For his new studio album, "The Last Ship," which is set in a shipbuilding community, Sting brought in an eclectic group of musical collaborators with ties to his native Newcastle, England. He enticed singer-actor Jimmy Nail out of retirement, brought in frequent collaborator Kathryn Tickell and was even able to teach the always-harmonizing Wilson Brothers to sing in unison for a change, to capture the sound of chanting workers.
The award for most surprising guest, however, may go to gravel-voiced AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson, who Sting knew back when he was in the band Yellow. The "Hells Bells" growler "came on board and sang a couple of songs."
"I like to take one element from this and add it to that and you see what happens, which for me is where the creative spark is," Sting says of his approach for "Ship," due Sept. 24. "The results are unpredictable but I think it's worth having the experiment. That's what my job is, mix things up a bit."
Other collaborators on "The Last Ship" include Julian Sutton, The Unthanks (whose clogging skills will be heard on the album) and Tickell's brother Peter, among others.
"The Last Ship" is Sting's first full-length album of new music since 2003's "Sacred Love" and consists of songs that he has written for a new musical of the same name. The show's homecoming story is framed around the declining shipbuilding business in Wallsend, England, where the real life Gordon Sumner grew up.
"It's my job to utilize all the music I've been exposed to and loved and learned from," Sting says. "And so a lot of songs are rooted in that modal, Northeastern, folk-based pallet."
To celebrate the release, Sting will perform songs from "Ship" in a series of 10 benefit concerts at The Public Theater in NYC running Sept. 25 - Oct. 9.