Cream Tease

Prince doesn’t give interviews. “I do albums, I do movies. I don’t do interviews,” he says. But when he finally decided to open the doors of his Minneapolis Paisley Park studios he invited only one British magazine — SKY Magazine. Editor Simon Mills got him to talk . . . eventually

Simon Mills

About 15 miles outside the Minneapolis city limits , along Highway Five, Chanhassen, Minnesota , is one of those fluorescently lit greeting boards that you see dotted around Mid-America. It’s one of those signs you see fronting cheap mote ls, sports auditoriums and small convention cent res. You know t he kind of thing: ’The Milwaukee Marriott Hotel Welcomes The Apple Mac Northwestern Division Annual Meet And Greet”. This one, however, positioned in front of a new cathode ray congregation, Jesus loves your money religious headquarters, is a bizarre warning that you are approaching what Minneapolins refer to as “His Royal Badness Inc”. In haphazard red and black letters it reads: “LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE LITTLE.”

Five miles down the quiet, 50 mph limit freeway, behind thick, soundproofed walls there’s a riot going on. The sound of a single Hammond organ chord fills the air. “Dearly beloved” preaches a solemn slut rocker centre stage , “we are gathered here today to get through this thing called rehearsal : ’ He grabs his phallic, yellow custom guitar roughly by its exquisitely crafted neck and bodyslams into a song called Let ’s Go Crazy. He’s dressed in electric blue, high-waisted trousers with matching blue high-heeled shoes, a bright yellow shirt tied at the midriff over a black lace undervest. On his wrists are silver cuff links that read “Insatiable” and “Horny”. He’s destroying the frets with a plectrum that has “Love God” written on it in gold. “Let’s go crazy!” he screams. “Let’s get nuts.” His head is a mass of afro-sheened , relaxed, crimped and teased curls swept up into a killer comic-book quiff. He calls this “do” The Typhoon. Even his walk has attitude. A kind of pimp-on-a-mission strut. A walk with Cindy Crawford catwalk confidence. It’s a walk with funk and purpose in every stride . Shooting his cuffs and flashing his rings, it’s a fuck-you rock ’n’ roll walk. Every so often he’ll yell out one of those stadium rock crowd-whoop-em-ups : “Chicago!!! Ah can’t hear you!!!” But it’s a hypothetical reference because this isn’t Chicago, it’s the strictly no access sound stage at Paisley Park and there isn’t much of a crowd to whoop up either — only 12 or 15 people. I am one of them. My body is tingling and my mouth is wide open. Prince is playing for me.

In a metropolis of 370,000 people — once described by NYC’s hip Interview magazine as ’the hippest city outside New York” — the kid is living large.

Paisley Park studios is actually quite a politely constructed modern building. Perfectly visible from the freeway, it could easily house a light industrial business or an upmarket furniture warehouse. Arriving around 12 noon, there is no visible security guard and only a basketball hoop in the car park gives a clue to the proprietor of the complex (Prince is of course the Michael Jordan of funk).

Inside the decor is subdued ; industrial grey carpet, white walls and leather sofas and armchairs in calm pastel colours. Gold and platinum albums awarded to Prince and various alter egos like Alexander Nevermind are locked away in glass cabinets, the studio dove, Divinity, coos quietly in a cage festooned with peach ribbons, at the top of the stairs the studio cat (named Paisley, natch) brushes silently past a wall of framed, signed photos from artists like REM and Barry Manilow (!), all of whom have used t he studios since t hey opened in 1987. It’s important to note that, despite its name, Paisley Park is not all “colourful people whose hair on one side is swept back”, or indeed exclusively a Prince facility.

Studio one, for example, is occupied by MC Hammer right now. “It’s a free market, competitive business facility,” stresses Prince’s operations manager. Alan Leeds (brother of ex-Revolution sax player Eric Leeds). “Prince is a tenant. In effect he rents this space from himself : ’ This might explain the slightly restrained architecture . In 1984 Prince paid $450 ,000 for an old metal hangar down in nearby Eden Prairie. As soon as he started rehearsing, neighbours started complaining. ’The first time I went in there,” recalls one record company executive, “the police were in there too. Prince was waking up babies a mile away.”’

Then he moved to Paisley Park. Originally planned to be more of a Paisley Crib, Prince talked of building Russian-style “onion” domes, paisley front and Islamic-style windows.

