Donna digs into "Elektra," a PRS CE 22 that's been her main guitar since her teenage years
There’s a definite, almost tangible, musical force that surrounds Prince. When musicians are offered a chance to pass through the Purple One’s sphere of influence, rarely do they say no—even Miles Davis had a late-night jam inside Paisley Park Studios (Prince’s $10 million-dollar recording compound located in Chanhassen, Minnesota). In late 2012, Prince asked drummer Hannah Ford Welton to help recruit a guitarist for a rock-oriented project he was putting together. As Welton was cruising YouTube she came across Toronto guitarist Donna Grantis and her fusion trio play Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” a tune that was already in Prince’s live show. At the time, Grantis was making her name as a forward-thinking, jazz-inspired rocker in the clubs with her eponymous group. Once Prince saw the video he invited her to Paisley for a jam. The chemistry was immediate. “Within a week I had booked a one-way ticket to Minneapolis,” remembers Grantis.
In the 18 months since that fateful jam, 3rdEyeGirl—the trio of Grantis, Welton, and bassist Ida Nielsen—have become a powerful and funky rock ’n’ roll outfit. Without the behemoth of the New Power Generation’s 11-piece horn section, the group is more nimble, explosive, and so incredibly full of energy, it’s hard to believe it’s just a quartet. “Because we are so small, just the four of us, there’s a lot of room for improvisation. We can really stretch things out,” mentions Grantis. PLECTRUMELECTRUM, the group’s first full-length album shows off the bombastic playing of Welton, the hard-driving bass lines of Nielsen, and of course the adventurous and inventive playing of Grantis. This alone would make for a formidable trio, but with Prince’s Hendrixian, wah-fueled explorations, the result sounds like Jimi fronting Led Zeppelin with a James Brown swagger.
Grantis gives Premier Guitar a glimpse of life inside Paisley Park, explains her love for vintage Traynor amps, and shares guitar tips from Prince himself.
The album is finally out. Was this something you started working on as soon as you joined the group?
It was one of those things where when we started recording the album, we didn’t realize what we were doing. We just set up to rehearse and everything was miked. Recording is just part of our day-to-day existence. It wasn’t until we started hearing the songs with vocals that we thought there was something bigger being planned. Out of everything we recorded, Prince asked us to find 12 songs that we thought went together really well. I’m sure Prince had a master plan, but when we were recording we thought we were just cutting takes.
Absolutely. The really cool thing was that it was recorded live with all of us in one room playing together. We just had to nail takes that we would keep. If one person made a mistake it was like we all made a mistake.
With a musician as iconic as Prince, it’s nearly impossible not to be aware of his music. Was he a formidable influence on you growing up?
He was a huge influence on me. Before I got the call for this gig people would ask me, “If you could play with anyone, who would it be?” My answer was always Prince. About a year before I went to Paisley I actually saw him play in Toronto and then one of the infamous after-show jam sessions. Playing with him is literally a dream come true.
After more than a year of recording and some touring, is there a fair amount of music that didn’t make the album and was put into the vault?
[Laughs]. Yeah, the vault is real!
Can you describe what it’s like at Paisley Park from a musician’s standpoint?
It’s the ultimate creative space. Every day we go in to the huge soundstage. It’s like a live music venue. Sometimes we open up on the weekends on short notice and invite people in to have dance parties, listen to new music, or even have breakfast. We played a show once called The Breakfast Experience. It was in support of Prince's single, “Breakfast Can Wait” and we performed in our pajamas at four in the morning to a packed room. Everyone was in pajamas and pancakes were served—it was pretty crazy. There are a number of recording studios. Of course, there’s a lot of purple. There’s a ping-pong room. That’s usually where we unwind. Prince and Ida go at it. Since the first day we all arrived, our ping-pong skills have greatly improved.