I did this short interview with Dez Dickerson to coincide with the Citinite vinyl release of the Prince-produced classic, ‘Modernaire’. Somewhat late, here it is.
Those City Nights: A lot of your sound and look during the early 80s seemed to come from the New Wave; were there any artists who you were particularly inspired by, or did it mostly come from within?
Dez Dickerson: I was always a rock artist, so both American and British New Wave were a part of what I was about. I loved the Cars, 20/20, The Pop, and all the great power pop bands in the US, and I loved what British acts did with the visual aspect of the movement. I was also very much into Generation X, XTC and Ultravox.
TCN: Were there any artists who you felt were doing a similar thing to you, and did you feel a sense of rivalry with them?
DD: Honestly, it was obvious that, the more visible we became, the more folks were imitating us. For me personally, I was honored when folks thought enough of me to imitate me (the sincerest form of flattery). Later on, when I moved into the solo thing, it was a bit aggravating when a few blatant imitators succeeded but never gave any props. For the most part, people have been very open with me in letting me know how big an influence I had been for them.
Dez Dickerson performing with Brownmark and Prince
TCN: Did you or other members of the band share Prince’s strong self-belief, or did some of you have doubts about what you were doing?
DD: I had been at it professionally since the age of 14, and had always known that music was the thing I was made for. If anything, one of the shared characteristics in the band (certainly Prince, André and myself) was an almost arrogant self-confidence.
TCN: At which point did you realise that Prince and your fellow musicians had really made a leap forward in terms of musical achievement?
DD: At the point where significant artists began to turn up backstage at shows, and I found myself in conversations with pop icons and musicians that I profoundly respected who were incredibly complimentary of the band and me personally.
TCN: Was it the overtly sexual nature of some of Prince’s material that made you part company, or were there other factors involved?
DD: It was certainly a major factor, in that I became increasingly uncomfortable with the influence we were having on young people and youth culture in general.
TCN: Looking back, what do you feel most proud of during your work with Prince? Which songs do you feel particularly have the Dez Dickerson stamp?
DD: A couple of moments of recognition: being named by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 25 live shows of all time for the 1999 tour, being personally included in Guitar World’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos Of All Time (for ‘Little Red Corvette’), and, most of all, in one of the few instances of Prince himself publicly acknowledging those that had most influenced him during an acceptance speech for an American Music Award, being named with an amazingly august list which included Miles Davis and Sly Stone.
The songs I felt I most influenced were ‘Bambi’, ‘When You Were Mine’, and ‘Little Red Corvette’, to name a few. Really, I feel that I had more of an overall influence (especially in the area of lyric writing), which was mutual – my view of songwriting, arranging, and differentiation was profoundly shaped by working with Prince.
Prince and Dez Dickerson
TCN: Did you feel liberated after leaving Prince’s band, or did your solo career seem more precarious? Did you feel you had more, or less, control over your career?
DD: Life is precarious; the music business is one of the best object lessons in that truth. I felt like the weight of the world came off me, because it was the right thing at the right time. I very much believe in the principle of divine placement – I believe that there is a God, and I’m not him, that He directs our steps and crafts plans and places for us. The choice to embrace that is ours. Once I did what I believed was the right thing at the right time, I had a great sense of peace which had absolutely nothing to do with being in control, but everything to do with being under control.
TCN: What was the inspiration behind your lyrics to the song ‘Modernaire’?
DD: It was strictly stream of conciousness, with no real meaning or purpose.
TCN: Was ‘Modernaire’ written after you had left Prince’s band? Was there a demo version, and if so, was it similar or quite different to the final version? Were you happy with the final version?
DD: It was written during my transition into the solo thing, and there was only one version ever recorded. At first, I felt it strayed too far from my more aggressive rock sensibilities, but I grew to like it more over time.
TCN: What do you think of the remixes for the Citinite release?
DD: I think they’re wonderful. It’s great to have ‘Modernaire’ released in vinyl and remix form.
TCN: Are you interested in electronic music, or is rock your only love?
DD: I have a respect for some electronic music, especially the pioneers of the genre (like the aforementioned Ultravox).
TCN: Did you record material with your band The Modernaires, or was your solo music more of a one-man show?
DD: I recorded primarily alone, although I did work with my keyboardist (originally Roland Lozier, and then Dave Moulton) on nearly everything I tracked in those days. Dave especially had a knack for recreating exactly what I heard in my head.
TCN: What is a “modernaire”?
DD: Someone who is not just ahead of the curve, but around it already.
TCN: What are you most proud of since leaving Prince’s band? Have you achieved all you have set out to do, or are there more ambitions to be fulfilled?
DD: Raising a son who is far more talented than I (my son JD, who is the singer, songwriter and visionary in a band called Lenny). There’s always another mountain to be climbed; for me, it’s reinventing the business side of the business. With my company, Pavilion Entertainment, we’ve been taking a reformational approach to the industry for nearly 15 years now, and it’s been gratifying over the past few years to see people embrace models and concepts I’ve espoused for years (360 models, branded entertainment, social networking) as the norm. When I began pursuing these ideas, people thought I was crazy!
TCN: What is your favourite lyric, either from a song written by you or someone else.
DD: One of my favorites was from a song by Suicidal Tendencies – “If this offends you, maybe you need to be offended…”