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Since before the Black Eyed Peas' debut album Behind the Front in 1998, keyboardist/trumpeter/musical director Printz has been a critical part of the Peas sound and songwriting. During the Black Eyed Peas' last tour, The John Lennon Songwriting Contest Educational Tour Bus toured with the band. Printz has become the bus' most prolific user and most ardent supporter. Musician's Friend caught up with Printz on tour with the Black Eyed Peas in Boston. He's a friendly, energetic, and open guy with an infectious enthusiasm for all things musical.
Musician's Friend: How did the Black Eyed Peas get associated with the John Lennon Bus?
Printz: We actually got involved with the bus when it accompanied us on the Warped tour back in 1999. We just started hanging out and recording stuff here and there. It was really good. I'm the keyboard player and trumpet player, but I actually won a guitar off that bus [laughs] before I had anything to do with playing guitar. My guitar player was quite angry [laughs].
MF: What kind of guitar was it?
P: [Laughs] I won a natural-finish Yamaha guitar. But since I'm not a guitar player I don't know the model name. It's electric—a light natural-finish electric guitar. It's George's favorite guitar.
MF: But now you've started playing guitar.
P: Yeah, but I play only for writing purposes.
MF: Are you on the bus a lot?
P: Yeah. I'm on there every day. Usually Will [Will.I.Am Black Eyed Peas MC/dancer] comes in a little bit later, around four or five. But usually I'm there early in the day. I just stay on there till sound check, take a break for sound check, get something to eat, and go back on the bus. Then we play our show and I come back on the bus from about an hour after the show until it's time to leave.
MF: Are we talking about the same bus? The
Lennon Bus? You're on there working all day?
P: Yep [laughs].
MF: You're working on the tracks for your new record?
P: Yeah, there's a couple of things. The sax player and I have an instrumental project called Horn Dog we're doing on the bus at the same time. There's two sections of the bus. So he'll work on something in the back while I'm working on album tracks in the front. Then I'll go in the back for some collaboration, saying "This is cool, this is not..." I might change some stuff. Then I'll go back to the front. We have both sections working for our album and for side projects. Trying to get it done [laughs].
MF: Do you interact with other people who get on the Bus—the public?
P: Oh, yeah, yeah, for sure. I'll go to any schools. I'll go anywhere and do anything to get that thing happening. I have a daughter who's seven, so I've got the whole kid thing happening. I love kids and I've bought her every musical instrument. She's all into it. I was so fortunate to have music in my school. And I know a lot of schools are steering away from it or the kids are getting a little older before they start. I want to push it back younger, get it back everywhere. I'm down with it. We actually went with the Songwriting Bus to a school in LA about 2 years ago. We set up and played and talked to the kids, had a couple of them come up and sing and rap with us as the backup band. They were pretty hyped [laughs].
The other day an act that just signed to Sony—like five or six kids out of Columbus—they were at our show in Detroit. I sat up there with them for a couple of hours and showed them some stuff on Reason. We sat down and wrote a song together. I just wanted to vibe with them.
MF: How old are they?
P: They look to be somewhere between 15 and 19.
MF: How old were you when you started playing keyboards?
P: I was probably 23. But my first instrument was trumpet. That's what I got my degree in at college, jazz trumpet.
MF: What college?
P: San Diego State. I actually started playing keyboards because the keyboard player quit in my band. And we had so many gigs. We were playing like five nights a week at that point. Some of the songs really required the keyboard for chords. So I just started playing. I was only playing probably a year before I got into Black Eyed Peas [laughs].
MF: Do you play trumpet much with Black Eyed Peas?
P: Not so much because I'm the musical director. So I designed the band where I'm playing bass and I'm playing keyboards. So I only play trumpet on two songs.
MF: Do you play keyboard bass pedals?
P: No I just play left-hand bass.
MF: Who's your big trumpet hero?
P: Man, there's so many.
MF: Pick your top three.
P: Probably my top three would be, Woody Shaw, and I love Miles at different points in his career.
MF: Which points do you love Miles at?
P: I'm definitely an earlier Miles lover. But there's still different periods within early and late. Like I really love Bitch's Brew that's the schizzy. And I really love Dark Magus, too. That's the hidden gem. It's serious raw groove stuff.
MF: When you're working on tracks for the Black Eyed Peas, how does that whole thing go down, creatively?
P: Basically we stockpile music. We keep writing songs and writing songs.
MF: How do you come up with a tune?
