EMANCIPATION ERA (1996)
The pop singer who used to go by the name of Prince
SITTING ON THE FLOOR of his pastel-colored recording studio near Minneapolis, the pop singer formerly known as Prince -- he now wants to be known simply as The Artist -- spins a newly minted demo track from an upcoming album. It's a thick fog of organ chords, electronic drums, the singer's own moaning falsetto and, recorded in utero, the heartbeat of the baby his new wife will deliver in November.
Love it, ignore it or hate it, the elfin rock star has sold close to 100 million records for the Warner Bros. label in the past 20 years. Come November, his Warner Bros. contract settled, he will be out on his own -- no link-up with any big label. It's something no pop star of his stature has done on this scale.
Late last month the musician-turned-business-mogul outlined for Forbes his recording and marketing plans. They are nothing if not ambitious. He wants to flood the market with his work. That's something Warner would never let him do, and it was this issue that helped trigger the split. The disagreements got pretty bitter. While carrying out his last few remaining obligations to Warner, he always has the word "slave" scrawled on his cheek. Says an ex-Warner executive: "Despite his brilliance, one record after another causes burnout."
If so, then it's burn, baby, burn, the singer retorts. "My music wants to do what it wants to do, and I just want to get out of its way," he says. "I want the biggest shelf in the record store -- the most titles. I know they're not all going to sell, but I know somebody's going to buy at least one of each." With the marketing shackles off, his fans can expect what the poet Shelley called "profuse strains of unpremeditated art."
Already stored in his studio vaults are literally tens of thousands of hours of music, including an unreleased album he made with legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. The first independent release will be a 3-CD, 36-song set called Emancipation. It will probably sell for between $36 and $40. Pretty stiff? He's not modest. "I polled kids on the Internet, and no one said they would pay less than $50 for a new 3-CD set," he says.
When the musician talks about being independent, he means independent. He plays all the instruments -- except horns and tambourine -- on Emancipation. He's also considering pressing his own records and handling his own distribution. With no percentages to pay distributors, he figures he could net as much as $21 on the 3-CD set -- a 45% margin on retail price. Why let the middlemen make so much money?
Londell McMillan is a lawyer with the firm of Gold, Farrell & Marks, who represented the musician in the breakup with Warner Bros. "You see what's going on in the industry," says the New York City-based showbiz attorney, "and you have to ask yourself, is this artist the kind of mercurial crazy some people say, or is he the wise one who understands where he fits at the start of a new century?"
By this time next year the answer may be in. Plans are for a worldwide tour to support Emancipation in 1997, worth as much as $45 million in ticket sales -- and, of course, he'll sell albums at his concerts. "Maybe we could put a sampler on every seat," he says with a sly grin. "Or give them the whole thing, and build it into the ticket price."
Then there's the 1-800-New Funk direct-selling hotline, which gets some 7,000 calls a month, for clothing and related merchandise. Will Emancipation also be sold direct via phone? "You bet," he says.
The go-it-alone strategy got a test-run in 1994 with a single called "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and an accompanying seven-song sampler released independently. The single sold a million units just in the U.S., but the economics of selling a $1.85 (wholesale) single virtually insured that it couldn't make money. Still, the man who branded himself a slave liked his first taste of freedom. He figured that with a bigger-ticket item he could pull it off. "I was number one in countries like Spain and the U.K. where I never had a number one single before," he says of his earlier marketing effort.
Al Bell, who used to own Stax Records, now owns Bellmark Records, which distributed "The Most Beautiful Girl." But there's a difference. At a full three hours, there's a heaping helping of music. "I don't recall seeing anything like this before, but I would not bet against it," says Bell. "All bets are off on normalcy here."
Big-label insiders naturally take a more skeptical view. "He's got a real strong ego, but if he takes all this on himself, it's going to be difficult," says a former Warner Bros. executive. "Too many hats to wear. Something has to give." They hope.
Album Celebrates A New Freedom
CHANHASSEN, Minn. - As the slamming R&B of "Somebody's Somebody" cranks out of his office CD player, the former Prince cocks his head and smiles.
"This is what freedom sounds like," he says, sinking into a pillow on the floor. The track is one of 36 songs recorded in the past year for the three-disc Emancipation, due Nov. 19. The set heralds a divorce from Warner Bros., his label since 1978. Seeking total control of his career, he negotiated out of a contract that had granted him advances of $10 million per album.
"When I saw light at the end of the tunnel, I made a beeline for it," says The Artist, as he's known to the camp at Paisley Park Enterprises, his studio west of hometown Minneapolis. "This is the most exciting time of my life. There was nothing in the way when I recorded (Emancipation). Nobody looked over my shoulder. Nothing was remixed, censored, chopped down or edited."
He's so proud of Emancipation, issued by his own NPG label, that the famously reclusive star, 38, is promoting his creative rebirth with a high-profile promo blitz, including a Nov. 21 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Tuesday night, he'll perform four songs live during a half-hour global radio, TV and Internet broadcast (midnight ET/9 p.m. PT on VH1, MTV, BET and at http://www.thedawn.com; check local radio schedules). It kicks off with the debut of his self-directed video for "Betcha By Golly Wow!" featuring 50 dancers and the gymnastic feats of Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes.
He'll crop up on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, on an episode of Muppets Tonight and in several radio ads. "I'm doing my own commercials, like a used car salesman," he jokes.
