When David Lynch rose from his director’s chair in 2011, casting his camera lens aside and replacing it instead with a vocoder and synth on his first ever album ‘Crazy Clown Time’, very few were surprised. After all, the auteur’s relationship with music goes much further than just influencing Lana Del Rey’s stage persona, or inspiring Chicago garage rock bands Twin Peaks. Long before his first proper solo music venture, music’s been a powerful force in his movies, almost a character in itself.
Much is made of Lynch’s collaborations with composer Angelo Badalamenti, most famous for the stunning theme music from ‘Twin Peaks’, but more recently there’s been another individual at the right hand side of Lynch. Dean Hurley runs Lynch’s Asymmetrical Studios in LA, having also served as a sound engineer and music supervisor for the director in the past. There, Hurley and Lynch have collaborated on a number of projects, from 2006’s ‘Inland Empire’ score all the way to ‘The Big Dream’, Lynch’s acclaimed 2013 album.
An artist and musician in his own right, Hurley recently released ‘Days Of Thunder & Rain’ as a free album/mixtape. A record built from old soul samples, its aural landscape is a little different to what might expect from such a close colleague of David Lynch, but its subject matter – inspired by worry, pain and separation – digs its nails into the same kind of places. We spoke to Hurley about the release and his upcoming plans, as well as the forthcoming ‘Twin Peaks’ reboot and what it’s like to work with such a revered figure.
NME: What was the idea behind ‘Days of Thunder & Rain’?
Dean Hurley: Well, it was intended as a mixtape; a collection of elements reframed into a cohesive whole. I wanted to craft a narrative and aesthetic around that specific bitter-sweet plea that’s such a technicolor emotion in so many relationships. The arc of the narrative being the dissolution of a relationship: from it’s initial desires for it to last forever, to the worry, deceit, pleads, separation, collapse and pain of it’s eventual absence. It’s not actually about a romantic relationship break-up, it’s more an analogy for a relationship with life as a concept. Life is a multi-dimensional love: love and pain in the same breath… we’re constantly saying goodbye to the past while reconciling emotions for the future, all the while knowing there is an inevitable end. It took me a while to understand why I felt this way, because personally I’m in a great relationship. You know what they say, though: life is a bitch.
The album uses a lot of old soul samples, where do they originate from?
YouTube mostly. I have a great physical collection, but the web is sometimes like your record collection with stems. Other things too, though…some vinyl elements, CD, etc. One song in particular ‘Do Without’ is from a Percy Sledge (RIP) song called ‘Sudden Stop.’ The vocal is completely stunning. When stereo LPs were becoming super popular in the consumer market in the 60’s, engineers were trying dramatic things partly because they could and partly because there wasn’t any standard or president for how to present music in the stereo field. That specific recording had just Sledge’s voice for the first two verses panned completely left with the instrumental arrangement only coming out of the right speaker. That was super common in the 60’s…go listen to some records and alternate mono from left to right and you’ll hear often 2 entirely different mixes. I love listening to acapellas, though…Motown actually released a 6 CD set back in the early 2000’s that was intended for the Karaoke market. It’s like 100 songs with isolated acapella and backing tracks. It’s totally different than listening to an acapella performance…other musicians on a track will sometimes cattle-prod a singer into a zone and when you take that away and listen to just the vocal performance inspired by that it’s like holy shit.
How was working on the project compared to collaborating with other artists?
Great. It’s obviously a way more introverted experience… which is my natural tendency.
Your new music video could be described as quite ‘Lynchian’. Were you influenced by David Lynch’s visual work when making it?
The short was directed by my friends Nick and Will at Mondial. They had a concept built around the music, but it was entirely their own design. Personally, I don’t see much relation to David’s work in what they created. I feel the adjective Lynchian is now almost completely removed from David’s work itself. It’s like people who use ‘you know it’s funny:’ in their daily vernacular…often times they prefix it in sentences that don’t have any humour in them all. Lynchian now can be used for anything remotely ’strange.’ I guess a prom scene of mannequins is strange, but to me it doesn’t register as something that would show up in a David Lynch film. The concept that a descriptor gets named after a person and then grows to mean more than what that person actually represents is pretty fascinating, though…
The album is a little different to the music you would normally make with Lynch, was this intended?
