How Absence Made the Police’s Art Go Faster
Former Police drummer Stewart Copeland said the experience of recording their 1983 track “Murder by Numbers” proved the “X-factor” can be at play in art, even though he wasn’t in the same room as colleagues Sting and Andy Summers laid down the track in their first run-through, minutes after it had been written.
The trio was at dinner in AIR Studios on Montserrat while recording its fifth and final album Synchronicity. The island establishment’s conversion from previous use meant it had certain unique characteristics, as Copeland told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show.
“The drums were actually set up in the dining room, which was in a separate building from the recording studio,” he said. “The dining room was this big wooden building, which just had a really great sound. So the drums were up there and I was connected by earphones. It was hell, in fact – I hated being up there because we’d do a take, and I’m sat, ‘Uh, how was that, guys?’ Silence! I had a video monitor so I could see them in the studio with furrowed brows, and I’d go, ‘What are you talking about? Somebody turn on the –– what are you saying down there?’ ‘Uh, we’ll do that one again.’ It drove me nuts being up there.”
On this particular day, inspiration struck just as the band was finishing its meal. “Andy is plonking on his guitar, as is his rote, and he’s got these chords which are kinda beguiling, and Sting is kinda turned on by them,” Copeland recalled. “So he reaches for his book, and he’s got some lyrics, ‘Murder by Numbers,’ and so he kinda constructs the song right there.”
They immediately tried recording it. “So they go downstairs, and while they’re going downstairs, I walk 20 feet over to my drums, figuring out a rhythm to play. When they get downstairs and pick up their cans I’m already playing, and Andy kicks in with the chords, and Sting kicks in with the bass, and he sings the song into the microphone.”
The result: “That’s the record. The first run-through is the record." “Coincidentally, I think that’s one of our best performances on vinyl," Copeland said. "And it illustrates the point that there is such as thing as an ‘X’ factor.”
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