The Artist, sporting short hair, a goatee and a bright tangerine suit, hopes his efforts eclipse what he calls the "chaotic and disorderly" promotion of Chaos and Disorder, his last Warner effort. It sank off the charts after five weeks.
Though personal animosities subsided, the funk wizard clearly loathes music industry practices. His relationship with Warner deteriorated after the label balked at releasing a glut of Prince product. He responded by scrawling "slave" on his cheek.
"I was a slave to the process," he says. "I don't think it's their place to talk me into or out of things. Nobody should run our creative flowers out of the business or break their spirit or tell them how to create. "Artists don't like business. We like being successful and sharing an experience with an audience. In Mozart's time, word of mouth built an audience. People found him and heard him play. Then someone came along and said, 'We can sell this experience.' Right there, you got trouble. Music comes from the spirit, but where does the guy selling music come from?"
He's reminded of a scene in Amadeus where Emperor Joseph II complains that a Mozart composition contains "too many notes." The Artist was similarly insulted when a record exec heard the lush, 7-minute The Holy River and asked, "Got a radio version?"
"I thank God every day that I never have to talk to that guy again," he says. "They don't even realize what they're saying. It's all habit now. In the end, I was disappointed to see the things that mattered to Warner. When we got down to the wire, people started saying what they meant. They think of artists as children, not men and women capable of running their own affairs."
"The label wanted him to adhere to his contract," says Warner exec Bob Merlis. "Our dispute was not the content but the quantity. He had artistic control. We didn't want to stifle his creative spirit. "
The Artist insisted on releasing more records than his contract stipulated, each entailing a hefty advance. "He made a habit of it, and we accommodated him to the best of our ability," Merlis says. "It was better for everyone that it ended. . . . He's happier, and we don't have to fuss and fume with him anymore."
After leaving Warner, The Artist struck an alliance with EMI to globally distribute and market his work. He has unrestricted output, keeps his master tapes and is free to market and price his albums. Emancipation will sell for about $25, the cost of a double album. "A lot of bang for your buck," he says, grinning.
"I could have stayed longer and negotiated to get my masters back," he says. "I don't own any Prince masters, but Warner gave me gold records. Ha! What's that worth? Ask a pawn shop. Do the math."
Moments after he describes Warner's function as "putting plastic around a cassette, not brain surgery," the bitterness evaporates and ex-Prince says, "I sat across the table and realized, that's just another dude. All he can do is sue me!"
He laughs loudly. It's water under the Graffiti Bridge. Emancipation marks a new dawn. "This is my debut. My name represents this body of work, not what came before."
His new name, the curlicued male-female glyph, evolved over years of doodling. Unfazed by constant ribbing or the problem it poses to anyone addressing him, he insists it's permanent and proper.
"My name is the eye of me. It doesn't have a sound. It looks beautiful and makes me feel beautiful. Prince had too much baggage."
Such as? "A massive ego," he says. "All that goes away when you commit to someone."
Mayte Garcia, the 23-year-old dancer he married Feb. 14, represents his heart's emancipation. She recently gave birth to their first child. That's all the father will divulge on the topic. No name, gender or birth date. Tabloids claim the couple's baby boy was born prematurely Oct. 16 with severe birth defects.
"Mayte and I decided it's cool to talk about ourselves but not about our children," he says wearily. "There is a rumor out that my baby died. My skin is so thick now. I care much more about my child than about what anyone says or writes."
He gazes at a huge photo of Mayte on his wall. She inhabits his music and conversation and inspired Paisley Park's conversion from corporate austerity to a kaleidoscopic fun house with cloud-mottled blue walls. No wonder he's ditched Prince, the rake whose salty tunes celebrated promiscuity. The Artist is plum bewitched and happily monogamous. "There's always been a dichotomy in my music: I'm searching for a higher plane, but I want the most out of being on earth," he says. "When I met Mayte, I looked at my situation and wondered what I was running from. Am I lonely? Is that why I surround myself with so many friends? "I don't think I knew the answer until I got married and made the commitment: 'I will take care of you forever.' When she walked down the aisle, and I looked into the eyes of this woman-child, I could see our future and the eyes of our child. At moments like that, you are floating. There is no ego."
He was not instantly smitten when Mayte joined his troupe as a teen.
"She was my friend and my sister for years, the one person who never showed any malice toward anyone." Gradually, he recognized their destiny. He rattles off a list of coincidences that rival the JFK-Lincoln parallels: He was christened Prince. Her childhood nickname was Princess. Their fathers are both named John. His mother is Mattie, oddly similar to Mayte. Her mom is Nelle, akin to his surname, Nelson.
Though The Artist rails against the record industry in songs like "White Mansion" and "Slave," most tunes wax romantic. Mayte inspired "Let's Have a Baby," "Sex in the Summer" and "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife." On "Saviour," he coos, "We're like two petals from the same flower."
"There's an overall tone of joy and exhilaration," he says. "In the angry songs, I found a sense of closure. I don't mind going into that dark corner (for) answers, but you got to get out before spider webs grow on you." Emancipation may be the last we hear from The Artist for a while ("I emptied the gun on it"), but he's plotting a long future.
"Not to sound cosmic, but I've made plans for the next 3,000 years," he says. "Before, it was only three days at a time."