In a way, yeah. It’s definitely different. It wasn’t a conscious effort to make something purposely different…it’s just what came out.
What was it like working with David Lynch on his first foray into a fully fledged music career? Was he pretty clued up from the beginning?
David has always been super up on music… obviously well before I was around. I’ve learned a ton from him. We definitely immediately bonded over the blues specifically, though. That was the entry point I think for his solo stuff. He’s done so much in a variety of different styles and genres, but together our natural focal point is where the blues intersects with modern music.
What is the creative process like working with Lynch? Is it quite a collaborative process or does he already have all figured out before you start recording?
I think the thing he likes most about music is the process of discovery…seeing what happens when you start floating elements together. It’s pretty collaborative, but it’s his vision. I just facilitate and enhance. We have a couple different ways in which we work together…one is just playing together like a form of ‘band practice:’ jamming for 20 minutes or longer and seeing what comes out of it, then building on it. Playing together without inhibitions and just instinctively trying things…a lot of great ideas come out of that because it’s real time action and re-action. The other mode is him coming to the table with a concept and just talking me through it each step of the way. In both scenarios, it’s always an incredibly experiment-oriented approach; setting up an array of things in motion in order to discover the surprise. I’ve definitely learned a lot from his approach.
What is it like working with Lynch as a person?
Great. We share a similar sense of humor, so we’re usually laughing about something. He’s extremely generous and understanding…which is one of the reasons I’ve worked with him for so long. Even though I never asked him to, he stopped smoking in the studio because I think he sensed it was difficult for me to work in it for long periods of time. That’s the kind of guy he is. What he’s most known for is obviously his endless inquisitive spirit and excited fascination…that’s really contagious and fun to be around.
You first worked with Lynch on the ‘Inland Empire’ score, how did that come about?
Inland Empire’s ‘score’ was kind of collaged together from both licensed eastern european modern classical music and original music we’d work on here and there. That’s largely how David works: experiment freely, amass a library of material and then discover where the stuff is intended to be used. He built his own recording studio and mixing stage in 1998 to be able to record and experiment any time, all the time. It’s a pretty legit room and I was brought in at the beginning of 2005 to run it full time. The song ‘Ghost of Love’ from Inland Empire was one of the very first things we did together.
Do you know if Lynch is planning his next movie?
I mean, modern television in a way is the new ‘independent film.’ A season of a modern television show is basically the scope of several movies put together. Twin Peaks is a big undertaking, so that’s obviously his complete focus at the moment.
It was recently announced that Angelo Badalamenti will be composing new music for the third series of Twin Peaks, will you be working on the score for that?
I just signed a NDA yesterday so I can’t give any information, confirm or deny anything related to the show. I’m basically not allowed to say anything regarding Twin Peaks. Angelo is a complete master, though. I’m a major fan. Watching David and him work together in the past has been incredible.
You’ve worked with the likes of Zola Jesus and Dirty Beaches: are there any other current artists you’d love to work with?
I’ve only really just started working with other artists on my own. Nika and Alex are both solid gold people. They’re real in a way that’s just fun to be around. I respect them both and their work immensely. That’s at least the pre-requisite in my book: you’ve got to be a solid gold real person. If an artist is that, and I respect their work, then I want to work with them and give 110% into helping them achieve their vision. It’s hard to find these people or know who they are without spending time with them first…I guess you have to meet them and chat to find out?
Finally, what do you have coming up in the future?
Starting work next week mixing this David Lynch Foundation benefit concert that happened back in April. Pretty great evening that showcased a host of artists paying tribute to music from David’s films: Angelo Badalamenti, Rebekah Del Rio, Sky Ferreira, Lykke Li, Zola Jesus, Chrysta Bell, The Flaming Lips, Duran Duran… I’m told it’ll be released as an album possibly…the event itself will also be televised at some point…I don’t have any of that information yet, however.