Q&A: Sting

Mr. Sumner says Stevie Wonder is a "higher being" and touring with the Dead was great — on 'shrooms

Sting performs at the Capital FM's Christmas Live concert in aid of Help A London Child, at Earls Court, December 4th, 2003 in London. Credit: Steve Finn/Getty

Sting can trace his predilection for crazy rhythms back to his childhood, when he used to chill under his mom's piano: "I could hear the noise of the pedals louder than the music," he says. "I remember being fascinated by watching her feet play against the music she was playing. That probably set up a whole chain of arrhythmia in me." Sting's new release, Sacred Love, shows his soulful side and even features a guest vocal by Mary J. Blige. Sting has also opened up in a new autobiography, Broken Music. "Some of it was joyful and some of it deeply painful," says Sting from one of his homes, in England. "I explained myself to myself, and hopefully to a few others."

Do you like the name Sting?
I've got to like it. I didn't like it at first, but it became the name people knew me by, and it was a cryptic, one-name autograph, and it also began to suit me. I don't really have any choice now.

Growing up, what music did your parents play around your house?
My father played Sinatra, Dorsey, big-band stuff. My mom brought rock & roll into the house, and I remember Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" sending me into paroxysms of religious fervor. I'd just roll around on the floor in ecstasy.

What about the first album you bought?
With the Beatles, when I was about twelve. It cost three shillings at Jeabons Music Store in Newcastle. I used to hang out there. There were only two or three releases a week, so you got to hear just about everything that was made in the world. A much different experience than going into Tower Records, which is so daunting, I'm afraid – like being in some vast city of music. Jeabons was like a little village.

What was going on the first time you heard the Police on the radio?
There's no feeling quite like it. Maybe the first time you masturbated successfully, or the first time you made love, or the first time you skied a black slope. They played "Roxanne" on London's Capital Radio, I was painting the kitchen ceiling, and I just about fell off the ladder. I phoned Stewart [drummer Copeland] – he was also listening. We were screaming, making Neanderthal grunts.

Which one of your heroes have you been most thrilled to meet?
I've worked with Stevie Wonder in the past few years, and he's a higher being. There's an energy about him that's just totally otherworldly.

Someone like John Mayer may say that about you.
I really appreciate that kind of thing, but I don't go around thinking I'm a hero or a higher being. I promise you, I'm not.

The Police first toured America in a van in 1978. What are your most vivid memories of that tour?
Poverty. Not being able to afford staying at the Days Inn. Playing gigs for three people and doing encores. Despite that, wonderful days never to be lived again: backbreaking, backbone- building and backbiting.

There was tension in the band even then?
There was tension from Day One, and it just got worse.

You brandished a knife – concealed in a cane – when the Police were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
You never know when the need will arise [laughs.]

Who the hell's idea was it to open for the Dead in '93?
I think our agent and their agent got drunk one day. Then my agent called me up and said, "You'll never guess . . ." and I said, "You'll never guess . . . I'd like to do that!" I wanted to understand the Dead phenomenon from up close.

What did you learn?
I learned what a wonderful musician Jerry Garcia was. That they created a sense of community and a family with their fans. It was a rather lovely feeling, especially if you're on mushrooms [laughs.]

And how did P. Diddy sample "Every Breath You Take"?
Those guys just take your shit, put it on a record and deal with the legality later. Elton John told me, "You gotta hear ["I'll Be Missing You"], you're gonna be a millionaire!" I said, "I am a millionaire!" He said, "You're gonna be a millionaire twice over!" I put a couple of my kids through college with the proceeds, and me and P. Diddy are good pals still.

When all is said and done, what do you think your legacy will be?
I don't know. All the songs can live on. Hey! P. Diddy's grandchildren can rerecord "Every Breath You Take."