P: There isn't too much consistency. Sometimes I may play something on the keys at a sound check and Will will say, "That's cool. Let's record that!" Or I may show up in the bus and Will's got a drumbeat going. I'll just sit down and start playing something. And he'll say, "Oh, that's cool, that's cool," or maybe, "Try this chord there." And it will build from there. We don't have any surefire method. And that keeps the process kind of fresh for us.
MF: So you and Will are the main idea guys?
P: I would say me, Will, and George. I'm a core writer on "Where is the Love," that's me and Will, we wrote that together. That song has enabled me to do so many things now in the business. It's gotten me a publishing deal, you know, six figures. I came from a really low-income, poor, eating-government-cheese neighborhood [laughs].
MF: Where did the inspiration for the lyrics for that song come from?
P: My birthday is 9/11. That's actually my birthday [laughs]. Initially me and Will wrote the music, like we do, in probably 10 minutes. We thought about all the political things going on in the world and all the fear. We asked ourselves, "What can we do to make a statement?" Then Will came up with "Where is the love?"—the title.
MF: You usually pretty much start with the groove and then add lyrics later or...?
P: Yeah. The tracks definitely come first. We may stockpile... like for the last album we did about 70 tracks of just music. Then we weed through those, "Oh, this has got really good energy, this is cool," or "Oh, we already got one of these, so we don't need that." And then we break it down to maybe 50. Then we start to write choruses and break it down to 30. It all starts from the music.
MF: When did you start playing with the Peas?
P: 1997, right in the beginning. I wasn't in the original band that got the deal but I came on before anything really happened [laughs].
MF: What keyboards do you use?
P: I use a Moog Voyager, I use that for bass on a couple of songs and most of my color tones. The core bass thing I use is a Korg MS2000. I use a Fender Rhodes. I use the Roland V-Synth as a writing tool in the studio. I use M-Audio and my laptop for putting stuff together on the road.
MF: Do you use any MIDI onstage?
MF: So you guys are playing full live onstage all the time?
P: Yep. All live.
MF: When you're working in the studio laying down tracks, what's the main equipment you're working with?
P: Everything that's on the
MF: Tell us about the Bus.
P: There's an HD ProTools rig in the back, an LE Digi002 in the front. The studio in the back has a Yamaha Motif module for sound and a P250 piano which is a student piano with vibes, harpsichord, guitar, bass—basic sounds in it. It's also a MIDI controller so it can control the Motif. Then we have some outboard gear to plug in, guitars and basses. Or if you want to take something out of ProTools, like a kick drum or snare. There's a Yamaha 02R mixing board. There are 2 Yamaha monitors, 2 NS10s, and a subwoofer. There's a Yamaha DTXtreme Midi Drumset.
We have turntables. We have Final Scratch. It's cool, we've actually made use of the entire back part. Our drummer's come in, and he's played. We sampled his sounds, put them in the drum kit and had him play the kit. And it sounds pretty damn good. Because you get his feel and his actual drum sounds but it's a little tighter.
Then the front lounge of the bus is just a mini version of the back. There's no drum set, no guitar amps. But we have the Yamaha Motif, some outboard gear, two flat screens so you can split up the ProTools windows.
MF: Do they do video production on the bus, too?
P: I'm not really aware of the video production gear but yeah, it's in there, and you can do that stuff in ProTools. They've been taping us in the bus and us at the shows.
MF: We think the songwriting contest is pretty cool.
P: Oh, yeah. I'm so excited about it. I tell all my friends, "You guys need to enter this contest, you need to enter it." Lots of cool prizes and its open to everyone who writes songs.
MF: What's the last really good book you read?
P: Actually, Tunesmith by Jim Web. It's ironic but it's not because we're talking about that. It's a songwriting book. He has a good way with words and he makes songwriting easy for someone who thinks it's hard. He gives different examples and different ways to approach it. He'll say, "Here are 10 ways that friends of mine have tried to write songs. They may not be for you, but this might give you some avenues or directions to take that maybe you didn't think of before." He says there is no surefire method of how to write a winning song. But there are dos and don'ts. The way he writes, it's like talking to a friend.
MF: What side projects are you working on?
P: Two projects, one is Horn Dog which is me and the sax player from Black Eyed Peas, Tim Izo. The other project is Gravy, which is my own project. It's still part of the family. It's us four musicians—the backing band from Black Eyed Peas (the name of the backing band is Beat Pharmacy) and we have a bass player at home and then I do vocals.
MF: Thanks a lot for talking with us today.
P: You're welcome. I enjoyed it.
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