Why You Need to See Prince's 3rdEyeGirl According To A Prince Stan
The first thing you need to know about the ladies of 3rdEyeGirl, Prince’s hard rocking trio of guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen and drummer Hannah Ford Welton, is that they are an overtly happy bunch. In this cynical world we live in they would be deemed nauseatingly optimistic; bubbly Disney characters suddenly come to life. And yet, that’s what makes 3rdEyeGirl so refreshing. Their high-spirited vibe is no bullshit. They really are, as the cliché goes, just happy to be here.
It’s just as well. It was Prince, one of music’s most celebrated visionaries, who personally drafted the women to be a part of his stripped-down rock & roll pursuits. The results? The throat grabbing set Plectrum Electrum (released today), an album that finds the Purple One and his girl-power outfit shredding and knocking down some serious leads and analog grooves. The album, which joins Prince’s futuristic funk and pop solo statement Art Official Age, channels everything from Fleetwood Mac (the two-fisted Alice Smith cover “Anotherlove”), Guns-N-Roses (the manic “Marz”) to Prince (the rollicking sing-along “FunkNRoll). VIBE caught up with 3rdEyeGirl to discuss what’s it like jamming with arguably James Brown’s tireless successor as the Hardest Working Man In Show Business; how the tracks on Plectrum Electrum came together; and turning doubtful critics into believers.
VIBE: The stories about early morning jam sessions at Prince’s Paisley Park over the last year or so have become the stuff of legend. Can you describe the moment when 3rdEyeGirl went beyond being a name and became a real band?
Donna Grantis: Well, we each have our own personal stories on how we got together. But actually Ida was the first musician to join.
Ida Nielsen: I got a call in 2010 if I wanted to come and jam with Prince in Minneapolis, which I of course wanted to. I came over here and it was beautiful. We jammed and I got invited to join his band during that time. We went on tour in the fall and then in 2012 one day Hannah showed up.
Hannah Ford Welton: Yaaaay! [Laughs] It was July of 2012 and I had gotten a mysterious email from his manager at the time. She didn’t disclose any information to me other than she worked with a famous musician and that they were wondering if I would be interested in auditioning for an upcoming project they had. As the correspondence continued she told me that it was Prince and that he saw my videos on YouTube and that he wanted me to come jam. I did it of course. But I was thrown off in the beginning because I didn’t believe that anyone could casually receive an email from Prince! But the first day I met Prince and Ida, and the three of us jammed, it was awesome. Just extremely comfortable from the jump. And then Donna came!
So when you came into the mix, did you know that this was going to be a proper band?
Donna: No. We were just playing it by ear, very organic. The four of us was jamming and then the girls got a list of songs to learn and then more songs to learn [laughs]. We were playing six days a week all day and then before we knew it we had a substantial set list. It wasn’t until March 1st of 2013 when we played a couple of songs on the Jimmy Fallon show that Jimmy held up this 3rdEyeGirl painting and he was like, “Ladies and gentlemen, 3rdEyeGirl!” After that show when we got offstage we were like, “Okay, I guess we’re 3rdEyeGirl, “ [Laughs]
Let’s get into the Plectrum Electrum album. There’s a very live feel throughout this project. How crazy was it being in the presence of such a notorious drillmaster like Prince and having to deliver in such a spontaneous manner?
Hannah: It was so much fun. I think all of us sort of came from a background of recording very structured and to a metronome. Typically the drummer will lay a track and then the bass player will come in and lay their track and then the guitarist will lay their stuff. But this recording process was very different and kind of set us off guard. In the beginning when we were learning so many songs we were just recording all of our rehearsals for reference. Before you know it there were tracks that Prince wanted us to lay vocals on and. Lo and behold, here comes the birth of Plectrum Electrum.
Donna: But most of the songs were recorded live in analog like it was a jam. And of course it keeps you on your toes because if one person messes up we all messed up. We all had to be collectively happy with a single take. It required us to step up our game, but it was so exciting to record that way.
There are some songs on Plectrum Electrum that really stand out, particularly “Wow” really soars. “Marz” has some really bold socially conscious lyrics but at the same time it’s pretty raw. And I love the Alice Smith cover “Anotherlove.” Is there one song on this album that you can point to and say, “This is 3rdEyeGirl at our best.”
Ida: I really feel they are all special. These songs are very close to our hearts for different reasons. It’s difficult to be able to pick just one song. They’re all little babies to us [laughs].
Hannah: For me personally I find myself listening to a song like “Wow,” which starts off the record, and at the end of the song I’m going crazy! And the guitar solo at the end is nuts and I’m like, “Man, this song is incredible.” And then you hear a song like “PretzelBodyLogic” and I’m saying to myself, “This song kills and slays…it’s like a freight train!” So as each song goes I’m constantly saying these tracks are incredible. It’s really hard to pick a favorite that stands out.
I mentioned the “Anotherlove” cover of which you took to an entirely different place. Were there any other covers that you guys recorded during the Plectrum Electrum sessions?
Donna: Oh yeah. We recorded a lot of music. It was just part of our day to day. There was a point with Prince where we talked about, “Let’s pick 12 songs that go together really will.” But we definitely recorded a lot more music. In terms of covering songs what I think that is so cool is the way Prince has arranged his older songs for us to play. Live we do a really heavy version of “Let’s Go Crazy.” “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” is now in a half-time rock feel. “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” now has the most epic guitar solo. And that’s really fun. Because the group is so small and it’s just the four of us, we’re trying to take those songs and make them sound massive within our instrumentation.
Another Prince song that you guys have transformed live is “She’s Always In My Hair.” Ida your bass playing on that song is just nasty. Do you find yourself going to another place when you perform that song live?
Ida: [Laughs] Yeah, I float up to the sky. I love that stuff. I love to stay in pocket with the drums and just play a funky bassline and just keeping it down. I love it.
Now Donna, you have the unenviable task of playing lead guitar with Prince. How intimidating was the prospect of trading off with one of the most respected guitarists of all all-time?
Donna: I was excited. I think feelings of being intimidated are just distraction for the thing that is most important, which is the music. That’s what we are all focused on just delivering the best performances we can and locking in.
Hannah, you handled some lead vocals on Plectrum Electrum on the album. Were you at all apprehensive about being so front-and-center on a Prince related project?
Hannah: Yes and no. Back in the day before the Prince gig, I led my own band and played the drums and did all the lead vocals. So I’m kind of familiar to the extent when it comes to singing and playing and carrying both roles. But to do it with Prince is a really different story [laughs]. It’s a whole other level that I had to step up to. I focused a lot recently on really challenging myself vocally and to get back to singing and playing at the same time because for a while I didn’t. So I was extremely honored and humbled when Prince asked me to sing on these songs because it’s so much fun for me. The songs that Prince writes are just beautiful. He’s incredible at writing for someone else’s voice and sound.
I know you guys have heard the Prince solo project Art Official Age. Between that and Plectrum Electrum a lot of critics are saying that Prince sounds like a man on a mission.
Hannah: I think they are right! [Laughs]
You also seem to be winning some initial doubters over with Plectrum Electrum and your live shows, which have gotten some very positive notice. How do you feel when you read some of the glowing reviews written about your playing on and off this record?
Ida: I think it’s great. But it wouldn’t matter what they say because we already thing that.
Donna: We love playing live. And we are absolutely in love with both of these albums. Both of them being so different…they stand on their own, but then you think about the fact that they are being put out together it’s like a double wammy of knockouts, funky and heart touching music. It’s been really great to see them being so accepted by the fans and the media.