LISA COLEMAN - The Revolution's Keyboardist on Prince and the Power of Presets

September 1, 2017

Lisa Coleman rose to fame as a member of Prince's original band The Revolution, as well as half of the famed musical duo Wendy & Lisa. This weekend, she'll join The Revolution on the last show of their Summer 2017 reunion tour, at the Nightshift Labor Day Music Festival in Los Angeles, California.

We spoke to Coleman about the enduring legacy of Prince's music, as well as her latest film and television scoring work.

 

What has it been like playing Prince’s music with the band that created so much of it?

It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s gone by so quickly. First of all, when Prince passed away, it was such a shock. But one of the good things that came out of it was that we realized how close we were as people, having had an old-fashioned success story with him as a band. In those years we were together, we climbed-up the ladder and actually “made it.” We made a movie and won awards – it was like something that only happens in movies. We were the only five people on earth that could understand the loss that we were feeling. It’s pretty obvious psychology that you need like-minded people to get through certain things, and this was one of those occasions. The only way we know how to be together is by playing music. So, it was a hard decision to make to do it, but it’s been increasingly amazing. It was somber in the beginning, but as time goes by, we’ve been able to celebrate and appreciate Prince and his music. And the people who come are amazing – it’s their response that keeps us doing this. Because it takes a tremendous effort to make it happen, but the reaction is so profound, it’s hard not to do it.

Prince’s music is as fresh today as it was back when you recorded and performed it with him. What was it like revisiting some of those iconic keyboard parts all these years later?

It’s been great. As much as possible, we’ve been using the original gear to play the music with. On the first few gigs, we were able to get pretty much all of the old stuff from friends. We had Oberheims and ARP Omnis, and things like that. Our friend Mike Hagen has an incredible collection of keyboards, so he loaned us a few things. But hitting the road, they were too precious to take on-tour. I did recently get the Dave Smith Instruments OB-6, and I’ve been able to edit the sounds to get them close to the original ones. Between myself and Matt Fink and a few others in the so-called “Minneapolis Sound,” we really came-up in a great time for keyboards and synthesizers. We made those Oberheims and other keyboards part of the sound of the 1980’s. Prince was so great at taking a factory preset and just blasting it. He made it really confront you. So we weren’t afraid of presets. Plus, they weren’t overused at that time. But those keyboards had such personality. They have such a specific sound. The new digital copies are pretty good, but there are certain things they won’t do, and they don’t respond the same way. They’re just different. Those keyboards were true instruments.

There’s a humanity to them.

You’re absolutely right. And I miss that about them. You can’t dig-in the way you could before. I’m advocating for more of that. Bring them back!

What are your go-to keyboards these days?

Well, because of the nature of what I do in the scoring world, most directors and producers like good, old fashioned things like strings and piano. Some shows will tolerate some synth work, but it tugs at your ear. I use the Native Instruments Kontakt Player a lot, as well as Spectrasonics Omnisphere constantly. But while my career has taken me into places where I have needed to play more electronic and electric things, I still see myself as a piano player. I’ve been a holdout for years, just using my old Wurlitzer and my Hammond B3 organ as much as possible, using pedals and kind of freaking-out a little bit. But my love is still the acoustic piano. That’s where I live, mainly.

In these shows with The Revolution, have there been any songs that have particularly stood-out for you?

There are moments probably in every song that blow me away. But for some reason, when we play the “I Would Die 4U/Baby I’m a Star” medley, it’s so powerful. I love it harmonically, and sentimentally it’s become very emotional to sing those words now that he’s dead. And to see the involvement of the audience on those songs is unbelievable. It’s a high, and it’s huge.

What will you do when the tour with The Revolution is over?

I’m already back to scoring the television show Shades of Blue for Jennifer Lopez. So I have plenty to do!

 

Find-out more about Lisa Coleman at wendyandlisa.com

 

 

 

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