Prince wasn’t one of the most important artists for me growing up, and his albums weren’t among the first I bought with my own money. He also wasn’t one of the artists I played guitar along to while standing in front of the mirror, convinced that it was only a matter of time before I’d become a rock star. My first brush with him was actually via the Batman soundtrack that came out at the tail end of the ’80s. That movie was quite a key moment in my childhood. See, I had the album on tape, but I only really connected with one or two tracks at the time. I was a bit young for it back then, but now it’s one of my favorite albums. After that, I remember “Gett Off” coming out as a single in 1991 and all the girls at school being completely obsessed with it…which was possibly the reason it didn’t quite stick with me.
It was when I was about 21 or 22 that I read a long article about Prince and decided enough was enough and that I really needed to make an effort with this guy. There’s so much in his catalogue, ranging from the immediately accessible to stuff, which is pretty impenetrable if you’re not familiar with how experimental he can be. I jumped straight in by buying a bunch of albums at once, but the only one which immediately stuck was Purple Rain. After that I gradually got deeper into his seminal run of albums from the late ’80s and early ’90s like Parade, Sign ‘O’ the Times, Diamonds and Pearls, the Batman soundtrack and others.
There’s so much about Prince to be inspired by, from his music all the way through to his attitude and public persona. His willingness to challenge his audience’s perceptions, even to the extent of intentionally alienating them at points, is something that I’ve been directly influenced by over the years. Even if you have the instinct to act like that, it’s quite a daunting thing to undertake in the public eye. But knowing that someone like Prince has the balls to do it first gives you courage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to compare myself to Prince, as that would be ridiculous. But adopting that iron-clad, indestructible attitude is something I’ve aspired to for a long time now.
Another really key thing for me was his approach to recording. A lot of the really seminal material was just done by him with Susan Rogers engineering, which was quite a distinctive way of doing things in the ’80s and would be pretty much unheard of in the making of pop records now, where a million different producers contribute to a single track.
Susan Rogers is quite an inspiring character in her own right, actually. Studio engineering is still one of the most male-dominated professions I can think of, and in the ’80s it must have been even more so. There’s a great story about her leaving Prince in the studio to record the vocals to “If I Was Your Girlfriend” with the microphone preamp inadvertently 10 dB louder than it should’ve been and them keeping the distorted recording that came out. That’s the kind of studio insight that is really invaluable—far more than learning how to work a compressor properly or whatever. Sometimes it’s the mistakes that lead to the best results. It’s the finished product that matters, not how you get there.
All of my music has been recorded and mixed down on my own in the studio, and I’ve definitely used Prince as a conscious excuse to take that approach in my own mind. It’s probably held me back in certain respects, and certainly there have been times where I’ve thought that I’m missing out on something by only working alone. But then I have the Prince justification…even though he had an engineer.
Published July 17, 2015.