Prince greeted me backstage by putting his right hand on my left shoulder and simply saying, "Hey." Just like that I turned into a third-grade girl at Sunday school. We talked a minute about his bass player, Rhonda, who I knew from way back in L.A., and his monitor guy, Gordon, who could pass as my twin. It was a warm prelude. But once we started, I met the man people had warned me about.
Prince was cooperative, but the air felt a little thick. I had 12 minutes left and I was running out of questions, so I started asking things I wasn't supposed to ask. It seemed to catch him a little off guard, but he paused and took my questions in. He gave it up talking about the music.
Eight minutes later the interview was over. I thanked Prince, and he said in that cool, low voice of his, "You're welcome." That's when my nerves finally settled.
Sway: To see you out onstage with the new project, you don't look like you've aged one day. You still have the same energy. Is it the funk that gives you that energy?
Prince: Absolutely. Also, the wonderful people I have working with me. They keep me energized.
Sway: I wanted to tell you this story first: I was watching the Dave Chappelle show, and Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie Murphy does this thing on it called "True Life Hollywood Stories," and he told this story that he was hanging out with you at your house, and you guys were listening to music, and then you came up with the idea to all go play basketball. He said they didn't have any clothes, so you got them shorts and T-shirts, but he said that your crew showed up to the basketball court with the same wardrobe [as you wear onstage]. High heels, suited and booted. Is that true?
Prince: That part's not true. But the whupping's true.
Sway: The whupping's true. So you've got basketball skills?
Prince: A little bit.
Sway: Yeah? What you got? A crossover dribble? Or a jump shot?
Prince: We didn't call it crossover back then.
Sway: What'd you call it?
Prince: Just speed.
Sway: Just speed? So you played when you were younger? And you still play?
Prince: Sometimes. Not so much anymore.
Sway: OK. A lot of people see your work ethic, as far as the public eye can see, as always in the studio, always writing and producing songs, maybe even producing a movie, or on the road, but when you're not working on a random Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, what is it that you do to occupy your time?
Prince: One thing: I feel that music is a blessing. I don't feel like I'm working. So when I'm not "working," I'm thinking about it, so music takes up a good portion of the time.
Sway: Do you have homies? Do you kick it with friends?
Prince: Well, my musicians are my friends. I have family as well.
Sway: In terms of recreation, y'all go to the movies?
Prince: Yeah, we check out movies. Normal stuff.
Sway: Let's talk about the album, Musicology. All right, that term, I play dominoes, and when you study dominology, that means you're a master at dominoes, so Musicology, is that what that means? That you're a master at music?
Prince: I'd like to believe that. I have it pretty well mastered. I'm always learning, though. I like to believe that it's infinite, too, so once one can do whatever it is that one desires with any one particular art form, then I would suppose they would have mastered it. So in that case, to answer your question, then yes.
Sway: I know you said don't call it a comeback, you've been here for years, but I feel like you're coming back - maybe not coming back, but you're re-entering the game in a storm, like almost as if there's a void in music. Do you feel like there is a void in music?
Prince: Well, there was a void to me. I wasn't getting very inspired by too many new things. I dig Outkast and Alicia Keys, folks like that, but there's not a lot of musicians out there right now, and I grew up listening to musicians like Return to Forever, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, and I kind of feel that's missing. So hopefully we can interject a little noise in that area.
Sway: So musicianship as a whole - because, you know, those people that you mentioned, Alicia Keys, Andre, they all play instruments. So you think that's important to bring back into the game?
Prince: Oh, absolutely. Otherwise we'll just be a computer in the future, all of us.
Sway: One thing I've been interested in when it came to your music was that you always found a way to touch on political issues, with songs like "Sign 'O' the Times," "Ronnie, Talk to Russia," even "Pop Life," in a sense. Is there that song on this album, on Musicology, with all the problems we're experiencing in the world today? Will you even go there?
Prince: Well, what we're trying to do now is put the family first. When you come to a certain age, you have certain responsibilities that you have to deal with. When it comes to the video channels and the programs, the radio stations, the music is geared towards kids, and it's made by kids. So to really discuss some of these issues, with a great sense of wisdom, is gonna be a little tricky. I mean, you gotta live life before you can really talk too much about it. So, you know, this record, remember, it's made by someone who's been there and back. So hopefully people feel that and listen to it with that set of ears, as opposed to looking for what is "a hit." Music is music, ultimately. If it makes you feel good, cool.
Sway: I know the song "Dear Mr. Man," if I'm not mistaken, you start off with what's wrong with the world today, how things have got to get better. What are some of those things that you feel are wrong with the world today?
Prince: Well, it's obvious that there's an agenda against the disenfranchised and the uneducated, so ultimately, I think, to counter that, we're gonna have to talk to one another. One of the ways we used to do that was through our music, I grew up with the Staple Singers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," stuff like that and that particular sound, you know. That sound of the people to voice our concerns in those types of areas is gone now. Hopefully they'll allow this voice to be heard a little more. We'll see.
Sway: You also touch on issues - like the post-September 11 era, the war in Iraq - that are still important to you as an artist.
Prince: Well we've been at war since about 1914. The world's just been chaotic. It's caused injury to man for a long time now. The only thing that's gonna get us out of this mess is coming back to God. I like to try to keep the focus there. Man hasn't really done too well, getting us out of this predicament, so I think sooner or later we're gonna all have to turn back to God.
Sway: OK, one thing I've always been fascinated with: In your early music it was always self-contained -- you played instruments, every piece, every vocal, every background, wrote every lyric, and I always wondered how that process is done. When you're recording a song, do you come up with a melody first or record the drum track or write the lyrics? I mean, how were you able to do that? How does it work?
Prince: One of the things that I think is important is that one learns how to listen. So I never stop being a fan. Even if the music was coming through me, I was still listening to it as an admirer of the sound, so whatever I heard, be it a lyric or a melody line or a beat or whatever, sometimes just the bass line, I paid attention to it, and I would let that start the song first. Once you get that main thing down, then that's the leader and that's gonna tell you what the next instrument is supposed to be.
Sway: So you can go into a session and not even have the full picture in mind, lay down the bass line, and then build around that?
Prince: I could. I've done it before, yes.
Sway: That's incredible. Has anything about you, as an artist, changed that we'll discover in Musicology?
Prince: Yeah, I think that I'm constantly changing. One thing I notice is that some people want me to play like I used to play, and what they forget sometimes is that I was there, I did it, so for me to do it again is not gonna be so exciting. If I'm going to play "Let's Go Crazy," then I don't want another song that sounds like that, because I've got that slot filled. I'm always trying to look for something new.
Sway: Is that one of the reasons you're choosing not to play some of the classics on this tour?
Prince: That's one reason. And there's so much new stuff coming that we gotta make some room, 'cause you know, most artists, they're not in the game this long, and we don't have any plans to stop, so we gotta make room for the new kids.
Sway: You've come a long way and you've accomplished a lot since you came to New York and got your first record deal. Are you satisfied with all your accomplishments up to this point?
Prince: Every day I'm satisfied. Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.