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From a guitar standpoint, trying to pick a “best” solo on the record is impossible. Underground, Gamma Ray, Night Time, Shoot Out – they’re all fantastic. You played some memorable solos in The Police, but they were very tight.
“Tight, yeah. Well, we came out of a certain era. If you cast your mind back to late ‘70s London, guitar solos were not only absolutely not de rigueur; they were thrown out the window. The punks associated that with people like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and they just didn’t want any part of that. Our band was spawned in the middle of that craziness, and it sort of stayed with us.
“I did play more live, but it wasn’t the feature that I would have hoped it would be. I felt like I was a complete virtuoso before I met Sting and Stewart, but it was more restrained. That was the prevailing style at that particular juncture. With this record, of course, it’s different. Now my attitude is, ‘Unless I’m gonna play loads of guitar, I’m not in the band.’” [Laughs]
Well, you’re definitely stretching out here.
“Yeah. Yeah, it was a lot of fun for me.”
Your overall use of guitar sounds on the record reminds me of the Andy Summers who started pioneering guitar effects at the start of The Police. You still enjoy sonic experimentation.
“Clearly, I’ve always had an ear for the sonic stuff. There are people who have gone way out into the outer fringes, much farther than I ever have. Right now, I think we’re in a golden age of it. The guitar pedal universe is quite amazing. I hate to say that I’m a pedal junkie, but boy, I’ve sure gotten into it more than I used to. I own a lot of pedals and new stuff. Outside of Circa Zero, I’m putting together a ballet with a visual artist in New York, and I’m preparing all the music. It’s very sonic, not songs but more sonic landscapes. It’s lots of loops and pedal effects, building these gigantic sounds. We’ve got all of these incredible pedals to work with – they didn’t used to exist.”
As we were saying, your guitar playing in The Police did influence a lot of players, but in a very peculiar way. You were more of a guitar “anti-hero.”
“In a way, yeah. That was coming out of the whole punk thing, like we did. Of course, we expanded out from that in a long way by the end. That was the beginning of it, the idea that there weren’t endless guitar solos, sprawling heavy metal, indulgent. It wasn’t that; it was much more about the songs and the tightness.
“But it was more than that. It was trying to create a really original sound with a three piece, ‘cause I don’t think we sounded like any other three piece. It was partly that restraint and partly the use of the Echoplex, which I used a lot; it really opened the sound. And it was Sting’s use of a sort of reggae bass line in a lot of songs, and of course, there’s Stewart’s very unique drumming style. We certainly didn’t sound like the Cream, and we didn’t sound like the Jimi Hendrix Experience. We had our own unique sound, which was equally strong and valid. I think that’s why it’s been so long lasting.”