From time to time you find yourself in the orbit of someone who is not only insanely talented and destined to be a star but that embodies some other worldly element that instantly entrances you. Such is the case with Chrysta Bell, who’s amazing voice captured the imagination of legendary filmmaker David Lynch. Together the duo has forged a remarkable 11 song album titled “This Train,” which will be released from La Rose Noire Records on September 29, 2011. Best known for legendary films such as “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” David Lynch has always had ties to the world of music. “This Train,” which was written and produced by Lynch, capitalizes on his singular musical landscapes, reminiscent of the iconic soundtracks of his television and film productions and incorporates Bell’s haunting and ethereal voice to bring the project to a whole new level. Truly a work of art, “This Train” is Chrysta Bell’s latest impressive chapter in what is sure to be a remarkable musical jouney. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this inspiring artist to discuss how she became involved in the world of David Lynch, the making of the album, her ongoing musical evolution and what the future holds for her in the months to come.
How did music first come into your life?
Oh gosh! My parents. First of all, my mom was a singer, so there was always music in my consciousness. She would sing to me in the womb, so she says! [laughs] And I think I remember! She was always singing. Then she meet my stepfather, who was a composer/producer/engineer, when I was eight years old, so I grew up in a recording studio, so music was always around. I often did musical theater as a child. Really, there was never anything else for me. Music was always my passion. It was what always got me going. It was music, music, music! I was singing jingles at age 11 and doing theater by the time I was 13. I just always had the bug from day one. I was very fortunate that my parents fostered and nurtured that desire to be a musician because otherwise I might not be where I am today.
Who would you cite as an influence helping to shape you as an artist?
Some of the first music that my mom ever shared with me was the Eurythmics and I just couldn’t get enough! [laughs] As I child, I was way into the Eurythmics! Some of my first records were from the Go-Gos and Michael Jackson, that type of stuff definitely got my interest started. As I started to develop as a musician, I got into Nina Simone, Etta James and Joan Osborne. I loved Goldfrapp and Fiona Apple. A lot of the female musicians got me really, really into music were the ones that had singular voices. They were really going for it and it felt totally authentic and that was really appealing to me. I was really into all kinds of music but as a child those are what peaked my thoughts. As far as later on, it was music in general. There was no particular style that I was focused on, it was more about how a song made me feel or how an artist got me there. Whatever the artist happened to do was fine with me as along as it was speaking to me.
You have been in the music industry for some time. Have you ever taken the opportunity to look back at your work and reflect on how you have evolved as an artist through the years?
Oh gosh! Yeah! Especially since I have been in the recording studio, I have some pretty early representations of my music career. Sometimes you cringe but sometimes you are like, “Wow! I really knew what was up!” It is the evolution of an artist. I have been a studio musician in the past. I have been able to be a part of a number of musical projects. I have recorded music and even music videos, so I can kinda look back and be like, “Wow! I am pretty proud of myself for bringing it on this particular occasion!” or “Yeah, I really learned a lot from that one!” I think the fact that I kinda kept doing it and really didn’t allow for any other distractions — it was always music. Whether I was finding my footing or taking it home and rocking out, it was always music! You have to experiment and get out of your comfort zone as much as possible so that you can evolve. Sometimes you just find a pocket and it is the most intense high ever and sometimes you are just like “Hah! Well … I think I will try something else!” [laughs] But you have to do it. So yeah, you get to see your evolution as an artist, your detours and the major progress that was made during a particular time when you were really into that thing that doesn’t necessarily make sense in your life now but it is all part of it! It all adds to the pot. Again, I am just really thrilled that music was always what I was doing and I got to try a few things and figure out who I was.
Your latest project is a collaboration with the legendary David Lynch. For many creatives, there is an identifiable moment where the work of David Lynch made its grand entrance. Is the same true for you?
Absolutely! It was the theme song to “Twin Peaks.” Listening to that song literally opened up doors for me as far as music was concerned. It really touched something, it got me. It made me feel things that I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, but it just worked. Personally, that was a defining moment in my growth and development as a person and it happened be through music and it happened to be through David and Angelo’s [Badalamenti] music! It was just sort of a happy accident that I ended up making music with him later on. Actually, I think it is pretty appropriate that it was the music that was the initial wow for me and of course the show that followed was also exceptional but it started with the music! [laughs] Going on to make music with that individual helped me find new depths, in my little world at the time, and it has been amazing, so I think that the way I discovered him is pretty appropriate!
