The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stewart Copeland — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss (#581)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with musician and former drummer for The Police Stewart Copeland. This episode is from my 2017 TV show Fear{less}. The “less” is in parentheses because the objective is to teach you to fear less, not to be fearless.

Transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

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#581: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stewart Copeland — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss

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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.

Tim Ferriss: I’m Tim Ferriss, author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and now TV host. I’ve spent my entire adult life asking questions, then scouring the globe to find the answers. On this show, I’ll share the secrets of pioneers who have faced their own fears. We’ll dig into the hard times, big mistakes, tough decisions, and how they got through it all. The goal isn’t to be fearless, the goal is to learn to fear less.

Welcome to Fear{less}, I’m your host, Tim Ferriss, and on this stage, we’ll be deconstructing world-class performers of all different types to uncover the specific tactics they’ve used to overcome doubt, tackle some of their hardest decisions, and ultimately succeed on their own terms. So imagine yourself, a founding member of one of the most successful rock bands of all time, what happens when you break up?

For many, that might be the end of the story but for my guest tonight, he was just getting started with no prior experience, he went on to score films for Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone, composed for ballet and opera, and even take pilgrimages to Africa where he played drums with hungry lions; I am not kidding. He’s a founding member of The Police, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for the last three decades, he’s been one of Rolling Stone‘s top 10 drummers of all time. Please welcome musician master and madman Stewart Copeland.

It’s so nice to see you again.

Stewart Copeland: It’s so nice to see you again.

Tim Ferriss: And we are going to have a lot of time to explore all sorts of fun stuff. I thought we would start with a video. So let’s take a video so you guys know exactly who we have in front of us.

Stewart Copeland: One of only two drum solos I’ve ever done in my life.

Tim Ferriss: Really?

The man, the machine!

Stewart Copeland: The weirdest thing about that performance there. Letterman. Huge thing. I played with a band, it took me decades of writing music and practicing and doing my roots to get up all this skill but at the end of the thing, I threw my sticks over there, and that was the big hit of the appearance, which is an illustration of a point that it’s the dumb shit. Never mind the decades of dedication to music and craft and everything else. It’s the dumb shit.

Tim Ferriss: Practice throwing your sticks, kids.

Stewart Copeland: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So you said while we were watching that this was one of only two drum solos you’ve ever done?

Stewart Copeland: Yes. And I don’t really believe in drum solos, even though I loved them when I was 14, they’re real hard work, it’s usually just a chance for the band to sell merchandise, so this is one of them. It was Letterman, there, doing drum solo. The other was in the wilds of Africa, you see.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yes. How did that come together? How did that come into reality?

Stewart Copeland: Somebody had the bright idea of me going to Africa in search of rhythm and American music because of course, one of our most profound cultural characteristics in our country is American music, the origins of which are, of course, Africa.

Tim Ferriss: You found a very receptive audience for your second solo.

Stewart Copeland: Well, we were out there with a film crew and we had no idea what we were doing — some of the best things happen when you don’t know what you’re doing. And then a buddy of ours, the Khashoggi family, billionaire, Arabic family, owned a ranch near Mount Kenya and so we went out there and they had giraffes and all this stuff like that. So we shot everything and one of the things they had was the pride of lions. He said, “Hey, let’s put the drum set with the lions and there, Stewart will be playing drums and the lions will be…”

So they built this chicken wire cage.

Tim Ferriss: It’s not lion wire!

Tim Ferriss: So we had to festoon the cage with meat to make them interested in the cage because otherwise they’re just taking a nap and who cares? That’s not a shot. So we had to put meat around there and eventually I threw a thump like that and this one guy, the big guy right there — holy crap. And then the other one’s reaching under the cage and like the drums are going there and I can see this arm, I think, “Holy shit!” That was the badassest drum solo I ever did in my life.

Tim Ferriss: It’s like audio bear spray.

Stewart Copeland: There you go. Yeah. Yeah. Well, their ears are not equipped. My snare drum is loud, it will bring a bird down out of the sky. And so those lions, they’ve got big teeth, they’ve got a lot of hair, there are some claws that they can do some damage, but I’ve got a snare drum made out of chrome.

Tim Ferriss: So as it so happens, I’ve only done two drum solos in my life, and so let’s watch one of them.

Stewart Copeland: Great. You’re getting power mad! You could feel the power rising up in your loins! You’re a primate, an alpha male, the great silverback making a great noise because you’ve got your crash and your kick landing hard!

Tim Ferriss: So that video is actually from the first day, the first time we ever met, and one of the things that so impressed me about Stewart was A, you saw the machine in action, right? I mean just incredible, but you’re an extremely good teacher.

Stewart Copeland: Oh, really?

Tim Ferriss: I think so!

Stewart Copeland: Well, are you going to show the result of all that? 

