Interview: Ingrid Chavez on her friendship with Prince and working with him as Paisley Park opened its doors

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Ingrid Chavez
Ingrid Chavez details her first meeting with Prince in an interview with Andrea Swensson. (Minju Kim | MPR)
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Ingrid Chavez met Prince at a pivotal point in his life — so pivotal, in fact, that on the night they met, he famously called up Warner Bros. Records and demanded that they pull his about-to-be-released Black Album, and turned all his attention toward creating the more inspirational, spiritually uplifting Lovesexy release.

In between recording sessions for Lovesexy, which has traces of her influence all over it, Ingrid and Prince also collaborated on an atmospheric, improvisational poetry album that they would release a few years later on his Paisley Park Records. She would also co-star in his 1990 film Graffiti Bridge before moving away to focus on other projects. Ingrid told me about that poignant night that they first met in Uptown, Minneapolis, her sweet friendship with Prince, and what it was like to work together at Paisley Park back in the winter of 1987-1988, when the building was just opening its doors.

Interview transcript


Andrea Swensson: Thank you for coming in. I'm excited to talk to you.

Ingrid Chavez: I'm excited to be back in Minneapolis. I was just here last week.

Swensson: Yes, so you were here for the celebration out at Paisley Park, and you were taking part in a panel discussion about Graffiti Bridge, so I want to ask you a little bit about what memories that brought back, but I though we'd start with I want to know the beginning of your story here in Minneapolis. How did you come to this city?

Chavez: I was living in Atlanta, GA, and I started a band with a guy that was from Minneapolis. His name was Steve Snow, and we had a band called China Dance, and we were down in Atlanta, and we had just acquired all this equipment. We were getting ready to start rehearsing and do our thing, and we left to take a friend to the airport, and we came back, and someone had stolen all of our stuff. So having nothing left in Atlanta, we decided we'd come to Minneapolis, where he was from. So we moved here with my young son. He was a year old, and we moved to the north side, which, whenever I come back to Minneapolis I'm always cruising around looking for the places I lived in. I didn't quite find the house, but I was on the phone with Katherine Copeland, who was my best friend. She's married to Andre Cymone. So she was the first person I met here because she and Steve were school friends, and so I was on the phone with her, and she's on Google Maps like take a left here, I think it was down here, I think it was left on Morgan Ave. — it was really cute, but I never did find the exact house. So I moved here and I guess it was about '86 maybe, and a little over a year later I ran into Prince, and that's when this whole other chapter of my life started.

Swensson: So tell us the story of meeting Prince. I know you were at Williams's Pub in Uptown Minneapolis.

Chavez: Yes. Back then — I'm not sure what William's Pub is like anymore. I see that it's still there, but upstairs they had funk night on Tuesday I think, and so that was the only night I ever went to William's Pub. So one night I went there and I happened to be by myself because a friend of mine had cancelled on me, and I almost didn't go because it was like I don't want to go alone. But I did, and I saw Prince come in and went sat by the bar. There was something kind of sad about the way he looked that night. So I sent him a note, and I just said, in the note, "Hi. Remember me? Probably not. That's okay. Smile. I love it when you smile." I handed it to him and he had someone come over, and he asked me to sit with him. He asked me what my name was, and I said Gertrude. I asked him what his name was and he said Dexter. So that's who we were to each other all the way through the time that we worked with each other. I never called him Prince. That was in the day when he was wearing the little mirror hearts on his wrist, and so he took it off and put it on my wrist and asked me what I do. I said I'm a musician. Then he asked me if I wanted to take a ride, if I wanted to go to Paisley Park. I said yes.

Swensson: That night.

Chavez: Yeah, that night. And Paisley Park was really new back then. It had just been built. He took me to Paisley Park, and the room now that they have - the Purple Rain room — I didn't really understand the evening, but he asked me to stay in that room and he left for a while. But apparently he had taken a drive with Cat, and had called up Susan Rogers, and done all these things. Susan Rogers came that night, and he wanted her to meet me. She was probably thinking like what — you crazy man, what are you doing? It's 1:00 in the morning or whatever time it was. So that's the first night that I met him. Then he took me home. That was that. There was nothing else that happened that night.

Swensson: So he left you hanging in Studio C for a while.

Chavez: Yeah.

Swensson: Did you do anything while you were in there, any impulse to create or record or do anything?

Chavez: If I remember correctly I had some paper, and I think he'd given me a candle. There were always candles at Paisley Park back in the day, so that's the good thing about going into those studios. They had all the fabrics and the candles and all the beautiful stuff, and now they're just back to these spaces without that life in it.

Swensson: I've heard this story so many times second hand, I'm hoping you can clear it up. Can you tell use why Prince didn't release the Black album?

Chavez: Honestly, I don't know, because we didn't ever talk about that. I didn't know anything about the Black album, I didn't know that it had been cancelled until later on, so that was something that happened that I have heard second hand as well.

Swensson: No one knows.

Chavez: Yeah.

Swensson: So one thing that you were very involved in was the creation of the Lovesexy album. You were working in the studios at the same time that Prince was starting to work on that album. Tell us more about this winter you spent at Paisley Park working with Prince.

Chavez: I met him December 1, and shortly after that he asked me if — he said — he already knew I was a musician, so he put me in the studio — Studio B — and said let's see what you got. That day I went in with nothing — no idea what I was going to do. The reason why I'm sitting here to this day is because I've always said yes. I said okay, and I went in with basically an electric guitar that I didn't really know how to play, but I knew how to make weird sounds on it, and I recorded "Reason Enough" and "Cross the Line" that night, and so there's backwards vocals, there's backwards guitar, and spoken word, and I played a tambourine. The engineer was really being helpful. He was trying to help me pull these weird songs together. I remember when I was done Prince came in and said, "Okay, can I hear it?" I said okay and the engineer played it. Prince stood there. His eyes were so wide, and he was just staring at me, and I was like uh-oh, have I just totally weirded him out? Apparently not, because he wound up using that actual recording in the intermission of Lovesexy. So the story goes, obviously, that that night he cancelled — the night we met he cancelled the Black album and decided to start writing Lovesexy. And then also Prince was very much attracted to my spoken word and my voice, so he featured me on "Alphabet Street" in the opening of the album. So at some point — because I would write him all these letters and poems and stuff, and one day he was like okay look, you write 21 poems and we'll go and make a record. I was like okay. I was going to sit down and do my poems. And so when I had them — most of them were just written during that period anyway, so we went into the studio. It was already '88 because it was about a month later. So he put me in the vocal booth and put me at a microphone, and he was in the sound room with a synthesizer, and he would say, "What's the title of the poem?" And I would say, "Heaven Must Be Near, or Elephant Box." And he'd say okay and start playing around with some sounds and pick a sound that sounded like Elephant Box or Heaven Must Be Near or whatever, and he'd say, "Okay, start reading." So we read through all the poems that way, and then he was working on Lovesexy and I was working on the poetry album. So if you put those two records side by side they really do mirror each other and they speak to each other. For me to say what did you guys talk about back then, it's like just listen to those two records. That's what we spoke about. Then everything kind of died down. He started getting ready for the Lovesexy tour, and he went on the Lovesexy tour, and I just went back into my little world and started another band called Skyfish, and there started another chapter of my life.

Swensson: So Prince would call you 'the spirit child'? Is that right?

Chavez: Yeah, that's what he called me on that album.

Swensson: So I'm curious to know more about — because I really get the sense that you connected on almost a spiritual level with Prince. What can you tell us about what you saw in each other and that connection you shared?

Chavez: It's hard for me to look back on that and know exactly what it was, but he was attracted to something that I think a lot of people are attracted to — to who I am, and that's just that I just love the poetry of life, and so spending time with him and speaking about like we would talk about God and life and just a very positive space we were in. When I think about us I really think about that winter like we were just huddled down for the winter and just like in a cave, and these two records were born out of that, and I don't know what Prince was going through that made him shift gears so extremely. It's almost like from darkness to light, but I just happened to be that person that was there, and I was ready to step up to the challenge of being there for him, to work with him, to talk with him, to spend time that was meaningful for the both of us I believe. And then life shifted. I don't think that we ever — we weren't in contact for all that time, but I went and got married and he got married, but it was a special time.