How did you originally become involved with David Lynch on a professional level?
David has always been very interested in music. Creating music has always been a form of creative expression for him for some time now. There was an agent that was familiar with David’s passion for music and knew that he was interested in creating music and that he loved to be introduced to singers that he might be able to collaborate with or have a certain thing that he might respond to. This agent met me and said, “I think that David Lynch is going to dig you!” And I was like, “Really?! [laughs] That is great news!” He actually facilitated the possibility of making an album. I was introduced to David at his private recording studio in the Hollywood Hills. We had, thankfully, a wonderful chemistry that was instantaneous. We actually wrote a song together the very first day that we met. That song is on the record. It was a magic moment! [laughs] It was kinda like a dream-like, extraordinary situation that you hope happens that you never really express or dream about. I guess that I would call it destiny. I am really fortunate and I think that I was in the right moment and the right set of circumstances and the right flavor of character that David responded to and our chemistries worked. So it all worked out! Thankfully!
In one of the online promos that is available for the album, you mention working under the direction of David Lynch brought out a part of you that you had never known. How did that effect the song writing process between the two of you?
Well first of all, it is so important to trust the person that you are working with, especially when that person is navigating every aspect of the record from the creation to the lyrics. It was on me to compose melodies that would fit and that would express the mood and the tone that we were looking to create with songs. David is able to tap into something, using his intuition, and create something that brings out the performance and the colors of your voice that maybe you didn’t even know were there. It is there because you are totally at ease, because he is making you feel that way, yet you are wanting so much to create something wonderful. Your intention of creating something really magnificent is there and you have the direction of this extraordinary person whose artistic vision is singular and recognizable and yet people respond to it in their own ways. You never know exactly what that is going to be but when you are with someone who is guiding and is so confident about who they are and what they want to bring out of you, you can try things and explore new parts of yourself because it is a really safe environment. That is a very special thing for a singer, a performer and as an actor, I would imagine, as well. It is amazing how someone can bring something out of you with a few words or just expressing what you, in that moment, need to create. That experience is super precious and really significant. Finding those new colors and expressions in your own voice is one of the most extraordinary gifts that you could offer an artist. I didn’t always know where David was taking me but I trust him implicitly and I was able to find these new elements of my performance. Sometimes during playback I was like, “Wow! That is me and it is amazing!” [laughs] I was very excited about that!
What was the biggest challenge for you and David in putting this project together?
I would say that making a record takes a tremendous amount of focus and attention while you are in your day to day throws of life. But when you are in the studio, you really have this idea that you want to make this amazing thing and sometimes the elements align perfectly and sometimes you really have to work for it! This situation was a bit like art! If it was easy, than everyone would be doing it! [laughs] There was a bit of pressure because here is this extraordinary person who has this amazing track record for creating life changing art and he presents me with lyrics and I hear this beautiful music and then it is, “OK! It is time to go into the vocal booth and create melodies! So let’s do this!” And he of course gives me wonderful direction and all kinds of encouragement but it is up to me to bring forth this emotion with a melody using lyrics that I can connect with. You think, “I hope I can make something wonderful!” because you don’t know when you walk into the booth what is going to come out! You hope and you pray for the best and you are certainly in capable hands as far as your direction but you can’t help but think, “Wow! This is quite a situation that I am in!” [laughs]
To create something in this moment that works and makes sense and is high art, you wonder if you can do that! [laughs] Fortunately, even if I didn’t get it the first time or the second time or honestly, the 10th time, David was so patient and so loving and able to assist me in my process. He somehow knew what words to give me, what words to rile me up and get me in the right place and how to guide me through it. I attribute that to fact that the man meditates for 40 minutes a day, so he is in the zone! [laughs] He really is able to just be calm, collected and patient in the endeavor. Some of these songs are second takes or third takes, which made them a lot more labor intensive. That is sort of a classic situation for the creation of music, from my personal experience and from reading interviews with other musicians. Sometimes you hit the jackpot right off of the bat and sometimes it really takes some massaging or putting it away and coming back to it. The process is perfect and because it is art, it is like, “You figure out when it is in alignment. You figure out when it is right.” But the biggest thing is that you know when it is there and when it is reaching there. David knew what to say and how to be with me to get me there, whether it was quick in the process or if it took some time. It was always going to happen, I just had to have faith! Sometimes we question ourselves in situations like that, when you are with someone that you really want to make proud and make them feel like you are the appropriate person to be there with them. You want it to be wonderful and you are hoping that the magic comes and taps you on the shoulder!
