By Patrick Prince
Andy Summers keeps himself busy. If Summers isn't creating musical ideas on guitar, he is deeply involved in visual artistry — such as photography and film — and promoting his various projects around the globe. After a busy year of overseeing the completion and promotion of the documentary "Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police," Summers was somehow able to find the proper time to produce his latest solo album, an instrumental masterpiece called "Metal Dog."
Progressive and experimental with a bite, "Metal Dog" suits all moods and musical styles with top-notch production. The listener can hear Summers' signature guitar sound throughout (Police fans be pleased!), yet there is a road less traveled as the guitarist reaches his own creative summit.
And through it all — producing the album and playing every instrument— Summers decided to take on the giant task of releasing the album independently, without a record label.
Summers is satisfied with the outcome. It was certainly worth the effort, and he was kind enough to talk to Goldmine about his latest creation, "Metal Dog."
GOLDMINE: Were you ever thinking about having a vocalist on this album or were you thinking instrumental from the get-go?
Andy Summers: Last year I had a rock band for a little bit called Circa Zero. We made a fantastic record ("Circus Hero"), a rock record with a singer — nothing like this. But, anyway, when we got through all the saga of it, ultimately, it didn't work out — but the record came out about a year ago. And if you're into rock I would definitely suggest listening to it. It's outstanding. Great singer (Rob Giles). So, towards the end of that period I was getting into (this) project ... you know, sitting around waiting to be in a rock band and all that, I like to keep playing all the time, always moving on, writing new music. So meanwhile I'm sort of carrying on, coming up from underneath this whole experience and I started this music, actually, for contemporary dance. I was looking at a visual artist in New York and the idea was to do a whole lot of video and I was going to do the music and put it with a dance company. That's how it started. When I started this set of instrumental music I was very much thinking about dances on a stage, with video and all that. It was definitely a more advant-garde project. Towards the end, we didn't come up with much so I had a lot of tracks and I decided there was a really good album in here. I was pleased to form it a bit more into a full-length CD.
GM: And you produced everything yourself?
AS: Yes. Well, I had an engineer, obviously. I have a guy who I've worked with for years. But, I mean, this is all me. There's no one else on the record. It's all me, playing all the instruments. It's my studio and I sit there with all my guitars, devices, effects and other instruments ... various ethnic instruments, and I work my way into these things. You know, it's a process. I get a lot of them going and I come back to one, listen to it and hear it afresh. It's a pure creative process. It's just me in the studio. It's very much like a painter turning up, picking up his palette of colors and working with it.
GM: When talking to other guitarists with solo instrumental albums, some have said that they don't know when to creatively stop editing the songs.
AS: Right. To me, I think that's the mark of an artist. You just start doing it but ... the difference between a craftsman and an artist: the craftsman knows when to stop when he does a good job. Very well done; that's it. And the artist, doesn't. He just doesn't stop doing it. He can go on and on. You can always go on through a creative process. You can basically f*ck with these things forever but I've gotten to this place where I've got this sort of rounded full experience with all the various tracks. I'm pleased with, say, the solos, the mix ... you get to the point with it — and you can always go on and do more — but at some point you've got to let it go. Go off into the world, little child (laughs).
GM: Well, this child — "Metal Dog" — seems well-balanced and well-rounded. It has so many different moods that it is like a human character. You start off with "Metal Dog" and then you get playful with "Animal Chatter" and then you get more moody with "Mare Imbrium." So there are many emotions and as a listener I felt challenged.
AS: Well, this is a more challenging album. There are a couple things to say here. When I'm making the tracks, either way they are songs. They're pieces of music and I'm not out to repel people. I want to engage them, for them to find it intriguing, maybe mysterious, and if they listen to it more than once than maybe it is more challenging. But ultimately, the thing I like, the overall vibe of the album, is that it's sort of an upper. It's not a downer. It's not like some experimental music where you think 'Oh God, that's so f*cking austere and I feel really depressed now.' (laughs) This isn't like that. And it's not some stupid pop song, it's much more deep than that, but I think it leaves you with a good feeling. So when I'm making the tracks, I'm definitely looking for a definite feeling of place, person or character. It's like an actor. You know, I'm taking a position here with these tracks. So it's got a sort of a built-in attitude, or at least that is what I'm trying to bring out in the material as I sort of find it — I was going to say create it — but I'm sort of finding it, really. It's like going into the dark and finding your way and these things sort of come to you.
