Interview conducted by Juize
After a year in Prince’s band New Power Generation, new motherhood and a following hiatus rad. returns with a new album named “East Babe” and currently a European Tour. But with much thanks to our fellow Housequake member Juize, we can now present an exclusive interview with Rad.
You started your career in Hamburg back in the days. How did you perceive the change of living in the USA compared to Hamburg/Germany?
I was playing music long before I came to Hamburg. I was a session player from the age of 15. It was in Hamburg where my solo career got launched and my first album was released. At first, it took me a while to get used to the “grey”, being from Northern California.
The SF Bay Area is not your typical American city, and it’s also very European influenced, so the cultural transition wasn’t too difficult. I learned German very quickly and that made it a lot easier.
Has being an entertainer fulfilled a life-long ambition for you and are you a self- taught musician?
I don’t think of myself as an entertainer, I am a musician first and foremost. There is a difference. Playing music is my passion and I am lucky to have been able to make it my profession. I started learning piano at the age of 4, I did formally study for many years, all styles, and I also have a music degree from UC Berkeley. But the true school was playing in bands all my life, being around experienced players.
Would you tell us how did you catch the attention of Prince, how did you get involved into the Musicology band, and did you have to run through an audition?
John Blackwell brought me into the fold. He knew all the rad. albums since back in the 90s. We had been emailing a bit and he came to one of my shows in San Francisco and before I knew it, I was getting a call. I flew out to Paisley and jammed, and then was asked to come out indefinitely.
Could you comment on the contrast between your expectations and the actual situation, when you joined the NPG? Did you find easy to integrate in the band? Did you feel free enough to contribute creatively to the sound of the NPG live?
As a musician you come into many different band situations so this was not much different from any other, only larger scale. When I came in, the band was only John, Rhonda and Renato. It was a rhythm section.
As for contributing, we were rehearsing a very tightly arranged show, so we primarily had our parts to play.
When you were asked to join NPG were you aware of the “hardcore” mentality of some of Prince’s fans? Were you prepared to have your every move scrutinised and critiqued (sometimes harshly) by the fan base? Or did you consider it another part of the job and ignore it?”
Actually, no. Critique and/or praise is part of the game when you have a public persona. At best, it was an introduction to new listeners.
What unreleased studio recordings, if any, did Prince involve you with?
We did go into the studio and recorded a bunch of stuff, none of it was released to my knowledge.
How did it feel for you as a fully developed and successful artist to work with Prince, was it like a pro job to do, or more like a high-end further training, so to say a master class?
If you’re still in the “training” process, you’re not getting this gig. So yes, you’re coming to the table with a package- skills, speed, a look, and professionalism. As much as you can pack into it. This is a job and you have to deliver.
Could you comment on your opinion of Prince as keyboardist? He’s often praised as a terrific guitar performer; do you think he’s similarly talented on the keys?
Pianistically speaking , he is somewhat unorthodox. He is, I believe, self-taught. But his musical conviction is so strong that he could pick up any instrument, or any object for that matter, and make an extraordinary musical statement.
Why did you leave Prince and if it was your decision, how was this perceived by him at the dawn of the most successful tour of 2004?
I left on my own accord. I came into the group just after having a baby and when the US tour came up found it ultimately too much to balance. It would only have worked with a lot of extra special treatment over the rest of the band. In the end it’s a matter of priorities. My husband and producer Michael Kirsch and I made a family decision on it.
How it was perceived, you’d have to ask him what he thought.
As a bandleader myself, it wouldn’t please me to lose a bandmember before a tour. On the other hand, there where 3 keyboard players in the band already. Renato alone can handle the gig by himself. The band was very supportive of my choice. It’s not hard to comprehend.
You stated at the concert in Hamburg that you normally don’t play any James Brown tunes, why?
We really have enough original material to fill hours and hours of performance. Doing a cover is always an homage and you pick them carefully. I like doing more unknown stuff that I try to turn people on to.
Have you ever heard bands play James Brown? If it’s him or his posse–that’s the stuff. But most of the time, it’s played at a
wedding, hotel lounge, cruise ship…
If we were just to cover James Brown, we might as well play “Celebration” and “I Will Survive”. The version we do is based on one he did in 1976, and it sounds like he went to “Oakland” on that one. Which means it suits my band well. So as an homage for his passing, we threw it into the set.
I noticed at the concert in Hamburg, that hardly anyone dances to the funk, has the funk lost its power over the bootys and legs of the people, how do you see this from the stage perspective? Bootsy Collins a lot of times tells the audience to “keep the funk alive”, is it an endangered species? How do you see its future?
I wouldn’t say that. Not all funk bands are “party” bands. Our show has a lot of jazz elements. We stretch out and the audience is listening. European audiences especially have the ability to pay attention. Plus, an older audience, a lot of musicians in the audience–they’re not about to break out the electric slide. But their heads are bopping. The dance element is always in the music, whether the songs are fast or slow, or tinged with other influences– THE FUNK WILL ALWAYS BE THERE.
How did you and Eric Leeds get together? Besides Eric who is well known for his contribution to Prince’s productions over the years you assembled a very delicate funk band, how?
I first met Eric when we toured with Sheila E. in 2001. We played in Japan. We’ve remained friends over the years. Michael and him hung out a lot when we stayed in Minneapolis. He’s a special musician, his respect for the Elders and his musical integrity are uncompromising.
My band consists of Ray Obiedo, Marc van Wageningen, Billy Johnson and Eric. Collectively their music credits are mind blowing. But the truth of the matter is, we’ve been playing for years together, in different band formations. The chemistry that happens has been built upon over time. In addition, we are all great friends, we go out together, our kids are friends. So we share more than music when we get on stage.
What will be your next step for the future, is there an release scheduled or a video of the current tour possible?
We’ll be playing in Japan and there will be a “Best of rad.” release there in August, we will also do some stuff in California and then Europe again in the Fall. Since my baby break, we decided to put out the new album (EAST BABE) and go out and promote. I’m having a ball on this tour! We’re hoping to capture this band live, either on CD or DVD, but there’s nothing concrete at the moment. Michael is probably cooking something up I’m sure.
rad. (May 2007)