Although she hails from Denmark, bass player Ida Nielsen has, for all intents and purposes, been a local musician these past several years. As a member of Prince’s horn-fueled funk band the NPG and power rock trio 3RDEYEGIRL, Nielsen spent more time in Chanhassen than anywhere else, living out of a hotel near Paisley Park so she could be ready to rehearse at a moment’s notice.
In the months following Prince’s passing, Nielsen has returned to Denmark to finish her recording her new solo album, TURNITUP — which includes the inscription, written appropriately in all caps, “IN MEMORY OF PRINCE,” and is being released today. She’s no longer living in Chanhassen, but she has been embraced by Prince’s global fanbase (#PrinceArmy), and her new album provides a shot of much-needed funkiness to fans around the world.
I caught up with Ida over the phone from Denmark to ask her about her new work, the time she spent in Minnesota, and the lessons she’ll take away from working alongside an icon.
Andrea Swensson: It’s been so fun for me to listen to your new album, because I obviously am familiar with what 3RDEYEGIRL and the NPG sound like, but I didn’t know what Ida sounded like on her own. How long have you been working on this new solo album?
Ida Nielsen: I started working on it just before Christmas, last year. But some of the stuff is songs that I wrote a long time ago. I just felt like we were having a little break, and it was time to do a little of my own stuff. And Prince was being very supportive of it as well, so it was what I wanted to do. Some of the stuff is old, and some is completely new. And some of the stuff, like the song called “WHAT,” is part of what will eventually be another album that I’ll do under a different name, of more digital stuff, because I wrote it all in hotel rooms. So there’s not really instruments on it. But for now, this is my funk stuff. And I love the funk, so I wanted to release that first.
I want to know more about how you came to Minnesota and first joined the NPG. Tell me about that experience.
Well I got a call one day from a woman who said she was Prince’s manager, and that he saw my MySpace and he wanted to invite me to Minnesota for a jam. And I totally thought she was joking. I thought it was some of my friends doing a joke on me, because he was always who I really wanted to play with the most. She said, ok, I’ll call you back — which she didn’t. So I was like, oh, it was a joke. [laughs] But then two weeks later she did call back, and I got invited for the jam.
I had no idea what to expect, because that was all that I was told. Right before, I got a few songs to learn, and I did, and I came. It was a very cool experience. I had no idea what would happen after. I met [drummer] John Blackwell, and Prince, and he was being super sweet, asking me stuff about my bass because he could totally tell I was nervous, so he was trying to maybe talk about down-to-earth stuff. It was really cool.
So were you jamming with the whole NPG at that point?
No, it was just Prince and John and me. In the studio. And we jammed for about 20 minutes, and he was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going on tour.’
But I didn’t know, because then a lot of stuff happened in between, before it actually did happen. I was there for three days, and he gave me a CD to learn, and told me to call him when I learned it. So I went back to Denmark and learned it as fast as I could. We did some more jamming and there were some fall shows lined up; this was in 2010. And then, you know, that’s when the whole thing started. We went on a tour for a long time with the NPG.
Do you remember what your first gig was with him?
Yeah, it was in Norway. You know, it was the first gig, I could not believe it. To go to the stage, we had to go alongside the audience — they couldn’t see us, because there was these walls, but you know, we could kind of see them, and totally hear them. To walk along that path and hear the screams of the audience, I was just, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.’ That was such an amazing experience. Everything was, every time. But of course the first one stands out to me. And also because on that first tour, the third and fourth shows we did were in Denmark, where I’m from. Everything was just very big, immediately.
Did you have friends and family come out to that show?
Oh yeah, everybody came. [laughs]
That’s amazing. What was it like to leave your life behind and join the Prince world?
Well, you know, that was my biggest wish, to play with Prince. Ever. So I would gladly leave anything behind. I would totally put my life aside for that. It was such an amazing opportunity. I couldn’t believe it, really.