- Edna Gundersen
NEW YORK TIMES
A Reinventor of His World and Himself
CHANHASSEN, Minnesota -- Paisley Park, the studio complex Prince built in this Minneapolis suburb, is abuzz. On a 10,000-square-footsound stage, workmen are rolling white paint onto a huge runway of a set, preparing it for a video shoot later in the day. In a mirrored studio down the hall, two dozen dancers are rehearsing. Upstairs, an Olympic gymnast, Dominique Dawes, is trying on a wispy lavender costume. A sound engineer is editing a promotional CD; a graphics artist is putting the final touches on a logo. Through it all strolls the man in charge, attentive to every detail. A hole in the gymnast's leotard? A bit of choreography that needs broadening? As songwriter, video director and record-company head, he takes responsibility for everything, makes all the final decisions and couldn't be happier about it.
The 38-year-old musician who now writes his name as is gearing up for the release on Tuesday of Emancipation, a three-CD, 36-song, three-hour album intended to return him to superstardom. Over a recording career that stretches nearly two decades, the musician who was born Prince Rogers Nelson earned a reputation for unorthodox behavior long before he dropped his name. Just in time for the music-video explosion, he invented himself as a larger-than-life figure: a doe-eyed all-purpose seducer for whom the erotic and the sacred were never far apart. Outlandish clothes, sculptured hair and see-through pants made Prince a vivid presence, but behind the costumes was one of the most influential songwriters of the 1980s.
He toyed with every duality he could think of: masculine and feminine, black and white, straight and gay. While he made albums virtually by himself, like an introvert, his concerts were in the grand extroverted tradition of rhythm-and-blues showmen like James Brown. His music pulled together rock and funk, gospel and jazz, pop ballads and 12-bar blues. His most distinctive rhythm -- a choppy, keyboard-driven funk -- has permeated pop, hip-hop and dance music, while his ballad style echoes in hits like TLC's "Waterfalls."
His only guide seemed to be a musicianship that drew admiration from many camps. Peter Sellars, the revisionist opera director, once compared Prince to Mozart for his abundant creativity. Yet for much of the 1990s, the quality of his output has sagged -- a result, he says, of his deteriorating relationship with his longtime record company, Warner Brothers.
"He's one of the greatest ones," says George Clinton, himself an architect of modern funk. "He's a hell of a musician; he has really studied everything. And he's working all the time. Even when he's jamming he's recording that. He gets to party; he listens to everything on the radio; he goes out to clubs, and then he goes to the studio and stays up the rest of the night working. He has more stuff recorded than anybody gets to hear.
"Sometimes I think he puts too much effort into trying to take what's out now and put his own thing on it. To me, ain't none of the pop stuff happening that's half as good as what he can do."
Emancipation is a make-or-break album. It will inaugurate a new recording deal with a gambit that may turn out to be bold and innovative or utterly foolhardy; will the 3-CD set be received as an act of generosity or a glut of material? For a major performer in the 1990s, releasing a three-CD set of new material is unprecedented; even double albums are rare and commercially risky. And Emancipation is financed and marketed by the songwriter himself. "All the stakes are higher," he says as he picks a few berries from a plate of zabaglione in the Paisley Park kitchen. "But I'm in a situation where I can do anything I want."
His day's project is to direct the video for the first single from Emancipation, a remake of the Stylistics' 1972 hit "Betcha by Golly, Wow." At the same time, he's making last-minute marketing decisions and doing a rare interview. Ever the clotheshorse, he's wearing a long, nubby gray-and-black sweater and a shirt with lace tights. A chevron is shaved into his hair next to one ear, with glitter applied to it. Clear-eyed and serious, he speaks in a low voice, in a conversation that veers between hard-headed practicality, flashes of eccentricity and professions of faith in God. He is businesslike one moment; the next, he invokes his self-made spirituality, in which musical inspiration and carnality are both links to divine creativity.
For all the music he has put out since the first Prince album in 1978, he has remained private. The songs on Emancipation take up his usual topics -- sex, salvation, partying all night long -- along with new ones like cruising the Internet. But a few have hints of the personal. On Valentine's Day he married Mayte Garcia, who had been a backup singer and dancer in his band. A few months ago, he announced that she was pregnant and that the child was due in November. Since then he has refused further comment. "I'm never going to release details about children," he says. "They'll probably name themselves."
On the album, he proposes marriage in "The Holy River," a rolling midtempo song akin to Bruce Springsteen's quieter side. Later, a sparse, tender piano ballad begs, "Let's Have a Baby". Asked about that song, he talks about the couple's wedding night. "I carried her across the threshold and gave her many presents," he says. "The last one was a crib. And we both cried. She got down on her knees in that gown, and I did next to her, and we thanked God that we could be alive for this moment."
Marrying Mayte, he says, seemed inevitable. Her middle name is Jannelle; his father is John L. Her mother's name was Nell; he was born Prince Rogers Nelson: "Nell's son," he says. "Am I going to argue with all these coincidences?" he asks, at least half seriously. Like a man in love, he adds: "She really makes my soul feel complete. I feel powerful with her around. And she makes it easier to talk to God."
Emancipation includes shimmering ballads and fuzz-edged rockers, bump-and-grind bass grooves and a big-band two-beat, Latin-jazz jams, and dissonant electronic dance tracks. "People will say it's sprawling and it's all over the place," he says. "That's fine. I play a lot of styles. This is not arrogance; this is the truth. Because anything you do all day long, you're going to master after a while."
