07.06.13

Digging deep: David Lynch, the songwriter

Once upon a time, David Lynch was one of the most original filmmakers around, but that seems to have changed in recent years. Today, Lynch seems content just being Lynch: selling coffee, making guest appearances in TV comedies, selling Transcendental Meditation and, of course, writing music.

Music and sound play an incredibly important part in Lynch’s cinema, be it the industrial concrète of Eraserhead, the iconic Americana that Angelo Badalamenti provided for his TV series Twin Peaks and other feature films, or unforgettable uses of music in pivotal scenes (This Mortal Coil’s Song To The Siren, Roy Orbison’s In Dreams, Rebekah Del Rio’s Crying, Rammstein, The Lady In The Radiator song – the list goes on). Nevertheless, when Lynch makes his own forays into the music world, it’s treated as something of a curiosity, a side project or even a distraction from his filmmaking day job.

And whilst this is often true – unlike his cinematic output, 2011’s full-length album ‘Crazy Clown Time’ was hardly a masterpiece – that’s not to say that his music is without its merits. Over the years, Lynch has been behind some truly fantastic music – not just sound designs, but songs and jams. With the announcement of new album ‘The Big Dream’ earlier this week, we’ve compiled ten of his lesser-known and lesser-celebrated musical works over the years to illustrate this. As is the case with all of our Digging Deep features, we’ve listed these in chronological order, to tell an alternate story of Lynch’s musical career up until now.

  1. Julee Cruise – Into The Night (1989)
    Back in 1986, David Lynch wanted to include a cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren by This Mortal Coil in Blue Velvet. When he was unable to secure the rights to it, he did the next best thing – he imitated it. Working alongside Angelo Badalementi (the first of many partnerships between the two), they wrote Mysteries Of Love, a haunting song with an unforgettable vocal turn by Julee Cruise at the centre of it. This was the start of a fantastic partnership between the three, and in 1989 Cruise released her debut album, ‘Floating Into The Night’. The album’s highlight, Into The Night, demonstrates the winning combination of Badalamenti’s music, Lynch’s dark lyrical themes and Cruise’s ethereal vocals, and many of the album’s best songs went on to soundtrack Twin Peaks over the next couple of years. Lynch did eventually get to use Song To The Siren in 1997’s Lost Highway, but perhaps it’s just as well that he couldn’t get it at first.
  2. Koko Taylor – Up In Flames (1990)
    Much of Lynch’s music around this time followed a familiar pattern – he would write the lyrics, Badalamenti would co-write and arrange the songs, and a guest vocalist would flesh the whole thing out. The formula led to some excellent results. Legendary blues singer Koko Taylor contributed this one to Lynch’s Wild At Heart soundtrack, which combines Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks era sound with the late Koko Taylor’s heavy, world-worn voice, whilst Lynch’s lyrics have direct links to the film.
  3. Rubber City – Perdita (1990)
    Wild At Heart introduced the world to Chris Isaak’s much-covered and much-imitated Wicked Game, one of the sexiest pop songs ever recorded. It’s an appropriate song for such a sexually charged film, and the rest of the soundtrack had to keep up. Rubber City’s Perdita does. A slack, twangy and above all sexy instrumental, the song was co-written by Lynch and David Slusser and is very “Lynch” without lapsing into the generically “Lynchian” territory that much of his latter day music does.
  4. “Lil” Jimmy Scott – Sycamore Trees (1992)
    Like Up In Flames, Sycamore Trees used the Badalamenti/Lynch/guest formula to powerful effect, this time bringing in another legend, jazz singer “Lil” Jimmy Scott. The “Lil” in Scott’s name came from his height, brought on by Kallmann’s Syndrome, which also gave him the distinct, high contralto voice that can be heard here. The haunting Sycamore Trees first appeared in the final episode of Twin Peaks, in perhaps one of the most captivating sequences to ever be broadcast on a television drama, and saw its release on the soundtrack to 1992’s Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me. Lynch’s lyrics are highly evocative, and combined with Scott’s vocal, the result sounds out of this world.
  5. Thought Gang – A Real Indication (1992)
    A Real Indication is a ridiculous rock song with Angelo Badalamenti providing a bizarro rap that appeared on the Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. Lynch spoke through the sort-of-song’s lyrical content with Angelo Badalamenti, who then went into the recording booth and started talking. According to Lynch, Angelo came alive in the booth, and his beat-style ad-lib caused him to laugh so hard that he had a hernia. A full-length Thought Gang album was promised on David Lynch’s official website a few years ago – it’s been recorded and mixed, apparently – but as of yet, nothing has materialised.
  6. BlueBob – Blue Horse (2001)
    A curio in the David Lynch back catalogue, BlueBob was an instrumental collaboration between Lynch and John Neff. It’s got the same textural work of his earliest music but feels darker, more aged, fuzzier, and has a streak of nastiness. BlueBob seemed to be ushering in of a new era in Lynch’s sound, something that was reflected in his cinema at the same time – Mulholland Drive ends with a bleakness that had not really been seen in his earlier work, which often ended on redemptive or ironically optimistic notes. This bleakness runs throughout tracks like Blue Horse.
  7. David Lynch – Imaginary Girl (2007)
    As Lynch’s first foray into the world of solo artist proper, this came out as the B-side to Ghost Of Love, a song recorded for his last movie, the bewildering INLAND EMPIRE. Imaginary Girl is a haunting piece of rock that combines the smalltown USA sound of his Badalamenti collaborations with the ghostly sound design heard on BlueBob and his own films. This is, essentially, the same sound he’s been toying with across all of the music released under his solo name – FX-heavy, vocodered, industrial and scary-retro – but it’s also the best he’s done.
  8. Fox Bat Strategies – They Go Down (2009)
    Fox Bat Strategies were a loose group of musicians that first played together on the excellent The Pink Room from the Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me soundtrack (they also had cameos in the film, during the intense, strobelit Roadhouse sequences). The last member of the group to join the sessions was Dave Jaurequi, who brought a certain chemistry to proceedings that wowed Lynch – enough so that he brought them back together in 1994. There they played, following vague directions from Lynch (“It’s the fifties. It’s late at night and it’s been raining”) with Jaurequi on vocal duties, singing the lyrics that Lynch was scrawling during the sessions. The recordings remained dormant for over a decade, until the death of David Jaurequi in 2006. As a celebration of his life and music, this seven-track mini-album was given back to the world, finally seeing a release in 2009.
  9. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse featuring David Lynch – Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It) (2009)
    The late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse recorded the much-delayed ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’ with Dangermouse in the late 2000s, with Lynch contributing a full colour book of photographs to accompany the album. He also wrote two tracks on the album – the title track is the better known of the two, but Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It) is also a dreamlike number, with Lynch greatly benefitting from Linkous and Danger Mouse’s input in the music.
  10. David Lynch – So Glad (2011)
    ‘Crazy Clown Time’ was a serviceable if forgettable record that continued many of Lynch’s musical obsessions without really adding many twists or turns. For most of the album’s running length, Lynch’s voice laid buried beneath layers of effects, vocoders and industrial noise. Hearing Lynch, a former Eagle Scout from Minnesota, speak in his all-American accent and dialect is such a great treat, so it was good to hear So Glad differ from the rest of the album in that it laid his broken voice bare.

Sunday Best will release ‘The Big Dream’ on 15th July.