of living with the ‘object’ and revering the object. I basically think it’s terrible actually. I can talk about the negative aspects of the internet…maybe there are some positive ones. I mean, to some extent, it’s destroyed music. Everything’s free.
What do you do if you’re a musician? You spend your life working to become good at something and, like any other craft or trade, you expect to get paid for it. The only way you can do now as a musician is to play live, because the days of earning royalties are over. I don’t know…and also, the advent of You Tube and all of that stuff – any amateur can be on the internet promoting his music to the detriment of the real players, so it’s become a great leveling field. There it is…what are you going to do?
I feel very fortunate to have gone through the time I did, because with The Police in the ‘80s we sort of hit the golden era of the record business and concert promotion. And we certainly did in ‘07/’08, before the recession happened – we were very lucky actually. I don’t know…I don’t know quite where it’s going. You tend to look back on the old days with nostalgia – so many great record stores and book stores – all of it is being taken away by the internet. Obviously, you’ve got a million guitarists on You Tube now, and some of them are phenomenal. Anything you want to know, just go on YouTube and it’s got to be there somewhere. So, maybe that’s a good thing. But everyone, every person gets to be seen now, whether it’s Facebook or Myspace. Privacy is a thing of the past. I d have no desire to be on Facebook or Myspace…it’s too public for me. I’m not interested.
Also, if you’re a musician I find that it’s a tremendous distraction. You’ve got to be ‘in your own head’ to some degree, and not looking at everything that’s going on all the time. You need to build your own musical world. If you’re seeing a million guys on YouTube just shredding all day, how do you get your bearings?
SKIP: Yeah, I guess it’s a question of how it’s used, whether you go there once in a while as a reference for something specific. But, I see your point that it’s something you could easily get sucked into.
ANDY: Yeah. You know, when I was a kid starting out and could barely spell the word ‘guitar’, there was none of the phenomenal amount of information that’s around now. Trying to find out how to play a C 9th chord was a major challenge.
SKIP: I know this is a few years old, but I’d love to chat about your book, One Train Later, for a few minutes. I really enjoyed that memoir and found it to be a very interesting read. How did the book come about? Was that a long-time ambition? Is it something that you always wanted to do?
ANDY: Yes, it was always there. I’ve always immersed myself in writing, and over the years of traveling I have kept journals. So, it felt like a very natural step for me – one that was long overdue, but I finally got around to it. I certainly felt like I had plenty to say. I felt my story was one that would be interesting to a lot of people, and I also embraced the challenge of writing a literate book, rather than a moronic ‘kiss and tell’ rock band book.
It was a challenge. But, it was not unlike making a record – organizing the material, getting cathartic with it, and waiting for the muse to strike. I’ve worked through the process many times. It probably took me a couple years all in all.
SKIP: If I’m not mistaken, the book came out before there were any plans for the Police reunion. What made it feel like it was the right time to do it?
ANDY: The book had nothing to do with the tour. It was just something I had to do. But, possibly – in my egotistical view – I think it was one of the things that helped bring the tour together. It came out in October, 2006 – about two months before we got together and decided to do the reunion tour.
One Train Later Andy Summers
I actually got a very sweet email from Sting, as I remember, praising the book, he was delighted by it, and that kind of warmed up the atmosphere. Then we met a couple of times between then and the decision to do the tour. It was great timing, actually. I had a lot of very lucky timing around that period. The book came out as we were getting ready to go on that tour.
I also had another book come out – a huge Taschen photography book about The Police that I’d finally pulled together. And then the Signature Telecaster came out. Everything came out and none of it was planned. It was an incredible year in that sense, plus the phenomenal thing of the tour as an opportunity to promote all of it.
SKIP: So, you do think it helped provide a bit of a catalyst for the reunion tour?
ANDY: Well, I’d like to think so. I mean, it could be a bit fanciful. But, the whole year, I could feel it coming that it probably was going to happen. The three of us had met up at the Sundance film festival in January of 2006, and we were photographed together in a bar, and that photo just went right around the world in about 30 minutes flat. I think that was the seed that sort of started the train of thought…and by the end of the year, we were there.