Tim Ferriss: I’m not going to show the result, but I’ll tell them. So I think it was — 

Stewart Copeland: He totally rocked.

Tim Ferriss: So four or five — 

Stewart Copeland: Completely nailed it.

Tim Ferriss: Four or five days later, I had to get up in front of a sold-out audience for Foreigner and drum “Hot Blooded” in front of a completely sold-out crowd. And that was just such a tremendous experience for me and I wanted to actually read a quote of yours that I think ties into how music for me in that moment went from being something very intimidating and sterile to very fun. So this is from Stewart’s book, Strange Things Happen

“That’s the great thing about music. If you played it, it’s correct. The worst musical train wreck hurts absolutely no one. It’s all part of the show. In fact it’s how we get to the great stuff. There is no penalty for skating on the edge or throwing ourselves off the cliff. So we do.”

And this seems like it’s true, music is true for a lot of life. Can you provide any more context?

Stewart Copeland: It’s not true of paragliding.

Tim Ferriss: Paragliding.

Stewart Copeland: It’s not true of skiing.

Tim Ferriss: Right. Definitely don’t want to literally hurl yourself on any cliffs. But when you are trying to say, introduce someone to music, how do you think about doing it? Playing music, that is.

Stewart Copeland: Introduce someone to playing music. It is that thing of throwing yourself off a cliff and not judging yourself. That’s the most important thing is to hit a drum, “Hey, it makes a sound. Cool.” Or sit on the piano, just hit some notes and just listen to the notes. That doesn’t have to be Mozart. Music was designed as a campfire experience as you know, I’ve thought long and hard over the decades about what is music for? It’s obviously for something. We are evolved through all of culture, all history, music has been there. It must have a purpose, a behavioral purpose. And a couple theories I have, one is social cohesion, and I feel that in my travels across the fourth world, you feel that music bonds a community, so that’s very important. But the other really important thing is sex.

And you may laugh salaciously, but it’s true that — particularly for teenagers and young adults — music is the key to sex. It is the key to body language that would be unacceptable without music playing. The things people do on the dance floor, can you imagine without music? Oh, my God. And so music, it unlocks the door so that we can show our genetic wares to each other. And what pelvic thrusting has to do with genetic superiority, I don’t know, but music does seem to have a very important function. And so you ask how do you bring somebody who’s not a musician or how do you explain music? Well, it’s just pick up an instrument and make a sound, and listen to the beauty of it, and that’s enough, but there’s a communication part as well.

And I believe that, although I personally I’m a great beneficiary of specialization in our evolved society, I get to play the music and you get to listen. But I think that’s not how it was evolved for our hunter-gatherer societies way back before civilization. I think it was something that we all did together. And indeed, when you travel to the small indigenous communities, they all make it; there isn’t specialization. He’s not the musician, they’re not — when it comes to religion and magic, yes. He’s the shaman, and you believe. But music is something they all do together. You don’t have to be a super musician to really enjoy playing music.

Tim Ferriss: Where did you grow up? Could you describe for us your early childhood?

Stewart Copeland: My daddy was both a jazz musician and CIA man.

Tim Ferriss: This is serious.

Stewart Copeland: And so I was born in Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia, which is a suburb of the CIA, but my dad — 

Tim Ferriss: I think that’s your dad.

Stewart Copeland: But my daddy was away on business. He was in Cairo, Egypt installing a dictator. And so that meant that I was shipped over there when I was two months old to Cairo and from there to Beirut and I didn’t get back to America until I was 18.

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Stewart Copeland: So that whole time I’m in the weird zone of the world, an American. I went to an American school, I’m American, because everything great was American. So I’ve always been hyper aware of being American. Most of you here as Americans, you’re not identified as an American every day, but I was, I was the American kid. And so that instills a strange kind of patriotism in a weird sort of way.

Tim Ferriss: I’m sure. At what point did you know your dad was in the CIA? Was it from the very beginning, or…?

Stewart Copeland: No. No. In fact, my brother Miles came home from school one day and he says, “Dad, are you a spy?” To which my father responded, “Who wants to know?”

Tim Ferriss: What did you guys think he did up to that point?

Stewart Copeland: Well, years later, my mother said, “You could always tell the spies by the trivial nature of their conversation. The spy is the one guy in the room who’s not talking politics.” And one of my father’s best friends was Kim Philby, a British double agent. And one of my friends was Harry, his son, Harry Philby, we were kind of parallel families, and one day their daddy disappeared.

Tim Ferriss: Double agent, meaning KGB as well as CIA? 

Stewart Copeland: Yes. One day their daddy disappeared. True blue, English MI5, blue blood, disappeared. Two weeks later, he showed up in Moscow. He had been a double agent all along, he was one of my father’s best friends and they knew that there was a leak, the British had a leak and there it’s got to be Philby, it’s got to be Kim Philby. And then it was getting hot for him, he disappeared. So that’s what Harry Philby had to deal with, with spy daddy. At least my spy daddy wasn’t a double agent.

