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Twenty-five years in, Sting still has staying power
When the Police performed at Shea Stadium on Aug. 18, 1983, it was — at the time — the end of the band. And the beginning of a new path for frontman Sting.
“The Beatles had played there. For the Police to sort of re-enact that was very symbolic to me,” Sting recalls. “At the time, I felt as though we’d done what we set out to do together as a band. I wanted to go out and work on my own, as the others (in the Police) had already done.
“I was ready for something different.”
This year Sting is celebrating the 25th anniversary of that decision — as well as his 60th birthday — with an uncharacteristic looking back that includes a box set, “25 Years,” a single-disc collection, “The Best of 25 Years” and a Back to the Bass Tour that brings him back to rock ’n’ roll conventions after spending 2010 on the road with a symphony orchestra.
“I tend to live in the moment and not really think too much about the future or necessarily about the past,” acknowledges Sting, who was born Gordon Sumner in Newcastle, England, and worked as a school teacher and part-time jazz musician before the Police formed in 1977. “But 25 years is a sizable chunk of time. It’s important that when I do look back, I feel like I’ve lived up to my potential.”
He’s certainly done that. In addition to the Police’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame success, Sting has sold nearly 100 million albums on his own and with the band. He’s scored 10 Top 20 singles, including the chart-topping “All For Love” with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart for “The Three Musketeers” soundtrack and enduring hits such as “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “Fragile,” “Fields of Gold,” “All This Time” and “Desert Rose.”
More striking than the statistics, however, has been the sheer breadth of Sting’s work. His music has traipsed from pop and rock to jazz, classical, opera, various kinds of World Music and even the Renaissance lute music of 2006’s “Songs From the Labyrinth.” His 2009 holiday album “If On a Winter’s Night ...” explores far more than just “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night,” and Sting has also taken on opera, acting on both stage and screen, and even running the record company Pangea.
He’s won 11 Grammy Awards and 25 American Music Awards, and has in the mix an Academy Award and Golden Globe for his contributions to Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “Sabrina,” “Kate and Leopold” and “Cold Mountain.” Sting was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and published a best-selling memoir, “Broken Music,” the following year. And let’s not forget that claim of hours-long tantric sex (“A joke that got out of hand,” Sting says) and his certification as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
“It’s a totally useless honorific,” he says with a laugh. “I command people, but nobody takes a blind bit of notice.”
They’ve saved that attention for his career, it seems.
“I tend to get bored very easily and I just like to do something different every time I start a new project,” says the twice-married father of six, who co-founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund with current wife Trudie Styler. “I’m not one of those people who want to keep repeating the same formula, even a successful one, over and over.”
Striking out on his own 25 years ago, Sting says he “wanted the freedom to expand ... I was interested in crossing over from one kind of music to another. I didn’t want to be categorized or pigeonholed from the outset because I feel that’s extremely limiting. I think that sense of exploration has carried on over the years and has been one of my main driving forces.
“I’ve always managed to do exactly what I like, and largely it’s collided with popular tastes, which is a fortunate thing. You can never guarantee that.”
Revisiting those achievements for “25 Years,” meanwhile, was illuminating.
“We remastered everything and remixed a lot of the songs,” Sting says. “I found things in the new mixes that I hadn’t heard before or otherwise had completely forgotten about. It felt like I was excavating these pieces of history. Things that had just gotten buried — a vocal line here or a saxophone part there.
“That was an exciting kind of archaeology in a way, trying to make these songs that were 25 years old sound fresh and modern. I think there’s a timeless sound in there that I’m very proud of.”
Now, however, he’s ready for time to march on. A desire “to go in a completely opposite direction” after last year’s Symphonicity Tour led him to Back to the Bass, and more music will likely be coming sooner rather than later — it has, after all, been eight years since his last album of all-new songs.
“I ask myself fairly stringent questions at the beginning of the creative process — Have I learned anything in the last three years, and what of my experience can I use that other people would want to hear in song? Is there anything?” Sting says. “And if the answer is no, I have to shut up; there’s already so much out there, I don’t want to fill up the airwaves with noise.
“So I’m fairly stringent about ‘Do I have anything to say or not?’ And so far I always have.”
Sting performs at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $126.50, $81 and $46.50. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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