SKIP: You not only do a great job of telling The Police story, but you’re also pretty frank in there. At one point, when you’re describing your immersion in celebrity status at the height of The Police’s fame, you include a rant about how burned out you were on everything and you conclude that section by writing: “I am a rock-and-roll asshole, an emaciated millionaire prick…”
ANDY: Yeah, that’s probably true, things do get distorted.
SKIP: This struck me as fairly confessional stuff. Do you have regrets from those days?
ANDY: No, I don’t regret anything. Well, I mean, of course it did break up my marriage, and that was a regret. Luckily we did get back together after four and a half years. That’s all in the book. But, not much else in terms of regrets…I mean, it was an incredible time.
SKIP: Speaking of fame, at this point in your life, on an average day, are you able to, say, go to the supermarket without getting recognized and accosted? Does life feel better these days as compared with the height of the insanity in the early ’80s?
Andy Summers - Photo credit: Dennis Mukai
| ANDY: Well, through
2007 and 2008, it was insane. It’s always context, you know?
This is what I’ve always found: if you’re actually engaged in – let’s
say some ‘high profile career activity – people tend to recognize you
more often. I live in LA and I can
usually do most stuff without getting hassled. It depends.
But, if I go to an event, and – I’m, say, ‘looking the part’ – I get hassled a lot. If I go to New York, I get recognized a lot. I don’t know why, always in New York, more so than L.A. I guess it’s because LA. is much more spread out – people are very used to celebrity. It’s always context.
Also, I think it depends on if you dress up or dress down…the way you look. There are certain nuances to it. I get quite a lot of it, and it’s not unpleasant. People are usually very nice. They come up and say that they enjoy what you’ve done, and that’s it. And I think a lot of it’s going on that you don’t even notice right away – you know nudging, whispering pointing. That’s always happening in restaurants and movies. But, Paris Hilton I’m not.
SKIP: Another thing I found fascinating in your book were all of the pre-Police stories, including the one about how you sold Eric Clapton your Gibson Les Paul, which went on to be an iconic guitar for him.
ANDY: Yeah, I put that in the book thinking it was going to totally freak everybody out, and it didn’t freak people out as much as I thought. I thought that was a pretty amazing bit of info that had never really been put out there before.
SKIP: Yeah, I was wondering if he pays you royalties?
ANDY: I should have kept the bloody guitar. It’s probably worth half a million at this point. I don’t even know if he’s still got it. I should have asked him because he came to see us play at one point in England. I should have asked him for it back at the original price!
SKIP: Joking aside, you’ve lived a pretty amazing musical journey, with a longer back-story than many realize. How do you think your few extra years of age, wisdom, and experience made The Police a different experience for you, as opposed to what it must have been like for Stewart and Sting?
ANDY: Well that’s true. I’d been playing a bit longer than them. Stewart was 22…Sting was 23 or so…I’m ten years older than Stewart. So, maybe…I was able to bring a lot of balance to the situation. I was pretty good at arranging everything, and getting it to sound really like a band. I had that ability. I’d been in a lot of bands, so I could really get things to sound right quickly.
I felt really sure of myself, I suppose, at that point about what I was able to do. I’d been in California. I’d gone to college. I’d played classical guitar for many years. Then I came back to playing the electric, and I sort of felt ready for anything. I was blazing at that point. Also, I don’t know if ‘desperate’ is the right word, but I really wanted to get in the right situation, because I didn’t know how much longer I could go on just playing. I felt like I was too smart for it – I didn’t want to just be “some guy in a band”. Oddly enough, it was The Police that was the one that turned the corner for me. I was able to bring a lot to it – not only musical weight, but a drive and push because I really wanted it to succeed, as did the others. We were three very driven guys. That’s what made the group what it was.
