Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police is a fascinating, funny and very real documentary based on the memoir One Train Later by guitarist Andy Summers, chronicling the journey from his early days in the psychedelic ‘60s music scene, when he played with The Animals, to meeting bassist Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland and forming the hugely successful punk trio, The Police. It balances what they went through at the height of their popularity in the mid-‘80s with their global reunion tour in 2007.
At the film’s press day, expertly skilled guitarist Andy Summers spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how things felt both different and the same during the reunion tour for The Police, what makes a good show for the band, how hard it is to unwind after coming off stage and having thousands of people screaming for you, how the experience of the reunion tour and putting this film together far surpassed his expectations, and what it’s like to be a musician now, in a world of single and iTunes.
Collider: When you got back together and toured again, did the actual live performances feel any different?
ANDY SUMMERS: Yes and no. The circumstances are the same. You’re on that stage and you’ve got all those people yelling at you, so you better be right in the moment, reacting to that. It’s completely live and organic. Even 20 years later, it’s the same thing. You may be even better on your instrument. Hopefully, you are. None of us stopped playing. When we got back together, we had all that much more experience. I never stopped touring. As the years rolled on, after the demise of The Police in the ‘80s, they really got the technology down and touring got really slick. I thought, “Oh, I wish we could go out now.” We eventually did, and we had the absolute creme de la creme of touring. We had incredible sound systems, we flew around to every gig in private jets, had limos, were in five-star hotel suits, and there was an incredible Moroccan backstage set-up, with 120 people going around as the entourage. It was amazing compared to the early days. It’s laughable, in comparison.
What makes a good show or a bad show for you? Is it just about a feeling that you get on stage, or do the technical things matter?
SUMMERS: To me, as the musician, the best nights are when we play really well together and we go, “Fuck, we were on tonight!” Sometimes you come off stage and they go, “Well, it was all right tonight,” and you’re like, “That was the best we’ve ever played!” Other times, you’re like, “Well, we were crap tonight,” and they’re like, “What a great show!” We knew when we were really in the zone and it was happening. For me, a great show is when there’s a great rapport with the band and the audience, and we’re all really into it. The first trick is to bring the audience into the band, break the ice, have a life, and be one, so you can enjoy the next hour and a half together.
Is it hard for you to unwind when you get off stage, or is the show done when you leave the stage?
SUMMERS: It’s hard. You come off of this screaming audience of many, many thousands of people. I used to find it very weird. You have two choices. Either you can stay and pump flesh with hundreds of people after the show, which really gets old, or you can come off stage, get into the car, and go straight out the back and away, back to the hotel. Sometimes, literally within a few minutes, you’d be off this amazing roaring scene and back at your hotel room, staring at the patten of the wallpaper. It’s very surreal. You’re back in your room, and it’s dead quiet and really weird. Usually, we would meet in the bar, or something. In the early days, it was always, “Do you want to come to our house and party on?,” and we’d go to these parties where all of these people were waiting for us, but that got a little dodgy. Usually, the best thing is when the band goes to the bar and gets the corner table, we sit there like kings, and then they bring people to us. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. It’s stupid, really.
Do you feel like part of the success of The Police was the fact that you guys were actually really great musicians, both individually and together, and that you really cared about being great musicians?
SUMMERS: Yeah, we were very committed musicians. We all had a certain amount of skill above the average punk band, at that time. Punk was what it was, and it wasn’t really who we were. We still had to play fiercely, but we were playing rock. Stewart [Copeland] is a rock drummer, and we had to play with a lot of aggression. We were fast and furious, but with some skill and accuracy.
Are you able to own the appreciation that people have for your talent and ability?
SUMMERS: Yeah, there’s definitely pride in it. What you aim for, in the first place, is to be as good as you can possibly be. This is what I do, and I’m going to try to be the best in the world. I’m going to really work at this thing and get as far as I can. I think we got a lot of recognition from many areas of the music scene. Not to sound egotistical, but it was justified. We were a very good band, and still are. I say that in the present tense. We’re very lucky to have met. That was the incredible thing. With one guy different, it wouldn’t have been the same.
What was it like to tour together again, and then have this film to show for it? Was it all as satisfying as you hoped it would be, or did it surpass that?
SUMMERS: I think it surpassed it, in many ways. That doesn’t mean it was easy. It was very difficult to psychologically go back. It was like going back to school and the same old shit. It was like, “We’ve all gotten older, and we haven’t gotten past this?!” The tour was so phenomenally successful. At the time, it was the third biggest tour of all-time. It would have been the biggest, and the only reason it wasn’t is because the Rolling Stones went on tour for four and a half years, and we did 18 months. We outsold them, everywhere in the world. They couldn’t even biggest to compete with us. Not even close. We played two nights in France for 82,000 a night, and the Stones did one night for 16,000. I’m not meaning to dis the Stones, but that’s how big we were. I love the Rolling Stones, and good old Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards]. But it surpassed our wildest dreams. It was wonderful that it did so well. It wasn’t an illusion.
What’s it like to be a musician now, in a world that really is about singles and iTunes, rather than how good their full album is?
SUMMERS: With The Police, we were at the absolute peak of the recording industry, before we saw it go downhill. It’s gone now, but it was a very exciting and tangible experience. Now, it’s an abstraction with one track at a time. We always thought in terms of an album, and the emotional curve of the album. People don’t know what you’re talking about now. If you’re 20 years old, you’ve grown up without buying albums.
How do you find the music that excites you?
SUMMERS: I don’t go out much to see bands. I prefer to be on stage. To go see a band in a big venue is a difficult experience. I don’t really like that too much anymore. I’m not a guy who puts on iTunes and goes, “Oh, what’s hot!” I don’t need to. When I was doing the Circa Zero album, I listened to a lot of rock just to see what was going on. You don’t want to be so far off the planet that you come out with something that doesn’t make sense to anybody.
Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police is now playing in theaters.