Livin’ in the Purple Rain – Morris Hayes and Mackenzie Green on celebrating the life of Prince
Prince was a phenomenon. His ability to create music that touched people all around the world was incredible enough, but his theatricality and his unapologetic style sees him continue to stand out amongst the greats of modern music.
Now, the band behind much of his success, The New Power Generation, are employing Princes’ music to honour the music legend and give his fans a fresh take and appreciation for the music abilities he had.
Music Insight sat down with musical director Morris Hayes (Prince’s longest running band member) and newcomer Mackenzie Green, ahead of their tour of Australia at the end of March.
The tour will see the band play shows in Sydney and Melbourne, and feature as major guests for Bluesfest Byron Bay 2018.
This is particularly significant for Mackenzie, who comes into the band as the lead vocalist.
“It’s a lot of mixed emotions but they’re all good,” Mackenzie laughs.
“You have all of that pressure, but its coupled with excitement, [and] a little bit of freaking out cause I’m looking around stage and I’m surrounded by all these incredible musicians that played with Prince.”
It’s clear though that Morris has faith in his lead singer.
“The minute that [Mackenzie] stepped on stage with us and started singing, I had that feeling and everyone else did too that it was meant to be, and that the band is going to kill it.”
While Mackenzie is very much the new addition, Morris is the polar opposite, having worked with Prince longer than anyone else in the band.
“Some days it was like a dream, and some days was like “this guy is killing me now.” He could be an absolute monster some days,” Morris laughs.
“But, all in all I wouldn’t trade it for anything, man. I love my time with him… If you don’t have those [hard] days, you never really know what it’s like to be at that level of performance.
“You know, like Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones and a lot of groups like that, they are where they are because of the attention to detail.
“To do that it takes a certain amount of discipline. Those artists expect a certain level of quality and we understand that and we have to deliver that.
“These guys are battle tested; they know what to do. At this point it’s about respecting the music, and we want to come and just enjoy ourselves and celebrate Prince.
“There is so much material it’s really like: what do we want to play, what songs can be packed in that amount of time that can cover as many memories as people like, and maybe even try to do things that people may have not heard. When I was with Prince he may not have played [some tracks], but now we could play tracks to people who may not know about them.”
While the band worked extensively with Prince himself, Mackenzie didn’t get into his music until a lot later.
“I was raised as a Southern Baptist in Northern Virginia, so his music was more or less taboo as far as my parents were concerned,” Mackenzie says.
“I wasn’t allowed to listen to Prince or anything that wasn’t part of the gospel as a kid. So, I didn’t really get to dive into his catalogue until I left home and really started my musical studies and my career.
“I think the first record I ever heard of his was probably Purple Rain and I just remember, even at an early age of not understanding what he was necessarily talking about, just feeling the freedom in his music.
“So, I definitely say that he inspired me to be comfortable with being a creative… Prince was someone who you can feel, and made me feel comfortable just being myself.
“The main rule was there was no rules.”
With Prince being such a well-loved figure in Australia, there’s no doubt fans will want this new-look New Power Generation outfit.
“It’s the opportunity to be in front of his fans,” explains Mackenzie.
“I was unfortunate that I never got the chance to meet him, but to be able to say thank you on stage and in front of his fans, that’s what I’m looking forward to. I want to meet everybody, I want to shake people’s hands. [I want] to try my most hardest and my best to bring them somewhere closer to the emotions that he brought to them.
“We have the incredible band, and they’ve given me leeway to be myself. There will never be another Prince. They didn’t ask me to impersonate him, they didn’t asked me to don purple garments and pretend to be him. They asked me to be myself, and that’s the only way that you can bring anything even remotely close to that.”
The chance to perform live means something even more to Morris.
“It’s like home man… It’s like second nature to me when I get on stage; I’m at home… It’s like catching that wave, you what I’m saying?
“It’s all energy and it translates from you to the people. It comes from the heart and it reaches the heart. It’s one of the things I love about Ray Charles, he’s one of my heroes. He had so much passion and I felt it was an interesting thing to try to connect with. Through that, I came to understand the power of music as a format and how it has the ability to move people.
For many fans, the fact that Prince is no longer with us often can lead to grief that he was taken from us too soon. But, this show doesn’t just aim remember the man, but to celebrate him for the force of nature that he was.
“This man had an incredible body of work, and he had this amazing band that complimented him,” said Morris.
“This was a man that will never be forgotten. As long as there’s a demand for Prince music, we’re going to deliver the songs, deliver the soul, and deliver the rock. People love Prince, people love us and we love you. If there ain’t you, there ain’t us.
“That’s one of the things that’s very important to us as a band, people who support us. We’re grateful and we’re glad we can just be able to play this music and represent this man the best way we can.”
“It’s a celebration of our uniqueness, a celebration about individuality, as a collective,” explains Mackenzie.
“I’m not trying to impersonate him, because I can’t. I’m not trying to imitate him, because I won’t. But I will do everything I can to honor the legacy that is Prince Rogers Nelson.
“I think being on stage, soaking up the excitement and the energy from the crowd, and… living in the purple rain. I’m just really looking forward to the opportunity to become a better musician because of what I’m surrounded by, which is his legacy.
“I think these shows in some ways is part of the grieving process, and it’s just exciting to be a part of that. This is my thank you, and as far as the band’s concerned without talking to all them, I would have to say that this is a celebration of the most incredible artist that the world has ever seen.”
The New Power Generation will play 170 Russell in Melbourne (March 26), the Enmore Theatre in Sydney (March 28), and at Bluesfest Byron Bay 2018 from 30-31 March. Tickets are available now.