STORIES FROM THE PARK
PRN Alumni Foundation is comprised of the former employees of Prince, Paisley Park, Paisley Park Records, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love4OneAnother, any and all of Prince’s companies spanning his impressive nearly 40 year career.
There have been, quite literally hundreds of us in Prince’s employ. The Foundation represents our collective voice.
We are musicians, engineers, managers, lighting directors, wardrobe designers, stylists, makeup artists, drivers, bodyguards, admin staff, valets, drivers (and more!)
This ‘Stories From The Park’ chronicle is a way for our colleagues of all tenures and job types to share a little bit of Prince’s magic with you through our individual voices.
We hope you enjoy getting to know us…we feel as if we’ve known you, Prince’s fans (fam) forever <3
With love and gratitude,
PRN Alumni Foundation
Spotlight: Shane T. Keller
"“I JUST KNEW THAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THERE”"
HOW SHANE T. KELLER REALIZED HIS DESTINY AT PAISLEY PARK
Interviewed by writer: Tony Kiene
Shane T. Keller was born and raised in the small town of Hazen, North Dakota, not far from Lake Sakakawea and some 70 miles northwest of the capital city of Bismarck. The son of a coal miner, Shane remembers his favorite childhood toy was an old-fashioned record player. And, as some of his older brothers and sisters made their way to college they left a collection of vinyl to captivate him including records by the likes of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Vanilla Fudge.
At the age of seven Shane asked his parents for a tape recorder for Christmas and his fascination with recorded sound only grew from there. He was certainly influenced by his older brother, who while in high school had taken up the guitar and joined a band. Shane thought that was so cool he would even follow in his brother’s footsteps at Hazen High. Still, it was during the summer of 1983, when Shane was still in middle school, that his musical tastes truly began to form, largely via a television show. Yet this was not just any show, but one that opened his eyes to the emerging revolution in music and it’s most prolific and gifted protagonist.
“HEY! THAT’S THAT 1999 GUY!”
MTV, which was not even two years old in June 1983, had yet to invade every cable television market, much less those in rural North Dakota. However, SuperStation WTBS was already penetrating millions of American homes and its new show Night Tracks (which predated NBC’s Friday Night Videos by just a couple of months) brought music videos to the masses that didn’t have MTV. It was by watching this show that Shane became mesmerized by this new visual medium and some of the biggest videos of the day, including Prince’s “1999.”
Of course, in order to actually buy some of the hit records that were coming out, Shane and his friends had little choice but to make the hour plus trip to Bismarck. “Back then,” as Shane reminisces, “It was common for stores to play the popular songs of the day over their PA system.” So one day in May 1984, while perusing one of these record stores, a song came on that instantly caught Shane’s attention. “What is that,” he thought to himself.
As he scurried to the front of the store to inquire, Shane recognized the record sleeve that was on display. “Hey! That’s that “1999” guy!” The song was “When Doves Cry,” and there was no question that a copy of (what would soon become) Prince’s first number one single would be making its way back to Hazen with Shane. Moreover, the experience of truly discovering Prince and his music, would in many ways begin to shape Shane’s life and career goals.
PRINCE BUILDS HIS PAISLEY PARK
With Purple Rain and the three albums that followed, Shane marveled at Prince’s mastery of the recording studio and seemingly inimitable production capabilities. And, although a musician himself, Shane now knew that what he really wanted to do with his life was to somehow “be involved in the process of making records.”
As he neared his senior year of high school, Shane recalls his mother showing him a story that appeared in the Bismarck Tribune. The headline read, “Prince builds his Paisley Park.” Shane reveals, “It was at that precise moment when I just knew I was supposed to be there.” Years later Shane would learn that Steve Parke had exactly the same revelation.
Shane managed to write his senior paper on audio engineering, although he was only able to find a single book to use as source material. As high school ended for Shane he was unambiguous about his future. “I graduated in May 1988 and by June I had an apartment in Minneapolis.” That summer, he enrolled in Brown Institute, which had recently relocated its campus to the intersection of East Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue, just a few blocks from the fabled “Purple Rain” house.
