Pop Music is shorthand for ‘popular in the taste of many.’ Poetry uses words to provoke emotional or sensual responces, often adding a creative meaning to a message. The music industry produces its share of mass-consumed anthems to escapism, but occasionally, a voice and talent is heard among the offerings and it shines when surrounded by others’ work.
A Flutter and Some Words is Ingrid’s long-awaited return to songwriting. She was gracious to oblige our request for an interview during the launch and promotion of her new album.
TP. Your eponymous album Ingrid Chavez – May 19,1992 (released in 1991, The title is the first anniversary of the date the cover art was photographed) was a revelation and the spoken words, the poetry and the dance-pop tracks were visionary for that time. How did the collaboration with Prince begin?
IC. I ran into Prince at a nightclub in 1987 I think, and we made an instant connection. I was bold enough to tell him that I was a singer-songwriter. I started writing poetry for him and he really liked it. He wanted to see what I would do in the studio on my own so he gave me a day in the studio at Paisley Park. I had no idea what I might do in there but I was up for the challenge. I recorded some very strange pieces. I’ve always loved experimenting with flipping tracks so I had backwards guitar and pitched vocals with layers of harmony. I had the engineer help me record some percussion and then the vocals were a mix of spoken word and singing. I recorded two tracks that day. Both were very strange and the look on his face was priceless. He was intrigued. He made an offer that if I wrote 21 poems that he and I would go into the studio together. Once I had the poems, we went in and he put me on a microphone and set up a keyboard in the control room. He would ask the title of the poem, play around sounds on his keyboard until he found a sound that suited the title and then he would signal for me to start reading. We went through all 21 poems this way. The original performance was completely improvised. Prince and I parted ways shortly after that and I went on to form a band with Richard Werbowenko called Skyfish. I ran into Prince’s brother one day and gave him a copy of the Skyfish record to give to Prince. I came home a few days later and my little apartment was completely filled with white flowers. Prince called and said that he just finished recording Heaven Must Be Near and that it sounded like spring time in Paris. He asked me if I would like to finish the Poetry album.
TP. Tell us about your childhood and your musical education. At what point did you decide to pursue a career in music?
IC. I remember falling in love with David Bowie’s song Fame. I didn’t buy many records as a child but I did buy that single and although I loved Fame it was the B-side, Golden Years that I fell in love with. I started fantasizing about being a singer myself, I suppose. Later I would discover Prince and that was when I decided I would make becoming a singer/songwriter my goal. A few years later I discovered David Sylvian’s music and it heavily influenced my approach to writing lyrics and my songwriting in general. I had no formal musical education. Music was just a calling.
TP. Were you a femme fatale, a tomboy or a geek in high school?
IC. I didn’t really belong in any group in high school. For the most part I would say that I was a bit of an outsider looking in, counting down the days for it all to end.
TP. Most singers and other performers looking to break into the business go to New York, Los Angeles or Tennessee. Why Minnesota?
IC. It was fate and an unfortunate turn of events that would place me in Minneapolis. I was living in Atlanta and I was in a band called China Dance with my partner at the time, Steve Snow. We moved into this old candy factory on the outskirts of the city. It was big enough for us to live, record and rehearse in. A few weeks after moving in, we left for a few hours to take a friend to the airport and when we came back, everything was gone. All of our equipment was stolen. Steve is originally from Minneapolis, so the logical thing to do was to move there and start over. About a year after moving there, Steve and I went our separate ways. The arts and music were thriving in the city back then, so it wasn’t too long before I was on my merry musical way.
TP. Of artists that inspired you, were there any men or women who made a lasting impression on your style or your charismatic presence?
IC. Marlene Dietrich was a great inspiration for me. I loved her style. She was strong and she influenced my love of women wearing men’s clothing. I was also really influenced by the world of Man Ray during his Paris years. That influence shows in the video for Elephant Box and the May 19, 1992 album artwork. I worked with Mathew Rolston on the video because he loved Man Ray as well and he heard me when I said I wanted to bring Man Ray’s photographs to life.
TP. Most artists have beautiful stories to tell behind their songs. Tell us a bit more about your first single, By The Water.
IC. By The Water is a very sensual song. It’s about that moment when you lay yourself open and allow yourself to be vulnerable, that moment when you let someone in and they let you in.
TP. What are favourite moments or anecdotes you would like to share with us from the development of your album A Flutter and Some Words?
