Sadly the other week the musician Clare Fischer passed away. Now the name might not immediately mean anything to you… but Fischer, as well as producing over forty albums under his own name, is the man behind most of Prince’s unique orchestral arrangements from Parade (without a doubt our favourite Prince album) onwards. These include the long unheard track Crystal Ball, the unreleased 1986 album of the same name being the original incarnation of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album, and Prince side project The Family, which was actually their first work together.
Amazingly the two never met in person, with Prince even refusing to see photos of Fischer, scared that he might jinx their successful working relationship in some way.
“Prince is intelligent. He never visits the studio when I am working for him; and I have never met him in person. He sends me memos and we talk over the phone. Once I sent him my “2+2″ Grammy winning CD. I heard from people that were present at the time that while he took out the disc he looked away from the cover, saying, ‘I don’t want to know what he looks like. It is working just fine as it is.’ Prince does not want to meet me because he knows that the minute he walks into a studio he will start interfering. It is uncommon that a person with such a strong ego realizes that I have an ego too,” said Fischer.
To mark his death here’s a great interview with Fischer talking about his working relationship with Prince. It originally featured on the sadly missed Housequake.com website.
How did you first begin working with Prince?
There was a group called Chaka Khan and Rufus of which my nephew was the drummer. This put me into a kind of different orbit in the pop world and I utilized it to the nth degree.
What instruments do you typically use in your arrangements for Prince? Anything unusual that you recall over the years?
My favorite instrumentation as a writer is that of the symphony orchestra, although I have written for many different types of things, my preference lies here. My relationship with Prince is that he heard of my writing through Rufus and Chaka Khan and although I was not basically what you would call a rock musician, here again my classical training came to the front.
So the rumor is that you and Prince have never met in person. Is this true? Have you even seen him perform live?
I’ve never met Prince, and I was informed by people who had been with him that when asked about meeting me, he said, “I don’t want to meet him. It’s going just fine as it is.” I saw him perform at the Grammy opening ceremonies in January 2004 when he performed using one of my arrangements.
Describe the process of a typical collaboration with Prince. Does he send you a finished track and you simply add your arrangement or is there discussion beforehand? What kind of guidance or instructions, if any, does he provide?
First of all he has left me completely free. It is a wise man who after he hires someone, does not interfere with his product. Prince was very open in this area. I think besides being a jazz writer, I have written for classical instrumentations, and that’s how unlike most jazz writers, who have a non-classical concept of tone, I was orchestrally well versed. He sends me a cassette tape of his recording, and then I have my son, Brent, transcribe it. Then I write my arrangement in conjunction with this transcription.
What was your most challenging collaboration with Prince? Was there a certain track or album that was especially challenging?
Not really. One of the good features at the beginning especially was that he allowed me freedom and space to make value judgments.
What’s your favorite work of all that you’ve done with Prince?
I have a great joy in writing for strings and one of the problems with this in the recording studio is money to pay musicians, so people are given such low budgets that you can’t hire a large string section. Prince spends money and so I was able to write string sections as opposed to writing for a small string ensemble.
You’ve worked with many pop / rock musicians over the years including Paul McCartney, Tori Amos, Michael Jackson and Natalie Cole. When you think about your working relationships with other artists, how is Prince unique or different?
The open space that he provides. Most people want to tell you exactly what they want for an arrangement but then again they are not the writers so there is always a superimposition of their limited scope on what they conceive. A writer has to fight to get what he does. The worst person in conjunction with this is the producer who thinks that he has a special orientation toward what it should be. That’s like comparing apples and bananas. I think that I was accepted by Prince because of that fact the fact that my writing was of a professional level through years of experience.
What do you find most interesting about working with Prince?
The fact that he allows me complete freedom in what I do.
From your perspective as a collaborator, is there anything about Prince that might surprise his fans to know?
One would think that he would have a tremendous ego which would interfere with your relationship. Prince does have a strong ego but he is not the kind who tries to superimpose that on you.
What in Prince’s music do you tune into when working on an arrangement for his music? The music, the lyrics, something else?
Mostly the structure of the song, because that’s what I fit my arrangement to.
You’ve worked with Prince for a long time through many albums. How do you think his music has changed or evolved over the years? Has the way you approach or contribute to his music changed over time?
No. My music is still the same as when I started because I have always maintained a high professional standard. I think the reason that I got writing for pop artists in the first place is the fact that they felt I added a layer of sophistication to their music.
Prince is not known for working with the same musicians for long periods, but his collaborations with you have lasted many years. Why do you think you and Prince have worked together for so long?
Because we haven’t met personally.
What are you currently working on?
Mostly writing for myself. I have just released my latest album, A Family Affair featuring a complete choir of clarinets, with added woodwinds and brass for color, that I’m quite proud of. That makes over 40 albums of my own that are out there now.