Bassist Ida Nielsen has been letting her musical ambitions lead her since she was 16. As a student in countryside of Denmark, she took a post as bassist in a friend’s band even though she had never played the instrument before. She quickly mastered the band’s songs before her first show with them, which inadvertently led her to a lifelong love of funk music.
“At that concert, there was this band of these young guys who played in this funk band. The bass player was just going for it,” she says over Skype from her home country. “I never saw or heard anything like it.”
Her commitment to mastering funk led her to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. After she graduated in 1998 she lent her talents to Belgian Afropop singer Zap Mama and Danish pop-rock band Michael Learns to Read. But none of this was funky enough for Nielsen, and she began writing out on her own, playing festivals and sharing her bass-heavy music on Myspace [under the monikers Bassida and Ida Funkhouser]. It was with her own music that she caught the attention of one of her favorite artists, Prince, who invited her across the world just for a jam session. Their instant connection landed her a spot on his 2010 tour and, ultimately, a side-by-side musical partnership, first with New Power Generation and then as one of his three bandmates in his most recent outfit 3rdeyegirl, until his untimely passing in April of this year.
Earlier this month she released her second solo album, turnitup (Marmelade Productions), a bass-heavy funk record flecked with hip-hop and reggae influences. It’s her first in almost a decade, that beautifully bookends her friendship with Prince. The original was first released when she had taken control of her own musical destiny, writing and performing her own music, and what ultimately caught the Purple One’s attention. Despite the demands of her schedule while working with him, Nielsen never stopped working on her own material, whether as a bassist or noodling with electronic music on her laptop in the Minneapolis hotel she lived in while working with Prince (and she says she has an album’s worth of that work, too).
Upon turnitup’s release, Nielsen talked to She Shreds about making solo music on the road, writing lyrics when you don’t know how, and the hardship one faces when their creative partner is gone.
You were still playing with Prince until recently. How did you end up having time to write your own music?
I’m always kind of writing music and doing music. It always comes naturally that at some point that I’ll wanna do something with it instead of just keeping it [to myself]. I’ve been writing music for this album for a long time. I’ve actually been writing for two albums because I started doing some stuff [with a] computer and that became very digital, but because I’m a bass player first of all, I also made these other songs, so I’m doing my funk album [first]. There’s another album that’s going to have no bass in it. It’s just all going to be programmed. We were being very busy playing and playing. I love that.
I love to play music but I also feel the need to create music myself. So sometimes, if I had time off, I’d be sitting in the hotel room [where I lived in Minneapolis] and I just felt the need to do something, so I started just doing it for fun. But I am definitely way more of a musician than a programmer, but I had fun doing it.
Are you writing lyrics at the same time? You have a few songs on your album that are, lyrically, unlike anything out right now, particularly “The Librarian.” What inspires you to tell stories about people who don’t quite have the same life you do?
I always do the lyrics last because that’s the thing that doesn’t come easy to me. When I did my first albums, I was trying to get people to write my lyrics for me, but it never really worked out so well because then you’d have to wait for people. I have to sit down and then I just start doing it and it goes. “The Librarian,” I just really thought about that because one of my friends got a job at a library and we were talking about being a librarian and some librarians that I remember from my childhood and I just made a story. That almost didn’t make it on the album, but I thought the lyrics were so funny it had to be on. Still, English is a little bit more difficult for me, but Danish just does not sound good with funk music.
How much exposure did you have to funk music when you were growing up? Were you able to go to a record store and find music easily?
It was before digital and I lived in the countryside. I could sit [listening to] the radio just waiting for something a little bit funky to come around, which it really wouldn’t. I had a teacher once who told me I had to go to Copenhagen, which was three and a half hours from where I lived—the other side of the country—and he told me there were two record stores where I could find funk music. But basically back then, if I had friends who were traveling either to London or New York, everybody would buy CDs and they would come home with all these CDs with stuff you couldn’t get in Denmark. Now you can get everything on iTunes, you can go on YouTube and see all these cool bands, but it was just not happening back then. It’s pretty cool now.
And the Internet is what led you to Prince. How did you go from getting his attention on Myspace to actually being in New Power Generation?
I got a call asking me if I wanted to go to a jam in Minneapolis and I couldn’t believe it. Obviously if you love funk music, you love Prince. I loved Prince. It was just a dream come true. I went there for a jam, [Prince’s drummer] John Blackwell was there, too. We played for about 20 minutes and then [Prince] was like, “Yeah, we’re taking you on tour.” We jammed for three days and he gave me a CD said, “Go home and learn it. Call me when you know it.” I went home and learned everything as fast as I could.
What were the songs like on your Myspace page?
Those were songs with my [solo] band. I’d been a musician for some years and played all kinds of stuff, but I finally decided that I wanted to do my own thing and I wanted to do music with a lot of bass in, even though, especially in Denmark, nobody really wanted to listen to it. I didn’t care and I did it for me. There’s this Danish company [called TC Electronic] who build bass amps and they put me on some [festivals]. The company took some videos of me and I got those videos and put them on Myspace. That’s what Prince saw. I’m still playing their amps.
You said you wanted to make your own music but because of that music, you ended up being in someone else’s band.
Yeah, but it was my biggest dream ever. The decision to go and do my own thing just led to the next step, that’s how I look at it. I wouldn’t have gotten that gig if I had just continued playing random shows here in Denmark with different people. It was when I started focusing on my music, that’s when stuff started to happen… For me, I played with the person I wanted to play with the most and I don’t know yet how to not play with somebody else. It’s a thing for me to just do my own stuff right now and do that for a bit.
Right now, I’m still kinda feeling like… I don’t feel like standing next to somebody that’s not Prince. It’s still new.