Sunday July 03, 2016

William Prince grew up sleeping under the DJ table in community halls

Anishinabe singer/songwriter William Prince is often compared to Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson and Barry White.

Anishinabe singer/songwriter William Prince is often compared to Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson and Barry White. (CBC Unreserved)

Listen 14:08

William Prince spent his early childhood in a small town just north of Winnipeg. 

Then one day his family moved to Peguis First Nation on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg

"I didn't even know what a reserve was. I didn't even really know we were Aboriginal people," he said. "My dad brought us back to Peguis and said, 'this is where you're from. This is where your family comes from.'" 

But home and family are not the only gifts his parents gave him, Prince says they also gave him a love of music. They ran a DJ service and they often took him along to dances in old community halls.

"I remember being a young kid sleeping under a community hall table till 1:30 in the morning." 

Prince grew up listening to artists from Paul Simon to Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson to Merle Haggard, and of course country legends Kris Kristofferson and Hank Snow. But it was Johnny Cash that really caught his attention.

"Tennessee Flat Top Box is the reason I learned to play guitar, my dad used to play that riff all the time."

Prince said he quickly learned he was terrible but kept at it, slowly improving both his guitar skills and his songwriting. 

His voice and songs evoke Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, and more than a dash of Barry White and he is a rising star on the Indigenous music scene.

But his deep baritone voice was something that Prince didn't always accept. In the early days of his career, he resisted his own sound.

"I used to fight the slow, low voice, chill approach to things." he said. "A lot of my favourite artists don't make (it onto) traditional radio anymore. I was swayed early in that I thought there had to be a mold to fit into."

Earthly Days

Williams first album, Earthly Days, was 10 years in the making. (Provided)

It took Prince 10 years to produce his first album, Earthly Days. Released in 2015, he collaborated with Winnipeg folk artist Scott Nolan to craft the soulful sound based in his own personal experiences.

"I've always had a lot to say," he said about his songwriting. "A bad day becomes a song, but good days become songs, too."

Prince's latest single, 7, was written for the Peguis graduating class, with input from the students. The song was based around the seven sacred teachings: love, courage, humility, truth, respect, courage, and honesty.

"It became a bit of a song to my son, as well." Prince admitted. "If I went away, and could only leave this voice behind, what would I want it to say?"