Prince seems to be the ultimate modern iconoclast - unpredictable and very hard to categorize. What can you tell us about his character as both a stellar performer and creative songwriter? What seems to make him tick, as an artist, and how did you go about capturing performances with a renowned workaholic (in a good way) and always in full on creative mode? Any good stories about approaches to his vocals, in particular?
Oh boy, probably everyone who has worked with Prince has great stories from the experience. He is the most unpredictable, unnerving person in the studio and he is also the greatest musician I have been lucky enough to work with.
My most memorable experience was at Larrabee Sound in Studio B. I set up the room with every kind of musical instrument I thought he may need, with a selection of guitars and basses, a pedalboard with effects, a Roland digital keyboard and a drum machine. He burst into the room and I immediately put the Studer A827 in record. I did not want to miss a second of anything ('cause I knew it would be bye-bye for me if I did). Prince tapped on the drum machine with his left hand, playing the kick with his thumb, snare with his index finger and the hat with his pinky. With his right hand he played a bass part on the Roland keyboard. He did not program or sequence parts, he played them all live and I recorded the parts and made notes. "Use this for the verse, use this for the chorus" he said. Then he spun around on his heels and went for a guitar, but it wasn't the guitar I had hoped for. He went for an un-tuned, rusty-stringed old Tele that was shoved in the corner of the room. "Oh ****!", I panicked. Put the track in record and hoped for the best. With that old Tele he played the tastiest licks, all in tune. He instantly knew how to correct the tuning on the guitar by the way he fretted each chord. My mind was blown!
The experience of the next hour is carved into my memory, there I was in the studio, just me and Prince. He was playing the Tele like a madman, spinning and dancing wildly. Showing off just for me. Like my own private Prince show. I'll never forget it.
Again, he played four bars of a verse lick, four bars of a chorus lick, then gave me arrangement notes on the song he was creating. Then he spun around on his heels and left the room without any clue when he would be returning.
I pulled out the studio's Publison Infernal 90 and sampled and flew the parts together, creating a finished song ready for vocals. The Infernal 90 was the best thing going for digital sampling in 1990, all the flying of parts done basically by hand. Load a sample in it's memory, put the Studer tape machine in record and play the Publison back onto the tape. Tedious work.
I'd wait for Prince to return, often into the late late night hours. Some nights I'd call his manager in Minnesota and she'd say, "oh Prince is in Paris, you can go home now..." Oh, okay... But when he did show up, I was there ready to go! For vocals I had a Neuman U67 set up in the control room, hanging directly over the SSL E/G 4000 console, just in case he wanted to steer the ship himself, and that is exactly what he wanted to do. That particular day he came in the room, listened down to the comp I had created, then said "Okay, you can sit outside." Huh? Oh, okay.... I sat just outside the door of Studio B for what seemed like an eternity. I could hear him in the room working away, singing. Four hours later he came rushing out of the studio and headed straight out the front door of the building, saying "mix it" as he passed me. Whooosh! gone.
I went back into the room and listened to what he had recorded during those four hours. Layers of vocals, with super sexy leads and pairs of harmonies and incredible counter-point backing tracks. Must have been 30 tracks that he had recorded, layered, comped and panned. I learned so much from that session on how to build vocal tracks.
I spent the rest of the evening mixing the track. Prince coming back in for the big listen? Well that was an entirely different story... and wow!