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FDELUXE 2011 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW - PT 1: PAUL PETERSON
ST. PAUL KEEPS IT ALL IN THE FAMILY
Phone interview recorded September 26, 2011

Just as “Purple Rain” had begun to soar into the stratosphere in 1984, there seemed to be trouble in paradise: Prince’s Minneapolis cronies The Time were on the precipice of a full-on mutiny. Guitarist Jesse Johnson defected to A&M Records while front man Morris Day secured his own solo deal with Warner Brothers. Yet from these ashes, Prince adeptly cultivated a new entity. Dubbed The Family, this new group included former Time members St. Paul (Paul Peterson), Jellybean Johnson, and Jerome Benton, as well as saxophonist Eric Leeds, and Revolution member Lisa Melvoin’s twin sister Susannah. Twenty-five years after its sole 1985 album, the members of the original group have reunited – sans Benton – as fDeluxe. With an album of new material and a busy tour schedule on the horizon, Rico Washington chats with Paul Peterson about the new direction, and the mystery behind the break up of The Time and The Family...


Rico 'Superbizzee' Washington: What’s going on, people? This is Rico a.k.a. ‘Superbizzee' for SoulMusic.com, and I’m on the phone with none other than Mr. Paul Peterson, better known as St. Paul, of The Family and of the new fDeluxe, the new incarnation of The Family.

St Paul: That’s right. How are you, everybody? Thanks for having me on, Rico.

RSW: No problem, man. So I know I’m catching you right before a show, so I want to try and get into the nuts and bolts of what’s going on now with the group. You and Susannah are back together, you guys are performing… it’s kind of like a revitalization of a lot of different things that Prince was responsible for back in the ‘80s because I also know that The Original 7ven is coming out with an album as well, which people may know as The Time.

SP: That’s right, two new names but two groups that were started back in the ‘80s, mine being fDeluxe, formerly known as The Family. It has four original members: myself, Susannah as you mentioned and also Eric Leeds on saxophone and Jellybean Johnson on not only drums but guitar as well, so he’s actually moving back and forth quite a bit during the show. We’ve been working on this record for… God, about three-and-a-half, almost four years. And we’re finally out playing and we are really, really excited about the record that we’ve made and we can’t wait to come to everybody’s town and play, and hopefully you’ll know the songs. And we’re really glad to be back together.

RSW: Wonderful, man. We’re glad to hear you guys are back together. Where are you originally from, Paul?

SP: I’m from Minneapolis, a suburb called Richfield. My mom, she just celebrated her 90th birthday, she’s one of the best jazz pianists still to this day. I’m still living in a suburb of Minneapolis right now raising my family, and except for January and February, I’m still loving Minneapolis.

RSW: So tell me a little bit about how you came into the Paisley Park fold. I know that in ’84 you were one of the newest members of the last incarnation of The Time.

SP: Well, I had just graduated from high school, all ready to go to the University of Minnesota. I was on vacation with my dearest friend, Brett Ward. I got a phone call from my brother-in-law, who is actually Bobby Z’s first cousin. He said, “Get your butt down here, you have an audition with The Time.” I was like, “Really? You’re kidding me!” I ended my vacation early and to make a long story short, I learned about ten songs to play them, sing, play keyboards and dance at the same time. I went in for the audition, I was nervous. Jesse Johnson was there—Jellybean—and a few other people—not Morris [Day] at that time. And I went in and I guess I did okay; I got a callback. The next audition Prince was there, and basically he gave me the nod and the rest is history. I went in with The Time, the next thing I knew we had a double-platinum record for ICE CREAM CASTLE, was in the movie “Purple Rain”. It was an amazing, amazing transition from what I was doing before to a really incredible, fast-paced move to the music business at that time, and what a great time to be around Prince and all that was surrounding him at that time. Everything he was doing was turning to gold and it was fun to be a part of it.

RSW: Was this was all within the scope of one year?

SP: Well, in 1983 is when I got the call—the summer of ’83—to audition with The Time, then we filmed later that year in, I believe, the winter of ’84. And then “Purple Rain” came out in ’84.

RSW: Talk a little about the inception of The Family.

SP: After The Time broke up, that’s when Prince gathered the remaining members of The Time and had us all in a circle and he turned around and pointed at me and said, “Hey, we want to start a new band and you’re going to be the new lead singer.” I was like, “Me?” and then The Family was born. Susannah came into the fold and Eric Leeds came into the fold and me, myself and Jerome Benton at the time embarked on this journey of this new band called The Family.

RSW: So you actually came in right after the exodus of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, because I believe Prince let them go in ’83 as well.

