Paisley Park: inside the haven that shaped Prince’s sound

Behind the doors of the creative sanctuary where he made nearly 30 albums

Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Photography: Tara McBride

News of Prince’s death at the age of 57 ricocheted through social media last week as millions mourned the loss of one of the 21st century’s most prolific and eccentric musicians.

Fans of the ‘Purple Rain’ star made pilgrimage to his Paisley Park studios in the Chanhassen suburb of Minnesota, where for 30 years Prince wrote and recorded some of his most famous hits — and nearly 30 of his albums.

Fan tributes to the late star, laid outside the fence of Paisley Park. Photography: Tara McBride

The 55,000 sq ft complex, designed by architect Bret Thoeny, is among the most famous landmarks of the city, resembling (from the outside at least) an IKEA retail park or a research laboratory rather than a recording studio.

‘I designed the entire building — including all the studios — based on Prince’s request to have a creative complex where he could do all his projects,’ says Thoeny, principal of Californian practice BOTO Design Architects.

The nine-acre property — completed in 1988 — contains four recording studios, a video editing suite and a 12,500 sq ft soundstage. It cost $10 million to construct and put Minneapolis firmly on the music map as artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Kool and the Gang travelled to the Midwest to record there.

But while it was built for function, its interiors are every bit as eccentric and lavish as the Grammy-winning star himself. Precious few photographs are in circulation owing to its infamous ‘no photography’ policy. But stories of its dizzying murals and cavernous recording spaces — as well as a few images — have trickled out over the years.

The entrance lobby at Paisley Park

The ‘love’ glyph that represented Prince’s name from 1993 to 2000 is emblazoned everywhere, from the floor of Paisley Park’s entrance hall to its speakers, ceilings and neon lights. Postmodern touches, including rounded balconies and polyhedral glass skylights, feature inside. A pyramid above Prince’s office lit up purple when he was in the building.

Above: Paisley Park entrance lobby and below: one of the purple-tinted relaxation rooms

‘The pyramid was a request from Prince,’ Thoeny says. ‘The white metal panels were my concept — it makes it easy to illuminate any purple colour.’

Carpets, walls and upholstery are also fitted in shades of violet. Even lighting in some of the rooms has a lavender hue. Elsewhere, walls are painted with fluffy white clouds and the boardroom ceiling is a silken purple galaxy. Portraits of Prince himself are also plentiful, including a mural of his eyes.

Notoriously private, Prince took refuge in Paisley Park, which also became the site of his archive. In 1990, TIME reported that the musician kept his awards — including the four gold and eight platinum albums he’d amassed at the time — locked in a basement room, next to tapes of an estimated 100 unreleased songs, plus two complete albums. One wonders just how much that archive has grown, more than a quarter of a century later.

Paisley Park was ‘much more than a studio’, as Prince himself told GQ reporter Chris Heath. In 1996, it closed commercially but Prince and some of his friends continued recording and performing until last week.

And the Purple One also liked to throw open its doors to locals on occasion. In the summers of 2000 and 2001, fans were invited to tour the facility as part of Prince: a celebration and he threw regular parties and concerts in the building’s hangar-like live event spaces, which took on a mythology of their own.

Though news of Prince Roger Nelson’s passing came as a shock on Thursday afternoon, it seems poignant he died in the sanctuary that allowed him to create for three decades.

The building could play a central role in years to come t00. ‘We will turn Paisley Park into a museum in Prince’s memory,’ Maurice Phillips, Prince’s brother-in-law, told The Sun. ‘It would be for the fans. He was all about the fans — this would remember his music, which is his legacy.’

Words Betty Wood

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