Prince: The Story of 1999 bonus feature: Lisa Coleman, 'Prince and I just connected musically'

Wendy Melvoin, Prince and Lisa Coleman
Wendy Melvoin, Prince and Lisa Coleman in 1986. (Courtesy of Jeff Katz)
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Lisa Coleman: 'Prince and I just connected musically'
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As part of the making or "Prince: The Story of 1999," I got the chance to speak to Prince's longtime collaborator and keyboard player, Lisa Coleman. Lisa joined Prince's band in the early 1980s and became a member of the Revolution.

You can listen to our complete conversation using the audio player above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript


LISA COLEMAN: Hey, this is Lisa from the Revolution. How are you today?

ANDREA SWENSSON: I'm doing well, how are you?

I'm all right.

As you know, there's this huge box set coming out, and that's what we're really making this special about. The earliest tracks in the box set are from November 1981, which was right after the kind of disastrous opening set for the Rolling Stones.

Oh yes.

I've talked to some of your bandmates about the experience, but what comes to your mind when you think about that experience?

Oh, wow, that was just something I will never forget, and that whole experience was so unreal, because first of all, when the opportunity came up, it was really exciting. We hadn't ever done anything like that before. We were still pretty much playing little clubs and theaters, driving around in a station wagon, and then this opportunity came up because, I guess, Mick Jagger had seen us in New York or something like that, and he really thought Prince was something special, and he thought what a great idea: let's have him open for us at the sports arena, and I think that was a little too far-fetched of an idea for most people.

We traveled out there, out to L.A. — I'm actually in LA right now, so — when we came out here we were so excited, and just feeling like this was going to be something new and something really big, but we were really well rehearsed and trained, you know, so we tried to just be cool, like, you know, "No big deal, we can do this!"

And I just remember walking down those stairs. There's like a huge stairway down at the Coliseum going to the stage. And I just remember feeling really nervous, like something unknown was going to happen. But in our minds I think we thought it was going to be something great! When we started playing, it was just so weird. It was like, "What is the crowd doing? They don't seem to be behaving the way most crowds act when we play." And they just started throwing stuff.

And I just remember like this bottle whizzing by my head, and it landed between me and Bobby, and we both got splashed with bourbon or something, and Bobby was like, "I'm going to use my cymbals for shields!" And I was like, "I'm wide out in the open — help!"

And then I just saw Prince go running by me on my left-hand side, and he just ran all the way up the stairs, and we all looked at each other like, "What do we do?" We'll just finish the song, and we ran up the stairs too.

It was so confusing. I still think about it, and think how did that many people? — it really was like mob mentality, because I think even if a couple of people were there thinking, "Yeah, Prince is kind of cool!" or "Who are these people? Let's listen," they were just turned immediately into, "Boooo! What are these strange freaks onstage? Get 'em outta here!"

It was insane. And then we all went back to our various hotels and whatnot, and we heard that Prince had flown all the way home — like, he went up the stairs, into a car, got his suitcase and got on a plane and was out of there. And I think it was Dez who ended up calling Prince and talking to him, saying, "Come on, man, this isn't what we are. We're fighters, and this is what we're going to have to be up against all the time."

And it was big lesson for us, and even though, you know, we had come out of the box outrageous and kind of punky, it was like we thought we were up for some trouble, and little did we know like really what trouble was until that day. So when that really happened, I think it also gave Prince a new kind of courage, because there was a sea of people as far as the eye could see, literally in front of him as if those were the people he was going to have to address, you know, to be the great artist that he wanted to be. You know, this was a battle that was going to have to be won, or at least faced — faced down. So he came back for the second show, which almost seems outrageous because we were so hated.

But we came back and did the second show. We did as much as we could. We were still getting stuff thrown at us, and lots of booze and middle fingers were flying, you know, but we got through it and we did the best — we rocked it and we ran off that stage, and like, "That was horrible — why did we do that?"

