Sheila E. on Prince’s humanity, music in the vault (Interview)


[Andrea Swensson] Sheila E., thank you so much for
coming in. [Sheila E.] You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. [Swensson] Awesome to be here with you today. Happy birthday. [Sheila E.] Thank you. [Swensson] Tomorrow’s your birthday. You’re in town to play First Avenue for
the first time in quite a few years. Was the last time you played First Avenue
the 7/7/07 shows where you played Macy’s and then the Target Center and then I think
you guys went on at 2:30 in the morning at First Avenue? [Sheila E.] I don’t remember what time it
was. It was all a blur. That was the last time, and I’m really excited
to play there. It’s been a while, and a lot of good memories
there. We were coming in last night and I was thinking
about all kinds of things like man, I’m here celebrating my birthday, 61 years, and
what Minneapolis means to me, and family – this was home. Just excited to be here. I had that fuzzy, anxious butterfly – I’m
going to cry – I’m not – I’m happy. It was really emotional coming in. I’m very happy to be here today. [Swensson] Something I was thinking about
is as you came to Minneapolis and as you started working more with Prince, that was kind of
in the era of you transforming from Sheila Escovedo to Sheila E., right? [Sheila E.] Yes. [Swensson] Can you tell me a little bit more
about what was involved in that transformation? [Sheila E.] It wasn’t a lot, basically, other than dropping
my last name and just saying Sheila E. That was one thing, and again, trying to see if
that was going to work for the people that did know me. He started introducing me as Sheila E. to
see what people would thing, and people remembered my name easily or a lot better than Escovedo,
because that was not pronounced always correctly. And then later on it was confusing because
they would call me Sheena E. or Sheila Easton, so it was just like wait, what? I changed it so people could remember. That was one of the transitions. The other was, for me, knowing that I wanted
to always be a solo artist and do my own music. It was more so of how would I play percussion
and still maintain the foundation of who I am as an artist. It was a little bit different and challenging
in explaining to people that I am a percussion player and sing a little bit and love dancing. That was going to be the transition, that
now what I did for other people as being part of the band or a group, this would now be
me in the forefront. That was going to be fun. [Swensson] I was watching an interview you
did with Larry King, and you estimated that in the span of just three or four years, that
you and Prince must have recorded hundreds of songs together, which is just incredible
to think about. I’m wondering if we could hear all of those
recordings and sift through them and reflect on them, what do you think we would learn
about the way you influenced Prince’s sound and the way he influenced you. [Sheila E.] We were always trying to – I was saying
earlier that there were no limits to us creating in the studio. Like we’re in a studio right now. There are no limits. The limits that we have is what we put on
ourselves. So in order to create and be different and
be inspired as well is to try things you’ve never tried before. Let’s try this mic on the kick drum or the
snare, or let’s sing a vocal in the kick drum mic. Let’s change the sound. There are no rules. Every day you come in the studio just creating. It’s like here’s another idea. I have no idea what it sounds like right now,
but I’m sure that my brand, as who I am as an artist, that stamp is in that music
for sure. [Swensson] There’ve been a lot of different
things announced recently that people are going to do to celebrate Prince’s legacy,
whether it’s a documentary or whether it’s releasing his music, and I’m wondering just
as someone that knows him so well, what would be your preferred medium or approach to really
telling future generations about Prince’s legacy. [Sheila E.] There are many documentaries that are happening. A lot of people want to tell that story. And there’s different ways of sharing who
he is. As long as they get the story straight and
tell the truth and share who he was and always will be us – a great musician. He’s an incredible songwriter, but the musicianship
for me – us being in the studio all the time and playing – the things he would come
up with – just sharing those stories. As long as they tell the truth and share his
legacy of music, I think it’s great. [Swensson] Over the years I’ve observed
a lot of people talking about Prince and trying to approach this idea that his legacy – and
something that’s always bothered me is the way that people talk about him a little bit
like he’s an alien or that there’s something extraterrestrial about him because he’s
so talented and because he was a little eccentric. The stories just irk me a little bit because
I do hear these other stories about what a kind and tender human being he was in the
moments with his friends. So I’m wondering, just to close today, if
you could share a story that would tell us something about Prince’s humanity. [Sheila E.] Everyone has a bad day, first
of all. And so yes, he was a great person and he had
bad days as well like we all do. We’re human, so I don’t know the extra other
stuff that you hear, but as far as a human being he was different in his own way by the
way I think he approached his music and how he wrote. Half the time recording with Prince, we would
just finish setting up the gear, and he’s ready to count it off and play. There’s no “let’s spend two hours on
a drum sound”. No, we don’t do that. Or let’s clean up – the cowbells are rattling. That’s what it should sound like. And I love that. Those things he did differently, and I think
that’s what made him different – standing out and not being afraid of changing his sound,
trying to experiment with drum machines and making it different, and the different sounds
on his guitar or the bass or the piano. To me – I don’t even know if that answers
your question. I just think his approach is different in
that way. [Swensson] Sounds like he was just always
very in-the-moment. [Sheila E.] He was. [Swensson] Sheila E., thank you so much for
being here today. [Sheila E.] You’re welcome.

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