Since flocking to New York City in the mid-aughts, Prince Terrence – the artist formerly known as Terry Campbell – went on to play drums and tour the world for the likes of Santogold, Major Lazer, Heartsrevolution, Spank Rock and more. To stay afloat between tours, he taught himself to DJ, and with his deep cuts and off-the-cuff stylings, Prince Terrence effortlessly gained traction in the club circuit. Just a few years ago, he stepped out from behind the kick with his first frontman venture, ‘Hussle Club’: a goth pop soundtrack for the city’s young, club-going and restless. But he had yet to join the leagues of the grown and sexy. I run into Prince Terrence at rock ‘n’ roll photographer extraordinaire, Bob Gruen’s, 70th birthday party. Crammed in a basement bar with nightlife fixtures, rock ‘n’ roll devotees, and actual music legends, including Debbie Harry, Miss Guy of the Toilet Böys, Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators, and elusive rocker-cum-entrepreneur Jesse Malin, Prince Terrence is refreshingly unaffected. The musician, DJ, and impresario of downtown cool stands alone at the bar, awash with black, with a small cross dangling from his ear. Oft photographed peeking out from beneath his devil’s lock, the Lower East Sider turned Harlemite calls on the dark glamour of post-punk’s golden age – a ‘Downtown 81’ sensibility, much imitated, but rarely perfected. Despite Brooklyn’s rising monopoly on all things hip, he is a true disciple of the mainland: a believer in the staying power of Lower Manhattan’s after-hours playground.
Now, with Hussle Club on the back burner, Prince Terrence presents a new sound he’s branded ‘bedroom music’. Part sinister R&B, part sultry synth pop, with hot-blooded vocals layered over beats by Etienne La Mer and The R.O.A.R., this is a clear departure, unleashed by Prince Terrence, from both the mosh pit and the dance floor. It is only through this tension, or the ‘violence of [his] “cut ups’’’, as subculture-junkie Dick Hebdige would say, that he preserves his defiant sensibility. Most radical of all, though, is his willingness to rip out his heart.
Eve Marie Blazo: In your latest venture since Hussle Club, you make a sharp turn toward tenderness. Tell me about your take on love songs.
Prince Terrence: A lot of the content in the new music I’m recording is about death and love, two common themes in my life. They’re about interactions with people and the relationships you create. Much more so than before, I’m really writing from a place that’s meaningful to me. It’s also very broadly influenced, like a combination of music I listen to now and what I grew up on. A friend described it as Aaliyah meets Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Eve: Aaliyah meets Siouxsie and the Banshees is the perfect parallel! Especially when it comes to your play with contrasts: you’re singing slow jams to dark, electronic music. You’re emotionally transparent, but you preserve a sacred space for the parts of yourself you’re not letting strangers have access to onstage.
Prince Terrence: That’s why the live show is so stripped down, because I really want to give people an insight into me, while maintaining a grey area. Lyrically, it’s more meaningful to pay attention to what’s really happening than the whole ‘turn down for what’ jumping around and you don’t know why kind of thing. Whereas my new music is actually turned down, but the beats are still there.
Eve: What turns you on, musically?
Prince Terrence: Stories turn me on.
I love songs that let you live in their imaginary world for that short period of time. Even if it’s Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath singing about wizards and fairies, it’s just an interesting escape and insight into someone else’s world or experience. It’s about the experience of listening and applying meaning to your own life.
Eve: There seems to be an erotic exchange there, an electricity that charges between the artist and the listener, and music acts as the conduit for this intimacy.
Prince Terrence: That’s the power of music over a lot of other art forms. Even my mother, who is not a music-obsessive, had a real connection to music. She calls herself a Marvin Gaye groupie, but I don’t think she knows what that word means. She used to go to his mom’s house in Detroit where he’d play after-parties after his shows. The funny thing is that she was actually hanging out with Marvin Gaye, which is way better than being a groupie. So even if you’re not a creative person, there’s an immediacy to music that speaks to everyone.
Eve: Exactly – it doesn’t necessitate language and transcends boundaries between people. It’s a form of psycho-somatic communication.
