Ingrid Chavez: Spirit Child (A Slight Return) (Part 2 of 2)
by Miles Marshall Lewis
soulhead: Explain the whole “Justify My Love” affair for those who weren’t around to live it.
Ingrid Chavez: We were kind of getting close to finishing up the film of Graffiti Bridge in Minneapolis. Lenny [Kravitz] was playing at First Avenue, and so Prince asked me if I wanted to go see Lenny with him. So he came to pick me up and we went over. We were upstairs at the sound board and we’re listening and he goes, “OK, I’m done,” so we go all the way back to Paisley Park and he tells the driver, “OK, take her home,” which is back in Minneapolis. I’m like, “Yeah, don’t take me home, take me back to First Ave.”
Tony LeMans and I were friends, and Lenny and Tony grew up together. So I went backstage and I went, “OK, I’m Tony LeMans’s friend.” “I’ve heard of you, yeah yeah.” I wound up getting on the bus and going to Chicago with those guys that night and watched them play in Chicago and called in sick on the set. “I won’t be in tomorrow, you guys can shoot around me.” [laughter]
So Lenny and I became good friends. Whenever I was in California, I would always go hang out with Lenny. Or whenever he was in New York, we would like meet up and stuff. Whatever. He was afraid of flying. So I met him in New York and we drove down to New Orleans together and hung out.
One time, I was going to California now to reshoot the outdoor scenes for Graffiti Bridge. He was in the studio with André Betts one day and I met up with him. I was actually just hanging out with Zoë [Kravitz], just like drawing and coloring and stuff, and he was like, “Hey, do you have anything?” And I had a letter. “Yeah, I have this thing right here.” So I went on the microphone and that was all just one take, just reading it.
I was still working on the poetry record, it wasn’t fully ready and everything. So I was like, “Let’s see what Virgin [Records] thinks of this song.” ’Cause he wanted to let Virgin hear it. We went to the head of Virgin—I can’t remember who it was—and he was like, “Yeah, I like that. Can I hold onto this tape?” And I was like, “Sure.”
I contacted the studio; the studio wouldn’t talk to me anymore. The guy, whoever that was, knew immediately, like, “I know what we can do with this” and I pretty much got blocked. But, he is one of the only people who’s ever heard the original. ’Cause I was hanging out with him in-between doing the song and going to Virgin. We hung out and he heard the original. And so, I never got another copy of it.
soulhead: When did you first become aware it would be a Madonna single?
Ingrid Chavez: The night of the Graffiti Bridge premiere, someone came in and said, “Lenny Kravitz is downstairs, he wants to see you.” [The Ziegfeld Theater in] New York, that’s where the premiere was. So I went downstairs and got in the car. And that was the first time I heard it. He’d told me about it one other time when I was in New York. And that’s when he was very cagey about it and was like, “You have to sign off on this if you want…” And that wasn’t like him, that wasn’t the friendship that I had with Lenny. So it was just kind of weird. He was like, “No one will ever know that you wrote this” or something. It was one of these things where, “You just need to sign it and you’ll get some money. You’ll get a percentage, you’ll own part of the publishing but no one will ever know.”
The problem is, when it did come out, I never told Prince. I never told anyone, ’cause I honored the thing that I did with Lenny. But when the song came out, Prince called me up and was like, “Um, what’s up with that Madonna song ‘Justify My Love’? That’s you.”
It kind of created a little bit of bad blood because, like, “Are you stupid? Your record hasn’t even come out yet and people are gonna think that you’re copying Madonna.” So that was when I was actually just like, “Ugh. I got screwed.” So I contacted a lawyer. I got some of the best lawyers and they were just like, “We got this.”
I could have kept going but it was getting nasty. Those were the MTV days. Actually, that whole thing turned me off to the music business. I ended up meeting David Sylvian, who was someone I really admired musically. “I’m good. I’m just gonna live through your music for a little while.” After Prince and the Lenny Kravitz thing, I was like, “You know? I think I need to step back from this, because I’m not made of this.” This kind of airing your stuff out publicly was humiliating to me.
soulhead: Are you generally a private person?
