Music Interviews
2:19 pm
Sat December 22, 2012

This Is What It Sounds Like When Two Women Cover Prince

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 2:51 pm

In the 1980s, few musicians matched the consistent brilliance and staggering fame of Prince. The Purple One earned legions of young fans back then, including one doting girl in California named Maya Rudolph — the same Maya Rudolph who would find fame herself as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and co-star of the film Bridesmaids.

Now, Rudolph is fulfilling a bit of a childhood fantasy. Together with her college friend Gretchen Lieberum, she's formed a Prince cover band called — what else? — Princess. The duo had its television debut recently on NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, with a little help from the show's house band, The Roots.

Rudolph discovered Prince at an impressionable age: She was 9 when an older cousin visited her family with a copy of the 1980 album Dirty Mind in tow.

"I remember dancing in socks, on the rug and on the bed. It was just the jammiest, funkiest, most exciting, interesting. ... I'd just never really heard that before," Rudoloph tells NPR's Guy Raz. "I fell in love with Prince when I saw Purple Rain, the movie. That's really what cracked it wide open."

Lieberum says her first exposure was similar: "I remember hearing 'When Doves Cry' for the first time and being like, 'What was that?!' " she says. " 'I'm scared and excited.' "

Rudolph and Lieberum met at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and, realizing their shared obsession, hatched the idea for Princess there. But Rudolph says that once she joined SNL, she barely had time for her family, let alone side projects.

"There were definitely years where it was just really hard to be a parent and to continue my lifelong dream of being on Saturday Night Live and living in New York," Rudolph says, noting that her schedule there essentially amounted to six and a half days a week. "The show ends on Sunday at 1 in the morning and you're a zombie. But I loved it. I was completely devoted. It's just hard to be completely devoted when you have an infant."

Rudolph left SNL in 2007, but stayed in contact with friends at NBC — including a producer who would end up working on Fallon and ultimately put her in contact with The Roots' bandleader, ?uestlove. To hear more of Rudolph and Lieberum's conversation with Raz — including a live demonstration of how they mimic Prince's backward vocals on the song "Darling Nikki" — click the audio link on this page.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARLING NIKKI")

RAZ: In the 1980s, few musicians matched the consistent brilliance and staggering fame of Prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARLING NIKKI")

PRINCE: (Singing) I knew a girl named Nikki. I guess you could say she was a sex fiend...

RAZ: Yes, we are playing that Prince song. Prince earned legions of young fans back then, including one doting girl in California named Maya Rudolph. Rudolph went on to find fame herself as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" and the costar of the film "Bridesmaids." And now, Maya Rudolph's fulfilling a bit of a childhood dream. Together with her college friend Gretchen Liberum, she's formed a Prince cover band called Princess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARLING NIKKI")

PRINCESS: (Singing) Took me to a castle and I just couldn't believe my eyes. She had so many devices, everything that money could buy...

RAZ: This is from their performance on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" with the show's house band The Roots backing them up. Anyway, Maya Rudolph says she discovered Prince at an impressionable age.

MAYA RUDOLPH: I think I was 9. My cousin Ingrid came out to stay with us from Chicago. She was significantly older. And she brought the "Dirty Mind" record. And I remember dancing in socks, like, on the rug and, like, on the bed. And it was just the jammiest jam, funkiest. I don't know, I just never really heard that before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAD")

PRINCE: (Singing) I remember when I met you, baby. You were on you're way to be wed.

RUDOLPH: I fell in love with Prince when I saw "Purple Rain." That's really what cracked it wide open.

RAZ: You guys were both, what, around 12 when that record came out?

GRETCHEN LIBERUM: Yes. I was 11.

RAZ: Eleven.

RUDOLPH: Yeah, I'm far older. I was 12.

LIBERUM: Actually, I remember hearing "When Doves Cry" for the first time and just being: What was that? Mommy, mommy, I'm scared and excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN DOVES CRY")

PRINCE: (Singing) How can you just leave me standing alone in a world that's so cold.

RAZ: All right. "Purple Rain" comes out in 1984. Let's fast forward six years - and we'll get back to Prince in a bit - because the two of you meet at college, right? You both went to Santa Cruz - UC Santa Cruz - and you formed a band.

RUDOLPH: Yeah.

LIBERUM: We sure did.

RAZ: And so when did this idea come about, a - kind of reform a band? And not just any band. The band is called...

RUDOLPH: (Makes noise) Princess.

RAZ: Princess.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDOLPH: Well, it was Gretchen's idea. And I think it came from many years of when I was working at "Saturday Night Live" and after I'd had my oldest daughter, Pearl. And there were definitely years where it was just really hard to be a parent and to continue my lifelong dream of being on "Saturday Night Live." And so...