SP: Yeah, that’s exactly right, that’s why those positions became open. Monte [Moir], Jam and Lewis were no longer in The Time and they had those three slots open. I actually don’t know whose spot I took, but… the keyboard slot, let’s put it that way.

RSW: So I’m going to ask you to delve a little bit into probably some tender situations. What caused the breakup of The Time? Because it seemed like they were on top: they were just in a blockbuster film, which was “Purple Rain”; ICE CREAM CASTLE, which came out the same year, went double-platinum. What went wrong?

SP: I don’t think the whole story has ever been divulged to me, and you might be better off asking Jellybean because he still tours with The Original 7ven/ The Time. But to my knowledge, I believe that it wasn’t the same. The brotherhood was broken up by Prince firing those guys, and it wasn’t the same for Morris and Jesse and those guys, so Morris decided to go his separate way. And that’s what happened.

RSW: I guess it was to your benefit, because this new incarnation, The Family, featured you in the lead role—you were a prominent part of this group. Talk to me a little bit about the concept of the group and whose idea it was.

SP: Well, it was basically R&B-funk based off of a little bit more pop, but yet some beautiful harmonics on the top end written by Clare Fischer, whom I believe was recommended by Susannah, who was a big fan of the Rufus and Chaka Khan records where Clare wrote all the orchestration. So basically Clare wrote over Prince’s songs when he did the orchestration over it. I believe David Rivkin (a.k.a. David Z) and Prince pulled instruments out and made that such a prominent feature of that record. So you have the classy orchestration of Clare with the nasty, one-chord funk underneath and the beautiful poetry of Prince, and that was the concept. With a white kid singing up front.

RSW: So let’s talk a little bit about the imagery of the group. Now if you look at the covers and all the artwork, it’s very film noir—very black-and-white, very dramatic. Was that something that was thought about before the studio work came into play, or was it just an afterthought?

SP: That’s Prince’s vision, for sure. We basically liked to look at it as him writing a book or a movie, and we were characters that we played in those particular films or books. And he really is a genius when it comes to putting people together and conceptualizing looks. Look at The Time, look at Vanity 6, look at The Family—those are all figments of his imagination, and we bring those characters to life. So that’s basically how that happened: he wrote the music and after it was finished I think he had the concept to bring in Horst, who was an incredibly gifted photographer, and he liked how that looked. And that’s kind of how we went from there. Very classy, very film noir, and I think it was a brilliant idea.

RSW: And it’s interesting how he was really inspired by that, because it seemed like he was going though his own period of that, especially with the next album that he came out with, which was PARADE, and the “Under The Cherry Moon” movie. It kind of used the same motif.

SP: Yeah, that seemed to be his thing for a little while, didn’t it?

RSW: So let’s talk a little bit about the album THE FAMILY. It’s definitely one of the favourite, most coveted albums of his side projects, especially his Paisley Park stuff. Tell me a little bit about the process of the songwriting behind the album, because you co-wrote a couple of songs. It seems like everybody in the group co-wrote these songs and then Prince just contributed “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which is kind of weird for Prince and his offshoot groups because he usually tries to write most of the material himself.

SP: Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Prince wrote the entire record except for “Susannah’s Pajamas” and the other instrumental and “River Run Dry”, that’s Bobby’s tune. He credited us with that but we did not write that, so he stayed within his comfort zone and basically put our stuff over the top of it. So that was his baby, no doubt about it.

RSW: Now how was it in the studio with him in terms of production and direction? Did he ask you to do certain phrasing or was it like he basically let you be yourself?

SP: Well, back then I was… what was I, 19 years old? He had a definite concept and he would put down rough vocals, and then I was actually hardly ever in the studio with him. It was mostly David Z and myself. We’d go in after Prince had written a song and put the basic tracks down and added a rough vocal, and we used that guide track for attitude and phrasing and different things like that, for sure. At that point in time we were definitely still playing his characters.

RSW: So tell me about when the album actually came out and the public response to it, and how you guys responded to that public response, especially with the first single.

SP: It was absolutely thrilling. We were kind of all over the world at that point in time. Prince was out making “Under The Cherry Moon”, I believe in France, and I was in California. We were all scattered and we didn’t really have any direction as to what was going to happen and how things were being done management-wise. The only reaction we had was that it was really fun to see that thing shoot up the charts. What can you say when you’re 19 and you see that happening? I don’t care, at any age it’s absolutely thrilling to see that.

RSW: Absolutely, I can understand. So tell me, people have their favourite songs on any album but there’s one song that had a life beyond this album that still echoes today, and it was remade famously by Sinead O’Connor—that was “Nothing Compares 2 U”. When you guys were in the studio working on that song, did that stand out to you as something that was special from the rest of the tunes, or did you have any reservations about it?