Ingrid Chavez: I’m very private. My children, I’ve maybe in all of the years posted like three pictures where they’re in a photograph with me. I’m not friends with any of them on the sites because I don’t want people… Their dad is famous, but their dad’s got crazy psycho fans that live through him like, “What is he gonna do next?” What is my life gonna be next based on what his life is? When we got divorced, people were like, “You broke his heart. Take him back!”
After that, I was done. I literally turned my back on music. [May 19, 1992] got put out into the world and I had no idea if anybody listened to it, if anybody bought it, nothing. I was doing a promotional tour when I made that connection with David, so we were married a few months after meeting. And then I was like, “I’m done.”
soulhead: When was the last time you spoke to Prince?
Ingrid Chavez: Shortly after I got married. I was talking to him and I told him, “I’m married now” and he said “OK. Congratulations, that’s cool.” Just one of those kind of conversations.
soulhead: What can you tell me about Tony LeMans? There’s a whole apocryphal story of how Prince rescinded a song called “Fuschia Light” for his album because he thought you guys were dating. But how did you meet?
Ingrid Chavez: Just from him hanging out in Minneapolis. He would come and record at Paisley Park and I’d met him because he was already coming and recording at Paisley Park, so I assume he was signed already. I’m not sure. Prince and I didn’t even talk anymore, so as far as I was concerned, I didn’t think anything about it.
But Tony, he was a sad character. I didn’t realize it when I was with him, but he was so heavily doing these drugs and stuff. I thought that he just smoked a ton of weed and that’s who he was. He never showed that to me, he never ever did anything around me. I wasn’t really aware that Prince sort of had that… That’s just a story that I actually just heard recently again for the first time. Like I said, when I walked away from it all, I didn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t associate with anyone, I didn’t try to, I was like out. There are stories that I hear now like, “Did you know…?” No, I didn’t know.
I just came across some pictures of us recently. He was just such a teddy bear of a person. He was so sweet. He was so unguarded. He let everybody in, the good and the bad. I didn’t realize his drug problem. I was going back and forth to California a lot. That’s when I realized he was pretty messed up. He was also drinking a lot too. He was just a real mess, but when he was in the presence of me, he was sweet, straight. I think that he had a drug problem and didn’t have anybody really there trying to help him.
soulhead: What brought you back to music?
Ingrid Chavez: Maybe about 2006, this guy who was a huge fan of [May 19, 1992] contacted me through my lawyer. “There’s this guy out in Sacramento, he’s a fan of your record and wants to know if you would be willing to perform it live while he does a San Francisco fashion show.” I was like, “Really?! I’ll talk to him.” And this guy was like, “Oh my god, I’m talking to Ingrid Chavez!” “Yeah…” What’s happening here? [laughter] “So are you down for this?” “I guess. What have I got to lose?” “Do you have a Myspace page? You need to make it.”
The funny thing is, I went to start a Myspace page and somebody had my name with a picture of [May 19, 1992] on it. “What?! What’s happening? Why? I’m so confused.” But when I opened up my Myspace account, people were like, “Oh my god, your record helped me get through college” or “it helped me through a bad marriage.” I was completely amazed. That’s what got me back doing it.
So now I’m on Myspace. And people are like, “You’re David Sylvian’s wife, oh my god, I love David Sylvian.” “Oh, you’re Ingrid Chavez, I love…” whatever. So I had people coming at me. Then people would start writing to me, and there were musicians. This was all new to me, this communicating with people online.
When I was gonna go out to California, the guy who was going to be engineering the sound for that, he said, “Maybe you want to get back into music. I’m a producer, I do stuff.” He said, “Go to my Myspace page, I have all these songs you can listen to. I work with different people.” I was like, “OK, I’m doing this.” So I recorded the demos for three songs. When I went out there, I was supposed to record these songs. But the day I landed, I lost my voice! And I knew that in a week, I had to be able to do this live show. The three songs I picked happened to belong to this one guy named Marco Valentin.
So the recording didn’t happen. I did the show, went back home. And this guy, Lorenzo Scopelliti, started talking to me on Myspace and sent me a song and I recorded something to it. So we just started one by one over a three-year period making this record. So that record came out, it was my first solo album since [May 19, 1992]. I did do something with my ex-husband, it was an EP, Little Girls With 99 Lives.
soulhead: How did that project end up?
