By David Chiu
Joe Sumner, singer and bassist for the band Fiction Plane, might be one of those rare young musicians who wrote a rock song about, of all things, nepotism, as he does on “Running the Country.” You can say he has some first-hand knowledge of the subject since he is the son of the Police’s legendary vocalist Sting.
“I just wanted to get straight into it and figuring my own position out,” said the 30-year-old about that song from his band’s latest album Left Side of the Brain. “[“Running the Country”] is just about having a look at it.”
The attention on Sumner as the son of a famous rock star is something he’ll continue to deal with now that Fiction Plane is currently on tour opening for the reunited Police. Both bands are scheduled to perform at Madison Square Garden on August 1 and 3, and Giants Stadium on August 5. Around that same time, Fiction Plane will also headline a concert at the Bowery Ballroom on Aug. 2.
Initially Sumner had some reservations about being invited to open for the Police. “We didn’t have an album out—we didn’t have anything out [at the time],” he explained. “It was going to be really embarrassing. But then we said yes…because you just can’t say no. It was impossible.”
Sumner needn’t worry about having lack of songs to play live since he, drummer Pete Wilhoit and guitarist Seton Daunt did release Left Side of the Brain this past spring. Upon hearing Fiction Plane’s music, it is impossible not to draw some similarities between them and the Police: Both trio bands incorporate elements of reggae, funk and pop in their music; and Sumner’s singing at times sounds uncannily like Sting’s. But Fiction Plane’s music is heavier and more aggressive.
“Someone the other day described it as Sublime meets Mars Volta, which I’m happy with,” Sumner said about his band’s sound. “We kind of just go wherever we want. That’s what defines us for me—we got freedom to do whatever we want.”
And just like his father, who was the chief songwriter in the Police, Sumner is in charge of writing Fiction Plane’s introspective lyrics. They range from relationships on the catchy “Two Sisters,” to the anti-war sentiment of “Death Machine.” Sumner draws inspiration for his songs from his personal experiences and literature: “I kind of like to look at my personal situations and then look at things, like world politics and stuff like that, and make connections.”
The son of the aforementioned Sting and his first wife Frances Tomelty, Joe was listening to bands as diverse as Madness and Nirvana. He wanted to become a musician around the age of 15 as he got tired of school. Sting offered his son a piece of advice. “He basically told me to learn at least some theory,” said Sumner, “and not be a total grunge hack, which is useful in the end actually.”
Sumner and original bassist Dan Brown formed Fiction Plane in London with guitarist Daunt and drummer Wilhoit joining in later. The band had released the debut album, Everything Will Never Be OK in 2003 on a major label, but subsequent record company problems left a follow-up recording in limbo. Then Brown departed, and Sumner took his place by switching from guitar to bass. “We didn’t kind of falter at all, we just kept going,” he said of that period.
Finally Fiction Plane’s Left Side of the Brain was released this May on Bieler Bros. Records. Sumner said that the band is proud of this new album, which represents a new start for them. “On this record, we had no such [record company guy] interference,” he said, “and we just came into our own. That’s why I prefer it personally and I think it will translate a lot better. It’s just really from us.”
Sumner doesn’t seem intimidated by the idea of playing on a big stage especially for this blockbuster Police tour. “Most of the pressure I feel is from bass player fanatics who know all kinds of technical stuff,” he explained. “I definitely feel that pressure a little bit, but I kind of don’t care. The live performances don’t really faze me at all. It doesn’t matter if we are playing in a pub or in a stadium—it’s kind of the same to me.”
Fiction Plane is playing on Aug. 2 at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC. For information, visit www.fictionplane.com