SP: No reservations—as a song it’s a classic song, and I think a lot of the songwriting on that record may be some of Prince’s best work. Honestly, the whole record was that important. We didn’t know, and nor do you ever know, what song’s going to take off so you put the same amount of love into every single track until you find out it doesn’t work. So we knew that it was a beautiful ballad; we knew that the meaning and the poetry behind it was special and we gave it every attention to detail that you give every song on a record like that. I think it became a favourite of Steve Fargnoli, who was Sinead’s manager, and I think he brought it to her attention, if I know the story correctly. Obviously I wasn’t there for that. But when I heard that and it took off it was a little bittersweet for me, I’m not going to lie. But it was great that a great song got heard and I’m happy for her that it was a success. But when we come and play, you’ll hear the way that we did it before she ever recorded it.

RSW: So now looking back on the album and the response to the singles “High Fashion” and “The Screams Of Passion”, do you feel like the album got its just due in terms of the push from Warner Brothers, or do you feel like it was slept on or put on the back burner in terms of their priorities and their release schedule?

SP: It’s hard to say. You can always form your own opinion, but it wouldn’t be based on fact. I can tell you the priority was Prince; it was not necessarily his pet projects. But I wasn’t in the corporate office—I don’t know for sure what their level of commitment was to the project, and I don’t want to lead anybody astray by starting any rumours because we simply were not involved in that process. So it’s very difficult for me to answer that question with confidence, to be honest with you.

RSW: I can understand that. You hit on an important point being that their focus was Prince, because the same year that this album came out for you guys, earlier in the spring Prince had released AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY, which some people may say is a conflict of interest because both of those albums were out at the same time, but you would think that because it was a Prince endeavour that it would have received more precedence over other things that were going on at the label.

SP: Well, you’d think that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. I know that Eric Leeds went down to a Warner’s convention in Florida at that point in time when that record was going to be released, and he was greeted so warmly because they had said that it was a priority at that point in time. He ended up getting up and speaking at that particular conference, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they considered The Family a priority for sure. But obviously it would be Prince first and then anything like that after.

RSW: Absolutely. So talk to me a little bit about your solo career, because after that I believe the next year you released a self-titled album?

SP: I did, yeah. When I decided to leave the band and go my separate way I got signed to MCA and had a blast making a record with my bother Ricky. He contributed to this new record, the fDeluxe record, which I’m very anxious to talk to you all about. And also Oliver Leiber, who also contributed to the new fDeluxe record—he co-produced and co-wrote “Sanctified” on the new record. So honestly, the people that I have involved from back in my solo days are involved with me currently as well, not only as songwriters and producers, but Oliver’s playing in the band and Ricky sat in on Friday night at our debut concert at Delorean in Minneapolis with fDeluxe. But the solo record was great. Jheryl Busby, God rest his soul, was my A&R guy along with Louil Silas Jr.—unfortunately he’s gone as well—and Irving Azoff. They were very, very excited to have me on their label.

I had moderate success with that, then I moved on to Atlantic Records and made a little bit more of an R&B/rock record. And then from then on I’ve always been involved in the music business; signed as a writer to Warner Brothers for many years and toured with great people like the Steve Miller Band as a sideman—Oleta Adams, Kenny Loggins, David Sanborn—and was a writer on many of those records as well as a producer. So it’s been a great career, man, and I’m excited to reunite with my great friends and family to come out with fDeluxe.

RSW: Absolutely, we’re glad to have you again. So I guess delve in a little bit more to the fDeluxe project. You mentioned that everybody’s basically back together. Tell me about the creation of the album and what you guys’ mindset was when you went into the studio, when you sat down for the writing sessions for the material for the album.

SP: Well, the major difference is that it’s Susannah and my songs, primarily. There’s obviously some other co-writers on there, but that’s the difference between the first record and this record: the first record was a Prince record and this record is a Susannah and an fDeluxe project with the people we wanted to be involved with, and that’s why we had the name changed. It’s a fresh start but with four of the original members of The Family. It really happened organically, man. I have to say that nobody really set out to say, “We’ve gotta do this record.” It was more like Sheila E. called us and said, “Why don’t you come and do this Lil’ Angel Bunny Foundation [fundraiser show] with me, and we’d love to get you and members of The Revolution and Apollonia and Chaka Khan,” which we did, and we all got together and did a 20-minute set and we got offstage and went, “Wow, this really feels good.” It was great to be reunited with everyone, and little did we know—or did Susannah know—that she was pregnant, so we weren’t able to continue on and do anything at that point in time until ?uestlove called us a few years back—I guess maybe four years now—and said, “Will you open for us at our annual Grammy event?” And we were like, “Sure, why not?”

