With her distinctive shaved hairstyle, Canadian Donna Grantis is perhaps best known as Prince’s female guitarist in his performing trio 3RDEYEGIRL and the New Power Generation.
Named as one of 50 top female guitarists by Guitar Player magazine, Grantis composed the title track to Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL’s 2014 release, Plectrumelectrum, which helped the album of the same name reach number 1 on the US Billboard Rock Chart.
Grantis currently lives in Minneapolis and is leading a five-piece instrumental jazz-rock band under her own name. She catches up with Guitars Exchange to talk about the Purple One, working with Pearl Jam, and the influences for her latest album.
GE: You have said that Voodoo child 'blew your mind' as you entered your teens. Looking at the imagery and listening to the music from your latest album I wonder if Hendrix has now returned to your life (perhaps with some Miles Davis influence in the mix)? If so, how did that come about?
DG: Hendrix never left. His influence has been monumental throughout my life. Miles Davis’ music – especially albums created during his “Electric Period” in the early 70s – has been hugely inspirational in shaping the direction of my upcoming record.
GE: You have worked across many genres including the blues, jazz, rock, funk and hip hop, but you have said that you always return to the blues. Why is that so fundamental for you?
DG: I believe everything is built off the blues. The nuances involved in executing a line, when played with conviction and feel, can communicate and express so much. There’s an intangible magic behind playing even a single note and making it sound amazing. Playing blues helps develop this skill. It’s a language that I think is fundamental to all styles of music.
GE: I understand that you enjoy experimenting with new guitar sounds and pedals - which have you been using recently?
DG: Most recently I have been experimenting with the Empress Echosystem Dual Engine Delay that features up to 35 presets ranging from classic to obscure sounds. The tonal possibilities are incredible! I often play in stereo and love the variety of delays I can split between amp rigs.
GE: You have worked a lot with Shakura S'Aida; what is your favourite song that you composed with her?
DG: The latest! We’ve been writing new music together that we are excited to share…
GE: I understand that you were the musical director of the Women's Blues Revue for three years - why was that important for you?
DG: Being a part of the Women’s Blues Revue was an amazing experience. I love the process of developing bands and refining arrangements. Performing at Massey Hall – such a legendary hometown venue – was really special. I’m proud to have been a part of an event that shines a light on female musicians – some of the best in the country. Highlighting the talents of women, particularly in male-dominated fields, is important to me for two main reasons. First, culturally, I believe in the value and significance of experiencing music, visual art, science, politics, business, law – EVERYTHING – through the lens of both men and women. Secondly, shining a light on the accomplishments of women in male dominated fields helps inspire the next generation of girls as well as broaden the perception of boys.
GE: Do you have any advice for young female guitarists who might feel they face barriers?
DG: My advice to women in any field is to stay focused on your passion, be committed to striving for excellence and relentlessly pursue your goals.
GE: What was it like working with Prince?
DG: Incredible! It was a life-changing experience that I am so grateful to have had. I learned so much from him. Jamming, rehearsing, recording and performing with the greatest musician of all time was immensely inspiring. He pushed everyone around him to be their best.
GE: What inspiration moved you to write “Plectrumelectrum”?
DG: I wrote most of “Plectrumelectrum”, originally titled “Elektra”, while on a flight from Toronto to Europe. It was inspired by a feeling. It was a huge honor to have had the song re-arranged by Prince, recorded by the band and featured as the title track on our 2014 release. I loved performing it live!
GE: You played with Pearl Jam in May 2016 in Toronto – how did that come about? What did you enjoy most about it?
DG: Mike McCready and I met in Seattle at the Showbox, after a performance with Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL while we were on tour in 2013. We kept in touch and he invited me onstage at the ACC in Toronto to play guitar on “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World” and “Baba O’Riley”. Mike is one of my favorite guitar players on the planet! Performing with Pearl Jam was a great honor and beyond fun.
GE: What forthcoming project(s) are you most looking forward to?
DG: Releasing new music with my band and touring in support of it. Producing and collaborating with artists whose music moves me.
Following the interview, Grantis sends a note to say that she is currently in the studio mixing material for her forthcoming album, to be released in 2018 (tour dates will be posted on her website, at donnagrantis.com). She also sends a couple of video links especially to Guitars Exchange readers (see below) - including the barnstorming ‘Elsa’- which preview new music new releases in 2018.
ELSA (New Music Preview)
DIAMONDS & DYNAMITE (New Music Preview)