In a rare interview, pop rock’s elusive star talks about his new movie, his music, his father and finding God
By Lynn Norment
PRINCE is alive and well—and still creating music and movies that are immensely popular. That point is well proven by the enthusiastic reception that greeted the release of his new album, Parade, and bis single, Kiss, which immediately zoomed to the top of the pop and R&B charts. And as further evidence of bis continued vitality and popularity, Prince is starring in his new movie, Under The Cherry Moon, which was filmed—under his direction—on location on the French Riviera last fall. It’s due to hit the nation’s theaters in early July.
With the new album — his eighth in about as many years - and the new movie, we see a somewhat new Prince, one who has abandoned his Edwardian suits and ruffled shirts but continues his forays into the psychedelic era of the ‘60s. The new Prince projects a sleeker, slicker look highlighted by a trimmed down, slicked-back ‘50s coiffure. Prince’s design er of three years, Vaughn Terry, says his client’s new look features psychedelic fabrics, hold graphic prints, and plenty of midriff-exposing top s. And, yes, there will still be those tight, hip-hugging pants.
Some of these fashions will be seen in Under The Cherry Moon. Prince portrays the lead character, Christopher Tracy, who, along with his best friend, Tricky (Jerome Benton), goes to the South of France to find fame and fortune. What Christopher actually finds is love and a lot of trouble when he meets Mary Sharon, the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate. British actress Kristin Scott-Thomas makes her film debut as Mary Sharon, a role that originally was to be played by Prince’s real-life love, Susannah Melvoin, lead singer in the now-defunct group, The Family, and twin sister of Prince’s guitarist, Wendy Melvoin. However, after initial filming, Prince decided that Susannah was more talented at singing.
In an unusual move, Prince, who had given only one interview in three years, invited Lynn Norment, senior staff editor of EBONY, to interview him on the movie set in Nice. On the day that she arrived, the y were shooting a night scene. During a break at about 10 p.m., the writer was summoned to Prince's dressing room camper. He closed the door behind her, shutting out the small crowd outside. Inside there were no managers, no girlfriends no groupies, no bodyguards. Just Prince.
The camper was of average size with no particular luxuries. Personal items were flung about. In a closet to one side hung the flowing wrap-around white cashmere coat he had worn in the scene a short time before. A cushiony sofa was opposite the door, onto which was thrown a purple patchwork quilt. After motioning for Ms. Norment to sit on the sofa, Prince settled into an elevated swivel makeup chair. He was still dressed as Christopher in a white silk pajama-like outfit with loose-fitting shirt and white high-heeled ankle boots. His hair was slicked back. His smile was warm. His eyes charming. His voice low and sexy. There was a spiritual aura about him.
After assisting the writer with her tape recorder, the “conversation” began.
EBONY: You’ve said that you and your father, John Nelson, talk a lot about women and music. What advice has he given you?
PRINCE: Real basic stuff as far as women are concerned. Like, “Don’t get married until you are in love, and don’t have children until you get married.” I’ve taken heed to that advice so far. On music, he just does what I do. He’s different. He preaches all the time:”Strive to be different. It’s OK to be different.”
EBONY: What are the similarities between you and your father?
PRINCE: We have the same hands. We have the same dreams. We write the same lyrics, sometimes. Accidentally, though. I’ll write something and then I’ll look up and he’ll have the same thing already written.
EBONY: That close? The same music?
PRINCE: He seems to think so. The lyrics we write are similar, the same thing. With the music, we are a lot different. Our personalities are a lot alike, but his music is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s more complex. A lot of beautiful melodies are hidden beneath the complexity. That’s why it takes me to pull all that out. That’s why we work so well together. My melodies are a little different from the way he does them. I’m a little stricter with melody. For example, The Ladder [from Prince’s seventh LP, Around The World In A Day]. He wrote the chords for that, but it had a little faster, a little bit more on the top hand. I just took the chords and gave it a simple melody on top.
EBONY: You and your father co-wrote The Ladder?
PRINCE: Yes. Without his idea, I would not have come up with that particular song. I wrote the lyrics.
EBONY: That song has a lot of spiritual overtones. Do you see yourself as a spiritual person?
PRINCE: As far as my music is concerned, I have no reason to lie. At this point I have nothing to gain. I’ve made some money and it basically goes back into my craft and the people I surround myself with. We try to do a few things for people in need, and whatever, but that is not something you speak on. You do it because it helps you to sleep better. Like I said, there’s no reason for me to lie at this point. When I first did interviews, the main thing I stressed was that I’ve always been very honest in my approach, whether it was with lyrics or music. I just want people to realize that I’m still like that, if not more so. It is important that you believe in yourself. I do musically. I go into the studio and I believe in what I’m doing, and the people around me believe in what they’re doing. It’s a group effort. And it’s very fulfilling.