On the new album, keys change and rhythms metamorphose at whim. One tour de force, "Joint 2 Joint," moves through five different grooves and ends with all its riffs fitting together. The seeming spontaneity is more remarkable because nearly all the instruments are played by the songwriter himself. The toil of constructing songs track by track is worth it, he says, for the unanimity it brings. "Because I do all the instruments, I'm injecting the joy I feel into all those 'players.' The same exuberant soul speaks through all the instruments."
"I always wanted to make a three-record set," he adds. "Sign O' The Times was originally supposed to be a triple album, but it ended up as a double. For this one, I started with the blueprint of three CD's, one hour each, with peaks and valleys in the right places. I just filled in the blueprint."
While most songwriters are hard-pressed to come up with enough worthwhile material for an album a year, he has never had that problem. He can't stop writing music; his backlog includes at least a thousand unreleased songs and compositions, and new ones are constantly pouring out, all mapped in his head.
"You hear it done," he says. "You see the dancing; you hear the singing. When you hear it, you either argue with that voice or you don't. That's when you seek God. Sometimes ideas are coming so fast that I have to stop doing one song to get another. But I don't forget the first one. If it works, it will always be there. It's like the truth: it will find you and lift you up. And if it ain't right, it will dissolve like sand on the beach."
Commercially, Emancipation hedges its bets. There are straightforward groove songs and lush slow-dance tunes alongside the more idiosyncratic cuts, and there are remakes of other people's hits, including "One of Us" from Joan Osborne and "La, La (Means I Love You)" from the Delfonics. An associate producer, Kirk A. Johnson, punched up the rhythm tracks, giving some of them the crunch of hip-hop.
The album is priced under $30, like a two-CD set.
Emancipation, produced by the performer's own label, NPG Records, is his first album to be distributed by EMI.
The album title is a pointed reference to the end of the reported six-album deal, potentially worth $100 million, that he made in 1992 with Warner Brothers. He had been making albums for the label since 1978 and sold millions of copies in the 1980s; the soundtrack for his 1984 movie, Purple Rain, sold more than 10 million copies. He continued to release No. 1 singles as late as 1991, with "Cream."
But once Warner Brothers had committed such a large investment, the label wanted to apply proven hit-making strategies: putting out just one album a year, packing it with potential singles, issuing various trendy remixes of songs and following the advice of in-house experts on promotion and marketing. Rationing and editing his work grated on Prince, and he began wrangling with Warner Brothers over control of his career.
"The music, for me, doesn't come on a schedule," he says. "I don't know when it's going to come, and when it does, I want it out. Music was created to uplift the soul and to help people make the best of a bad situation. When you sit down to write something, there should be no guidelines. The main idea is not supposed to be, 'How many different ways can we sell it?' That's so far away from the true spirit of what music is. Music starts free, with just a spark of inspiration. When limits are set by another party that walks into the ball game afterward, that's fighting inspiration.
"The big deal we had made together wasn't working," he says of Warner Brothers. "They are what they are, and I am what I am, and eventually I realized that those two systems aren't going to work together. The deeper you get into that well, the darker it becomes." In 1993, he adopted an unpronounceable as his name, ignoring warnings that he was jettisoning the equivalent of a well-known trademark.
His associates now refer to him as The Artist, a merciful shortening of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. He knows the name change caused confusion and amusement, and he doesn't care. "When the lights go down and the microphone goes on," he says, "it doesn't matter what your name is."
As an experiment, Warner Brothers gave him permission in 1994 to release a single, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," through NPG Records on the independent Bellmark label. It was an international hit, further straining his relations with Warner Brothers. He began performing with the word "slave" written on his cheek.
"We never were angry; we were puzzled," says Bob Merlis, senior vice president of Warner Brothers Records. "He evinced great unhappiness at being here. He wanted to release more albums than his contract called for; he wanted a different contract, which ran contrary to good business practices. Eventually, we agreed that his vision and ours didn't coincide on how to release his output."
People familiar with the Warners contract say that it called for Warner Brothers to pay an advance for each album submitted and that speeding up the schedule and submitting more albums meant more payments in a shorter time.
There were rumors of bankruptcy in Paisley Park, that the entertainment empire (which for a short time also included a Minneapolis nightclub, Glam Slam) was too expensive to maintain.
Eventually, Warner Brothers agreed to end the contract. Warner Brothers still has rights to one album of previously unreleased material, and it owns the master recordings of the Prince back catalogue, a situation that rankles the performer. "If you don't own your masters," he says, "your master owns you."
Under the new arrangement, he finances all his albums and videos and puts them out when he wishes. He pays EMI to manufacture the albums, and the company provides it's distribution system and overseas marketing clout. He describes EMI as "hired hands, like calling a florist to deliver some flowers to my wife." (Other NPG albums, including his ballet score, Kamasutra, and Mayte's debut album are for sale through a Web site: http://thedawn.com/.)
Once he explains his business arrangements, he shows a visitor through Paisley Park, which is the size of a small shopping mall. In the recording studio, a half-dozen guitars are lined up, each with specific qualities: the leopard-patterned one is "good for funk"; the -shaped one is "the most passionate." Paisley Park was once painted all white, inside and out, but after he got married he decided that the place needed some color. Now there are carpets with inset zodiac signs, a mural of a tropical waterfall behind the water fountain, walls of purple, gold and red and a smiley face in Mayte's office.
Past a birdcage holding two white doves named Divinity and Majesty is his office. A photograph of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker is by his desk. He shows the visitor an inch-thick worldwide marketing plan, with sales targets and promotion strategies, just like an executive. But as he plays the album, he gets caught up in the music.
