The Olympic Equivalent
Chris James is an LA-based musician, songwriter, producer, and first time Grammy Nominee in the 2017 Best Engineered Album Category for Prince: HITNRUN Phase 2 (2015) the last album released by Prince. Although the album was not awarded the Grammy, in our book the album and Chris James are indisputable winners.
Chris began working at Paisley Park Studios in 2012 on albums for Prince (Art Official Age) and Prince/3RDEYEGIRL (Plectrumelectrum). On the Dr. Funk Podcast, Episode 33, Chris reflected on what it was like working with Prince. But first, there was a test to see if he could handle the pressure…
“Not knowing what to expect, I’d never met Prince before and it was daunting. I’ve been a fan since birth. This is one of the most amazing artists that ever lived, and then here I am all of a sudden…I am capturing his next project. What do you do mentally, how do you even start? When I started the 2012 Olympics were on so I really associated with the athletes going to do their most important project. I felt like everything in my life led up to this moment, this purpose…everything that goes into it. It was cool to be parallel with that. It felt like, okay, here we go.
My first day at Paisley I walk into the building…and it’s basically his assistant who lets me in. I walked in and the phone rings and it’s him (Prince). And I’m like, wow, this is your voice through a telephone. What do you want me to do? He says ‘I want to play drums on something so why don’t you mic up the drum kit and I’ll come down and play some stuff.’ And my first question was ‘Do you want to go to analog or do you want to go to Pro Tools?’, and he’s like ‘I think I’ll do analog’. Cool. So I hang up the phone and I spend the next two hours searching Paisley Park as if it’s my own studio. Like where are the mic cables, where are the microphones? How does the patch bay work? But I was like, hey man, this is the job, this is the gig, I’m here, let’s make it happen. And I mic up the kit and I get it all tested, and I’m nervously sitting, waiting for the phone to ring again. And he calls and he’s like 'So are you ready?’ I’m like yeah, it’s ready to go, and he goes, ‘I think I want to try to go to Pro Tools instead.’
So, I just watched the Kevin Smith video two weeks before I went, just randomly, so I already knew that puzzling and riddles and games was just part of it. So I was like well, let me just play along…so I figure out how to get the drum kit to Pro Tools and then test it and get it prepped and of course the phone rings and he’s like ‘I think analog’s warmer, let’s just try analog’…and then I didn’t meet him the rest of the day and he calls back and goes, 'I think we’ll pick it up tomorrow.' And I’m just sweating bullets for hours, and the next day I guess he felt like I passed, and then he came down and introduced himself.”
Chris most definitely passed the Prince test! Not only did he provide engineering expertise on several albums, Chris was invited by Prince to play back-up guitar on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show in 2014, a performance that is well-known and well-loved by Prince fans.