Imagine how good you have to be for Prince to pick you to play guitar in his band—especially in his later years when he was far into his “guitar god” status himself. Well, Donna Grantis, who played with his Purpleness in the New Power Generation and 3RDEYEGIRL, is just that good, a fact acknowledged by Guitar Player mag to bands she’s shared the stage with: Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae, and more.
Now back making her own music, Grantis debuts her new music—we flipped out when reading the descriptions that cite Miles Davis’ “Electric Period” as a comparison—at the Dakota with two shows this Friday. Before Grantis’s big sonic splash, we sent some Quick Question to her about the new music, creating a look, finding talent, and the prospect of becoming a notable local in MPLS + STPL.
Secrets of the City: We know the Dakota is great, especially for jazz/blues performance, but why specifically did you pick the Dakota as the spot to debut your new band?
Donna Gratis: My first public performance with Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL (before we even had a band name) was at the Dakota. As a band, we often visit to check out live music—it’s a great room for both listening and performing in, and Lowell and everyone involved with the club have always been exceptional. Some of my favorite guitarists, like John Scofield and Bill Frisell, have played there a number of times.
We also know that JT Bates is required on the kit for most jazz shows in MPLS, but how did you go about recruiting the rest of your band? Are they musicians you’ve previously worked with? Musicians who share your vision? Does everyone want to play with you these days?
I scoured the internet and frequented clubs like First Ave and Icehouse for a couple of months looking for players who I thought would best fit the musical direction of this new project. After reaching out, we all got together for three days and jammed some of the compositions I’d been working on over the past 18 months. Then we spent a day at The Terrarium Studio in Minneapolis and recorded most of the upcoming album.
It’s very cool to see Miles Davis’s Electric Period as an influence on your musical direction! What parts of that are most prominent for you? Miles’s modal stylings? John McLaughlin’s jazz guitar work? All the guitars on Get Up With It?
Albums I’ve been diggin’ lately are: On The Corner, Big Fun, Dark Magus, In A Silent Way, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, Live – Evil and Bitches Brew. I love how the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is blended with a jazz sensibility in an exploratory context.
Your gear in 3RDEYEGIRL seemed like a pretty advanced rock guitar set-up, will there be many changes gear wise/effect wise for the new band? What helps make the new Donna Grantis sound?
My guitar tech refers to the pedalboard I used with 3RDEYEGIRL as “The Starship”. It features 21 effects pedals over 3 interconnected boards, all running in-stereo. It’s a pretty wild set-up. For this new project, I again worked with Craig Pattison Rig Design to create a simplified board of 9 essential pedals. One in particular that I’m excited about is the Empress Ecosystem Delay which features duel delay engines and up to 35 presets ranging from classic to obscure sounds.
We’re loving (in a big way) the silk screen posters that are available at the shows and some of the retro-funky visuals in the photos, etc. How much input do you have on the design direction and aesthetic for the band/show?
I think photography, fashion, production, lighting, art and design are all important creative outlets that can communicate an artistic vision. I like to collaborate with photographers, designers, sound and lighting engineers and visual artists to ensure that the creative direction on all fronts matches the vibe of the music. It was a pleasure working with Minneapolis’ own Brian Geihl from Dogfish Media to create the silk screen poster. I’m collaborating with long time friends, Call And Response Clothing in Toronto. They are brilliant designers and so fun to work with! They created so many of our stunning wardrobe pieces for 3RDEYEGIRL and it’s been a blast seeing thru this new artistic vision with them.
One of our hopes is that you’ll be regularly performing in and around MPLS + STPL this year and upcoming year—can we look forward to many more shows from you and your projects?
Yes—Thanks! I’m very happy to be here in MPLS. More music coming soon!
Some tickets still available for the August 4th show at the Dakota; 7 & 9:30 PM. $55-30.