In the mere blink of an eye, Ida Nielsen went from being an aspiring bass player in her small town in Denmark to touring the globe as Prince’s side-woman, gaining command of over 300 songs from his exhaustive catalogue and communicating them to massive crowds. Along the way, Nielsen absorbed countless music and life lessons while fine-tuning her aggressively precise slap and fingerstyle techniques, ultimately finding her musical voice under the guidance of one of the greatest innovators in the history of music.
Following her six-year stint with the Purple One, Nielsen set out to create an album that would convey her big personality and deep musical aura. Perhaps not so coincidentally, she opted to sing and play all of the instruments herself. The result is Turnitup, a 14-track funk joyride with high-spirited vibes and enough bass magic to make low-enders repeatedly hit rewind, while also doubling as a party-anthem playlist for non-musicians. Her old-school funk meets new-school soul style gives a tip of her cap to her departed mentor, who would, without hesitation, give this disc his stamp of approval.
Tell me about the writing process of Turnitup.
My writing changes from song to song and depends on whether I’m writing on bass or piano. I write a lot more melodically on the piano, while I write more of the funkier grooves on bass. I’m not a great piano player, so I mainly lay down chords and then create the melody on top of it. If I start with a bass line it might be one chord, because the focus is on the groove, which I never get tired of.
What kind of bass tone were you going for?
I wanted the bass to be loud and present, because there are classic funk records where you can’t hear the bass well in the mix. Generally, I wanted my sound to be powerful and to cover everything from the lows to the highs. I favor more of the old-school tone, like Larry Graham has. I wasn’t trying to sound exactly like him, but I wanted to get a bit of that flavor.
There’s a feel-good, celebratory vibe to the album.
It was the first time in a long while that I was able to do my own music, which made it a very enjoyable process. I was in a good mood the entire time, so I think the vibe of me being happy to express myself musically comes across. Having played with Prince for a while inspired me to make the bass a big part of the songs, while focusing on creating music that speaks to everyone.
How else did Prince inspire this record?
Prince comes through in a major way in my playing and in my songwriting. I learned so much from performing with him, being around him, and watching how he worked. I feel like this is my best album yet, right down to the mix, because of the impact he had on me and how he changed my work ethic. He taught me to never settle for anything. We spent a great deal of time together, much of it playing; he’s my primary musical inspiration.
What’s the main musical lesson you took away from your time with Prince?
Probably the key one was to leave space within the music. As a bassist, you tend to want to have ghost-notes and staccato notes in between the main notes you play, because it sounds funky when you’re playing by yourself, and it helps you keep time. But when everyone is playing together, it actually sounds funkier when you’re not playing between the parts, which is extremely difficult to do. That’s why everything he created sounded so tight—it was all about the space within the music.
Ida Nielsen, Turnitup [idanielsenbass.com]
Bass Sandberg California Ida Nielsen Signature 4-string
Rig TC Electronic Blacksmith, TC Electronic RS410 & RS212 (x2)
Pedals TC Electronic Polytune 2, SpectraComp, and Sub ’N’ Up Octaver, DOD Envelope Filter 440
Strings DR Strings Hi Beams