MINNEAPOLIS — The band that made the Minneapolis Sound famous is back — with an asterisk. Make that two asterisks.
First, it is the only band in pop history that has all of its original members but can’t use its original name. (Thank you, Prince.) Second, Morris Day is the only lead singer who performs essentially the same repertoire with two different groups. (Thank you, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.)
The back story helps with the explanation: In 1981, Prince created the Time and the R&B septet had several hits (“Cool,” “The Bird,” “Jungle Love”) and a major part in the movie “Purple Rain.” The original members reunited in 1990 for an album and another Prince movie, “Graffiti Bridge,” before disbanding. While Jam and Lewis were producing hits for Janet Jackson and others, the frontman put together Morris Day and the Time in 1996 as a live act with original members Jellybean Johnson, Monte Moir and Jerome Benton.
Last month, all the former bandmates reunited to release their first album in 21 years, “Condensate.” But because Prince owns the rights to “the Time,” they had to adopt a new name: The Original 7ven.
With a hometown gig set for Saturday, four of the “7ven” checked in by phone on the same afternoon — Day from his home in Las Vegas, Jam and Lewis from their places in Los Angeles and Johnson en route to the L.A. airport to travel back to his Twin Cities home.
On negotiating with Prince to use “the Time”:
“The rumblings were out that we were making a record,” Day explained, “and he reached out to us and sent a cease-and-desist letter.”
Lewis, who handled the negotiations, was more diplomatic: “He has his viewpoint; we have ours. We’ve been the Time since 1981. I don’t understand why there would be any issue with that. I’m not trying to challenge someone for something that they believe they created or owned. I don’t understand why it has to get to this point and be this serious. So we’ll take the high road.”
Johnson thinks Prince has changed over the years. “He’s not the person that I grew up with since I was 12,” the drummer said. “Who has time to be in court fighting about a name you’ve done had for 30 years? He’s a chronic litigator. He has the money to do it; I don’t.”
On “the Original 7ven”:
“That’s exactly what we are,” said Lewis, adding that they discussed using “the Tyme” and other names. “There’s been a lot of people who have been in the Time. We are the only original seven.”
According to Jam, the spelling is a takeoff on when Michael Jackson and his brothers called themselves “the Jackson 5ive.” But he understands if fans are confused.
“People can call us the Time if they want,” he said. “We just can’t call ourselves that.”
On how they’re getting along:
“Really good,” said Jam. “There’s always going to be little squabbles. The arguments are not about ego arguments but ‘Let’s play this song faster’ or ‘Play this song slower.’”
Said Lewis: “Get us to the stage, and we’re fine.”
Johnson calls the group “seven strong-willed individuals” who have had success outside of the Time.
“On a large decision, we have a meeting,” Day said. “The small stuff, Terry handles it.”
Lewis considers himself the “managing partner, but I’m not telling anybody what to do.” He was the one who researched record labels. They ended up on Saguaro Road, a Time-Life imprint with distribution via Warner Bros. “It’s a good non-major (label) play with a major’s reach,” he says.
On the new, 14-song album:
The group scrapped an album recorded in 2008 — when they reunited for performances on the Grammys and in Las Vegas and Minneapolis — and put “Condensate” together in the past year.
Lewis wanted a 10-song disc but guitarist Jesse Johnson raised a good point, he said. “Jesse said, ‘If the fans have waited 21 years, give them all that you can give them. Give them value.’”
Jam pointed out that “Condensate” is “the first album that the original seven has totally done on our own. We wanted Prince to be involved and he politely declined. That’s fine. Hopefully, it’s not a closed door.”
On the new single “#Trendin”:
It has an old-school sound but au courant content, reflective of the Twitter world.
“People say it’s stupid to sing about trending,” Lewis said. “Does ‘The Bird’ make any sense? Does ‘Jungle Love’ make any sense? What we try to do is what we do best, which is entertain.”
On that “other” group:
Morris Day and the Time have a handful of bookings through February. It’s how he, Johnson and Moir (Benton quit four years ago) make a living.
How are the two bands different? “The touring band is much more relaxed, more of a party vibe,” said Day. “With the originals, it’s tighter. I don’t have to work quite as hard.”
Jam thinks the two groups can coexist: “They’ve kept the name out there when the name could have totally died.”
Or as Lewis put it, “It’s all about supporting one another.”
On their future:
The Original 7ven played “The Tonight Show” last Thursday and will appear soon on “Today,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” as well as opening the Soul Train Awards Nov. 17 (scheduled for broadcast Nov. 27 on BET).
They may tour in 2012, although the always-cool Day warned: “It’s my goal to work smarter and not harder.”
Whatever, Jam promises this is not a one-time reunion.
“We want to do great shows and want to make really great records,” he said. “I say that in the plural because we don’t want to stop with this.”
// Notes from the Road
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