His Afro was the first sign. When Prince appeared on “The View” rocking the picked-out hairstyle with rocker shades, indications that something wonderful was stirring again in Minneapolis was suddenly on the blogs.
There had been some teases of supreme funkiness over the past ten years–a good lyric here, a riff there…the promise of an album called “LotusFlower,” the exciting hand drawn art of “20Ten.” While each of those proved musically quieter than the last, these rumblings were different.
There were rumors that Prince was digging into his back catalog for some rarely played jams (“She’s Always In My Hair,” “Something In The Water”), and witnesses to a small club hit-and-run tour in Chicago and London and Lisbon were starting to testify: Prince is back to rocking out, playing new stuff, and, guess what? It’s really good…
Then a picture surfaced of a brand new band–a female band–only three deep: bass, guitar & drums. They said their name was 3RDEYEGIRL and they sure enough looked the part. Who were they? How did they get down? And was it them who somehow convinced the most private rocker alive to create an Instagram account, start tweeting to the world, and actually release new songs and videos for free online? Wow.
On the eve of the release of two hot new albums: the first a solo project from Prince called “ART OFFICAL AGE,” the other a Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL band album, “PLECTRUMELECTRUM,” I got to talk to IDA NIELSEN (bass), DONNA GRANTIS (guitar) and HANNAH FORD WELTON (drums) about rolling with Prince, their funked-up new sound, and the ritual of Lake Minnetonka…
Lesson #1: 3RDEYEGIRL is badasss.
DONNA: We have only four people with two guitar players and we play rock. There’s just something so special about the sound of two electric guitars over-driven, heard through a ton of amps on stage, and underneath it all we always keep it funky.
IDA: When I was with the old New Power Generation, there were three keyboards and no guitar. This is a new sound of Prince people haven’t seen in many years.
HANNAH: Coming into this, I wasn’t practicing and jamming to his songs all the time so Prince really built up my funk chops. Now every time he steps in the kit to show me something, it’s just one of the greatest sounds I’ve ever heard. I’ve learned what it means to be in the pocket.
Lesson #2: Genius takes work
DONNA: For the past year-and-a-half, most every day we’re given a long list of new songs to learn. So we come into Paisley Park in the early afternoon and play until dinnertime. Then we take a break and do it again!
IDA: I have never ever heard about anybody doing what Prince is doing. He is a master arranger and he does it live on the spot, and so we have to be able to go wherever he wants to, do whatever he feels like…
HANNA: We’ve all lost track about how many songs we actually know now because we’ve rehearsed so many…
Lesson #3: No two albums are ever created the same way
HANNAH: We honestly didn’t know we were recording “PLECTRUMELECTRUM” until quite a bit along in the process. It didn’t really hit us until he started to ask us to record vocals and then it was like, ‘OK, is this going to be for a project or something?’
“ART OFFICIAL AGE” came about very differently. That was pretty much a collaboration between Prince and my husband Joshua [the album’s co-producer] and they just spent hours and hours in the studio, sometimes until 7:30am just cranking out hit after hit!
So “PLECTREMELECTRUM” has a live recording feel and AOA is so beautiful and theatric – classic Prince tied into today’s mainstream urban feel.”
Lesson #4: Inspiration can come from anywhere
IDA: What’s really cool about Prince is that at any moment he can be inspired by something. He’s just a walking musical creator…. and he constantly keeps himself surrounded by people that inspire him on a daily basis.
DONNA: It’s been such a beautiful journey already. It’s like an adrenaline rush every single time we play. We all fell in love with our music and our sound right away and so our main inspiration has become each other.
And there’s also a lot of room for all of us to have our personalities going. Like the title, “PLECTRUMELECTRUM;” those are two real words put together, but none of us know what it means. Not even Prince. It’s all about what it means to you.
Lesson #5: Don’t call them an all-girl band
HANNAH: We unfortunately still live in a world that praises the man and kind of degrades the woman. But Prince embraces the strength in women, and we’re working towards the day when people come to our shows and are just blown away by our musicianship. Not one person in the audience is going to say, “Oh, that sounds like a girl is playing that!”
DONNA: Rock is a genre played with a lot of conviction and one of the things we’ve learned is to play from the heart and give 100%. To compare male and female isn’t really what we’re about. We want to be compared to the greatest bands ever…
HANNAH: Our biggest goal with this album is just to try and wake everybody up and bring live music back. After they see us live, that’s when I believe lives will be changed!”
Lesson #6: 1985 was a long time ago…
HANNA: [Comparing her boss to Prince’s character The Kid in Purple Rain]
Yeah, he’s still a prankster, and he’s still a phenomenal entertainer and musician with an energy level that is through the roof…
IDA: …but he doesn’t perform with his shirt off anymore, and he hasn’t made any of us purify ourselves in Lake Minnetonka! (laughs)