PRINCE and 3rdEyeGirl | Music | The Guardian

3RDEYEGIRL on Prince, ping pong and women in music who ‘treat their bodies like meat’ The purple one’s all-female band on his legendary work ethic, life at Paisley Park and why you should always look like a star…

3rdEyeGirl-emleft-to-righ-0143rdEyeGirl (left to right): Donna Grantis, Ida Nielsen and Hannah Ford Welton. Photograph: PR

You can tell 3rdEyeGirl are official Prince proteges from a mile away. They line up on a leather sofa in a purple-walled room, dressed in studded leather, knee-high boots and feathers. It’s hard not to be reminded of previous female purple collaborators – Apollonia 6, Sheila E, Wendy & Lisa. Beyond the striking image, however, this all-female rock band are part of Prince’s latest mission to deliver “real music played by real musicians” – drummer Hannah Ford Welton (all-American, talkative), guitarist Donna Grantis (Canadian, thoughtful) and bassist and former New Power Generation member Ida Nielsen (witty, Danish), can thwack, shred and slap bass with the best of them.

Twelve-hour jams at Prince’s Paisley Park complex in Minneapolis have honed them, turning them into a must-see live act. Their recent tour with Prince at the start of this year – for which they announced cheap-entry shows at the last minute up and down the UK – saw this paper hail them, and not just their boss, as “one of the greatest funk-rock bands ever”.

All of which has culminated in a debut album, Plectrumelectrum, to be released alongside a Prince solo album, Art Official Age, on 29 September (2014). So what have they learned from nearly two years working with one of music’s most mysterious masterminds?

Be prepared for anything

Ida Nielsen: “The way it all started [in December 2012], we didn’t know we were going to be a band; we didn’t even have a name. We just went to Paisley Park and were jamming with Prince and he was teaching us all these new songs. And then all of a sudden we’re doing the Jimmy Fallon show and he’s introducing us as 3rdEyeGirl. And we’re like: ‘Oh, OK, that’s our name, then.’”

Hannah Ford Welton: “Every day is spontaneous like that for us – we all had to get used to it. But it’s especially hard to live in the moment today – everything is planned and scheduled, so when you step out of that and you create your own space where everything is up in the air, it keeps things fresh and interesting. Tomorrow we could be on the other side of the world.”

Prince 3rdEyeGirlPrince & 3rdEyeGirl perform in Manchester, 21 February. Photograph: PR

Forget about working nine to five

Donna Grantis: “Prince has an unbelievable work ethic that rubs off on all of us, but time exists in a different way at Paisley Park. Every day there are things to accomplish but it’s not related to the hour. It’s just: before the next resting period, we need to get this done. On one song, Another Love, there’s a giant guitar solo at the end, which we were rehearsing at four in the morning. Prince asked when I’d like to record it and I said: ‘You know what, I’ll do it tomorrow morning. I’ll think about it, work out some concepts …’ And he replied: ‘Let’s record it now.’ I had to go for it. It turned out to be a part where he and I are soloing and playing off each other and it’s really special.”

You need to work quickly

Nielsen: “We did this album old school, live, all in the same room, so if someone made a mistake everything had to be redone. That’s how it used to be in the old days: one, two, three, go! Play good! We thought we were learning new material to play live. But all of a sudden, he said: ‘Let’s make a sequence.’”

Grantis: “I was totally shocked. This was one take, play it perfectly all the way through, figure out the sounds on the spot. We had to play our parts so quickly that our musical instinct took over – the first sound or feel we thought might fit is what you’ll hear on the record. With the song Wow, we didn’t even play it all the way through before we recorded it.”

Trust your instincts

Welton: “Prince has really encouraged us to take the reins and be courageous with our playing. It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you’re trying for something, know how to recover and keep going. Either it can be fixed or it can’t and we have to redo it, but it’s OK to take chances. What’s cool is that Prince teaches us the grooves but he’s very much open to our interpretation of the parts, as long as we stay true to the feel. He’s not a stickler, like: ‘This is what I gave you, this is what you play.’ He’s really laidback – at least, he is with us. That’s what makes our sound and shows so special because you hear all of our different personalities shine through the music.”

You must be prepared to correct each other

Welton: “We all take this very seriously, so we’re all constantly challenging each other and keeping each other accountable. And sometimes that calls for what Prince says is ‘policing each other’ in rehearsals and finding weak spots in the song and drilling them. We all have to go in together and rub all the kinks out of the music so that when you come to a show it comes off flawless.”

Play as if the world is watching

Welton: “One thing Prince has said a few times is that with every performance, go in with the mindset that it’s being recorded, as much as we encourage people to put their phones away and bootlegging is highly discouraged – he calls bootlegs “unfinished recordings” because the sound quality is not nearly the same. He says to dress like you’re being videotaped, perform as if you’re in the studio, and nail it. Because at some point someone will be recording and they’ll probably put it online and you have to look at and hear yourself and you want to be proud of it.”

