Prince looks to the future

JON BREAM | Updated 5/20/2013

The Minnesota megastar talked about his legacy, new protégés 3rdEyeGirl and much more during a rare two-hour interview on Monday.

Prince performing in Vancouver last May.
Kevin Mazur

DENVER – Prince pounded his rhinestone-encrusted cane into the floor to make a point. “I don’t have time for old people,” he insisted. “I want to work with young people.”

As he prepares to turn 55 on June 7, the Minnesota music legend is turning a new page — looking forward, not backward.

During a rare and far-ranging, two-hour-plus interview late, late on Monday night, Prince pointed across the room at his 22-year-old manager and the members of his new female backup band, 3rdEyeGirl, featuring a 24-year-old drummer he discovered on the Internet.

“I have my legacy,” he said. “It’s time for their legacy. They’re a Minneapolis band, too.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer touched on assorted topics as he unwound after two sold-out shows at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, performances in which he seemed refreshed and buoyed by his young and hungry bandmates doing both old favorites and new jams.

He talked about a new album with 3rdEyeGirl; other new younger musicians in his royal court; the preponderance of lip-syncing among today’s pop stars, the lack of songwriting craft today; his mentor Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone; and his highly lucrative, stripped-down club tour that comes home to the Myth in Maplewood on May 25.

What he didn’t discuss were some things Minnesotan. He dodged questions about the state’s new marriage-equality law, the influence of Minnesota on his music, and the impact that Bob Dylan had on him.

“Dylan didn’t cross over,” he said, referring to artists from his childhood who were successful with both white and black audiences. “Sly Stone crossed, Jimi Hendrix crossed.”

He’s not oblivious about what’s going on in his home state or elsewhere. (After the Boston Marathon bombings, he dedicated a cover of a song by the Boston-based Cars at his shows.) But he is focused on the task at hand.

“They don’t care about the world,” he said of 3rdEyeGirl. “They care about music.”

Of course, Prince is shrewd about the business, too. He got cagey when asked about the steep price of $259 to see him at Myth. With a capacity of 3,200, it is certainly not as intimate as the 300-seat Dakota Jazz Club, where he commanded $250 in January for 3rdEyeGirl’s debut.

“I’m paying my band more than I’ve ever paid,” he said at a Denver cabaret, picking at a piece of pizza with a fork. And he’s making more money than usual on the road. That’s partly because he travels with a much smaller entourage and less elaborate production.

Like a proud father

While his musicians danced onstage to the music of James Brown and Sly Stone at a private post-concert party, Prince — decked out in turquoise turtleneck and slacks — played the role of salesman.

He wants the world to hear 3rdEyeGirl: powerhouse drummer Hannah Ford Welton from Louisville, Ky.; guitar monster Donna Grantis from Toronto, and funky bassist Ida Nielsen from Denmark, who started playing with his larger NPG group in 2010.

He’s recorded enough material with 3rdEyeGirl to issue an album later this year via Kobalt Music Group, a relatively new, artist-friendly worldwide music service. One new song, “Plectum Electrum,” was written by Gantis and rearranged by Prince, who wrote the other material. The group has released three singles via 3rdeyegirl.com, including the playful, poppy but rocking “Screwdriver,” which the group has performed on both “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Before arriving at the party, Prince finished editing a video for his next single, “Fix Ur Life Up.” He insisted that his manager, Julia Ramadan, who was a college student when they met during his Los Angeles concert run last year, show the video to everyone at the party.

Lyrics were decipherable and Ford’s backup vocals were prominent, which hadn’t been the case earlier during a rip-roaring rendition at the Ogden. After everyone reacted enthusiastically to the video, Prince smiled.

“They are like my kids,” he said. “And I’m learning from them. Young people have the new ideas.”

Check back later for much, much more from the interview, including Prince's answer to the burning question: Is his Afro real or a wig?