Prince: A dirty mind comes clean

Andy Schwartz

Who is the real Prince, anyway? The flashy, high-energy black pop star with the Stratocaster wearing Iggy Pop's underwear? Or the pleasant, soft-spoken fellow who slumps in this hotel room armchair. in a wrinkled raincoat and a "Rude Boy" button? They're one and the same. of course, and  they've combined to give us Dirty Mind, a high-ranking (ate entry among the very best records of 1980. which continues to pick up enthusiastic listeners several months after its initial release.

You've heard of puppy love? Well. Dirty Mind is an album of puppy sex. Prince's lilting falsetto can make even the most taboo practices sound like good clean teenage fun. while his simple. carefully Grafted rhythm tracks and pulsating guitar lines ebb and flow in endlessly listenable loops of sound. Is Prince the black new wave we've been waiting for? Well. he's part of it. . .

New York Rocker: I know something about your early bands [see "Prince: Local Color"]. But I'm curious to know how you learned your way around the studio well enough to make these albums all by yourself.

Prince: I basically learned with two tape recorders, two cassette recorders. That taught me how to mix harmonies and run harmonies together, to play along with myself.

Did music run in your family?

Prince: Well. my father was a musician, he headed up his own big band, playing around the Midwest and stuff. and my mother sang for the band. He left when I was seven, so music left with him. But he did leave his piano, and that's when I started learning how to play.

NYR: Was your mother supportive of your musical aspirations?

Prince: (Shakes head "No.") She wanted me to go to school, go to college – she sent me to a bunch of different schools. I always had a pretty high academic level. I guess. . . She always tried to send me to the best schools, but that was pretty much my second interest. I didn't really care about that as much as I did about playing. I think music is what broke her and my father up. and I don't think she wanted that for me. . . Musicians, depending on how serious they are, they're really moody. Sometimes they need a lotta space, they want everything just right sometimes, y'know. My father was a great deal like that. and my mother didn't give him a lotta space. She wanted a husband per se.

NYR: What kind of "space" do you need to make music, to write songs?

It used to be I'd have to be totally isolated to write things, because a lotta things I wrote concerned different visions and dreams and fantasies I had. But lately I have to be around people, J have to see different places and stuff like that. just walk through life, I guess.. .You know. it's interesting – if I try to get myself away from being a musician and just, you know, live life. I can write much better. Different things happen, you run into different relationships...

NYR: I guess that's why so many performers seem to do their best work at the earliest stage of their careers, before they become "professional musicians" working on a schedule set by the record company and the demands of an audience. Your input changes, your sources change.

Prince: That's ready true. This last album [Dirty Mind], I wasn't even working during the time it was done— I wasn't sure this was what I really wanted to do. When I'm not touring, I like to just hang.

NYR: When you have the time, are you a fan of music? Do you listen to a lot of records,  buy a lot of records?

Prince: No. I just get what Warner Bros. sends me, but I don't listen to very much.

NYR: Are there any records of the last few months or year that struck you as particularly exciting or special?

Prince: I wish there was. but I guess if there were we wouldn't be in the slump we are in the music business.

NYR: Do you think that's the problem? That the music itself isn't bringing people into record stores and concerts the way it once did?

Prince: Yeah. I think they're getting hip to the fact that musicians are becoming too business-oriented, too much into the money aspect of it. It's turned so commercial – it's beginning to get like Saran Wrap. and people are getting hip to it. And until it gets back to the street, I don't think it's gonna pick up.

NYR: Do you think too many musicians are sitting down to write songs purely on the basis of what radio will play and what they think will self?

Exactly. Owen [Husney, his first manager] used to tell me a lotta times that when he was growing up there weren't realty fads, y'know, musical fads, fashion fads, things like that. That when he was coming up. people were trying to do something different from the next cat. I guess that's probably how pyschedelic music came into being. because everybody was trying to be so out and crazy, it just went overboard. But I think that's the way to be. because it's coming from inside instead of "okay. this is what's happening and I'm gonna do this."

NYR: You were 17 years old. had no band as such, and didn't live in a major music-biz-city. How did you get signed?

Prince: See. I had originally gone to New York. and I got two offers when I came out here to live with my sister. The only problem there was I didn't have a cat in there fighting for me, to get me artistic control over the production end of it. Owen was convinced that no one could produce a record of mine but me. I don't know whether I really agreed with him at the time, but I know I believed in his gusto, in his belief. I didn't know if I was old enough or smart enough—it sounded like a big term, y'know. "producer" of an album. I didn't know it didn't really mean that much at all.

NYR: Do you think the producer is an overrated figure in music today?

Prince: Well, a lotta records today are producer's records. To me it doesn't mean anything, because I don't believe in any act, really, which has to rely on a producer. What happens if the cat dies? There you go, there goes your sound—you obviously didn't have one. The producer bakes the whole cake. . .  and that's probably why I don't listen to music. The artist is singing songs he didn't even write. . .

NYR: This tour and this album may change things, but your records and concert tickets are still bought mostly by black people. How do you feel about the restrictions, particularly in radio, on musicians who happen to be black-as opposed to musicians whose sound can be more easily classified as "disco" or "R&B" or "funk"? Like this Village Voice article asks. "Will rock stations in 1981 play Prince like they played Jimi Hendrix and Sty Stone in 1971?"

