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Donna Grantis' New Band Inspiration

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Friday August 04, 2017

From Minneapolis City Pages

3rdEyeGirl’s Donna Grantis on how Prince inspired the sound of her new band
By: Danny Sigelman

A jam session with Prince, drummer Hannah Welton, and bassist Ida Nielson turned out to be an audition for a new stripped-down rock band. Grantis passed that audition, and, as a member of 3rdEyeGirl, she traded molten guitar leads with the band leader and co-wrote the title track for the group’s sole album, Plectrumelectrum.

After a period of reflection, Grantis decided to remain in Minneapolis, and in true Prince fashion, she’s scouted out some top-flight local musicians for her own project. The group Grantis will debut live at the Dakota Jazz Club Friday includes keyboardist Bryan Nichols, drummer JT Bates, bassist Cody McKinney, and tabla player Suphala.

We spoke with Grantis by phone while she was on her way to rehearsal about her new band’s electric Miles Davis-inspired sound, the many lessons Prince taught her, and whether 3rdEyeGirl really needed to perform with three bass drums.

CP: I saw the Revolution at First Avenue last week and watching Wendy nail some of those leads was, first of all, very heartwarming, but also made me think about the precision that he had and the direction he had for others. He really played the band like an instrument. I think with 3rdEyeGirl he really cut loose a little more those last few years with your band.

DG: He was a master band leader. The really cool thing about 3rdEyeGirl was that since we were such a small unit there was room for a ton of improv on the spot. Every night any song could go differently. He could throw a solo anybody’s way-guitar, bass, and drums. I think that was what was exciting, not only for us but also the audience. The audience could pick up on that feeling. There was such a sense of urgency on stage-we had to really keep our eyes on him like a hawk. Anything could happen at any time.

I played ‘Purple Rain’ with him and the girls during my audition-which I didn’t know was an audition, but was the initial jam session in November of 2012-and after that Prince always played the solo, whether it was on guitar or piano. Four years later when we were playing in my hometown, Toronto, and right before the guitar solo at the end of the last chorus he pointed his finger at me, which meant I had to take the solo. It was that kind of element of not really knowing what was going to happen or what to expect but really be ready for anything at any moment.

CP: I mean this in the best way, but I think Prince could really be kind of a little bit of a twerp-in terms of putting you on the spot, I think he had a lot of fun with people sometimes maybe at their expense, but really kind of pushing you off a cliff. Is that what it felt like?

DG: Oh, 100 percent! But you know, it’s sink or swim, right? I mean, what are you going to do? You’re on stage and it’s your turn to play, you can’t even think about it for a split second. You just dive in and go for it. He definitely had a way of bringing the best out of everybody. On stage, calling people out to play solos, or even compositionally to tunes he was writing to highlight everybody’s talents arrangement-wise. Every group he had, from all the different versions of NPG or the Revolution or 3rdEyeGirl, each band’s arrangement of songs was very different. He always highlighted the skills and talents of the musicians he played with at the time.

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