Musician, actor, activist, philanthropist, tantric sex enthusiast and probably everything else you associate with being awesome, Sting has done it all. The man is simply put, a chameleon. But even for someone with his versatility, his current project sounds like a total mind trip. Twin Spirits is the re-imagining of one of German composer Robert Schumann’s most celebrated works. It’s Sting (a classical music enthusiast) and his wife Trudie Styler, onstage, together as Schumann and the piano prodigy Clara respectively, reenacting the process of falling in love. They’re backed by a group of musicians in in a production that’s part opera, part spoken-word, part play and all Sting. Here is the man and the myth on his winter fetish, shopping for the Boss and Obama
So why a winter album? I’ve always loved snow, and the winter time, for me, is such a creative time. It’s a time to reflect. It’s a miserable time for a lot of people with long hours of darkness and frost, but also it’s the season of the imagination. People sit around telling stories too. So I spent about six months researching the music of the winter season, from every available source: classical music, folk music, sacred music, secular music, pre-Christian ideas even. Also as global warming takes place, it’s flattening out the seasons. And that I find worrying because psychologically we need them.
This connection to winter, it’s not just an irrational love of big thick woolly jumpers? [Laughs]I think we are always rushing around and we naturally use winter as a time to slow down. Animals hibernate. We’re meant to reflect on the year before in order that we can move efficiently into the spring. It’s pretty simple psychology, but often now we are disconnected from the seasons because of air-conditioning or global warming. So we are losing that sense of a cycle that had been useful to us for thousands of years. I mourn the loss of winter. Without it I think we’re in a lot of trouble. I lived in a very gray, industrial town, but the snow would transform it into this magical landscape.
Your album Soul Cages deals with growing up in Newcastle and on the new record, If On A Winter’s Night, you return to this. And you sing about Soul Cakes! From Soul Cages to Soul Cakes – have you taken us all on a journey to look for the inner Geordie? [Ed note: Geordie is a British nickname for someone from Newcastle.] I don’t have to search very hard for the inner Geordie! I think he’s always been in there. I’m certainly still very connected to my roots. On Soul Cages I was trying to get over the death of my parents. Just trying to figure out how to deal with it. I think I did what most ‘modern’ people do, which is to try and ignore it, pretend it doesn’t affect you, so you just work. You go to work the next day. So when my parents died nearly 20 years ago I went on tour for nearly a year and then did a play straight afterward with no break. It was all designed to keep my mind off this terrible thing. But I don’t think this approach can ever possibly work, because you run away from it, but then it comes back and bites you in the leg. The big thing is it means that you’re next in line in a way. And you have to deal with that.
Do you think you’re extra aware of the winter as a Northerner? Oh yeah, we are proud of our toughness up there. That’s why when you watch my soccer team on a freezing cold day some of the fans will stand there half naked with no shirt on to demonstrate their hardness. They’re nuts!
Do you think there is a built-in craziness to Geordie behavior? Absolutely. And I do have that in abundance! Plus, as you point out correctly, I do like to wear a nice sweater.
You’ve come a long way from the bumble-bee t-shirt in The Police days to designer mohair… I have. Maturing. Slowly but surely!
You turn 60 in two years time. Thanks Andrew.
Hang on, I’m going somewhere with this. Did you call up your close friend Bruce Springsteen a couple of months ago when he hit the same milestone? I did indeed. I called him because I like to see how my elders are getting on!
What did you buy The Boss for his 60th? Actually we have an agreement now that we don’t get each other presents. It just became too stressful.
Will you be taking the new album our on the road? Absolutely, although it can only really be performed for a fairly short time. You couldn’t really perform these songs in the summertime. It needs the season of winter to support it.
You’re also busy staging Twin Spirits, a theater piece about this really tragic love story. Tell me about that. It’s the story of the passionate romance and subsequent marriage between composer Robert Schumann and a piano prodigy, Clara, which her father tried to wreck. It eventually resulted in Robert’s attempted suicide and death in an asylum in 1856. I knew Schumann’s music, but I didn’t really know the story or Clara’s music, which we play side by side to great effect with his.
Your wife Trudie plays Clara in the piece—how is it performing it live? We’ve played it in total about six times, including one night on Broadway, but I found that it left the audiences kind of stunned. And crying! Which is kind of interesting! Some of the letters that Trudie as Clara reads out are very poignant. This love story provides a great introduction for people who don’t normally listen to classical music. The passion of Robert and Clara’s love is transcendent.
Does working with topics like suicide and winter depress you? I don’t think these topics are morbid or maudlin. I think mortality and madness are important topics to discuss!
Where do you go to escape winter? I’ve still got a very close affinity to Brazil, although I don’t go to the jungle as often these days. I think celebrity just gets in the way. So I limit my connection to fundraising rather than going out there to the Amazon. South America is just one of the most interesting places on the planet politically, religiously, economically and environmentally. A set of circumstances found me there 20 years ago and I don’t regret it for a second. I feel very at home there.
Are you still close friends with the old Indian chief? I haven’t seen him for a long time now but I know he’s safe in his jungle for now.
Did all the micky taking you received at the time for hanging around with the Indian chief get on your nerves? Er, well yeah it did slightly, but 20 years later I’m still fighting the same fight. And now people are agreeing with those things I was talking about. You can get rid of motor cars and plane travel tomorrow but if we don’t address chopping down the rain forests we are still fucked! And this is scientifically proven now. It’s not just a feeling. The biggest contribution to greenhouse gasses is deforestation. And unless we stop that nothing else matters.
What do you think about Brazil getting to host the World Cup and then the Olympics in Rio in 2016? Look they’ve got a long way to come before they host these events, but so has England, to be honest, before we host the Olympics.
Is there a charitable cause big enough for another Police reunion? [Laughing] You know the answer to that!!!
Never rule anything out. Last time we spoke you couldn’t have envisaged a black president in the USA. How do you think he’s doing? As right for the job as he is, Obama is facing enormous difficulties in moving the political system to his way of thinking. When I look at the health care crisis, it appalls that in a country like America you cannot get health insurance. Most people remain uncovered. And if you do get sick in America you could be left bankrupt no matter how much you are earning. It’s tragic. The logic of the people who were against health care reform I just fail to see.
What did you make of Obama winning the Nobel prize? I think he should really say, ‘Look, I’ll accept it, but in four years time when I’ve achieved something, but not until then.’ I think he basically said something like it should be considered a call to arms, which was very smart. And by the way I’m not personally losing any sleep over never getting nominated for a Nobel over the rainforest campaign, even though 20 years later, I’m still fighting the fight for what I’ve been bleating on about for two decades!