Ingrid Chavez: We didn’t connect that way. I was just, “I’m not feeling it.” But we connected in other ways. We made babies and stuff. [laughter] After the release of A Flutter and Some Words—most of it was recorded in Savona, Italy, up near the French border—when that came out, I was like, “OK, now what?”
I got this very mysterious message on Myspace. Something like, “Hey, what kind of cereal do you eat? And can I make some music for you?” I said, “I don’t know, what do you sound like?” So he sent me an email with a zip file that I had forgot about. I downloaded it and everything but I didn’t listen to it. And then there was a Massive Attack record out, Heligoland. I was listening to it driving, I had a couple of hours drive ahead of me, and I was listening to it, and I was like, “I want some beats. I wanna do something different. I want some heavier, darker, downtempo beats. Oh yeah, that guy who sent me some music!” So I went and unzipped and went, “OK.”
I contacted him, and so we started writing back and forth and he’d send me files and then one day he finally signed his name. He never signed his name the first time. Then he signed his name and it was Marco Valentin, and I went back to a few years earlier and looked for who those songs were, and it was him. ’Cause I’d never talked to that guy again. It was like four years later! He was like, “Hey, what kind of cereal do you eat? And can I make some music for you?” “You’re the guy I recorded those songs with four years ago.” He was like, “Yeah.” That’s so Marco Valentin.
So we wound up making a record. We called the band Black Eskimo, and it was the deep and heavy record. It won two Independent Music Awards for spoken word. I got to do that, to make that record I wanted to make. I wanted also to challenge myself lyrically, rhythmically. It was everything that I wanted it to be.
soulhead: How has it been returning to the universe of Prince since his passing?
Ingrid Chavez: They were doing the first PRN Alumni event and they were like, “Who is somebody that we really respect that could actually really offer something to this that isn’t overly saturated?” And so my manager from back in the day contacted me and said, “There’s an event coming up and they were thinking they would like for you to come and read a poem.” So they had me come out. And that’s when I wrote “You Gave Me Wings,” and I spoke it, did a spoken word. And it was later turned into the song I released.
So there was that. And then the next thing was, Mark, my boyfriend, he manages Jesse Johnson and Maya McClean. So he was going out just this last Celebration 2018, ’cause he was representing her and she was on a panel and everything. When he went out, he said, “Just come with me.” I wasn’t invited to do anything at Paisley Park. “Just come. See what happens.” So I didn’t go to Paisley Park. I wasn’t invited. They wouldn’t even let me come. They were like, “Oh, we’ve used all our guest passes up.” I was like, “You’re gonna pay me big time next time you invite me to come, ’cause I tried to come for free. Next time, don’t even think about it, you’re paying me.” [laughter]
soulhead: I heard Jill Jones had a problem getting banned there.
Ingrid Chavez: Apollonia got kicked out! So I was like, “You know what? I’m just gonna go to all the parties, all the gatherings, everything.” It worked, ’cause that’s where I ran into all of these people: on the outside. And that’s how I wound up in London doing the Prince tribute song at Café de Paris. I would go to these parties and they’d be like, “Oh my god, Ingrid Chavez! Aura!” The PRN Alumni Foundation was more about alumni only. There were some fans, but the first one was people who worked with Prince. This time, it was purely fans. And they were so… I couldn’t even believe it. I did go to Paisley Park at the end because I went to go see The Family play. And I’m friends with Paul Peterson and all those guys, so it’s just like, “Just come to the show!”
soulhead: I saw you at a show for Morris Day and the Time at BB King’s before they close.
Ingrid Chavez: That’s the first time I saw him since the movie. That was really sweet. He’s so funny. Mark’s really good friends with those guys.
I think whether people like what I do or not, I’ve been true to myself as an artist. It’s been a very definite style that’s unique to what I do. I don’t think that everybody likes it all the time, but I can always feel secure that no matter what I do, this is my own little world that I made over here and I do my thing and then I put it out there.
Please check out Part 1 of Ingrid Chavez: Spirit Child (A Slight Return)
Check out the other Paisley Diaries in this series:
Check out Ingrid’s latest single, “All The Love in the World.”
Miles Marshall Lewis has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Ebony, Essence and many other publications. His work has appeared in Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, and elsewhere. He’s also the author of There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises. Follow MML on Twitter and Instagram. Check out some of his work for soulhead.