EBONY: When you say”group effort,” you are referring to The Revolution?
PRINCE: All of us. We help one another. There is a real heavy competition thing that’s good and healthy. We’re like four little gangs. My band, Sheila E., The Family [which has now disbanded], and Mazarati. There used to be Vanity 6 and The Time, and it was the same thing. Vanity changed members and became Apollonia 6, but now they are defunct.
EBONY: Are you still friends with Apollonia?
PRINCE: Oh, yes, she is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
EBONY: You said earlier that you decided to do the America video here in France because you got home sick.
PRINCE: America is a very positive song, very patriotic. A peaceful song. A plea to people in charge to remember what freedom is about. I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, but I haven’t found any place quite like America. There are a lot of nice things, nice advantages. The band came over to do some photographs [some of which are featured on the cover of the Parade LP] and we just wanted to play really bad. I just kind of missed America. It wasn’t planned, but we did it. Strangely enough, we hadn’t played in a long time and we had a lot of pent-up energy and we may have gone overboard. Maybe I’m getting younger or wilder. I have a strange feeling that the next time we tour it’s going to be pretty ridiculous as far as the hotness goes. We have a lot of energy. [Prince is scheduled to tour Europe in July, then the United States.]
EBONY: Your Purple Rain tour was seen by more than 1.7 million people; the LP is one of the biggest all-time sellers in the industry, and the movie was among the biggest hits of the 1985 summer season and grossed more than $80 million. Now that you look back on all of it, are you pleased?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah. There’s nothing I would change. It was one of the most powerful concerts I’ve ever attended. A lot of times you go outside yourself and you’re sort of in the audience watching. I mainly do things on stage that I would want to see other people do if I went to a concert. Well, I’ve always felt that the fans are really digging us, and it’s not just a trendy kind of thing. The same three million who bought 1999 bought Around The World In A Day. It’s important to me that those people believe in what we are trying to say as opposed to just digging it just because it is a hit. I don’t go into the studio just to make a hit; that would be too easy. There are a lot of people who do that just to make a payment on that Cadillac. I just never really look at it like that. Actually, on my second album [Prince (1979)] I did, but not after that. I just gave up.
EBONY: Even with Purple Rain you didn’t go into the studio with the intention of making a hit?
PRINCE: I think Purple Rain is the most avant-garde purple thing I’ve ever done. Just look at [the singles] When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy. Most Black artists won’t try a groove like that. lf more would, we’ d have more colorful radio stations. In the ‘60s, when every body tried to be different, you had War and Santana, and Hendricks, and Sly, and James [Brown), and they were all uniquely different. Now, everyone just jumps on what they think are the hottest sounds. But I think it’s coming around again. I just wish I had a bigger record company. We all have a similar sound because you can only go so close. Sheila has her own thing, coming from a Latin perspective. And Mazarati is kind of like total street. We are the way we are. Sometimes I just wish that when I turn on the radio I could get that many different colors. It’s fun to hear a song like Raspberry Beret on R&B. I’m not saying that I’m great or anything like that; I’m just saying that I’m an alternative. I’m something else. And I long to hear something else from everybody. There are a lot of talented people out there. I jus t don’t think they go far enough. I don’t play radio for that reason.
EBONY: Do you feel that a lot of artists are just producing albums to pay for their Cadillacs, that they aren’t as artistically independent as you are?
PRINCE: A lot of the spirit is gone. When music became so commercial and you could make so much money with it, people just started looking at it like that. Whatever the trend - clothes, food, toilet paper, whatever, everyone just jumps on it. I feel that we’ re on the brink of something. It is going to be strict and wild and pretty.
EBONY: How can something be strict and wild and pretty at the same time?
PRINCE: I mean strict in the sense that managers and companies just won’t allow some of these groups to get over. They would look for something wilder, different, something more unique.
EBONY: How have you managed to escape that mentality of doing what is commercial? Even though your music has turned out to be commercial, you say that was not your intention.
PRINCE: I’m very stubborn, real bullheaded. If I want something, I really fight for it. If I really believe in it. The first album [For You (1978)]-I really believed that I should produce it. They -the people in power-tried to put me in with what was the happening sound, the few cats o.n top. I wanted to get away from that. So, I put out Soft And Wet, and that was OK. Nobody else was doing that. The next time, I realized that I had to make some money to prove to them that I was a businessman. I spent too much money in the studio for the first album so they looked at me like, here’s a chi ld in here trying to do a man’s job. Like I said, I’m really stubborn and I strive for the best, so I tried to do the best the second time around and make a hit and do it for the least amount of money. My second album [Prince (1979)] cost $35,000, but the first one cost four times that amount. The second sold a lot more than the first. The third album [Dirty Mind (1980)] started out as demo tapes. I said to myself, “If I could put my blood stream on vinyl, then this is what it would be.” It was like that. The record company [Warner Bros.] said: ”Cool. If that’s where you are, then we gotta go with that.” That’s why I dig them and that’s why I stay with them, because they believed in me at that point. I think everyone is uniquely different. I don’t think anyone grows up into the mode of anyone else. When Andre [Cymone] and Morris [Day] and I hung out as kids, we all felt like”we are this,” and”we should grow up to be like that.” And it turned out that way.
