Between rehearsals for an upcoming show at Largo, actress/comedian Maya Rudolph’s bandmate Gretchen Lieberum admits that the night she saw Prince’s Purple Rain for the first time was also the night she started puberty. When Rudolph saw the epic ‘80s movie in Westwood at age 12, her life was forever changed, too.
“I remember feeling like it was mine — it was completely riveting to me and unlike anything I had ever seen,” Rudolph recalls.
It makes sense, then, that the two longtime friends have elevated their love for Prince into a cover band called Princess. The duo will be performing with a full band and a sprinkling of razzle-dazzle backup dancers at Largo at the Coronet on May 21 and 22.
Rudolph and Lieberum met at UC Santa Cruz, where they joined a funk-disco band named Supersauce, which also included members of the college’s jazz band. It was then that they discovered their mutual love for Prince, and for playing around onstage.
“We had all original songs — we had an ode to the movie Outsiders,” Lieberum says. “And in another song, we wrote about Night Rider.”
“We took it very, very seriously,” Rudolph adds.
The two have been diehard Prince devotees for more than 20 years now, and they often finish each other’s sentences. Or start harmonizing together mid-conversation. “When Gretchen and I started singing together, it was such a separated-at-birth type of experience,” Ruldoph says. “It’s like when people have those twin languages.”
The idea for forming Princess started as an offhand joke when Lieberum and Rudolph were watching their kids play, but it stuck. Princess has been performing for four years now, appearing everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where they were backed by The Roots.
Although the band’s origins are humorous, their devotion to Prince is practically religious — and became even more so when they met him.
“It was like the gates of heaven opening,” Rudolph says. “Gretchen and I got to meet him the last time he played in town. And he gave us both these big, nice hugs, and he said that he had our performance on Jimmy Fallon recorded on his DVR.”
In the Fallon performance, Lieberum and Rudolph did Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” complete with backwards lyrics just like in Purple Rain, which was as strange and brilliant as it sounds. It also flags Rudolph and Lieberum as genuine Prince devotees, which the pop icon loved. “When we met him, he walked up to us and said, ‘How y’all gonna do the backwards part?’ But with a huge grin on his face and with open arms,” Rudolph explains.
Lieberum and Rudolph both say that meeting him has only made their devotion to him that much stronger. It may have helped that during his performance, they got to sit on the side of the stage, just a few feet away from the show. Afterward, they hung around backstage on a big purple couch, where they were served glasses of red wine.
“He gets that what we are doing is purely loving.” Rudolph says. “He’s such a prolific songwriter and he has an unbelievable amount of talent, and it’s all amazing and all incredible quality.”
Rudolph, of course, is no stranger to music. She grew up in Los Angeles with her mother Minnie Riperton’s soulful sounds filling the household, and her music producer/guitarist father, Richard Rudolph, sometimes took her and her brother on the road to gigs.
“Music is part of my family, so for me I wouldn’t even say it’s hobby, really — it’s more of like a normal language,” Rudolph says. She recently showed off her vocal range, busting out a little Beyoncé at a Tulane University commencement ceremony with a rambunctious version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which has since gone viral. And, of course, she’s delivered her on-point singing impersonations of Queen Bey and Whitney Houston on Saturday Night Live. You can also find remnants on YouTube of her days as a '90s singer/keyboardist in the alt-rock band The Rentals, which preceded her comedy career.
In a perfect world, Rudolph admits that both she and Lieberum would be reborn as Prince’s inimitable Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin. They have gotten closer to this goal than most fan girls. One night Wendy was at Largo during a show and ended up singing with them onstage — ultimate pop royalty amongst humble Princess(es).
“She was sitting in the wings watching, remember?” Rudolph says, turning to Lieberum. “And she got really excited. What song was it? I think we played 'Sister,' and she was like ‘Fuck yeah!’ She was such a proud mama.”
Princess perform two sold-out shows at Largo at the Coronet Thursday and Friday, May 21 and 22.