But, you know, it's become like this legend now. I don't know how many people have faced something like that, like literally being in a Coliseum is like Roman — like, "This is the Coliseum, isn't it? And there's tigers out there, and they wanna kill us!"

T-shirt from the Stones' 1981 Los Angeles dates featuring Prince
T-shirt from the 1981 Los Angeles tour dates for the Rolling Stones, a quadruple bill that featured Prince and his band as openers. (Michael Lux via Facebook)

Well, I love the visual picture you paint of Prince surveying the landscape and saying, "I need to win over all these people if I'm going to get them to love my music." It's so crazy to think about how that happened and then Controversy comes out just a few weeks later, but he's already starting to think about what's going to be after Controversy and the songs that he wants to write next. Do you think it's fair to say he had a new resolve or a new mission after that?

I would think so, yeah. And I think it just solidified what he already knew, you know? I think it was just the way it was presented kind of maybe put us off our game a little bit, because he was always aware that he was going to be different, and it was going to take something really special to get, you know, this little black guy, punky, kind of — you know, what is he? He's not like just like a black crooner or a white punk rocker; he's kind of somewhere in between. And he knew from the start that that was going to be a steep mountain to climb.

I think that just after the Stones gig happened, it just solidified in him that he was going to have to really — "Are you serious about this kid?" It was kind of like God saying, "Are you sure? Here, I'll show you what it looks like." And he got to see it, and he was like, "Yeah, you know what? I am sure." And he really went for it.

And we crossed a lot of those kinds of bridges of white and black, and, "Is it funky? Is it funky enough?" Then when we were on tour with The Time, you would think that would be a great package, like, "People would love that!" But it became a sort of a contest, or it was like The Time was all of Prince's funkiness in a band, whereas like then when we became more of a mixed thing — it's not that we were less funky, but we were just more experimenting with the rock and roll, or even folk elements, and just mixing it up a lot more. We weren't just a funk band. Nothing against funk bands; I mean, that's what we love. We love the funk! But the management and the business people started looking at it and saying, "We've gotta split you guys up because The Time is a funk band, and you guys aren't." And we were like "What??"

You know, that was kind of a hard lesson, but it made perfect sense, and Prince realized it. And it was hard for him to kind of like let The Time go, kind of. You know, it was like "OK, now they are an entity of their own, and we can't be like competing with them. We have to be a separate shop, you know, our own — we have the ice cream store, and then we have the yogurt store. It's kind of the same stuff, but people prefer one or the other."

So, yeah, I think it really — that whole time was school — big school, yeah.

Wow, to think about Prince basically having to decide how black he was going to be as a solo artist, and then to think about 1999 as being the moment when he's finally embraced by white radio and MTV and everything … I mean, were these conversations that he was having with his band and that you would have with him as he was thinking about writing these new songs?

Yes, but it wasn't that contrived. There was a certain amount of natural young motivation, where all these experiences had an organic motivating factor inside of our bodies, you know what I mean? Like, we wouldn't actually sit down at rehearsal and say, "OK, now, Mark don't play a bass line that's too funky, you know, don't be too black," or like, "Lisa, make sure you sound a little more white." We weren't really thinking like that. We just kind of hunkered down and pulled out whatever was the best quality in each one of us. And because we were a mixed band, because we had a Jewish guy, and I'm a Mexican/English girl, we just had a mixed-up kind of band, and I think Prince was smart enough to know what qualities he could pull out in each person, like a chef: "I need a little more Lisa salt on this, and a little more of like Matt Fink's synth craziness, and then combine that with like just the funkiest one-note bass part from BrownMark."

And he just had an ability to make it just like a new thing, but, you know, it was a new sound, but it had songs that were kind of familiar. His melodies and stuff — he was very smart about simple melodies, and he did consciously try to do that: make sing-song-y melodies that people would feel like, "I've heard this before," or "It's really easy to sing to." And that's a really smart — and I still to this day try to use that sensibility when I'm writing. And that was a quick way into people's hearts. If you could just get them to kind of "la-la," like, "I like that part — na-na-na" — it's as simple as that. It'll just infect them.