Prince: Well. I don't know, music has changed so much since then. lt's gotten pretty well segregated now. . . I think its gonna come from the people, it's gonna be whatever they wanna hear and how much support they put behind what I do. With the jocks coming to check us out — I mean. it's gotta be a matter of taste, not doing it because they did it in 1971. but because they wanna do it and they feel it fits. I can sense the restrictions that come up, as far as our concerts and radio is concerned, but it doesn't realty bother me. People are gonna come and see what they want they'll buy what they want — I don't basically worry about it too much.

The record's not doing phenomenally welt sales-wise. and airplay is pretty minimal, so I don't worry about it much. What money is made usually goes back into our stage show and to support everybody. You gotta do what you feel and hope it gets to as many people as it can.

Are you much involved with the business side of things? Do you watch the charts, caff up the promotion men, this kind of thing?

Prince: Well. when my first album came out I used to watch the charts, but ( gave up on it after that. It became so. . . see, you can look at the charts and you know for a fact that your record is better than some of the things that are over you. But I could look at it objectively and realize why those records were ahead of mine, that it's all basically business politics . . . I just now started to meet some of the radio guys and the promo people. Originally I didn't want to do any of that, because it was basically a stroking game and I didn't want to get involved in it at all. Now that people have seen us, though, I think they're genuinely into it and I don't mind meeting people who really dig us, rather than "well, this cat gave me a
television set so I'm gonna play his jam, and it's been nice meeting you."

NYR: How about your own friends and acquaintances at home? Can you perceive a change in the way they relate to you now that you're a "rock star?"

People that know me basically stayed the same – we'll be friends to the end, I guess. People that don't know me – they pop out of everywhere now, all these so-called friends who remember me back in school. A lot of people say that the person who goes through it all changes, but I don't think that's true. I think it's everyone else who changes, because they expect certain things from you and they'll approach you in a different manner. As far as moving is concerned – I can't stand L.A., so I would never move there. . . Every time I have to go out there, I dread it. It's that attitude of everybody – I lose sight of what I'm doing when I'm there, it's like a dream factory. . . . They spend so much money! They make it and spend it, and for crazy reasons . . . 

NYR: You stand to make a lot of money someday. What would you do with it if you had it?

Prince: I'd give a lot of it away. Every once in a while now. I get some money that's a little extra, and I just give it away.

NYR: To friends, strangers, charity?

Prince: Friends, strangers—no charities. I've yet to find one that I really felt strong enough about. But friends, strangers—I just get personal satisfaction out of seeing people happy.

We talked earlier about the way performers get caught up in the demands of the business and how it effects their creative output. Does songwriting come less easily to you now? Do you feel yourself caught in a kind of rat race?

Prince:  That happens more now. yeah. But as far as my songwriting is concerned, it's kind of going backwards. See. it's interesting-another reason I think I didn't get the "big deal" when I first came to New York, when I was younger, was because I was writing things that a cat with ten albums would have out, like seven-minute laments that were. y'know, gone. I wrote like I was rich, like I had been everywhere and seen everything and been with every woman in the world. But I liked that. I always liked fantasy and fiction – I used to write stories when I was younger. Like "Baby." from the first album – that was one of the songs that really blew Warner Bros. away. 'cause it was about a cat getting a girl pregnant. . .

Now I like to just wait, to get in a different frame of mind, to get off the road. Because the only thing you can write on the road is about the concerts or about women. Other than that. you're in your hotel room, and all you can concern yourself with is the album you just did and how to make it best come across to people. When I'm off the road. then I lead my life.

NYR: How about your stage show? Like don't you think you look a little silly to some people when you're up there in a jockstrap?

Maybe to people who only read about it. but I think the people who come to see it already expect it and wanna get into that [i.e. his underpants]. I've gotten a lot of criticism from outsiders, but once they see the show they understand why I wear what I wear. The show's real athletic and we run around a lot. and I have to be real comfortable. The decision was left up to me. and when I thought about what I was most comfortabte in. its what I sleep in.. .1 just can*t stand clothes.

NYR: What comes first in the making of your records. Where do you start?

Hmmm. . . Strange as it may sound, this last album, a lot of it was done right there on the spot, writing and recording. That's how a tot of the stranger tines came out . . . Most of the stuff was written on  guitar, that's why the album is pretty guitar-oriented. I'd just got that real raggedy guitar and it sounded real coot to me. But like I said. I guess (hats where the lines came from. the swearing and like that - it's basically what I was feeling at the time.

See, this album, it was all supposed to be demo tapes, that's what they started out to be. The previous albums were done in California. where they have better studios – I'd never wanted to do an album in Minneapolis. So they were demos. and I brought them out to the Coast and played them for the management and the record company. They said. "The sound of it is fine. The songs we ain't so sure about. We can't get this on the radio. It's not like your last album at all." And I'm going, "But its like me. More so than the last album, much more so than the first one." We went back and forth, and they finally released it...

I don't know how anybody could spend a million dollars on an album. / couldn't take that long to make a record - if I did, it would be. like. a ten-album set. My album took about twelve days for the tracks, and about a week and a half for mixing. If you really listen to it. you'll hear that a tot of the harmonies aren't perfect, that I was just singing whatever I felt. playing whatever I felt. The rhythm tracks I kept pretty basic. I didn't try a lotta fancy stuff so I didn't have to go back and do things over.

NYR: Where do you go from here?

Prince: Well, radio or no radio, we're just gonna keep playing until enough people hear us. that's all. I don't care if it sells so much as I want people to understand it. to give them the chance to see and hear it. Just from talking to kids on the street and people I meet – a lotta people didn't even know the songs, you could tell 'cause they weren't singing along, but we had their attention. They never turned away. That means more to me than them running out and buying. I just want them to listen, that's all.