Prince's 3rdEyeGirl Guitarist Donna Grantis on Trading Solos With the Purple One
To a musician, getting asked to join Prince's band is like winning the lottery. Like Miles Davis, James Brown, or Frank Zappa before him, having been in Prince's band takes a musician to the next level. They are rigorously trained by the absolute best in the business. So how did the young Toronto-born guitarist Donna Grantis get chosen by the Purple One for the high honor of playing along side him in his new all-female band 3rdEyeGirl? We spoke with her about how not to fake the funk when the king himself presents the daunting task of joining his royal guard.
Tell me about getting the call to join the band.
It was shocking. Towards the end of November Prince gave Hannah Ford, our drummer, the task of finding a female guitarist. Somehow she found my Youtube videos, and based upon my performance on those she sent me an email asking if I would be interested in jamming with Prince. Within a week I was at Paisley Park. It was -- really -- crazy.
Did you guys actually live in Paisley Park during that time?
Haha. No, we just stayed in Minnesota.
Being from Toronto you must have been used to the weather.
No way! It's way colder than Toronto.
How are the shows going so far?
Totally awesome! Our first shows have been totally crazy. Full houses.
Insane fans. So much fun.
Prince is known for dynamically changing the set lists on the fly...
Yeah. The girls and I have been in intense rehearsals for the past 3-4 months. We have nailed well over 100 tunes in our repertoire. With this tour we are really focusing on his most "rock" songs. So for anybody that ever wanted to hear Prince totally wail on guitar for two hours, this is the tour to go see. We will be playing songs that have never been performed live before, ever. From his very first album right up to our latest. Also a whole lot of brand new stuff never recorded.
How do you guys know what to play next then? Is is a hand signal? A musical cue?
All of the above. It's not as difficult as it sounds. The guy is a master band leader. The best. When you play with people for as much time and as close as we have you really learn each other and discover how to communicate on stage without speaking. The connection between us is getting stronger and stronger with each performance.
Prince is really attempting to establish 3rd Eye Girl as a standalone band. Meaning it's not "Prince AND The Revolution" or "The New Power Generation."
Well it's been a while since he has developed a project from scratch. It's a really special thing. A lot of fresh energy and excitement. And I think for an artist like P who has such an enormous catalog of songs and has done so much in his career, it's so awesome to see him evolving before my eyes. And that's what this project is. I really hope people come to the shows with the right expectations. Seeing a whole new band doing all new things with his classic music. I just hope everyone is ready for a full-on rock show.
Tell me about playing guitar along side such a wizard -- are you guys trading solos?
Totally! Because it's such a small unit we can really stretch out with this material. Prince is calling out solos on the fly. Last night for example, we were playing a song called 'I Like It There' and out of nowhere he cued Hannah to take a solo and it was completely fierce and crazy! It's really an atmosphere of "anything can happen" with this current lineup. The other night I was playing this tune and I looked up and noticed the crowd had their hands up and all the of sudden Prince jumped into the crowd and was surfing! And then he did it on the other side of the stage! I was wowed.
Does Prince tell you what gear to use? Pedals, etc?
Oh man, I love effects pedals. I'm running 8 guitar cabs through 20 pedals on 3 pedal boards which I had customized for this tour. I brought most of them in myself, but playing with him definitely influences which effects I'm using, whether it's to be consistent with his tone or because they sound so good. But no, he didn't require me to use anything in particular.
What effects do you share with him?
Sorry. Trade secret.
Tell me about how you got started. Was your family musical?
My family isn't musical but my older brother had an acoustic and I just started messing around on it when I was 13-14. I started off playing Zeppelin and G'n'R.
So you were a metal kid?
Yeah but I quickly jumped into the blues. Hendrix and Clapton of course. Then listening to their influences. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Dixon. After that I studied jazz for many years. Before Prince I played with many Canadian artists, like Amanda Marshall, rapper Kardinal Offishall, Hill & The Sky Heroes, and I had my own band, The Donna Grantis Electric Band.
Turnover is pretty high in any of Prince's lineups. Any plans beyond this tour and album for Prince & 3rd Eye Girl?
It look like things are going to keep moving forward. We have so much momentum right now. I don't see it stopping anytime soon. Remember this tour is just small venues. We are really looking forward to bigger and better things in the near future. We're excited.