Donna Grantis understandably had the late Prince on her mind while making her new solo album, Diamonds & Dynamite, whose title track is premiering exclusively below.
The guitarist, a Toronto native, played with Prince as part of 3RDEYEGIRL and the New Power Generation. She was also working with him in a fusion jazz collective that he set aside to concentrate on his solo piano performances before his death in April 2016. And Prince would have served as producer on Diamonds & Dynamite, an eight-track set that takes Grantis back to the improvisational fusion roots she was exploring before joining the Prince universe.
“This was something Prince and I talked about,” Grantis tells Billboard. “He asked if he could produce the record, which is pretty crazy since the direction of the record overall was really influenced by him in so many ways. He introduced me to a whole new repertoire of jazz music I wasn’t familiar with.”
According to Grantis, that would specifically be Miles Davis’ fusion work on albums such as Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On The Corner. “That’s the kind of music that would be playing on (the PA) while audiences were coming in and taking their seats at our shows,” Grantis recalls. At the time she leaned more toward the music of Billy Cobham and John Scofield, jazz but “a little more on the bluesier side. When it comes down to it, blues was really my foundation as a player.” But Prince’s tutelage opened some new vistas for her.
“What I loved about it was the improvisational aspect, which I’ve always gravitated towards, and that rock ‘n’ roll attitude,” Grantis says. “We would get into exploring a lot of pretty unusual terrain and even taking some pretty standard songs but playing them out a lot and taking them to some pretty far-out places and exploring different sounds. I loved that, and it really shaped the direction of this project.”
Diamonds & Dynamite also features “Violetta” and “Trashformer,” a pair of tracks released as a vinyl single during November on HockeyTalkter Records, the vinyl imprint operated by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready — who also appears on the songs. Grantis met McCready when the members of Pearl Jam attended a 2013 Prince concert in Seattle, and in May of 2016 the group invited Grantis to join them on stage during encores at their Toronto shows. “They’re just really cool guys, and Mike’s one of my favorite guitar players on the planet,” Grantis recalls. “We talked about collaborating and that led to the release on HockeyTalkter. Mike loves vinyl, as do I, and it just looks beautiful, like a piece of art.”
Grantis plans to tour in support of Diamonds & Dynamite and is continuing to work on new music for what she hopes will become a prolific solo catalog. And she, like many others, is curious to see what of her work with Prince is in his vaults and will possibly surface in the future.
“We recorded a ton — it was just part of our day to day, whether we were recording rehearsals or jams or real specific arrangements of songs,” she remembers. “The songs that were on (2014’s) Plectrumelectrum are just some of the tunes that are around. There’s material there; I’m looking forward to hearing it at some point.”