3RDEYEGIRL guitarist Donna Grantis calls the Twin Cities home

Donna Grantis at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn.
Donna Grantis at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
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The morning of Friday, April 21, 2017, The Current and MPR News joined together for an hour-long simulcast from Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn. Between Prince songs, hosts Andrea Swensson, Tom Weber and Jim McGuinn welcomed two special guests to the airwaves: Donna Grantis of 3RDEYEGIRL, and Prince's first bandmate, André Cymone.

In her interview, Donna Grantis talks work ethic, Prince's wishes for Paisley Park, and the new band she's started in the Twin Cities.

Jim McGuinn: You're listening to the Current and MPR News broadcasting live together from Paisley Park. We just heard "The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker", a song from Sign O' The Times; that was one of André Cymone's requests to play. He had left the band years earlier, but he told me off-air that he remembers Prince calling him up to go to his house and playing him Sign O The Times. They were still hanging out, even though they weren't working together at that point in the mid-1980s. And we are joined right now for this break by Donna Grantis from 3RDEYEGIRL. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you for having me.

JM: We're so happy that you're here. We had André, who was really the first bandmate of Prince's, from the late '70s on, and you were one of his last bandmates. Is there a way for you to encapsulate that experience? Those years that you had together?

Just life changing; transformative; something I am so grateful for. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Tom Weber: How are you doing today?

Well, there is a whole mix of emotions I am feeling, absolutely. But in keeping things positive on my drive over, I was listening to The Current. Listening to your guitar playlist. Just hearing that music really does give me so much joy, and it makes me feel so good. I think it makes so many people all around the world feel good and comforted to hear that amazing music.

Andrea Swensson: Donna, you spent so much time inside this building that we're outside of right now, Paisley Park. Not just putting on shows, which I was very lucky to be in attendance for quite a few of, but rehearsing long hours with Prince. I'm wondering, what is it like for you now to know that this building is full of people who love Prince? That there is an event happening, that it is very much alive again.

Yeah, it's great, because I think that his vision was always for Paisley Park to remain a very musical space and a very creative space. I'm really happy to see that that's continuing on.

TW: Because there's a lot of questions about whether we're doing this right. Is this what Prince would have wanted? The way we open a museum, the way we release this song or that song. So it's just a lot of questions that we don't have a way of answering.

Well, we do know that a celebration was held in Paisley Park in...

AS: A couple of them: 2000, 2001 and 2002. It was called "Xenophobia," but similar format.

That's right, and he was always preparing Paisley Park as part of his legacy. During the time that I was with him as a member of 3RDEYEGIRL, almost every weekend in the summertime the park would be open for fans to come in and enjoy. There were the afterparties, dance parties, concerts, listening sessions...and that took place all the time. It always felt to me like the heartbeat of the building was all of the music that was taking place. You could walk through the building on any given day. Judith Hill would be in the NPG room, 3RDEYEGIRL would be rehearsing in the soundstage. Marcus [Anderson, saxophonist], Adrian [Crutchfield, saxophonist], BK [Jackson, saxophonist] -- the horn section from the NPGs -- would be working on arrangements in the studio. Joshua [Welton] would be working on a mix. That is just so cool, you know?

JM: One of the things that I was struck by when I would be here at an event is that Prince and the bands all played to a level, whether there were fifty people here or whether you were playing in front of fifty thousand people. I mean he just seemed to bring it, and the joy was in performing in front of an audience, but the size of the audience almost didn't matter. It mattered that there was something going on onstage and there was something being communicated to someone out there.

One hundred percent. I mean, even when there was no audience except for the musicians onstage, there were times where we'd play funk jams for twenty, thirty minutes. At certain points when the music moves you, you just shout out or you laugh or you know, it just moves you in such a way that's so special. Even with nobody there, we had a blast.

TW: That's an interesting dynamic, because there's always the element of "I'm practicing" versus "I'm actually doing the thing." If it's just a practice, [you're like], "I know what to do. And then when it's for real, I'll really jam it hard."

Right, well I think the idea that was instilled in us was that you can practice at home, but once you're on stage, even if you're rehearsing, you've got to play your best. You've got to bring it all the time. The mindset was always give it like you would in a performance.

TW: I presume that's informed your career since then even as well, your work ethic and all of that.

Absolutely.

AS: Can you share a little bit of what you've been working on in the last year?

Yes, so I moved to Uptown, Minneapolis about six months ago, and I've started a new band featuring JT Bates on drums, Bryan Nichols on keys, Cody McKinney on bass, and a fantastic tabla player from New York City. Her name is Suphala. Prior to playing with Prince, I had a jazz fusion instrumental trio, and the last group I was jamming in with Prince was sort of like a funk fusion group with MonoNeon on bass. We really stretched out a lot of funk songs and took them to some really interesting places. What I'm doing now is sort of an electric jazz thing, influenced by all of those things.

TW: Have you and 3RDEYEGIRL as a whole been part of figuring out how to present Paisley Park to the audience? You know, at some point, the people who run Graceland had to come in and [ask], "How are we going to do this?" I don't know what you do when you open a museum. Were you ever a part of the visioning for what Paisley Park should become today?

My partner Trevor Guy has been very instrumental in that. There are people close to Prince as well who have actually, over the years, received direction. Even working so closely with him, you very quickly get an idea of what he likes and what he doesn't like. In all things. For example: in graphic design, in photography, in fashion, in how to light a show as well as in playing music. So I think there are people who have been speaking on the panels over these four days who really have those experiences and can speak about what he liked and what he didn't like.

JM: One of the common themes we've heard on those panels is the fact that Prince brought the best out of everyone he worked with. It didn't matter if you were his chef or his second guitar player or art director. You're going to be playing on Sunday -- members of 3RDEYEGIRL plus New Power Generation -- kind of a little all-star jam. How does it feel to come back and play here?

It feels amazing to be playing music, especially with the NPG family. Last night, Ida Nielsen and Liv Warfield and I were at the Dakota [Jazz Club], and Shelby [J.] was playing, and she was just phenomenal.

TW: There's just a lot of music happening in town.

There is a lot of music going on. I got to jump on stage for a song, and it just felt so good.

JM: It's Donna Grantis from 3RDEYEGIRL and now from the Donna Grantis Band, and you're listening to The Current and MPR News broadcasting live together from Paisley Park. We're going to play a couple of songs and then split back up.

TW: That's right, but it's been a great hour, Jim. The two of you have to head in! You're doing panels now.

JM: I'm going to go talk to the Revolution.

AS: And I'm interviewing photographers from throughout Prince's career, so I'm very excited.

JM: And Donna, before we step away, I'm going to go into "PRETZELBODYLOGIC," one of the songs from 3RDEYEGIRL's release with Prince. Maybe you want to set this up and tell us about it?

Yes, "PRETZELBODYLOGIC." When I think back to recording it in Studio C, which is now the Purple Rain room, we were set up to play live. So it was very much a pretty raw thing. We were recording all the time, learning things very quickly and recording them pretty much immediately or even after playing a song through, sometimes, once. So I think back to that time and being in the studio and playing. I also think of recording backup vocals for this song, because we had a lot of fun in the studio doing that. I think this song gives everybody in the group a chance to really shine, and it's a rocker so we had a lot of time with that.

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  • MPR at Paisley Park on April 21, 2017
    The Current's Andrea Swensson, MPR News' Tom Weber, The Current's Jim McGuinn, and Donna Grantis of 3RDEYEGIRL take a photo together following a live broadcast from Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., on April 21, 2017. (Nate Ryan | MPR)