GM: It does feel like a character. Because a character has so many emotional nuances. You listen to music today and musicians like to fit their music into genres where you know what it's gonna sound like. And after awhile that gets boring. When I meant 'challenged,' not only does it sound good on my stereo system but I feel intrigued. It's like watching film, right? You got to have something there to keep you watching.
AS: Yeah, it's very much like that. That's the idea and I'm finding this very satisfying. I think it's sort of genre-free. It's not generic. It's very much very modern, cutting-edge guitar, textual, sonic, and at the same time it's kind of nice to listen to. Rather than listen to some stupid lyrics telling you what think, it's open and that's what I think music really should be.
GM: Creatively, you have a lot going on, with the movie ("Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police,") and now this solo album.
AS: It's pretty packed. I finished this up and the whole difficult process — I never tried this before but releasing this myself, instead of going to a record company. That was difficult.
But in a way don't you find it liberating?
AS: No, not as liberating as I was hoping for. I'm sure if you talk to a lot of musicians, everyone's got this decision now: should I go to a record company again or should I try it on my own. And everyone's thinking: "Why would you go to the record company?" And finally I've done it but it was more difficult than I expected. And I had help. I don't know if I did it the right way or not but I got it on all the digital platforms, got it onto Amazon ... quite a set up. You almost feel like you've gone on into retail instead.
It's a brave new world.
AS: It is. I got it out there, anyway. We'll see.
GM: Don't other creative mediums influence your music?
AS: Somewhat. I mean, you know, not to make it all sound trite but this CD is fairly cinematic and sort of visual, if you like. I mean, I don't look too hard for that. I've had a whole sort of sub-career with photography. It hasn't taken over for music but it's run parallel for many years. It seems to me, that if you get really good skills in one art, if you study it and you're serious, you might transfer some of that over to another medium because your sensitivities are gonna be there. I really think that's true. One media informs the other.
GM: Are you constantly writing songs?
AS: Yeah, you know, I tend to do it in blocks. I mean, as a guitarist, I play all the time. I always have a backlog of ideas and things on tape that I come back to. I mean, last week I put down like 25 ideas that were like sketches and put them down in Pro Tools and I come back and started developing them. There's always a lot of stuff going on but the internal monologue is always about bits of music. It doesn't go away. Thankfully, not yet anyway. I'm never short of material. That's never a problem. My favorite thing is to be in the studio, writing and composing and building these things up. I feel very happy doing that. And "Metal Dog," I'm really pleased with it. And it's getting a great reaction for something as exotic as it is.
GM:Is "Metal Dog" going to be on vinyl at all?
AS: I haven't done that. I suppose I could. I'm so shocked after going through the whole process (laughs). I might do it. It might be a fun thing to do.
GM:Well, you know audiophiles are going to love the sound of this album and audiophiles like vinyl. So I can see this selling on vinyl.
AS: You're right. In a way it's the perfect record for that.
GM: Are you surprised at the resurgence of vinyl?
AS: In one way I am. And the other way, I think it's wonderful. Like so many of us, we are so sorry now for all this shit that's gone down on bookshops and record stores, it's just gut-wrenching. The joy that we all got from going to stores and then they're all disappearing. Not that you want to sound so horribly old school but the disappearance of these things is just awful, really. And vinyl is like fish swimming upstream, against the current and it's great. I'm all for it. People are realizing the sound quality of it as well.
GM: I was in a store the other day, and a teenager was buying "Sgt. Pepper's" on vinyl, and his excitement ... you just don't see that kind of excitement with someone going on iTunes, you know?
AS: No, I mean honestly, it was better in the old days. (laughs) It was just so much more fun!
For more information on "Metal Dog," go to andysummers.com.