British Columbia·Q&A

Former Police drummer Stewart Copeland to play with Vancouver Symphony Orchestra this fall

Legendary drummer Stewart Copeland will take the stage at Vancouver's Orpheum theatre this month for his show Police Deranged, 90 minutes of Police tunes performed by him and a full orchestra.

'My mission is to take your mighty Vancouver symphony and turn it into a rock band'

A grey-haired man with glasses is pictured at a drum set.
Drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police performs at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn., on June 16, 2007. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

Legendary drummer Stewart Copeland will take the stage at Vancouver's Orpheum theatre this month for his show Police Deranged, 90 minutes of Police tunes performed by him and a full orchestra.

"You cannot deny the power of a known song, even if it's not your favourite song, even if you weren't necessarily a Police fan. You've heard them. You've lived your life to them. They have emotional baggage," he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"That's what we do, is make people feel stuff and move people and get them moving and dancing."

He sat down for an interview with Quinn ahead of the shows, scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

He's one of the top drummers in the world and next week he'll be playing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for two shows...Stewart Copeland joins us for a conversation about symphonies, rock music and tik tok.

This show isn't quite what I thought it was going to be. I didn't realize it was the wild ride that people are actually going to get. 

My mission is to take your mighty Vancouver symphony and turn it into a rock band. Their day job is playing the music of the masters, the great music of all time. That's what the orchestra is really for. But they can read, as they like to say, bat poop on the page. If you give them the score, they do what it says on the page.

And if it says to rock, they shall rock. I've had great fun with the Atlanta Symphony, Nashville, Cleveland, all these different orchestras around America and in Europe too, getting them to rock. Because they can. A lot of musicians on stage, they can burn down the building and that is our intention in Vancouver. 

Where did you get the idea to push all of these musicians out of their element?

I got the training in how to use orchestra from my 20 years as a hired-gun film composer. The main tool of film music is an orchestra. So I learned over those 20 years what they're good at and how to make them do this or make them do that or create this emotion or suggest that emotion. And so I sort of picked up the orchestra charts.

An orchestra conductor surrounded by performers in Vancouver Orchestra's building.
Copeland joins the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum theatre this month. (VSO)

My approach to rock drums and orchestra is to make my drums quieter and the orchestra louder. They can be very aggressive and very beautiful in the same sentence. That's the amazing thing about the symphonic orchestra is it has a huge vocabulary. It's very pliable. It's very fluid. It can slam and then go off into lyric poetry. It's really a versatile instrument with great power and majesty, which is why I enjoy messing with it. 

In all of the film composition work you've done, do you have something that stands out as a favourite?

Music and storytelling go together very well. I did a documentary series for the BBC about what is music? What's it for? Why do Homo sapiens do music? And by the way, we're all really good at it, even you. Every human being is really good at music compared to our other primate siblings. We can all dance together, we can all sing a tune. We're not all Eric Clapton, but we are an extremely musical species.

What's it for? And it's for making us bond, mainly both sexually and socially. And it goes past our brains. It goes right past your brain, into your heart. And that's why film composing and film and TV use music so much is because it can tell a completely different story.

For instance, you know, the handsome male lead, say Tom Cruise looks into the girl's eyes and it's a moonlit night. He says, I love you and just everything your eyes are telling you is that it's beautiful. The music comes in with that dirt chord and tells you he's a lying sonofabitch. And so you will believe rather than believe your lying eyes. You will believe my dirt chord because it goes past your brain, straight to your heart.

I see a lot of people playing duets to your drumming on TikTok. Why do you choose to share your music in that way?

Well, it's sort of a cure for a loneliness felt by artists since the beginning of time. Basically, you make your record, you do your shows, but you feel like you're just shouting into the forest and no one can hear it. If you get played on radio, great. If you don't, you are a lost voice in the wilderness.

Nowadays, you can communicate directly, and that's sort of what artists, dancers, singers, musicians, painters, writers ... they really want to be heard. It's a form of communication and TikTok and Instagram and all the others are direct communication. For artists, it's a really wonderful thing to be able to communicate directly.

Aspiring musicians no longer need the record company or people in the studio in order to be discovered and appreciated. What does that mean for music?

Well, music has been very much democratized and that's good news and bad news. The threshold has gone down. Anyone can make music at home with a laptop. All you need is something to say. In olden times you had to practise on an instrument and be good on an instrument to be able to make music, and then you had to go to the man to get a recording budget and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Now, it's completely democratic. Every darn fool can make music and I like that. It's like campfire music. It's purpose for humanity is not that it's specialists like me who get to sit on my throne on high and make the music and you just got to sit there and take it. The real purpose of music is for all of us to do it ourselves.

The problem is making a living at it. Being Elvis Presley or The Beatles. To get to that stage it's really hard now because of all the competition. Getting heard, getting noticed is, in fact, even more of a challenge now. I'm happy though because I like all that competition.

It's good that it is democratized, but not so great for being a rockstar.

With files from The Early Edition

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