Prince Roger Nelson has been called many things. Conventional is not one of them.

J. Freedom du Lac

So it was hardly surprising that when The Man Who Won’t Be “Prince” Anymore finally started talking to the media last year, he decided to do so on HIS terms—which, of course, aren’t much like anybody else’s.

In one-on-one interviews, for instance, he has consistently refused to let journalists use tape recorders; occasionally, the man who granted just two major interviews during the first 18 years of his career, has even disallowed note pads and pens, forcing writers to work from wobbly memory.

And instead of doing the rest of his interviews over the telephone, as most other pop stars do, “The Artist” (as he now wants to be called) conducts his via either fax or e-mail.

What gives?

“My voice has been sold by pirate record companies,” The Artist explains in a brief fax interview.

And he’s not being overly paranoid: Although his mainstream popularity has declined of late, the 39-year-old musical genius is still one of the most popular artists in the shady world of illegal bootlegs, with unauthorized recordings of his live shows, unreleased studio material and, yes, rare recorded interviews fetching top dollar around the globe.

Besides being one of the most controversial, influential, flamboyant and eccentric musicians of the ’80s, Prince was also one of the decade’s biggest pop stars, reeling off a dizzying string of hit singles that included “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret” and “Kiss.”

Featuring sexually explicit lyrics and religious overtones, the songs incorporated elements of pop, psychedelia, rock, funk, soul, gospel, jazz, rap, blues and more. They were always, uncompromisingly PRINCE, as he wrote, arranged, produced, sang and often even played every instrument on his recordings.

He also starred in several films—most notably 1984’s semi-autobiographical “Purple Rain,” whose soundtrack sold 11 million copies in the United States, putting the purple one in an elite pop-star league that included Michael Jackson and Madonna.

None of Prince’s subsequent records sold nearly as well, though, and in 1993, the prolific artist got into a bitter dispute with his longtime label, Warner Bros., over the rate at which they would release his albums. In protest, he replaced his name with an unpronounceable glyph; began appearing with the word “slave” written on his cheek; and, most dramatically, announced that he would no longer record new material.

Last year, The Artist finally got out of his deal with Warner Bros. and released a newly recorded triple-album, “Emancipation,” through EMI. The album was a critical hit, but consumers were largely ambivalent, buying just —-TK—- copies. Now, with EMI having folded, The Artist is on his own—and seemingly happy about it.

His first major post-"Emancipation” proclamation was that he’s going to release a new album completely on his own.

A four-CD set of “bootleg” material titled “Crystal Ball,” the recording is being advertised on The Artist’s official World Wide Web site ( TARGET="_blank") and is being sold solely via the toll-free number (800) NEW-FUNK—(800) 639-3865.

“Crystal Ball” won’t actually be pressed and shipped, though, until 100,000 pre-orders have been placed. So far, more than 70,000 have been received for the $50 set.

In the meantime, the newly married Artist is touring the United States—something he hasn’t done with any real regularity for years. He will make his long-overdue Sacramento debut on Wednesday at Arco Arena.

Before leaving his compound in Minneapolis last week for a show, The Artist took a fax version of the Pop Quiz.

Q: So, how’s life in the free lane going?

A: It’s going.

Q: “Emancipation” was a triple-album containing three hours of music. Did you actually want to include more music, after having been creatively stifled by Warner Bros. for all of those years?

A: No, I was fulfilled creatively, spiritually and FINANCIALLY!

Q: Although the album was a critical hit, people have called “Emancipation” a critical failure. But you actually made more money off “Emancipation” than any album since “Purple Rain,” didn’t you?

A: Please see answer two (above).

Q: In the past, you’ve said that people were always late when they were listening to your music—that you would always be at least one project ahead of the “new album” that they were listening to for the first time. How long will it be before we’re hearing the material you’ve just finished?

A: It’s coming out by Christmas.

Q: There are already samples of tracks off your forthcoming “Crystal Ball” set on the Love 4 One Another Web site. Do you think you’ll ever put whole versions of your newly completed songs on the Internet for people to hear?

A: What, and give the bootleggers a reason to live?!

Q: What about the material you’re recording now? How soon can we expect to hear that?

A: The new things are more complex and won’t be ready until 1999.

Q: Why are you making “Crystal Ball” your second post-Warners release? Many of those songs already are available on bootlegs. Your fans are dying to hear new stuff.

A: One-hundred thousand pre-orders selling for $50 a piece is why!

Q: Of course, it is a pretty revolutionary recording in that it’s only being sold via an 800-number and the Internet, entirely bypassing the record industry as we know it. Will record labels ever become totally irrelevant?

A: In my world, they have.

Q: Warner Bros. is currently having its worst year ever. Do you think that karma has anything to do with that?

A: Ask God.

Q: Obviously, you’re now doing things on your own terms. But what if you didn’t already have the public’s attention? What if it was 1978 again and you were an unknown newcomer who just so happened to know what you now do about the record industry? Would you sign with, say, a Warner Bros., or would you try the do-it-yourself route?

A: No, I would be like Ani DiFranco (a successful, fiercely independent punk-folk artist), whose strength of character I cherish.

Q: Now that you’re an independent artist, do you have as much time as you’d like to go into the studio and work, or do you find yourself spending a lot of time attending to business details?

A: There is a lot less business to attend to this way, because you don’t have to search for your royalty check!

Q: Have you ever found any of the stuff that’s been said or written about you hurtful?

A: Lies are destructive. We try to keep their damage down to a minimum.

Q: What about the jokes people have been making about your name since you changed it? Oprah poked gentle fun at you during your interview with her, but some people haven’t been as nice. Howard Stern, for instance, has called you “The Artist People Formerly Cared About.” How thick is your skin?

A: My bank account, concert grosses and CD sales (via the Internet) prove the jokes to be just that—a joke.

Q: When you first changed your name, you refused to perform songs that you recorded in your days as Prince. But you’re playing them now. Why?

A: To make the statement and to be released from Time Warner, which I was. I play them now because they are good songs.

Q: Do you recognize Prince, circa, say 1978?

A: If what you mean is, Do I recognize my past accomplishments – yes. Every step – a necessary part of the journey.

Q: Would Prince circa 1978 recognize you?

A: Are you a part-time psychologist? Next ... Q: Looking back at the last 20 years, do you think that some of your critics were right—that artists DO have a responsibility in society, after all?

A: Every human being suckin’ up food and air has a responsibility to the universe. There are consequences for refusal to do so.

Q: Have you ever understood why philosophical and religious questioning in pop makes people nervous?

A: Yes—because humans like order and are opposed to change. Everything must change. That is why we are here.

Q: And finally: Is it easier to find God when you’re naked?

A: No, the statement reads—“Seek and ye shall find,” not “Suck and ye shall find.”