“They sold me on their recording program,” notes Shane. And while the experience wasn’t exactly what he expected, he began to develop a number of important skills, not to mention that he met Mitch Mortenson. Mitch, who later became an assistant technician for Sal Greco (Paisley Park’s Chief Technical Engineer), would ultimately become critical to Shane’s own hopes and dreams.
Then, sometime that fall, in between dates of the Lovesexy Tour, Paisley Park hosted Sound Stage ’88, an industry expo that featured tours and an open house of the facility. Much to his delight, Shane learned that as a student at Brown he would be able to volunteer at the event. For most of the day, that meant standing along Audubon Road and “directing cars to park in a ditch.” Nonetheless, Shane was excited, even proud to be involved in any capacity.
Late in the afternoon as the event was winding down, Shane was invited inside “just to look around a bit.” He first encountered engineer Dave Friedlander in Studio A. “Dave was really friendly”, says Shane, “but he didn’t have a lot of time to chat. He was setting up for a session.” Shane asked if the session was with Prince to which Dave replied, “I really can’t say.” “But yeah,” Shane laughs, “It was.”
He then found himself in Studio C where he met Sal for the first time and boldly asked if Prince was difficult to work for. As Shane recollects, Sal was pretty diplomatic in his answer, saying that “When you sometimes spend 20 hours a day with a person, you tend to get on each other’s nerves.” As he left the Park that day, Shane knew that he must find his way back and this time around, it had to be in some sort of official capacity.
“I NOTICE THIS PLACE HAS A LOT OF WINDOWS… SOMEBODY HAS TO CLEAN THEM.”
Although he desperately wanted to work at Paisley Park, Shane was still in need of a “real job.” As he continued his studies at Brown, he worked at a nearby Target store, with Mitch no less. Shane later found work at 3M, which helped him to acquire more technical skills. Nonetheless, he wanted to find something a little more suitable to his chosen field. As it turns out, the older brother of a friend recorded a record at Metro Studios, where Tom Tucker, Jr. had recently taken the reigns over from his father, the legendary Tom Tucker, Sr. So after following up on his new connection, he was invited to Metro to chat with Tom, Jr. Shane wondered if perhaps this could be the start of something special.
Right up front Tom, Jr. explained that he really didn’t have enough work to bring Shane on board. “My initial thought,” admits Shane, was “Okay. Then why am I here?” However, Tom, Jr. recaptured Shane’s attention when he said, “You know, my dad is out at Paisley now. I can put you in touch with him.” And that began a process where Shane called out to Chanhassen time and time again trying to set up an interview; a process that Shane notes took the better part of a year.
On each of these occasions Shane spoke to Marci Meyocks (Tom, Sr.’s Assistant.) “Marci was so friendly and each time I called I informed her that I’d learned something new.” Nevertheless, his repeated requests for an interview simply couldn’t be accommodated, at least not then. Shane’s persistence paid off however, and after nine months, he got his interview with Tom Tucker, Sr.
When he walked into the building, preparations were underway for the Diamonds and Pearls Tour. “There was so much going on,” says Shane, “It was as if I was stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It was so exciting.” Yet Shane’s excitement turned to anxiety once he sat down with Tom, Sr., who started the interview by explaining that he had a massive stack of résumés from qualified and accomplished engineers all over the world. “So, why would I hire you?”
To Shane’s mind it seemed like the “classic brush-off.” Now, in “full panic mode,” he searched for an answer to the question. What came out was, “I notice this place has a lot of windows… somebody has to clean them.” Whether it was Shane’s tenacity, quick thinking, or perhaps a little of both, Tom must have been impressed. Shane was hired as the night receptionist. And still, in lieu of his larger aspirations, Shane was also given the chance to talk again with Sal Greco.
“That’s where Mitch comes in,” reveals Shane, “He had already shared Sal’s interview process with me.” When Shane arrived, Sal brought him into Studio A, sat him down in front of the recording console and said “I’ll be back in five minutes. Show me what you know.” When Sal returned he assessed Shane’s knowledge as not necessarily good or bad, but “okay.”
Next, Sal presented him with the schematic of a multi-track, which is where Mitch’s intel proved valuable. Not wanting to take anything for granted, Shane had another buddy (an electrical engineer) quiz him before the interview. “Sal gave me these various scenarios on the multi-track to see if I could identify the problem and how to fix it. I thought I did pretty well.” But then Sal said something that blew Shane’s mind. “If you ever get on the Prince gig then that is a whole different can of worms.” Taken aback, Shane thought to himself, “Oh my God, that could actually happen.” He expounds, “I so wanted to work at Paisley Park, but never assumed I’d ever even meet Prince, much less record for him.”
