There’s a reason the English language includes words like ‘otherworldly’. It is so that you can fairly describe creatures like Chrysta Bell.
Yes, you’ve probably known her first as ‘David Lynch’s muse’ (and then as the talented musician she is). This is the phrase journalists and promoters all over the world have extensively used as an introduction for Chrysta Bell, ever since the duo’s artistic collaboration started almost two decades ago.
Though simple and catchy, this label is rather unfair to both of them. Chrysta Bell and Lynch wrote music together for years, and he later cast her as Tammy in the revival of ‘Twin Peaks’. She says that Lynch is her mentor, while he famously described her: ‘Chrysta Bell looks like a dream and Chrysta Bell sings like a dream. And the dream is coming true.’ As nice as this may sound, I only truly understood what he meant when I met her yesterday for a pre-show interview. She will perform in Control Club this evening, promoting her latest record ‘Feels like love’, which will be officially launched on Friday, the 5th of April.
Chrysta Bell talks a lot and she talks fast. She is a Southern girl, no doubt about it. She offers me sugar-free dark chocolate, and explains that this is her one true addiction.
Chrysta Bell does transcendental meditation when she has a writer’s block. A habit she got from David Lynch.
She is not afraid of death; she once inherited a cemetery and talks about ‘the great beyond’ as if she was talking about the weather. As I listen to her floating through ideas of music and life, I realize that her openness and dreamlike presence are so strong that I completely forget how to be cynical for at least an hour. It is impossible to be cynical around Chrysta Bell, even as she so casually drops phrases like ‘the 7th plane’ and ‘white magic’ in the conversation.
As a musician, she constantly writes about the dark and makes it almost tangible and less scary, but in conversation, she is nothing if not light and laughter.
„All of this is for this 70 minutes on stage. You have this moment you share with someone. And it’s transcendent. Or it can be awkward, which I love too.”
-For those of us who have not yet seen you live, what should we expect from tonight’s concert?
-Everything I do as an artist, from the very first moment that a melody floats into my mind, so the beginning of a song, I think about singing it on stage. Everything in my life is looking towards the moment that I get to deliver the music to an audience that is with me in the experience. I put a lot of energy, intention, and focus on this part of my artistic life. You have to do the record, of course, all the administrative aspects, you have to book the tour and you have to give all this information and organization. But all of it is for this basically 70 minutes on stage. Where you can make eye contact while you’re singing music that you’ve worked so hard to make; and you’ve worked all of your life developing the craft. And then you have this moment that you share with someone. And it’s transcendent. Or it can be transcendent. Or it can be awkward, which I love too.
Generally the shows are very dramatic. I wear either very tight or very sparkly outfits, or a combination of both. And I love to really put on a show, I want it to be an experience, to build an environment that you become a part of, and to feel somehow like it gets into your DNA, it infuses a little bit into your DNA. This is my ultimate hope and dream, after you leave the show, there is a little bit of it that goes out with you into other things you do in your life. For me this is the best kind of art.
-To what extent does the audience change the fabric of the show?
-Significantly. Every show, every town, every country, every culture… makes all the difference. You really get to know a culture through an audience, and it’s fascinating what you get from the people, in general, as an audience, once you put on a show, but then also from individuals, the dynamics that you experience during the show, connecting with a person, and then connecting with an audience as a whole, and then connecting with my band members. And in some place, maybe in the Scandinavian countries, at first it’s a bit colder. Literally it’s colder, but not just that, you also have to work a little harder, you have to earn it. It’s not that you don’t also work hard in a place like Romania, but here is more of an instant warmth and enthusiasm and presence, which is preferable. It’s so nice when the openness is there. I’m happy to work hard, but when you have an audience that is already smiling and open, we can maximize our experience together, as opposed to me having to climb into you a little, like: ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here’.
-Is the number of people in the crowd also important?
-No, it’s only the energy that the people have. But I will say that, if you have a huge room and only a few people there, everyone is aware of it. Still, if it’s a very intimate room, it’s OK. I can play with 15 people here [editor’s note: the booth at Alt-Shift] and it’s the hottest performance ever. But with 15 people in a super-large venue, you are dealing with spatial issues as well and everyone can feel that. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be a great thing, but there is one more element that has to be considered. When you’re in a place where you can really feel intimate, that is another element that can be worked with on stage.
-What do you usually do before going up on stage? Do you have a certain ritual, something to help you focus?
-I do. I have something that is very precious to me. For the first 15 years, after the show, I was completely exhausted, coming off stage. And I could barely even form complete sentences. But I knew a woman that was like a spiritual healer, she was very conscious, maybe a little witchy, but a good witch, so white magic. She asked: ‘do you want me to help you with this?’ Yeah! And she taught me this visualization process, where you ground yourself to the center of the earth and then you imagine something opening up from your crown chakra and attaching to whatever infinity you imagine with this visualization. Then you see your aura and you visualize something like a film, a thin perfect layer surrounding your aura. I visualize this iridescent film surrounding my aura. Then I go to what I think is the 7th plane of existence, and it’s where everything that ever has been is created. And I get a wink – this is my imagination, OK? – from the Creator and she tells me to have a great show. It’s like a filtration system. So I can get the energy and I can put out energy, but I have this filtration system.