Swensson: I want to ask you one more thing about specifically working in Paisley Park, because you returned to play a role in Graffiti Bridge as the angel. Tell us about coming back into the fold then, and what was that like, to be all of a sudden starring in a movie?

Chavez: Prince is the one who directed "Heaven Must Be Near," that video, and Craig Rice filmed it. So by the time they went to do Graffiti Bridge and they were looking for the character for the Aura character, Prince was asking around different — having Craig go out and audition different actresses, and I think when he came back around, he remembered — Craig always liked me, and he liked the spirit of who I was and stuff, so he came back to Prince and said, "You know, Ingrid is Aura. She's that character and I think that you should just — like she's here already. You already have her." And so they had me audition, and I remember the scene they had me audition was the scene where I'm drunk with Morris Day [ph] where I hiccup. But the whole thing — I guess I played a drunk person well enough to get the part. So coming back into it was just a whirlwind. The first time I went into his world it was winter and it was quiet and it was really sweet and we were all in this creative mode. And this time it was people all around and just a whirlwind. One of the first things he did was fatten me up I think. They had someone coming and delivering food to me every day, like okay we need to fatten you up a little bit. That was always nice, getting food delivered. But that was very challenging to me because I'd never acted, and again, I said yes before really like thinking about what is that going to mean for me. But I threw myself into it and watched it. I've only seen the film twice since it was released. I went to the premiere with my son. And then Mother's Day last year. I saw it for the first time with my daughters — 21 and 25 — and one of my daughters was like cringing — I can't watch — and the other one was like oh my god you're so beautiful. They're so very different. So seeing it through their eyes was fun and interesting, but the day before Graffiti Bridge came out I watched it by myself without the influence of second hand embarrassment and adoration. It got a bad rap in the beginning because people just didn't know what to expect. Looking back on it I feel like I didn't appreciate it because I think I saw it through the lens of people who were critical of it and critical of me as an actress. Back then I think I maybe saw a few reviews of the movie or anything that I did I may have seen a few reviews. And back then I stopped reading any kind of reviews because I just don't need to. It gives you a whoop sense of your own work. So I don't read reviews anymore, but I think in hindsight it did affect me, and so I was afraid to watch it again. But watching the other day before the panel I was — this is a cute film and I didn't do that bad of a job. It was the character. It's kind of fun to look back and see yourself so young like that.

Swensson: It makes me wonder how many people have never even seen it, because maybe it got stopped before it even really had a chance for people to discover it. I want to talk a little bit more about what you're up to now because you have a new album out this month.

Chavez: I do. It's out on the 17th.

Swensson: Yes. Tell me about returning to the studio. I know you've recorded a few things before this, but this is a real moment for you, that you're putting out this full album. Tell me about how it came together.

Chavez: After May 1992, the record got pretty much shelved, and after the whole "Justify My Love" ordeal, which is what it felt like at the time, I met my ex-husband, David Sylvian and we worked together a little bit, which we do have some recordings that were released, but we started a family and I just kind of threw myself into that, and really did turn my back on music for all those years because I was kind of hurt by the whole experience of it. And so I guess in about 2007 I started recording again, and I started a record A Flutter And Some Words, which is a really beautiful record. I recorded it in Italy with this Italian musician, and then after that, as soon as that was over, I was ready to do a new project, but I wanted it to different because A Flutter And Some Words didn't have a lot of heavy beats or anything, and I was feeling really I wanted to do a more like heavy bass and drum and bass and just laid back beats and stuff. So I started a band called Black Eskimo with Marco Valentine and we did a record called Deep and Heady, and I thought we were going to do another record, but things didn't work that way, so I decided to do another solo album, and so some of the musicians who I worked with on this record did remixes for the Deep and Heady album, and so when it came time to start looking for collaborators I started working with them. So this record, Members of Flying, took four years, and I've realized that it takes me three to four years to make a record, to conceive of it, to pull it all together — all the elements — to figure it all out and record it and mix it, manufacture it and put it out into the world. So this took the same four years. Every record that I've done has been just me with one other writer, and this is the first time I've done a record, besides the May 1992 record, which from now on we'll call 'the poetry record', I've worked with only one person, and this one, there's a few different co-writers on it, so there's Mashti from the Mashti project He performed with me at Prime Six. There's Peter Musebrink of Deep Dive Corporation, and he's out of Germany. Mashti is out of Denmark. There's also Charles Webster out of England, and Marco Valentine from Black Eskimos on it as well. And Ganga. He's out of Denmark as well. So there's all these different writers, and it has given it — it was interesting to try to work it out — how's this all going to be — sound like one piece and be cohesive. But the thread obviously is my voice and my style of writing, so somehow we brought it all together and I think it works. It's a beautiful record I think.

