André Cymone has had one of the most interesting careers in music history.
Indeed, Cymone, who was a childhood friend of Prince’s, started out as the bassist for Prince back in the early days (some of their early work can be heard on the recently-released Numero Group compilation Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound). He played with Prince quite a bit in the early days before branching out and going solo, having released a unique trilogy of efforts in the early ‘80s: 1982’s Living in the New Wave, the following year’s Surviving in the ‘80s, and his most popular disc, 1985’s A.C., which included a Prince-written track called “The Dance Electric”, which became a minor club hit. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for the 2012 UK re-release of A.C..)
However, after leaving his own solo career to take on duties as both a songwriter and producer (his most notable contributions being the work he did with Jody Watley, whom he was married to for several years), Cymone re-emerged in 2012 with two songs he wrote and briefly released for free in support of Barack Obama’s re-election bid, “America” and “American Dream”, the latter of which made its way onto The Stone, his first new solo album in decades. From storming opener “Rock and Roll” onward, Cymone shows that his years a producer have paid off in droves, as he makes potent, lush soundscapes for all of his songs, all dripping with a nice bit of sunshine mixed into classic rock and funk tropes—his absolute specialty.
To celebrate the release of The Stone, Cymone swung by to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing his relation to a famous Barbara Streisand film, his country boy roots, and gives a unique shoutout to James Blake…
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
When I was a kid I used to sometimes go to work with my mother; she was a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Minnesota. I watched her work really hard cleaning and maintaining their home, it was beautiful and I knew she could only dream of having a place like that to call her own. I made a promise to myself that if I ever made enough money I would buy her the home of her choice. Thank God I was able to do that for her. My mother’s gone now so when I watched The Help, it brought all those memories back and the tears fell like rain ...
2. The fictional character most like you?
John Norman Howard from A Star Is Born played by Kris Kristofferson, minus the booze and the tragic demise. What can I say? I like to do what I can to help others realize their dreams.
3. The greatest album, ever?
That’s really hard, maybe a three-way tie between Stevie Wonders’ Innervisions, The Beatles’ double A-side “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” and the album that followed, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Joni Mitchell’s album Hejira.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. I was conflicted between wanting to be cool like Captain Kirk and intellectual like Spock.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Any conversation with my older brother or my father. There’s also an old book I love to reference from time to time, it’s called Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Being part of a musical revolution that still seems to have influence in popular music today.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
Being the artist that proves music is one of the most powerful tools for bringing the world together and taking the longest hiatus and returning to the music business to have more success than I did previously.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Picasso’s seated woman in red arm chair, James Blake’s Retrograde, and Frank Gehry’s Disney Building.
10. Your hidden talents ...?
Writing stories which I hope one day to turn into films, tennis, painting, furniture making ...I think I’ll stop now ...
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I was visiting my mother who at the time was very ill. I told her how unhappy I was with my relationship at the time and how disillusioned I was with the music business and the people running it and I just wasn’t interested in it anymore. All the reasons I wanted to be an artist seemed outdated. She said something really simple, it was so simple it didn’t hit me right away but I kept hearing her voice saying those words, she said, “Follow your heart” ... and that advice is what brought me back to making music.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I have an old Vintage Vox phantom V that I bought when I was 15 or 16. I bought it hot, the guy was asking $75 for it I told him I only had the $5. He wouldn’t go for that so I dug a little deeper and somehow found $40 more. I love that guitar, it makes me write some of the strangest songs.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?
I had an Armani phase and who knows, I may have one again, but right now I’m a serious Levi’s bum with a touch of John Varvatos.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
My wife, President Obama, Bill Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and Steve Jobs.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
I’d go back to the 1950s it seemed like such a great time for music, art, film, and fashion, and if you were creative and bold you had room to make a statement.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
I’d be chillin’ like James Bond in a spa surrounded by lust, I meant lush, beautiful ... plant life.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?
Well, I hear cannabis can be very good for creativity and coffee is an amazing pick-me-up and wine to mellow it all out but hey ...who’s askin’?
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Country. I’m basically a country boy, I love nature and I love fishing, so a cabin and a lake somewhere in Colorado or Minnesota is where you might find me.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Go further in exposing those who want to impede the progress you’ve been trying to make on behalf of and in the best interest of our country and the American people. Address and readdress the fact that a vote for those politicians is a vote against their own best interest. Name names, name corporations and political party affiliation so there’s no doubt who the problem children are when midterm election time come around.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m working and preparing for a tour in support of my album entitled The Stone!