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Great Stewart Copeland interview in EYE Magazine


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True Oyster cult


With the Cancer Conspiracy. Wednesday, Nov. 7. Massey Hall, 178 Victoria. $45.50 from Ticketmaster, Roy Thomson Hall box office (872-4255).


Oh, to be in 1983 again, when everyone was talking about the new Michael Jackson album, and a certain power trio driven by Stewart Copeland's drums was all the rage....

Eighteen years on, Copeland's still dismissive of Jacko, he's still disagreeing with his bandmates and he's still playing to thousands of people -- but as one-third of Oysterhead, rather than the Police. Copeland's new venture with Primus bassist Les Claypool and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio has the drummer more stoked than he's been in years.

Copeland has been involved in a few bands since the Police acrimoniously dissolved in the mid-'80s, but his main passion has been composing for films. "I forgot all about playing drums," he admits on the phone from Berkeley, Calif., before the fourth concert on Oysterhead's debut tour. "If I ever needed drums for any of my film-composing work, I'd go ahead and hire somebody. It's only just in the past year that Les Claypool called me up to produce a Primus record, and along the way -- since they're all Police fans -- I had a jam with them. I kind of enjoyed it, but their young whipper-snapper of a drummer kicked my ass.

"That pissed me off, so I went home and tried to figure out my drums, then the guy from Tama drums sent over this fantastic new drum set, and that completely got me fired up again. I've been polishing and shining and detailing and tweaking and calibrating, and it's like a new hot rod. You should see the drum set I've got now, man -- very cool! And oh, by the way, I'm now going to smoke that little son of a bitch. Tonight."

Indeed, the drumming on Oysterhead's debut, The Grand Pecking Order (Elektra/Warner), is vintage Copeland, featuring crisp, driving and unpredictable rhythms. While Oysterhead's first concert, a one-off deal in New Orleans in May 2000, was by their own admission rather self-indulgent, the album finds the band distilling its darkly cartoonish sensibility into ominously funky tunes.

Asked if it would be fair to call Oysterhead's music "prog-pop," Copeland pauses for a moment, then lets out a cautious, "S-s-sure. I'll go with that. I don't know if Les would like that very much, but I'm cool with it. Les Claypool is the art Nazi of the group. We run everything past Les to see if it's cool or not, and we have a lot of arguments about the validity of pop music versus serious music and everything. As far as I'm concerned, it's all pop music, or else it ain't worth shit."

Surely they haven't come to blows yet, as Copeland famously did with Sting in that other band? Copeland snickers, then does some damage control. "No, no, no. We don't argue about it -- we have earnest discussions about it. I'm loosening him up, and he's wisening me up. The thing is, these guys are so much more fun to hang around with! We have a lot of laughs."

It's good that things are still friendly in the Oysterhead camp, especially since the rangy drummer must yet again contend with a frontman who's worshipped by the masses. "Trey onstage is the living God," he admits. In fact, Copeland claims to be able to pick the Phish phans out of the audience (they're "the ones who are twirling"). He professes to like them, but sometimes he craves variety: "In a lot of the gigs that we did in the States, the Phish fans got there first, 'cause they're so wildly cultish. So they're the prime audience that's in front of us when we walk out onstage. In Toronto, the tickets went a little slower, so some normal people -- maybe Primus fans, or even some Police fans -- might have bought a few tickets."

After the tour ends in mid-November, Copeland will resume scoring movies; in fact, he just finished providing music for the *NSync vehicle On the Line. ("That's a great one for Les," he quips.) Perhaps you can't really take the populism out of an ex-Policeman: after all, Sting has been writing for Disney. But while Gord Sumner is unlikely ever to find himself in a power trio again, his former bandmate still hears the call of the wild: "I like my job as a film composer, but Oysterhead is comin' to get me!"

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