At that point Elle was two years old—that’s Susannah’s baby—and she was ready to do it again. Once again we did a 20-minute set and we got offstage and went, “Okay, we have to do something with this.” So it was very organic. In-between my tours I would fly out to California, and I’m actually sitting in Susannah’s house as we speak, and I set up camp in her garage and I had my studio sitting there. So I’d sleep there, I’d get up and my table was set with my Pro Tools and my guitar and my bass and my microphone and my keyboard; the laundry was right there, the workout place was right there, so I’d fly back and forth over a period of three-and-a-half to four years and create this record. And we basically set out to create a record that didn’t ignore our past but certainly was not set out to be a direct rip-off or cop to the Family record, because we’re 25 years older and we have a lot to say on our own. We have a lot of life experiences and are blessed enough to be making a living doing what we love, which is playing music. What we had to do is we came together and we learned how to communicate with each other as writers—something that we didn’t have to do. So there was a learning curve involved, some growing pains, but that’s what makes a great record. We’re just so proud to have the people that we have involved: two members of our family, Wendy and Lisa and involved, Doyle Bramhall is involved, Oliver Leiber is involved, my nephew Jason Peterson DeLaire is involved. I also have my brother Ricky playing on the record, and Alan Leeds is involved… it’s been a really cool process. We’re glad to have it done and be out playing, and we’re looking forward to hearing some feedback from y’all.

RSW: So how many songs are on the album and what’s the title of this album?

SP: It’s called GASLIGHT, that’s the title track. It’s a funky little track that Susannah sings based off a movie from the 1940’s called “Gaslight” where somebody tried to make you think you’re crazy. I was not familiar with that reference until Susannah sat me down and said, “Watch this movie.”

RSW: All right. So how many songs are included on the album?

SP: It’s eleven.

RSW: And who is this being released through?

SP: It’s being released through Ropeadope here in the States, which is a great label based out of Philly.

RSW: Absolutely, I’m very familiar with them.

SP: I bet you are. And then M.I.T./ Art Of Groove all throughout Europe. That’s what’s going on. And they’re releasing it at the end of this month, I believe.

RSW: Wonderful. So what is the touring schedule for you guys looking like right now?

SP: We just kicked off last week; we’re doing a small showcase tour to start things off. The tour started last week in Minneapolis-St. Paul and we played to a hometown crowd, and it was really fun. It was sold out—we had a lot of friends and fans who had followed us through the whole journey on Facebook for the last four years—they were there, flew in from all over the country and we’re continuing on tonight at Largo in California, we got a show there. And then we’ve got two shows at Yoshi’s in Oakland. In October we’re going to New York, we’ve got a couple shows at Joe’s Pub. So that’s what we’re starting out with right now, and then the rest to be announced later.

RSW: Wonderful, that sounds great. So just one last question before I let you go rest up for your performance tonight: looking back on the actual entity called The Family, do you have any regrets about that not continuing?

SP: You could let that roll around in your head forever and ever, but I don’t regret anything. I’m happy to be where I’m at exactly right now, I don’t ever question what happens in my life. I’m very blessed. I love the fact that I’m back together with my friends and doing a record that is truly a labour of love with my friends. It really is, it’s been great. So the answer to your question is no, not at all. I really don’t. I’m very thankful for what Prince did in joining the five of us together and I’m happy to say that we have remained friends, and who would have ever thought that for the last 25 years we’d be in this close touch with each other and want to get back together? So we look forward to what is to come, whatever that journey may be, and I know it’s going to be funky.

RSW: Well, thank you so much.

SP: Oh, that was corny.

RSW: It’s okay, we all have our moments, man.

SP: Right, thanks Rico. We’re looking forward to meeting everybody. And come and check us out on fdeluxe.com or go on Facebook, we’re on there personally all the time: Facebook.com/fDeluxe.

RSW: Sounds great, man. Thank you so much for speaking with me, Paul. Kick ass tonight at your performance, like I know you guys will, and I look forward to seeing you out here in New York in October.

SP: Oh great, man, we’ll see you there. Make sure you come.

RSW: Absolutely.

SP: Thank you, bro.

RSW: All right.

Washington, DC native Rico “Superbizzee” Washington has contributed to magazines and media outlets such as Wax Poetics, Okayplayer.com, and Rolling Out. The former XLR8R magazine staff writer/ columnist and music editor for Free magazine has composed liner notes for CD reissues for albums by Change, Chocolate Milk, and Natalie Cole. He lives and works in New York City. Check out his website here

About the Writer
Rico "Superbizzee" Washington is a Washington, D.C. native and has served as music editor for Brooklyn-based Free Magazine and was a staff writer and columnist for XLR8R Magazine. His work can be found in Wax Poetics, Art Nouveau, and Okayplayer.com. He lives and works in New York City.
  
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