Prince was a prolific songwriter and guitar virtuoso who defied all genres, influencing an untold number of musicians -- and music fans -- along the way. We honor his legacy by sharing stories from five guests we've hosted on KCRW's Guest DJ Project over the years: Actress Michaela Watkins, actor Jemaine Clement, chef Marcus Samuelsson, choreographer Kyle Abraham and comedian Fred Armisen. Hosted by Eric J Lawrence.
Guest names, song picks and links to their FULL Guest DJ sessions:
1. Michaela Watkins -- Baby, I'm a Star
2. Marcus Samuelsson -- Mountains
3. Jemaine Clement -- Housequake
4. Kyle Abraham -- Batdance
5. Fred Armisen -- Pop Life
PRINCE -- GUEST DJ PROJECT
Eric J. Lawrence: In a year when we've lost many music greats, losing Prince was one of the hardest. The prolific songwriter and guitar virtuoso defied all genres, influencing an untold number of musicians along the way. He changed the lives of many non-musicians as well, including some of the fine folks we've hosted as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. We've gathered some of their stories for this special edition of the Guest DJ Project, hosted by me, Eric J. Lawrence.
First up, actress Michaela Watkins, who stars in the Golden Globe-nominated Hulu series Casual.
MW: In the 70’s, there were so many anthem rock stars, just amazing epic rock stars. But then the 80’s became this whole other sound, that, quite honestly, it’s interesting and cool to look back on it. It evokes so much nostalgia and wonderful feelings instantly, but in terms of the musicality, you know, when Prince came on to the scene, it was just - what was he?
MW: For being this little dude who is sort of sexually ambiguous but dirty, but classy – had so much confidence and was a straight up genius, you know, musically and poetically.
MW: I grew up in Syracuse, NY where it’s just a really depressive town. Especially that time, it was always really cold and grey and a sad, broke town. And, you know, I was a sad broke girl. My parents had split at a time where parents weren’t doing that a lot and just hearing this music that was so different and stood out so much from all the other sounds that were happening, and this song, “Baby I’m a Star,” I just feel like is such a powerful song that moves in so many different ways.
*Song: Prince – Baby I’m a Star*
Eric J. Lawrence: Next, we go to Award-winning celebrity chef and restauranteur Marcus Samuelsson. He brings together an array of global influences in his cuisine and his determination to take risks in his work is directly linked to the musicians he's relied on to show him the way.
MS: If I have to point to one person that I’ve been most inspired by, it’s Prince. From so many different ways of, again, opening up that door that Davie Bowie did in terms of alternative and being different and taking your own chances and always putting out quality content. Every song for me, like this song for me, is just a build-up and there is like three songs going on in one song, but it’s all done so melodic and beautiful and that for me is the key to a great dish. It’s just undertones so delicious, things left and right, and that’s what this song is.
MS: If Prince were food, what would he be?
MS: I think he would be like an incredible, perfect sushi - raw, loud, but just very understated and quiet at the same time. Like a perfect sushi meal.
MS: What’s going to be purple in the sushi?
MS: The tuna
MS: The tuna, perfect (laughter).
*Song: Prince – Mountains*
Eric J. Lawrence: Anyone who has heard the musical-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, won't be surprised to learn they are big fans of the purple one. Actor/comedian Jemaine Clement, one half of the beloved Kiwi troupe, paid us a visit and picked one of Prince's biggest party songs.
JC: Next is just a song from a great album, Sign O’ The Times by Prince, it’s a classic. And I think “Housequake” is probably the one that I’ve played the most. I enjoy the funky beat. (Imitates Prince.) Something like that. I’m no Prince. As much as I try.
DW: That was pretty good.
JC: Prince kind of back-chats with himself, you know.
DW: What kind of an influence is Prince on Flight of the Conchords?
JC: He’s a big influence on us. We’re often trying to sound like Prince and failing, but failing enough that sometimes people don’t realize that that’s what we’re trying to do and they think that’s just our general sound. But I think a lot of bands are doing that, you know. They try to make one thing and their own personality or style turns it into something else. That’s quite often for us, we’re try to be Prince.
*Song: Prince – Housequake*
Eric J. Lawrence: Our next selection comes from choreographer and MacArthur fellow Kyle Abraham, who is a rising star in the dance world. He integrates elements from his experience as a black gay male into his highly personal work. Prince played a pivotal role in his decision to make dance his life's pursuit.
KA: It’s hard for me with Prince, because he has such a huge catalog and I’ve grown up with his music through my older sister my entire life. And the thing with Batdance, I was thinking about this album, the Batman Soundtrack and thinking there are very few soundtracks done by one pop music artist that really you can tell that they were inspired by the film and/or the subject matter. Each song you can hear where he is coming from in relation to the Batman character or the Joker character in the movie and/or the comic books.
KA: The crazy thing is, I know exactly what day I saw this movie. It was my sisters birthday and in Pittsburg - I don't know if they did this all around the world - but you could buy a tee shirt and the tee shirt was your admission ticket into the movie. So, I remember sitting there with my Batman tee shirt on, on June 15, my sister’s birthday watching this movie.
AV: When you were a kid, did you always know that you wanted to be a dancer growing up?
KA: Yeah, I think the dance thing for me, it started because my mother and my father put me and my sister in visual art classes and all this stuff. And all these things I was able to do in my room and I was making up dances in my room, not really knowing the word for it was at the time. It wasn’t until my friends actually took me to see the Joffrey Ballet doing a full length evening of dances to Prince that I saw dance for the first time on stage. And if there wasn’t that opportunity I never would have been interested in wanting a career in dance.
*Song: Prince – Batdance*
Eric J. Lawrence: Last--but certainly not least-- we have comedian Fred Armisen–of Portlandia and Saturday Night Live fame. Prince simply rocked his world.
FA: Everything that I thought was cool about music, he turned it all upside down. I was so into punk and The Beatles. It was like punk and The Beatles and that’s it. This is what’s cool -- camouflage, leather jackets -- and then all of a sudden this video came on on MTV, of the song “1999”, and it was the opposite. Purple, pink, fluorescent lights, hearts, make up, thongs -- you know really it was very much the opposite of what I understood or would preach to people as what was cool and it turned it upside down and said ‘Fred, you’re wrong. This is even more punk than that’.
FA: He was a control freak and he played all the instruments on those first albums. The way he wrote songs it was like an alien came down and wrote music. He was like the Steve Jobs of making music. You know he was like “I know you think you know what funk is and I know you think that you know what a good album and a good song is, but this is what you need” And “1999,” I love that album, love that song and “Purple Rain” --what? How can anyone make music like this? And then the song “Pop Life”. I thought that, for me, is everything that I love about Prince.
*Song: Prince – Pop Life*
Eric J. Lawrence: Thanks so much for listening to this special edition of the Guest DJ Project. For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/guest-dj-project and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.