Sting's music rooted in songs, not any one style

Sting's dressing room is a souk-like space with intricate carpets, filigree lanterns and incense in the air.
Sting's dressing room is a souk-like space with intricate carpets, filigree lanterns and incense in the air.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Locking his music into a single genre is utter nonsense, says the rock veteran, who is always looking to surprise with his compositions

British rocker Sting knows what he wants.

One look at the venue provided for the interview with The Straits Times - a sparse conference room with a table, a few chairs, a sofa set and the air-conditioner whirring loudly in the background - and the former frontman of legendary English band The Police decides to bail.

The chat takes place in his dressing room instead, a lush, dimly lit souk-like space in the bowels of the Singapore Indoor Stadium. There are intricate carpets underfoot, filigree lanterns around and the faint smell of incense in the air.

This is the set-up the musician travels with. "It's the same furniture, so I feel like I'm at home," says the 65-year-old, who is on the Asian leg of his 57th & 9th world tour.

It is just hours before his show in Singapore on Sunday, after which he heads to South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

He knows what he wants when it comes to his music as well. Born Gordon Sumner, Sting is known for working in a wide range of styles, from the reggae-inspired tunes of his early career with The Police, to classical (2006 album Songs From The Labyrinth featured music by English Renaissance composer John Dowland), to even world music (Desert Rose was a collaboration with Algerian singer Cheb Mami) as a solo artist.

Recent projects have included collaborations with a lute player and an orchestra, as well as a soundtrack for a musical, The Last Ship (2014), inspired by his childhood in the shipbuilding town of Wallsend.

While critics have hailed his latest album 57th & 9th (2016) as a return to his classic rock roots, he says frankly: "I just think that's record company nonsense."

He eschews genres, saying his music is "rooted in songs, rather than a style".

"There's some rock 'n' roll, obviously, in the musical DNA, but there are all other aspects of my musical DNA on the record too," he says. "So it's really everything I've been interested in over the years."

He does not know what is next on the cards and he likes to keep it that way.

"When I listen to music, I want to be surprised. When I compose music, I want to create surprises. And so when I choose what I'm doing next, I want it to be a surprise," he says.

The rock star with more than four decades of experience under his belt is even open to the electronic dance music that is dominating airwaves these days.

While he is disinclined to head down that road, he adds that his singer-songwriter daughter Eliot, 26, also dabbles in DJing.

Music definitely runs in the family as his eldest son Joe, 40, is a musician in his own right and a back-up singer for Sting's current tour. The younger Sumner also opened for The Police during their reunion tour in 2007 and 2008.

"It's nice to spend time with him because I was away so much when he was growing up, so I'm trying to make it up now," Sting says.

"When they were very young, they'd be on tour with us, but once they were in school, they had to stay there, so I missed them a lot. So it's nice to have him in my pocket."

Perhaps his children making their way forward in music has triggered contemplation of the legacy of himself and his peers.

He tackles the subject of mortality on his latest record with the song 50,000. The track, written in the light of the deaths of music titans David Bowie and Prince, has lyrics such as "Another obituary in the paper today... Another one of our comrades is taken down".

While the music may live on, he says: "The idea that rock stars are immortal is a silly one, but it's something in our childish minds that we believe."

It is a song that feels immediate in the light of the sudden passing of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell earlier this month.

"We're always in shock when our cultural icons die and, I suppose, it's a lesson for all of us - the most important lesson of all - to accept mortality," Sting adds.

"Not to be morbid or maudlin, but I think life is richer when you accept that there's an end to it at some point. But not too soon I hope."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Sting's music rooted in songs, not any one style'. Print Edition | Subscribe