Though David Lynch last released a feature film in 2006, the acclaimed director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. hasn't exactly been quiet. He's embarked on a long season of musical experimentation, from his own Crazy Clown Time album to organizing a series of concerts in support of his foundation for transcendental meditation. Last night Lynch hosted a "coming out party" in Los Angeles for a new collaborator, singer Chrysta Bell.
Standing onstage at the Bootleg Theatre in downtown L.A., Lynch smiled as he introduced the tall, redheaded torch singer. "This is going to be a great night for me, because I love Chrysta Bell," he declared to cheers. "Chrysta Bell is round and fully packed. Sometimes people dream, or sometimes people walk down the street and wonder: What is that shape? What is that sound?"
What followed were songs that were at times dreamy and torrid, smoky and tortured, drawn mostly from Bell's solo debut, This Train, which Lynch produced. Standing on studded stiletto heels, Bell began her hour-long set with a brooding "Real Love," performed with grinding finesse by her trio. Before "Friday Night Fly" and a lovesick "Be Bop A Lula," she stripped off her skirt and slowly shimmied behind the microphone, singing in a voice soft, soaring and wounded.
Bell and her band played to a full house of about 500. Standing among the crowd was David J, formerly of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, who came after hearing the album. "I love what she does, especially at midnight. That's when it all makes sense," he says. "She's truly strange and otherworldly and occupies this parallel universe. It's a dream world that's real."
The Bootleg show was part of an achingly slow roll-out of Bell as a solo artist, following the self-release of her album in late 2011. Aside from a short tour of Europe, a showcase performance at SXSW in March and a handful of other stops, her live performances of the Lynch material are only beginning.
The genesis of This Train stretches back a decade, from the first time the singer visited Lynch at his home recording studio in Hollywood. They wrote and recorded their first song that day, "Right Down to You," which appears on the album.
"When I went to David's place, he opened the door and he had his arms out, and he gave me a hug and said, 'Chrysta Bell!'" she recalled. "He gave me so much love in that first moment."
Lynch built his home studio more than a decade ago to create music and sound for his films. "It's really good when the people are all there all together. It's the best," said Lynch, sitting with Bell backstage after her set. He wore a black suit over a crisp white shirt, his gray hair combed back into thick wave. "I'm a director. The actor has got to be able to deliver. It is so much the same thing. It's an idea, it's a mood, and you want to communicate that. Once you click into that" – he snaps his fingers – "then they take it."
But the San Antonio-born Bell remained based in Texas most of the years since meeting Lynch, so their collaborations were sporadic. It took a full decade to complete the album. She now lives in San Francisco.
Describing the sessions, Bell said, "I'm feeling this track, and I'm feeling in the moment and singing, and David's going, 'Yes, yes.' . . . There's this dance that happens. I let the music speak to me because it always does. That's ingrained. I feel it."
Bell said Lynch's influence on her actually began while she was a child, seeing Twin Peaks on TV and hearing the director's haunted collaborations with composer Angelo Badalamenti. "It was the theme song from Twin Peaks that literally opened me up to a new realm of what music was in my life," she said backstage. "It made me viscerally feel things. It felt absolutely right."
Lynch is hardly new to making music. He calls longtime soundtrack collaborator Badalamenti "my brother," adding that "he brought me into the world of music." Lynch's film work has also brought him into direct collaborations with artists ranging from Roy Orbison to Trent Reznor.
"I always say I'm not a musician," Lynch explained. "But it's so much like actors. It's a feel and a communication, and sometimes you hit gold."
Last year's Crazy Clown Time is being reissued in an expanded edition online on Tuesday, the same day the Eraserhead soundtrack is being released in an elaborate limited edition with previously unreleased material. While music and painting continue to occupy him, Lynch hasn't yet found his next movie project. He's waiting for the right idea.
"It's a process," he said. "I always say it's like fishing. Little fish are swimming in. Some of them I love, but I need the big unifying fish, and it hasn't swum in yet."
Lynch said had not heard of the Pittsburgh-based tribute band to his and Badalamenti's many music projects together, but he was intrigued by their choice of band name – Silencio, a word lifted from his 2001 film Mulholland Dr.
'There's something about the word 'silencio.' It's a beautiful, beautiful word for human beings," he said, relating it to last night's performance. "This thing of infinite silence coupled with infinite dynamism is what this whole show is about."