The Artist

The performer who was once a Prince talks about his career, Patti LaBelle, and the Britney Spears phenom

Tom Sinclair

EW Online: How did rock & roll change the world?

The Artist: Any time truth is recognized, whether it’s in art, music, media, it changes consciousness. When people hear freedom in the music that we record, that’s change. But few people had the creative control that I’ve had right from the beginning, to produce myself and to put out double, triple, even five-record sets.

Is rock finally dead?

Real music—God-given music—won’t fade. Look at Lauryn Hill. I wore her record out. And Jonny Lang—that’s a kid who takes pride in what he does. It has to do with vibrations and God. If you get into God, if you love and respect all things equally, what comes out of you musically will emulate that. A kid with a spiritual foundation can figure out the truth.

Talk about your influences.

Carlos Santana. Jimi Hendrix. James Brown, of course. On piano, I was influenced by my father, who was influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. I like to say I took from the best.

What would you say was Purple Rain’s overall impact?

In some ways, it was more detrimental than good. That’s a very complex question. People’s perception of me changed after that, and it pigeonholed me. I saw kids coming to concerts who screamed just because that’s where the audience screamed in the movie. That’s why I did “Around the World in a Day,” to totally change that. I wanted not to be pigeonholed.

What do you think about the prefabricated-teen-pop phenomenon?

Prefabricated—that’s exactly it. You’ve got to look at who’s in control. Don’t talk bad about Britney Spears, because somebody is doing this [he makes puppeteer gestures] with her. It’s all about the money.

Who best exemplifies the spirit of rock & roll?

Patti LaBelle. I played a show with her, and her keyboard player had just died of cancer. She was wrecked, but she came out and gave her all. A lot of people around her have died of cancer in the past few years, but she keeps on keepin’ on. That’s rock & roll. All this other stuff—pppsheww.

What was the moment when you most hated being a rock & roll performer?

Never. I’ve loved making music and touring from the get-go. It’s kind of what I was made for.