Ida Nielsen: Purple Reign

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Danish bassist Ida Nielsen has a story to tell like no other. For starters, her band 3rd Eye Girl is Prince’s backing group. Joel McIver finds out how the great Minneapolite and the funky Dane got together.

Ask Ida Nielsen how she got started on the bass guitar and it’s the usual story – up to a point, anyway… “I grew up in the countryside in Denmark,” she recalls, “and my school had an electric bass and a drum kit. Everybody in the school wanted to try them. I played piano and sang in a choir, and one of the girls in the choir had a band. Her bass player quit, so she asked me if I wanted to try the bass. I gave it a go, and we started to play covers. Then I saw another band playing original material, and their bass player was playing funk. I saw him and said, ‘Wow! What is he doing?’ and went home and tried to play that way myself. When I found it, I loved it, and continued to play that style of bass.”

She continues, “I played with a bunch of bands in Denmark and also with a Belgian-African band called Zap Mama. I’ve done a bit of international touring as well. In 2008 I released my first solo album, Marmelade, because I wanted to do my own music: a funk album with a lot of bass on it. I didn’t care if no one wanted to listen to it; I wanted to finally play the way I wanted. That brought me a lot of attention, so I started doing a lot of clinics and I started working with TC Electronic. I recorded a lot of videos for them, which went on YouTube around 2010 – and that was how Prince found me.”

Prince, eh? Only the most enigmatic musician in the world. Fans of the great man, and there are millions, will not be surprised to hear that on receiving a phone call from Minneapolis, Ida thought that someone was ‘having a larf’. “I got a call from his manager, but I couldn’t really hear what she was saying,” she recalls. “I did hear her say the name Prince, but I thought it was a joke. She invited me over to [Prince’s near-mythical studio] Paisley Park for a jam and I said ‘Sure!’ and she told me she’d call me back. But I didn’t hear anything for two weeks, so I thought that was it until I finally got the call and went to Minneapolis – and three months later I was on tour with Prince.”

Back up a moment. When you show up at Paisley Park, clutching a bass guitar, you presumably do some homework beforehand. Did Prince ask Ida to learn some tunes before coming over? “I got an email the night before I left for Minneapolis, with two songs that I had to learn,” she chuckles. “They were ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Funk’, which I’m not sure are album tracks. I knew other songs too, of course, because I’ve always loved Prince: I listened to a bunch of stuff to prepare myself.”

What was it actually like, standing right there with Prince, jamming the funk? “He was super sweet when I first got there, because I was nervous,” Ida remembers. “He asked me which kind of basses I had and stuff like that, to help me relax and get into nerd mode. After a few minutes it was cool and we started jamming. Prince asked me if I could go on tour with him, so I learned a whole bunch of songs. There was a lot of stuff to remember, because he likes to change things up and not always stick to what’s on the set list, so I had a lot of different songs to learn in a short time, that was the hardest part of it. It wasn’t like a normal gig where you have 30 songs: I had to learn 300 songs. That took a lot of time.”

We must have our hearing checked: we thought she said ‘300 songs’… “It’s actually more than 300 now, because I’ve been learning more songs as we go along!”

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Now that’s commitment. Four years into Ida’s stint with Prince, he has released two albums at the same time – Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum. What gear is Ida using to deliver the bass notes? “I’ve been playing a Sandberg Masterpiece for the last four years,” she says. “I also have a Yamaha five-string, but I haven’t played it much lately because Prince’s music has been all four-string. I only play one bass with Prince because there’s no time to change between songs. Right now, for the shows following the upcoming album, I think I’m going to be playing an old Danelectro Longhorn bass, because it sounds really old and it fits the music well – and it looks cool too. I basically play standard tuning, but occasionally I’ll drop the E string to D.”

And the rest of the chain? “I use a Crybaby bass wah, an envelope filter, two octavers that each play an octave up and an octave down, TC’s Polytune and a bass booster. Right now I’m playing stereo through TC Electronic gear, which I’ve been using since 2009. I’m playing their biggest amp, the Blacksmith: I have two of those on stage with a bunch of cabinets.”

The music on Prince’s two new albums, and indeed in his previous releases going as far back as the late 1970s, is heavily funk-indebted – nirvana for a bass player, we reckon. Ida agrees: “I love playing slap bass, but it depends on who you’re playing with and what kind of music it is: you have to adapt your playing. I have so many influences that I don’t want to mention everybody in case I leave someone out, but there’s Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, Rocco Prestia, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bootsy Collins, Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten, James Jamerson – all these guys. There are so many great players and I admire each of them for their different thing. And there’s Prince too!”

So how long into the future is Ida committed to being in Prince’s band? “It’s open-ended,” she tells us. “We’re all living in the now and we’re all fully committed to whatever it takes with the album coming out.”

Finally, where does Ida go from here? Once you’ve been Prince’s bass player, there’s no higher place to go, we reckon, unless the Rolling Stones or possibly U2 come calling. Ida laughs this off: “Well, Prince was number one on the list of people I wanted to play with, so it’s a good question! It’s amazing being with him. Everybody knows that he’s an incredible musician and singer, and that he can play all instruments, but the thing for me is his love for the music. He’s a master arranger and he can feel that he always gives 100 percent. He gives his whole heart and soul to the music, and that makes you want to do that too. No concert is the same, because he always switches up the set list, and playing with him gives me an amazing feeling that I’ve never felt with any other musician. With him, you’re in the moment 100 per cent – and it’s such a good feeling.”

Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum are out now on Warners. Info: www.plectrumelectrum.3rdeyegirl.com

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One comment on “Ida Nielsen: Purple Reign
  1. LotharBass says:

    Love her bassplaying.
    Also check the Surinam Bassplayer LotharBass
    Song;live under the sky
    http://warped.battleofthebands.com/u/THEUPRISERS

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