"Sometimes I stand in awe of what I do myself," he says. "I feel like a regular person, but I listen to this and wonder, where did it come from? I believe definitely in the higher power that gave me this talent. If you could go in the studio alone and come out with that, you'd do it every day, wouldn't you?"
"It's a curse," he concludes. "And it's a blessing."
THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE:
(Typed up by Simon Quinn)
Famed for guarding his privacy and seldom granting interviews, the enigmatic Artist Formerly Known as Prince broke his strict code of silence recently and spoke candidly about life, love and work. The diminutive 38 year old singer, songwriter, one of the world's top-selling recording artists, first found stardom in the early 1980s with his definitive party hit 1999. In the years since, he has built a huge music complex, Paisley Park, in Minneapolis; been through a legal battle with his former recording label Warner Bros. (during which he appeared in public with the word slave written across his cheek); swapped the name Prince for an obscure symbol; and, on Valentine's Day last year, married Mayte, one of his backing singers and dancers.
The couple were delighted when Mayte, 23, fell pregnant and they planned to celebrate the birth by recording 8 children's songs and developing children's fiction. But tragedy struck in October when their baby boy was born badly brain damaged, a month premature. Characteristically, the singer refuses to confirm or deny reports that the baby died a week after birth. But his commitment to work remains firm as he continues to promote his new triple CD and cassette Emancipation.
Dressed typically flamboyantly in black lace trousers and shirt, he insisted on the usual restrictions for an interview in the Montreal hotel where he was staying during a week long promotional trip: No tape recorder, no photos during the interview and certainly no video cameras.
How long did it take you to record Emancipation?
I worked on it for a year and I must admit I'm amazed by the results. I think Emancipation is, without a doubt, the best album of my whole career. I thank God for the gift.
Are you pleased with the response it received?
Yes, as people seem to like it. The critics haven't always been kind in the past, but reviews for this have been better. Some have said that it's too long or that certain songs were too long -- but what should I have taken out? It's a question of balance and harmony. Harmony is important and I don't like people who criticize music when they're not musicians.
You seem to have decided to get on better with the press.
To be honest, I've never wanted to talk about anything apart from my music. I wasn't confident enough and I had nothing to say. But now I know exactly who I am and what I want -- although some people accuse me of arrogance because I have such a clear vision about things.
Do you have a favourite song?
Not really, but I like the second CD best. I could say "The Holy River" -- right in the middle after 5 romantic numbers -- is my favourite, but then I also like "Let's have a baby." Just before our wedding, Mayte spent a few days away from our home so I made a lot of changes to our house -- especially in our bedroom, where I placed a crib. It was beautiful. Then, on our wedding night, Mayte was still wearing her long white dress when I brought her into the room and played her "Let's have a baby" for the first time. She couldn't stop crying -- it was an unforgettable moment.
Do you think your wife has had a positive influence on your life?
Yes, certainly. She is the woman of my life, my best friend. We were made to be together and all the ingredients were there to unite us. Our fathers have the same name and our mother's names are similar. My family's name was Nelson and hers was Nells. We're definitely made for each other. With her, I've learnt what faith is and I no longer worry.
Why have you decided to spend next Valentine's Day in Hawaii?
We'll be celebrating our first wedding anniversary. Last year we were on our honeymoon in Hawaii and put on a show where Mayte danced for the last time. To celebrate this year, I'll sing but Mayte won't be dancing.
Do you believe in God?
Yes. With time, I've learnt how to be confident in God and to become whatever he wanted me to be. I'm also a vegetarian -- I only eat fruit and vegetables.
How do you feel about your 20th recording anniversary next year?
20 years isn't that long really. I prefer to think about eternity -- that's how I got myself out of the trap I was in. When I changed my name and wrote Slave on my cheek, it was because I felt like a prisoner trapped in a system. People thought I was crazy, but I didn't make the decision lightly -- I did it out of pure conviction. I could not open up and do what I wanted to do in the way I wanted. All decisions were made for me.
What has been your best experience?
My evolution. Now, I feel free, I can see eternity. I know that everything was planned for me. I might not know where I'll be tomorrow, but i know where I'll be in 3,000 years time. Since I accepted God, I have faith in life.
Is it a coincidence that you're staying in the same hotel as Celine Dion?
: Yes, I had no idea that she was here! I like her a lot and even wrote a song, "With This Tear," for her once. It's on one of her albums and is really beautiful. I'd love to play and sing with her in a show one day.
How come you've included two guitarists from Montreal -- Rhonda Smith and Kathleen Dyson -- in your band?
Sheila E. introduced me to them and they're unbelievable. They came in just at the moment in my evolution when I decided to eliminate negative music and be more joyous and uplifting. I wanted a more optimistic attitude and they're not only exceptionally talented but in perfect harmony with the rest of my life.
Is music a way of life for you?
Yes. Music is a gift from God and I would be very ungrateful to say that it is work. Life is a gift.
Copyright © 1996 Hello magazine
El Pais [Spain] - December 15, 1997
An Interview With
[Translated by Raul Gonzalez]
: When I am on stage I realize that this is why I write music. The most important thing a musician can experience is to be able to share that magic, to exchange that energy. Look at Warner: I gave them my music for years and they gave me a lot of golden albums. Look what I do with them: I just hang them in a wall. They don't make me happy. We, as musicians, need love: That's the only thing that makes us happy. I don't regret my relationship with them; in any case, they helped me build this place where I have been doing music for 15 years. But contracts don't interest me anymore, I just care about my family, my friends and music.
