Exclusive: The Artist Portrays Music’s Future
Enigmatic ex-Prince talks of digital music age, new album by Revolution and more via e-mail.

Chris Nelson

The Artist has many years of music behind him, but it’s what has yet to come that seems to most intrigue this quiet king of funk.

In the 21 years since he released his debut album, the guy we used to call Prince has developed a reputation not only as one of funk rock and R&B’s most prolific musicians, but as one of the most technologically savvy and press-shy.

It only made sense, then, that when he agreed last month to do an interview with SonicNet Music News, the enigmatic Artist requested it be conducted via e-mail.

While most musicians have an official webpage or fan-run sites dedicated to his or her work, few have spawned online communities as active as those dedicated to The Artist.

In December, the Minneapolis musician invited about a dozen fans to discontinue their own Artist-related websites to work on a collectively run official page overseen by his Paisley Park organization. Dubbed “Love 4 One Another” (www.love4oneanother.com), the site includes not only exclusive live and studio recordings, but video clips, news and opinion, plus links to charity efforts and essays on such topics as racism and vegetarianism.

Underlying it all is the music. After a public break with Warner Bros. Records in 1995, The Artist began issuing work on his own NPG Records at a dizzying pace. Last year’s four-CD Crystal Ball was followed quickly by Newpower Soul, recorded with his band the New Power Generation and featuring “Push It Up"

And in February, he released 1999: The New Master, seven remixes of his 1983 hit single “1999"

With each new disc, The Artist, 40, has sounded the call for musicians to gain ownership of their master recordings.

While he no longer records for Warner Bros., the company still owns the rights to much of the Prince canon, including such groundbreaking albums as 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984) and Sign O’ the Times (1987).

As the millennium approaches, The Artist continues to work with former Sly and the Family Stone member Larry Graham and his band GCS2000, as well as with soul singer Chaka Khan. He is also preparing the release of Roadhouse Garden, a new album of unreleased 1980s recordings with his Purple Rain-era band, the Revolution.

The following is a SonicNet Music News interview with The Artist:

SonicNet: Earlier this year, you launched a revamped version of your official “Love 4 One Another” website with significant input from your fans or “friends.” While a few musicians have hired fans of their music to establish homepages, no one has given as much control of their online presence over to their “friends.” Can you please talk about why you wanted to do that with “Love 4 One Another” and what unique elements they bring to the table?

The Artist: On the site itself—located within the center of the palm logo, there is the word: ONE ... the key 2 control of any kind is the ability 2 submit 2 a higher ideal. In this case the ideal was UNITY. Once we all agreed 2 submit, unity was achieved. As well as their obvious artistic qualities, the members of the collective r seekers of truth and very positive people. They have all agreed 2 allow their screen names 2 serve as the highest reflection of themselves.

SonicNet: One of the many facets of the site is a section called “Into the Light” that contains essays about topics such as vegetarianism, race and religion. What is the artist’s—and The Artist’s—role in promoting discussion about issues of the day?

The Artist: The Artist’s role is 2 speak the truth thru the music. In a world where there is so much disagreement— unity is unique. It just makes good sense 2 eat vegetation that produces seed 2 promote health and well-being. Songs that give musical voice 2 this fact r refreshing. The same principle used in creating the site can b used in regards 2 race and religion as well. It is important 2 focus on what we AGREE on in these crucial times.

SonicNet: The “Fresh Jelly” section of “Love 4 One Another” includes two new songs: “U’re Still The One” and “Madrid 2 Chicago.” What was the inspiration behind these two tracks

The Artist: Mayte [The Artist’s wife] now lives in Spain, and the flight eye have grown accustomed 2 is “Madrid 2 Chicago.” A snapshot of the new house is featured on “Love 4 One Another” in the “Innerview” section The Collective produced recently. “U’re Still the One” is a well-written pop song that begged 4 VOLUME. We gave it that.

SonicNet: Can you tell us when we’ll see the release of Roadhouse Garden? Please describe the sound and vibe of the material on the album. Can you reveal some of the songs to be included?

The Artist: Eye have been allowing 4 the run of Girl Bros. [the 1998 album by Revolution members Wendy & Lisa] b4 the release of the Garden record. It has songs on it that feature The Revolution in a front role, as a band; where songs on Crystal Ball were more recent “bootlegs” with various other musicians. Some song titles include: “Splash,” “All My Dreams” and “In a Dark Room with No Light.” The beauty of r ownership of the master tapes will b felt when one hears the REMIXED newly digitized versions of these classic REVOLUTION songs. A quick sound comparison of 1999: The New Master and the older version strikes at the very heart of the issue of The Creator of the music being the one who dictates its path. This is in accordance with UNIVERSAL LAW.

SonicNet: In the “Freedom” section of your website, you’ve included live sound clips such as a cover of Rose Royce’s 1977 disco hit “Car Wash” and studio cuts such as “Sado-Masochistic Groove.” Can you please discuss the role of the Internet in getting new music out? Do you see it as a tool for undercutting bootleggers? Do you value it for allowing you to release music that would otherwise build up – unheard – in the vaults?

The Artist: The Internet is as powerful as its user. We enjoy the direct relationship it has given us with other members of the ["Love 4 One Another"] Collective who dig the sounds! The freedom eye have by ownership is immense in the light of technological advances that allow me 2 release the BEST sounding versions of these so-called “bootlegs.” As well, we believe that “more is better” when it is something good.

SonicNet: What were your goals for 1999: The New Master? How and why did you decide what types of remixes you wanted?

The Artist: The New Master beautifully serves the principle that we believe so strongly. The majority of the $$$ garnered from all sales go directly 2 the artist or Creator of the work. This allows 4 a profitable year and the opportunity 2 watch LARRY GRAHAM give out $100,000 dollar checks 2 Bonnie Raitt’s Rhythm and Blues Foundation. The currency—this way, is as it should b... A CURRENT, flowing in the direction in which it was meant. Letitgo.

SonicNet: Chuck D of Public Enemy used a line of yours— “If you don’t own the master, then the master owns you” —in the new P.E. cut “Swindler’s Lust.” Like you, he advocates artists gaining full control over their work. He also talks about a new paradigm for musicians, in which they may sell fewer copies of each release, but earn more money with each one because they are working independently of the traditional music industry machinery. Do you see that as a viable vision of the future? Describe, in specific, practical terms, what you think the future will look like for musicians who choose to forego the traditional industry route

The Artist: 1st of all Chuck D is a genius in his own class. Simply and practically put: Creators of the future will rise or fall by their own hand. With access 2 music becoming more and more easy, there will b a more personalized relationship between the listener and speaker. This evolution is inevitable.

SonicNet: On “L4OA” you described a dream in which you approached Madonna for help in gaining control of your master recordings from Warner Bros. Have you ever approached her in real life? Do you intend to, and if so, what will you say?

The Artist: Dreamsrreallife, reallifeisthedream.