Heaven Must Be Near: In Conversation with Ingrid Chavez ‘The Spirit Child’

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Nikole Guzman
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Nikole Guzman in conversation with visual artist, singer-songwriter, and Prince collaborator Ingrid Chavez.

Ingrid Chavez has always been undefinable. Among many other things, she’s a poet, songwriter, singer, jewelry and apparel designer, photographer, and mother. But no matter what she’s creating, her artistic vision is clear: To connect with listeners and help them feel something within that might allow them to pursue their own creative visions.

Poetic, elegant, and sensuous, Chavez’s music has a soul-soothing quality. The album that first captivated the world, May 19, 1992, was released on Prince’s label, Paisley Park. He and Chavez first met serendipitously at a Minneapolis pub when she was 22. An electric, creative connection sparked between the two and for the next few months they spent countless hours together inspiring each other. Chavez worked on May 19, 1992 while Prince created Lovesexy, two albums that Chavez said “almost mirror each other.” Chavez even performed the intro spoken on Lovesexy’s opening song, “Eye No,” with Prince crediting her as The Spirit Child. Later, he cast her as his love interest in Graffiti Bridge, the 1990s musical he wrote and directed.

The years that have unfolded since those early heady days in the music industry have presented a series of twists and turns for Chavez that has included ups and downs, betrayals and disappointments juxtaposed with triumph, love, and even a brush with litigation.

As Chavez embarks on the latest chapter of her creative career, she took a beat to speak with us from her home in Big Sur about what she’s learned and what comes next.


Nikole Guzman: I’d like to start at the beginning of your story before you met Prince on that fateful evening in Minneapolis. What prompted you to start your journey into sound?

Ingrid Chavez: I grew up in Georgia and I was a kid of the ’70s when I started listening to music. I was an outlier for where I grew up and the music I listened to. I remember when Prince first came on the radio with I Wanna Be Your Lover. I loved the song. But no one else liked it, not anyone I knew. They were just like, “What a weirdo you are.” Then I fell in love with David Bowie and these other artists when everybody else was listening to Ted Nugent and other stuff. Oh, Ted Nugent. He turned out to be a real something.

I heard that “Dirty Mind” was one of your all-time favorite songs, as well as “Golden Years” by David Bowie. Do you still feel that way?

I still stand by that.




How did you make the transition from enjoying music to being the one making the music?

When I turned 18, I officially decided, “That’s what I want. I want to do that,” and I did it. I didn’t know how to do anything, but it was just something I decided. This was the late ’80s, when manifesting wasn’t really a tagline like it is now, when people say, “Have anything you want and desire, just imagine it.”

Did you set out to work with Prince back then?

No. I just happened to wind up in Minneapolis. I was in a band with my boyfriend at the time and we were making all this really dark music because we were into Siouxsie & the Banshees and Churn. We came home one day, and someone had broken into our warehouse space and taken all of our equipment. My boyfriend was from Minneapolis, so we sold my car and bought tickets to move there as it made the most sense.

So one night you’re randomly at a local bar in Minneapolis when you see Prince. You decide to pass him a note that says, “Smile… I love it when you smile.” And you both end up making this great connection that was almost spiritual. You get invited to Paisley Park where you end up hanging out a lot during that time. And the rest is history. Can you tell me about that first night when you met Prince? What compelled you to write that note?

He was by himself, and he didn’t look happy. I was sitting at the bar alone in the same part of the room. I grabbed a napkin and pen and wrote him that note. Meeting me that night changed a lot in his life as far as him making the decision to stop The Black Album and start a new record. I think he was already in some kind of space where he didn’t know what to do and felt like he was putting out a record that wasn’t right for him at the time. Maybe that was what was going on in his mind, and meeting me that night helped clarify it all.

I find it so fascinating how you helped Prince get out of this funk that he was in. I’m curious, do you normally have that effect on people? Even talking to you now, I’m feeling at ease. What’s your secret?

(Laughs) I don’t know, and I don’t understand it, but there is something about my interactions or my friendships with people that can be really healing or helpful for people at times. And through music, too. That record I did with Prince – May 19, 1992 – helped a lot of people.




That record helped me through a lot. It’s also my exact birthdate, so I was super excited when I first discovered it. The album is still so special to me.