B.G.: Do you think someday the artists will be able to split up with their record companies and freely distribute their creations to the public ?
: It would be fantastic. But that is a very delicate question, because many artists are too weak and frightened to just go outside. The most important thing for us is to follow spiritual impulses.
B.G.: Now that you are, at last, free from any contracts, why don't you go back to the name your parents gave you ?
: I didn't change my name to escape from my Warners contract. That can not be done: it is illegal. I did it because my spirit told me so. At that moment I stopped being the person I was to become someone more complete. But, anyway, right at that moment they stopped wanting Prince's albums. Interesting, isn't it ?
B.G.: It seems that, while you are one of the biggest names in pop music, you are one of the most misunderstood as well. You don't do too much to clarify your situation. Doesn't it bother you?
: Of course it bothers me. The name change liberated me, it allowed me to become the person I wanted to be, and leave behind the one I had become. In front of you you have a person who is searching for peace and who is much more focused than before. The time of truth has come, this must be known at last, and I would like you to tell people. However, I believe a lot of people realized this change when they heard "The most beautiful girl in the world".
B.G.: Do you believe in any particular religion?
: I only believe in looking inside yourself. You always need to do that in order to realize that there are two different beings inside you: The one who thinks and the one who talks. When you can see this... (while saying this looks down in his very own, well-known fashion) ... that's when you've reached your personal Dawn.
B.G.: What exactly does "the Dawn" represent to you? There are references to it in many of your songs, even your Internet site bears this name. : The Dawn means looking inside yourself. Everybody is capable of visualizing Love inside of themselves. I had ever thought it was difficult to love someone that hurts you. Until one day when I began to see that the one that hates you the most and the one that loves you the most are the same person.
B.G.: What? Can you explain this?
: When someone hates you, what they really want is to be you, and that's a sign of love. Anybody who can see the Dawn will be able to see it for the next 3000 years.
B.G.: All that spirituality, isn't it shocking with the ostentation of this place? I hope I am not offending you, but you seem to be Captain Nemo onboard the Nautilus. What would you save from this place if it was destroyed by, for example, fire?
: This will never happen (says with an angry voice, but he quickly regains control of himself). If you leave a piece of bread on a table, someday it will become moss, and this will become medicine. Tupac Shakur isn't here anymore, but this loss has mitigated the aggressiveness of lots of people. In the same way, Paisley Park will never be destroyed, it will just become something else.
B.G.: Excuse me if I insist, but it's hard to believe, when one sees you living in this palace, that you have no interest in material things....
: I'm not scared of poverty. I grew up being poor. Between 17 and 19 years, I didn't have a dollar in my pocket. But money finally comes, and friends help. And these times are positive, because they force you to decide if you're interested in living on this planet or not. I'm not here for money, because that doesn't make me happy. Musicians don't reach the top for money, and if they do, they have chosen the wrong way. Money is the source of every bad thing, and I have never let it destroy me. I am not even used to having it in my pockets. What I do is change it for positive energy. Everyone and everything is nothing but energy. And we need positive electricity to convert that energy into something good.
B.G.: Your new work, Emancipation, seems to be inspired by the pyramids of Egypt: they are three discs of the same duration. What keeps you fascinated with the subject?
: The way Egyptians were helped by the stars, their faith and mental power when they built the pyramids. To move these stones they had to make a tremendous collective mental effort. Nowadays we wouldn't be able to do it. We are too divided to be able to concentrate on that kind of concern. Very often I wonder about the human nature: Were we, at the beginning, more intelligent and are now becoming idiots, or is it the opposite? I prefer to think that every time we are becoming a little bit more brilliant. We have to create something together.
B.G.: Recommend me a book.
: "Embraced by the Light", by Betty Eadie. It is about experiences after physical death.
B.G.: Have you experienced something like that ?
B.G.: Do you believe in life after death ?
: Believing in it gives faith to a human being and makes him or her lead a better life. When I meet someone who doesn't believe in God, what he or she says acquires the cadence of a preacher. I wonder how can he or she live without wondering about the subject. That attitude terrifies me, because I think that if you don't believe, after life you won't go anywhere. I'm not scared by death; I know there is something after. I am more scared about life (joking). You have to choose between positive and negative. Faith is positive because it fights the fear.
B.G.: Do you have dreams?
: Many of them. Yesterday I dreamt about Mayte. She was running. She was chasing me. Then the game changed and she made me chase her.
B.G.: What is your worst nightmare?
: I do not remember... ( pauses and thinks for a while.) Now that you mention it, I realize that in fact I have stopped having nightmares. I haven't had a nightmare since I decided to get married. That's extraordinary!
B.G.: When did you make that decision?
: Six months before the wedding.
B.G.: Is true Mayte and you met the first time in Spain?
: Yes... ( pauses...) No! The first time she saw me was at a concert in Madrid, but our first encounter was in Frankfurt. On another occasion we went together to Barcelona.
B.G.: What do you remember of Spain?
: Spain! You Spanish people love life, man ! You don't know how lucky you are living here. I remember some incredible concerts and never-ending parties.
B.G.: Tell me about one.
: I can't, I am a married man ( says with a smile while playing with his neck tie).
B.G.: Twelve years ago a first version of your name-logo appeared on "Purple Rain". This fact makes me think you have been thinking about your name change for a while.
