“It wasn’t like a normal bass gig where you have 30 songs: I had to learn 300!” Ida Nielsen talks touring with Prince, and how she tackled her Paisley Park audition

Prince and bassist Ida Nielsen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ask Ida Nielsen how she got started on the bass guitar and it’s the usual story – up to a point, anyway. “I grew up in the countryside in Denmark,” she told BP. “I played with a bunch of bands and in 2008 I released my first solo album, Marmalade: a funk album with a lot of bass guitar on it. That brought me a lot of attention, so I started doing a lot of clinics and I started working with TC Electronic. I recorded a lot of videos for them, which went on YouTube around 2010 – and that was how Prince found me.”

Prince, eh? Fans of the great man, and there are millions, will not be surprised to hear that on receiving a phone call from Minneapolis, Nielsen thought it was a prank. “I got a call from his manager, but I couldn’t really hear what she was saying. I did hear her say the name Prince, but I thought it was a joke! She invited me to Paisley Park for a jam and I said ‘Sure!’ I didn’t hear anything for two weeks, so I thought that was it until I finally got another call – and three months later I was on tour with Prince.”

“There was a lot of stuff to remember, because he liked to change things up and not always stick to what’s on the set list, so I had a lot of different songs to learn in a short time, that was the hardest part of it. It wasn’t like a normal bass gig where you have 30 songs: I had to learn 300! That took a lot of time.” We must have our hearing checked: we thought she said 300 songs… “It was actually more than 300 songs, because I was learning more as we went along.”

Back up a moment. When you show up at Prince’s near-mythical studio, Paisley Park, clutching a bass guitar, you presumably also do some homework beforehand. Did Prince ask Nielsen to learn some tunes before coming over? “I got an email the night before I left for Minneapolis, with two songs that I had to learn. They were Dreamer and Funk, which I’m not sure are album tracks. I knew other songs too, of course, because I’ve always loved Prince: I listened to a bunch of stuff to really prepare for that first time.”

What was it actually like, standing right there with Prince, jamming the funk? “He was super sweet when I first got there, because I was nervous. He asked me which kind of basses I had and stuff liked that, to help me relax and get into nerd mode. After a few minutes it was cool and we started jamming.”

What gear did Nielsen use to deliver the bass notes? “I played a Sandberg Masterpiece. And I only played one bass with Prince because there’s no time to change between songs. I basically play standard tuning, but occasionally I’ll drop the E string to a D.” And the rest of the chain? “I used a Crybaby bass wah, an envelope filter, two octavers that each play an octave up and an octave down. TC Electronic’s Polytune and a bass booster.”

The music on Prince’s albums with Nielsen, and indeed in his previous releases going as far back as the late 1970s, is heavily funk-indebted – nirvana for a bass player, we reckon. Nielsen agrees: “I love playing funk bass, but it depends who you’re playing with and what kind of music it is. You have to adapt your playing. There are so many great players who can do that, and I admire each of them for their different thing. There’s Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bootsy Collins, Victor Wooten – all those guys. And there’s Prince too!”

Prince and 3rd Eye Girl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finally, where does Nielsen go from here? Once you’ve been Prince’s bass player, there’s no higher place to go we reckon. “Well, Prince was number one on the list of people I wanted to play with, so it was amazing being with him. He gave his whole heart and soul to the music, which made you want to do that too. No concert was the same, because he always switched up the set list. Playing with him gave me an amazing feeling that I’ve never felt with any other musician. With Prince, you were always in the moment.”

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Joel McIver

Joel McIver was the Editor of Bass Player magazine from 2018 to 2022, having spent six years before that editing Bass Guitar magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV.