“You don’t miss a kiss until the lips are gone.” That’s how Bootsy Collins describes making music by himself, ever since Covid-19 forced him and the musicians he wishes he could jam with into quarantine. “I think we took for granted the freedom that we had to be together and do things together,” he says. “I think that taking that away for now made everybody realize what we’ve been missing.”
That longing to collaborate is what fueled Collins during the creation of his upcoming new album, The Power of the One, which will come out digitally and on CD on October 23rd and on vinyl in December. He estimates he was almost halfway done with tracking the record in March when shutdowns forced him out of the studio and into what he has dubbed “Boot-Cave Studios,” his own home-recording setup.
In spite of the Great Pause, he managed to line up a typically head-turning list of talented collaborators for the outing, including Snoop Dogg, bassist Larry Graham, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, Bootsy’s onetime James Brown bandmate Christian McBride, bassist Victor Wooten, Dr. Cornel West (who calls Collins an “artistic genius”) and many others. Some of the musicians worked long-distance with Collins to contribute their parts.
“Starting off like that [in quarantine], I probably would have been doomed,” Collins tells Rolling Stone. “But I think by having rough cuts of a lot of the songs helped keep the groove and keepin’ on the one.”
The concept of “the one” has been a fixture of Collins’ music for 50 years now, going back to his earliest days playing in James Brown’s band. He demonstrates “the one,” as Brown taught it to him, in musical terms on “Funk Formula 1,” the intro to The Power of the One, as he highlights the first beat of every measure, but the idea of “the one” has become much more significant to him in recent years.
“I’ve started to realize ‘the one’ is bigger than musical terms,” he says. “It means all of us collectively together, we’re equal. We are the one. We’re the ones that take care of this planet. We’re the ones that make the music and invent stuff. And regardless of our differences, we all are still on this mothership, which is the Earth. It’s one planet, and we’re all on it. There’s millions of us on the planet, but we’re all one people. If we go at it that way, we can do anything. That’s the power of the one.”
Collins is teasing the album with a video for the title track. It has breakdancing robots, socially distanced cameos by the many musicians who collaborated with Collins on it (including George Benson), and of course plenty of the starry-eyed lead Funkateer himself, dancing in his top hat, flying around in his own personal mothership and jamming in a band of Bootsys.
Even in quarantine and the confusion that has surrounded it, Collins’ lightheartedness — his sheer Bootsyness — always shines through. “I always rely on that kid that’s in me,” he says. “I never want to lose that guy.” Bootsy’s fun side gets the spotlight on several tracks, including “Bootsy Off Broadway,” a jazzy jam that feels like a lounge revue, “Funktropolis,” a sci-fi fantasy about the ability to upload your brain, and “WantMe2Stay,” his cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s bass-grooving hit “If You Want Me to Stay.” Collins, who produced, cowrote, and arranged the album, shares the spotlight on each track with a diverse group of guests. Listening to it, it sounds more like a get-together than something made during a shutdown.
Collins plans on keeping the party going with a livestream that will air the day the record comes out. Tickets for Bootsy Collins’ Album Release Galactic Birthday Bash, which is set for October 23rd at 9 p.m. ET, are available on Bootsy’s website.
“This [pandemic] is a bad thing overall — with taking lives and everything — but at the same time I think we are all learning new lessons on how to survive through it, and at the same time make something positive,” Collins says. “That’s the way I look at this record. It wasn’t a comfort zone where you could record with the band and have it your own way; you’ve got to really work through this, and you’ve got to have some faith and hope in other people rather than just yourself. We all built off of that [on this album], and we should be better for it.”