Andy Summers Premieres West African-Inspired Song, Talks 40th Anniversary of The Police

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Andy Summers

Andy Summers did not choose Triboluminescence as the title of his 14th solo album -- whose track "Adinkra" is premiering exclusively below -- just because it's a big, fancy word that's hard to pronounce. It actually applies to the nine instrumental musical adventures contained within. 

"It's a scientific word that means, basically, striking something and creating light from dark," the Police guitarist tells Billboard, "and I thought that was really a metaphor for this kind of creativity, really. You start with nothing and hope to get something. You hope to get the light from somewhere."

For Summers -- who played all the instruments (save for the cello on the closing track) on Triboluminescence, which comes out Friday (March 24) -- that starting point is always some sound from which he builds the rest of the composition. "I'm always on the lookout for strange and exotic sounds and to hook them up together in some way," Summers explains. "This type of stuff is free-form. I'll hook up various guitar pedals or I'll have a completely de-tuned guitar or I'll play with drum sticks and things like that until I get something going where I go, 'Yeah, that's kind of interesting.' And then I'll record that, 16 or 32 bars of it, and try to ignite more creativity once I've found the sound."

"Adinkra" was one of the album's more labored-over tracks, going through what Summers calls "some incredible changes. I had a sound on one of the devices that sounded almost like a full Indian orchestra. I was so taken with it I thought, 'Oh my God, what an amazing sound,' so I laid down the melody that you hear as 'Adinkra.' But then I had another drummer play on it but it came out almost like a Middle Eastern belly dancing rhythm, which at the time I thought was really cool but then as I sort of lived with it I came up with another rhythmic idea myself on drums that gave it a different attitude and made it more of a West African track, sort of a High Life guitar style around the melodic line. I was trying to find the sort of inner voice of the piece, if you like, and that's when I thought, 'OK, I've got the attitude now. It's much cooler. It's got soul.'"

Summers hasn't set up any live dates to support Triboluminescence yet, although he's playing a concert at the Grammy Museum on Thursday night in Los Angeles that will mix his solo music with his photography from his global travels. "It's going to be interesting," he says. "I've never done it before, but if it goes really well or if it's even just average, I'll have some way to go out and do this kind of music on my own, maybe." Don't, however, expect to see him on stage with the Police this year, even though though the group is among those most frequently rumored for a potential second edition of Desert Trip.

"I don't think it's gonna happen," Summers says. "That would be great. I would do it -- it's just down the road from me [in California]. When they offer you $9 million to go and play for an hour, you go, 'I might want to do that.' It would be brilliant. We never did Coachella or anything like that, so it would be great. Everyone says, 'Oh, are you gonna play again?' It's just an open door. The world changes all the time. Who knows what might be possible." 

This year actually marks the 40th anniversary of the group's formation, but the big plans are afoot for next year's 40th for the Police's debut album. "I think it's gonna be a huge repackaging and selling of everything next year," Summers says. "It lives on. It's around us all the time. There's one half of you that just doesn't care 'cause it was such a long time ago, and another part is that you do care about what they nowadays would call 'the brand' and making sure it serves you in the right way. We don't ever get too far away from it."