While one former member of the Police, Sting, stars on Broadway in "Threepenny Opera," another, drummer Stewart Copeland, who has an opera he has composed and performed, launches a new trio, Animal Logic.
Animal Logic includes bassist Stanley Clarke, best known for jazz, and newcomer Deborah Holland, who sings and writes songs. They're touring through February.
In an interview at the office of IRS Records, which released the trio's debut album, "Animal Logic," Copeland says that he and Clarke had worked together off and on and wanted to form a group.
"It wasn't until we found Debbie that it came together. The central focus is her voice and her songs - something new for the world.
"We were beginning to think we wouldn't find what we were looking for. We're both composers but not songwriters. We needed songs and a singer, and we were fortunate to find both in one person."
Holland says that when the offer came, she was teaching piano to beginners in the Los Angeles area.
"I had one student 5 and one in his 80s. I started doing it five or six years ago, to pay the rent. I had tapes of a lot of songs I'd written. The one Stewart heard was two songs I'd sent to a publisher, trying to get someone interested in me or in my songs."
Copeland, who has been composing film scores, recalls that he was then writing "Wall Street." "I decided those were killer tracks and I definitely would buy the songs. She sang them very well. We thought we'd have a look at the singer, too."
Holland auditioned two years ago October. Police guitarist Andy Summers was there because he and Copeland were planning to go with Clarke on his annual trip to Brazil. Holland went too, debuting before 8,000 people.
She immediately found another piano teacher for her pupils, saying now that she should have kept them a while longer. She didn't realize how much no-income time elapses between cutting a record and selling it.
Copeland says, "We recorded "There's a Spy (in the House of Love)" and "Firing Up the Sunset Gun," sat on those for a while, then recorded the rest of the album."
She'd already written most of the songs, Holland says. "Elijah "and "I'm Sorry Baby (I Want You in My Life)" are new. She hadn't intended to play "I Still Feel for You" for Copeland, but it was on a cassette, which he turned over.
He says: "At that point we dug out every song she had ever written. We chose the ones that added up to the best album. Some really good tracks were too similar to another track or too different from the album as a whole. We figured we should be fairly unified in concept on our first album.
"Stanley and I are both known as exploratory, experimental musicians. We thought we'd do something that requires more discipline and challenge and plays by the rules of the music business. They're three-minute songs with hooks, catchy melodies and lyrics. Within those guidelines we tried to create worthwhile art."
Copeland's other current foray into art, his opera, "Holy Blood and Crescent Moon," with orchestra, 13 principal singers and huge chorus, was performed five times in October by the Cleveland Opera. Fort Worth and two cities in Italy are thinking about presenting it.
It's about conflict between Christians and Muslims, set in the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades. Copeland, who performed in it twice, said: "I slash, gouge, maim, bludgeon, leap off a parapet at the height of battle. I'm the only (extra) in the history of opera with an understudy. In the last three minutes, 200 people are running around. I throw a dagger across the stage and skewer King Tancred right in the heart.
"They talked me out of a singing role," he says, "so I wrote myself in a shouting role.
"I'm into opera in a big way," he says. "It's the ultimate rush for a composer. No rock concert - and I'm a real rock fan - has ever had an effect like that on an audience. I'm out to fry the brain with art."
The New York Times reviewer called the "Holy Blood and Crescent Moon" music "innocently amateurish," saying that Copeland accepted opera's conventions but lacked sufficient technique to give them life. The Wall Street Journal reviewer said that the opera's final battle scene demonstrates a dramatic and musical sense that might make the composer a valuable addition to the operatic world.
One character, Edmund, prince of the Franks, is presented as descended from the marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene. Copeland says the theory explains why the Franks went on Crusades - to secure Jerusalem's throne for that bloodline. He says he didn't just throw it in to upset people.
The Times reviewer called the heresy incidental, adding, "The libretto is really an old-fashioned blood-and-thunder melodrama with a topical message of tolerance and reconciliation at the end."
Last summer, Copeland went to the Bayreuth Festival to hear some Wagner operas, which had inspired him. He intends to write more operas.
"There's nothing wrong with opera that a good opera wouldn't fix."
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