Andy Summers rose to fame in the late Seventies and early Eighties as the guitarist of the legendary, multi-million-selling rock band the Police.
Summers’ innovative guitar sound was a key element of the band’s strength and popularity, creating a new paradigm for guitarists that is still widely imitated today.
Summers’ new solo album, Triboluminescence (released today, March 24), is the natural followup to his last album, 2015's highly acclaimed Metal Dog, which spotlighted the guitarist's thrilling voyages into new sonic territory. New tracks, including “If Anything,” “Elephant Bird” and “Haunted Dolls,” are clearly the result of a lifetime’s worth of musical digestion and progress—not to mention a search for a distinct new voice.
I recently spoke with Summers about Triboluminescence and more in this new interview.
Triboluminescence feels like a natural followup to your last album, Metal Dog. What was the inspiration behind these projects?
Metal Dog followed Circa Zero, which ultimately didn’t go where I wanted. When that band ended, I started work on music for a dance project that also didn’t come to full realization.
Afterwards, I found myself with all of these pieces of music, which I remodeled into what became Metal Dog. It really got me going in the studio again, and when Metal Dog came out, it went down really well. It got me up and running, and Triboluminescence is the followup to what I had established, which was something different than I had done before.
What was the writing process like?
For this kind of music, there weren’t any fully fleshed-out compositions. One of the guiding principles was to look for very fresh sonic qualities and sounds that came together in various ways. That was the starting point. I then took those ideas into my studio, which is like a giant paint box, and fiddled around with all sorts of guitars and effects. The usual process was to record 16 or 32 or 48 bars of it and then see if it gets me into the next move where I can develop it further. That’s where composition comes into play. You can establish a signature, but then you have to make a whole piece out of it.
What else can you tell me about the recording process?
This was a very free project for me in the sense that I was alone in the studio with only my engineer. I’ve found that at this point in life it’s something that I really enjoy and is very akin to being a painter. It’s just me and all of the colors, and I let my imagination go. I’m always looking to create something that’s intriguing sonically, along with some technical flash.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Triboluminescence, starting with “If Anything.”
I always like to start with a rock track to get the listener’s attention. It’s almost like an overture to the rest of the record. It’s a sonorous, majestic piece with a soaring liquid guitar that’s akin to a soprano opera singer doing an aria with an orchestra. It’s very soulful and searching, and that was the idea.
What about "Elephant Bird"?
I have this thing about making beautiful, harmonic loops, and I make them in many different ways with guitar and percussive instruments. I had the loop first and then played drums on it. The whole melody is played using the natural harmonics on the guitar rather than the standard fretting of notes. It was a very positive sounding and it came out differently than I had expected. I found it very pleasing.
Do you have plans to do any live dates to support the album?
I’ve played every possible toilet and stadium there is, but this would be difficult to do live. Although I must say someone approached me recently and assured me that we could do the record with drums and loops. It’s tempting and worth the thought, but I haven’t made any plans.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
I’ve signed up to do another photography book, and if all goes well it should be released in October of this year. It’s unified by theme and is an abstraction in China. It’s very much like the flow of music to get a sequence of photographs that fall somewhere between realism and abstraction.
Of all the highlights of your career are there any that stand out to you as most memorable?
Obviously, my time with the Police is a hard thing to beat. I can’t say just one, but the reunion tour was one of the most spectacular things. When you can go to France with 82,000 people there for two nights is a row, you kind of feel like you’re king of the world [laughs]. But then playing in Madison Square Garden, which is a quarter of the size, is just as special because there’s such a great vibe there. All of these things were particularly wonderful.
I was also very proud of the Circa Zero record. We just had bad luck with the record label.
Is there a message you’d like people to take away from Triboluminescence?
It’s a piece that all works together. I labored to make it a whole piece where all of the tracks make sense together. It’s nudged on nicely from Metal Dog.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.