Remember to put the fans first

Welton: “I’ve never been in a band up until this point where I’ve seen thousands of people lining up outside a venue and down the street for a mile – and I can’t think of an artist out right now, other than us, that I would do that for. The genuine love and loyalty from the fans was really eye-opening, that they are willing to train it for hours to stand outside for hours before even getting in. People don’t do that any more. Some people got frustrated about the process of the Hit and Run tour in that tickets weren’t for presale but at the same time, we did that for the fans – we wanted them to be able to pay £10 rather than £900.”

It’s best to be humble

Welton: “When we’re learning new material, or he’s showing us a band that we haven’t heard of, or introducing us to new ways of playing, it’s a teacher-student vibe. He’s so willing to share his knowledge, about the industry, music and performance. But at the same time he is extremely humble and when we are all together, even in those teacher-student moments, we’re a collective. We sit around and chat and if someone has an idea, we’ll bring it up casually – while we’re playing ping pong – and talk about it. It’s very open. He’s all about all of us as a unit, playing and performing and jamming as a family. There’s never really a moment where he acts or carries himself as ‘greater than’.”

You have to stay classy

Welton: “We’ve been inspired by his style and him telling us how he wants people to see us. There’s a way to be portrayed as beautiful, and even sassy and sophisticated, yet still powerful. None of us will ever compromise our look and feel as if we have to go out there wearing next to nothing to be noticed. That’s what the industry has become these days and the music is suffering; people are over-compensating for their music not being very good.

“We have way too many young kids looking up to artists that are putting out music with terrible, vulgar messages and also walking around with next to nothing on. There are misogynists everywhere in the music industry. But if women are getting sick and tired of men talking about them in their music like they’re a piece of meat, they can’t then walk around treating their body like it’s a piece of meat. Cover up, carry yourself like a woman, and then hopefully the men will take the hint and start treating you with the respect you deserve. But women first have to stand up for themselves and stop degrading themselves, stop compromising. We talk about these things with Prince a lot.”

Learn to survive on no sleep

Nielsen: “The lack of sleep has been the biggest challenge but the thing is when you play, even if it’s late, you forget that you’re tired. The adrenaline kicks in and we feed off the energy of the crowd. When I joined Prince [with New Power Generation], we’d been in Paris rehearsing for a week without him and then he joined us onstage in Norway. We played the first song and when he came out, everything lifted and everyone rose to play better. I’ve never done a single show with him where I didn’t feel like he was in it 100%. He goes on stage and it doesn’t matter how many people are there, whether it’s an arena or three people, he gives everything.”

But make time for relaxing, too

Grantis: “Ping pong is how we kick back, if you can call it kicking back – sometimes the ping pong gets more intense than rehearsal. Our ping pong game, from the time that we first got to Paisley to now, has skyrocketed.”

Nielsen: “Sometimes we beat him, though.”

Welton: “We are the softest rock stars on the planet!”

Be careful what you put on the internet

Welton: “We live in a digital age and, at any point, even if it’s minimal, you’re going to use the internet and social media. I’ve definitely noticed Prince, over time, get a little more social media savvy – but in a fun way, not a dependent way. There’s a fine line between needing social media and using it to have fun.”

Nielsen: “Nowadays, as a promo tool, it’s a necessity. But everything you put on the internet is out there somewhere. So you have to think: ‘Will it be cool in 10 years to see this?’ It’s stuff you don’t really think about when you’re young and you just think: ‘Oh, that’s funny.’”

Artists should be in control of their creativity

Grantis: “Prince has definitely imparted to us the importance of the artist being in control of their creations and a huge part of that is about an artist owning their masters and their publishing. NPG Publishing was created earlier this year and he got his masters back from Warners, which was amazing. It’s absolutely important to be working with people who can help release the music but it’s great how his view is that the artist takes care of the music and the machine takes care of the business side of things. The artist holds their artistic vision so close to their hearts and it can be so easily manipulated.”

Your potential is limitless

Grantis: “He’s operating at the highest level, as one of the greatest musicians of all time, so his level of expectation is way up high, too. He wants to bring out the best in everyone and the best in us and I feel like he wants us to rise up to our potential, or even beyond that.”

Nielsen: “What we felt was the limit to our potential does not exist. It can be pushed and pushed again. I found out about myself that I’m able to learn and remember quite a lot of different songs in a very short amount of time. And I never thought I’d be able to do that because it’s not a situation you would normally be in.”

Source: 3rdEyeGirl on Prince, ping pong and women in music who ‘treat their bodies like meat’ | Music | The Guardian

About Cosmic Dwellings

'Cosmic Dwellings' is a social media network consisting of a fine mix of retro rock and pop music, a radio drama production, an ebook serial and several works of poetry and lyrical prose.
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