Prince and the Revolution promo photo
Prince and The Revolution in a promo photo for the album 1999. Lisa Coleman is just above Prince's left shoulder. (Allen Beaulieu / courtesy Warner Records)

And so we were aware of it, but not fully contrived. There was a young, natural sense about it, and we were just excited. It was like, "Yeah, do that thing! Yeah!" because we were young. It's just funny, when you get older, you look back at the lessons you've learned, and you can clearly see them. But when you're younger and you're going through it, you don't see it clearly. You were so in it; you're just reacting and feeling hurt or feeling pissed off or feeling motivated — all of it at once. And then you don't realize until some years later, like, "Wow, that was because of that thing that happened. I learned this other thing, and I tried it a different way."

So now, we can look back and say, "Yeah, that's what happened." But while we were in it, it was a little messier and a little more exciting, I guess.

That makes sense.

Yeah.

As I was mentioning, the vault tracks start in the fall of '81 as the Controversy tour is rolling out, and then there's a huge burst of activity in January of '82 when there was a break in the tour and he went to Sunset Sound. But I'm curious if you remember being on the Controversy tour and hearing anything about what Prince was working on and what he was thinking about for the next album.

Only like every day — every second of every day!

Let me think. Well, I mean, I just say that because on tour, we had sound check every day, and it wasn't like a sound check. It was like just coincidental that the sound guys were getting a sound out of us, but we were rehearsing and writing, and Prince was experimenting and learning — learning the band — kind of learning who we all were, and that was still yet to change when Dez left. So it was like we were still working out — or we were discovering kind of who we were as a unit. So like every day at a sound check would be some kind of new thing: a new jam, a new idea. Or he would look at me and say, "What do you got?" I was like, " What — er, uh — don't you want to just check 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' right now?"

And that was a great opportunity, because, you know, then I'd just look at my keyboard and say, "Okay, I got this cool chord right here. What do you got?" You know, and we would challenge each other. And that was the way that he would get like, the Lisa spice to come out. He would challenge me. He'd almost make you feel like a dork, like, "Don't just show up here to sound check. What did you bring to the party?" So, "Oh, okay, all right, I can do that," and then I have to reach down into my Lisa spice cabinet and say okay, I got this [sings], and then we all start playing along to my little [sings], and then something would happen. And I think a lot of those jams started turning into what we were going to become, and he was just — I mean, the guy was a really good-looking sponge, because he just took everything in, and you could see it come out later in different ways, you know, or he'd remember something that I played at a sound check, and then we were in the studio, he'd say "Remember — play those chords like at that day you played those chords, remember?" You know, like, "Ummmm … yeah, okay, yeah!"

It was really fun, you know? It was scary and perfect for a young person, because it was like kind of being untethered, like no strings to anything, and he was really an amazing spirit guide, to have no strings to anything. But hang around him and stuff was going to happen. And it did, and I just remember, as close as I was to my family — and I loved my friends and my family — but I was like totally ready and willing to go wherever he wanted to go, and for as long as that would take. And it was because I never met anybody that really followed through on everything they said like that. I was so impressed and so happy to meet him. It was like, "Yay! Somebody actually does what they say they're going to do!"

I like that.

Yeah.

I'm curious to know, thinking about him in the studio in this period, were you primarily visiting him at Sunset Sound or would you come into his home studio as well?

Oh yeah, wherever, yeah. But we spent a lot of time at Sunset Sound. That's for sure. I remember being there a lot. When he was in L.A., and he had a studio at his house, he didn't usually work there that much. I think he liked being in neutral territory more, so to speak, you know? And then he could also kind of leave us alone to try some things, and he could go do whatever he was doing, and then come back and either go, "Ew, that's terrible — I'm leaving again," or he'd go, "Wow, that's great," and then he'd hang around for a while. Like you knew he didn't like if it he just left again. If he came in and like heard what you were doing, and then he was like, "Uh, I gotta go to dinner," it's like, "Oh no! He doesn't like it!" Like, "Plan B!"