So you started touring, and then you ended up pretty much living in Minnesota, by the time 3RDEYEGIRL was happening. What was that experience like for you?
That was awesome. In the beginning, we were living at the local hotel, for a couple of years. So it was cool, and it was more cool when I officially was living there, because staying in the hotel, you kind of miss some stuff. [laughs] But I mean, to play with the person you wanted to play with the most in the world, and to be able to live five minutes from work, and to hang around — you know, we’re really good friends, 3RDEYEGIRL, all of us — we had some very beautiful times. And it was very exotic for me, too, because I had never tried to live in a different country than Denmark. It was romantic and exotic at the same time as it was a dream come true. You know, I feel like I was there so much, I feel a little bit like it’s also my country.
I always found it so odd that Chanhassen, which is not a very exciting-seeming place out in the suburbs with all these strip malls, is the home of Paisley Park. What was it like living in Chanhassen? Did people know you were in Prince’s band?
Yeah, I think some people would, for sure. It’s such a small town, so most people, I think, knew. But people were very respectful. It was a very good vibe there, and there’s a lot of very beautiful nature there. It took me a while before I actually discovered all those lakes and all those forests, bike paths, and walk paths. It’s quite amazing.
Did you have a hand in developing the 3RDEYEGIRL sound?
No. I had no idea he was about to make a band. [laughs] I didn’t know. I mean, we each got to put a little of ourselves in it, but it was him. He wrote the music. It was all Prince. Of course, when we recorded and played, he gave us the freedom to put our own little thing on it. And sometimes it had to be just like he wrote it. But definitely, it was Prince. He can write any style of music. He could go write the funkiest track ever, then write a rock ‘n’ roll hit.
That’s one thing I always appreciated about him, is that he had a talent for bringing people together, and arranging people in a way you didn’t know you needed to be arranged. What was that process like, to be able to work so closely with him? What did you learn about your own strengths and musicality from that experience?
I think I learned that anything is possible, if you put your mind to it. He would always push us all to be better, all the time. Like for instance, earlier I was saying how when I first got in the band, I had to learn so many songs in a very short amount of time. And after that process, I was really amazed at how fast I could learn a new song, and remember it. It’s like the brain just expands. I think a major thing he would do, is he would just push us. Like, there’s no limit. If you push, then the limit is pushed, too.
I mean, the thing is he was amazing at everything. He could play everything. And I would want to of course try to do the best I could to live up to his expectations, because he was also expecting a lot of himself. And therefore also from other people. I just want to live up to that, and try to improve, always. I feel like you can improve in so many ways in your whole life, but I guess what I mean is to not stop improving. To be kind of a life student.
Yeah, that’s a really good way to put it. He really was never content to rest. It was, what’s next? What else can I learn?
Yeah, constantly renewing himself. And being excellent at everything.
One thing that really amazed me, as a person who was in Minnesota and experiencing Prince as a Chanhassen citizen, was that after his passing, the response, globally, has been so tremendous. Obviously you have a totally different perspective, but did it change your thinking about what this experience meant for you, and his importance to people around the world?
Definitely. I knew all the time that he had fans, and that fans loved him. But I’m very, very moved to see the love from all the fans. It’s pure. He meant so much. And I knew he did, but I’m realizing now how important he was to so many people. And I think that is very beautiful to discover. I mean, I realized that he had fans, but to really see now how much love there is for him, that’s just beautiful, and I’m happy about that, because I feel like that’s going to help make his music stay with us. All the people that just loved it, and how much the music meant to people, like generations of people.
And for me now, obviously, you know, it hit hard, but now I’m at a point where I just feel super grateful to have had the time with him, and to be near him, and being able to work with him. I’m just thankful, and I want to take that with me, all the stuff I learned, and see if I can keep up the good work. Or try to. I’m very moved. You know, I’m being contacted by a lot of fans now that I’m doing my own album, and the love is just there. It’s really amazing, and it’s been beautiful to see.
Find Ida Nielsen’s new album in stores and on iTunes.