Tim Ferriss: What drew you to music initially? Was it just the family influence or something else?

Stewart Copeland: Yeah, it was something I could do. And listening to it, everybody is beguiled by music. We’re all the same. And my father, he was a jazz trumpet player; I’ve still got his trumpet and he put all these musical instruments in the house for the siblings, but one by one, the sibling to pick them up — but I came along, there they all were, and they just came to me and I picked them up and I’d break them soon, but still, and so my father spotted the unmistakable trait of a musician.

Which is the kid will not stop. If you have your daughter and you’re sending her to violin lessons or piano lessons, then if you ever have to remind that girl, “Isn’t it time for your practice?” Forget it, forget it. Go find something else for this kid to do. If in fact, “Do you think you could stop playing for a minute?” Okay. Now you’ve got a musician in the family. That’s how you can tell. And I just don’t know what it’s like not to have a desire to pick up that thing and hit it or make it make a sound somehow.

Tim Ferriss: Do you remember your first gig?

Stewart Copeland: I do, at the American Embassy Beach Club, and we played The Kinks, and Animals’ “House of The Rising Sun,” a little James Brown, of course. And that really — a very important moment, because I was the youngest of four, and my older brother, Ian, was the cool kid. And he was the cool kid in school, he had a motorcycle. And the band needed a drummer, the drummer kid went back to the States, but his drums were still there. And so Ian, obviously, we need Ian in the band because he is the coolest kid in school. Ian’s the drummer, but he couldn’t actually do it. Anyhow, he got me in the band. So there I am, I’ve joined the Black Knights. I’m at the beach club and I can hear two 15-year-old girls talking. Now for a 12-year-old, 15-year-old girls are just the dream of the unclimbable mountain.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: And just so far beyond. “Oh, no, no, don’t even, don’t even, that’ll never…” And I could hear these two 15-year-old girls talking about, “Wow, the Black Knights got a new drummer. Groovy!” or “Hep!” or whatever words they used in those days. “Girl, who is he?” “It’s Ian Copeland’s kid brother.” “Ian has a brother?” And so they’re talking about this mythical being who is now the drummer in the Black Knights, who’s Ian’s kid brother, and they’re talking, “Wow, is he cute?” And they’re talking about this person and they’re constructing in their mind, they’re creating a person and I’m literally there, I’m three years away from puberty, “They’re talking about me!” Very important moment in a musical career.

Tim Ferriss: What influence or lasting impact did that upbringing have on your life for your later trajectory? What have you brought with you, if anything, from that?

Stewart Copeland: Culturally?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: The music has a real important thing, which is that by some accident, cultural accident, it has the same drop kick as reggae. The mechanics of the Arabic beat, the Baladi rhythm, is actually mechanically, foundationally the same building blocks of the reggae beat, which is the emphasis on three of the bar and the absence of one, three, four, three, four, two, three, four, nothing, two, three, and growing up with that almost, the part of my genes, genetic structure, musically surrounded by that rhythm. And then The Clash had the brilliant idea of attempting to actually play reggae and they did a track called “Police and Thieves.” And ironically, The Police came along and thieved that idea, but we had a secret weapon, which was the baladi rhythms of the Lebanese mountains.

Tim Ferriss: When did Curved Air enter the picture?

Stewart Copeland: Well, Curved Air was the band that led me away from finishing my college education. I got myself in as a tour manager. And so I was the tour manager of Curved Air, cut to a few years later, and I’m married to the singer and I’m in the band.

Tim Ferriss: I think that’s a Game of Thrones move.

Stewart Copeland: Well, it was a wonderful circumstance; we have three fine sons together and it’s a wonderful thing.

Tim Ferriss: I want to pull up a few letters that you sent to music magazines using different handwriting styles, spellings, and stationary.

Stewart Copeland: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to pull up — these are letters that he sent to music magazines while being the drummer of Curved Air, keep in mind. So the first one starts “Dear sirs”: 

“Dear sirs, I recently had the exquisite joy of experiencing a Curved Air concert and was most impressed by the exceptional talent of their new drummer.”

Stewart Copeland: That’s highbrow, kind of highbrow.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, highbrow. So the next one — 

Stewart Copeland: Obviously a music aficionado.

Tim Ferriss: Not to be thought the same person.

Stewart Copeland: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: “Dear Sounds, Curved Air are brilliant with a Y. What’s the drummer’s name?” 

Next: 

“To whom it may concern, wow. Me and some mates went to see Curved Air at the — incredible, especially the new drummer.”

Stewart Copeland: See these boots? You’re pulling them up by your own goddamn boots straps! Then I’d mail these letters in. We’d play Scunthorpe and — 

Tim Ferriss: What is Scunthorpe?