Sunset Sound studio in Los Angeles
Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, photographed in 2017. (courtesy Sunset Sound)

So, if he left you in the studio, would he set you up with some tracks he'd already laid down to work with? Or what was the process?

Yeah, yeah. He'd usually have something maybe that he started in the middle of the night; it'd be like a piano and a voice, or it could almost a whole track with drum machines and guitars and keyboards — and yeah, but he'd leave us alone, and he might give us what he wanted, like, sometimes a string arrangement or just background vocals, or he'd say, you know, he needed the whole thing, like piano, guitar, bass. So we would — we would just get to work on it, and it was always great when he came back, and then he would stay and hang out, because that would put him in a good mood, and then we would be relieved: "Oh, good, Dad's not mad!"

Dad!

Because there was a certain, like, "Oh god, you know, he's going to leave us alone and he's going to hate it!" It was hard to tell sometimes. You know, it was like he probably had ideas in his mind, and if what we did closely matched it, he'd be happy, but if it was some other thing, he'd be like, "What the hell? You heard that in there??"

"I'm sorry. You don't like the oboe and bassoon parts?"

Well, something that I find just so special about your role in this period is that when you look at the track listings on Prince's albums, you're one of the first musicians to ever get a credit on a Prince album. It feels like you were one of the first to be granted access to this space with him — to share space with him and to record together and to work together in this way. Can you talk a little bit about starting to contribute to Prince's records?

Wow. I didn't really realize that until you just said that.

Oh, really?

Yeah. That's so weird. Is that really true?

Well, I mean, judging from what he wrote on the credits, I mean, who knows? It seems like maybe sometimes more people were actually contributing than were credited. But yeah, I think if you go to Dirty Mind and look, it's you and Dr. Fink really that get the first credits.

Yeah, well, I mean, I know that when I moved out there and we started working, we worked really closely. I think we just really connected musically, even the very first day that I met him. There was some tension at first; we're both really shy people, and we couldn't really look at each other, or didn't have much to say, and he — we got to his house, and he was like, "I think I'm going to send her home. This isn't so great." And then he heard me playing the piano downstairs, and then he came downstairs and picked up a guitar, and we played together. And ever since that moment, I think we just — it was a love thing. It was a musical love affair. I mean, we just fit. I could play, you know, my weirdest stuff, and it would just make him smile. You know, other musicians would just be like, "Oh, man, get outta here," but he would just smile. And I just loved playing with him because we loved each other, and I could play a note that would put a smile on his face, or he could play a riff that would just make me just see God.

And I think he knew the level of my commitment, and that I would be a person for him forever. When you're an artist like he was — when you have something to do, and you realize, "I can't do it alone — I need people; I need some people" — And I knew that he needed that, and I was like, "You got me, baby, you got me," you know?

I loved him, and we just really connected musically, and he knew he could call on me when he needed like, "I just need, you know, something cute, or I need something dark and mysterious," and he knew that I could do that, because I had a cute voice, and I had a dark and mysterious sensibility on the piano. So I guess it's just that we connected on that way, and he really did call me all the time to do everything — everything he was working on, I was there: The Time records, Vanity 6, everything. And we lived together and — I'm going to get all sentimental now — waaah!

You lived together in L.A.?

No, in Minneapolis, actually, in his — what became the purple house.

Oh, you lived there?

Yeah, on Kiowa Trail. Yeah, I lived in that house for a while.

Well, speaking of getting sentimental, I just visited there yesterday. The house is obviously no longer there, but there's new people that own the property now and they've built a new house, and I asked if I could come and basically just stand in their backyard because I wanted to look out at the lake and see what it was like to be there; it was the site of so much of that period of his life. But I would love to hear some of your memories. Can you describe that house and being there with him and living there? What was it like?