But his corporate side got the better of him. Now babies can sleep and Prince has his own state-of -the-art playground with twin recording studios, cavernous sound stage , wardrobe dept, tape library and all the other highfalutin’, 24-track shit you won’t find anywhere else.

But forget all that hippy nonsense like “t here aren’t any rules in Paisley Park”. I’d been to ld that there were at least three. 1. Do not mention the titles of any unreleased recordings you mig ht see lying around in the studios or vaults. 2. Do not enter the sound stage where Prince and his band rehearse for tours and shows. 3. Do not photograph him or the mannequin that bears his name.

It’s one o’clock. “Prince isn’t here yet,” says Michael Pagnotta. Prince’s press person. “There was a bit of a party last night. Prince played a benefit for the Special Olympics and then he went on to Glam Slam and then he got a DJ and a system and brought Warren Beatty, Kirstie Alley and Arnold Schwarzenegger back here. He didn’t get home till very late. He’ll be here soon.”

Upstairs to the wardrobe department to look at Prince’s cloth ing. It’s quite clear, from fingering your first off-the-shoulder trouser suit with cut away thigh parts to your last magenta nude body with chrome detailing, that Prince is in touch with his “feminine side” . . .  in the clot hing department at least. The latest thing in Prince couture is the Gangster Glam look; a kind of “Godfather Ill meets Barbarella look”, we are told. Stacia Lang is Prince’s designer. She talks in the kind of flowery, Laura Ashley colour chart vocabulary that turns yellow into “citron”, bright blue to “cobalt” and green to “chartreuse “, “citron” being Prince’s new favourite.

There are boxes of trim, rolls of fabric, racks of costumes and rows of shoes. The shoes are mostly your regular workaday Prince footwear.

High-heeled ankle boots with a zip on the side decorated with the trademark silver sex symbol. They are made in London by The City Cobbler and have special reinforced meta l bits rivetted into the arch so that Prince can bust alI the moves he likes on stage without busting a stiletto. He takes size 39 European (size 6 British), by the way. Stacia gives me the boeuf on Prince’s preferences. “He loves pinstripe. He always has eight buttons on his cuffs and his trousers. His look for the Diamonds And Pearls tour is more subdued. He once told me that some of my designs were ’a little too weird’ for him.” My mind boggles at this last comment.

Has she ever seen Prince in anything more casual, like Levi 501’s and Reeboks? “Well I know he plays basketball,” she answers carefully, “so he must wear sneakers and sports clothing for that. But I have only ever seen him looking immaculate in the clothing we make for him here,” she insists professionally.

Meanwhile, the tiny mannequin with “Prince” stamped on its chest stands pert and silent in the corner next to a more portly dummy which I presume is for New Power Generation soul belter Rosie Gaines. You could fit three Princes into one Rosie. There’s another female one with “Wendy” carefully inked over. There isn’t a mannequin for Michael Bland, the new drummer, who is huge. His vast physique seems to have beaten the Paisley tailors. This is a man who would fail an audition for the Fat Boys on the grounds that he was too fat. Stacia has made him a nice stove pipe hat.

The new Gangster Glam look can be seen in the Gett Off (Thrust Mix) video. Prince is wearing a black nude body with a thick black Alice band hiding his Typhoon do. There’s a roman orgy vibe to t he clip inspired by the Caligula movie. Prince calls his Afrocentric version “Ca “Nig” ua”. Two foxy girls called Diamond and Pearl (aka Robia Lamort and Lori Werner) make their screen debuts in the video. “Is Prince dating one of them?” I ask, as t he funk is pumped up on the boardroom VCR unit and Prince puts his head up Diamond’s skirt. “He’s very ’friendly’ with both of them,” comes the reply. “Which one is he more ’friendly’ with?” “He’s simultaneously ’friendly ’ with both of them.”

MTV have banned the words “ass” and “wet” from their broadcasts while Entertainment Tonight objected to title “23 positions in a one night stand” bit and couldn’t find a 30-second section suitable for primetime family viewing. Business as usual at Paisley Park.

Three pm. Still no Prince.

