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In the early '80s, interviewers kept asking André Cymone about being in a band with Prince. They pried for his reasons for leaving Prince's pre-Revolution touring band in 1981 to start a solo career.
"Could you tell us how the split came about?" The Scene's Nat Morris asked in 1982. Cymone, hidden behind dark sunglasses and a multi-colored jumpsuit his sister made, responded, "I just wanted to go in a new direction."
He wasn't lying. Cymone knew from the start that he wouldn't remain Prince's bassist forever.
ANDRÉ CYMONE plays a release show for The Stone on Sunday, March 16, at 7th St. Entry; 612.332.1775
"I never really wanted to be in somebody's group," he says now in a conversation with City Pages. He adds that Prince originally wanted the band to be like the Brothers Johnson, with Cymone and Prince at the forefront and the backing band around them. "I was like, 'I'm behind you 100 percent, but once you get going, I'm gonna do my thing.'"
Three albums and a 27-year hiatus later, Cymone finally finds his own voice on his new album, The Stone. The sound is hardly recognizable from his previous records. The only constants are Cymone's singing voice and his songwriting abilities. There are no leftover New Wave or Prince stylings to be found — it's pure rock 'n' roll.
"I'm just really looking at this as a new artist starting fresh. [I'm] not looking for no shortcuts," he says. "Sometimes you have to do that, when you've taken as much time off as I have."
This weekend, the now Los Angeles-based Cymone brings his new album and band to 7th St. Entry. He says he'll be in town for four to five days, and hopes to add on more shows while he's around.
In the '60s and '70s, Cymone grew up in the projects of north Minneapolis until his mother found a good job and moved the family to an upper-middle-class neighborhood. It was there that Cymone met Prince, whose father coincidentally played in a band with Cymone's.
By their early teens, Cymone and Prince were roommates and starting to play music together. A few years later, Prince signed with Warner Bros. After 1978's release of For You, Cymone began to play horns in his touring band and eventually became Prince's bassist.
In 1981, Cymone left the band and released three solo albums within four years, including Livin' in the New Wave, Survivin' the 80s, and A.C. The first two albums were experimental, but still bass-heavy, suggesting Cymone was still searching for his own sound. A.C. features the Prince-penned "The Dance Electric," which reached number 10 on the Billboard R&B charts. The whole album had a Prince vibe, with moaning vocals, bouncy synth, and lyrical eroticism. Following the release of A.C., Cymone took a break from writing his own music, focusing instead on writing and producing for artists like Adam Ant, Pebbles, Jermaine Stewart, and Jody Watley.
"I was trying to get away from being lumped in with Minneapolis, you know, Prince and all that kind of stuff, which is why I took a long time off and hopefully cleared the air," he says.
Cymone bounced back and forth from New York to L.A., finally settling permanently in the latter. An executive had warned him that he should stay in Minneapolis and be a big fish in a small pond. In Los Angeles, the pond was huge, but Cymone found the promise of anonymity attractive. At the time, he couldn't go out to eat in Minneapolis without being recognized.
"I don't get that anymore," he says, laughing.
The Stone is an aural day at the beach, complete with laid-back tracks, like "American Dream" and "Let Your Sun Shine." A healthy dose of skinny dipping comes in the form of "Naked," in which Cymone and a female background singer repeatedly chant "I wanna get naked/Let's get naked/Everybody get naked."
On the side, Cymone has released a number of political tracks, including "Trayvon," an acoustic song about the murder of Trayvon Martin, and "America," a song he put out to raise funds and support for Barack Obama. Neither of those tracks are on the album, which focuses more on sex, the occasional drug, and rock 'n' roll.
Now that he's restarted, Cymone can't stop. He says he already has enough material for three more albums and, though his manager told him to slow down, he keeps finding new songs he needs to write.
"The songs I'm writing, the things I'm doing — it sounds weird, but it almost has little to do with me," he says. "I'm just kind of on autopilot."