Oh, yeah, it was great. It was like kids in a house and Mom and Dad weren't home! It was like "Wow, it's a whole house with a kitchen and bedrooms and the studio downstairs!" And, I had a bedroom upstairs, and Prince's master suite was downstairs with the laundry room and the studio.

He trusted me a lot, because during that time I also took a lot of photographs. We used to play around and do photo sessions. This was when he first started wearing the trench coat. I don't know, I just found a bunch of pictures recently from that time, and yeah, it was like, "Wow, that was so crazy." So yeah, I have those photographs. It's just like two — I mean, I guess we were in our 20s, like early 20s, — but it's just like two kids kind of fooling around, and like "Here, hold this chain. That'll look really tough!" you know? And then like a sign — like, we put this sign on a piece of notebook paper that — what did it say? — "Death Row" or something, on it, and we put it on the wall and, like, stood in front of it, and it just looks so cheap, and like high school or something — "Death Row." But that was before its time, too — Death Row Records!

So, it was like a little house of creation, you know? And then he'd be like, "Lisa, come punch me in!" Like he'd be working on a song or something, so, "Don't worry, I've engineered in the past," and he would be like playing the drums or something — like "Punch me in! I've gotta do the outro!" So I became his engineer, and I would punch him in or run the tape machine while he did a guitar part, or sometimes he'd have a keyboard part that he couldn't quite play, and then he'd call me in: "Lisa, come down here!"

"What?"

"Come play this part!"

There were a couple times we did like these two-handed keyboard parts. I can't remember what song. It was on the Time record, and there was like — he did this string part, and then it was like, "Wait, I can't reach that note!" So I played the high part and he played the low part/ You know, that would be really cute to think of: the two of us standing there alone in the middle of Minneapolis, out in some wilderness by a lake, playing four-handed ARP Omni parts.

It kind of reminds me of how in the "1999" video, you and Jill are playing the keyboard together.

Oh, right, exactly! That's it! That's it.

I'm so fascinated by the contrast of what kind of music was being made in such a fairly remote and almost kind of boring location: It was in a cul-de-sac in a suburb; it was beautiful but it was very quiet, and then you have all these futuristic sounds exploding out of the studio and actual explosions on the album and all of these cutting-edge synthesizers. I'm just curious if you have any insight into why was that important to him to have that remote location to work?

I think it was really because he was "Prince concentrate," and he had everything he needed already. And all he needed was the space to let it out. If he had too much input, like if he was in New York, and it's hustle bustle, and it's take a cab to the studio and there's five other studios going on with six other artists, it doesn't have the same feeling. It's not what he wanted to do. He wanted to emerge. And you could only do that in some boring place. You know, it's a different kind of emergence.

People do emerge in New York, and you can be a really incredible artist and emerge in New York, and it gives you really rough edges, you know — and this is all very esoteric, I guess — but for Prince, I feel like that he was allowed to expand and emerge in Minnesota, it made him more specific. It gave him round edges. It gave him smooth edges that you could really define, "That's Prince. He's not a New York rapper. He's not an L.A. folkie. He's not a Philadelphia funker. He's a Minneapolis — what?? Minneapolis? And it's not Bob Dylan?"

I think he just needed the space and kind of the quiet, because there was a lot of noise inside of his head. And then he also got a great deal of love there. You know, I mean, people love him there. He could go to the supermarket if he wanted to, and people would be like, "Oh my god, it's Prince!" but it wouldn't be weird, you know? Like, if he went to the supermarket in L.A., it would be weird. People would be like, "Whoa! It's Prince! Ahh!" Like, the f****** news cameras would show up.

So it was a peacefulness that he needed, you know?

I would love to ask about some specific songs, and I'll be interested to hear what you remember. I imagine it's quite strange to have these songs have happened so long ago, and then all of a sudden, here they come back, and now they're coming out.

Yeah.

