Peter Willis from UK’s newspaper The Mirror had an interview with performer and producer Prince. Prince makes a remarkable statement: The Internet’s completely over! Read the entire interview:
My audience with Prince has taken a bizarre downward turn. I’m trying to interview the rock legend but he’s more interested in an impromptu jam session on the stage of his private concert hall – with me on drums. We’re two minutes into Beatles classic Come Together and I’m getting into my stride when I become aware that Prince is staring across at me and wincing.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” he shouts, slamming his hand down on his purple grand piano. “Have you ever seen The Apprentice on TV? Cos You’re fired!” I protest. Let’s take it from the top again, I suggest. But too late. I’ve blown it. Still, there can’t be many people who’ve been hired and fired by Prince, all in the space of a few minutes.
My humiliation came at the end of an extraordinary day in which I was given a rare insight into the very private world of one of the greatest rock stars on the planet. A living legend who has sold more than 100 million albums over 30 years.
Prince agreed to his first British newspaper interview for 10 years before his eagerly anticipated new album 20TEN which, in the biggest music giveaway of the year, will be released free in the UK only in the Daily Mirror this Saturday. The interview almost doesn’t happen. Then it’s on as long as I can meet him the very next day at his home town of Minneapolis in the US Midwest (and I’m ordered not to bring a camera, mobile phone or tape recorder).
After a transatlantic dash I arrive at the hotel to find Shelby, one of Prince’s backing singers, waiting to drive me down the road to his Paisley Park base – a name that’s as synonymous with Prince as Neverland was with Michael Jackson. I’d envisaged a lavish purple palace at the end of a winding lane, but it turns out to be a huge white 70,000 square foot building, more like an industrial complex, on a busy main road. Shelby shows me into a room like a 50s diner and, before I have had chance to sit down, Prince strides in, beaming, with hand outstretched. I’m amazed. Where is the superstar entourage – burly security, manic PRs and personal assistants?
“Hi,” he says, “I’m so glad you could come.” His voice is deeper than I expected, he’s certainly small (5ft 2in at most), looks almost half his age (52), and is dressed immaculately, if oddly, in white silk trousers, flouncy green silk shirt, an ivory tunic and white pumps (which, I suspect, are stacked). “You must come and listen to the album,” he says. “I hope you like it. It’s great that it will be free to readers of your newspaper. I really believe in finding new ways to distribute my music.”
He explains that he decided the album will be released in CD format only in the Mirror. There’ll be no downloads anywhere in the world because of his ongoing battles against internet abuses. Unlike most other rock stars, he has banned YouTube and iTunes from using any of his music and has even closed down his own official website. He says: “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”
“The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. “They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”
Then he leads me to his recording studio and urges me to sit in his leather swivel chair at the enormous mixing desk. Wow! I’ve finally arrived at the epicentre of Prince’s world – the scene of fabled all-night-long sessions in which he apparently plays up to 27 instruments.
This is where the genius behind classics such as Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, 1999 and Let’s Go Crazy creates his music. The walls are a vibrant reddish purple, flickering candles line every ledge and the smell of incense fills the air. Prince jabs a few buttons and hidden speakers burst into life with my preview. He looks at me searching for a reaction. All fears that it might be uninspiring vanish as my foot starts tapping. It’s instantly infectious. Amazing. Thankfully it’s a return to his early blistering form which captivated millions of fans around the world and I love it.
“This one’s called Compassion,” says Prince. But as I try to scribble it down he looks aghast, grabs my wrist and pleads: “Please, please. It’s a surprise, don’t spoil it for people.”
So why did you decide to call the album 20TEN? I ask. “I just think it’s a year that really matters,” he says. These are very trying times.” To emphasise the point he chivvies me into another room, switches on the TV and shows me clips from an evangelical TV documentary blaming corporate America for a range of woes from Hurricane Katrina to asthmatic children. He says one problem is that “people, especially young people, don’t have enough God in their lives”.