: All my life is included on my albums.
B.G.: As you made it known, this is the first time that you have been editing an album without being preparing another at the same time. Are you afraid of losing your interest in music someday?
: No, sir. As long as my spirit is alive my music will be too. Let me tell you something. The other day I was on a TV show with Mayte when, suddenly, in the middle of the interview, she said something that made me all emotional: "We are returning together." In that moment I knew that words came straight from her spirit and I felt her love. When you hear true words, soon you know it's the spirit of the person which pronounces them because they are not adulterated. My spirit expresses itself in other ways: through music. When I write a song it's my spirit that talks. If I weren't here talking with you I would run to write a song for her right now.
B.G.: Where could you take Mayte?
: Far away from this planet.
B.G.: Are you afraid of getting older?
: I love getting older. That means more music, more children, more experiences... more everything! I want to live so many, many years......
B.G.: Don't tell me: Three thousand years.
: Exactly! You have hit the nail, man!
B.G.: Do you sign autographs?
: No. I can't sign anymore. I signed the last one when I was still Prince.
B.G.: You've denied him, but you're still playing his songs...
: I am not the owner of the masters, but I know how to play them.
(The secretary opens the door and says that the interview is over. I am just about to say goodbye to when he says:)
: Wait a minute ! Aren't you going to ask anything about the business?
I almost forgot: has decided to do interviews because he has an album to sell.
: This is the most important time of my life. At last I am going to be the owner of my own career. And I have created a foundation, Love For One Another, that is going to help children and whoever needs medical care.
: I have lived in many places in my life, but I always return here. The grass and lakes calm me down. This is the place where I want to die.
MSN MUSIC CENTRAL
You can call him Symbol Man. You can call him Girly Man. You can call him The Minneapolis Sex Dwarf Funkmaster in the Bad-Ass Elevator Sneakers. But you can't call him Prince. At least not to his face.
The first time I spoke to The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, hereafter conveniently abbreviated as The Artist, he still had his pronounceable royal title.
"What do I call you now?" I asked him during a recent interview at his Park empire in Chanhassen, Minnesota, just west of his hometown Minneapolis.
He flashes a beatific (or is it diabolical?) smile. "Whatever you like," says what's-his-name, sporting a spiffy tangerine suit, high-heeled boots, and a goatee.
"Just not the P-word, right?" I venture.
"Right," he says curtly. "Prince no longer exists."
Taking Prince's place is the newly liberated, highly visible TAFKAP, whose three-CD Emancipation contains some of the most dazzling and stylistically diverse material of his prolific career: from the swing of "Courtin' Time" and the Spanish rhythms of "Damned If I Do" to the rap of "Mr. Happy" and the techno of "Slave."
The set marks The Artist's long-sought liberation from Warner Bros., his home from 1978 until last summer's release of the overlooked Chaos And Disorder, an album that he says suffered from "chaotic and disorderly" promotion.
Though he re-upped with Warner in a much-hyped and lucrative 1992 deal, The Artist soon realized that he and the label were not in synch. Specifically, Warner did not warm to Prince's boundless productivity. In 1993, Prince abruptly changed his name to the unutterable male-female glyph and grew even more alienated from Warner.
A couple years ago, he and Lenny Kravitz mulled the idea of making a record together and distributing it with zero label assistance. The notion stayed with The Artist, and he resolved to escape his contract and have full creative control over his career.
His split with Warner was only one high note in 1996. The other was his marriage to muse and former belly dancer Mayte. He married the 22-year-old Puerto Rican beauty on Valentine's Day, then happily awaited the birth of their first child. That event proved tragic, though The Artist, 38, never confirmed any details of his baby boy's widely reported death from severe birth defects.
Earlier, he had poured much of his newfound domestic joy into Emancipation's 36 tunes.
"We worked nonstop," says co-producer Kirk Johnson, whose first role at the kingdom was as a dancer during the Purple Rain tour. He evolved into Prince's remixer and, a year ago, best man in his wedding and chief sounding board in the fevered Emancipation sessions.
"We'd cut three or four songs in one day," Johnson recalls. "He'd come in with a new song or a new idea every day. In the studio, he was confident and relaxed, but so excited about the music he was making. We vibed off each other."
So, how does Johnson, a fellow alumnus of Central High School, address his longtime pal and employer? He doesn't.
"His name is not a problem," Johnson says. "I agree with what he's doing and I respect the fact that the name Prince is somebody else and is owned by somebody else."
Of late, the notoriously press-shy ex-Prince has repeatedly subjected himself to the media spotlight, appearing on The Today Show, Rosie O'Donnell, and Oprah. He remains mum on the topic of his firstborn, but expounds freely on matters of music and freedom.
For someone who spent years ducking the press, you're certainly keeping a high profile these days.
That's because the music is so important. There was nothing in the way when I recorded it. This is the most exciting time of my life.
But you've made great music before now. Why didn't you speak up?
I hate to do interviews because I can sound arrogant. I'm trying to speak the truth as I see it. Now I feel like doing a speaking tour. When I met with journalists and industry people in Japan, they talked to me with utmost respect.
You seem very eager to promote Emancipation.
I'm even doing my own commercials, like a used-car salesman.
In the song "Emancipation," you say you'd "rather sing with a bit more harmony." I presume you're referring to your contract with Warner Bros. If it was so oppressive, why did you sign with Warner again in 1992?
