Prince Hoped to ‘Redefine Minneapolis Sound’ Before Death
“I don’t know if it will ever come out but it’s one of the most incredible things I ever worked on.”
Nelson also recalls getting a pop song that featured another unidentified female singer. “It had this buildup to a great guitar solo,” he recalls. “When he sent it, he wrote, ‘There’s a long build that I want tension for and then when the guitar solo happens, you know what happens next.'” Nelson laughs. “I don’t know if it will ever come out but it’s one of the most incredible things I ever worked on.”
That song was titled “Pangaea,” and Nelson recalls it was particularly challenging. “It was one of those where you got done with it, and go, ‘Boy, I think he’s going to really like this,'” he says. “And all I got back was a note in all capitals, ‘”PANGAEA” IS MAGNIFICENT.’ That was it. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get at least one more song.'” Nelson laughs.
“Besides the loss I feel personally now, I feel like my creative world has been gutted,” he says. “These songs were big productions and they take a lot of people. We were doing 10 strings multiplied four times. And I was doing the horns, I was doing woodwinds and I was bringing in French horns and in one e-mail, he said, ‘I want harp and timpani and bells and everything. Have fun.’ What artist says that? And what artist can pay for that? What artist can support that?”
Nelson says Prince was always seeking a new sound and new creative input. On another track, “Shades of Umber,” which he says had a “rock opera vibe,” he put together a double-sized horn section more befitting of a jazz ensemble with 10 horns. It’s a sound that Nelson says struck Prince in a big way. “I remember him saying one time – and this supports the fact that he was thinking bigger stuff – ‘Someday I want you to come in here with 30 or 40 of your friends and just see what you can do,'” Nelson says with a big laugh. “I said, ‘OK, great.’ I think that’s what happened with this orchestration stuff. That’s essentially what it became.”
“He just wanted kind of an Earth, Wind and Fire thing. We did horns and strings and it turned out great.”
The last track they worked on together was this past January. “He just wanted kind of an Earth, Wind and Fire thing,” Nelson says. “We did horns and strings and it turned out great. He sent a really nice note about how much airplay it was getting around the studio. I was like, ‘This is gonna be such a wonderful process. What’s gonna come of it is going to be really special.’ And just like that it’s gone. And I’m just stunned. I sit back going, ‘That was it.’ It was a moment in time. I have to appreciate what I had, but he just seemed unstoppable.”
Now Nelson is just hopeful that the music makes it out to people. In the past five years, he estimates he worked on some 35 songs, though a fraction of the work came out. He says Brent Fischer, the son of Prince arranger Clare Fischer, estimates that for every one song Clare made with Prince, 25 are in the artist’s vault. Moreover, Nelson says that some of the things he worked on for Prince were for other artists that Prince was working with. “We did a couple tracks for Rita Ora,” he says. “I think one was for Eryn Allen Kane, who sang on ‘Baltimore.’ We did a song for Ledisi. And of course 3rdEyeGirl.”
With the artist’s estate is still being worked out, the fate of the music in Prince’s fabled vault remains in flux. “I wouldn’t be overly surprised if some old will pops up somewhere,” he says, pointing to Prince’s legal battle with Warner Bros. in the Nineties.
“There’s so much music,” he says. “I just can’t even imagine. … God, I hope some of this comes out.”Following Prince’s death, Minneapolis threw a nonstop, citywide celebration to mourn and honor the musical legend. Watch here.