EBONY: You dared to be different. But even back then you showed that you were a businessman. You were creative but you also showed that you could make a profit.
PRINCE: I think it was a real pride thing. That’s why I don’t listen to that album [Prince] for that reason. The third album was the most honest. It was me, but also a lot of other people.
EBONY: You said earlier that you wish your company, Paisley Park, were bigger. Why?
PRINCE: Right now, it is new and very small. When I have more time and more money, I want to start looking for young people with things to offer. I try not to refuse someone if they come to me and ask me for a song. But not too many people ask me. They might feel that maybe I’m real aloof or that I think one thing or another, but I’m not like that at all. I usually try to give up a groove to somebody if they ask me. [Prince has written quite a few songs for other artists, among which are the Bangles’ Manic Monday, which is high on the pop charts; 100 MPH, which is on Mazarati’s new LP; and Sheena Easton’s Sugar Walls.]
EBONY: What kind of people or groups do you want to sign with Paisley Park?
PRINCE: When I get a new act, I prefer to go with somebody who is brand new and hungry. It’s real easy to give someone a hit when they already have a fat bank account. But it’s more fulfilling when you give to someone in need. Like I said, hungry people like that really work hard.
EBONY: So, you’ve found that hunger?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah. When Morris Day came to our organization, he was real hungry. He didn’t have any money, and he worked so hard. And Jesse [Johnson], Andre, Dez [Dickerson, his former guitar player], Vanity, everybody. They were all hungry back then.
EBONY: Was there a time when you were actually hungry?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah, without a doubt! When I ran away, for instance. I think every child has to find himself. Now, I’m not saying tha t you have to run away to do it, but you have to look inside to find out where you’re going, and it’s better to do it before you get out of high school. Back then, I said, “I think I’m going to be a musician, and I’m not going to do anything else.” I suffered a few years for it, but it’s all · right. I don’t regret any of it. I’m not saying that I was starving, but it is nice now to have a little bit of money in your pocket so you can wear a different pair of pants every three days or so and to be able to go to McDonald’s when you want a treat.
EBONY: How old were you when you ran away?
PRINCE: The first time, I was 12. But, like I said, that’s not the way. I think maybe I was too much of a punk back then to deal with the situation I was in. But if you make a move like that, you are going to pay for it sooner or later, and I did. The trick is to be able to deal with whatever situation you are in and find yourself there.
EBONY: I’ve been told that you are very religious. Is that true?
PRINCE: Like I said, when one finds himself, one finds God, and vice versa. You find God and you find yourself. I think God is inside everybody. There ’s a good feeling, a goodness in everybody, and it’s just as easy to be good as it is to be bad. Once I found that I had somebody to talk to, it made things a lot easier. I was looking for an answer. I was trying to find re lease. When one is alone, one should try talking to God. It worked for me. It’s not going to make your problems go away, but it just makes it easier to cope with. It makes you feel that there is some place to go. The pain becomes less. The hurt becomes less. Loneliness becomes less. And everything, all your problems, be comes so small.
EBONY: There seems to be a spiritual message in some of your music. For instance in Pop Life, you allude to people seeking release through drugs.
PRINCE: It’s so easy to drink a whole bunch of coffee every day and say you feel better. But when I’m really, really happy, something just tingles inside my face and I want to cry. Things like that. Coffee can’t do that. The trick is to push that butt n and turn that on. That’s pure orgasm. The trick is to find out how to push that button.
EBONY: God is the answer?
PRINCE: Well, yeah, it is for me. You know, everyone’s situation is different. Everyone has to try to find himself. God is inside of us. You’ve got to find out who you are and what you stand for, and learn the difference between right and wrong, and be able to weigh things out. I’m going to do a film, hopefully one day, about someone’s struggle through that. It’s really a heavy thing. I don’t really like talking about it that much, because everyone is so different, and it always sound s like I’m preaching.
EBONY: Do you consider this work, making this film?
PRINCE: Sometimes, it’s like being at camp. I have to go out now and do the longest kiss in movie history. That’s how the script reads. Then it becomes work... if it’s not with someone you know really well. Probably after this kiss, we’ll know each other very well.