Something Else! Interview: Andy Summers on Circa Zero, the Police and never settling

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You may not recognize the voice. Certainly, you’ve never heard of the band. But that guitar, echoing and minimalistic? Well, that could only belong to the Police’s Andy Summers. And so Circa Zero’s new song, an all-hook blast of old-school straight-ahead rock called “Levitation,” lures you in anyway.

That’s the idea. Summers, an endless tinkerer in jazz, experimental and world musics as a solo artist, got a taste for rock again when his former band mounted the most unlikely of reunion jaunts in 2007-08. But, as Summers relays in this exclusive SER Sitdown, new music was never in the cards. (Blame Sting’s focus on his own solo doings, apparently.) That sent Summers on a quest.

He ended up running into Rob Giles, then a vocalist in an LA outfit called the Rescues and being managed by a friend of Summers’. Something clicked, something that hadn’t clicked in just that way since a certain earlier trio burst onto the scene in the late 1970s.

And so, Circa Zero was born. Sessions for their debut, due out on March 25, 2014 and named Circus Hero after a DJ’s hilarious on-air misnomer for the still-unknown band, were completed quickly. But, as Summers is learning, that was just the beginning of their journey in this new musical landscape.

In edition of our talk, Summers discusses starting over again, why the Police were never meant to do more than a one-off tour, and how he’s continued furiously pushing at the edges of his craft. In Part 2, the guitarist joined us again to go in-depth on songs from the Police, the Animals and remarkable solo work with Robert Fripp …

NICK DERISO: For many fans, the Police reunion of a few years back seemed like a perfect bridge into some new music — but that didn’t happen. Is Circus Hero, a tough rock record, the kind of thing the Police should have done?
ANDY SUMMERS: That sure would have been great. I’m sure it’s what a lot of people wished for, but that wasn’t going to happen. [Pauses.] It would have been amazing. But I certainly don’t think Sting would have been up for doing something like that — to be blunt. So, in a way, getting on and doing this, I liked that thought.

NICK DERISO: So, did that tour feed into your desire to play this kind of rock music?
ANDY SUMMERS: I can’t deny that, because I think going back out and doing that kind of thing, and having that much fun, doing all of that again — it sort of spurred me on. I had been writing a lot of songs, anyway. I made an album in Brazil with another singer [2012’s Fundamental] that I wrote everything for, and then I started putting together a whole rock album. I was working with a number of singers, and I was enjoying it — but, I think ultimately, there was a little voice in me saying I didn’t have the right singer, the right level of singer. And that’s really when I met Rob. He sang one of the songs, and he just blew it away. I thought: “OK, this is it.” We had a really good meeting and, basically, after a couple of hours we decided: “Let’s make a record together. We’ve really got something here.” That was a couple of years ago, and that’s when we started.

NICK DERISO: Describe that moment when everything falls into place.
ANDY SUMMERS: It’s a chemistry thing. We literally just sat down with two guitars, and working through a couple of things together. I’m observing the guy, and picking up his vibe. Then I’m listening to his voice, and his phrasing — and I’m thinking: “Christ, this is the real deal. This guy has really got it. We really have a chemistry here; let’s make a record.” Then, of course, we had to actually do it. So we just sat down and started working through things, and we just spurred each other on. We hardly disagree about anything. We usually seem to arrive in the same place, with most of it. It’s a rare thing.

NICK DERISO: Certainly, with Circus Hero, you’re harkening back to your sound with the Police, but at the same time, pushing your guitar into new places.
ANDY SUMMERS: It’s a bit more. It’s definitely expanded from the Police. I think all of the sounds are better. It’s all gotten a lot better, over the years. All of this technology has developed beautifully, actually. They’re making some great stuff now. That’s sort of a legacy I have, being in the Police and all of that stuff, but I don’t ever need to go near that again. I play the way I play, but I’m really playing to whatever the song is. I’ve got various sonic capabilities, and there may be echoes of the Police in there, but I don’t try and make every track sound like the Police. I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in moving, which I’ve done for many years. I’ve made, like, 15 solo albums, with all kinds of guitar sounds. [Laughs.] The one I did last summer with the Brazilian singer Fernanda Takai, that was a beautiful record.

NICK DERISO: It seems, both times with the Police, you went out on top — both in the 1980s and later, with this reunion tour. But what it like starting over? So much has changed.
ANDY SUMMERS: It’s very interesting. I went to Universal Records, and I was talking to people and saying: “It’s a whole different world now.” I have to kind of be very cognizant of the social media, and everything. That’s the way it’s done now. But, you know, that’s what we’ve got and I’m happy to kind of swing with it and try and learn the new ropes, as it were. I think a lot of it still remains to be seen. We’ve still got to get on radio. Maybe, instead of playing for years in little clubs, trying to work your way up slowly but surely, you go on YouTube. I think it’s changed, in that sense.

NICK DERISO: Well, it would be easier on your van, that’s for sure.
ANDY SUMMERS: [Laughs.] Right. Those tires are going to stay fresh!

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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