RAZ: Yeah. It's a grind, right? It's like, six days a week, right?

RUDOLPH: It's technically six and a half, because, you know, the show ends at 1 a.m. on Sunday, and then you're a zombie. But, yeah...

RAZ: You sleep all day Sunday and you're back at work on Monday.

RUDOLPH: Yeah. But I loved it. It's just hard to be completely devoted when you have an infant. So I remember standing out back at my house and Gretchen said: You know, whenever you're ready, if you decide that you're done with "Saturday Night Live," we can start that Prince cover band we always wanted to do and call it Princess. I just looked at her, like, Morris, you're a genius.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Now, you're not just a Prince cover band. You're like the ultimate Prince cover band because your band is The Roots, Questlove from The Roots. He is...

RUDOLPH: Sometimes.

LIBERUM: Not always. We have an L.A. band as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "17 DAYS")

PRINCESS: (Singing) Called you yesterday, you didn't answer your phone...

RUDOLPH: Yeah. It came about very easily and organically due to my "Saturday Night Live" family. You know, I knew I was going to do Jimmy Fallon. And I emailed my buddy Mike shoemaker who's producer at the show and said: What about if my Prince cover band, Princess, plays and The Roots are our backup band? He said: Email Questlove. And I did. And he said yes times 12.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "17 DAYS")

PRINCESS: (Singing) Let the rain come down, let the rain come down, let the rain come down now...

RAZ: So now, this is a real thing. This is not a joke. I have seen your performances.

RUDOLPH: This is no joke. It ain't no joke.

RAZ: You guys are - this is not a - this is real. Are you going to cut a record of Prince covers?

LIBERUM: That's a little tricky.

RUDOLPH: I don't know. I mean, this is really just coming from a place of love, like, hands down. Like, we love this music, and we love singing it.

LIBERUM: We're doing it purely for fun. And we've been singing these songs for 20 years together for an audience of zero.

RUDOLPH: Well, technically two. But yes, an audience of zero. Yeah.

RAZ: I want to ask about a particular moment at the end of Prince's version of "Darling Nikki." And let me play that for a second.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARLING NIKKI")

RAZ: OK. That's Prince's vocals running backwards. And I understand that you guys have memorized how to do that live. Would you mind giving us a sample of that?

RUDOLPH: Oh, boy. I didn't realize I was going to be singing today. I sound like a she-male.

LIBERUM: Do you want to try it?

RUDOLPH: Don't look at me.

(LAUGHTER)

LIBERUM: I'm not looking at you.

RUDOLPH: Oops.

LIBERUM: OK.

RUDOLPH: Right.

PRINCESS: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

LIBERUM: I'm not looking at you.

RUDOLPH: Don't look at me.

LIBERUM: I swear I'm not looking at you.

RUDOLPH: (Unintelligible).

PRINCESS: (Singing) (Unintelligible)...

RAZ: Wow. That is amazing. That is Prince singing backwards. Does Prince know about you guys?

LIBERUM: He does.

RUDOLPH: Apparently, he does.

LIBERUM: A little birdie told us that he does.

RUDOLPH: He thinks we're funny.

LIBERUM: I was worried. I was...

RAZ: That he would hate you and he would cease - send you cease and desist letters.

LIBERUM: Well, kind of - yeah. I mean, what we do, it's funny. There's a comedic element to it, of course. It's two women...

RUDOLPH: We're women. Yes.

LIBERUM: ...two women singing these raunchy songs. And it's definitely funny. But our love of the music is not funny. It's very dead serious.

RUDOLPH: Yeah, I mean, I...

LIBERUM: So I was hoping that he would get that.

RUDOLPH: Music is the kind of thing you just have to do because it feels good. To me, this music makes me so happy. That's truly why you're doing it.

RAZ: That's Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Liberum. Together, they are Princess - that's a Prince cover band. And let's leave with a classic Prince song - your choice. What do you guys want to hear?

RUDOLPH: That's like asking to name my favorite child.

LIBERUM: Oh, my God. Right.

RUDOLPH: Honestly, one of my all-time favorite songs that we've been trying to play live - which is really hard - is "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)."

LIBERUM: Yeah. Let's do that one.

RAZ: Perfect. And if you'd like to hear Princess in rehearsal with The Roots, we've got a few tracks at our website, nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING IN THE WATER (DOES NOT COMPUTE)")

PRINCE: (Singing) Some people tell me I got great legs. Can't figure out why you make me beg. Does not compute. Does not compute...

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And as some of you may know, tomorrow is my last show as host of this program. I'll be back on the radio in March of next year as the host of the new NPR collaboration with the people behind TEDTalks. It's called the TED Radio Hour. This program is back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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