That’s such a cool coincidence. The next record that I did years later, A Flutter and Some Words, has also been really important to people. I’d love to be able to continue in whatever way I can to help bring clarity or peace to people. I love helping them clarify their vision and figure out the next step to get to their creative goals.

I’m 57 now, but I have so many things that I still haven’t done that I need to do. Things I want to create. There’s just too much to do in life. I don’t understand it when people can’t get through one project that they’re trying to do, because for me, I wake up and I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s a new day! I’ve got so many things I need to do! Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, let’s take care of them.” I don’t even know what to call that.

You mentioned you felt like an outlier growing up. How has that feeling transformed itself over the years?

It’s almost like you think you can do anything in the world, and you’re good at what you do, but at the same time there’s this other thing that says, “You’re not good.” It’s this battle between insecurity and courage. A lot of artists and musicians might have this. I remember I went to see Mazzy Star, and I love everything about Hope Sandoval, but she has total stage fright. She got on the stage and within minutes ran off. I’ve always struggled with feeling that I don’t belong, which causes insecurities like maybe I’m not good enough.

I did this movie with Prince [Graffiti Bridge]. Every day on set, I’d ask myself what I was doing. I wasn’t an actor. I would freak out every time I had to do something. I totally melted down one time over a scene because I was so insecure about it. It’s just the weirdest thing, getting into these situations where I have to question every moment, asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Why did I say yes to this?”

But that’s how growth happens, when you’re doing things that truly frighten you. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true.

Absolutely. It’s about pushing yourself.

For me, that’s the only reason to put something out into the world: to share and maybe help someone else in that journey, or to at least let people know that you’re not the only one.

A common theme in your music is vulnerability – letting your walls come down and allowing someone in. I think it takes a special person to allow themselves to be vulnerable. What is it about vulnerability that speaks to you?

I don’t know how to write any other way. The only reason for me to write anything is to express something that I’m going through. Right now, I don’t have anything that I feel is necessarily pressing that needs to be said or written about, so this is a period when there’s not really music going on. It’s just journaling, and I’m also working on making things with my hands. I putter around my little space here and I make things (laughs).

There’s no point in writing to share if I don’t have anything to share or to say. For me, I’ve never been able to tell anyone else’s story. I’m not a person who makes up stories. I’m not a storyteller. If I’m going through something and I can put it into a song, I can see this whole experience that I’m going through. I’ve been able to craft it into a song and lay it out. When I’ve expressed it in a way that is true to that experience I’m going through, then other people can relate to it. For me, that’s the only reason to put something out into the world: to share and maybe help someone else in that journey, or to at least let people know that you’re not the only one.

Let’s talk about the origin of “Justify My Love.” You wrote the song with Lenny Kravitz only for him to take it to Madonna’s team. How was that experience? And how did it feel to perform it live after so many years?

When I was working with Prince and that record May 19, 1992 was born, around the same time I also wrote the song with Lenny that Madonna wound up doing. I didn’t tell Prince that I had recorded “Justify My Love” with Lenny before he took it to Madonna’s team. When Prince heard it on the radio, he called me and said, “What’s up with the Madonna song? I know that’s you,” because he knew my speaking style very well. He heard it before I told him, and he was really hurt about that. He said, “Your record isn’t even out yet. People are going to think you’re copying Madonna.” That’s when I took Lenny to court. It was all down to Prince being able to recognize my voice like that. I thought, “What have I done?” That was not a good move. Then we kind of just went our separate ways for a while. Because of all that controversy that went on with “Justify My Love,” I turned my back on music and married [English musician] Dave Sylvian. We went on to make a family and I lived vicariously through his music.




I never intended to perform the song live all those years later. I just happened to be invited to come to Bremen, Germany, in 2016 to play at a festival. Once I was there with the other guys practicing, they asked, “Why don’t we do a version of “Justify My Love”? If it doesn’t sound good, we won’t play it live. Let’s just see what happens.” They started the beat, and I agreed. We recorded our rehearsal of it, and I thought, “Okay, this sounds all right. I’ll do this.”

We performed it live and it was a great success. People loved it. I was asked if I would consider recording a version of it and maybe releasing it. Going back and rerecording it felt natural because that was the way that I deliver my lines when I’m doing spoken word. We’re still working on some of the details and legal stuff, but we have some remixes of it that we’re trying to line up. They’re amazing. We’ve got Miguel Migs, we’ve got Charles Webster. They put their spin on it, which is cool.