SKIP: In terms of outside, non-musical interests, you’re obviously heavily into photography and did some exhibitions last year. Are there any other obsessions that you indulge in during your free time apart from music and photography?
ANDY: Well, yes…I don’t know about “obsessions”, although I’m probably an obsessive. Music is the main thing. I’m pretty involved with photography. I did four photography shows last year, 15 the year before, put another book out, and I’m working on another one presently. That’s an on-going situation.
This year, I really want to focus on playing. I’ve got another band thing coming up in the summer that I think is going to be really interesting. I can’t say anything about it just yet, but an announcement will be made. I’m working on this guitar record that I mentioned earlier right now. I really want to make a trio record of some kind this year, and I’m also working on “an evening with electric guitar and orchestra” – I’ve written quite a lot for that already. So, I’ve got a lot of creative projects in the works now.
Outside of guitar, photography, and composing, I’m a travel nut – particularly to exotic locales. I want to go to Tibet this summer, and I’m going to Africa in April. So, traveling would be my other obsession – apart from science, writing, and film of course.
SKIP: You’ve been incredibly prolific obviously with releasing music – correct me if I’m wrong: twelve solo albums and multiple collaborations. What do you consider to be the highlights from your body of work, and why?
ANDY: Yeah, outside of The Police – you can put that wherever you want to put it – but yes, I’ve made a lot of records. There’s so much to think about there…it’s a lot of records…I think they’re all pretty great actually…
SKIP: Probably an unfair question…
ANDY: Yeah, when you talk about my playing in the Police, you really need to listen to the solo records if you really want to hear what it’s all about. It’s really very different. Solos galore, as it were. I’ve made a lot of records of my own compositions, and they got more complicated as they went on, but the Monk and the Mingus records that I made got a lot of notice…particularly the Mingus record, I really tried to push the envelope on that one.
I played with the Kronos Quartet and had Debbie Harry, Q Tip, and Randy Brecker on it. That was quite a stretch. My last band cd was called Earth & Sky, which I think was pretty great – and I say that in all immodesty. I made a really interesting record about three years ago with Ben Verdery a great and innovative classical guitarist. It was a really sweet cd that was basically improvised in a couple of afternoons called First You Build A Cloud. Check out the version of “Bring On The Night” on that one.
First You Build a Cloud
To me, the Police music is, well, different. In that situation, you are dealing with songs and trying to get them over in the most convincing way possible and also reacting and dealing with the sensibilities of two other people – therein lies the challenge. The more harmonically advanced, complex music is all on the solo records. That’s where I am the composer and I try to extend the ideas beyond anything generic – and by that I mean on the guitar and compositionally.
SKIP: Would you say you enjoy the two equally, in different ways?
ANDY: Yes, I do, but they both occupy a different headspace. When we did the Police tour, I was able to do that with a 100% enthusiasm, and I enjoyed being in the band. You go back to that and it’s like “oh, I’m in a band again…” – something I’m very familiar with. It’s a little different from leading your own band, which I’ve done for many years, where you’re writing all the music and playing all the solos. But when you’re back in “the rock band”, it’s a different animal. It’s all about playing your parts and trying to play them really well. And you’re communicating about the parts and trying different things as a group. I know how to do that, and I’ve done it most of my life, so I really enjoyed it because you feel that you are being challenged and that your skills and experience are being called upon.
One of the things that goes along with that, with The Police getting back together after a very long break, is that you can’t be soft and just do caricatures of the old hits. We had to come out completely blazing and sort of blow everyone away. That was the attitude – it had to be really, really strong. And, of course I’d never stopped playing. I’d played millions and millions of gigs in between. So I just brought all of this playing experience and years of making records back into this situation. So, if anything, there was just more strength to bring to it. Plus, on the technical side, the sound was phenomenal. I was able to get the best guitar sounds, I’d ever had.