Swensson: It is a beautiful record.

Chavez: Have you heard it?

Swensson: I have. We've been playing one of the songs on Purple Current.

Chavez: Which one?

Swensson: I just blanked. It's the My Heart. No, All the Love in the World. I know it has to do with loving and hearts. Ingrid, thank you so much for talking to me today.

Chavez: Thank you for inviting me.

PURPLE CURRENT playlist

Swensson: So like I said, we're going to just run down a few songs, and then if you want to throw in some too, this will be part of a Purple Current shift. I was going to ask you about Justify My Love, but I don't know if you want to — I thought it might be an interesting one, just to see what you have to say. Why don't we start with that? What can you tell us about what we all know as Madonna's song, Justify My Love, that actually started with you?

Chavez: When we were filming Graffiti Bridge, Prince one night asked me if I wanted to go see Lenny Kravitz play at First Ave. after we were shooting one day, so we went and he had a driver take us, and Lenny was playing and we were hanging out, and then Prince was tired, so he was like okay let's go. And Lenny was only halfway through his set, so he had the driver — I rode with him all the way to Chanhassen. He told the driver to take me back home, and as soon as Prince got out of the car I said take me back to First Ave. I'm going to continue watching this show. So I got back there, and I think Lenny was already finished, but — so I went backstage to meet him and we happened to have a mutual friend, Tony LaMoss [ph]. So — Tony Lamons [ph]? I can't remember. Anyway, so we had a mutual friend, and I went back to say hi, and he knew who I was because of Tony, and so we just became friends that night, and so we started hanging out whenever I'd be in LA or when he was in New York. We would connect, and one time when I was in LA he was in the studio with Andre Betts [ph], and they invited me. They were laying down the beat, and he had laid down that synth line, and he said, "Ingrid, do you have anything?" I said, "I have a letter. I can just go and read that letter." And so basically that was The Letter, and the way that Madonna sings it is exactly the way it was laid down, so she just went in and they just put her voice on top of mine. A little while later — no one told me that this was going to be for anybody but me. This was my song. So a little while I heard that Madonna was going to do it, and that they didn't want anybody to know that I had written it. I kind of got talked into being a ghostwriter on it, but as soon as it came out Prince called me up immediately and said, "Ingrid, what's up with that Madonna song, Justify My Love? That's you. I know it's you. I hear your voice. It's you." And that was the first time I told anybody — anybody — about it. He was upset. He was like your record is about to come out and people are going to think you're copying Madonna. And so the very next day I got lawyers and made sure that did not happen, that Madonna didn't get the credit for writing that, that it was my song. That's part of what turned me off about the music business, being sort of taken advantage like that.

Swensson: That makes a lot of sense. Prince fighting for your rights.

Chavez: I know, I was like what. Go get your money.

Swensson: I want to ask you about some of the songs from both your solo record that you made with Prince, and then the Lovesexy songs, and if we can it would be great to play some back-to-back that maybe have some similarities. I think that would be really interesting. So I know for sure that there's similarities between Heaven Must Be Near and I Wish You Heaven. So let's start with Heaven Must Be Near. Where did that one come from?

Chavez: Heaven Must Be Near was one of those poems that I wrote for Prince, and it's just — it talks a lot about love. You can sense there's some insecurity in there about relationship stuff, but we talked a lot about heaven, and just what is that, what happens when we're not here any longer, and is there — heaven is on hearth to you can live that life, you can live as though heaven is on earth. So that was a poem I wrote for him.