Stewart Copeland: You don’t want to know.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. All right. Sounds like a Lord of the Rings character.

Stewart Copeland: As we’re leaving Scunthorpe, I’d hit the mailbox. “Hey guys, I’ve just got to take a piss for a second.” I go and hit the mailbox and different handwriting, different stationary, different literal — different styles. And that was the first time I got my name in print. Thank you very much.

Yeah. Why wait for attention when you can grab it? I learned that ball, by the way, I learned that from my father.

Tim Ferriss: How did you first meet Sting?

Stewart Copeland: It was a stormy night. We had a night off in Newcastle and the local journalist Phil Sutcliffe took me to see the local hero band playing at the local college. The first thing you noticed was a golden ray of sunshine, a lighting upon the brow of The Golden One. His name was Fred. Just kidding, that was Sting. And no, he could play bass and sing and that was what impressed me about it. And I already had the idea of The Police. I had the name, I had the logo, I had a manifesto even, and this idea, I just didn’t have any guys in the band except me.

So I saw this guy and I wanted it to be a three-piece. So a few months later I actually said, “Well, let me actually get this thing, I want to get that bass player up in Newcastle.” So I called up the journalist and asked him, Phil Sutcliffe, to give me the telephone number. “You know that bass player you introduced me to? Ah, Sting?” And he said, “Oh, no, I’m not giving you his number, I know what you’re doing down there in London. You’re into this punk thing, aren’t you? And you want to ruin our Newcastle band, and I’m not giving you the number.” He hangs up, I hang up, and half an hour later, wait, wait a minute. I call him back, and, “Hello.” It’s his girlfriend. “Phil’s not here.” And, “Well, I just wanted to get the number of that bass guy.” “Okay, let me look at his phone book and I’ll get it for you.”

So she goes off and gets the number, brings it back, gives me the number. And I thought, “Oh, shit, now I need a guitarist.” Sting and I, we actually earned our living doing sessions as a rhythm section. And we show up at the studio to do a session and a guitarist walks in, who was like way above our thing. This is a fancy session, triple scale guitarist, absolutely the top session guy in London by the name of Andy Summers. And a few weeks later, I ran into Andy in London, we were both getting off the Underground together and “Hey, it’s you!” “Hey, it’s you!” “Hey,” he said, “Stewart, let’s have a coffee.” And he pulls me aside, “Stewart, you and that bass player, you’ve got something, but you need me in the band, and I accept.”

Now, I tell this story with love and admiration in my heart for Andy Summers. He is a guy who is that, he gets uncomfortable when I tell that story but it so encapsulates the power of Andy Summers. Up until that point, I supplied the songs. They were crap songs, three-minute fake punk songs. “I hate people! They hate me!” You know, punk stuff. And the rules of punk were actually very strict. Thou shalt not write a song over three minutes. thou shalt not write a song about love. Thou shalt only write about being pissed off. And the dress code was very strict. No bell bottoms, short hair — the hairdo was critical. The rules of punk were extremely strict.

Tim Ferriss: The rule of the rebels had a lot of rules.

Stewart Copeland: Exactly. Funny thing that is, isn’t it?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: But now, Sting had an actual musician to work with and suddenly, see, he comes up with a song, I think it was “Born in the ’50s,” which actually had some chord inversions and stuff, as soon as I heard — “Wow, that’s great. Let’s do that.” And one by one, these songs started coming out, which were pretty wouldn’t have been possible until Sting and Andy — Andy could play the stuff that he could write, and he, Sting himself, had no idea that he could write a hit pop song. He had never attempted to, he’d never really seen himself in that role, but the punk world of three-minute songs, all that discipline, all those rules, something clicked and he suddenly out of nowhere started to write these great songs.

Tim Ferriss: At that point in time in your heads or maybe just in your head, what did success for that band look like? What was — 

Stewart Copeland: Incremental — 

Tim Ferriss: Years later, incremental?

Stewart Copeland: Some of the milestones were not the big ones but they felt like the big ones. One milestone was The Marquee Club in London where everybody played there, The Who played there, it was the club. It was like The Whisky — in London. it was just the history of that place and there was a hierarchy. The bottom of the hierarchy is you’re supporting on a weekend because they don’t have anybody, the weekend they’re going to do business anyway. And then the next is supporting on the weekday because that’s the toughest thing, you’ve got to have a little bit of a draw. Then, when you headline on a Thursday, you are king of the world. “We’re headlining The Marquee on — Thursday.” And so headlining The Marquee on a Thursday was a big deal and we felt like we — “Yeah, we’re getting somewhere. Yeah, baby.”