Sal provided some additional guidance when he reminded Shane that while he was tending to the lobby and answering phones each night, he’d have some down time. “Remember, you have access to all the production and engineering manuals.” Shane put that advice to good use and read, and read, and then read some more. And, in the meantime, he found his role as night supervisor more rewarding than expected, both personally and professionally.
“When Therese (Therese Stoulil, Paisley Park’s long-time administrative assistant and Music Production Coordinator) left at 5:30 every day I basically became the secretary,” explains Shane. That often meant fielding calls from Warner Bros. executives such Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker, and Russ Thyret, and oftentimes from even Prince himself. “It’s funny,” Shane chuckles, “Because whenever I spoke to Prince in those days I would never tell him my name. He’d call and ask, ‘Who’s this?’ I’d simply reply ‘The night receptionist.’” And yet, even though they weren’t on a first name basis, Shane sensed that he was somehow developing a rapport with Prince.
“YOU’LL KNOW THAT YOU’RE ‘IN’ WHEN HE SAYS YOUR NAME”
Shane had been told by more than one person at Paisley Park, “You’ll know you’re ‘in’ when he says your name.” Ironically, by not divulging his name when speaking to Prince, Shane likely delayed that magical moment. Nevertheless, he looked forward to that day. Meanwhile, due to the nature of his current role, particularly in a place that operated 24/7, a lot of people were saying Shane’s name and built relationships with others at Paisley Park.
Among those people were engineers Ray Hahnfeldt and Steve Durkee, who took notice of his unyielding desire to read and learn. “Ray and Steve brought me in, took me under their wings so to speak.” Steve would even call on Shane to help during recording sessions, even some with Prince. “Steve would sneak me in and out to assist him with whatever. It was nothing major. Patch fades, things like that. But I saw and learned a lot during the recording of and Come. It was big part of my training.”
One evening, while Shane was dutifully manning the phones at Paisley Park, Dave Friedlander came bounding out of Studio A toward the front lobby. During his session, as it was later relayed to Shane, Prince said, “Someone ask Shane to call Mayte.” Dave, who was beside himself with laughter, “He said your name! He said your name! You’re in! You can’t get out now!” Although Dave was joking about the not getting out part, it’s not as if Shane would have ever wanted to leave. He was having the time of his life and it would only get better.
During this time, some new engineers were brought in, experienced individuals at that, but for one reason or another they just didn’t work out. So in the fall of 1993 – as Prince was preparing to record The Gold Experience – Steve, Ray, and Dave went to bat for him. They lobbied to Sal that Shane had proved his mettle while demonstrating a budding skill set, so in their mind, he deserved “a real shot.” Sal agreed and informed Shane “You’re next on the Prince gig.”
Although he was thrilled by the opportunity and a new title (Assistant Engineer), it wasn’t lost on Shane that he hadn’t arrived yet. “It was time for me to either sink or swim.” Not to mention, the way it worked back then when bringing in someone new, was to still sneak them in and out of recording sessions. Shane was warned that eventually “He will catch you.” If Prince didn’t say anything more, that meant you “were good.” Otherwise, he might say, “No. They’ve gotta leave.” When Prince finally did notice Shane in the studio, he didn’t speak but instead flashed a sly smile. “He knew what it was. His silence was his approval’” says Shane, “I was in.”
The Gold Experience sessions went on for several months and Shane was taking on more and more responsibilities; setting up the studio, checking levels, and helping to mix and track. And that was just the beginning. “That period between 1993 and 1996 was so prolific for Prince,” he exclaims, “I think we did upwards of 12 albums in that time, not to mention all the unreleased material we recorded. His creative output was second to none.” Along with The Gold Experience, other Prince titles Shane contributed to were Chaos and Disorder, Emancipation, Crystal Ball, and The Vault: Old Friends for Sale. Among his additional credits were The NPG’s Exodus, Chaka Khan’s Come 2 My House, George Benson’s That’s Right, a project by the Sounds of Blackness, and a second rendering of Madhouse 24.
