This is part two of 360°Sound’s exclusive interview with Mark Brown (aka BrownMark), bassist in Prince’s backing band The Revolution from 1981 to 1986. Brown joined The Revolution when he was just 19 years old. In one of his very first gigs, he opened for the Rolling Stones in front of 90,000 people. While the first part of the interview focused on Brown’s new book My Life in the Purple Kingdom and his time with Prince, this part will focus primarily on the Revolution reunion tour and his new music, as well as his thoughts on the state of the music industry.
360°Sound: Do you think your book could be of particular interest to aspiring musicians and perhaps as a cautionary tale?
It’s definitely a book that exposes the dark side of the industry. Everything is not a bed of roses. It’s not what you think it is. Once you get inside you realize how really cutthroat it is. Dog eat dog. No room for the soft-hearted. It’s no room for the animal either. If you’re an alpha and used to being a pack leader, it ain’t an industry for you. You’ll get gobbled up. There’s some cats that have a lot more money than you. It’s really a place for the smart. A person who is true. You gotta be true to survive in this business. You gotta understand who your enemies are and pull them in close so you can watch what they’re doing.
You have a unique bass playing style. Questlove, who wrote the foreword to your book, said you play ghost notes. For us non-musicians, what does that mean?
It sounds like I’m playing something but I’m not. I call it a ‘rumble,’ a technique where I don’t just play a note, I play two, three, four notes all at the same time but they’re not notes. It’s almost like a muted string effect. If I’m playing the pattern, I can play the entire pattern on the bass with ghost notes, and it gives it an absolutely different feel, a more bouncy, rumbly feel.
The rhythm patterns I use are almost like a drummer’s rhythm. When I play bass with a drummer, I add this extra rhythm underneath that bottom end, and it just gives it such a unique feel. I really started developing that style from Sly and the Family Stone. When [bassist] Larry [Graham] got in with that slap bass, you heard this rumble thing going on. For instance, the song “I Want to Take You Higher.” Listen to that bass, it’s rumbly. You can’t really pick the notes out. I was like, ‘I wanna learn how to play like that.’
I got to see you with The Revolution in Austin in 2017. It was a great show. I loved that you opened with “Computer Blue,” one of my favorites. Did you play hundreds of shows all over the world?
Yeah, we did, we were on the road for about three years. It started after Prince passed away [in 2016]. We couldn’t figure out how to handle the death. We were all taking it very differently. It was a very emotional time. The first thing we did was gravitate towards each other, which was kind of unique because we hadn’t seen each other. The first thing we did was pick up our instruments and start playing together in [guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s] living room. We had already made the decision to give the music back to the fans. That was the decision.
It helps the fans to heal. It’s a way to give them a glimpse of their past and good memories. A lot of people say [Prince and The Revolution] were the soundtrack to their lives. Some people even tell us they were conceived on this music [laughs]. We did the first three shows in Minneapolis. We invited [Prince’s original bassist] André Cymone and a few others. It was just a wonderful time. We were all able to feel that energy. Then we took it to the road a year later in 2017.
What were some of your favorite songs to play on The Revolution reunion tour?
Really all of it. I love “Let’s Go Crazy” because of the energy and people are able to dance around. I love that we brought [singer] Stokley [Williams of Mint Condition] in because he brings an element that we can’t bring. We’re holding instruments. If we got a guy up there who can just grab the microphone and dance, then the crowd can feel the energy with us and it’s not just us standing up there playing. We’re entertaining, because that’s what Prince did, he was an entertainer. I love playing “Computer Blue,” “Mountains,” “America.” I love those songs. I’m hoping that when we go back out we can get into deeper cuts off the Parade record, some of the stuff we haven’t played, like “Girls & Boys.”
What would you like to see change in the music industry?
Nowadays, especially with writing music, it’s so easy to open up a computer and start throwing sounds together and call it a song. Nobody is writing real music anymore. It’s coming back. But nothing in comparison to when I was growing up. I remember going to the record store every Friday and there was new music and it drove our lives. I couldn’t wait to spend my 99 cents on that new record, that new single. Nowadays, people don’t even have the common decency to support a musician. They want the music but they don’t wanna pay for it. Go to Spotify and listen to it for free. They don’t realize that we don’t get paid.
Music is going to go away if it continues on this trend. The artist has to be paid, especially with this COVID. This has shut down the industry for a good two years for us. How do you survive? How do you live? It’s been rough. And then you don’t have fans supporting it. They stream it. They won’t buy it. Artists can’t make any money. I hope things change. At the rate it’s going right now, musicians are going to suffer.
Back in the day, with payola, it was against the law. You were breaking a federal law going to a radio station and buying a position, paying your way to that chart. Well, today, nobody is regulating and governing the Internet. The Internet is this free marketplace where anybody can do anything they want. They can steal. They can be crooked. If you come in with a couple hundred thousand dollars, you can buy your way on a chart. People that got deep pockets can throw half a million dollars on marketing. You can literally purchase your way to the top. That’s sad. The real talented people can’t even scratch the surface because they don’t have that kind of budget. I’m hoping that changes.
I’m hoping somebody with deep pockets, a billionaire, steps up and says, ‘I’m gonna put my money into helping musicians survive.’ Creating a network that allows us to get what we deserve. If you like my music, buy it. Don’t steal it from me.
“Empty Handed” is your latest single. Tell us a little about your new music and what you’ve got going on with the Bad Boyz of Paisley.
I have a 5-song EP out called House Party. You can get it on any platform. It’s got a lot of nice songs on it. One of the bummers about [the pandemic] is I wasn’t able to utilize the Revolution platform to push that album. That was the plan. We had a tour to Japan that got canceled. And we had a European tour where I was really going to push this record. Now I gotta use different means. Who wants to spend money in the middle of a pandemic? I don’t wanna drop $10,000 on promotion just to give it away. It makes it really difficult.
“Empty Handed” is the latest. I decided to release singles instead of albums because of the way the industry is nowadays, you can actually go to any platform. You can go to Apple Music and type in “BrownMark and the Bad Boyz of Paisley” all my stuff actually comes up in one section. You can put a checkmark on each song that you want to create your own album. That’s how I’m playing the game right now, writing singles, pushing the best I can, and hopefully, when this COVID lets up, we can get out there and start promoting that stuff.
You’ve done it all – writing, performing, arranging, producing. What is it you’re most interested in these days?
I really want to start getting into sync licensing. That’s my passion. It’s a hard field to get into. Writing for television and movies. That’s my push for 2021. Again, it’s another marketplace that’s becoming so saturated that the greedy pigs are moving in and making it about money. It’s not about the music again; it’s already become about the money. Who you know. You gotta buy your way. It’s crazy.
Anything you’d like to add for the fans?
Support your artists. If you love an artist and like what they’re doing, support them. That’s how we survive. Check out my new book My Life in the Purple Kingdom. You’ll enjoy it. It’s a very good book. Check out my music on all streaming platforms. Don’t just listen to the record – purchase it! Help a brother out. [laughs].
To purchase Brown’s memoir My Life in the Purple Kingdom, click here.