Hear Read

An Interview with Andy Summers

Andy Summers is a man of the moment, and doesn’t want to be classed as a “history book.” This is fairly apparent when he asks me, “Was Regatta de Blanc the second one, or the third one?” Instead, he’s more concerned with the work he’s producing at this moment. “I’m about to work on an album. Right now, I’m preparing to go out on tour. I was just in Japan for two weeks. It took me about ten days to recover. In less than a month, we’re going back out on the road, but I’m dying to get back into the studio to start recording.”

Since the official breakup of The Police in 1984, Summers has been prolific amassing a body of work that includes stints as a film composer and solo artist. He’s even written a book called Fretting and Moaning; a collection of ideas and stories that present a different side to the musician. Was it fun to write?

“No, I hated every minute of it,” he laughs. And then the tone changes: “It’s satisfying to pull all these things together: It takes thought, skill, organization, and inspiration. Those stories were written over a period of time, but then comes the moment when you have to pull it all together. I’m good at it, so I enjoyed the whole process. It’s still selling, and we sell it at the shows.”

Summers sees the art of composition as a tool that applies to every arena of artistic expression. ”You slowly trust that will happen down the line,” he says, “ and you have  to execute, develop them; flesh them out.” So does he fancy writing another book?

“I have another story that I’ve developed to quite an extent,” he reveals. “I have it more as a movie, but I’m writing it as a novel. That’s been going on for a while. I’ve got the whole thing, but there are moments when an idea falls out of the sky; a character, or twist in the plot. You can’t sit down and write, [because] the ideas come at the most unexpected moments.”

Back to the music. To my ears, Summers’ most dazzling musical moment can be heard on the guitar-heavy “Regatta de Blanc” track, my favorite song in The Police’s canon. “That’s unusual,” Summers laughs. “Yeah, that was a jam. I was playing a lot of style on the guitar because I learned a lot from Lenny Breau about playing harmonics. Not a lot of people knew how to do it; it was a feature of that song. It came out of a jam.”

Summers released Harmonics of the Night in 2021, an instrumental tapestry of sound and texture that expanded the musician’s palette to a more contemporary level. “I’m proud of all my albums. I thought Harmonics of the Night was a great album, a beautiful record. It took a couple of months because I played all the parts; I play drums as well.”

Summers and I share an interest in Brazilian culture, so I take this moment to ask him about his work with singer Fernanda Takai. “I was in a scene in Brazil; I’m there a lot,” he explains. “ I was over there working with one of the great bossa nova giants: Roberto Menescal. She had done some stuff with him, and we did a session one night, [where] I got sort of interested in her. She had a certain way of singing. Eventually, she came to me in Los Angeles, and we made a record together. We went on tour, which was a great experience. Brazil has one of the greatest musical cultures in the world, and I always have a very good time there. It’s satisfying on many levels: exotic culture, and so much music.”

Summers’ imprint can be felt as early as the 1960s, and one of his earliest co-writes Madman Running Through the Fields” typified many of the flavors and trappings from the era. Was it ahead of the game? “It was of the time. I don’t know if it was ahead of time. We were at the forefront of what was going on then, and we were really pleased with that track. I wrote that with Zoot Money. It got some notice: acid rock. Very much of the zeitgeist. Great playing, nice singing; and all the rest. It’s a bit Spinal Tap at this point.”

He enjoyed a friendship with Eric Burdon, although he says he doesn’t want to walk down the path of nostalgia: “It’s two thousand, and whatever it is.” I bring it back to the 21st century and bring up his snazzy makeover of “Bring On The Night” with guitar outfit 40 Fingers. I enjoyed it,” he says.  The track worked really well. The reason we did it was because on their own as a guitar quartet they did ‘Message In A Bottle.’ I think my manager contacted them, and said, ‘If you want to do something with Andy, he’ll do something.’ So, it was sort of a set-up. I met them in Hamburg; they were on tour, and I was on tour. We met at a photography gallery and made a video. I think the way it worked musically was that they did their backing track, and I sort of supervised it, looked over it, and played a melody over it. Improvisation on top. Some backward and forwards between the two studios until we got [the track], but that went really well. We had a good time together.”

I Advance Masked (1982), a project he did with Robert Fripp, has enjoyed a healthy shelf-life, conveying two musicians in control of their journey. “I Advance Masked was sort of ahead of its time. It was sort of interesting; there was something there at that moment. We had to contrive an album out of nowhere. We both come from the same area; grew up in the same town. I disappeared to the States for five years, and when I came back, he helped me out.”

Is Summers interested in writing another film score? Not particularly. “I did about ten film scores. It’s a very difficult scene, and most film composers get cheated. I’m not all that interested unless there was some sort of art-house film.”

He pauses to correct himself: “Actually, I am going to score a film this year. It’s another thing. I’ve made fifteen solo albums, toured; blah blah blah. But I’m mostly focused on my own recordings.”

He hasn’t released an album in three years partially due to Covid, and he had to change the studio setup to digital. He’s clearly anxious to get back indoors, and record. He says he wrote some music for a book called A Series of Glances: “Ambient music. That’s coming out in June or July.”

He kindly indulges me with one last question about The Police: who wrote what on “Murder by Numbers”? “I was playing the whole guitar part in the studio, and Sting got interested in it, and thought he could come up with something. Of course, he had a big book of lyrics so he plastered those lyrics on top of the guitar music.”

I’m interested in the guitar shuffle; how would he describe it? He pauses, and replies:  “I would describe it as Andy Summers.”

-Eoghan Lyng

Photo: Andy Summers, 1979   (Acroterion via Wikimedia Commons)

6 comments on “An Interview with Andy Summers

  1. Steven Valvano

    You outdid yourself this time Eoghan!…wonderful piece…with a wonderful artist of our time.

  2. Mark Hudson

    His book “One Train Later” is one of the best musician autobiographies I have read….and I’ve read a lot of ’em!

  3. John Smistad

    Brilliant, buddy.

    You’re good @ interviews. And other stuff.

    • Eoghan Michael Lyng

      That’s a very kind thing to say.

      Muchas gracias.

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)

Love the Beatles? Get this eBook FREE when you subscribe.

It turns out there's a lot to say. Just say "yes" to get yours.