It was fine for awhile, then it didn't work. When I first got into it, there was tour support; (label executives) came to the studio. That stopped. I was a slave to their process, and it's not a good process to put artists in. Artists are our creative flowers. You don't run them out of the business or break their spirit or tell them how to create.
You lost a lot of money getting out of that contract, didn't you?
Yeah, about $10 million up front for each album. But I had to get out.
Warner balked at your intention to release records frequently and argued that too much product creates a glut and hampers its efforts to promote your music and sustain a public interest in it. Why couldn't you agree to stagger the releases further apart?
It's hard to hear this music played complete in my head and not be able to get it out. If I don't get it out, it won't exist on earth. I can't ignore what I hear in my head. They were like the king in Amadeus, telling Mozart his music has too many notes. Please. You can't say or do much in just 10 songs, especially when you're talking about someone who can play a lot of styles. Emancipation is what Sign O' The Times was supposed to be. I delivered three CDs for Sign O' The Times. Because the people at Warner were tired, they came up with reasons why I should be tired too. I don't know if it's their place to talk me into or out of things.
You don't agree in principle that there's too much music out there?
There's not too much music. That's censorship. But a lot of the so-called great new innovators are deconstructing music.
Were you ever frustrated to the point of wanting to quit?
I asked myself if I could stay in this business. I couldn't stay and play by their rules, because I've always been honest in my music. But I never lost hope. I was disappointed to see the things that mattered to people in the end. When we got down to the wire, people started saying what they meant. They think of artists as children, not men and women capable of running affairs.
You scrawled the word "SLAVE" on your cheek, and it was apparent you were angry and bitter for a time.
I wrote "slave" on my face to remind them in meetings that I know what time it is. They put ceilings on us so we can only go so far in our experiences. If we let them stop us, we ARE slaves. A lot of artists are manufactured but that doesn't work for me.
You seem more mellow on the issue now. How did you get past the resentment?
When I could see clearer, I became less bitter. I didn't have anyone to be angry at. I started to look at Warner Bros. as my ally. I started to care about them as human beings.
So ultimately, the struggle was a positive experience.
Yes, once I just started focusing on the way out of the box. I designed that box to teach myself something.
Most musicians crave success and acceptance, yet they uniformly despise, or pretend to despise, the machinery that helps them get there.
Artists don't like business. We like being successful and sharing an experience with an audience. In Mozart's time, word of mouth built an audience. People found him and heard him play. Then someone came along and said, "We can sell this experience." Right there, you got trouble. Music comes from the spirit, but where does the guy selling music come from?
In hindsight, do you see any drawbacks in leaving Warner?
I could have stayed longer and negotiated to get my masters back. That became less important than being here today. Emancipation is my first record. My name will mean this body of work, not what came before.
Didn't you benefit from the label's expertise in nonmusical areas, like advertising, marketing, radio promotion?
The audience is going to be my record company. And the deejays and the retailers.
And what about your arrangement with EMI (which will distribute and market 's output on his NPG label)?
It's not an "arrangement." I'm not signed up with anybody. Why would I hook up with the monolith I emancipated myself from?
So how does this nonarrangement differ from conventional contracts?
I own my masters. I can do my own marketing. I can price records. That's important. Emancipation will sell for the price of a double CD, a lot of bang for your buck. Artists can stay in the system if they want, but there's an alternative.
Despite your protracted battle with Warner, Emancipation has a celebratory feel to it.
There's an overall tone of joy and exhilaration. In the angry songs, I found a sense of closure. I don't mind going into that dark corner to seek answers, but you gotta get out before the spiderwebs grow on you.
Like earlier albums, there's an intriguing mingling of sex and spirituality. You seem simultaneously drawn to the carnal and the sacred. Can you explain that?
If there were no shadows, we wouldn't know where the light was. We all want to be spiritually light, to walk on water. It's just a metaphor. Jesus could do it because he was free of sin. On the other hand, we have too much cholesterol. (Laughs)
So, why does the name Prince no longer fit you?
My name's been dragged through a lot of stuff, true and untrue. And I don't own Prince's master tapes. Besides, Prince was never a name I chose. My father gave me that name because he wanted his son to be greater than himself.
This entire building seems much more festive and friendly than when I first saw it eight years ago. There are white clouds on blue walls, astrological symbols in the carpet, a huge photo of your wife. Is this the result of Mayte's influence?
Yes. When I met her, I started examining everything around me. Who do I want to be and what do I want to represent? When I opened Paisley Park, I was so excited to have my own studio that I just started recording and didn't come out for 20 years. After I got married, I finally looked at the place.
Until recently, you never really seemed inclined toward monogamy. What happened?
Mayte changed everything. She was my friend and my sister for years. She's the one person who never showed any malice toward anyone. Commitment is a complex thing. If you can't completely love one other person, how can you learn to love everyone? I believe we're here to get along and love each other. Everyone has a higher self they aspire to be. We want to be better, braver, stronger. You find that in love and commitment. I hear about these self-help programs people go into. It's all about feeding their ego. All that goes away when you commit to someone.
Everyone is talking about your baby except you. Why not?
Mayte and I decided it's cool to talk about ourselves. My child hasn't told me it's all right to talk. I care much more about my child than about what anyone says about me.
Do you want more kids?
Yes! The more the merrier. My child will have so much fun, all the fun I never had as a child.
How would you sum up your experiences in 1996?
I don't regret anything. I can't be lied to anymore.