So, it was a great experience on many levels. The only thing I can say on a slight negative about the Police tour was that it can get a bit boring playing pretty much the same set over and over and over again. Because I’m used to playing shows where I play different sets every night and I improvise all over the place and don’t always know what’s going to happen and I really get into different dialogues with the drummer that we don’t rehearse. Doing the big, expensive rock show, you can’t really do that.
Everything is distilled down to the essence, and everything is really worked out. Although, one of the things about it, and people don’t really understand this, it’s a sort of cliff-hanger in other ways. I mean, for example, I had to listen to eight beats in the in-ear monitors, and I had to make sure I can hear them, and I had come in with “Message In A Bottle” right on time.
If you miss moments like that, everything goes wrong because somebody else is playing something else. So, it was absolute precision timing. As well as trying to play with power and nail the solos and all the rest of it, you’d be listening intently, and trying to keep the crowd happy. It’s not just fingers on the neck of the guitar. You’re listening…hard – and you’ve got a sort of hyper-awareness, because it’s also second-by-second events for an hour and a half with thousands of people listening and watching you…
The Police – Synchronicity
| SKIP: I once heard
a guitarist describe what you’re talking about there as being a bit
like surfing, where you’ve got to not think about it too much and just
try to stay on top of the wave and ride with it…
ANDY: Yeah, well obviously, like anything, if you’re going to do a thing like that you rehearse and rehearse and rehearse until you’ve pretty much got it right. Then after a couple of months on the road, it starts to become second nature, and you really cruise then. And that’s when the band really starts to get good because you’re not thinking about it – it’s imprinted at that point. That takes a while.
SKIP: I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Stewart. Did you have a chance to read that, and particularly his remarks about you?
ANDY: Yes I did. Pretty amusing, and typical Stewart. I suppose I have to respond in kind. Its nice to be called a “motherfucker” on your instrument after all, that being a great compliment from someone you have spent half your life playing with – so thanks to him for that, and likewise I’m sure. As to this stuff about me not being acknowledged by other guitarists – my experience is the reverse.
But, maybe that’s Stewart’s relationship with other guitarists he has hired, as they probably can’t get a word in edgeways – something I think he would admit to. My experience is nothing but accolades and praise from the guitar world, but putting that to one side – ultimately, what compels you is the next idea – the next challenge, not stuff from the past which, sadly, you become a bit blasť about. There is a real danger in bathing in accolades – they will bring you down if you listen too hard – they should be accepted lightly and then you move on…
SKIP: What was your reaction to Stewart’s story about rehearsing with Henry Padovani in attendance?
ANDY: Well, yes you have to laugh about something like that. You couldn’t make it up – like something out of a badly written book about a rock band. But, in fact Henry Padovani did turn up. I’m not sure why. I didn’t even recognize him when he walked into the rehearsal room, but I did notice Sting and Stewart had these ridiculous smirks on their faces – like they were really enjoying this moment, probably because they are perverts and bastards.
So there I am for the next three days blazing away in the sessions with poor old Henry sitting in a chair opposite me like an acolyte – I felt very sorry for him actually. Stewart seems to enjoy seeing people in really compromising situations, so he really enjoyed it. It was a weird scene, but then it was Stewart who kicked Henry out of the band.
SKIP: I have to again quote something Stewart said regarding collaborations: “Andy, for all his great talents as a guitarist, IS a guitarist – which means he is allergic to all other guitarists.” Is it true that you prefer to be the sole guitarist in whatever project you’re involved with? What are the criteria, if there are any, by which you might enjoy collaboration with another guitarist?
ANDY: And he is a drummer…he was probably joking, but actually no – not in the least. I’m not allergic to guitarists by any stretch. In fact, I’ve enjoyed projects with other guitarists for many years, including the one I am just finishing with the great Andy York.
I also toured in Brazil five times with Victor Biglione, a very accomplished player from Rio, and I will be back there later this year on tour with Roberto Menescal – hardly sounds like an “allergy” does it? I have empathy with guitarists, not antipathy. The guitar is one instrument that really does have a great worldwide community and it is something to enjoy. Do trombonists have the same scene – might one gently ask? So, I’m not allergic to other guitarists.
