Grupo Fantasma’s experience with Prince may not have been chummy, but it was certainly memorable.
“He made it clear from the get-go that he wasn’t trying to make new friends and wasn’t interested in hanging with us. He liked our music and wanted to experience that music, to not only take something from it, but enrich it with his own,” bassist Greg Gonzalez said. “It was strictly a musical relationship, but that was part of the beauty of it.”
The legend behind “Purple Rain” invited the Austin, Texas-based Latin funk outfit to back him at shows both stateside and across the pond, but not after some grueling practice sessions.
“There was no hanging out, joking and messing around. It was getting to work, and when Prince gets to work, you better keep up,” Gonzalez said. “He doesn’t miss a beat, and if you are off on something, he’ll hear it and point it out to you.”
Of course, that work paid its dividends, not only in playing with the icon to monster crowds in stadiums, but also helping Grupo Fantasma realize its other ambitions … and more.
“We had lots of expectations and goals starting, and most of those things that have occurred, but a lot of unexpected things have happened, too,” Gonzalez said. “Certainly a Grammy was the most unexpected of all.”
The group won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop, Rock or Urban Album last year for “El Existential.” It had been nominated two years prior for “Sonidos Gold,” but after that, the category expanded from Latin Rock or Alternative, crowding the field.
“We were like, ‘Great, now we have to compete against (Latin rapper) Daddy Yankee,’” Gonzalez said.
When making “El Existential,” the guys opted for a more collaborative approach — no small feat for an act with upward of 10 players. The unexpected, true-team win at the Grammys proved an enormous validation.
“Just the fact that they noticed us was so huge. We’ve always been outcasts,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the pinnacle of most people’s musical careers, and it’s something we can be proud of for the rest of our lives.”
As monumental as the trophy was, he still thinks of the time working with Prince as some of the best of his musical career.
“That’s my pinnacle. It’s the kind of a musical experience that you can only dream of. Having a Grammy is cool, but in my mind, playing with Prince is more special,” Gonzalez said. “I’m pretty sure fewer people have played with Prince than won a Grammy.”