At Paisley Park, Prince talks making music and legal battles

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At Paisley Park, Prince talks making music and legal battles

CHANHASSEN, Minnesota - Nightfall is fast approaching at Paisley Park.

There are few lights on in the cavernous compound, and unseen doves (of course there would be doves) are cooing up a racket before twilight fades to darkness. But even their collective noise takes a back seat once Prince - sitting in the dimmest bit of light - goes to his Mac, cues up a track and hits play.

A melodious instrumental track floods the room, the lush orchestration compliments of the Minnesota Orchestra, whom Prince tapped to perform. Its inspiration has come from a little-heard Dionne Warwick song, “In Between the Heartaches,’’ which he also played moments earlier.

The track remains a work in progress; Prince has written no lyrics yet. But it’s music like this that keeps him going - to still, after all these years, take music to the next level.

“If you don’t try, how will you get another ‘Insatiable?’?’’ he says, referencing his classic bedroom groove.

Over the next few moments at Prince’s computer, he goes to YouTube to play an array clips that get his musical heart thrumming, dipping from old James Brown clips to the relatively new U.K. singer FKA Twigs.

Prince isn’t always pleased about what he hears from today’s crop of entertainers - “The quality of the music, everyone would agree is not the gold standard,’’ he muses about today’s mainstream pop universe.

But when it comes to his world, what he’s hearing ranks among the best that he’s heard in ages. On Tuesday, he will release his first album in four years, “ART OFFICAL AGE,’’ along with music from his latest protege act, 3RDEYEGIRL, “PLECTRUMELECTRUM.’’

“I’m completely surrounded by equal talent,’’ an energized Prince says. “To me it feels like heaven.’’

It’s not just the music that’s taking his Royal Badness to new heights: For the first time, he is releasing his music with complete freedom. The man that once wrote “slave’’ on his face in protest of not being in control of his own music and famously battled and then departed his label, Warner Bros., is now back with the label - under his own terms.

“What’s happening now is the position that I’ve always wanted to be in,’’ says Prince. “I was just trying to get here.’’

In the spring, Prince, 56, finally gained what he had sought for more than two decades - control of his musical masters, and, in a larger sense, his musical legacy. In the past, Warner Bros. held the rights to Prince’s music, even long after he left, as part of the contract he signed as a new artist.

But after savvy legal maneuvering, he owns the rights to all of his vast collections of hits, including archival music that Prince fans have been longing to hear for decades. Prince also gained control of the publishing rights to his compositions and has performance rights - which means he completely controls his own musical destiny.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who works closely with Prince on legal, business and financial matters, calls it his “fight for justice’’ and an enormous game-changer for the industry.

“It’s magnificent, and what’s important for him, he wants all musicians to have [this],” she said. “This is just something that he feels incredibly passionate about.”

Long a trailblazer for artists’ rights, and for coming up with innovative approaches to break away from the label-structure that he’s viewed as unfair to artists, he sees the way the industry has unfolded as the ultimate “I told you so’’: disappearing labels, a streaming system that some music acts say nets them even less profit for the music they made, and increasing challenges to making money just off of making music.

He scoffs at the image of him that had long been defined by others: a technophobe who resisted what was to come in the industry, like that persistent notion that he once declared the Internet dead.

“We were saying it was dead to us - dead energy,’’ he explains.

AP
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