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Morris Day on his ups and downs with Prince: 'There's no perfect relationship'

The Time frontman remembers the Purple One on the first anniversary of his death.

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Alberto Rodriguez/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

It’s been one year since Prince passed away — and like many, his longtime friend and sometimes collaborator Morris Day of the Time is still coping with the loss. In February, Day paid tribute to Prince with an emotional new song titled “Over That Rainbow.” Two days later, he and bandmates from the Time joined Bruno Mars on stage at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards for an electrifying tribute to the Purple One. Now, on the anniversary of Prince’s death, Day shares with EW his favorite memories of the pop icon, from their early years in a band together to their final meeting at Paisley Park last year.

On his early memories of Prince:
Day first met Prince through their mutual friend André Cymone when the three of them were teenagers in Minneapolis. Prince and Cymone were in a band at the time, and Day recalls being awestruck by their talent: “They were like 13, 14 years-old, but they played like they were 21—guitar solos, you name it,” he says. Later, Cymone invited Day to join the band as their new drummer. “It was the first time I had come in contact with serious-minded musicians,” Day says. “The only thing we talked about was ‘When we make it…’ not ‘If we make it…” That was just [Prince’s] mindset, and it became mine as well.” (Besides possessing incredible musicianship, Day says Prince also had a wicked sense of humor. “He was a comedian,” Day says. “He was a silly dude when he wanted to be.”)

On the legacy of Prince’s magnum opus Purple Rain:
A few years after Prince recruited Day to join the Time, Day co-starred in Prince’s 1984 film-album extravaganza. “I don’t know how seriously I took it,” he admits. “It was a pretty innocent effort on everybody’s behalf. I wasn’t expecting the gravity and the impact that it ended up happening.” Now, he credits the project for inspiring the trend of visual albums and music-videos-as-mini-movies happening in popular music today. “You might get a nice music video to go with your song, but a blockbuster film where the song synchronized wasn’t another artist, but an artist in the movie?” he says. “It definitely changed the way people looked at music videos and music.”

On his enduring friendship Prince:
Day’s and Prince’s decades-long friendship had its share of rocky moments: The two reportedly clashed on the set of Purple Rain, and decades later, Prince barred Day from using the name the Time for the reunited group’s 2011 album Condensate. (They released it under the moniker The Original 7ven.) Still, Day denies any serious bad blood between them: “Families fight,”  he says. “We knew each other for so long, it was like a family. There’s no perfect relationship. We had business disagreements and stuff like that, but anytime we saw each other, we talked and chopped it up like we just talked the day before.” They were in touch on and off throughout Prince’s final years, and Day is grateful they had one last chance to connect before his death: In January of 2016, Prince called Day and invited him to come to Paisley Park and perform with the Time. “We hung out a little bit before the show, and hung out for a little while after the show,” he says. “The fact that I got to go and hang out with him a couple months before his passing — that is one of the most standout memories for me.”

On Prince’s relationship with streaming services:
Throughout his career, Prince was extremely particular about how his music was released and distributed. At the time of his death, Jay Z’s Tidal was the only streaming service that carried his catalog — Prince even released his final two albums exclusively through Tidal. “Jay allowed us to pick the artwork, design the page, choose the related content,” Prince told EW in a 2015 interview. “Why shouldn’t you be allowed to do that when it’s your music, your creation?” In February of this year, however, Prince’s catalog became available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora, prompting some to wonder if Prince would have approved of such deals. (Advisers to Prince’s estate have addressed those concerns before.) Day is one of those skeptics. “I definitely don’t think it’s line [with his philosophy],” Day says. “I think it’s going to be exploited in a way where it looks like it’s about money and not about protecting the artistry, like he would have done. That’s what estates do! [Laughs] Estates want money.”

On the music Prince would make today:
Prince wrote about social issues in his music up until his death: His final studio album, 2015’s Hit n Run Phase Two, contained the song “Baltimore,” which referenced the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. Day says he wonders how Prince would respond to the Donald Trump presidency — partly because Prince once wrote a song inspired by him. “Donald Trump (Black Version)” appeared on the Time’s 1990 album Pandemonium.  “It was a play on the money man who walks into the room and everyone stops and looks,” Day says. “I do wonder how [Prince] would have felt about us doing that song, and how that guy is now president. It’s funny. I would absolutely like to see what he would have to say about that.”

On honoring Prince with new music:
Day’s musical tribute to Prince, “Over That Rainbow,” almost didn’t see the light of day. “At first I didn’t even want to record it because it was putting my emotions out there too much,” he says. “But I listened to it, and thought, you know, I’m just going to do it!” Day says the track is the first single from his upcoming album, which is being executive produced by, of all people, the Time superfan Snoop Dogg. “Any music that I do is really going to honor [Prince’s] legacy because that’s where it all started for me,” Day says. “Whether it’s directly related or not, it’ll still be in his honor.”