We're thrilled to be hosting Prairie Prince at KAABOO 2017 as both a musical performer (he's the drummer for The Tubes) and as an exhibiting artist in ARTWORK. We recently sat down with Prairie to discuss his creative influences and inspiration.
ARTIST FEATURE: One-on-one with Prairie Prince
You’re both a visual artist and a performing artist, which came first for you?
If you go back in history, I could talk to you forever about what inspired me, but mostly my father and my mom. My mom was really interested in art and was sort of an art historian, per se. She wasn’t a professional, but she brought me up with lots of knowledge about all kinds of art, Renaissance Art a Modern Art - the whole gamut. My dad was a musician - a singer and a dancer - not professionally, but we always had that in the house. And my older sisters both grew up in the fifties and they were very "rock and roll". So, that got my start with music and artwork. Both of them came early on in my life and I’ve never really been able to let either one of them go. I’ve always gone from one to the next, back and forth, my whole life. Lots of people told me, " You should probably concentrate on one or the other because you’ll be more professional and probably more successful if you pay more attention to one than the other," but I have the passion for both.
With your busy touring schedule, is it difficult to carve out time to create new artwork?
Yes, but it’s just as hard to create music, because it’s all art. Everything is art. The art of making music is so powerful. I feel like they intertwine very well and I enjoy doing both of them so much. I think this is cool that KAABOO is so much about both of those things - music and art - and the collaboration between both of them. I’m excited to be involved!
How does being a musician influence your art, and vice versa?
I work with music and the idea of healing. Not always health-wise healing, but mental healing. You can see the past, you can see the future, you can delve into all kinds of things that bring spirits out of you when you’re making music, listening to music, and when you create the music you feel like you’re somehow bringing joy and healing and magic to the people that are listening or watching. The watching part is the art that gets involved with your performance and how you make the music, it’s like an artistic statement.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I like to draw and I always keep sketchbooks with me. My ritual would probably be broken because of my schedule, but if I’m at home and I’m on more of a routine, I try to draw or paint everyday. On the road with my cohorts, we’ve been having art classes, so that’s become a little ritual. We call it yog-art, we do yoga and then we have an art class. And sometimes people say, “I can’t draw” - nonsense! Just make a blotch of color on something and call it a feeling or whatever you want to call it - it’ll make you feel good. So it’s kind of like healing yourself, as well, when you make work. You heal other people and you can heal yourself.
As far as musical rituals - I practice. I pull out my drumsticks and I play just about every surface imaginable. That also heals me and makes me feel good. I do it unconsciously, actually, it bothers people - “Will you stop tapping on the desk?!” It’s just a built in thing, a rhythm in my body, I can’t escape it.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to be creative?
I learn so much by reading the lives of artists and how they maneuver around their careers. You have people that are your patrons or your idols, and if you have the opportunity to talk to any of them, it’s always great to ask them how they go about doing their thing. I also go to see lots of lectures, and I read a lot.
Do you read about musicians, as well?
Of course! There are so many books now - it seems like everybody and their brother has written a biography about himself or someone has written about him. I don’t have a book yet but everyone says I should write one!
Is there an art movement or artist(s) that influences your work?
I pull from everything... The artist Kiki Smith and I grew up together. My uncle married her aunt, so we’ve always called ourselves "kissing cousins." She has continually inspired me. Once she started getting huge, I just couldn’t believe the girth of work! She's been an influence, she’s wonderful.
On the other hand, I look at her art and I see where she was inspired and I go back to Renaissance Art - tapestries and the weavings of early Americana artwork. She’s delved in so many mediums and different styles of art.
I was just in Sicily on an art trip, it was called Sketch Sicily, and I went to all these different art museums. I saw so many paintings that have been an inspiration to me, it was incredible. I’m inspired by Renaissance Art, probably more than anything else. But I can go totally Modern, too... Banksy’s an inspiration!
KAABOO Art Director Amandalynn credits you as her mentor. Have you mentored any other artists? Who are your mentors?
I’d like to say that I have. I’ve had assistants and different people that I’ve worked with over the years.
One of my biggest mentors was my partner (who was also a member of The Tubes band), Michael Cotton. He and I grew up together in Phoenix, and then we went to the San Francisco Art Institute together and we taught each other stuff back and forth. We’ve been partners in art, in set design, in mural work, in graphic work, and pretty much anything - we always would feed off of each other. He was one of my big mentors.
I lived in Phoenix from 1950-1969, then I moved to San Francisco. And that’s where The Tubes group all started [in Arizona], we met each other in high school. And that's also where Alice Cooper started. Alice was one of our mentors. He was a few years ahead of us and we were both very interested in theatrical rock and roll and that’s the avenue we took in our music - so we could include art and music together. We’d get all the set designs and the backdrops and the costumes and the props, just like Alice did. We are actually going to tour with Alice Cooper all over England this fall. That should be fun.
If you could spend a day with any artist (dead or alive), who would you choose?