The thing about the guitar is it’s one of the only instruments you can really play with somebody else. How often do two trumpeters get together and play? I love playing with other guitarists – if they meet certain criteria. As for the criteria, that’s a good question. You find out when you sit down with another person what they can do and how whole they are as a musician.
For me, they’ve got to have a high level of musical language, and they’ve got to be able to really play, and the most important thing – and the thing that I always find is a slight bug bear with most guitarists – is their sense of time and pulse…where they feel the time, and if they can accompany or not. This is the thing where most guitarists fall down.
I’m kind of surprised, but I think most guys work really hard at playing licks and solos, and they don’t learn about time, and how to comp, and have an abstract sense of time. The thing I enjoy most when I’m playing with another guitarist is if he’s got that abstract sense of time as if there’s a pianist accompanying you, then it’s a great thing…that’s really great to play with. And it’s much rarer than you’d think.
I think a lot of guys practice and practice and they study YouTube and they learn how to tap and they do this and they do that, but then when you put them in a real musical situation where you’ve got to be able to do all kinds of things – not just tap out a solo, but play the chords in the right time and accompany somebody else, and really be a musician – and then it becomes another thing and people can’t do it.
They worked so hard at shredding or whatever, but they cant play with a steady rhythmic pulse and you find you can’t really make music after-all. For me, most of the guys that I’ve played with are pretty all-around. They can play solos, but they’ve got the other stuff as well. One of the best that I ever played with, obviously he’s a great guitarist, was Larry Coryell, who accompanied so beautifully…I actually learned something off of him. We did a tour together and we played together quite a bit. The sense of music in the accompaniment…there was the abstraction of the time, but you could feel the pulse underneath. It was really there.
People don’t understand this about music. They say “How do you improvise?” and I always say “Learn the form, have it locked in your head, and then you can play any note you want.” People get so fucked up about playing the right scales over the chords, but in a more advanced sense it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got the time and the form in your head. There’s a whole other side to music that I think a lot of kids just don’t get. It’s also, to some degree, a difference between “rock soloing”, people learning how to tap and all these very corny diatonic scales they play and strict sixteenth notes and all that…but really solos ought to be much more abstract and play outside and inside the time, and bend the time, and always come back at the right moment. A lot of rock soloing doesn’t really allow for that, unless it’s a genius like Eddie Van Halen maybe.
SKIP: You know, your comments here are making me think of your solo in “Driven To Tears” for some reason, where it’s completely outside and takes you to a totally different place and then it comes back and you almost don’t know what hit you…
ANDY: Well, it’s appropriate for the song, and it was meant to be a summation of what the emotion was in the lyrics. Hence, the atonality.
SKIP: You talked a little about your Signature guitar models earlier – the Martin and the Fender guitars. I was curious how closely you worked with Fender and Martin on getting those right? You’re obviously pleased with the end results because you’re using them. But what all goes into that process?
ANDY: Yeah, it’s an interesting process. It’s a given that they’re the experts – they’re in their factories making millions of guitars every year, so you kind of have to go with the flow. I don’t try to dominate those situations. They were all quite enjoyable experiences.
Fender's Andy Summers Tribute Telecaster
Fender, for instance, came to me to ask if they could make the Telecaster. They said they were getting calls everyday about “When is Andy’s Telecaster coming out?” and asked me “Do you have it?” and I said “Yes, I do”. So, they came to my studio and they took the guitar apart, which killed me. They took the whole thing to pieces, photographed it, measured it, videoed it, and somehow made a map of all the scratches and the paint that was missing.
It’s kind of incredible what they did. So, they knew everything about it, and then they went off to start putting the basic model together.
The trickiest part about it was actually the electronics, which we took a few shots at in terms of the pickups, particularly getting the back pickup right. Because it’s got a Gibson humbucker on the front, and a Tele pickup on the bridge position, and then it’s got this overdrive built into it.
