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Interview: Ida Nielsen

“For me, writing music is almost like meditation. It’s cathartic.”

Written by
Graham Turner

As one of the foremost innovators in the history of pop, Prince knew a thing or two about good music and good musicians. So, when he hand-picked Danish bassist Ida Nielsen and thrust her into the spotlight as part of his backing band, The New Power Generation, he knew he’d be getting a level of genius that could keep pace with his own. 

More focused than ever since Prince’s tragic passing last year, Nielsen has released her third solo album, Turnitup, to near universal critical acclaim. Ahead of her first ever Hong Kong show, we sit down with Nielsen to talk about her days playing with Prince and her incredible solo offerings...

Welcome to Hong Kong, Ida! So, what was it like working so closely with Prince for many years?
It was the coolest thing ever. It really was my dream. I’m eternally grateful for it, I learned so much from. It was such a trip, a really crazy time.

What did you learn from working with him and how have you incorporated that into your own music?
Well, he was a master of every area of music — from composition, performance to business. I learned so much in all these areas. I became a better musician just by watching him, rehearsing with him, seeing how he arranged things for live shows, being in the studio with him. We had a lot of conversations about the music business, which have been so helpful. Also, the inspiration remains huge for me. Everything I do, I think to myself ‘would he have liked this?’ or ‘what would he think about this?’.

It must have been daunting learning his huge repertoire of songs...
Dude, we started touring about a month after I joined, so I had to learn a lot in a really short space of time. Also, we would never play the same set list and we would never actually play what was on that set list. You just had to be ready all the time. If you heard him start to play something or say ‘watch me, youd quickly have to realise what song he was doing and go with it.

So it was a much more organic, dynamic live experience?
Yeah, for sure. Just from doing that I learnt so much. Everyone had to really be on their toes and I think it also added a different energy to the band. You always had to be on top of your game. It was really dynamic.

How has it been getting back into the rhythm of taking the lead on singing and songwriting?
Well, I never really stopped writing music. I think our live show’s changed quite a bit over the last year as I’ve had to get used to suddenly being in the front and getting things together since what happened last year with Prince.

With Turnitup, you curated and produced the whole album yourself. How was that experience?
I just felt like it was time to do an album and for me, writing music is almost like meditation. It’s cathartic.

The critical reception to Turnitup has been unbelievably positive — that must be quite vindicating for you?
It’s been great and there’s been a lot of Prince fans who’ve really loved it and been really supportive. Im so grateful for that. Being from Denmark, there’s not a whole lot of funk music, so it’s been so amazing just being able to do it. 

What can we expect from the show this Saturday?
I’ll be playing stuff from all my albums and a hint of Prince stuff inbetween. We’ve also got a guest rapper from Norway, Son of Light, so it’s going to be great. Im so excited. 

Any tips for Hong Kongs aspiring musicians?
Just do it because you love it. Learn stuff that you like and not the things you think you need to learn. Always keep the joy in playing.

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