Prince Terrence: Totally. During the CMJ show, there were girls twerking and slow dancing sensually to my music, which is definitely new for me. With my other bands, it would’ve been a mosh pit out there. The whole punk, hardcore, rock ‘n’ roll thing has a totally different energy. I don’t have much feedback on my new stuff yet, but if people are dancing to my music, that’s not a bad thing.
Eve: How do you reconcile your punk and hardcore roots with this more sensual, intimate sound?
Prince Terrence: My new music is definitely pretty sexual, but it’s also still dark. For a while, the desire to play songs to make people dance stood in the way of writing songs that were actually important to me. There’s a lot of pressure, especially as a DJ, to just make party music, because everyone wants to feel good and dance. Exploring my voice more and submerging myself in personal themes was a big risk to take. Now, the lyrical content is much more about what happens after you leave the club, whereas before it was about what’s happening at the club. If my old music was like riot music, then this is like bedroom music.
Eve: Are you connected to your own sensuality when performing?
Prince Terrence: Being a frontman is often more of a sensually and emotionally charged experience than drumming. It feels like I’m going to cry on stage sometimes.
…Oh yeah. At this point, I’ve developed a pretty good idea of what affects people…
Eve: What about when you’re DJing? You curate a synaesthetic experience, manoeuvring people’s bodies and emotions. What you play becomes an aphrodisiac, or foreplay; it can stir up nostalgia, fear, or subconscious desires…
Prince Terrence: Oh yeah. At this point, I’ve developed a pretty good idea of what affects people. I can literally make people cry, dance, or make out. Or I could turn off the music and bum everyone out.
Eve: You’re observing the crowd, and in turn, the crowd watches and responds to you, and you volley this stimulation back and forth. Does this implicit dialogue ever factor into your playing?
Prince Terrence: As a DJ, you have to be connected to the crowd. And as a drummer, too, you have the best seat in the house because while performing for a crowd of people you can see their reactions to what you’re playing. Unfortunately not all people are really conscious of that interaction. The fun is in the volatility of it all. I basically live in a nightclub, and when people go out, literally anything could happen at any time. I’ve seen people having sex behind me in the DJ booth and crazy stuff like that. But that’s also what makes it so exciting: the not knowing. I couldn’t work an office job, because even the excitement of nightlife can get monotonous. That’s what I enjoy about my style of DJing: I can’t predict what songs I’m going to play next because I have to see who’s there, what people are moving to, what the air is like.
Eve: Do you find that, with DJing, unlike performing your own music, you’re often at the mercy of the audience or the club’s sensibilities?
Prince Terrence: When DJing, I always try to create a vibe. No matter who is playing before or who’s playing after, I want you to be in my world. The oxygen needs to keep flowing in that world, or else people are going to die. I want to create an environment – like New York in the eighties, with that whole aesthetic and the feeling that everyone who was going out at that time was a part of something. That there’s an electricity you can’t find in other places: it’s not just a bunch of people in a room. Now that I’m hired for specific gigs, I definitely feel the pressure, like when playing one wrong song, everyone’s going to leave. Unless someone books me for an after-hours house music party, there are no rules when it comes to DJing. I’ll play the newest Drake song up against a Tones on Tails song, or punk after rap. The idea is to play at least one song for every person in the room.
I want to create an environment – like New York in the eighties, with that whole aesthetic and the feeling that everyone who was going out at that time was a part of something.
Eve: How do you navigate between your dual identities, as a DJ and as a musician? In an ideal world, is this new venture what you’d want to be doing full time?
Prince Terrence: Being a DJ and a musician is kind of a Catch-22, because DJing pays the bills, but it’s not what I want to be doing every night. DJing five nights out of the week while still recording my album, I have to wake up and still be creative during the day. Imagine if you worked the night shift at Kinkos, you’d probably sleep all day. I don’t have that luxury; it’s kind of non-stop for me. Sometimes I think about working an office job and just focusing on creating my own music, but I know a lot of people who are in big bands and work super normal jobs; when they come home from tour they are unhappy. So I was like, fuck this, I’m going to just DJ. I actually started DJing by playing on two iPods at Home Sweet Home. It was working and it was easy, because my music taste is pretty diverse and extensive. Eventually, I started to take it more seriously and bought a computer and taught myself how to use the DJ programs. At this point, DJing is still enjoyable for me, but it feels like I have more to offer the world than playing songs in clubs, in just one city. Recording this album is the longest I’ve ever gone since I was in high school without leaving or being on tour. Some people love playing music, but they don’t like the touring part, they’re not friends with unpredictability. Being on the road is in my blood, but it’s not for everyone. I guess I’m just a performer in that way.