A freshly pressed CD of the Diamonds And Pearls album is carried in like a case of Krugerrands. The full track listing runs: Thunder/Daddy Pop/Diamonds And Pearls/Cream/Strollin’/Willing And Able /Gett Off/Walk, Don’t Walk/Jughead/Money Don’t Matter 2night/ Push/Insatiable /Live For Love. The highlights are Thunder, a screeching gospel rocker with electric sitars . slammin ’ guitars and Anna Stesia-style synthesisers, the dirty, sexy T.Rex punk funk of Cream, where Prince refers to his dick as a “guitar”, and Gett Off, with crunching rhythm, awkward metal chord changes and x-rated deadpan lyrics like “move your big ass round this way so I can work on that zipper baby, tonight you’re the stars and I’m the big dipper”. The breezy Strollin’ (with a video directed by Spike Lee), Walk Don’t Walk with its honking car horn melody and the persistent rap of Push.

Prince’s business partner, the Jimmy Jam lookalike Gilbert Davison, will tell you that quality is the first prerequisite of a Prince album. “Sales are second here” he says and while it’s clear that Prince is going for the commercial jugular with Diamonds And Pearls (it’s the most contemporary sounding Prince album since Purple Rain with loads of rap and house rhythms) he’s not pulling any punches either. One song, Jughead, is a less than complimentary reference to Prince’s ex-manager Steve Fargnoli, currently being sued by his former client (and vice-versa of course), while two songs are inspired directly by the Gulf crisis. “Prince is a very patriotic guy;’ Pagnott a tells me. “He was very upset by what happened over the national anthem thing with Sinéad O’Connor.” (That’s all Paisley Park chooses to say about the little incident in a car park where Prince allegedly tried to beat up O’Connor.) The album cover will feature a record marketing first with totally unique 3-D “100° hologram” artwork. The cover image shows a barely clothed Prince dripping with mother of pearl, flanked by females Robia and Lori. Move the cover across your field of vision and Robia appears to exhale cigarette smoke while Lori rubs Prince’s chest provocatively. Other Prince projects include a live appearance on MTV’s acoustic MTV Unplugged show, producing/ writing/co-writing tracks for Patti Labelle , Martika, Paula Abdul, Miles Davis, Ingrid Chavez, Eric Leeds and George Clinton. There’s even the possibility of ballet with the New York Joffrey Ballet company and a new rock ’n’ roll comic strip of Prince and the New Power Generation by DC Comics. The story will feature Prince battling his evil alter ego clone, Gemini, against a dark and sinister cityscape which is designed to look like a cross between Gotham City and Minneapolis.

Five pm. The boardroom door opens. Jill Willis, Paisley Park’s executive vice-president, introduces herself. “Prince will see you now,” she says. Following her through the corridors of new power we pass the Purple Rain candy machine through two juggernaut-sized doors and into the vast sound stage where the Gett Off video was filmed, where most of Graffiti Bridge was shot and where Prince and the New Power Generation are rehearsing for their American tour. But this is no jam. This is a full blown, 60k turbo sound system with satellite laser light show, multi-tiered stage, sweeping runways, trampolines and superbad dancers. The fresh Prince in full effect. I sit down on a sofa only a few feet from the stage and check out Prince’s arsenal of guitars standing by a monitor. I’m just checking out the “citron” coloured custom job with its solid gold pick-ups when I hear a voice say “Hi”. It’s Prince. He’s standing next to me with his hands in his pockets. I can see the hairs on his chest. I can see that he’s not wearing any underwear. For a second I don’t know what to say, then I hear Michael Bland, the drummer, hit the snare with that distinctive Paisley Park “thwok! “ sound.

"You seem to have changed the drum sound on the new album . . . “ (terrible first question) “What?” he says quietly, leaning forward on his cobalt heels. I repeat the question. “Oh right, well everybody was using electric drums and computers so we decided to try something different.” His voice is soft and toy-like. as if he took elocution lessons from Mattel. In fact he talks just like he sings, but as soon as we begin our brief conversation I realise talking to Prince is one part verbals to five parts grins.

grimaces and eye rolling .

