Robbie Luna grew up hearing Prince songs on the radio and, upon seeing his 1991 MTV VMA performance, “when he donned his now famous assless pants,” he admired “his unabashed display of sexuality and performing prowess.” Luna didn’t initially set out to form a Prince tribute act. While playing guitar for Panama Gold at a Halloween show years ago, a band mate said that Luna’s personality and “stage antics” would be fitting for a couple of Prince covers. The night went so well, with the group even winning an award for their performance, that Luna ultimately decided to “take it to the next level” by putting together a tribute: “we quickly realized that if we were going to continue doing this, it would have to be 100%. Pardon the pun, but there is no half-assing Prince.” Purple Mane was then born and had their first show at Seattle’s Hard Rock Café in early 2014.
Purple Mane has an abundance of respect for Prince and therefore has spent many hours researching the artist to ensure he is portrayed well: “We’ve watched countless hours of Purple Rain and live videos, read books and articles. We’ve literally taken notes on dance moves, clothes, facial expressions, instruments, tones, etc.” Luna says that they, “understand that his music is a bit sacred,” so such homework was necessary.
A Purple Mane show, Luna says, is “more than just some musicians on stage regurgitating hit songs.” To keep the Prince energy, elements of his videos and movies are incorporated to the band’s sets. They do their best to recreate what Prince did on stage and “often have to ask promoters if they want the “PG” or “Dirty Mind” version of their set. To differentiate between the two, Luna will provide an actual list of, “questionable acts… that include “aggressive stage grinding”. Luna acknowledges that there will never be another Prince because, “what he was able to do on stage was inhuman,” and “It takes a crazy amount of energy to sing, dance, and play guitar for an hour or two.” Priscilla Ray, backing vocalist, is their Secret weapon because she was “born to perform… most people are looking at her while we are playing. She is mesmerizing.”
Though the band will cover Prince songs through the decades, they primarily perform Purple Rain-era songs and earlier. To keep their audience engaged, Purple Mane has a new set list for each show they perform. With over two hours of material, Luna says that “it can be a struggle to form a set because there are songs we don’t want to leave out.”
Touring has afforded Purple Mane a plethora of stories including “many… involving baby oil, proposed threesomes, and private parties involving jumping into the pool with clothes on.” During a stay in Austin, where the group was playing SXSW, the host of their AirBnB (“a really sweet woman who was recently divorced”) informed them that, aside from renting out her space, she also generated extra funds as a cam girl. The band was “wondering if she was going to incorporate [them] into her web cam gig but got away with [their] clothes on,’ and says, “She was delightful but made us dance and sing for her on command in her apartment throughout the evening.”
Purple Mane finds Prince’s music inspiring but their first band, Trick Candles, is “focused more on new wave style pop music.”’ Two Purple Mane members are in Trick Candles. Leah Tousignant (keyboard) has a separate project and Blake Madden (bass) is a member of another group, Hotels. As Prince is a classic musician with a wide range of fans, as long as the duo performs their set well, Luna says, their shows are “a slam dunk,” and they find comfort in knowing the audience will love the performance. As front man of Trick Candles, however, he feels differently: “Here’s what goes through my mind while I’m performing (in Trick Candles): “Uhhhh. A lot of people haven’t heard these songs before. I hope they like it. Do they like it? Why does that guy look mad? What am I doing with my life?”
Don’t miss Purple Mane at Ballard Seafood Festival on July 15 at 6:00 PM!