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Former 3rdeyegirl Guitarist Donna Grantis Talks New album, Learning from Prince, and more ahead of album release shows at the Dakota

Donna Grantis
photo: donnagrantis.com

Last week, Donna Grantis released Diamonds & Dynamite. The record, a fusion-minded mix of rock, jazz, funk and more, was the debut album for the guitarist/bandleader who is also the former the lead guitarist of Prince’s hard-rocking band 3rdeyegirl.

Though the album will be a welcome addition to the collections of many (Prince fans included), it takes things in a slightly different direction. Diamonds and Dynamite brings together a diverse collection of songs that range from ambient to scorching guitar jams. Two hard-hitting guitar rockers, “Violetta,” and “Trashformer,” are particular additions to the middle of the album and feature playing by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. It’s no surprise that players like McCready and Prince have sought out Grantis, given the range the album covers and skill with which it was composed.

On Thursday night, Grantis, backed by an all-star band of sorts, will take the stage at the Dakota for two high-powered shows. Fans can expect to hear songs from Diamonds & Dynamite. Any time you get to hear or see songs this dynamic, played live, by players this talented, is a treat. As anybody who has seen Grantis perform live before will tell you, the potential for a mind-blowing performance is high. Ahead of Thursday’s shows, Grantis talked with Music In Minnesota about the album and more.

Below is an interview with Donna Grantis:

Music in Minnesota: I want to talk a little bit about the album, what do you think ties it together thematically and sonically?

Donna Grantis: I think the players, particularly the tabla, I think, added a really unique element. I think the tones and sounds I played with and used in the studio, and everybody’s musical voice and personality coming through, whether that’s in an ambient tune like “Mr. Majestic” or something more rocking like “Trashformer.”

MIM: The tabla is a unique instrument with a really cool sound. What inspired you to include it on your album?

DG: A few things actually. I first saw a tabla ensemble live many years ago when I was playing a festival up in Canada. I thought to myself “that’s super cool,” and that one day I’d love to be in a band with a tabla artist. The album was heavily inspired by Miles Davis’ music from the 70s that he released in his electric period. He incorporated a lot of percussion on those albums, tabla being one of the types of percussion instruments that he used. I thought it would lend itself well to the music, being so improvisational and jammy. A tabla really lends itself well across the spectrum from songs that are a little more meditative to songs that are more intensive and a little more rocking. The other reason why I wanted to have someone in my band play tabla was the music in my band was quite eclectic and I wanted people, when they come and see us play live, even seeing that instrument onstage would create an expectation with the audience that is something different.

MIM: Is that something we can expect at your upcoming concert, lots of improvisation?

DG: Definitely. Our next show in Minneapolis is on March 28th at the Dakota. We’re playing two shows, and we’ll have albums there.

MIM: Was the album based in a lot of improvisation?

DG: The songs on the album are very composed. I worked out the arrangements during rehearsal. I wanted to leave a lot of room for interpretation and to see how things developed when we played them collectively rather than just in my mind. We kind of jammed through certain sections and then, from there, the arrangements were solidified. It’s a combination of very composed sections with open sections with each playing. That way we’ll keep fresh every night.

MIM: You mentioned Miles Davis as an influence, or as something you like hearing that inspired this in a way. What else has been inspiring you lately as far as this album goes?

DG: Everything I’ve learned over the past several years, especially from my time with Prince, 3rdeyegirl, and New Power Generation. In terms of how we recorded the album: live to tape, that’s how we recorded at Paisley Park. I really wanted to keep that going. I learned so much from Prince in terms of sound and funk vocabulary. I really wanted to draw from those elements when creating the record.

MIM: What do you think your band’s biggest strength is as a group?

DG: Their versatility. Each member has formal training in jazz, but at the same time, they play in a ton of bands, both as band leaders and members of other projects. That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to play with this particular group of musicians because their musical backgrounds are so diverse.

MIM: What would you say is the biggest difference between being a session player or playing on somebody else’s record, and being a bandleader?

DG: Having the ultimate creative freedom as a bandleader. The ability to make decisions about every aspect of the creative process, both musically, and artistically, in terms of the photos, artwork and fashion. It’s a lot of fun to be able to see through an artistic vision so completely.

 

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