In the talent room under the stage of Los Angeles’ House of Blues nightclub, i sat down one-on-one with Prince minutes before one of his fabled after parties…
PRINCE: OK, let’s go… You get six questions.
SMOKEY D. FONTAINE: Six? Well I guess I better make them good ones then, deep questions that lead to long follow-ups!
Good ones are fine.
Let me start by saying I’ve been a fan for many, many years. My iPod says I have 423 of your songs on it. If I played them all in a row, it would take 2.4 days!
[Laughs] I appreciate it.
Throughout the past three decades, you have influenced music in so many ways. As an artist, you don’t really have any peers–
–Hold on. If you write that, please just do me a favor, and put it in a way that gets the point across but doesn’t dis anybody because my band an I are not in competition with anyone. If you’re hanging out with Maceo Parker, who are you in competition with, really? At this age, it starts to be more be about what the gift is and then what your role is. That’s where the Scriptures come into play. As men, we’re supposed to be humble. The ones that can’t admit that are the ones that fall because they’re caught up in worldly things like women, sex, drugs. The Bible is like the guidebook to help men and women with their sins. If I’m going to get some advice, wouldn’t I want it from Solomon? That man had a thousand wives. I mean, I want to talk to the guy who had a thousand women!
Do you feel gifted?
Yes. And I’m not going to waste my blessings. God over-blessed me, but you have to appreciate what you have, and to do that, you have to break down a lot of walls, meaning that you’re not afraid anymore. If you look at earlier performances of mine, my eyes were closed.
There seems to be a calmness about you now. You seem happy, open, positive.
Over time I’ve started to understand that it’s really the love of music. When you have a real love for music, you kind of let go. When you let go, I don’t care if you’re a writer or a dancer or a musician or a lighting guy doing the spots above the stage. Sometimes I look at our lighting guy sitting up there, and he’ll be watching me during a show, looking at me like, “I got it.” It’s little things like that. I mean, we could be dead; we could be non-existent, but we’re not. We’re all alive. It’s the acceptance of the gift of life.
Was there a turning point for you when you began to realize this?
No. I always accepted it, but I didn’t understand it until I got into the Scriptures. When you read the Scriptures, you start to understand that, wait a minute, someone said this way before I did. I ain’t the first one. If society did this, we would have a paradigm shift, and everybody would all get along. Everyone is supposed to eat. Everybody is supposed to treat people with respect.
Has this understanding affected your music?
The more you get evolved in the truth, the more it affects everything. It affects every decision you make. Sometimes kids have to try different things. Well, let me try this -ism, or let me try that -ism until you get to the point where none of them really satisfy you; none of them give you peace. This is the beauty of God. Once you get with God’s will, now you feel whole.
Do you have a pl an for the next phase of your music?
I might try a symphony, might try composing something with flutes. I also want to talk to people, be able to listen to them.
When you hear melodies, do you hear notes?
It’s hard for me to answer that because I am music. It’s like me asking you to describe whatever race you are. Ultimately, your answer willl only be rehashed out of what someone else told you that you are. I can’t put it into words.
What does it feel like when you get onstage and you strum a note on the guitar or play a key on the piano?
It feels like a revelation, a realization… the answer. That concept of the everlasting now.
Was all this meant to be?
Well, I don’t believe in time now, so your question… You just want to look at what God’s will is. They say I’m arrogant, but what I’m just trying to do is lead people to the truth. The truth is that we don’t even know what the world will be like until we shake things up a little bit.
You’ve never been shy at doing that.
You got to. Miles shook it up. Stevie shook it. I’m going to shake it up. It’s like, “Wait a minute, you sold a million copies and didn’t release it on a major? Nah, that can’t be true.”
I’ve always felt that modern fame gets in the way of artistic expression, but you’ve seemed to navigate through that pretty well.
Go back to when Coltrane and Miles and all those guys were playing. What was fame back then? Fame is only a by-product of whatever the medium is, like the Internet or fifty channels as opposed to four. Me? I grew up with four channels. We didn’t have E!, Extra, 20/20, 60 Minutes… You can go on and on. And in Miles’ time, you didn’t have any of those! Fame is media constructed with stars that they control.
So how do you succeed in that system?
The best thing you can do, as a writer, is to keep telling the truth. Keep people’s antennas up because it’s crazy. It’s all fake. This lady asked me today, “Are you teaching the lip-synchers a lesson?” And I said, “Ma’am, that’s not my duty. I just do what I do.”
Do you teach a lot of the younger musicians in your bands?
No. I just do what I do, and they’re going to get what they are going to get. If they get dog, they get dog.
I’ve always thought there are two kinds of artists: those that listen to their own music and those that don’t. Do you listen to your own music?
No, because I’m always working on something new, and as you can see [points to his band], these young folks don’t listen to the old music. They just want to get out on this stage and jam!
Editor’s Note: This interview originally appeared in August/September 2007 issue of Giant Magazine.
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