Eve: Is New York nightlife, with its vampires and excesses, just less alluring to you these days? Or was this shift from the mosh pit to bedroom the result of some epiphany about your own sexuality?
Prince Terrence: It’s less of a 180, than progression in sound. The music I’m making, and sensuality in general, is just more interesting to me these days, so it’s been a natural evolution.
Eve: When did music first speak to you?
Prince Terrence: Everything happened before I was in first grade. I was born in Detroit; later our family moved to Pittsburgh. After that we relocated to Nashville, and when I was in first grade. we continued to Louisville, Kentucky. My mom used to drag me to church, where I used to like watching the drummer. Eventually, at fourteen years old, my grandfather bought me my first drum kit because he saw how much I loved it, and I picked it up pretty quickly.
I played classical music on vibraphone and piano for four years and joined the high school marching band, so I had to learn how to read music, but that’s the extent of my musical training.
At school, my friends and I would always try to shock and impress each other with the music we were listening to; we were playing the game of who can find the most obscure music and weird each other out. In seventh grade, , I had the Lords of Acid Voodoo-U CD, and that band is just like a freak show. They sing about whips and chains and they’re very S&M, like electronic raver goth or a techno version of Marilyn Manson. Their album cover was a cartoon of naked neon girls. Bringing it into school, like, ‘Look what I got’, but I actually liked the music, too. At that age, I was mostly just defiant, but the music also really spoke to me and made me jump up and down in my room screaming Rage Against the Machine lyrics, like, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!’ As a teenager, I was a playing in punk bands and really connected to the Louisville-scene. We’d even tour on the weekends and go to Chicago, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. Whenever we could, we were travelling, we’d even miss school for it. Once we graduated, we were gone forever.
Eve: How did you end up moving to New York?
Prince Terrence: Even though I was a big part of the music scene in Louisville and in a punk band with four of my best friends, I felt like being suited to more. Luckily, when I joined this band Young Love, I was finally able to leave Louisville. They had just signed at Island Def Jam, and were looking for a drummer. The singer Dan told me, ‘I’m moving to New York, do you want to move with me?’ It was perfect timing, so I agreed. It was by no means glamorous, we were definitely starving, but the label paid for the move to New York and even paid my rent for a year, so that was huge. We toured with Erasure, which was really awesome, and also with Good Charlotte, which was pretty funny. But being on tour for my first five years in New York meant that I was never really home. My first apartment in New York was with this girl and her boyfriend, and I was sleeping on their floor; I didn’t have a bed. My only possessions were a suitcase, my dog, and a drum stuff. It was all pretty reckless.
Eve: That’s pretty thrilling for just starting out your music career. The music industry has also changed monumentally since that time.
Prince Terrence: It really has. When I started playing drums for this band called Heartsrevolution, it was the beginning of everything changing in the music industry. Blogs were really popular as the go-to source for new music and people weren’t really buying CDs anymore. It was also the time when post-electro clashed, and people started listening less to bands and more to dance music. We were right in the middle of that, as an electronic dance group, with a strong punk influence too. The blogs just ate it up and we were getting show offers all over the world. This was the first time that ever happened, where you could play a huge party in France without even having an album out, and all from releasing just one song that kids could download from a blog. That was kind of a mind-fuck, because it was like, ‘wow, where is this going?’ and now we all know where it went, it killed the music industry.
Eve: Did the industry’s evolution change your career ambitions as a musician?
Prince Terrence: It just made me have to re-evaluate things. I ended up touring less and DJing more. But really, the whole industry is always changing. Everyone thinks there’s a formula, but there’s no rhyme or reason as to why anything happens. It’s more about timing and the way the world works.
Eve: What prompted you to ultimately become a frontman?