But we still weren’t getting anywhere. We were still starving and we were still written off by the press. And somebody had the bright — my brother Miles, this time, had the bright idea of “Let’s go to America.” So we did. And punk had failed here because the Sex Pistols came over and sucked. They bombed. And the word “punk” just did not resonate in America in the same way that it did in England. It had wrong associations, it just didn’t — so the American record company erased all the Punk-O-Rama, the album which had all these pictures of us in leather jackets and looking hostile and everything, got rid of all that, and airbrushed — the American edition of our first album is airbrushed so we look 12. And we came to America and club by club, city by city, we worked our way, every city was fighting the battle all over again now, but we did.

And finally, I guess, so along the way, there were these milestones. While we were on tour in America, we heard that we had a hit in England that got on the BBC. And so I guess a big one was Shea Stadium because that’s — for an English band, even though I’m American, that was an English band, playing Shea Stadium is The Beatles, that means you’re a Beatle. That means you’ve conquered America, that’s official now, You’ve conquered America when you play Shea Stadium and not only for yourselves but for the British press corps. The British — England is conquering America when an English band plays Shea Stadium and so it’s a national thing and the whole England gets excited about it. So I guess that would’ve been a pretty cool milestone too.

Tim Ferriss: Were you nervous before that gig?

Stewart Copeland: I’m, yeah, I guess you would call it nerves.

Tim Ferriss: Is there anything you did? Do you have a pre-game ritual or anything like that before?

Stewart Copeland: Oh, artists of all kinds have many pre-game rituals and they evolve and they emerge. One day you have a doughnut and you have a really great gig, “That’s it; I’ve got to have a doughnut!” And they creep, they build up after a while, then one day you go and there’s no doughnut, but you go and you play a great show anyway. “Oh, maybe it’s not the doughnut.” And so you pick up and you lose — singers, particularly, because drummer, you break something, you play through it. Singer, your voice goes, and it goes quite easily. It’s quite a delicate instrument. And when it goes, you are so screwed. And so singers, particularly, have rituals of the steam, the humidity in the room, there’s the humidifier you breathe into, and the throat coat, and the “La, la, la, la…” Weird shit. All I got to go is “rat-a-tat-a, rat-a-tat-a-tat-a.” And so the singers have a lot of ritual.

Tim Ferriss: So what was your magic doughnut? Did you have any?

Stewart Copeland: Well, for years, I didn’t have any magic doughnut, and then I realized that, wow, you can actually go on feeling the way you do on the third song when you’re warmed up and you kill, the first few songs just aren’t as good — unless you warm up. My God, what a difference. And I saw, I was actually with Stanley Clarke, with some jazz musicians, and the other jazz musicians, one of the drummers, famous guy, was doing his rudiments. And I’m thinking, “I wouldn’t be caught dead publicly doing rudiments. Shit.” But there was this jazz cat doing it, and he went out and his first song was just like he’d been playing all night.

And so I, without anybody noticing, started to do my rudiments. And then I noticed actually that stretching is even better than rudiments. All these muscles in here, all these tiny little muscles, the reason they play better three songs in is because they’re warmed up, blood circulating, and it’s just physics — biology and physics. And so I have rituals of stretching and so on and each finger gets love and attention because this finger here actually goes up through to there. And I can feel that one’s — thank you. So all the stretching rituals, that’s my particular poison.

Tim Ferriss: Have there been particular dark periods or difficult periods going up to the end of The Police era?

Stewart Copeland: Well, The Police itself was Hell! Just kidding. No, I’m not kidding. No, it was both. It was a Prada suit made out of barbed wire. It was incredible to have that effect on audiences to get on stage and do what we did was darned exciting but it became more and more difficult for us to resolve our creative differences. And they come from an honest place. In the early days, songs would come into the band with just some chords and we’d say, “Oh, cool, let’s play that and mess around with it,” and the writer of said song would be, “Oh, really? You like my song? You want to play it? Oh, wow, guys, cool. Can I make tea?” After you have written a few hits, that humility turns into something else, it turns into confidence. So the vision of where to take the band began to not be quite so symmetrical.

I saw the band like this, Stingo saw it like that, and Andy just saw, “Great, they’re fighting again.” And he would just sit, he’d pull up a deck chair and throw bombs. And if you are a true creative musician, you don’t show up to the studio — at that time none of us were showing up with a couple ideas and then the band would develop it. We all had home recording studios now and we would show up with platinum demos, having thought through every aspect of the song, having thought through not just what I’m going to do but what he’s going to do and here’s your guitar part. And no, no, no, no, no. I’ve already written the guitar part, so play what I already wrote since I wrote the song, that’s the guitar part that I wrote, so play that.

We all felt that way because music’s really important to us. “It’s really important that this song — I have conceived this song and it should be expressed like that. What do you mean you’ve got another idea that isn’t this? Go away.” So that caused conflict. It was never an ego clash when Sting would get the attention and his face on the covers, that’s a good day because, we, the band, he’s our guy, he’s our face and I love that. But the music part was, it just got to be such a struggle of “I want to express something in this band but I can’t because the door is locked because he wrote the song and he’s decided how it’s going to be.” By the way, the decisions that he had made, also including the drum part, were pretty good decisions actually. The guy really does know music and he really has impeccable producing chops. That’s where the conflict came from.