"No-one else has that drum sound,” I say, trying to sound knowledgeable. “How did you discover it, was it a kind of happy accident?” He looks at me like I’m a real jerk. “No,” he says, “it was no accident. When you’re in the studio you can change the sound of all the drums electronically. That’s all we did.” There’s a long pause. Maybe I blew it already. I notice that the guy from Playboy magazine next to me has a Bible in his leather briefcase. Maybe he’s going to ask Prince to choose his favourite book from a short list of Revelations, Genesis and Corintheans. He decides on a Kitty Kelley-style teaser instead. “Prince, I wanna tell you about the guy I hired my car from at the airport. . .” he begins. I look at Prince. He has an “oh-jeez” sort of expression on his face. The Playboy man goes on. “He said that he loved your music so much that he started to dream about you every night and that his dreams started to get so wild that he had to stop listening to your music. Do you think your music and persona fulfill a fantasy role in the minds of ordinary Americans like him?” There’s another pause. Prince rolls his big eyes and grins. “ I’ll have to get back to you on that one,” he says. I recall a mysterious piece of Paisley vocabulary from the lyric sheet of the new album. “What does ’GANGK’ mean?” “Oh, that’s a word Tony [Prince’s rapper] heard. It means ’dis’, you know ’disrespect’.” I nod, none the wiser for the explanation. There’s an even longer pause. Prince glances toward the stage, looks at me, all sincere, and asks me a question . “Do y’all wanna try my trampoline?” Is he serious? I laugh and wonder whether I should just run over to the stage and sta rt bouncing around. “I like your new guitar.” I say, pointing at the elegant yellow number on the stand . “ Is it your old one painted a different colour?” Another dumb question; someone as cashed-up as Prince doesn’t have to paint his old guitars. He just gets another one made, schmuck-o. “No, I smashed up the old one the last time the Revolution played together. It was very sad,” he replies politely. “This is a brand new one.”

"I hear yellow is your new favourite colour.”

"Yeah, what do you think? Sick, right ?”

"There doesn’t seem to be so much guitar on the new album. Why is that? “ (Now that’s what I call a good, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll question. I’ll bet the guys from Rolling Stone would ask one of the guys from Aerosmith a question like that.)

"Well what about Thunder, the first track on the album?” says Prince, slightly incredulously. Yes, that track is a searing celebration of electronic fretwork I agree. “What about Gett Off, that’s a pretty heavy guitar track,” he says. “And what about Cream, that has a lot of guitar parts too.” “But apart from those songs,” I say, beginning to sound like John Cleese doing the “what have the Romans ever done for us” scene in Life Of Brian. “There is less guitar on Diamonds And Pearls.” “Well, what about Live For Love?” says Prince, starting to laugh. I finally agree that, despite all the rap and house, the new album is quite guitar-heavy.

Next question. “Prince, there’s a track on the Black Album. . .
· Prince interrupts and starts talking like an old man. “Looooong time ago, looooonnnng time ago” he says, grinning “. . . called Dead On It” I go on, “where you seem to be criticising rap music. You seem to have changed your mind now.” “Well, first I never said I didn’t like rap, I just said that the only good rappers were the ones who were ’dead on it’ — the ones who knew what they were talking about. I didn’t used to like all that braggadocio stuff. ’I’m bad, I’m this. I’m that’. Anyway, everybody has the right to change their mind: ’ Tony M chips in: “I sat down with Prince and talked about rap. He said he didn’t like it until guys like Chuck D and KRS-One came on the scene. Then it started to make sense to him.”

"Prince, do you have to work out to get yourself in shape for a tour?” “No” he answers with another grin. But this time it’s a different grin, a “well -not-the -sort-of-work-out-you-do-in-a-gym-anyway” sort of grin.

"And how do the guys in the band keep up with your twenty-four hour lifestyle?” “My special body clock? “ he says. “Oh they keep up. They have to.”

And with that he’s up on stage and the show begins . I clap after every number. Hardly anyone else does. It’s weird. During Partyman Prince’s three male dancers form a pyramid, but on the wrong beat. “The next beat, the next,” yells Prince. But apart from a few little mistakes, the hour-and-a-half set is perfect. A totally awesome version of Purple Rain, an obscenely funky rendition of Gett Off that just about burns rubber in your pants and Baby, I’m A Star camped up to the max.

He lays down his guitar, takes a jokey bow and disappears into th in Minnesota air with his new girlfriend Carmen. “Make sure you get the bit about Dead On It right,” he says.

When he’s gone and the studio is quiet I run up on stage and bounce on the trampoline a few times. Prince talked to me. He played a show for me. I bounced on his trampoline. My life is complete. Amen.