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Ida Nielsen: "Prince always pushed us to be better - now I want to make sure I’m the best musician I can be"

Ida Nielsen
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/NPG Records 2010 via Getty Images)

Danish bass icon Ida Nielsen is back in 2020 with new album 02022020, which sees the Prince bass player take on a new songwriting direction.

We quizzed Nielsen on the cheap gear she used to record the new album, why she steered away from slap, and just what it was like to take on one of the world's most demanding gigs...

Tell us about the new album, 02022020.  

"It’s not a typical bass album, but there’s still a lot of bass on it. I compose different kinds of music all the time. I’m touring with my funk band right now, and that stuff is what people have come to expect. 

"Funk is my thing, and I love it, but as we toured, some of my older stuff took different turns and I wanted to record reinvented versions of some of those tracks. I wanted to release something for February 2, 2020, because I thought it was such a cool date, but it was also because my next funk album was not gonna be ready. 

"I wanted to do something completely different. There’s no slapping on the album, which is funny, because people are always asking me why I slap so much, haha!"

How did you record the bass this time? 

"Straight into the computer, along with all the other instruments except the drums, which we did in the studio. People are gonna be angry with me when they hear which interface I used for the bass, because I used the cheapest one you can get! 

"I bought it back when I was with Prince, because we were traveling so much. I’m not big into tech, I just want it to work. I recorded the vocals with a USB microphone. It’s a great time for affordable gear right now."

Did you use your signature Sandberg for this album?  

"Yes, because it’s totally versatile. It will do everything I want it to do. It fits me really well. You’ve had it a few years now. How have you refined it to suit you?  Being a signature model, I didn’t want it to be the same as something that was already available. 

People are gonna be angry with me when they hear which interface I used for the bass, because I used the cheapest one you can get!

"So I went to the workshop and tried out this bass with a hole in it, so I could try different pickup options, move them around and try different types. I think I found some pickups that sound just how I like them to, and we found the right position as well.

"That was super-fun, as you could move one pickup and make the other sound really good but then adding the other would make it sound not so good—so you have to find the right combination.

"The electronics are standard Sandberg, but I feel that bass has such a variety of possibilities and I like all of that variety. I like the honkiness of the bridge pickup and the old-school sound from the neck pickup."

How did the association with Sandberg come about?

"That goes way back to the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 2009. I was doing some stuff with TC Electronic at that show, and one of my friends from TC introduced me to Holger. I tried a bass on their stand and it was like, ‘Wow, what is going on here - I need this bass!’

I think the fact Prince gave 100 percent onstage night after night has had a huge impact on me. His presence added something special

"Before that, I had a Lakland and a Fender, but the way this one sounded, I just thought ‘This is it!’ Holger Sandberg gifted that bass to me - and this was before I was playing with Prince, which is why I’m very happy to work with Holger.

"Obviously once I started playing with Prince, everyone took an interest in the instruments I was playing - but the fact that I wasn’t really known before that shows Holger had faith in me."

Do you make tonal adjustments throughout the show?

"I almost always have it set flat, and then I pan across the pickups depending on the song I’m playing. For example, if I want a more nasal sound, I’ll go to the back pickup rather than mess with the EQ, unless I need to."

You played with Prince for six years. How did you go about learning his back catalog?

"I thought I knew a lot of his songs, but we were just getting started. There was no quick route other than sitting down and learning the songs. When I started with him it was 2010, and I was joining a band that was already there, so I had a month to catch up which added some pressure. That was a lot of work!

"But at a certain point, I got to a place where I was able to learn really fast and remember stuff clearly. In the beginning, I would write everything down and keep it - but then I amazed myself at how quickly I was able to learn, remember and recall quickly. It was training, just like everything else is training."

Prince used to modify songs on a daily basis, and changes happened very quickly. How did you deal with that?

"It was always on the spot. There might be a whole new arrangement at soundcheck, and then that would be the version we would play that night. Some of it could be on the spot in the show; he would say ‘Watch me’ and direct stuff. When it worked, it was really cool.

"We did the craziest thing once - we were doing a live TV show in France, and he didn’t tell us up front what we were going to play, so every song was called on the spot. That kept us on our toes. I am eternally grateful for the gift that was playing with him and for everything I have learned."

Would you like another sidewoman role?

"Whatever I do next, I will be comparing it to him, and that isn’t good for them or me. Until I feel like I’m not comparing another artist to him, I won’t push to be in that position."

What is the one big thing that will help you for the rest of your career?

"There were so many things, and it’s hard to pick just one thing, but I think the fact he gave 100 percent onstage night after night has had a huge impact on me. His presence added something special. I never played a gig where I had the feeling that he was trying to get it over with - never.

"Even a song like Purple Rain, he must have played it thousands of times, but it was always magic, always special. I wonder, ‘What would he think? How would he do it?’ - sometimes subconsciously. Prince always pushed us to be better and I now want to make sure that I’m the best I can be as a musician. It has been a journey for me to get here, to this place."