Even as I understood that he turns around and he says, “Stewart, that snare down there just, turn it, use the rum shot…” “Fuck off!” And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. This is an important point. It doesn’t matter that actually he was right about that snare drum thing, that’s actually a cool idea, that fucking asshole.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: But when you’re young — 

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Stewart Copeland: All this wisdom, by the way, came decades later. He’s deep and quiet. I am noisy and shallow. We clash, because of our history, get along really well and with mutual admiration, we really have a deep bond that is just not breakable. After rehearsal, we meet, we have dinner together, we laugh and we hang out and it’s fine. But man, the music thing, and this is — the reason I’m going on about it is because it’s so weird. It makes no sense that we created such important music that so many people liked and yet it came from forcing together these elements that are disparate.

Tim Ferriss: So the question I’d love to ask is, when you have a bad day or a down day, how does that manifest itself? Because you’re a passionate guy, is it anger? Is it depression? Anxiety? What is the cocktail?

Stewart Copeland: Well, anger is dope.

Tim Ferriss: Anger is dope.

Stewart Copeland: It is. It feels good.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, dope. Got it. Yeah, okay. Sorry.

Stewart Copeland: It feels good.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: Few things are more invigorating than a nice swelling of righteous anger. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, I’m in the shower when the brain chemistry is just bad and I’m looking for someone to pick a fight with. Somebody on TV, a politician, my poor wife who’s about to come into the room, and it’s brain chemistry. And I’ll get into some fantasy of “Somebody said this, and then I said that, and then they said this, and I said that.”

The great part of these anger fantasies is that you win every argument and you just totally crush. And, but then I have breakfast, I get down to work, I turn on my computer, and I’m still kind of — but then I get into work and I find that on the day — and this isn’t every morning, by the way, just some mornings you wake up, and I find that after morning like that, I have a very serene day. Go figure.

Tim Ferriss: So you’ve prodded the monkey mind with a little barb.

Stewart Copeland: Yeah. What is that?

Tim Ferriss: It’s gotten all of its aggression out.

Stewart Copeland: Well, the weird thing is the anger, the physical sensation of anger, is very pleasant.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: Especially when there’s nothing to be angry about. Especially when the anger is derived from an imaginary conversation that never took place.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: That is a rarefied, purified, distilled anger that just is a warm glow.

Tim Ferriss: All right. So not everybody else has that anger and after breakfast they’re like, “Ahh!” So did you learn to turn it down or turn it off or was it just, it ends out of the shower and you’re like Mary Poppins off to the bank?

Stewart Copeland: It goes away. It goes, thank God. I mean, two things that cause bad decisions are anger and sex. How many people have made just stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid — “That seemed like a really great idea when I was really mad or was at the disco or whatever, when I’ve been listening to that music and thrusting my pudenda! One thing leads to another.” That music, yeah. Music causes bad decisions and anger is the same. It seemed like a really good idea to tell him what I thought.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: It wasn’t a good idea.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: And best have those moments in the shower.

Tim Ferriss: What are some of the decisions that have formed who you are today? If you look back at some of the most important decisions?

Stewart Copeland: Well, some of the things good that happened were because that was my mission, but other incredibly good things happened that were not on my radar, I didn’t expect Francis Coppola a call up and offer me a 20-year career — basically it ended up — in film composing. That wasn’t my plan at all, but I found myself in that world and just thrived in it and I didn’t make that decision, Francis did, gave me my first shot and it turned into something. So some things you strive for and you reach out for and you go for, but some things just come. And I would say as a piece of advice, just stick to the answer “Yes.” Orchestra in Iceland, in Norway: “You want to come over and play? We have an Iceland duet that…” “Yes!” I go over there. I have the best time in Stavanger. I hadn’t heard of it either but this orchestra was fantastic, I discovered anchovies, I mean sardines, and cured in olive oil and I have one can a day now. I mean — 

Tim Ferriss: Me too.

Stewart Copeland: So much good stuff derived from just saying “Yes.” I didn’t know these guys, I didn’t know what’s going to happen, but I’d never been to Norway. “Yes.” Good things can come from “Yes.”

Tim Ferriss: So Francis Ford Coppola, let’s talk about this. This was, correct me if I’m wrong, 1983?

Stewart Copeland: I’ll take your word for it.

Tim Ferriss: So Rumble Fish. What did you think you would be doing say a year hence, if Rumble Fish had not intervened?