PRINCE: THE VISIONARY
As proud as he is of all that he contributed to Prince’s recording process during those years, as well as others at Paisley Park, there are a multitude of moments that Shane simply cannot forget or would ever want to. “Prince was always coming up with these brilliant ideas, futuristic stuff,” recalls Shane, “Things that might sound crazy, until 10 years later they’re a reality.”
For example, one day when discussing the internet with Shane and Steve, Prince says, “You know. I can sell my music online,” to which they replied in unison, “Yes.” Prince continues, “I don’t need a record company.” “Yes,” said Shane and Steve. “And you guys can make the cd’s,” reasons Prince. Although they may have nodded yes, in their minds the two engineers thought, “No.”
As they left the studio, knowing that they didn’t have the capacity to print half-a-million discs in house, Shane asked Steve, “Do you think he’ll remember this conversation on Monday?” Regardless, as Shane affirms, “Prince was already ahead of the times.”
On another occasion, Prince took Shane and Steve into Studio B, where told them “I want all of this in a box, so that I can have it in my house.” “When he said everything,” recounts Shane, “He meant everything, the console, the outboard gear, the keyboards, all of it. He even said he’d give us $10,000 and wanted a prototype in a week.” Hoping again that Prince might not remember the conversation, Shane observes that he was already “describing the future of Pro Tools.”
PRINCE: THE FUNNY MAN
According to Shane, Prince was always seemed the happiest when he was busy. However, that busy time didn’t always have to revolve around music. “Prince loved to tease us all. He would take turns giving the engineers s#@%,” relates Shane. On one occasion, when Shane tripped over some cables in the studio, Prince quipped, “Way to go, Grace.” However, as Shane adds those moments were not solely reserved for staff. In fact, “Prince loved to orchestrate his own fun,” including at the “good natured” expense of his own band.
“They (Prince and The NPG) were all in Studio A one day when Prince walks out and asks Ray and I if either of us had seen Pulp Fiction yet,” says Shane, “We both say yes and Prince gets this devious grin on his face.” The next thing Shane and Ray know is that they’re watching a VHS copy of the movie with Prince and the band, sitting toward the back with their boss while the rest of the NPG was up front. Anticipating that the band would be taken aback by some of the content, Prince laughed and joked his way through the whole film. Still laughing about it himself today, Shane notes that “The three of us always knew what was coming next, but the band was shocked over and over again, especially Michael.” According to Shane, it was times like these when Prince would let his guard down that he was so much fun to be around. “He was so funny. Prince had this magnetic personality that, when it came out, it just made you feel good.
After spending the better half of the 1990s in Prince’s employ, Shane eventually moved on to work for other artists including U2, Madonna, Metallica, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey, and Sting. He ultimately transitioned to the world of film and television where he’s worked as a Re-recording mixer, Sound Editor, and Mastering Engineer for studios such as Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and now Disney. In these roles, Shane mastered the art of 5.1 surround sound mixing and has helped restore the sound quality of such classic films as The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, White Christmas, and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
When considering all that he learned while working for Prince and how those lessons benefit him now, the first thing that comes to mind is Prince’s work ethic. “As long as I’ve been in this business now, I’ve never met anyone like Prince. All of his talent aside, he put in the work. And, he expected the same of all those around him.”
Furthermore, the payoff for that work was always worth it. “There were weeks where we might have been in the studio for 120 hours or more, just wanting desperately to go home,” Shane explains, “Then Prince would do something that floored you, literally gave you goosebumps. And all the anguish and desire to go home just disappeared. He was that good.”
Finally, in remembering Prince, Shane can’t leave out one of his most mystical characteristics; his energy. “You immediately felt Prince’s presence when he walked into the room, whether you saw him or not.” He recalls a conversation with Heidi Hanschu, another engineer at Paisley Park, where he tried to assure her he was not “fanning out,” when describing the electricity that Prince seemingly possessed. Indubitably, Heidi didn’t require any convincing and simply said, “I know.”
“It (Prince’s energy) wasn’t because he was a superstar,” Shane concludes, “I’ve come across plenty of those. It’s simply because he was Prince. There’s no one else like him.”
© Tony Kiene & PRN Alumni Foundation