MTV interview with Kurt Loder from 15:15 (1999)

A conversation with Kurt Loder.


At a time when popular music seems walled off between raging rap-metal and chirpy, innocuous teen pop, the music of Prince still shines like a beacon of other, more exciting possibilities.

The son of Minneapolis jazz musicians and a self-taught prodigy on piano, guitar, and drums, Prince Rogers Nelson always saw music not as something to be twisted and tailored for market demographics, but as an indivisible whole, much the way he saw the world.

By the mid-’90s, Prince had become convinced that music was too important a human thing to be controlled and manipulated by record companies, which in any case were doomed to have difficulty keeping up with all the music he was churning out.

So having changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, he walked away from his longtime contract with Warner Bros. Records and took his music to the Internet. He also continued his career-long aversion to doing interviews, although that may be changing.

The enigmatic Artist recently sat down with MTV News’ Kurt Loder at the Paisley Park studio complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota for his first-ever interview with the network. Their conversation is right here.

Loder: You had sort of an acrimonious parting with Warner Bros. Now you’re back with a major label, Arista, and you’re allowing them to distribute and promote this new album ["Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic"]. Do you feel this is something that record companies can still do? They can promote, and they just have a big distribution web that’s still useful to performers?

The Artist: Yes. You know, I never had a problem with the way my music was promoted or distributed. My main problem with record companies was an ownership issue. When you don’t own the master tape, they can take the master recording and put it on different compilations and do all kinds of different things with your music. It isn’t the bitter battle that everybody thinks it is. It was mainly an issue of ownership and whether or not I could record when I wanted to. There are other issues that come into it regarding recording with other musicians.

Loder: You got a lot of stuff lying around? Like, sort of Lenny Kravitz jams... ?

The Artist: Maybe, maybe not! [Laughs]

Loder: [Laughing] People we might know and suspect?

The Artist: Yeah. I’ve recorded a lot of things that there, again, every time you go and try to give it to some of your friends, in the public, then you run the risk of their estates or people affiliated with them coming up and claiming their piece. They weren’t in the studio, but they want they piece. [Singing] “Why they gotta get their piece...?”

Loder: Surely there’s the Miles Davis stuff, right? I mean, will that ever come out?

The Artist: [Looks away, whistling]

Loder: Someday, perhaps?

The Artist: [Still whistling]

Loder: Maybe not. Let’s not talk about that.

The Artist: [Smiles, nods]

Loder: How did you come to pick Gwen Stefani on this record? Are you a fan of No Doubt?

The Artist: Yeah. I saw Gwen jump up on David Letterman’s desk when they performed on his show, and I said, “I gotta know her.”

Loder: [Laughs] You have a desk of your own you need somebody to jump on? Or is it just the spirit...

The Artist: Yeah. I had never seen anybody do that. I said, “I’m feelin’ that. I’m definitely feelin’ that.” And her band’s really tight, and I go to see them whenever they’re in town, and they’re great, great performers, and they love music. They really got off on the things that I’ve done in the past, so I wanted to include them on this somehow.

Loder: How do you think this album differs from all the stuff you’ve done in the past? Does it have a special feeling to it for you? Or is it just part of an ongoing story?

The Artist: Ultimately, I think it is different. I think it is the past. I think it is kind of what I’ve been doing the whole time, and that’s why I gave production credit to Prince, because he was in charge of picking the instruments and saying the direction that the grooves should go, and he’s in charge of pulling out the old Linn drum machine and saying, “Let’s go with Old Faithful. Let’s not worry about what everybody else is doing. Let’s go with what we know,” you know? That’s a hard thing to do, you know, to not let the collective consciousness move you in a particular direction. It’s hard if you don’t have God in your life.

Loder: You had mentioned earlier when we were talking that you had seen some old footage of yourself from some years back and you were wearing something provocative, and it wasn’t the way you are now. Have you changed a lot from that person you were?

The Artist: When we get to that point when we stop trying to dictate what a person’s supposed to do with their life and how people are supposed to perceive them, we’ll be better off. In some respects, I’m the same person. I don’t dress the same, though; I don’t look the same. I did that for a specific reason. That is not indicative of, you know, where I am right now.

Loder: I mean, do you still have those little outfits in a closet somewhere?

The Artist: Now, what do you wanna know that — ain’t you got a woman?

Loder: [Big laugh]

The Artist: [Laughing] What you need to know all that stuff for?

