Police drummer Stewart Copeland still can’t listen toSynchronicity without thinking of the last tough days he spentrecording with The Police. The band had burst onto the scene with itsunique sound — punk/new wave energy infused with ska and reggae— on Outlandos d’Amour in 1978, but as the band’spopularity grew, a power struggle within the trio ensued. WhileCopeland says the mood going into the 1983 release Synchronicityalbum was upbeat, there was trepidation, knowing that there would bebattles fought with group leader Sting over creative direction.
“We could see the way the trend was going, and we knew thenext album would be harder than the previous album,” Copelandsays, referring to Sting’s growing control over the music. “Itwas, ‘Shall we try this idea?’ ‘No, we won’t. We’lltry this idea, and there will not be deviation from this idea.’That was the origin of the argument, which turned into an atmosphere ofanger and confrontation. I don’t hold anybody to blame for that pointof view. That is a natural personality trait: To be self-contained andto have a full vision, artistically, of what you want to do. Mozartdidn’t collaborate. There are many musicians who have a clear pictureof what they want to say, particularly if they wrote the song andlyric. So, even though I had these big battles with Sting, I don’t holdthem against him,” says Copeland, who says that he and Sting gettogether whenever Sting is in L.A. these days, but he doubts they couldget to a place that would make it possible for a Police reunion tour(although they were scheduled to reunite for the Rock and Roll Hall ofFame show in the spring).
Copeland says that engineer/producer Hugh Padgham was ineffectualwhen it came to the creative battles, but “what he was good atwas he knew where to put the microphone. He got a big sound. He got theambient recording of the drums, but this is a perfect example of whereputting the microphone in the right place clashed with making the banddynamic work: The big studio that George Martin built [AIR Montserrat,in the Caribbean] was at one end of the building, and I was upstairs inthe old house in the dining room, all by myself with a televisionmonitor connecting me to the studio downstairs across the way.
“The first thing you have to do when you record music is laydown a drum track, but we were making it up as we went along, and Iwasn’t in the room with them. So, instead of finishing playing andgoing, ‘Hey, that was good there, and that went there,’there is silence. I can’t hear what one of them is saying unless one ofthem presses the talk-back button. They aren’t pressing the talk-backbutton, but I can see that they are talking and I assume it’s bad. Thedrums sounded incredible because that was definitely the place to getthe best sound out of the drums. Inarguably, the drums soundedbrilliant in that room.”
Padgham, who also produced Ghost in the Machine with theband, says that he felt his hands were tied when it came to dealingwith the personal dynamics within the band: “It was difficult forme to do anything about the fighting, because when I would try to saysomething like, ‘Come on guys, do you have to kick the shit outof each other?’ they would say, ‘You don’t know anythingabout us.’ Relative to their being a band, I knew them for a veryshort space of time, and their attitude was, ‘You can’t tell uswhat to do. Stay out of it.’”
Copeland says that AIR Studios was an appealing place to record thealbum because it was a long flight from the nearest record company. Herecalls that during the making of their third album, ZenyattaMondatta, executives were constantly present, “looking forthe hit” since the band’s profile had grown so. The Montserratretreat was also better for the band because, “The closer theconfines, the better we got along. The minute there was a life outsidethe group, the group just seemed like the place you didn’t want to goback to.”
Copeland says that he knew instantly upon hearing “EveryBreath You Take” that it was The Big One. “The demo wasSting singing over a Hammond organ, which was rare at that time,because by then, we all had home studios, so we’d show up with thesefully mastered demos. In the case of ‘Every Breath,’ whathe brought to the band was much more simple, so we did a lot to it, aswe did in the early days. We threw out the Hammond Organ partcompletely, since we don’t have an organist in the group, but we dohave a great guitarist [Andy Summers] who would be underutilized insuch an important song. Andy went away and worked out that guitar part,and suddenly it all made sense. We knew it was a big song, but itsounded too pedestrian, in spite of the great lyric, and it wasn’tuntil Andy came up with the guitar part that it clicked in.”
