Do you ever play slap bass, Sting?
Not really. I’ve developed it over the years, just naturally. I play with my thumb and two fingers, like an apoyando style, so these fingers are kinda hidden. Most of the work is done with the thumb and that goes up and down the neck, so you get that effect. I’m also pulling a lot. I was with Tony Levin in the summer and he said ‘I’ve never noticed how you play, it’s odd’, I said ‘You should try it’ and he did! The great Tony... I could see him practicing using two fingers and a thumb.
Do you play both fingerstyle and with a pick?
I don’t think there can be any rules about how you play an instrument. I think innovation is important. A pick was good because we were only a trio, and I needed the bass-line to be very clear, rather than rumbling and vague, so playing with a pick low down near the bridge helped the Police, I think, and often on record I would double the same part on guitar as well, so it was very clear what we were doing. But I also like rumbly bass players, you know: I love Hendrix’s bassist Noel Redding, that kind of atmospheric thunder that they created.
You have a signature Fender Precision. Do you play them much?
I have a few. My daughter plays one. It’s identical to the one that I use, apart from the gouges! It’s a beautiful bass. I think it was Fender’s bestseller for a long time. I usually give them away as a gift or an auction item. I think they’re lovely.
Do you play five-string?
No! It confuses the hell out of me. If I need a low D I’ll tune it down. I don’t want another string there. Having played the lute for a while, with 26 strings, I don’t want the same issue when I’m trying to sing and lead a band. Four is enough. I don’t feel the need to be flash. I play the roots, and occasionally I’ll drop a third in instead of the root, but my job is to just lay a foundation. I think the band appreciate that. I don’t get in the way with my frequency. And working with Vinnie Colaiuta, what do I need to do? Not much.
Would you say you’re a good bass player?
You know, I could hold a job down. I worked in an orchestra pit in a theater. I backed cabaret, I backed comedians and strippers. I worked on a cruise ship. I played old-time dance music, I played Dixieland jazz, I played in a big band. Yeah, I’m a f**king good bass player, ha ha! I had a wider musical education experience than most rock stars, who just play AC/DC riffs or Led Zeppelin. I’m glad of that. I think that feeds into my process. I’m proud of all that work I did.
Which bass players did you admire when you were starting out?
One of the first bands I ever saw was Cream. I also saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience when I was 14, but then I saw Cream, and they kind of turned my head around, ha ha! It was a very formative experience to see those two bands. And then I was in the Police, so the trio thing was prevalent.
Do today’s kids have an equivalent band like Cream to look up to?
Don’t ask me, I don’t know. Ask kids... I was watching these amazing trios, and then on a Saturday night I’d go and play with guys who were literally in their eighties, playing piano, drums and old-time dance music, and you’d play standards for an hour non-stop. And the only clue you got about what key would be next was a gesture with the fingers for the accidentals. They’d do that a bar before the key change, and you’d go to a fourth below and find your key and think ‘I recognize this...’ So busking was hugely important for me. I’d hear something for the first time and then be able to play it.
Do you have a long-term plan?
Yeah. I want to get old as a musician and keep making my living as a musician, and be better. I can do rock music. I know how it works, but I’m also interested in the upper partials of a chord and the way harmony works. You can do both. It’s limitless. People say ‘It has to be rock’n’roll’ or ‘It has to be this genre’ but that kills music. Genre does not help music. It’s labelling.
Do you ever get sick of touring?
I’ve toured all my life. People say ‘How long’s the tour?’ and I say, ‘I started in 1974’, ha ha! What else am I gonna do? I’m used to it. You know, it’s pretty comfortable out there, in the best hotels, and the best mode of travel. You walk out in front of thousands of people and they’re all pleased to see you, and nobody asks for their money back. It’s f**king great!