David Lynch is movie director, television producer, painter, animator, cartoonist, furniture designer, philanthropist, activist, mail order coffee mogul, amateur meteorologist, and several other things all at once.
But like most of us, the award-winning artist behind Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive really just wants to rock. Last fall, the three-time Oscar nominee released Crazy Clown Time (via indy label Play It Again Sam), a strange yet strangely engaging collection of po-mo blues and electro-pop tunes, filled with thumping, grumpy complaints about love gone wrong and at least one stream of consciousness riff on the creative process. And dentistry.
This is, after all, a David Lynch record. One in which you can hear him playing a dirty guitar and singing with an endearingly plaintive, often electronically distorted voice. (Making a guest appearance on one track: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)
He also just finished shooting and is currently editing a music video for the title track; in addition to the first look photos here, Lynch offered this tease, via email: “A ‘Crazy Clown Time’ should have an intense psychotic backyard craziness, fueled by beer.” (Well, of course it should.) We recently spoke to the 66-year-old rock and roll surrealist and forever-young Renaissance man about his latest artistic pursuit.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re produced music for your movies and written songs for other artists to perform, such as Julee Cruise. What spurred you to make this record?
DAVID LYNCH: Over the years, I’ve written lyrics and produced music with my longtime composer, Angelo Badalamenti (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, many more). But I never sang, never played on any record. Somewhere along the way, I started playing this electric guitar, just to make sound effects. That certain way of playing started leaning toward music, and then more and more into songs. And then I started singing. So it’s been a process stretching ten years.
EW: The guitar playing on the album is all you?
LYNCH: Mostly. But it’s also my producer Dean Hurley on a couple tracks, as well.
EW: Are you self-taught when it comes to guitar?
LYNCH: Dean coined the phrase for me: “I’m a self-taught non-musician.”
EW: What are your influences when it comes to the guitar?
LYNCH: It’s the Chicago electric blues, that’s the main influence. You know, when the guitar got plugged in with electricity, it jumped it to making sounds that sink into the soul. So much power. So much beauty. It’s just the greatest thing. I like to think of my guitar as being powered by a V-8 engine. Lots of smoke and fire. A gasoline powered guitar.
EW: David, I think you need to build one of those. That’s your next art project.
LYNCH: I think so, Jeff. You’re going to come help me.
EW: When it comes to the singing, did that take some courage to put yourself out there and do that?
LYNCH: I don’t know if it was courage, but I had to dig deep. I started liking singing in this high voice. The character that started coming through kinda reminded me of a Southern mountains kind of character.
EW: Most of your vocals are electronically filtered. What was the thinking behind that?
LYNCH: The thing about singing in general is this: The voice can be a stranger to the music, or it can be intimate like a man and a woman together in a dark room. So you want to get the voice married to the music. To do that, you’ve got these great tools to manipulate the voice, just like you would manipulate any other instrument to get the sound and tone correct so it call marries together. A lot of times, I hear stuff and it’s great music but the voice is far away from the music. But we have so many tools today to alter it so it can be together with the music.
EW: A lot of the songs on the album, like “I Know” and “Football Game,” are these bluesy complaints from a man done wrong by a cheating woman. Were you just working within the genre, or is that coming from personal experience?
LYNCH: I’m in the dark the same as you, Jeff. It’s something that happens. Those lyrics, I’m pretty sure, came out of the music, meaning they weren’t there before. There’s something about a sound that will conjure a certain word or combo of words. It’s the magic of it. It’s like the music is talking to you, and certain things come out.
EW: Any chance we’ll be hearing you perform live soon?
LYNCH: That’s more unlikely than likely.
EW: Does the prospect terrify you?
LYNCH: Jeff, take the word ‘terrify’ and then make every letter as big as Mt. Rushmore, and you’ll have a good idea how I feel.