SKIP: Yeah, it’s a hybrid right?
ANDY: Yeah, it’s sort of almost like a Gibson-Fender. When I got it, somebody had played around with the guitar, as people did in those days, to create this sort of hybrid guitar. But it was just a great guitar, and it always played so beautifully. Of course, it was an incredibly lucky guitar for me. It changed my life.
But, so yeah, I had quite a lot of interaction with them. The guitar itself – the neck, the feel of the body, the weight, and everything – that was all exact. So, it was really just a question of getting the electronics right. It was kind of a fun thing to do, talking to them and trying out different things until we really felt that it was as close as we could get it. I ended up having the original and the new one both in the studio and playing them in and out through the amps until you couldn’t tell which one was which, and that’s really how we got to it.
The Martin was a lot of fun because I really enjoyed working with Dick Boak – that was probably the most enjoyable experience, making the steel string. I had them put Buddhist mudra hand gesture markers at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets for the dot positions on the neck.
It’s very beautiful, and it’s got a Lotus on the headstock, and then the edges of the soundboard were bound ’30s style black and white stripe pattern. It really gives it a look. They should have put it on the back as well.
Unfortunately, they didn’t. But, it’s a great looking guitar and it’s also great to play. And it’s got the pick-up in it and a little microphone in it. That was a really fun collaboration and I’d still like to do another one with them.
The Gibson one was reasonably straightforward. I was playing a 1960 335 with a beautiful, red cherry color. They looked it up and they think it was the only one made that year like that. So, they basically copied it. There was nothing else really done with that one – it was a straight copy.
There’s a part of me that really enjoys being around luthiers and around the wood in the shop and all that. I’ve always liked those guys, and getting involved with the design. I’m actually working at the moment with a very talented luthier named Mike Peters who is based in Los Angeles In fact, he is making me five different guitars as we speak.
000C-28 Andy Summers Signature Martin guitar
- Photo courtesy: Martin Guitar Company
Briefly – three of them are nylon string instruments, one a small Parlor size guitar along the lines of an instrument from the 1850’s, one a straight classical with a slightly shorter scale length than usual – about 640, and a nylon string Terz. In other words, a small guitar tuned to G and with a Nashville tuning – that one should be amazing. He is also building me an electric guitar with a classical neck. This was partly inspired after working with Flea [the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers] and playing a night of Bach in a special concert we did.
I was experimenting with playing Bach on a Strat and putting it through some interesting effects – it ended up sounding very convincing and quite beguiling to the point where I wanted to extend the idea further and maybe record an album of Bach this way or put it in an ensemble or something. But, I needed a hybrid electric that I could really play classical on. And oh…Mike is also building me an electric Terz, because I found that playing Bach on the Terz with the raised G string was so strange that it worked. I am breathlessly waiting for all these babies to see the light of day.
SKIP: When I asked Stewart about the possibility of The Police doing something again, he surprisingly left the door open: “No matter what any of the three of us says about the way we feel now…it’s too powerful”. What are your thoughts on doing something as The Police again?
ANDY: I would pretty much go along with Stewart on that. I always think it’s unfinished business. Why does it have to end? People always want to hear the band and want to hear those songs. We haven’t killed each other. We made it through the tour. It was the third biggest tour of all time, only because we decided not to go on forever, otherwise it would have been the biggest. It was just a phenomenal success on all levels.
I don’t know, we’ll see. To me, I don’t think it’s wishful thinking…it is just too powerful to think it’s over. I don’t know. I’m not sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Just getting on with the next project – so to speak.
SKIP: Do you think the experience of that tour changed your relationship with the other guys relative to the time before, when there was more of this feeling of unfinished business?
ANDY: I don’t know. We’ve been through such a life experience together. No matter what, the bond is so strong. It’s kind of like being married to somebody and stabbing them, and yet they still stay with you. It’s kind of crazy, but that’s the way it is. I feel the tension as I speak – it ain’t over…
SKIP: I guess I’m wondering if the tour kind of helped heal old wounds? Did everybody come out of it kind of feeling healthier about the whole thing?