I love that sexy, slow, laidback beat of down-tempo music.

That’s so exciting! I love the remixes I’ve heard of your songs. Backing up a little, how did you end up connecting with David Sylvian?

My album had already come out, and I was doing the promotional tour for the movie, for my record, and for “Justify My Love,” too. All this stuff came out around the same time. I was in Paris because it was the first stop of the European promotional tour, and I was chatting with a German journalist. He asked, “Who would you most like to work with in the future?” I answered, “David Sylvian,” and the journalist told me he was in contact with him and connected us. By the time I got to London, I had missed David because he had just left that day to go to Paris, so I ended up dropping my album off at his manager’s office and the rest is history.

David and I did work on music together. We made an EP, Little Girls with 99 Lives. I felt intimidated by him at first, lyrically. He’s such an amazing lyricist. He had a studio in the house, but was very much involved with his thing, and I was very much involved with taking care of the children. Of course with all of that and trying to make a record, we didn’t get as far as we’d like to. We presented the project to his label at Virgin Records, and they were not that interested. But we did release it on our own later.




Speaking of collaborations, what was it like collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto?

Well, I thought at one point in my life I was going to marry him! When I was in my very early twenties (laughs). I didn’t marry him though, I wound up marrying David instead. Ryuichi is an amazing human being in all ways. He’s very accepting and an all-around gentle soul.

When I was first communicating with David, he told me he was coming to America and that he was going to be recording with Ryuichi, and asked if I would like to come to the studio with him. I thought, “Oh my God, I’ll get to meet you, and then we’re going to go to New York together and we’re going to go into the studio with Ryuichi?” I was totally fanning out. But yeah, he’s an amazing, beautiful soul. He invited us to perform “Tainai Kaiki” at the Budokan in Tokyo, and to be in a stadium with that many people was extremely terrifying and exciting at the same time.




During your hiatus when you were focusing on raising your family, did you ever think you’d make your way back into music? Or did you think you were done with all of it?

Only when my relationship with David started falling apart did I start to realize how important making music was to me and that I had a whole life and career centered around it. I got a call in 2006 from my lawyer about a guy in Sacramento who was a big fan of the May 19, 1992 record. He wanted me to perform at his fashion show. I was very much in my photography phase at the time. I was setting up a photo exhibition in New Hampshire. That call helped me realize that I had been denying a very important part of my life. Photography doesn’t touch how gratifying it is to complete a song. It doesn’t even come close for me. If I can write a song and I’ve got all my lyrics and my vocals and background vocals recorded, and it’s beautifully arranged, then nothing touches that.

For 15 years, I didn’t even check in to see whatever happened to my record and how it did in the world. I just raised children like I was never even a musician (laughs). So when my lawyer contacted me about that designer’s request, I was surprised that people even remembered the record. That designer ended up suggesting I open a MySpace account since I didn’t have one already. When I tried, I discovered that an account with my name already existed, and their profile picture was my record cover.

Once I regained my account, all these people started flooding in saying things like, “Your record influenced me and got me into music or got me through my thesis in college.” It was amazing, because I really did not know that the record had gone out into the world and was an important part of some people’s lives. Like your own story of how the record became something that has been a part of your life. It also just goes to show that you can put something out into the world, and it can take on a life of its own.




Now onto A Flutter and Some Words, the follow-up to your 1992 album that was released in 2010. How did you meet Lorenzo Scopelliti, the Italian composer you collaborated with?

I met Lorenzo online. He was a fan of my ex-husband, David. Once I opened that MySpace page, a lot of people started coming to me from different directions. Lorenzo was one of them. We just started talking, writing back and forth. He was very poetic, and he seemed like such a gentle, beautiful soul. One day he told me he wanted to send me a composition he had written to see if I might like to write lyrics for it. I asked if he could mail it over since I was not technically adept at anything at the time, so he sent me a CD.

The first track he ever sent me was the song that became “Isobel” after my daughter. It happened to be a moment when I was trying to get Isobel to stop sleeping in the bed with me, because she was about seven at the time. We were going to a therapist who said, “Next time Isobel comes to you, frustrated that she wants to sleep in your bed, just imagine that she’s you as a little girl and how you would feel.”