The title of the album is “This Train.” Obviously, I am sure to you the title signifies a lot about the journey you took.
Yes! You got it!
How excited are you to finally unleash this project?
How excited am I, Jason!? [laughs] I am super, super excited! For one thing, I just love the music! I love David’s work and this project has his flavor, his style and his artistic integrity, so the music really connects to some of the iconic musical landscapes that he has created in the past and have reflected in me so greatly. I really feel like I have stepped into his world. Even further, to be a part of it and to be a contributor to those landscapes is such a thrill. David is such a beautiful spirit and a lovely person to be around. Even outside of how great that I feel the music is, the creation process was really great. I am really excited about all of the other aspects of it like the music videos that have been happening. They are really wonderful and are really coming together. I am really excited about presenting “This Train” as a live performance and we are working on that as well. There is just so much to be excited about! So, the answer is yes! I am super excited! [laughs]
You can hear it in your voice and I think that is great! So, there are plans to do a live version of the album as well?
Absolutely! That is something that is really important to me, creating a really innovative and creative live presentation of the music. I have a really wonderful band called Black Book Angel. My partner in the band, Dutch Rall, is also a filmmaker, so we have a lot of focus on the visual aspect of the presentation. Making sure that it is in alignment with the musical part is very important. This is something that is really exciting to me because I feel like going to a show is a really special event and should be treated by the performers as such. I really enjoy giving an audience member a unique experience. That is something I am really looking forward to and focusing on. Right now my focus is on the music and getting it out there to the world but shortly thereafter my focus will switch to bringing forth the live presentation. It is already underway but we are taking a lot of care and are bringing a lot of elements into it to make it a really special event.
I imagine it would take quite a bit of planning to incorporate these elements and have them all mesh in the perfect way.
Absolutely! But it is a labor of love!
You mentioned videos for the project. What should we be on the lookout for there?
Yeah! On September 29th, which is the day of the album release via my website, www.chrystabell.com, there will also be a video premiere of the song “Real Love.” It is a beautiful video, very sensual. It is pretty hot! [laughs] And it is very mysterious! I feel like it is the perfect out of the gate song and music video for the project. There are so many elements of life that are touched on in the music, the music videos will be expressing that as well. The music video for “Bird of Flames,” which is a beautiful duet between David and I, that will be a few weeks after, maybe a little bit longer, we aren’t quite sure for the premiere date but it will be happening in the near future. I feel like the video aspect is something that I will spend a lot of time focusing on due to the cinema-graphic which lends itself very well to music videos. There will be quite a few for this record! I think that it is something that may go hand in hand with every song, I am not sure at the moment but I am all about the visual representation of this music!
It is so cool to hear someone as excited about a project as you are and I thank you for taking time out to talk to us about the project. I think your voice is wonderful and really compliments David Lynch’s style. It is very cool you have such a great team behind you and I think this is going to be a huge success for you.
Thank you so much, Jason! I really appreciate your time as well!
The excitement in your voice is great to hear. You sound like you are about to burst at the seams!
Honestly, I am! I am! I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity and to be able to share it with the world — That’s the stuff! That’s the dream!
Will you be doing anything special to celebrate the release?
I am working! [laughs] I am working to celebrate the release! I know that now is the time to get it all fluidly moving forward! I will probably be celebrating later but I will definitely be celebrating within! [laughs] No big parties at the moment but I definitely find a lot of joy in the work! Obviously, you can hear it in my voice!
Where can people catch up with you online, if they don’t already know?
I have a beautiful website with videos, the behind-the-scenes docs with David and I at www.chrystabell.com. I am also on Facebook and Twitter, all of those things that are 21st century avenues of communication! I’ve got those rockin’ too!
We will be spreading the word on this terrific project!
Right on, Jason! Thanks so much!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.