Stewart Copeland: Well, I would’ve gone mad. I recorded Rumble Fish right after, I think it was the last or the second last Police — came straight from Montserrat to the Hell of The Police experience. To go into a studio with Francis, he’s not a musician, he’s the boss and I was serving his artistic vision, but when he leaves the room, all the music is mine, all the music and no debating, just follow the instincts and create something that’s beautiful without any debate. Oh, gosh, that was fun.

Tim Ferriss: So there are many people out there who score films and so on. Why didn’t he go to one of the usual suspects? Why did he pick you?

Stewart Copeland: Good question. He wanted to do something out of the ordinary and in fact, he assembled a bunch of musicians in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they were rehearsing the movie. And there were various musicians there and something that I had learned as a drummer, where the deal is, you’ve got to get the other guy off the stool so you can take his job. And in punk rock, which is “Arrrrgghh!” And I pretty much just nuked all the competition. There were no survivors but me.

Tim Ferriss: So how did you nuke them? Was this a false flag? We’re going to have a —

Stewart Copeland: I got into a studio and while the others would talk about what they’re going to do, I got into a studio and recorded some stuff and I guess that’s what it was — 

Tim Ferriss: You beat them to the punch.

Stewart Copeland: I just beat them — with band leadership or any leadership, it’s not about being given some chevrons, it’s about having the best idea first — that’s a leader. When, “I got an idea, let’s do it like this,” and you’re the first one with the idea, which the best people follow because they’re relieved that somebody had a fix for this situation. And so I just had the best idea first in the opinion of the boss man.

Tim Ferriss: When you think of the word or hear the word successful, who’s the first person or thing that comes to mind? It can be a tricky term, I mean, a lot of people chase this specter — 

Stewart Copeland: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And they end up in a place that is worse than where they started in some cases or they’ve sacrificed everything along the way. What is success to you and how has it changed over time?

Stewart Copeland: I think the only measure is happiness. You can achieve what you thought was — and in my case, happiness comes from my family, my kids. I’ve got Grammys, you get a Grammy, you look at it, for the first couple of days it fills you. “Oh, man, man.” And then it goes to your shelf and a week later you walk by and [whistle]. And then a month later you walk by and, meh. “Oh, yeah.” And then a year later, you don’t even see it, it doesn’t mean anything. And so all those things that you think are success, they lose their thing. The kids, the family, your relationships, your life are so — you know.

Tim Ferriss: So I’m going to go to some audience questions and we have a number of them. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue film scoring, coming from a rock and roll musical background?

Stewart Copeland: It’s a very tough world to get into because there’s so of many who want to be there. And the dreams that take you to rock and roll are very different from the dreams of a film composer. And you’re developing, you’re working on the director’s artistic vision, which means that you are there to serve his emotional needs. And it’s very different mindset and many rock and rollers get into the film composing and the director says, “I’m just not feeling it. I wanted happy, sad, and this is sad, happy and I don’t like it, do something else.” The hardened, wisened, flinty-eyed film composer says, “Throw that away, I’ve got more.” And you do, by the way. You do have more. You can throw out your children and come up with another idea.

And in fact, after a few years of film composing, you can get pretty confident about that and you can shed — “You don’t like that? It’s gone. You’ll never hear it again. I’ll come up with something else.” And you can. And that’s really surprising how much stuff is in your brain that you can pull out when you need to. Let me digress for a second here. I’ve done lots of episodic TV where the show comes in Tuesday, I’ve got to ship it Friday. Next Tuesday, another show. It may not be my finest hour, but I’ve got to put something on tape and it’s going out the door. And you just get into this grind and you would think you’d run out of ideas that you’re going to get stale, “Oh, my God, I’m used up.” The opposite happens. You’ve got to deal with that. And I’m here to tell you can, but that’s a tough threshold to cross.

Tim Ferriss: Next one is, the music industry has changed so much since when you started, what advice besides the never-ending hustle would you give a budding musician today?

Stewart Copeland: I guess the only advice that I can give you would be creatively how to find your own sound and urge you above all, artistically, to get a unique sound, look for different source of inspiration, somehow set yourself apart from other artists by just different sources, different stuff in different stuff out is my philosophy, but how you crack the business, you probably know more about that than I do because you’ve been in this business for the last 10 minutes, not the decades before that.

Tim Ferriss: And I think also I don’t have the music experience but it seems like the barrier to produce music is lower? You have the — 

Stewart Copeland: Yes, that’s the good news.