Swensson: And then I Wish You Heaven — what do you remember about that coming to you?

Chavez: I don't really remember. I only just — he was like here, listen to this song. But it's the same theme and stuff.

Swensson: Right on. You had mentioned something to me at Paisley about Alphabet Street. Can you tell us a little bit of the backstory of your theories about that song?

Chavez: He would sometimes just ask me to talk or just say stuff, just because he liked to hear me talking. One time for lack of anything more interesting to say, I just started reciting the alphabet, and next thing you know there's Alphabet Street. And he had me come into the studio and record me saying the alphabet, and as people may have noticed, there's no 'G' there, but that was not intentional. He was just playing around with me, and I got distracted.

Swensson: That's funny. That's Ingrid's alphabet.

Chavez: People are like 'does that mean God'? No.

Swensson: I think this song is so much fun — Slappy Dappy. Where do those words come from?

Chavez: Those words come from a person who was not being treated well — a person who was allowing someone to mistreat them, and that's what you get when — I was being exposed to so many different people and relationships, and this was all in the world that I had been thrown into with Prince, and so just as an observer, all these songs were just what I was seeing and experienced, and Slappy Dappy was one of those relationships that I was witnessing.

Swensson: How about Jade Stone?

Chavez: There's a book called Aztec, and it was something I read when I was much younger as a teenager, and there's a character in there called Jade Stone that — she was incredibly beautiful, but everyone who became one of her lovers, she turned to stone, and so it was just like that was one of the only things — songs on that album that I think are me sort of looking back on something I've read. But it was a character that really stood out to me.

Swensson: And then Whispering Dandelions.

Chavez: That was a poem for Prince. I used to live over near Franklin, in Stevens community. Who didn't live there. There's like a million apartments in the Stevens community. I used to live there, and whenever I would walk to downtown or something, or if I wanted to go over the Loring Park or something, I would go — there's that bridge over by the Walker and Loring and everything. Under there, there's a chain link fence that's still there, and behind it were these huge dandelion heads. I could never pick one because they were behind the fence, but they were huge. They were the size of a baseball, and they were fascinating to me. And so when I met Prince I wrote that poem for him, and then one day I was at a shop and I saw that they had them — like they were paperweights and they were encased in this heavy resin. And I remember buying it for him, and when I was at his house I wanted to give him this gift, so I said sit on the floor over there, and I sat on the floor across the room and rolled it to him. I remember him picking it up, and just the most beautiful smile, like if you could get Prince to smile one of those big gorgeous smiles of his, it lit the room up and it lit me up as well. I loved his smile. So I got to make that happen that day with the dandelion ball.

Swensson: That's so sweet. I would love to hear if there's other Lovesexy tracks that you have stories that you might want to share.

Chavez: Anastasia is about the night we met.

Swensson: Let's start with that — Anastasia.

Chavez: That's the song that's the beginning of our friendship. I think that's it as far as — that song, Anastasia, is just really important to me.

Swensson: What's it like for you to listen to it now?

Chavez: Just to know that I'm the character in that song is like it just lives on. It goes on beyond me. It's bigger than me, and to know that that night really meant something so special to him, and me of course. I don't know where I would be. I would've been a musician anyways because that was my path, but it would've taken a totally different course, and I may not have wound up in Europe — where I didn't meet David there, but the connection was made in Europe, and I have my two daughters. So there's so many things that were born out of that night, including that song.

Swensson: I wanted to ask if there's anything from the Graffiti Bridge album. I know you weren't involved in the recording of it, but if there's a song that maybe reminded you of being back on set and everything.

Chavez: One thing that doesn't have anything to do with being on set, but Thieves In The Temple, when he recorded that he was so excited. And for him to come and be like Ingrid, you come to the studio, you got to hear this song. It's so good just to know when he knows something is good and for him to drag you in and want to share that with you is a really special thing. What is the song — I can't remember the name of it — where we're in the back alley and I'm in the dress. It's the night after. I can't remember that song.

Swensson: I should've printed off that track listing.