When recording the guitar, Summers was in the studio with what wouldnow be a very unfashionable guitar amplifier, Padgham says. “Itwas a Roland JC-120, which was a solid-state guitar amp. It had achorus sound: A slightly out-of-tune sound that had just been inventedin the early ’80s. It had two 12-inch speakers in it, and you’d get astraight signal out of one speaker and then the second speaker would beslightly out-of-tune, and the tuning would vary up and down. If youmiked both speakers very closely with an SM57, and then rooted each micto the left and the right of your stereo speaker, you got a really widestereo sound. We thought that was pretty hip in those days. Andsometimes we’d double-track it, as well, where we’d have the straightsound on the left, the chorus sound on the right and then double-trackit with the straight sound on the right and the chorus sound on theleft, so you got this really thick, wide sound. Everything went througheither that, or he also had a Fender Twin Reverb for straight, sharp,proper sort of guitar sounds.
“A lot of the synthesizer parts on the Police records wereplayed through a guitar synth that Andy would play,” Padghamcontinues. “It was a Roland guitar synth with a pick-up eitherput on one of his guitars or they actually made their own guitar with apick-up on it. Roland made two guitar synthesizers in those days— one was blue and one was yellow — and Andy would splitthe guitar signal: Come out of the guitar, go into a Y splitter intothe blue synth and into the yellow synth, and they would, in turn, bothfeed their own Marshall amplifier with a 4×12 cab turned up veryloud. Then we’d mike the cabinet, so we got a subtly different soundcoming out of each Marshall, again one going to the left speaker andone going to the right. So a lot of those swelly synth sounds would behis guitar amp, although we did have a Prophet synthesizer and someOberheim synthesizers, as well.”
Unlike the other tracks on the album, which Copeland says generallytook a day, “Every Breath” took a week because of thesimplicity of the song. “We couldn’t do a lot of stuffbecause that would ruin it, so the stuff we did had to be the rightstuff. We tried this, we tried that, such as a reggae version, whichdidn’t seem important enough. We tried a more rock track and I can’teven remember most of it because it was so unmemorable.
“When Andy came up with that guitar part, I felt personallythat I didn’t have to come up with one of those interesting rhythmturn-arounds, like in ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ or‘Roxanne,’ because it seemed like the guitar part was thetrick. So we had the song and we had the trick, and all we had to dowas make your foot tap to it. The drum part is very simple: The kickdrum is from a drum box — an Oberheim — and I overdubbedthe snare drum, which is actually a snare drum and a Tama gong drumplayed together, one in one hand, one in the other so you get a reallyheavy, but cracking, backbeat. Then the hi-hat was overdubbed as aseparate track. For the swooshes into the choruses, I overdubbed thegong drum with a cymbal swell played with soft mallets. The drum partwas completely assembled with overdubs.
“The drums were miked with BBC ribbon mics — Coles 4038s— on the overheads on the cymbals,” Padgham adds.“Those have become very popular now in America, but weren’t thenyet. Then we used the normal Shure SM57 on the snare drum, which wasonly miked from the top. We used Sennheiser 421s on the tom-toms and Ibelieve a Neumann U47 on the kick drum, and part of the sound was theroom mics. Stewart was in a dining room with a wooden floor, which wasmuch more reflective than the studio, which was quite deadened, havingbeen designed in the mid-’70s. We used Neumann 87s about 10 or 15 feetaway from the drums. Quite often, we had Stewart’s hi-hat digital delayline, which gave it that hi-hat sound that drummers have tried toemulate but can’t. I recently told a drummer who was mortified thatthere was a 300-millisecond delay on the hi-hat, so there was no waythat even Stewart played it, because the polyrhythm came from the delaytime.” Padgham notes that Copeland took the Korg digital delayline with him on the road to reproduce the effect live.
