A Minneapolis native, BrownMark has always known what it means to be funky. The bassist cut his teeth in the musically rich city before being picked up by the one and only Prince in 1981 for his 1981 Controversy tour. The bassist held his own and was featured on the albums Around the World In A Day, Parade, Sign o’ the Times, and the monumental Purple Rain.
BrownMark went on to have a solo career with two of his own albums while also working as a producer. After Prince’s passing, he and the other members of the Purple One’s band The Revolution teamed up to pay homage to their mentor and help his fans heal with a series of tour dates. The group is coming off a summer trek with two more dates lined up this year: September 4th at the Grand Park in Los Angeles and December 29th at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.
We caught up with Brownmark to get the scoop on his hometown, his musical beginnings, and the most important lessons he learned from Prince.
What is it about Minneapolis that makes such funky music?
In my opinion, it is because of the well-rounded influences of so many types of music starting as far back as 1960. With the civil rights movement and racial divide that was prevalent in the music world at the time, we were forced to listen to what was on the radio. There weren’t any real black radio stations so I grew up on Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, etc… The only real exposure to black music was the local black-owned record stores and our one black radio station KUXL that was powered by the sun so we only were exposed to it partially throughout the day. If it rained forget about it. This led to many, many local bands forming throughout the Twin Cities. I joined my first band Private Stock at 14 years old. We played our interpretation of funk and pop music which was a blend of many styles in my opinion. This is where the many unique styles of funky music came from, again, in my opinion.
Who were your early influences on the bass?
Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, Louis Johnson, Mark Adams from SLAVE, Jaco, Verdine White, Nate Phillips, and Bootsy Collins, to name a few. Back then there were many to learn unique styles from.
How did you connect with Prince?
He watched my band Phantasy for a while during the 1980’s. I was young and eager to learn and be molded, so he brought me on in place of André Cymone who had recently quit.
What do you think are the biggest lessons you learned from him?
Work ethic number one. He also taught me that you have to go get what you want. Never stop because someone else doesn’t like what you are doing. Blaze new trails as he would impress upon my young mind.
Is it hard to play the old songs since he has passed?
At times it is hard to play “Purple Rain” because people are still mourning his death. When I see their pain I feel it and it recalls my pain of losing my mentor. He was my music teacher, brother, and friend.
Do you have any favorite songs to play? Or maybe a hip bass line that fewer people know about?
So many, so many. I would have to say in all realness there is no favorite. I don’t just play the bass, I live it and feel it. I become it as I travel throughout the room and move people with it. It is a force to me and I use that force to make you tap your feet, move your hips or what ever else it turns you on to do. Bass in your face is my slogan.
How is it touring with the Revolution now as opposed to in the 80s?
In the 80’s it was more of a watch for command type of atmosphere. Where as now we’re more free to experiment with different approaches to a song. For example, on “Baby I’m a Star” I’m able to change up the ending to whatever it feels like to me at the moment. Back in the 80’s I couldn’t do that. Also, I’m able to dictate the sounds I prefer on any specific song versus being stuck using what was dictated to me. In a nut shell, more freedom of expression. Either way, it’s awesome because the music is so awesome.
Any plans for the Revolution to create new music?
No plans, however, we talk about it all the time. Right now we are on a mission of healing. I’m sure at a point in time because we are creative people, we will start to write together again. It will be magic when we do and I for one can’t wait.
What bass gear do you use?
It changes depending on what I’m doing. With the Revolution, I tend to use the Jazz bass and the Alembic. On the floor, I use an MXR bass pre-amp since I only play passive basses on stage presently. This may change, however. I use the Big Muff along with the Bass Master for distortion and the Boss Super Octave. GK head with RBH 4×10 cabs with RBH 15 and 18” Sub depending on the stage. Cobalt Flat strings – heavy gauge for deep tone. Medium gauge Roundwound on my G string. Funky Rumble ya’ll, I’m bringing the quake.
What’s next for you?
For me independently, I’m back in the studio working on a solo project. I will release a few singles soon. I’m also working on putting my All Star team together to play some gigs around the country. Mostly Brownmark/Prince music the Revolution doesn’t play. I’ve released 4 Albums I never toured. I’ll play music from these albums plus the new stuff. We’ll also feature artists that will tour with me and their new music. It’ll be a serious party with, Yessss…. Lot’s of bottom shaking Bass in yo face.