The Revolution's Wendy Melvoin Talks Grieving for Prince, Spring Tour

"No one will ever be Prince, and none of us in the band are going to try and be him," guitarist says of reunited group's upcoming live shows

The Revolution's Wendy Melvoin looks back to the shock of Prince's death and ahead to the band's upcoming tour celebrating the late icon. Credit: Markus Akre for Rolling Stone

For years, Prince fans were hoping the Revolution, the band that backed him for much of his Eighties heyday, would reunite for one more tour. Next month, that moment will arrive – but, of course, without Prince. On April 21th, on the first anniversary of his death, the five members of the Revolution – guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink, bassist Brown Mark, and drummer Bobby Z. – will launch a tour of their own. Initially set to only run two weeks, the band has proven enough of a draw that an additional two months of shows – ending in Seattle on July 15th – were announced today. The five musicians reconvened last September for three shows at Minneapolis' First Avenue club. But as Melvoin now says, they had to come to terms with his death and their abilities before considering a full-on tour.

What do you remember about Prince's death last year?
Everything came to a screeching halt. We all kind of were like, "Shit – oh, God, why, what, what?" It was just complete and total cognitive dissonance. Maybe two days after he died we [the Revolution] were all in Minneapolis trying to figure out what to do. We were sitting privately in a hotel room saying, "Oh, my God, what do we do, what does this mean?" Everybody tries to find meaning in a really profound death: "Why did it happen now?" or "Why that cat?" or "How come that way?" We sat in a room going, "What do we do?" Literally there were fans gathering on the streets right below the hotel room, across the street at First Avenue.

At that very moment, we said, "We need to grieve with them too, but we don't know how to do it." We made this little YouTube video that said, "We'll be back. We're here and we want to come to you – we want to play." It was a spur-of-the-moment thing to find a sense of healing. But then we had to stick to it! And then it was a question of, "Oh, God, when and how?"

Were there any immediate offers?
We were getting calls immediately: "Come on The Tonight Show and play with this person and that person and cry with us on 'Purple Rain.'" And we just couldn't do it. Lisa and I had been asked a few times to join in with other artists, very famous artists to play one of his songs, and Lisa and I said, "We can't. We can't play his music with you before we've played it with the Revolution." It's just impossible. We just waited and we kept quiet and just watched and tried to be very respectful of what his family's been going through and what his estate's going through. We were trying to get a grip of how confusing his loss has been to all of us. What does it mean that it's gone?

Why didn't the Revolution appear at the Prince tribute show last fall in Minneapolis?
You know, we were asked to do it. Lisa and I were smack-dab in the middle of delivering music to Shades of Blue. [Over the years, the two have composed music for that and other series, including Nurse Jackie and Heroes.] The date for that [tribute] show changed many, many times. So when that show came up, we were asked, but it was impossible for us to move the schedule. We work for the Man, you know what I mean? You don't deliver your music on time, you can get fired. So we were just like, "Nope, can't do it."

But since those [First Avenue] shows, the band has been continually talking and trying to figure out: Do we want to take this to a couple other places? "Well, I don't know, I don't know. …" And then we started just testing the waters, like, is there interest out there? Would people want see [the Revolution on tour without Prince]? Are we kidding ourselves? Is this like Sha Na Na getting back together?

But then there was sort of this "a-ha!" moment again, when we were all together and looked at each other and were like, "Oh, my God, the five of us are alive, we're still playing, and we're still a band. Let's try and figure out a way to give a sense of what it meant to be in his band to these fans. Let's go out and do some shows. Let's just do it." We got six shows planned and they went on sale and to my surprise – not to Mark or Bobby, but to my surprise – I was like, "Oh, my God, people bought tickets – holy shit." I mean, we're not going to do stadiums, but it'll be nice to do some bigger clubs and just go out there and have a little fun.

Who's going to be singing?
Well, that's the thing. Everybody keeps saying, "Well, why are you doing it? Who's going to sing? Who's going to be Prince? Who's going to be the centerpiece?" All right, let's break this down: No one. No one's going to be Prince. No one will ever be Prince, and none of us in the band are going to try and be him. You can't. It's just not going to happen.

So what was your solution?
All this is all fluid right now. But the plan today – and it's changeable – is we only perform songs that don't distance us as the band. So in other words, if we perform "Darling Nikki," none of us are going to sing it. We're going to have someone come out and do it. Wherever we go, there's going to be an artist who loved him deeply and they can come up and sing that song. But the other tracks that were specifically geared around a band – say, "Let's Go Crazy" or "Controversy," or songs that have more like group vocals – we're going to [sing them]. We're also going to do some of the songs that didn't call for a lot of his calisthenics or his screaming. There's no one who could do that. No one.

What do you mean by other artists?
If, say, D'Angelo wants to come out and sing, I don't know, "Sister," he can go ahead and do that. That would be something that would make sense. But none of us are going to do it. We'll play the songs, there's no question about it, but you're going to see us doing things more like "Girls and Boys," "Love or $" [the B side of "Kiss"]. There's a massive catalogue of what we can perform. Most of it is the big hits, and I'm remiss to think that people are going to be bummed because they're going to be hearing like booby-prize songs. I don't think that's going to happen. And people who are saying, "Who's going sing 'Purple Rain'?" Fuck, we just ... Once again, let's break this down. Why doesn't everybody in the audience sing it? We'll play it, we'll put a couple microphones out there, and you sing it! That song is bigger than any of us now. It's a group vocal. Everybody sing it.

The whole point of it is for us to be out there and give all of us and the fans just a sense to kind to reckon with this – and, at the same time, have some fun. Those were really important times for him, and they were really important times for us. And like I said, we're alive and physically capable of doing it without seeming like total sad-sack old people. We can go out there and give a great show. So we're going to try it. There are going to be haters. I don't really care. It's really not about that. You still want to come? It's up to you.

Do you feel like you've come to terms with his death and the circumstances?
No. No. I have a deep empathy and compassion for the pain he was in, yes. And do I understand how something tragic like that could happen? Yes. I lost my brother to something similar. [Jonathan Melvoin, then in Smashing Pumpkins, died of a heroin overdose in 1996.] And I have many friends that have had serious problems with physical pain and, oops, something happens, right? So that part I understand.

But when I reminisce or become nostalgic or sentimental, that brick wall of absolutism hits me smack in the face, and it's an incredibly painful feeling. When you think about the fact that someone is never going to be on your doorstep again, it's ridiculous.

In your mind, how different were the Revolution from his later bands?
We're not the most thrash-y musicians he had. After we broke up, he had guys that were, like, notating their parts. We're just not that. We're scrappy. We were a band. Bobby says it all the time: "We were the last band Prince was ever in."