Sing a song of suspense: the wild music close to David Lynch’s heart

A live tribute to the songs and music of David Lynch brings together an eclectic group of artists

Director David Lynch. Photograph: Ilya S Savenok/Getty Images

Director David Lynch. Photograph: Ilya S Savenok/Getty Images

 

From as far back as his debut feature, 1977’s Eraserhead, David Lynch has used music and sound as effectively as visuals. From the spooky organ music and seething radiators in that debut and the 1960s pop music in Blue Velvet (1986) to the eerie beauty of Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise in Twin Peaks (1990-92) and the garage rock of Wild at Heart (1990), Lynch has mixed and matched his love of music to his creative vision.

Early Radiohead and Autechre (as well as record labels Ninja Tune and Warp) bore their Lynchian influences proudly, while more current artists such as Chelsea Wolfe and Lana Del Rey wouldn’t have their sound without his influence. The unsettling and peculiar atmosphere of Los Angeles (what Wolfe has called “a bright darkness”) seeps out of their music. And Irish musician Conor O’Brien has covered Mysteries of Love, from the soundtrack to Blue Velvet.

 

Live homage

It is from such rich pickings that David Coulter has devised In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited, a live homage to the songs and music from Lynch’s films. Coulter has form in these kinds of homage events. He oversaw Tom Waits’s Rain Dogs Revisited and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy Live, and was Damon Albarn’s music supervisor for the Gorillaz opera, Monkey: Journey to the West.

As a musician he has played with Test Department and Band of Holy Joy and, in a decidedly Lynchian frame of reference, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest musical saw players (careful there, Log Lady).

Coulter says that due to his “oddball” status as a performer, he has always been involved with the types of shows that blend singular art and distinctive music.

“Whenever I make one of these tribute type shows, I start with lists of people I’d like to work with, and who I think will be able to bring something unique and eccentric to them,” he says. “Similarly, with the songs I’d go through very intense bouts of listening. I’d spend a whole week immersed in the soundtracks, the incidental music as well as the songs.”

It helps that Lynch’s musical tastes are diverse and eclectic, and that he is such a visual director.

“With In Dreams I aim to create a sonic vocabulary that corresponds to Lynch’s visuals. One of the things I decided very early on in the project was that there was no way I wanted to use any images or clips from his work; my responses to them were not based on images but on sounds.”

With regard to the interpretation of the songs, did Coulter think it important to retain the singularity of the music without overly trading on Lynch’s oddity?

“Yes, because it makes you think about certain things in songs and why you structure them so. Obviously, I have a strong sonic vision of how I want the event to impact on the audience, but I don’t ever want to compromise on the artists.”

In Dreams features the likes of Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples, Savages’ Jehnny Beth, Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, former Bad Seeds member Mick Harvey, Cibo Matto and Stealing Sheep, all established and experienced performers. “I don’t want to teach them how to suck eggs, so to speak. What I try and do is to create moods and vibes, and suggest songs for people to do. What we do is to have a good think about that. The arrangements are then shaped in rehearsals.

“Some artists want to be faithful to the originals, albeit with a bit of a twist. Some are super faithful, and others – for example, Stealing Sheep and Cibo Matto, each of which are bands within the ensemble – want to completely reimagine the music. That gives us liberty; each artist puts his or her own stamp on it.”

Coulter is aware of the perception of Lynch as a risk-taking auteur who occasionally goes too far in challenging the viewer. That adventurousness is reflected in the music, whether it’s original, such as that co-written with Angelo Badalamenti, or cover versions of arcane pop songs, such as Crying, In Dreams and Blue Velvet.

 

Outsider status

Coulter looks to musicians with something of an outsider status. “Us outsiders in the music industry tend to gravitate towards each other. All the bands I have worked with, even from when I started playing in the early 1980s, have been on the fringe. I think outsider artists have a type of openness to them, and frankly, you can’t convince everybody to do this kind of work. A lot of the artists involved travel a long way just to perform a few songs, and so they have to understand that they’re effectively cogs in the wheel.”

So it’s more about the sum of the parts than the individuals involved? “I’ve always been very clear about that from the outset. I try and pull these shows together and direct them in a soft way – I feel it’s more about making sure that everybody is happy and feeling confident about what they’re doing.”

This said, he is also aware that the leashes of such a group show need to be tightly gripped, lest the performers dare to think of bolting out of the traps. “Well, yes, of course they all want their moment, and everybody always wants more time than they’re given,” he says. “You have to be really sensitive to people’s needs and requirements. Equally, you have to hold the reins and steer the show.”

 

 

CONOR O’BRIEN: FOR THE LOVE OF LYNCH

“I first became aware of David Lynch with Twin Peaks; it would have been the early 1990s, when I was about seven. I remember my older siblings watching it, but it was the one thing on television that my parents wouldn’t allow me to look at. I often used to wonder what kind of crazy show they were watching.

“The next time I became aware of Lynch was when I was at college. Someone gave me a DVD of his early short films, and I remember seeing a short called The Grandmother; it was about 20 minutes long, a mixed-media thing with nightmarish scenes mixed with animation, the DIY sort. But I got really inspired by it.

“As for the music, well, the album Twin Peaks, with Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti, is one of my favourites. It sounded so incredibly ethereal, and like his movies they express this youthful naivety, I guess, but underneath there is darkness. For me, that was intriguing, because that’s like life, isn’t it? Ultimately, I think Lynch is a perfectionist, a craftsman, and his casting in his work is brilliant. He has a vision for it, and I suppose it’s important he has that because that’s how the art affects people. My favourite song? Falling by Julee Cruise.”

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