I happened to be listening to that track that Lorenzo gave me in my headphones when Isobel came into my room, and I remember what the therapist said, and I just held her. I remember tears were streaming down my face as I was holding her and listening to that music. That’s the song that became “Isobel.” I always cry thinking about it because it was such a special moment, and the song turned out beautifully. We took it one song at a time, until finally there was a whole record.

I love that sexy, slow, laidback beat of down-tempo music. So after A Flutter and Some Words, I knew I really wanted to work with some beats. Shortly after that, Black Eskimo was born and I started working with Marco Valentin, and he was able to give me those beats.

Is it true that you had an online radio show with Marco?

It was more my show. It was called Black Eskimo Radio. One of the reasons I stopped doing it is because it was so much work. I was doing it by myself. It was airing on a radio show called Emancipation Radio every two weeks, which created this cool community. I would go into ProTools and put my whole show together. I don’t have the energy to do it again. Maybe if I’d only done a one-hour show, but I did a two-hour show and it was all new music, so I was constantly looking for new releases, new releases, new releases.




I would go into Pitchfork and follow leads all over the place on online blogs and stuff. It was exhausting. Then I would have to find a link to either their Bandcamp page, their SoundCloud, Apple, YouTube, or wherever I could get a link so that I could share them on the Black Eskimo Facebook page I had created. Everybody would join me on there when the show aired. I would share a link every time a new song would start, and we’d have a discussion about the song. So we’d be talking, and then the next song would come up and I’d put the next link up. So even if you didn’t catch the show, you could go back and see the discussions with me and all the different people. It’s funny because that was before people were making playlists on Apple and Spotify. You can go in and do your own thing so much more easily now.

I went to Paris in 2019 for an event and people came up to me and said, “We’re all friends because of your Black Eskimo Radio show.” We all became friends. That was our platform for sharing music. And when the radio show wasn’t going, you could go on there and share music on that page. You’d put up a link, “Here’s what I’m listening to today.” Every other Sunday, I would have a guest. One time I had David curate the show and he gave me all the different songs he thought I should play. The shows are still up on my SoundCloud page, I think. If not, I should put them up, because they’re fun.




In 2019, you released Memories of Flying, an album you created by collaborating with a great group of artists such as Charles Webster, Mashti, Peter Musebrink, Christian Rønn and Sebastian Lilja. That’s an impressive list. “Snow-Blind” and “Light Rays” were two of my favorite songs on that album.

This record has been different from the others I made because I wrote it with so many different people. I began to wonder, what is the thread of this record? How do I make it feel like one piece? Cohesive? I’m not sure I made that happen (laughs). “Calling Out The Thunder” on that album speaks to that writer’s block that comes up, where if I can just wait, just let it happen, it’ll come back. I refer to my childhood and how that’s all life is about – love. Finding it, losing it. It was later remixed by Charles Webster and Burial, but I renamed it to “The Spell.”




“Light Rays” is one of my favorite songs. It’s interesting because I met this guy, and we created this beautiful correspondence. He was in a bad relationship, and he got out of the relationship, moved to LA, and started a new life. “All The Love In The World” and “Light Rays” were born from that correspondence. I just wanted him to know, this is not it for you. There’s a whole world if you can untangle yourself from this situation. And he did it. That’s what I mean about the writing. It has to be born out of something real for me.

Prince was heavily influenced and inspired by his collaborators, including the work you did together. Memories of Flying shows you have also discovered the power of collaboration. I’m wondering what attracts you to that process of working with other creative artists?

As a writer, you can only say the same thing in so many different ways. This is my life, and my experiences don’t change so dramatically that I’m able to pull out some new experiences. But if I’m writing with different people who present me with different music to express it to, then it shifts for me in the way that I sing it or the way I express it or write about it. It’s all the same experiences; everything comes down to love and relationships and personal experiences that you go through in life. But if the music shifts, then it totally shifts the way I feel inside about it and the way that I express it. So it’s always fun for me to be inspired by someone else’s music.

I wanted something, I believed in it, and I would make it happen because all of my focus and attention was there. I understand manifestation only because I have always done it.

You briefly touched on the role manifestation has played in your life, but spirituality seems to be important to you as well. I learned that Amma was your guru for a couple of years. I find that intriguing because I was also a fan of Amma and once stayed up all night at a gathering just to get one of her famous hugs.