There was one — I don't know if you worked on it with him in this era, but I think you had revisited later — and speaking of Minnesota, I'm just kind of fascinated by it. It's called, "Yah, You Know." And it's almost like a diss track, like he's making fun of Minnesotans a little bit or maybe a specific Minnesotan. But I'm wondering what comes to mind thinking about that song.

I remember it perfectly, and I remember when he played it for me, and he was just laughing so hard! And I couldn't believe he actually — "You actually said that, dude, you said, 'They spit when they talk!'"

I don't want to mention any names, but I know that it was inspired by a certain Minnesotan!

[Gasp!] I'm dying to know!

[laughter]

Well, another one that is interesting is this full-length jam of "Delirious," and I believe you were playing on that one. And that one, I think the version that's in here was recorded at Sunset Sound.

Oh, wow! I barely remember that. Now that I'm thinking about it, I remember — because it's a pretty basic kind of boogie-woogie song, and, with things like that, Prince could like get out a skateboard and start doing these all over the — because it's so easy, and then he would like make the band, you know, "OK now, play dead! OK, roll over!"

So it was one of those kind of songs where then he'd do like crazy horn-punch gags, like — he was kind of like we were like circus dogs and he was — make us do little, "Jump through the hoop — OK, go!" So, "Delirious," that's what I think of when I think of that track.

Being worked like a dog!
I have to ask of course about "1999." What do you remember about that song coming together?

That was really the most kind of methodical. Like, I remember I got to rehearsal in the morning, and I think he was actually at my keyboards and had the drum machine going, and he was like playing the [sings] and he said — he looked at me — "Come here." And of course, that's my keyboard, so I'm coming right there. And so he showed me the chords, and then he was like "Play that." And then so like as each person arrived at rehearsal that day, the drum machine never stopped, you know? It just kept going and going, and everyone would add in their part. Like BrownMark arrived at rehearsal, and then he was like, "Here, just play boom-chick, boom-chick," you know?

And then I remember that night, he had us come to his house. Or he had me come — I don't remember who else was there, except for Jill — and I played my keyboard parts, and then we did the vocal. At first I sang that verse line by myself, that first line, but we added Jill because Jill just has — I hate to say it, but she has a better voice than me! Well, she's a way better singer. She just had that fiery — it just was better for the opening line of a song, because my voice was kind of [sings, "I was dreaming when I wrote this"] — I was just a little dreamier sounding, and she was more like [sings "I was dreaming when I wrote this!"]. She's, like, tough.

So I remember doing that, and then I remember doing like the [sings — "Parr-ty!"] the vocals at the end, and like Prince was looking at me like, "Come on, Lisa, go! Go!" And I was like really shy, and I was like [sings "Ooh hoo hoo"] kind of, and Jill was all [sings "Oh, come on, party, baby!"]. I was sort of humiliated, but I was going for it and clapping my hands and party vocals. So I remember being there, and I just remember, you know, props to Jill Jones, because she's a really good singer, and she added a lot to the track. So yeah, I kind of remember that day really clearly. It was kind of funny, yeah.

Were you surprised that the song was going to open with a voice that wasn't Prince's?

Yeah, I thought that was really strange, to be honest, but then, the more I heard it, the more I liked it, and having everybody sing a line, that was kind of a cool thing, and it was very Sly Stone, so that was kind of like, "Yeah, that's right, that's right! We can do it — we're just like The Family Stone!" So yeah, I got into the philosophy of it. That was cool.

How about "Little Red Corvette"? I know you sang vocals on that as well.

Yeah, that I don't have as much of a memory. Where was that recorded?

It was initially tracked at the Kiowa Trail house, and then I think he brought it to Sunset Sound basically to do some finishing editing. So I think your vocals would have been at the Kiowa Trail house.

I think I replaced that memory with some microwave instructions. [laughs]

[laughs] That's funny! Well, thinking about the Sly vibe and everyone coming together for this big party on "1999," when you think about the album artwork and the look of the band being refined, really, and then also spawning all these other projects with Vanity 6 and the Time, it really gives the impression that Prince was forming like a super gang of people that were going to come at you out of Minneapolis. Did it feel like that at the time, that there was this momentum building and this group of people crystalizing?

