Technically speaking, Saturday night wasn’t my first visit to Paisley Park—Prince’s studio and performance space in Chanhassen, Minnesota. I’d been there a couple of months ago, with the okay of the management, to take external photos of the facility. Paisley Park at night, though, is a whole different story. For one thing, it’s purple.
“Whoa!” Barb Abney’s head snapped to the side as we drove past Paisley Park in the Current van on our way to snack on (what else?) pancakes before our 11:30 appointment at the giant white building that was lit with purple floodlights, gleaming in the suburban night. “I’ve gotta text my mom, even though she won’t see it until tomorrow morning.”
At the Chanhassen Perkins, the server asked where we were headed in our finery so late on Saturday night. “We can’t really say,” explained Barb, “but you probably serve a lot of people who are going there.” The server gave us a confused look, then a smile, and left the coffee pot on the table.
A few of us from the Current had been invited to Paisley Park to hear Plectrum Electrum, the soon-to-be-released album by 3RDEYEGIRL—Prince’s band with Hannah Ford (drums), Donna Grantis (guitar), and Ida Nielsen (bass). The band held a public listening party last weekend, and this smaller gathering seemed to be in the same spirit: giving a few of us a preview of the new material before its impending release. My colleague Andrea Swensson was invited to the studio last month (read her epic account), and the Star Tribune’s Jon Bream also recently paid a visit.
The interior of Paisley Park somehow manages to both defy expectations and precisely meet them. I’ll put it this way: you know you’re at Prince’s place. Burning candles are everywhere, there’s a glamorous (and often purple) detail everywhere you look, and the famous Prince glyph (“Love Symbol #2”) is ubiquitous. Entering through the lobby—past the motorcycle from Purple Rain—we passed into what was described to me as the smaller of the venue’s two performance rooms. It was still pretty big, accentuated by an enormous silver Love Symbol hanging from the ceiling.
The Current crew—Barb, me, Jim McGuinn, David Safar, and our guests—settled into a round booth large enough to accommodate us all, and Paisley Park’s Trevor Guy (who is also Donna Grantis’s husband) brought an armful of bottles of water for us to sip while we watched Oz the Great and Powerful projected over the head of DJ Michael Holtz, who was spinning a mix that was like a trivia contest for Prince fans. There were songs by Prince—newer material, including “The Breakdown” and “FALLINLOVE2NITE”—mixed with tracks like Chic’s “Good Times” (featuring Nile Rodgers, who recently shared a stage with Prince) and “Tightrope” by Janelle Monaé, who collaborated with Prince on her latest album. At one point, Holtz swung by our table like a chef visiting his diners. “How’s it sounding?” he asked with a grin. It was sounding good.
There were several other guests milling about the space, often coming and going through a kitchen door. “That kitchen must be magic,” observed Barb, “because it seems like one person goes in and six come out.” Most were dressed to the glamorous nines, and though some started to dance, we were a little intimidated to join them even when the DJ busted out with V.I.C.’s infectious dance-line-spurring “Wobble.” As the beautiful people around us started to Wobble, Trevor came out to invite us back into the studio.
We were escorted down a long hallway featuring a timeline of Prince history and vitrines containing awards—I spotted a Grammy in one. We walked past a darkened studio containing a ping-pong table and settled, along with several other guests, in the studio’s elegant control room:
— 3RDEYEGIRL (@3RDEYEGIRL) July 13, 2014
The members of 3RDEYEGIRL (Prince excepted) were there; Barb and I were seated behind Ida at the console, and near Donna, who chatted with us about her native Toronto and the band’s recent European tour. Manning a laptop connected to the console was engineer Joshua Welton (who is also Hannah Ford’s husband), and before the music started there was a flurry of activity, with the studio phone ringing multiple times. Finally, we were ready to begin. Welcoming us to the listening session, Welton said, “I hope you like loud, because it’s gonna get loud, and it’s gonna get classic. This…is Plectrum Electrum.”
It was loud, and it was classic. Like, hair-blowing loud and guitar-crunching classic. It was apt, I reflected, that we’d just been watching a movie starring James Franco, because Nick Andopolis—the character played by Jason Segal, friend to Franco’s Daniel Desario in Freaks and Geeks—would have been in his glory. Barb told the band that she’s excited to play the new material next to Led Zeppelin on the Current: it has the same driving weight, the same bluesy stomp. As the beat of each song would kick in, everyone in the studio would bob their heads like Wayne and Garth.
Of course, the album is also a Prince project—he shares writing and performing duties with the rest of the band—and the songs, especially the slow-burning ballads, make frequent excursions down from the Misty Mountain to the shores of an ocean of emotion. The twin attack of Prince and Grantis on guitar makes for a formidable wall of sound; the band told us that the album had evolved from a series of studio jams that had spawned dozens of tracks from which the songs we heard were culled, and as David Safar noted, the album really captures the band’s live energy. Welton had activated the iTunes visualizer while we were listening, and as the music hurtled forward, I thought the screen might give itself a digital hernia trying to keep up.
Even though we didn’t meet Prince himself (or take one of the speakerphone calls he occasionally makes to studio guests), we still stumbled out starry-eyed when our hosts thanked us and led us back down the hall of fame. I hadn’t been at my most articulate: I’d forgotten my plan to banter with the band about the Prince mugs they’ve recently been selling via Twitter, and when I’d been asked for feedback on the music, all that came out of my mouth had been, “The loud sounds right.” It was as if we’d left Perkins and crossed Arboretum Boulevard into another world, a world where everything is amplified and funky and friendly and smells really great. This morning, I woke up and had to go look at the water bottle I’d been given to convince myself my Paisley adventure had actually happened.
Anything can happen in the purple world, so watch 3RDEYEGIRL’s Twitter and the Paisley Park After Dark Facebook page to stay on top of any future opportunities to hang at Paisley. Meanwhile, to enjoy the 3RDEYEGIRL experience in the comfort of your own home, cue up “Pretzelbodylogic,” light a few candles, turn the volume to 11…and stay hydrated.
Prince is the Current’s artist of the month in July. Read a retrospective of his career, and listen for a new audio documentary about the making of Purple Rain at 6 p.m. this coming Sunday, July 27.