Tim Ferriss: But the barrier to attention is higher because you’re going to have more competition due to the aforementioned low barrier to production. So a few things that have helped at in the startup world quite a lot, where you have a very similar issue where now you have rentable infrastructure that before would’ve cost $500,000. I would recommend checking out “1,000 True Fans,” it’s an essay by a guy named Kevin Kelly, which I think is very good. There’s a revised version coming out very soon. And also “The Law of Category,” it’s a chapter in a book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, but it talks about exactly what you just mentioned, which is being a clear and distinct category compared to whatever you are competing against and creating a blue ocean in that respect. So those two have been very helpful, at least in the startup world, which I think at this point in time, a lot of musicians breaking through that attention barrier would be well served to start thinking of at least the band, not necessarily the music, as their own startup in a sense. Next question — 

Stewart Copeland: I just want to take care of one more thing about that artistic identity. Don’t be fearful if your music doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio, and don’t be complacent if it does. “This sounds just like Beyonce!” That’s when you’ve got to be worried.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Hard to out-Beyonce Beyonce. The next question is from Facebook, this is from Onjab, which I like, what interests you musically now?

Stewart Copeland: Well, input these days is my own radio station I listen to, it’s on iTunes, it’s called Shirley & Spinoza. I have nothing to do with it but I can’t shout its name loudly enough. It is the best radio station ever. It is so eclectic. One minute, they’ll be playing Beach Boys, the next minute Armenian chants, the next minute — 

Tim Ferriss: What’s the name of it again?

Stewart Copeland: Shirley, S-H-I-R-L-E-Y and Spinoza. It’s just the name right there. It’s the mix and match and sometimes I’m listening to it as I’m roadying in the studio. “Is that even music?” It’s just like white noise and then they’ve got a weird ’50s cigarette commercial playing over it. And then it goes to country and western, some Okie from Muskogee. And it’s like everything — that is the best. That’s the input right there. And another source is, driving my 16-year-old to school, I have been forced to admit that Kanye is ingenious.

Now, my cultural environment has only exposed me to Kanye grabbing someone else’s Grammy. That’s all I know about him until I start hearing his music and him and The Black-Eyed Peas and Ocean and Kamar — Kendrick Lamar or Lamar Kendrick — all of my friends who don’t have a 16-year-old daughter, actually haven’t listened to this stuff, go, “Oh, that’s not music. Where’s the, there’s no backbeat. They don’t even have guitars!” They sound like my dad. And I listen to this stuff and they have just thrown away all the building blocks that I grew up with but they push the boundaries of the — it sounds like the soundtrack to a really strange movie and these are hits.

And they finally, since Chuck Berry and Bill Haley invented the guitar, bass, and drums combo, and on my father, that was the enemy. “That’s not music!” And there was that divide. My dad listened to trumpets and saxophones, I listened to long-hair music. And that same music hasn’t changed through all the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, punk is still E, A, and D chords with a backbeat, whatever, it’s a backbeat, whether it’s funk or rock or whatever, it’s the same building blocks until Kendrick and these guys just throw out all those ingredients and start again. And driving my daughter to school in the morning, hearing this stuff, that’s the first time I’m hearing music — I wouldn’t know how to make that.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s go with this one and I’ll explain what I mean: do you have a favorite failure? And what I mean by that is a failure that in retrospect set you up for a later success?

Stewart Copeland: Great. I’m stumped to think of a particular one but this has been a motif that I keep coming back to, that a disappointment, something goes bad, something’s wrong, something’s broken, creates an opportunity and I screwed this up and because I screwed this up, I’m in this position here and since I’m in this position, this opportunity arises and that is a recurring theme and I wish I could think of a great example for you but it just is that sometimes a door that closes is a window that’s opening. A glass that breaks is a something.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Stewart Copeland: And — 

Tim Ferriss: Let me interrupt you.

Stewart Copeland: That’s pretty much the way I’m feeling about America right now.

Tim Ferriss: If you had a gigantic billboard, you could put anything on it, you had a few words, short message, you just wanted to get out to the world. It’s going to another one of those questions. What would you put on it?

Stewart Copeland: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Stewart Copeland: And that’s a total cop out. Riding home this afternoon, I’m going to come up with it.

Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s put it a different way. So we have a lot of people in the audience here, we have a lot of people watching who are maybe inspired to take the next step in a new chapter. They’re probably nervous, they might have some misgivings, they might be leaving something behind, who knows? But for someone who is striking out, attempting something new, what would your parting thoughts, advice, recommendation be?

Stewart Copeland: I would say that obsess over every minute detail of what success looks like and I believe that a daydream is a very useful exercise. And when I was a kid I’d daydream and if it’s a really good daydream, then you fill in the gaps. If you keep going back to what you really, really want, you go back to that daydream and every time you go back to it, you fill in the things. And eventually that daydream starts to flesh out into an actual game plan. And so it’s good to daydream. And so thinking, thinking, thinking, overthinking, don’t be scared to overthink but when it comes to throw the switch, just do it baby and don’t be thinking anymore. And don’t let any of the thinking slow you down, just be in a position where you have thought of everything, but don’t let any of that slow you down. Just throw the switch, leap off the cliff. Yeah, baby. Let’s go. And that’s how you do it.

Tim Ferriss: Ladies and gentlemen it’s Stewart Copeland.

Stewart Copeland: Thank you. Thank you so much.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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