Loder: Just wondering in a historical sense.

The Artist: Okay... all right.... [Giggling]

Loder: Could we discuss the name change? ’Cause it’s a problem for people who have to say your name. Why did you feel compelled to change your name from Prince Rogers Nelson to something that no one can pronounce?

The Artist: Very simply, my spirit directed me to do it. And once I did it, a lot of things started changing in my life.

Loder: Why do you suppose that was?

The Artist: Why do I suppose that was? Well, one thing is, people can say something about Prince, and it used to bother me. Once I changed my name, it had no effect on me. If you read “Kurt Loder is crazy” every day...

Loder: Oh, every day would be annoying. Once in a while, okay.

The Artist: All right. Sooner or later, you would wonder why people have this perception of you. Now if you change your name to Malik—

Loder: [Laughs] Malik I can pronounce, but you’ve changed it to a symbol that can’t be pronounced. It’s very difficult for people...

The Artist: It’s very difficult for people to say, “He’s crazy,” isn’t it?

Loder: No, that could still be said, but it’s hard to say the name, because there’s no way of pronouncing it.

The Artist: That’s interesting, yup.

Loder: You see the problem?

The Artist: For whom? [Laughs] I’m doin’ real good. Everything’s all cool.

Loder: What if I changed my name to just a little circle with an arrow through it?

The Artist: My brother...

Loder: [Big laugh]

The Artist: Any way that I could use my brain to come up with a way to make you happy and respect you, I’m gonna do that.

Loder: I mean, but let’s say you’re in the business—I don’t want to belabor this—

The Artist: You don’t?

[Both laugh]

Loder: There’s been some talk of some old tracks with The Revolution, your previous band, your old band, coming out as an album called “Roadhouse Garden.” Is that possibly, maybe, going to happen?

The Artist: We did three tracks for the record, meaning I went in and finished them, and then I put “Roadhouse Garden” on the backburner, so nothing’s really happening with it.

Loder: You’ve remained here in Minneapolis. I mean, what is it about Minneapolis? Is it just that you’ve grown up here and it is home?

The Artist: I find that the people here are very loving. They are open to change. We’ve always been able to break new music here. We played “Purple Rain” here before it was even on a record. I saw Ani DiFranco here recently. She said, “I’d like to do a new song,” and the whole place went to a hush. The whole place. You’d never get that to happen at Woodstock. Would have been a miracle.

Loder: Yeah. I was there. We don’t want to talk about that.

The Artist: But I must say, though, to see you running for your life and getting pelted with stuff warmed my heart.

Loder: [Laughs]

The Artist: We played in Tokyo once, and we gave tambourines away and put them on the seats, the first hundred seats, in the venue. After we finished playing, these kids put the tambourines back on the seats and walked single-file out of there, no problems. The left the tambourines because nobody told them that the tambourines belonged to them. Now, there’s something in them that’s not in our children that we really need to address, because we’re looking at the future when we see the burnings, you know, when we see brothers getting dragged in trucks down streets to their death. We’re looking at the future, and either we can get in here now and fix that and do the best we can to help God fix it, or we can... [Shrugs] You know, punch the clock in.

Loder: If we went in your vaults—I bet they’re substantial—what would we find in there?

The Artist: Some amazing jazz work. You’d find the best, most heady tracks that The Revolution recorded; the ones that we thought were too far gone back in the ’80s. You’d find the more psychedelic rock version of The Time. You’d find the really erotic Prince.

Loder: Really?

The Artist: The really erotic central Prince. You’d find the future.

Loder: What’s going to happen to all this stuff? I mean, I’m glad it’s in a vault somewhere... will it ever come out?

The Artist: Oh, yeah. I’ll give it away. You know, I’m not goin’ nowhere. I’ll be right here.

Loder: Where are you going to be playing “1999” New Year’s Eve? Do you know that yet?

The Artist: Well, this year I’ve just spent reflecting on my life and work and loves. I’ve just been sort of preparing for a big party. I know it’s gonna be somewhere. I’m going to let everyone know when I know. But I’ve always answered the question by saying, “Hopefully I’ll be in the light.”

Loder: Time’s getting short here, of course. New Year’s Eve is coming right up.

The Artist: I don’t believe in time, Kurt.

Loder: Oh. What do you use instead? We have to keep track somehow.

The Artist: The truth.