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Mixing It!

Purple generation

The New Power Generation

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Its proprietor may have changed identity, but Camden's purple palace continues to peddle the iconography of Prince. Gold symbols and ornaments festoon the boutique, but upstairs lies a suite of rooms where the nameless one and his entourage like to hold court when they're in town. In the past, their number has included Sheila E, Sheena Easton and The Time, but it's The New Power Generation who are setting the triumphal tone for the millenium.

Given the mystique that continues to surround Prince, I found myself interviewing The NPG with the apprehension of a Kremlin-watcher. Drummer Michael B seemed to be the main spokesman for the band, and pretty much controlled the interview, without a hint of running out of steam. Able to talk about anything with weight and conviction, this man was clearly hip to muso journalists and their knavish tricks.

Extravagantly attired in leather, wild threads and shades, the band were huddled round a table like a tribe in ceremonial dress. To my surprise, they greeted me heartily, with vigorous handshakes, and US-style pleasantries like, "Nice to meet you, Sir". Perhaps it was time to get things moving, considering my audience was only to last half an hour.

I asked Michael B about Minneapolis, early influences, and the band's involvement with, 'the artist formerly known as Prince'.

"We were all players in town, and Prince called us at home. We were only into what we wanted, which was basically the Minneapolis scene. We went through the phase when 'the artist formerly known as Prince', was Prince. He'd brought all his friends together, and made records with them, and other people he was associated with. It was an upper echelon thing that was going on.

"Then there was another level of the scene, and we were down in the trenches — foot soldiers! I played every night, every week since junior high school. My first influences were rock and roll. Stuff like Led Zeppelin was my funk, but not everybody would agree with me on that."

"I do!" interjected Mr Hayes.

Mr Hayes is The NPG's synth man, and throughout the interview, insisted on burying his head in THE MIX. Obviously a man of taste and refinement. Meanwhile, Michael B was unstoppable.

"I was into the local rock and roll scene, and didn't really get off on R&B at the time."

"Hey Mike, look at the magazine!" interrupted Mr Hayes. Michael continued: "As I said, I like playing real drums. I'm not really into the techno side. Mr Hayes is way off into it, as you can see!"

Michael B uses a programmer for extra loops, but all he wants to do is sit down and play. "I've got triggers and pads. Most of the stuff I'm using was made for keyboards. I have a drum machine with loops and stuff, but I'm not hip to it. I don't mind playing to loops, I just don't want to stick 'em in the machine and become involved in that 'spaghetti' of logic. I didn't get involved with the instrument to go and read manuals."

Next in line was braid-haired bass guitar man, Sonny T. He told me about his early funk influences.

"I used to listen to a lot of Wes Montgomery stuff when I was younger, Jimmy Smith and all the greats. One day a Jimi Hendrix record came by accident. That was it! It changed my life, because I had a lot of jazz influences.

I learned all that sort of thing, and then Herbie Hancock and all that lot came along. I did Sly and Family Stone, James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, George Clinton — that whole camp. I like music outside the chordal structures that are played now."

Tommy Barbarella is The NPG's keyboard player, besides which, he apparently also has a lucrative career as a model. So what are his main interests?

"I get up in the morning and go straight to my grand piano and start playing. Then I go over a few feet to my studio, and program my sequencing stuff. I'm a hybrid of both musician and programmer. I couldn't just do one or the other. At home, my favourite instrument is the grand piano, and in the band, the old Wurlitzer with wah-wah, and all kinds of Boss pedals." So you're into abusing old technology? "There's a lot of people doing that these days!"

Meet Mr Hayes! "Hi, my name is Mr Hayes, and I'm all these kids' dad! I'm the keyboard player. I'm very much into programming and gear, but more from a tools aspect, as opposed to trying to make records. I got the best musicians in the world, who I hang out with all the time. It doesn't make much sense to let those guys go by, while I just make music with a box. It's a great tool, but I'd rather have Michael D drumming than a drum machine, any day of the week." "Alright!" echoed Michael.

Mr. Hayes is the band's only real synthesiser fan, into artists like Brian Eno and Vince Clarke. I ventured to ask the band their view on remixes. Tommy had something to say about it.

"This is my theory on re-mixing. If you can't get it right the first time, write another song and try again! Sorry!"

"We've got a few remixes," added Michael. "I think it's one of those things that people have got used to. Like if you don't have a remix, people feel they're being cheated. It's kind of like the Bud Fest! (US concert series, promoted by Budweiser beer). Don't feel that just because you've got 15,000 bands playing, you've got a good concert. Thank God it ain't happened here in Europe yet, the Bud Fest!"

So what of the front man? The mysterious masked character previously known as Prince, and now variously known as Symbol or Tora Tora. Amid ridicule from various pundits, he still chooses to stick to his guns. So why change his name, and cover his face? "Well, according to what he tells us, it was a spiritual move for him," said Michael in a reverent tone. "My feeling is, if that's what he wants to do, then I can respect that and move along with it, y'know."

Yet more confused, I decided to turn the conversation towards writing. "We all share the writing," replied Mike. "All that actually happens is one of us starts playing, and the other three will join in."

"That's the miracle of being able to do a live jam, instead of having to go to a box, saying I need drums'." Tommy interrupted, mimicking a typical programming scenario: "Uh, let's find a kick sound, and assign that to position 'G'. MIDI channel 16, uh, sequence four, let's cut this down!"

Michael reinforced the point: "We could have about ten songs written by the time you've done that shit!"

In talking about their new album Exodus, the band left me in no doubt of their struggle for artistic freedom. "Free music." they say. "No-one should own it." "We shouldn't have to sell our souls to release a record." "Exodus is the beginning of a long journey to achieve freedom."

Only the identity of their oppressor left me wondering...

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Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Mixing It!


The New Power Generation



Related Artists:


Interview by Rob Green

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