Viva The Revolution!
After the death of Prince, his most recognizable band is back to celebrate his music and legacy
As any good Prince fan knows, The Revolution was the band he assembled in Minneapolis in 1983. The musical diversity of the group blended straight-ahead R&B with strong elements of pop, funk, and even psychedelia with the prolific visions of its founder. With Prince, the Revolution released two full studio records, two soundtrack LPs and two videos. Purple Rain, which sold over 16 million albums in the United States, made the band an internationally known unit, and six top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart certainly didn't hurt their notoriety. The Purple Rain film bolstered their image as an iconic rock ensemble.
The Revolution officially disbanded in 1986 but now, after the shockingly early demise of Prince in 2016, the original members from the height of the mid-'80s era are back together. Wendy Melvoin (guitar, vocals), Lisa Coleman (keyboards, vocals), Brown Mark (bass, vocals), Matt "Doctor" Fink (keyboards, vocals) and Bobby Z. (drums) have reunited to celebrate the enduring legacy of that intensely creative period.
As they splintered away over the years, the members went on to do their own projects, most notably Wendy and Lisa continued their musical partnership into the '90s with and a series of well-received album releases. Today they continue to write music for several platforms. They have a new album in production in addition to contributing music for albums, film and TV - including NBC's Shades Of Blue series. INsite caught up with Wendy Melvion by phone from Los Angeles.
After Prince passed, there was obviously a period of shock, so how long did it take to basically get the band back together?
I think we are still trying to process it all. We're still trying to figure it out, but as we do, we realize the thing we need most is to be around each other. So we might as well play some music.
The loss of Prince was so big in culture but also for you on a personal level as a confidant and collaborator.
I felt the magnitude of my loss but it was compacted by the world losing him too. There was comfort in the loneliness but at the same time, I keep saying, 'I've lost nearly all of my heroes.' From David Bowie to Tom Petty to Maurice White to Leonard Cohen to everyone else. And I knew all of them. I think the only one left is Stevie Wonder.
You can see the impact from the creative side, but from the intensely personal side as well.
Yeah, it's definitely a strange time and it's coming out in the new material I'm writing with Lisa, but with The Revolution, it's not about writing something new. Maybe sometime in the future when we're all sort of settled and have a better idea of what this all means, we'll write something for him and try and do something with it.
So it was a year of downtime and shock before you ever thought about playing a show together.
Oh yeah, we were quiet and stunned. We just sat back and watched where the pieces were falling. We couldn't do anything the first year. Nothing at all. Then when we did, it was three shows at First Avenue [the legendary Minneapolis club seen in the film Purple Rain]. By the third night we walked backstage and just crumbled into each other's arms, crying. It was almost too difficult to navigate.
How were those shows? They were obviously charged with electricity and sadness but some sort of rebirth as well.
It was beautiful but it was also so heavy, so deep. It was a building full of grieving people. I referred to it at the time as a Shiva, you know? The Jewish ceremony of mourning for seven days and seven nights, where you get together with your friends and eat and mourn. So it was our version of a Purple Shiva. It was deep, man. Really hard.
Everyone is grieving but then you are tasked to go up and play.
But the beauty of that was, the connection was elevated. Whether you are depressed or mourning or whatever, when five people get on stage, even like with the Stones, no matter the backstory, you get on stage and it just works. The music becomes independent of your own feelings at the time. So it put us in the same place as everyone with a sense of release and healing.
And now that healing has become a tour.
I guess you could call it that. I've been hesitant to quite figure out what it is, but yeah, I guess it is. We've been getting messengered by the fans all around the world, 'Please come, we need you.' So we're trying to sort it out.
This is different from the Big Band era - when the leader passed on, the band continued, name intact.
Yes, but in this case we have to be very respectful. Our Master is not at the front of that stage so we have to be very careful. We have no intention of replacing him. We don't even use his name in the advertisements. We are trying to be very mindful of what and who Prince is to us and to the fans. Like with a Benny Goodman Band, it said 'The Benny Goodman Band' but we aren't using 'Prince and the Revolution' for a lot of reasons, mainly because it's just not right to do.
But you are The Revolution. Five distinct characters, the most identifiable band from the Prince catalog.
That's right, everyone is singular - but we come together for the one unit. And you know what, kudos to Prince for putting us all together. He knew we could make this music work. Like Bobby Z always says, when I joined the band, it came full circle, it completed Prince's mission.
"Controversy" was literally your entrance music into the band. Tell us how that happened.
Lisa and I had been friends since we were small kids. I was on the road, visiting her in New York City during the Controversy album tour and I went to soundcheck. The guitarist at the time didn't show up to soundcheck. I believe there was some internal strife going on in the band at the time. But Prince was doing what he always did, in a stadium or theater, he'd walk around while the band is playing to hear what it sounded like in there. He came up to me and he said, 'Do you know Controversy?' I said, 'Uh, yes I do.' He said, 'Take my guitar,' which was the Hohner with the tiger print pickguard, and said, 'Count off Controversy with the band.'
What a moment for anyone, but you were in the spotlight for sure.
He jumped off the stage and started walking through the auditorium. I looked at Bobby and Matt and Mark and Lisa and went, '2, 3, 4.' We started playing. Bobby says he looked over at Lisa and went, 'I know where this is going!' Then I got a phone call, literally two days later. He had apparently had asked Lisa, 'How do you feel about having Wendy the band?' She said, 'Oh my God, it sounds like heaven to me.' That's when he called me and said, 'Would you like to join my band?' I said, 'Without a doubt.' I called my boss at the time and I said, 'I quit, I'm joining Prince's band.'
Not many people can say that! Now, everybody is older and wiser. How has the band dynamic changed at this point?
Everyone is the same and everyone is completely different too. It's hard to explain. Lisa and I haven't stopped playing together. Mark and Bobby didn't have the same trajectory; they did a whole bunch of other things and we all kind of lost touch for a while. But when we all started playing, it was like, 'Oh yeah, of course, it's exactly right.' It's just that feeling. We were The Revolution for a reason. When we play there's the reason. There's something that comes out of us that makes one tone. It's like a harmonic convergence. It just works.
The beauty of The Revolution is that it was for a finite time. You didn't overstay your welcome, it was just a short burst of creativity.
That's right, it was five years in total. A bazillion albums and five tours. I liken it to my post-graduate work. It's like playing with Prince is being at Harvard and then I went on to Columbia to do my post-graduate work. It was fucking intense! It's amazing it has had this impact and we can still talk about it 35 years later. That short amount of time had an amazing amount of power on all of us. You can still feel the ripples from it.
The Revolution plays February 24 at the Tabernacle. For more information, please visit tabernacleatl.com.