Being able to improvise is a prerequisite for playing in a band with Prince. The music icon never performs the same show twice, and is even known to deviate from his rehearsed set list. So his backing musicians have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Guitarist Donna Grantis, drummer Hannah Ford Welton and bassist Ida Nielsen, who form Prince’s new female band, 3RDEYEGIRL, have learned to read his cues.
“A big part of playing with Prince is to know all his material,” Grantis tells Yahoo Music during a telephone interview with the band. “He likes to switch it up. He might go apart from the set list we have. We have to pay attention. If he wants to stop, he might start something else. He’s a great arranger, master of arranging songs on the spot.”
Having a background in jazz prepared the ladies for such spontaneity. “What’s really cool about this is the girls and I came into this camp with years of training and studying, more specifically jazz,” Grantis explains. “We all studied jazz for quite sometime. It is really a genre where you put your improv skills to the test. It’s like learning how to speak to other musicians in the form of music.”
Clearly, 3RDEYEGIRL’s ability to catch on quickly and master their instruments impressed the legendary soul rocker. On Tuesday, Prince releases two new albums, a solo set, Art Official Age, and PlectrumElectrum, 3RDEYEGIRL’s debut full length.
Prince doesn’t just expect 3RDEYEGIRL to quickly shift gears on stage. Though he writes the songs, he solicits their input during the recording process. “When he brings a song in to the three of us, he’ll tell us what the chords are, but, in general, he’s looking for us to arrange it,” Grantis shares. “He wants to hear [what I can do on guitar], he wants to hear Hannah add a real cool drum groove, and the same with Ida playing a super funky bass line.”
The PlectrumElectrum title track is a testament to Prince’s support of their contributions. Grantis originally wrote the song for her former band in Canada. It got her an audition in the group. When Welton and her husband found a YouTube video of Grantis playing the song at a festival, they showed it to Prince and he said to call her.
Each of the musicians ultimately received a call to work with Prince. Nielson joined Prince’s New Power Generation in 2010, Grantis came on board during the summer of 2012, and Welton in November that same year.
Though they all admit to being nervous about their first Prince meeting and jam session at his Paisley Park studio, they describe him as down to earth. Nielson, who said it had always been her dream to play with Prince, says he quickly made her comfortable. “When he walked in, he was just being super nice, asking me about my bass, what kind of bass, just making me go into a bit of nerd mode,” Nielsen said. “He made me at [ease] very quickly. It was just the two of us, just free jamming for like 20 minutes.”
Grantis, Welton and Nielsen debunk naysayers who doubt that women musicians can rock as hard as men as evidenced on the PlectrumElectrum songs released thus far. “PretzelBodyLogic” knocks with hard rock electric guitars, humming bass and smashing drums. “WhiteCaps” is a sweet rhythmic, rock and soul ballad.
“We really want to get to a place where people are looking and saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s a female band,'” Welton explains. “When you look at a group of guys playing, you don’t say, ‘It’s an awesome male band.’ There’s no reason to state the obvious when you see a female bad. It’s a little more rare, but when you close your eyes and listen to the music, you can’t tell. It should always go back to the art of music and love of music.”