I’ve been reading about Caravaggio lately and he sounds like a real character, I would love to spend some time with him. Actually, when I was just in Sicily, where he was located for a bunch of years, I saw a lot of his work. I just love Caravaggio, I think his work is just stunning. So many of these Renaissance painters focus on a lot of the same subject matter, but his stuff just seems to soar above. There’s just something about his work. And reading about his life, he sounds like he’s really my kinda person - I could hang with Caravaggio.
Caravaggio - The Calling of St. Matthew
Same question, but with a musician?
Jimi Hendrix, without a doubt. I actually got to meet him in Arizona. We went to a party after the show he played in Tempe at Arizona State University in the gymnasium in ‘68, and he came to this party. I didn’t get to shake his hand but I saw him, he was sitting on a sofa with a bunch of women, and I got to hang out at a party with him. I thought, if I can just be with that guy and play with him one day, and then he died so young. I thought maybe one day I’d get to play with him but I never did. But he’s still in my heart - he’s magic. His music sounds as fresh today as it did when I was 18 years old. It moves me just as much, if not more.
Apart from The Tubes, you’ve played and worked with a number of iconic musicians and groups, including Journey, Todd Rundgren, Jefferson Starship, The New Cars, Phil Lesh, George Harrison, Glenn Frey, Tom Waits, John Fogerty… the list goes on! How has working with such a diverse list influenced your creative output?
It’s a challenge, for sure, because what Todd Rundgren might like is not the same thing that Paul Kantner from Jefferson Starship would like - and they would like different things from me. I always feel that I'd like to incorporate the best of my ability into what fits best with their music. It’s not my music necessarily - it’s my drumming, but it’s not necessarily something that I’ve composed and so I have to work with people a lot. I sometimes give into things that they want to do, and then at other times they’ll say, "Do whatever you want to do," and that’s my favorite thing - to create something within somebody else’s creation and do my own thing.
I’ve done so much session work and many one-off projects, and I’ve also done things that are long-lasting, like Todd. Todd produced a couple of The Tubes albums back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and I've been his drummer since - it’s been 25 years now - since the early ‘90s. I’ve been through a lot of different styles just with him, because he changed and evolved and I went along with him.
My band The Tubes is part my creation, so I always feel most creative within that group.
I felt very creative in Journey because I was actually the first drummer and we started that band together and wrote the songs that became their first couple records. I didn’t actually stay with them because I was hooked to my brothers in The Tubes, but I felt very creative in that process writing songs and writing grooves with Journey.
A favorite project was when I got to work with George Harrison from the Beatles on a Nicky Hopkins album. Nicky Hopkins was one of the best English session piano players, and he played with everybody - I mean, I’ve played with a lot of people, but he played with everybody - The Who, The Stones, The Beatles, everybody you can think of. He asked me to be his drummer for a couple solo albums and he asked all of the people that he worked with, some of the Rolling Stones and some of The Beatles, to come and play - that was one of the highlights of my musical career.
The other great story was Brian Eno. He was originally in a band called Roxy Music and then he started doing these big artistic solo records and some super ambient style records, Music for Airports, Music for Hospitals, etc. He reached out to me one day when he was doing an album with David Byrne. The Tubes had asked him to produce them in the ‘70s, he respectfully declined because he didn’t have time, and that’s when he went on to start producing U2. But he wrote us this beautiful, eloquent letter with wonderful suggestions to open our creativity up, and I still have that letter. It’s one of my biggest treasures. So I got to do the record with Brian Eno and David Byrne called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I like to let people know that I played on that record - that was a big inspirational record musically at the time. It came out in 1980, and it preceded the record Remain in Light he made with the Talking Heads, who he was producing at the time.
You’ve created set designs for an impressive list of musicians, including Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Bette Midler, N'Sync, Shania Twain, Styx, The Tubes and Todd Rundgren - do you have a favorite set that you’ve designed? Any particularly great memories you’d like to share?
Michael Cotton was the guy that took charge on all the set design stuff. He and I worked together on the ideas, but he was always more of an architect, we called him Techni-Cotton because he could read blueprints and draw things out. My mind and my eye always went more to the visual things like backdrop or floor design or props, but his ability to create and design a physical set always amazed me. We got the job to do Michael Jackson’s HIStory Tour. The overall insight and visionary direction of MJ's genius helped lead Michael Cotten and I in designing and creating unique and grandiose props and stage sets, painted flats and backdrops, along with video production. That was an amazing time.
After that tour, Michael Jackson came back to Michael [Cotton] and we started working on what became the This Is It Tour that never happened. Kenny Ortega's brilliant direction and choreography was key in guiding our concepts and design work for both shows, as well. If you watch the [This Is It] documentary, Michael Cotton is in it and Kenny Ortega (who is also The Tubes' choreographer). That was probably the biggest thing we ever did. God rest Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.
We did several things for Bette Midler over the years that I was always very proud of, including the one KAABOO Art Director Amandalynn worked on with me. Meeting the artist and seeing how flexible they are (or not), it’s like going to therapy. There’s some good and bad with all of that, it’s not always just what you would like to do. Make them look good, that’s it - that’s what show business is all about.
Bette Midler set design (Kiss My Brass Tour, 2003-2004)
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask?
I’m really looking forward to collaborating and doing some cool art for KAABOO and getting to play music! And I love San Diego and Del Mar, good spot!