The family moved to Cairo, Egypt a few months after his birth, and Copeland spent his formative years in the Middle East. In 1957, the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon and Copeland attended the American Community School there. He started drum lessons at age twelve and by age thirteen he was playing drums for school dances. Later he moved to England and attended Millfield from 1967 to 1969. Copeland went to college in California, attending California Western University and UC Berkeley. He returned to England in 1975, playing drums for the progressive rock band Curved Air.
Stewart's oldest brother Miles Copeland III, founder of I.R.S. Records, was manager of the Police and has overseen Stewart's interests in other music projects. Stewart's other brother, the now deceased Ian Copeland, was a pioneering booking agent who represented the Police, amongst many others. His father, Miles Copeland, once worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), according to files released by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2008.
Stewart's hobbies include rollerskating, cycling along the beach in Santa Monica, filmmaking and playing polo.
Copeland is also noted for his heavy emphasis on the groove as a complement to the song, rather than displays of technical prowess. He once drove this point home at a drum clinic: Copeland announced that he would show the audience something "that very few modern drummers can do," and proceeded to play a simple rock beat for two minutes. Nonetheless, his playing often incorporates spectacular fills and subtle inflections which greatly augment the groove. Compared to most of his 1980s contemporaries, Copeland's snare sound was very bright and cutting. Another novelty was his use of splash cymbals. He also is one of the few rock drummers using the traditional grip rather than the matched grip.
Frequently cited recordings with the Police include:
In 1983, Stewart Copeland would compose the musical score and earn a Golden Globe nomination for his scoring of Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish. The film directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola from the S.E. Hinton novel also had a song released to radio on A & M Records "Don't Box Me In - Theme From Rumblefish" - a collaboration between Copeland and singer/songwriter Stan Ridgway, leader of the band Wall of Voodoo, that received significant airplay upon release of the film that year.
After The Police stopped touring in 1984, Copeland established a career composing soundtracks for movies (Airborne, Talk Radio, Wall Street, 'Riff Raff, 'Raining Stones, Surviving the Game, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Highlander II: The Quickening, The Leopard Son, She's Having a Baby, Taking Care of Business, West Beirut, I am David), television (The Equalizer, Dead Like Me, Star Wars: Droids, the original pilot for Babylon 5, Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee), and video games (Spyro the Dragon and The Agents), along with operas (Holy Blood and Crescent Moon, commissioned by Cleveland Opera) and ballets.
In 1985, Copeland released a solo album, The Rhythmatist. Featuring drums and percussion, the record was the result of a pilgrimage to Africa. In 1988 he followed up with The Equalizer & Other Cliff Hangers, an album collecting some of his soundtrack efforts.
In 1989, Copeland formed Animal Logic with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and singer songwriter Deborah Holland. The trio had success with their first album and world tour but the followup recording sold poorly, and the band did not continue.
Copeland has occasionally played drums for other artists including Peter Gabriel. In 2000, he joined with Les Claypool of Primus (with whom he produced a track on the Primus album Antipop) and Trey Anastasio of Phish to create the band Oysterhead. In 2002, Copeland was hired by Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors to play on a new album and tour, but after an injury sidelined Copeland, the arrangement ended in mutual lawsuits. In 2005, Copeland released Orchestralli, a live recording of chamber ensemble performing music of his own composition on a short tour of Italy in 2002. Also in 2005, Copeland started Gizmo, a new project with avant-garde guitarist David Fiuczynski. The band made their U.S debut on September 16, 2006 at the Modern Drummer Drum Festival.
In January 2006, Copeland premiered his film about the Police called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out at the Sundance Film Festival. In February and March, he appeared as one of the judges on the BBC television show 'Just the Two of Us' (A role he later reprised for a second series in January 2007).
At the 2007 Grammy Awards, Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting performed the song "Roxanne" together again as The Police. This marked the band's first public performance since 1986 (they had previously reunited only for an improvised set at Sting's wedding party in 1992 and for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003). One day later, the band announced that in celebration of The Police's 30th anniversary, they would be embarking on what turned out to be a one-off reunion tour on May 28 2007. In addition to this, Copeland released the compilation album The Stewart Copeland Anthology.
In March 2008, Copeland premiered a new composition at "An Evening with Stewart Copeland", at the Savannah Music Festival. The appearance will also feature a screening of his documentary and special guest artists.
In 2007 Copeland and Summers joined the rock band Incubus during the Incubus song "Stellar" at one of their concerts. In the middle of "Stellar," Incubus performed a verse from "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." Copeland and Summers joined in for that song, "Message in a Bottle," and "Roxanne".
In 2008, RIM commissioned Copeland to write a 'soundtrack' for the BlackBerry Bold. Copeland created a highly percussive theme of one minute's length, from which he evolved six ringtones and a softer 'alarm tone' for when the device is used as an alarm clock. All of these tunes are preloaded into the Bold's system memory.