Chavez: That song is so beautiful too, and jus the scene of me and him together is just so tender, and when I look at that there's just such a tenderness between the two of us in that scene, and I just feel so blessed to have gotten to have that experience with him. Then I really loved the bar scene where I was singing and dancing with Morris Day and Jerome. That was so outside of my character, like to be able to really step up and be like okay I can do this. To look back on the film and see some of those scenes is really fun. I can't remember the name of the song. What was it?

Swensson: That's okay. I'll look it up later and go ahh. I almost wonder if could play a little clip of you talking in the movie. I think that might be kind of fun. Cool.

Chavez: I know when I was doing the Graffiti Bridge panel, somebody shouted out some lines that I — I was like--

Swensson: That's what I love about celebration. Like they were doing that during Jesse Johnsons' interview too. He would say, "What was that?" and they'd know the date it was recorded and everything. That's so cool. I would love to give you an opportunity to open up all of Prince's catalog. Are there any songs you would request is we were putting together an hour of music?

Chavez: One of my favorite songs is Uptown. It was before I moved here — to love that song and then to come here and like this is Uptown, this is what the song is about. That was really big for me.

Swensson: And you met Prince in Uptown. What are the chances?

Chavez: I know, what are the chances? It was so off my radar because I was already in — like I was deeply into David Sylvian's music around the time I met Prince, so it was off my radar that my life would go this way, and then go back that way. Isn't it strange? Life is interesting. You just got to yes, though.

Swensson: I love that.

Chavez: You got to yes, because you just don't know what opportunities are before you if you just say yes and throw yourself into it. That's what I've done and that's why I'm here talking to you, Andrea.

Swensson: I love that. My friend gave me a little pin that says 'yes' from the Lovesexy tour. I wear it sometimes. It's really important to me too.

Chavez: That was another thing. Prince was really excited for me to come and watch the rehearsals because he couldn't wait to see my expression when I heard my voice in the intermission. So just really sweet — really sweet. He just really loved giving and making people happy.

Swensson: One more song I wanted to ask you about that you just released last year was You Gave Me Wings. What can you tell us about writing that?

Chavez: Ganga], who is the co-writer on that, he had sent me the music for that and I'd been sitting around it for a few weeks, and finally I was like I need to — I'm going to write to it. I know I'm going to write to it. So I had just gotten a new puppy — a little French bulldog named Suky — I had gone down to New York and adopted her because the guy who was looking after her didn't want her anymore, so I wanted her, so I went and got her. So I put her in the car. I put my backpack and my notebook and everything in my car, and I brought the song to listen to, because that's how I write. A lot of times I throw music in the car and just start driving. So on this day before I left town I stopped to get coffee, and Catherine Copeland, she called me when I had already parked my car. She called and said, "Had you heard anything, because I'm not sure it's a hoax, but I just heard that Prince had passed away." I said I don't know, I haven't heard anything. But literally within the time she said that, both our phones started blowing up, so we were like something's happened. And that's when I got the news that he — what had happened, and so I just started driving and listening to the song, and those are the words, and that melody on that drive, are what came. So they were written on the actual day, and it really sums up — it talks about our time together, what we shared. If anybody wants to know anything about my time with Prince you can listen to that song, and it just talks about the winter and things that we spoke about and what he meant to me and what he gave to me and what I gave to him.

Swensson: I had no idea that close to finding out. That's really powerful.

Chavez: Really like I'm about to go out with this song and just take it for a drive and hear that news, and I just started driving for about an hour and half and then I wound up at this place in Montague, MA. It's a really cool place. It's an old book mill, and they had a place where you could sit outside, so I sat outside with Suky and just wrote the lyrics down and made sure that I had them, and drove home. And then I recorded the vocals, and then shortly after that I was invited to the PRN alumni foundation — their first PRN alumni foundation event, and I just spoke them for everybody there. So that's that. That's the thing about being an artist and being in the moment of the your life though, is like writing about things that are happening and crying in your life, which is why all my records are so deeply personal, because that's why they take time, because I'm not trying to just like turn out somebody else's stories. I'm trying to live my life and have something. I call it mining for gold, like just trying to like bring it out and share the way that I see and feel things.
Swensson: Thank you so much for taking the time to share these stories with us. They're really important and I'm glad you're here.

Chavez: Thank you. I'm glad you invited me.

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