Um, yeah, it did! It really did. The momentum was incredible, and, thankfully, the success kind of, reciprocated with our, you know — it just kept getting better and better. We just did a little bit better with each thing we did. We got more fans and more success, or a little bit higher on the charts, or …

And then, things just were growing, and Prince was getting more and more people into the gang, including wardrobe people and makeup people, and artists that would come up with great art for like, Around The World In A Day and stuff like that. He really started reaching out to other artists and utilizing talent wherever he thought, "That's a spice that I need."

And again, with Minnesota — just having the space and the time and the mental peacefulness to really bust out with something — to explode with all these people — I mean, you're right. It was like this — all of a sudden, the purple army, and now there is the Purple Army, and it just grew and grew, and the purple people and all kinds of stuff.

So yeah, it really did have that feeling. After a minute of struggling — a couple years of like, "Ughhh," then all of a sudden it was like, "Hey, we're catching a wave here!" And it really worked. It was a perfect storm. There's no way to teach someone how to do it, because so many things have to line up, and they just did.

Lisa Coleman in Los Angeles in 2007
Composer Lisa Coleman at the Hollywood Reporter/Billboard Film & TV Music Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., on November 1, 2007. (Chad Buchanan/Getty Images)

What was your first indication that things were starting to click together, that you guys were starting to take it to the next level and become really known by a wider audience?

There were different things that would happen, and certain gigs that we'd have. Certainly when the Purple Rain tour. I mean, the first day of that Purple Rain tour was so different than any tour we had set out on. Well, first of all, we were in better hotels. It was like, "Look at this fancy hotel! Oh my god, my room is great!"

And then we had bodyguards. That was the biggest weird thing.

And then the other thing was that Prince started traveling separate from the band, yeah. That, for me, honestly, was hard. It hurt. It was like, "Wait — well, how come he's just in that limo by himself and taking a Lear jet to the next thing and the band is on a bus?" And, you know, like that was kind of weird. But we had to then kind of accept, like, "OK, it really is about Prince. We're the band, but it's really about Prince, and he's the guy." And like, you know, I don't think we really needed to learn that. I think we knew that. But it was a difficult growing pain for us, was to be separated from him like that. So even though things were suddenly, like, grand, and all this money, and bodyguards carrying my bags and great hotel rooms, I still kind of felt a little sad and kind of lost.

So it took a while for the band to get its legs again, you know? And the tour was so short. So it was a really — it was a crazy time, and then during that tour, we won all these Grammys and American Music Awards, People's Choice awards, so we were always flying back to L.A. and doing these award shows together, and that was always a great feeling of togetherness, because we would do that fully together. And then we'd go back out on the road again, and then it would be like then we wouldn't see Prince until sound check, or the gig itself. And it was kind of weird.

But it was a short time, because he was already onto Around The World In A Day, and then that healed what I felt, whatever separation there was during that tour, it was completely healed for Around The World In A Day, because we were just together all the time. We were at the warehouse on Flying Cloud Road, and it was a beautiful time right after that.

So, yeah, Purple Rain was probably the weirdest — I mean, what does "weird" mean? It was the most — I don't know how to describe it. It was just very different for all of us, because it was so high profile, I guess.

I kind of picture then, the 1999 tour as like you're ratcheting up the roller coaster but you haven't gotten quite to the top yet to fall down.

Totally, yeah. Perfect.

I wonder if you have any other memories of the 1999 tour; it was billed as a "triple threat": it had Vanity 6 and the Time opening. What comes to mind when you look back on that period?

It was a circus. It was hilarious. I just remember, because we were kind of low-rent still, so it would be all of us at the Holiday Inn, you know, like, "Are they serving breakfast?" And just like the weirdest crew of people! And like, you know, the people who worked at these places would look at us — they must've thought we were a rock and roll band because there's no other description that could fit.

