André Cymone: Every time I turned around, I was being compared to Prince

Categories: Interview
Photo courtesy of Numero Group
As part of a forthcoming City Pages story about Numero Group's excellent collection of Twin Cities funk and R&B, Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, Gimme Noise spoke to André Cymone.

The pioneering artist was one of the earliest breakout stars of the scene, and has become a successful producer in his own right. In conversation, he was quite frank and open about his memories from the late '70s and early '80s, which is the era celebrated in the compilation. Additionally, he is working on his first solo album in nearly 30 years. Here's an extended cut that didn't make the final print story.

Gimme Noise: Tell me about your contributions to the Purple Snow compilation.

André Cymone: I was able to correspond quite a bit with Jon [Kirby of Numero Group] on it. He did such amazing research, a lot of different artists that I'd forgotten about. When he was talking about it, I went back and talked to a couple of fellas from back in the day, and they brought up names of groups that I hadn't thought about in nearly decades. It was really cool. 

They chose your song "Somebody Said" for the compilation, which you recorded by yourself with just drum machine, bass, guitar, and vocals. The song hints at where the Minneapolis Sound went, with your focus on an electronic groove. Do you feel that represents your work well?

Well, from back then. I did it when I was 17 or something like that. It was kind of an interesting thing, because I hadn't done what he asked me to do literally in years and years and years. He contacted me and asked if I had an old song... pre-Prince days and all that kind of stuff. Something that I felt represented where I was at when I was living in Minneapolis. I used to be the one in the band that would record all the rehearsals, and I forgot that I literally had buckets and buckets of cassette tapes and stuff, I actually had some reel-to-reel and the original demo tapes.

I came across so much stuff; "Somebody Said" was on [one of the tapes]. I played it to [Jon], and I gave him about four or five songs, and he picked that one to be the song [used on Purple Snow]. I think music is music, and sometimes people get a little too precious. But at the end of the day, if you're a songwriter and a musician, you do what you do. It's fun. I think people who really appreciate music in its evolution can appreciate [the songs on Purple Snow], so I thought it was a great idea, great concept. I was really happy to be involved, happy they asked me. 

What do you think made Minneapolis in the '70s and the early '80s such a creative hotbed?

You know, there's a lot of things. From my standpoint... you're in Minneapolis right now, which at times will drive you into the crib real fast. Me personally, my family's from Fergus Falls, so I played hockey, I did all winter sports. My father used to go hunting, he was into bows and arrows, all that kind of natural stuff like that. but for the most part, when we moved into the city and I started hanging out with Morris [Day] and Prince and all those guys, they were such city boys. They were wearing mittens and stuff [laughs]. I had a hard time relating to them. You wind up just in with your guys hanging out. And everybody was so into music. That was the thing that was really kind of cool, getting out my reality into a reality [with] other people that actually were as inspired by music as I was. That had a lot to do with it. I think it happens in the Midwest, to answer your question, because you're sort of in the middle.

You see what's going on on the West Coast, you see what's going on on the East Coast, and so you're kind of trying to fight for some kind of identity. It makes you work a lot harder. When you're in the Midwest, it's a weird thing to be sandwiched in there, because radio, when I was growing up, they played everything. They played Santana, they played Chicago, they played James Brown, Jimi Hendrix; it was just all over the map. You got so many different radio stations playing Top 40, and we soaked it in in Minneapolis. 

It was cool to be in a band. I should be able to play. When I moved from where we came from to where I met Morris and Prince and Terry [Jackson] and the other guys, that whole group, it was just a hustle mentality. I would grow up and look at the groups that were playing and say, "We're better than you, you guys ain't shit, blah blah blah", [they'd respond] like, "If you're so great, let's see you play!" We'd go up and basically get the gig. That competition had a lot to do with groups coming out of that era. First, being so many of them, and being really, really good! I mean, some of those groups were just... It was a really unbelievable time for somebody like me to grow up. It was a blessing to me.

That alone, beyond going out and producing records for different people, getting hits or whatever, which is fantastic, but I have to say, I look back on those days more fondly than the days where I made a bunch of money or [the] other trappings you get involved in in rock 'n' roll and the music business. Those things and those artists were so special, it really kind of shaped [me]. I can't speak for anybody else but I know they shaped me as a musician and gave me the attitude that I had, and that I have now. 

I think now it's even worse, I have even more attitude. It sustained the status that you kind of have to have to be successful. That's the attitude, it's cocky, but it's cocky because you actually do the work. You actually practice. People who knew me used to laugh at me because every time they saw me, I was always playing my guitar. I played my guitar if I was going to see one of my girlfriends; if I was watching TV, I was sitting at the TV playing my guitar. It was really cool to finally meet people like Prince and Morris, and the other guys that were in my group; they were as passionate about music as I was. I think when you get people that are all like-minded, I think great things are gonna happen.

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