Prince Terrence: Hussle Club was the first project where I didn’t play drums live – even though I played all the instruments on the recordings – drums, bass, guitar, and I sang. It was an absolutely new experience being completely independent and in charge. It enabled me actually to start Hussle Club through this band Foreign Islands. The band needed a drummer, and the guitar player had a studio, so I agreed to play the drums for free as long as they would record these little ideas that I had. I ended up playing a few sessions, and they were amazed, saying, ‘man, this stuff’s awesome, let’s do a whole album.’ We did a bunch of songs and it was this super rock ‘n’ roll, downtown New York vibe. At the time, I was listening to a lot of disco and no-wave, a lot of Contortions, Bush Tetras, ESG, and that kind of stuff. Ultimately, Scion, the car company, helped us release our record which says a lot about how music is working now.
My wife, Bijoux, directed the music video for ‘Quaranteenagers’, the video is shot in the living room when we were bored one day, and got picked up by MTV. I formed a band with four other members, and we ended up going on tour with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus. It’s not over, but the whole band thing is tough in 2015 without financial support; it’s really hard to fund four people’s lives without major label backing, which is too bad. The band was living my dream, and even though we haven’t played a show in a couple of years, I don’t want to think it’s dead because it’s such a part of me. I think all my experiences and relationships have been meaningful, no matter how short or long they’ve lasted. Those connections you make along the way are always a part of you.
Eve: The one constant seems to be your aesthetic. Your fashion sense has been pretty consistent and cultivated throughout the years.
Prince Terrence: Honestly, fashion doesn’t concern me. Even today, I have a uniform, like a cartoon character who always wears the same thing. A lot of people’s fashion fluctuates with the trends, I’ll probably be dressing like this for a while, until I’m an old black man wearing sweatpants and Kangol hats.
Eve: And creepers.
Prince Terrence: And yeah, creepers. One day, I’ll be one of those guys you find in the jazz clubs up in Harlem. There are some really awesome jazz clubs within three blocks of my apartment, and sometimes I just stumble in there and chill.
Eve: Before Harlem, you lived where you worked, in the centre of the downtown late-night universe. How did you gain entry into this Lower East Side circuit?
Prince Terrence: Like-minded people gravitate toward each other. Even though I wouldn’t want to walk around in it, I love the idea of downtown New York in the eighties. Through Miss Guy, I met Debbie [Harry] and now she comes to the parties that I DJ. We sit down and talk a lot actually, and, interestingly, she is not one to complain about the ‘new’ New York. She was telling me about how it used to be really dangerous and before it got dark, she’d have to run between avenues to her boyfriend’s house, because the Lower East Side wasn’t all brunch spots and college girls drinking wine on their fire escapes yet.
Eve: Debbie’s New York will never exist again, but it seems you’ve cultivated a kind of mimesis. This city seems like home for you.
Prince Terrence: I’ve made it my home. After having lived in the Lower East Side for six years, though, I saw it change a lot, and eventually, living there just wasn’t appealing to me any more. Maybe I just outgrew the neighbourhood, or became jaded, but Harlem feels less pretentious these days. That said there’s also a lot of cool that still exists in this city, you just have to know where to find it.
Eve: That’s where the eroticism lives – in New York’s underbelly full of secrets, illicit hideaways, and clandestine encounters. You have to be ‘in the know’ to navigate its underground.
Prince Terrence: It is full of debauched secrets. Living here is a sensory overload, but once the streets become familiar, they’re your own, and it becomes a different city. Every night is a new adventure on this small island, and I find humour and joy in the smallest, and sometimes darkest, things.
Eve: What unexpected pleasures have you encountered on this island?
Prince Terrence: There are so many different personalities roaming the streets – I don’t even know where to start with the characters out at night. The grittiness of the ‘old’ New York still exists here too, even though it’s so manicured these days.
Eve: There’s a sexiness to the vestiges of that dangerous, decaying New York.
Prince Terrence: It’s very appealing, but it’s also easy to glamorize it. It’s really just a pose. Of course, I dig this pose. In my new music, I want to revive the feel of New York in the eighties – but also to instil it with something deeper.
Eve: With your new sound, you’ve really cultivated an eroticism of intimacy, which is a bold, sensitive act.
Prince Terrence: Especially coming from a punk background, singing about love and sensuality is rebellious, it’s so unexpected and emotionally bare. It’s thrilling and threatening to be so vulnerable.