One of the most iconic solo artists of his – or indeed any other – generation, Prince also likes to fade into the background. Through his work with projects such as New Power Generation, the Purple One has demonstrated that he can function as one of the gang, as a voice among equals.
This year, 3RDEYEGIRL have dominated headlines. A series of secret shows led to the release of twin albums – a Prince solo set proper, ‘Art Official Age’ and the full band ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ collection. Of the two, it seemed to be the group release that had the more gristle, the more meat on its bones. Aside from Prince the product of an all-girl line up, this was a classic heavy rock sound, all Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Free working on a funky backbeat.
“Prince found us,” explains bass player Ida Kristine Nielsen. Ida and drummer Hannah Ford were tasked with finding “the best female guitar player that we could find. In the world! So then we set out on the internet and looked and looked and looked – then we came across Donnie.”
As a virtuoso guitarist himself, stepping into any project with Prince is a daunting experience – as Donna Grantis freely admits. “Well, at first I wasn’t sure if [the invitation to join the band] was true. There was a little bit of doubt at first, like ‘Hey, is this real?’ Then I got a phone call and a list of songs to learn, and a flight out to Paisley… So I mean, it’s an absolute dream and honour even to have just been invited to go to Paisley [Park] and jam.”
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Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL perform ‘She’s Always In My Hair’
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A driven, hugely energetic musician, Prince was happy to allow 3RDEYEGIRL to evolve naturally, through the chemistry of the individuals involved. “We never really knew we were supposed to be a band – it just sort of happened,” states Ida. “First Hannah came, then Donna came, then we started jamming and then it just happened. Everything just happened.”
“We didn’t know we were recording an album!” Hannah interjects. “We thought we were recording for reference. Everything just grew so organically. Like, the shortlist of songs grew into a long list of songs, and then we had our first gig and, I mean, everything’s grown since then.”
The band’s sound – fuzzed-up, late-’60s riffing matched against some seriously groovy percussion – evolved from the musicians themselves, as Donna explains. “I mean, because this band has two guitarists, drum and bass it sounds the way it sounds. We started playing a lot of rock songs. So that’s where we started. But now we sort of play everything. But the thing is, it was also a question of making the sound big, because we’re only four people onstage. I think we sound like a machine, like a train.”
Working at the Paisley complex, practise sessions would last for lengthy, exhausting periods and cover everything from Prince classics to deep cuts, never-heard rarities and brand-new compositions. “The rehearsal schedule is really intense,” says Ida. “It’s really flexible, but at the same time we go there to work – and we work, and we dig into the songs and we perfect the music and we’re just focussed every day when we go in. It’s not like military school or anything like that. It’s definitely… Well, we all take it very seriously and we respect the music and we respect each other and Prince, so it’s really cool.”
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Prince with 3RDEYEGIRL
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Recording each and every aspect of the studio process, 3RDEYEGIRL began assembling tapes containing a plethora of new material. Each day Prince would arrive with something new, and each day the band would be tasked with learning the track, bringing something of themselves to the process, and recording.
“We’d learn new songs,” remembers Hannah, “then we’d record them so we’d remember. We had a long list of songs! You learn it, you make sure you can play through it, then once you’ve got it then you record it for reference and then you’ve got it to go back and listen again, to refresh your brain. Because when you’re learning hundreds of songs you can only cram so much in per day.”
Made by the four, together at one time at the same studio, ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ has an old-school feel, an atmosphere akin to those epochal Motown sessions, say, or the primal early work from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. “We were really going for that sound, and we were recording on analogue, all in the same room, to have that vibe,” says Donna. “If you made a mistake everybody had to redo it. It was really old school. I think [Prince] wrote a lot of the songs to fit this band.”
“I think there’s something really special about musicians recording in that way,” explains Ida, “because we’re all really listening to each other, we’re together as opposed to the drummer laying down a track and so on. There’s something about capturing a band live, where like the human element is really present.”
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3RDEYEGIRL with Prince, ‘Fixurlifeup’
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Refusing to use a click track, ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ features 3RDEYEGIRL at their heaviest, at their funkiest and – if we may dare to say it so early – at the group’s best. “There’s a little bit of elastic, maybe, in the time, but it doesn’t matter because it gives it more soul, and that’s what’s human about it,” says Ida, before Hannah laughs: “We’re listening to each other instead of listening to the clicks!”
Very much a group album, ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ is still marked by the essence of Prince on each and every note. Remarkably, the majority of the songs on the album were presented to the group as completely finished entities. “That’s the beauty of Prince,” reflects Ida. “He’s such a master of his craft that he knows what’s good and what’s not and what works and what doesn’t. Then to be able to hear that and then also act upon it and fix it, like that, is crazy. It’s crazy to be a part of that process.”
Releasing one album and playing on the latest Prince solo set, 3RDEYEGIRL have also become known for their short-notice shows. Literally turning up in a foreign city, being pointed towards a venue and playing electric concerts, the group’s onstage chemistry – liquid communication but with a ferocious punch – is backed to a remarkable degree by flexibility. “Our difference from other bands is that we never play the same set,” Hannah asserts. “It’s never the same, and we have to all the time be on our toes when we play live so that way it doesn’t get boring. If you go on tour and you play for three months with the exact same set every night, you can maybe go a little bit on automatic pilot. This does not happen with this band!”
Throughout the interview, the members of 3RDEYEGIRL remain remarkably open and honest – despite their experience the group is truly down to earth. Only once do they even refer to themselves as anything other than musicians – when reflecting on their guest appearance at the 2014 BRIT Awards. “That was so fun! I felt like a rock star that day,” blushes Hannah, before Ida looks over approvingly: “You are a rock star!”
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Words: Robin Murray
3RDEYEGIRL online. ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ is out now on NPG/Warner Bros.