Or we would go to truck stops in the middle of the country, you know, where there's nothing, and then out would walk — just imagine! — The Time, The Revolution, Vanity 6, all walking into a truck stop in Middle America, wanting a fried egg sandwich, and these truck drivers are going, "What the hell is this?" And they didn't know what to think, and we would get looks and people whispering, and, you know, it was just hilarious. But we — you know, we were kind of bratty, and we'd just be like, "Yayayayaya, we own the world! Give me my fried egg sandwich, I'm going back on the bus!" It was just silly. It was a lot of fun, and I'm so glad we all had that time together, because, you know, it was, it was a triple threat. We were feeling so strong, and just young and cocky. And then, like I said before, they had to split us up because it was a bad business move. So the kids had to like, "Go to your rooms, do your homework." You know, we were like, "Oh, man, okay, fine. Well, we're going to kick your ass from far away!"

I really appreciate you being so generous with your time. I do have one more question for you and then I'll let you get on with your life. But I was wondering, thinking about this era and this kind of moment in the beginning of '83, which was kind of the second leg of the 1999 tour. All of a sudden, the singles are breaking through into the top 10 on the radio, and Prince is on MTV and you're on MTV. What was that like for you?

Well, to be honest, it made me angry, because it was so hard to get on MTV. It was really stupid in the beginning, because it was "Music television," but it was only Whitesnake. Really! It was like five videos over and over again of the same white, hair bands, and no matter what you did, we couldn't get on there. And so when we finally did, it wasn't like, "Oh yay!" It was kind of like, "F*** you!" Sorry, but that's where my, like, activism just kicks in, and like, that was some bulls***. And "Yeah, we're on MTV." So yeah. It was like, "Thank you very not."

Was there a similar attitude about radio? Because you know, at that time it was still so segregated, so much of Prince's early work was only hitting on the R&B charts. Was there maybe a bit of a twist of the knife, too, with being overlooked by Top 40 radio until then?

Absolutely, yeah. There was the whole idea of crossover came into play because of that, and it was frustrating. It was maddening. It was just because a guy is black, why can't we play like a rock song? Or because the bass part is wrong. Or even like "When Doves Cry," because there was no bass on it, they wouldn't play it on R&B stations. Like, what??

So stuff like that goes on, and it doesn't make any sense. People, you know, in positions of power make all kinds of assumptions about "what the people want" and what's going to work commercially, and it took a long time for us to really get on the radio, and on enough of the radio for more people to hear Prince. Just simple — it's just a guy named Prince, and, you know, he writes some songs, has a band, it's kind of cool. What's the big political wow about it? It's just, you know, funny enough, it was a big political wow, and radio had to change, and a lot of things happened, and so we were kind of accidental activists, but not so accidental. That's exactly what we were doing, actually. It was like just break down those walls and forget that white radio, black radio — it's so stupid, because people just like music, you know? If it's good, if they like it, they like it.

So, you know, we should just have music stations, not "black music stations." That's like, I don't get it. Like, "This is the black restaurant for people who like black food," you know? What the f***, you know?

It's still a problem, and it'll always — I mean, maybe it won't always be, but there's a little bit of that no matter where you go all the time, and so I'm really — I'm proud that we broke some rules and changed some things in our early days. Prince was a — he was a Prince of peace, and that's what we worked for, so here's to Prince.

That's so sweet. Lisa, it's just such a joy to get to talk to you, and I so appreciate you talking the time. Thank you again for talking to me.

Oh, no problem. Thank you. You were wonderful!

External Links

Lisa Coleman - official site

Prince - official site

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  • The Revolution performing in 2017
    In this handout provided by Paisley Park Studios, The Revolution (left to right: Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, Bobby Z, BrownMark) perform in the Paisley Park Soundstage during Celebration 2017 on April 20, 2017 in Chanhassen, Minnesota. (Photo by Paisley Park Studios/Steve Parke/Getty Images)