ANDY: That’s a nice idea, but I don’t think so. It was difficult. At the beginning, after the first fight, I thought “We aren’t going to make it, it ain’t going to work, it’s not going to happen.” But, the minute we started playing in front of those gigantic audiences, it was so ridiculously strong…it was hard to moan and feel bad about it when you’ve got that kind of success enveloping you.
I do think we can do it again. Why not go back in the ring with Mike Tyson?
Maybe the excuse is “Hey, we’ve still got a few wounds that need healing – better go on tour again.” We could have gone on. But, certainly, apart from the emotional life and whatever else lies between the three of us, Live Nation would love to get us out there again. We are good for the industry. But, even if the business people put it together- just because we can make a lot of money, there are still the issues of “Can you guys get it together and sort it out?” and I’m speaking about emotion, not just music.
You’d think by now it would be “We’re all grown up now, no problem.” But, it’s still difficult. Because when you do this kind of thing, in this field, you’ve got to be vulnerable. That’s the way it is. You have to wear your emotions on your sleeve to be able to do it really well, so that all the magic can happen. It’s a bit like trying to defuse a bomb.
SKIP: Last question…given your incredibly successful career, what remaining musical ambitions do you have? Is there anybody you’d love to collaborate with, etc?
ANDY: Yes the future stretches on replete with possibility. I see no end to playing or writing music. It is very sustaining. As soon as I have wrapped this current cd, I am going back to the orchestral project that I have been nursing for awhile that is a sort of fantasia for electric guitar and orchestra, the guitar almost taking the part of a violin in the traditional sense of a violin concerto, the modern guitar having all the ability to sustain notes in the same way. I imagine I’ll be out with that sometime next year.
Apart from that and apart from one amusing thought about the life of a musician and that is that I seem to spend half of my life feeling fucked up in a bedroom in a foreign hotel – it’s really all about composing music all the time, giving life to the nonstop song in your head. I’m fortunate enough to have a fully working studio and an engineer so that does facilitate it somewhat, although I usually start with a guitar and a sheet of manuscript and a pencil.
I‘m working on another piece for guitar and twelve cellos – tricky notation. What else? I’m going to Dakar, Senegal next month to meet with some great Senegalese players. It will be interesting to see what emerges from that.
I guess the thing is if you really love music, that love doesn’t end just because you have a bit of commercial success – the curiosity and the quest goes on and on and on.
As to other projects, there is the possibility of a really interesting band later this year another book of photography and show to go with that, and I intend to trek into the heart of Tibet this summer.
SKIP: Thanks so much for your time Andy. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
ANDY: Thanks very much, it was a pleasure.
Andy Summers plays his Signature model Martin
in the office of Chris Martin
- Photo courtesy: Martin Guitar Company
“Andy visited the factory to discuss the project in depth. We spent much of the day together. He identified the basics of his 000 Cutaway performance guitar idea, with Buddhist inspired inlays that I created (with much effort) graphically from a multitude of varied “mudra” hand positions, plus a lotus blossom with root for the headstock. These drawings went through many incantations. The challenge with the inlays was to draw them with correctly sized routed lines that could be filled with black epoxy, then cut to shape. This was an entirely new techniques that enabled the pieces to be cut from a single piece instead of being a jig-saw assembly of many pieces.
Michael Gurian worked with me to create the checkered top binding that Andy has always loved. The resulting guitar was/is stunning and unique. It is what Andy prescribed – an impressive acoustic electric cutaway made for professional stage and studio use.
Lastly, Andy wanted to plug in of course, so we chose the new (at the time) Fishman Ellipse™ Blend electronics package with a mic/under-saddle pickup combination and on-board soundhole lip controls allows effortless amplification.” - Dick Boak, Director, Artist Relations, Martin Guitar Company