Prince has been a devout Jehovah’s Witness for more than 10 years. He even has a space set aside which he’s labelled The Knowledge Room, with a library of religious books. Prince talks about his beliefs with missionary zeal, but ask him anything remotely personal and he’s brusque. Question him on his childhood and he says: “I don’t talk about the past.”
On his relationship with his stunning girlfriend Bria Valente, he says: “Self interest is on the back-burner now.” And on late friend/foe Michael Jackson, he simply replies: “Next question.”
Time for another surprise. “Come,” he says, and like an excitable Willy Wonka, he leads me down corridors lined with glinting platinum discs to a lounge where his three backing singers are waiting by an ebony futuristic grand piano.
Prince shows me to a seat in the middle of the room and starts playing a rousing track Act of God from the new album 20TEN… especially for me. Surreal isn’t the word. Then he turns and asks: “So what would you like us to play?” Diamonds And Pearls, I suggest, and they happily grant me a personal command performance.
I thank them profusely, Prince smiles and sends me off for dinner. But as it’s “only” 10pm he suggests we regroup back here in an hour “to party”. As he’s gained a reputation as the Prince of Darkness for not starting gigs until 2am and not leaving clubs until dawn, my expectations run high. When I return later to Prince’s weird HQ, he welcomes me warmly into what appears to be his own private nightclub. It’s lavishly kitted out with velvet circular sofas, a dancefloor and there’s a stairway up to a balcony. On two huge screens, at least 20ft high, there are videos of him performing.
But where are the guests? And where’s the bar? Of course, I remember, he’s a strict teetotal vegan – when one of those backing singers wanders in, offering me a glass of still water. She is closely followed by the other two, carrying trays of sliced melon and raw vegetables, which they place on a long table beside a large Bible. “Help yourself,” says one.
Prince walks in with girlfriend Bria, in a shimmering full-length evening gown like she’s at the Oscars. Twice married and divorced, he has been with the singer, who’s almost half his age, for three years. He produced her first solo album Elixer last year and she has become a Jehovah’s Witness. He introduces her and she looks around and says: “Sorry, I think I’m a little overdressed!”
They pop out for a minute and return, with her proudly holding a food blender filled with a banana smoothie which they pour into glasses for themselves. Just when it couldn’t get any more bizarre, Prince clambers behind video equipment under the stairs and starts screening 1970s clips from the US TV show Soul Train of his music heroes such as Marvin Gaye and Barry White. He urges his guests – all five of us – to dance and the spirited backing singers look like they’re having the time of their lives.
Prince occasionally emerges from under the stairs to study the screens a bit closer. But when I try to talk to him he runs back to his hole, shouting: “Too many questions.” From his agility, it’s clear rumours he needs a double hip op after too much dancing on high heels are unfounded. But he bores quickly of the videos and we’re off again, down more corridors of platinum discs, past iconic guitars and that famous bike from Purple Rain. He’s decided to take us to his private concert hall, which, with a capacity for more than 1,000 people, is awesome. Pride of place is a huge Love Symbol #2 – now the name of the symbol he changed his name to when he fell out with his old record company Warners.
He says: “It’s what I always dreamed of when I was a young musician, playing in the basement. Music is my life. It’s my trade. If I can’t get it out of my head I can’t function. Someone told me they saw me at my peak, but how do they know when my peak is? I think I’m improving all the time. When I listen to my old records I’m ashamed of how I played then.”
He adds earnestly: “Playing electric guitar your whole life does something to you. I’m convinced all that electricity racing through my body made me keep my hair.” Then he orders us all on the stage, saying: “Get yourself an instrument.” Prince sits at his purple piano, the backing singers by their microphones and me on the drums. Only to be found out. It’s only midnight but after firing me Prince clearly decides he can take no more. As he bids me farewell, I cheekily pull out a camera and ask for a picture.
He shakes his head. “It’s much better in the memory bank,” says the star. Then he turns to a backing singer and says: “The picture will make your eyes look red and they will use it really big.” Prince doesn’t need an army of PRs to advise him on his image. For all the time I spent with him he still managed to retain that air of mystery.
Copyright (c) 2010 The Mirror, Peter Willis.