IC. Well, I got to spend some wonderful time in Northern Italy. All of the vocals were recorded there over three different sessions. One time we were at a big beautiful retreat space called Shanti House on the countryside in a region called Lunigiana. It borders Tuscany. We set up a recording space in one of the buildings on the property, The Gompa. It was very hot in August and of course, there was no air conditioning, so we would close the windows to record the vocals and then quickly opened them up for playback. It was over 100 degrees outside. At one point it just got too hot to close the windows and we were recording some flexible tubing that Lorenzo found on the property that when swung in circles made a really interesting whistling sound. We were working on the title track, A Flutter And Some Words. Every time we would push record these birds outside the windows would start singing really lovely melodies very loudly. We decided that they should be on the recordings or rather they decided, so we recorded them and they appear in A Flutter Coda.
TP. What inspires you?
IC. Beginnings and endings; snow, the change of seasons. Driving. Andrei Tarkovsky. Sally Mann. Writing a new song.
TP. The video for your single By The Water shows a tender focus. There is an aura of spirituality and romance to it. Has your family life influenced your vision and your art?
IC. My family is my life. Everything revolves around it. Putting music out into the world only works when it’s working in my home life. That’s the beauty of having a place you call home, you can live there and create there. This record was written here where I sit now and the video was filmed on a friend’s property. It’s all close and familiar and unpretentious. There is a romance and spirituality in living and loving your environment.
TP. Why so long between your last release (sixteen years) and now?
IC. I was busy being married and being a mother. My experience of the music business prior to meeting David really put me off it. I was not cut out for that world of Prince. When I was part of that world, way too many things were asked of me that I did not feel comfortable with. I threw myself into domesticity and closed the door to that part of my life. I was content for a while to live vicariously through David’s career. When our marriage fell apart, I obviously could no longer live through him so, I had to make some choices for myself, to start over with some entirely new path or pick up where I had left off before getting married. Music is all I really know, so I began my journey back and in so doing realized that there is nothing more fulfilling or gratifying then completing a song.
TP. Have you devised a routine or work method when you write your poetry or the lyrics to a song?
IC. I don’t have a method of work. I write when I feel like it. I write when I have something that needs to be said. I am not good at adhering to routine. I wish that I was, I admire people who do.
TP. Are there special things you do to make everyone around you feel at ease during a recording session or a live performance?
IC. There is nothing in particular that I do. I have very calming energy and that goes a long way in a studio environment.
TP. Do you miss special moments from the beginning of your career?
IC. I feel like I am there again in a way. I have a lot of creative energy flowing and everything is new in the way that I am working and trying to get this album out into the world. Meeting Prince was really magical and the whole experience of making the album and the movie was like a fairy-tale. I would never wish to turn back the pages because life continues to be magical and full of wonder for me.
TP. How did you meet Richard Werbowenko?
IC. I met Richard through a friend in Minneapolis. He used to wear his hair in what looked like a big dandelion. I liked him from the moment I first met him. It wasn’t long before we formed our band Skyfish and started recording and performing.
TP. Did your collaborations with David Sylvian and Richard Werbowenko in the album Little Girls With 99 Lives and in Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Heartbeat influence your current album?
IC. Well, as they say, we are the sum of all of our parts and that music and time in my life is a part of me. I am constantly challenging myself musically and lyrically so in that sense, everything that came before now is an influence.
TP. Tell us about the band Ova and Tommy Roberts. What brought you together?
IC. Tommy Roberts used to own a recording studio in Minneapolis called The Underground. I was in a band called Skyfish with Richard Werbowenko back then and we did some recording at Tommy’s studio. Skyfish broke up and I went on to work with Prince and then I married David. I was pretty much out of the music scene altogether when Tommy showed up out of the blue at my door asking me if I would be interested in being in a band with him and Josh Holland. I wasn’t sure about it, but after giving it some thought I joined. We named the band Ova. I really loved the music we made. Tommy (who goes by the name Zachary Vex now) is a guitar pedal designer and so there was a lot of great guitar throughout the songs. My soft voice with this heavy guitar and beat-based music was a nice mixture.
TP. Lorenzo Scopelliti, Alessandro Mazzitelli, El Perdido (Frank Verdeja, who designed the album’s cover artwork) and Marzio Mirabella came into your world and the synergies between you and these artists bring us a much-anticipated new album and films to accompany the music. Are you bringing your fans closer into your life, sharing your previous experiences through the songs or are you looking to explore musically and visually a new reality to share with them as you evolve? Is this a beautiful intersection between your past and your future?
IC. Not being signed to a label has given me a lot of freedom to be as prolific and creative as I can and want to be. It is wonderful to work with artists who are not in it for the money, but are in it because they believe in what you are doing and they want to be a part of that creative energy. I love people who are generous with their creative energy. I want to keep growing as an artist and keep challenging myself. As long as I keep evolving as a person there will be songs to write. This current album is very different from my Paisley Park album, Little Girl With 99 Lives, Skyfish and Ova but that is the beauty of constantly evolving as a person, your art is bound to evolve as well.
Text: © The Pandorian 31 January 2010