„You learn to give more of an essence. It’s like with an essential oil. You take in the smell, but you don’t need to have the tree.”
-You no longer give everything.
-Exactly. Or you’re giving it, but you’re not leaking. There is a difference between emoting or ‘exploding’ everywhere. You learn to give more of an essence. It’s like with an essential oil. You take in the smell, but you don’t need to have the tree. You’re getting exactly what you need. This is how I learned to do it and be sustainable for these shows I do. If I didn’t have my tricks to maintain my sanity and my vitality, I would be a wreck. I would still be doing it, because I still love it, but it’s like you get these tools along the way and it makes all the difference.
-You will be launching the new record, „Feels like love” on Friday, right after the Bucharest concert and the same day you are playing in Cluj. How excited are you?
-Yeah, I’m also the record label. So after our new conversation, I will go back to the hotel and I will build the page on the website myself. And make sure that is available for people or else that would be very anticlimactic.
-Why are you building the page yourself?
-At the end of the day, after working with individual labels and major labels, I understand that no one cares as much as I will. And no one will put as much energy into the detail as I will. And I am very fortunate to have people who do a very job at what they do (PR, booking…) because I couldn’t do all of it, but there are certain things that I’m still doing, because I know I will do a good job and I trusted other people to do it in the past and I’ve been disappointed. This is part of still being an independent artist.
-I already listened to `Feels like love’ a few times, I love the new sound, it feels darker than your previous records. What brought up this change in sound?
-I love that you think that! I fear most people associate the Lynch material with being darker. I did have a song called `I die’, but I always find that to be a hymn.
-It’s a peaceful song.
-Absolutely! But some consider it dark. And this new record is absolutely darker. So I appreciate that you said that. On ‘We Dissolve’, the concepts were the same: the great beyond, the infinite feedback loops and death, and transcendence. But with the new record we make it less general and more personal. With songs like ‘Red Angel’ and ‘Feels like love’, there is more of an intimacy, which is fun. It’s just a natural progression. Also, when you’re flirting with all of these new genres, it’s all just a grand experiment. And sometimes you’re writing and you go: ‘Nope, nope, nope, woo, yeah, yes!’ And if you get something that is working, you don’t want to disturb it, you’re like: ‘Nobody say anything!’ Sometimes I’m in a room with my songwriting partner, Chris Smart, and if something is really working, we don’t even speak. If there’s some muse in the room blessing you in this moment, you keep quiet and grateful. Then, after the improvisations, after something magical has happened, you exhale and go like: ‘Is this disco? What the fuck just happened? OK, this is DISCO! Huh, it must have been all that Donna Summer we listened to last night.’
„The song ‘Real Love’ is 6 minutes of wandering around, without a roadmap”
-This is the first time that the band recorded all the music together, so you have the same musicians performing as the ones involved in the recording.
-Yeah, we all got to have that thrill together this time. Before, it was David (Lynch) doing all the instruments, but he wasn’t touring with me. And then with the John Parish record [producer of ‘We Dissolve’], John himself played a lot of the instruments, Chris and I wrote the songs, and then John had different musicians that came in to Bristol, UK. But this one was in Texas with my band, with my boys. They’re incredible, really sublime musicians. And now we get to collectively commiserate how difficult and challenging and satisfying it is to play these tracks live. When the songs are hard, they have the potential to be really good. The song, that is still the best one of the night, every night, because we’ve been playing it since the very first show, is ‘Real Love’. It was the hardest song ever to nail down; it’s 6 minutes of wandering around. There is no roadmap. It’s pretty much a stream of consciousness. But once we figured out how the dynamics would go, it sizzled. It was challenging, but once you learn it, you feel superpowerful. And then you have these opportunities to get very small and everybody is almost breathing together. When a band gets tight, you are reading each other’s minds. And this is what we are working towards always. But it’s impossible to do it in rehearsals; you have to be in front of an audience. Up there you are so vulnerable. You could fall over, and you could humiliate yourself so easily. You have these awkward moments where you’re still figuring out and then there is the possibility of transcendence. And these sublime moments are available, because you’ve done the work.
-I read the story behind ’52 Hz’ and found it fascinating. You wrote the song about the world’s loneliest whale, singing at a frequency that nobody else could understand, and the marine biologist studying it. How did the story become a song?
-I know. It’s not like every time you find a story fascinating, you can write a song about it. It doesn’t always happen. It has to kind of find you a little bit. But this whale and then… And it was Chris who brought it to my attention. Then I did a little more research to find out about the marine biologist who loved this whale. And he was dying and he wanted to hear this whale one more time. And I was like: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, this is too good. This is too much like poetry!’ We actually wrote that song for the ‘We Dissolve’ record, but John Parish was never into it – I think maybe because it sounded a little bit like PJ Harvey. And I thought it was such a good song. I guess every song has a destiny. Chris and I have written full albums of material, that we can’t do anything with, because we involved another songwriter and someone got upset about something, and all those songs had their own destiny, and maybe it’s to never be heard.
We actually started with ’52Hz’, knowing that it was going to be on this new record. That was our first one that we were like: ‘For sure, this one is a killer’. Just the guitar line is so, so fun! Our guitar player is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard and we knew he was going to kill that line, which is of course what he did. You’ll hear that tonight!