That was a beautiful special time in my life because it was a good time in my marriage with David. Our family was young. Our three kids would miss the last week of school every year because we’d pack up and drive across America to visit Amma in California. We would travel around the country and meet up with her in different states. Then we bought one of her old ashrams in New Hampshire.

Amazing!

Having bought that ashram, I became one of the organizers of the Boston-area program. I did that for a couple of years. That was a big challenge because I’d never organized anything like that before. It was a retreat for 1,200 people. It took a toll on my marriage with David with me getting so involved with that and not feeling as connected to it all. We were having programs at our house. Nowadays it’s not as big a part of my life. Yeah, I go to see her sometimes, but it’s not the same thing. If she starts traveling again – she hasn’t traveled in the past two years because of the pandemic, but if she does – she always starts her tour here in San Ramon. If she comes to San Ramon, I’ll definitely go see her.

Manifestation and meditation are still very big parts of my life but now the manifestation is intentional. I understand the concept. Before it was just natural – I wanted something, I believed in it, and I would make it happen because all of my focus and attention was there. I understand manifestation only because I have always done it.

Even winding up here in Big Sur was manifested, I suppose. In 2018 through the middle of 2019, I decided I didn’t want to be in New Hampshire anymore and told everyone I’d speak to that if anything comes up, I’m looking for a writer’s cottage or an artist’s cottage anywhere, something small. It could be in Paris, it could be in upstate New York, it could be in California. It could be anywhere. I was just putting it out into the universe via everyone I spoke to. My friend Scott told me about a place in Big Sur that needed a caretaker, so that’s how I wound up here. Now that’s manifesting.

So that’s how you landed in Carmel? How long have you been there?

I moved here on Thanksgiving 2019. I wasn’t sure I was actually moving here, so I didn’t do anything – all I brought was a simple recording setup and supplies to be able to ship if people bought records. Then in February, I went home to put my house that I had there in storage and brought a bit more here, and two weeks after I returned, everything went into lockdown. Although I’m in Carmel, it’s actually more Big Sur, because I’m south of Carmel by 25 minutes. I’m about a mile from Bixby Bridge.

That’s a great place to be during lockdown.

Yeah, I can walk the dogs – I’m 0.07 miles down the canyon road to the ocean, so we can walk to the ocean and get some good direct sunlight.

Sounds like a dream. How has being in Big Sur affected you creatively? You mentioned you’re making things.

For a year, I was pretty much just in this canyon. I learned a lot just being here and spending all this time alone. I learned how to make jewelry and candles. I’ve been working on this beautiful candle set of silver glass jars for my line, Snow & Ink. I learned how to make all these little light catchers. It’s mostly windows where I live but there’s not enough direct sunlight that comes in, so I’ve placed them strategically around my house to catch the light from the sun, even though it might only be for five minutes.

It’s been a real blessing to me to be here. Since I was 19 years old, I have been raising children. I never lived alone. It wasn’t until my daughter, Isobel, went off to college, that I moved into a little house on a farm by myself where I lived for two and a half years before I moved here. So for me, this has been amazing, just living alone. What do I do with my days? I’ve got a whole day ahead of me – what am I going to do with it? If you have the courage, you can enjoy your own company. There’ll come a time where you might have a partner that you’ll spend the rest of your life with. It’s hard to turn back the clock at that point.

Ten Windows Records is your own independent label. Do you foresee yourself growing it or releasing other artists on it? And you have some new remixes coming out too?

I would like to, but it’s kind of on hold right now because I’m not really a record-label-owner kind of person. It’s just nice to be in control of what I want to do and to release my own stuff. I have PTSD from working with Warner Brothers Records. I just couldn’t see myself doing that again.

There are so many other little labels out there. There’s this label that I’m working with, not as an artist right now, but helping another artist, Grace Evans, produce her vocals. She’s an amazing singer/songwriter. Just an amazing girl all around, so talented. Next time I do a record, I would probably rather be on another label just so that I don’t have to deal with it.

There are some more remixes of “Justify My Love” that will be released on vinyl this summer, as well as a digital release done by Miguel Migs, Charles Webster, Tom Stephan and others. A “Memories of Flying” remix project is also currently in the works with mix contributions from Lem Springsteen (Mood II Swing), Junior Rivera (R-Naldo), Tom Stephan, and others. All of these will be available on my website.


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