Padgham also recalls having to gaffer-tape the sticks to Copeland’shands and the headphones onto Copeland’s head because of the heat inthe area. “Stewart would get quite sweaty,” he says.“He would get three-quarters of the way through a take and thesticks would go flying out of his hands. Obviously, we could physicallyslice the tape with a razor blade, but it wasn’t like today with ProTools, where it’s incredibly easy to do all that sort ofthing.”
Copeland says “Every Breath” was the mostpieced-together of all the songs on the album. “Every othertrack, we played the track and either cut it up or overdubbed to it ordropped stuff out of it. I think this is the only one where we didn’tplay the track. We laid down a rhythm box, did an overdub, added somemore rhythm, then did another overdub and built it piece by piecerather than playing it. It’s a much more complex track than it sounds.There’s the piano solo, which Sting played, and the [guitar] powerchords in the chorus — 20 tracks of those. When Sting got intothe vocals, there were another three days of getting every syllableright.”
Padgham says that he always had a problem finding the right mic forSting’s vocals. “He’s got quite a dull tone to his voice,”he says. “I think on Synchronicity, we used an AKG 414mic, which was quite a sort of ‘toppy’ mic. It might havebeen a Neumann U47. I think we did a lot of the vocals in the controlroom. We probably went through a UREI 1176 compressor, which was, andstill is, my favorite for vocals.”
Recording the bass could be frustrating, Padgham says, when Stingwanted to play while jumping on a mini trampoline. “It sounds mad— and I have trouble recalling whether it was during Ghost inthe Machine or Synchronicity, because we recorded them 18months apart at the same place 20 years ago — but what was reallyannoying was, even at the best of times, with all due respect to Sting,who is a fantastic bass player, he’s quite sloppy. If you solo his basstrack, there’s all sorts of fret noise and bits of dodgy playing. Whenhe was bouncing on the trampoline, it made it even worse. But, ofcourse, if you said, ‘Could you not bounce quite so much,please,’ he’d bounce even more. Nowadays, I’d know to say,‘Could you bounce more please,’ and he’d probably get offit! With respect to his sound, whether he was bouncing on thetrampoline or not, he always used his old Fender jazz bass, and it wasnever put through an amplifier. I only ever DI’d it, and in those days,it always had a bit of Boss chorus pedal on it, which made the basssound a little thicker. Then we would overdub a Dutch upright electricdouble-bass that was nicknamed Brian. It was, ‘Let’s put Brian onthe track.’ He wouldn’t emulate the whole part, just perhaps thefirst note of the bar.”
Padgham says that the outboard effects were minimal: “In thosedays, there weren’t 4 million digital reverbs. We recorded on an oldNeve console, so it was all recorded through those lovely, old, Class-Amic pre’s, and recorded onto MCI 2-inch machines. I’m pretty sure weused 30 ips, and we might even have used Dolby on some tracks, as well.I had an obsession about tape noise at the time, and on some of thequieter Police tracks, I was worried that people would accuse me ofbeing a bad engineer if there was any noise,” says Padgham, whoadds that his assistant engineer on Synchronicity was Renata,who ended up marrying Elton John. “I think the whole album wasdone on 24-track analog, which most albums were then, and you’d neverthink of attempting that now with loads of harmonies going on,”says Padgham, adding that they mixed the album in Canada on an SSL.
It’s hard to believe that this album, which still holds up so welltwo decades later, nearly never got recorded. Ten days into therecording, they had nothing tracked, which prompted an executive crisispow-wow. Manager Miles Copeland flew in to meet with Padgham and theband, and they had to decide if they could buckle down to get the albumdone or quit right then. “That album was perhaps one meeting awayfrom not happening,” Padgham says. “I remember right beforethat, ringing up my manager and saying, ‘I hate this,’because sometimes the tension in the room was so horrible. But in manyways, that tension is what ended up making such a goodalbum.”
Clickhere to see which songs shared the Number One spot with ThePolice’s “Every Breath You Take” in 1983.
Hear an MP3 clip of the Police’s “Every BreathYou Take,” this month’s Classic Track.