George Clinton on Mothership Connection, the P-Funk All Stars, and sampling

Photography: Bei / ​Shutterstock

December 15th, 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the Shakespearean and cosmic Mothership Connection, a historic album released by Parliament in 1975.

In the time since, Parliament, led by the legendary vocalist George Clinton, has become a landmark entity in music. They’ve inspired generations with their innovative concepts, sci-fi world-building, and era-defining melodies that are referenced in some of the biggest songs across genres. It’s not a stretch to consider Parliament to be one of the most important music collectives of all time.

In celebration of Mothership Connection’s 45th anniversary and George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars’ new sample pack on Splice, we caught up with the legend himself to discuss the creation of the album, its influences, and more.

What was your mindset going into creating Mothership Connection?

George Clinton: With Mothership, we were on a roll. We had just had Chocolate City, which was the second album with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records. We had done Up For The Down Stroke first, and then Chocolate City; we were at that point where we knew to go into the next record with all of the momentum we had at that point.

My dream, up until then, had always been to be able to do a funk opera. Chocolate City imagined Blacks in the White House, and that had worked because of what was happening at that moment. So, I said, “Where’s the next place you don’t see us at?” And that was basically outer space. The only one of us you saw was Uhura in Star Trek. Otherwise, we weren’t in outer space, so The Mothership Connection was that funk opera—and while making it, we weren’t tied down to this planet for a minute.

What was the energy like in the studio when recording the album?

We knew that it was worth us putting everything into it. And when you feel that, there ain’t nothing that can stop you. When you got that feeling of momentum—they call it ‘in the zone’—you can do almost anything. And that’s where we were at, at that moment, and probably for the next ten years, almost.

Which musicians had an influence on the sound of the record?

Everybody. Bernie, Gary, Eddie, Billy, Tiki, Tyrone, Fred Wesley, Maceo—you have to think about all of those ingredients that make a record. Around “One Nation,” you get to Junie Morrison and the band was always ready to do anything. They were my influences. There are so many people singing on “Knee Deep”—it just sounded like a little small group, but it’s a lot of us. That’s how tight it was. But any one of them could influence me, depending on what kind of record I wanted to make, you know. Bernie and Gary are gonna be pretty much all the time, no matter which record. David Spradley too, when the time came.

When did you figure out how to just follow your creative vision?

You know when you know—they say, “Trust the force, Luke.” We spent a lot of time trusting the funk. When we came out of Motown, we realized we didn’t have to step the same and didn’t have to dress the same. And once we realized that we were free to do our own thing, we trusted the funk and let the groove take us there. I really do believe it had a lot to do with freeing my mind, and then my hands followed.

Later on, I’d just just look around and see how many people were bobbing their heads. If they’re bobbing their heads, something must be right. As I got older, I realized that if it got on my nerves, it was probably the new thing—it was the kids coming up with something new… If it gets on your nerves, you have to deal with that, because maybe you could like that.

What do you want to say to the next generation of young producers and musicians who are exploring your samples and inspired by your creativity?

I’m hoping that we get back to what it was like in the early days, you know—how it was in the ’80s when sampling was alive, before it got all legally tangled and everybody got too scared to do it anymore. These are legal samples in there, backed by ourselves, and everyone’s going to get their money. They don’t have to be afraid. And more than that, we’re intentionally putting them out there, hoping that people will use them and get back to the spirit of making whatever music they want to make today—that’s what they’re there for.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Incorporate George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars’ iconic sounds into your own productions:

December 15, 2020

Trey Alston Trey Alston is a journalist and copywriter who has reported on stories around music and pop culture for publications such as Pitchfork, Pigeons & Planes, Complex, and more.