Prince is a man in control of many things — his image, his money and his music. But, for the first time in his nearly 40-year career, he’s enlisted some help in the studio.
Meet Joshua Welton, co-producer of the music legend’s new album HitNRun and Paisley Park’s first in-house producer. He’s handsome and charismatic and young — 25.
Upon arriving at the iconic studio, it’s Welton, clad in trendy head-to-toe black, who greets you like the perfect host with a disarming smile. He seems to always be perfectly polite, his niceness warmed further by multiple scented candles — some purple – scatted around the studio, giving the space a homey vibe. But one glimpse at Prince’s unspeakable symbol stamped into the speakers and the singer’s billboard-sized visage behind the company ping pong table (they all play a lot), and it’s clear this place is all business.
Welton’s wife, Hannah, is the drummer in Prince’s band 3rdEyeGirl, and his working relationship — and friendship — with Prince started with a hug. This spontaneous show of affection was something that Welton wouldn’t have expected from one of the most mysterious musicians of modern times.
The way Welton tells it, he dropped by Paisley Park to hear Prince rehearsing, and during a break, the Purple One looked offstage, called out his name and then hugged him — hard. Welton, who often speaks of his love for his wife and for God in the same breath, was shocked Prince knew his name. After all, he was just Hannah’s husband who was always hanging around to support her.
“I just hugged Prince!” he recalls, the excitement of the moment still glinting in his eyes. And that was the beginning of Prince and Josh, whose first conversation lasted two hours and was all about Jesus, Welton reveals.
But, how did the guy on the side of the stage become the man behind Prince’s soundboards? Right place, right time.
As their friendship grew, Prince told Welton Paisley Park needed a producer, and so he set up an American Idol-style funk-off, pitting Welton against veteran producers. Welton was 23. “I was in that room like, ‘God, you’re going to have to help me out on this one.”
When the competition concluded, he had the job. “I just met him as a person first. I didn’t know what he could do until we got in the studio,” Prince says. “This is the first time I’ve let someone make a record for me. Josh hears music like I do.”
Welton also co-produced last year’s Art Official Age, and although he is fully entrenched in the singer’s inner circle, he’s still quite obviously awed by the icon in his midst.
“I pressed play and it’s Prince’s voice in my computer,” he says of the first time Prince gave him some vocals to mess around with. “So, I’m, like, creating a folder in my computer called ‘Prince.’ ”
And while, he’s humbled by his proximity to a legend — “I’m very thankful that I’m used as a vessel” — he’s also quick to point out Prince’s lack of musical ego. “He’s not a dude who says, ‘I have to play something’ on every song.”
In person, their synergy is evident, and as many close friends do, they share a shorthand, reminding one another of past anecdotes and, of course, they are both fluent in the language of music.
“My opinion of cool has definitely changed. When you’ve got somebody who can hear the flowers bloom, you listen to music in a different way,” Welton says. “I gotta at least tell him what kind of flower it is!”
Prince laughs and adds, “Yeah, do you hear that grass growing?!”
And, when it comes to Welton, his ears might actually be pricked for it, as he’s logged countless hours injecting new, funkier, hard-hitting life into the Prince sound. “To produce on that level consistently, it’s a lot.” Not that he minds.
“Some days, a summer goes by,” Welton says of his epic studio time. “Sometimes your fingers aren’t fast enough.”