The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now
Local Current Blog

When artists flocked to Chanhassen: Paisley Park’s days as recording and business hub

by Cecilia Johnson

May 05, 2016

"Paisley Park," the phrase, is everywhere in Prince's past. It's a song from his 1985 album Around the World in a Day; it's also the name of Paisley Park Records, a label, active from 1985 to 1994, that signed artists such as Sheila E., Carmen Electra, and Mavis Staples. Most notably, the phrase serves as shorthand for Paisley Park Studios, which officially opened on Sept. 11, 1987.

Built in Chanhassen, Minn., Paisley Park is well-known as Prince’s studio complex and sometime home. Prince was at Paisley Park, his primary base for the last years of his life, when he died last month at age 57. He recorded much of his music there, often producing it himself and even writing it on the spot. Paisley Park's recording studios have hosted other artists, too; between 1987-96 and after 2004, a deluge of other artists made the trek out to Chanhassen to record.

The Park wasn't meant to be exclusively Prince's — at least not at first. In May 1987, Jon Bream reported that Paisley Park’s general manager, Richard Henriksen, solicited tenants for the “hybrid” space. Five rental offices were planned for one end of the building, preferably dealing in “related businesses, such as advertising or tape duplication.”

Even before its official opening date, artists held concert rehearsals inside the complex; among those who have practiced in the versatile space are Barry Manilow, Neil Young, and Kool and the Gang.

Film crews spent time at Paisley, too, either to shoot ads (Burger King, Cadillac, Hormel Chili) or to make music videos (several artists, including the Bee Gees). The Twin Cities metro became a hub for film production, according to the New York Times; in 1990, Eben Shapiro wrote, "Minneapolis now ranks fourth in film and video production revenues, behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago."

In addition to the concert rehearsals and film work, Paisley drew attention for its status as recording destination. Said the Times, "Big record companies send artists to Paisley Park to record a song or two in the hope that the prolific Prince might wander by the session and contribute a song." Artists such as R.E.M. (Out of Time), Bob Mould (Workbook), and Stevie Wonder (Conversation Peace) did record at Paisley Park, but as far as the stories go, Prince often stayed out of sight.

The same 1990 Times article noted, "At one point last summer, four of the top 10 albums on the charts had been produced or partly produced at Paisley Park." These were Batman by Prince, Forever Your Girl by Paula Abdul, The Raw and the Cooked by the Fine Young Cannibals, and Like a Prayer by Madonna. According to Madonna, “Love Song” (Prince and Madonna's duet) took shape at Paisley Park, although Minnesota's cold weather prevented her from spending more time there.

Prince did work directly with several protégées throughout the years. Skewing young and female, his chosen ones included Taja Sevelle (born Nancy Richardson), Mayte (his back-up-dancer-turned-first-wife), and poet Ingrid Chavez (who went on to co-star in 1990’s Purple Rain sequel/critical flop Graffiti Bridge). All three women recorded music at Paisley Park.

Discogs's database is full of albums recorded (at least in part) at Paisley Park, identifying Mavis Staples, George Clinton, the Replacements, Stone Temple Pilots, Soul Asylum, and Warren Zevon as artists who spent time in the studios. Paisley closed in 1996, though, suddenly shutting the doors to commercial business and other recording artists. According to Jon Bream in the Star Tribune's April 19, 1996 issue, "Most of [Prince's] studio staff was laid off last week, and clients were called this week to cancel booked studio time." Engineer Tom Tucker "was told the studios were going to be remodeled."

As the purple faithful know, Paisley Park reopened in 2004. It didn't reengage in commercial business and never drew the same horde of national artists — though not for those artists' lack of trying. However, Prince started hosting more and more late-night Paisley dance parties, and he also started inviting musicians to play one-off shows.

Local artists GRRRL PRTY (who will play this year's Rock the Garden), Pho, and Dessa performed at Paisley in recent years. Kendrick Lamar traveled to Prince's home while working on To Pimp A Butterfly, and while he and Prince essentially ran out of time in the studio, they played a brief show for fans. FKA twigs performed at Paisley just over a month later.

One of the most memorable recent albums out of Paisley Park is Judith Hill’s Back in Time, the project that Prince and Hill dropped for free last year and then pulled from the market. Full of smooth keys and heart-wrenching vocals, it’s now available through conventional channels, such as iTunes and Spotify. In October, Hill treated tourgoers to a snippet of the album's "Cry, Cry, Cry" in Paisley Park's Granite Room.

Journalist Chris Heath spent a week at Paisley Park in 1991, and he called the place and all its inhabitants "Prince’s extended family, over which he presides as benevolent patriarch." Prince's network reached far and wide, spanning genres, eras, and countries, and Paisley Park was its heart. As fans anticipate the complex's conversion into a museum, they can look forward to visiting and learning more about the head of the household.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.