Dean Hurley is a wearer of many hats – in addition to running David Lynch’s Asymmetrical Studios, he is also the director’s longtime musical collaborator and music supervisor. In this two-part feature, he speaks to us about working with Lynch on Twin Peaks: The Return, and “protecting the experience” of the show.
Hi Dean, thanks so much for taking the time today. It would be great to start with a little bit of your background and how you began working with David Lynch.
Well, back in January 2005 I started working at David Lynch’s Asymmetrical Studios. David built the studio after he finished filming Lost Highway. He converted part of a house to be a large dub stage/recording studio hybrid. Dub stages are set up like a movie theater with a console in the centre, but he did all these tweaks where he has isolation booths for drums, for vocals, and so on. You can really do everything in this room. It’s more than just a home studio – it’s an incredible space and he needs someone to operate it full time because it’s fairly complex. He had an engineer prior to me who was let go, so he was on the hunt for someone else.
I was brought in for an interview along with some other candidates, and so I just met David randomly. The job description was really vague – I was told that David Lynch was looking for an engineer for his recording studio. That wasn’t really my area of expertise at the time, or what I wanted to do, but during the interview I realized that David talked about music and sound in the same way that I do. I realized I was going to be doing a lot of different things, not just engineering recording sessions. So I took the job and it’s been something that continually morphs and changes. I’ve been doing everything from recording with him, writing music with him, mixing his films, his commercial work and being a music supervisor on larger projects when it’s deemed necessary.
You must have been pretty experienced to be considered for the job in the first place. How did you get into music?
To be honest, when I started this job I was at a point where I was not focused on music at all. I was working at a place called SounDelux, which was a leading post-production sound facility where major Hollywood films would get sound editorial and supervision. I was really interested in doing sound for film. When I was in high school I got my first 4-track and I would record my friend’s bands – it was like a self-taught hobby. I never really went to school for engineering, I was just having fun with it. I think that ended up serving me well in this job, because even though I was intimidated at first, it ended up being the point where I grew the most because it was like a crash course in making music again. It kind of jump started me again.
That must have been a real baptism of fire, first being thrown back into music, and then starting work for David Lynch!
Yeah, it was weird. It was uncomfortable at first because every studio has its own quirks – and this one particularly. I remember in my first week I was like, “okay, give me two weeks to just learn your room!” I remember the moment, sitting cross-legged in front of the patchbay being like, okay, I’ve got to figure all this out.
So the first project that you and David worked together on was Inland Empire, and then you made two albums, “Crazy Clown Time”, and “The Big Dream”?
Yeah. From day one we were working on a lot of music together. That was the big thing in the job interview – he said, “We’re going to work on a lot of music up here.” And that was true. In the first month we recorded “Ghost of Love”, the song from Inland Empire. David works on his music like he works on his paintings – he’s continually adding stuff and seeing if it works. Over the course of five years there was a lot of experimentation. Some of it was more score or instrumental and keyboard-based, and some of it was more rock or jam-based. I got the impression that he had done this throughout his life – even when he didn’t have his own studio he would frequent Cherokee Studios and experiment with a group of musicians. Now he can wander into his own studio at any point when inspiration strikes and work on stuff.
“One lesson I’ve learned from David is you just always work. You keep working and channeling whatever’s coming to you.”
One lesson I’ve learned from him is you just always work. You keep working and channeling whatever’s coming to you and then you throw it in a bin. And then after a while you take a look at your bins and you think, “wow, this group of stuff is kind of similar.” And you recognize that it starts to resemble an album. And then the other element of it is having another bin with all this film score firewood. So when it comes time for him to work on a commercial or a film, it’s like, well, what music do we have for this? And then the supervision role comes in and I’ll start feeding him things from our myriad of experiments over the years, and maintaining this library of material that’s all original.
That’s amazing. How do you sort through all of that music?
It’s a lot like playing the game memory – there’s a lot of shorthand with us. He’ll say, “Remember when we did that thing where I used the electric toothbrush on my guitar?” And I’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.
You recently said that the first time you had an inkling about Twin Peaks coming back was when David and Mark Frost wanted to screen the very last episode.
I think the first time I heard about David meeting with Mark was when I came back from a Christmas break. In all my years working here, Mark had never come up, so first of all I was just stoked to hear that they were just getting back together and talking about things. And then they started to get together more frequently and they seemed to be scheming something…
So you then begin work on the show – how would you describe your role and your working relationship with David?
My role is an interesting one because it happens much later in the process. It’s unusual for someone like me to be around when a project is just getting started. But because I’m here it was like getting a middle row view into the early process. As David is working on things he will give me clues, like, “We’re going to need to figure out a way to do this”, or, “What would it sound like if this were happening?” And so I can start to prepare things and then play them back for him. And I would imagine that somehow feeds into his ideas on how he wants to move forward. So getting involved early is a real strong suit – I think we’d get a lot more creative solutions to problems if a lot of people were working in that way.
“Getting involved early is a real strong suit – I think we’d get a lot more creative solutions to problems if a lot of people were working in that way.”
The director of Baby Driver recently described working the sound of gunshots into a remix of a song that ultimately scored these really intricately woven action sequences. And then they ended up choreographing the whole sequence to that gunfire, and that’s precisely the thing that I’m talking about. It’s that relationship where when you weave something a certain way and you’re bowled over the end result; it’s a perfect marriage. I think that can only happen when ideas are worked on at that early stage of the process. People think they need to make a movie and then get someone to put some great sound to it, but really it’s much more of a marriage from the script page to the production and to the largest extent, the picture editing. Sometimes in order to get interesting sound and picture relationships, you have to think about that and build it into the writing.
Absolutely. We hear time and time again about music supervisors who are frustrated to be involved at such a late stage in the production.
Yeah, and it’s not just me – David has worked like this like throughout his entire career. When he was writing Blue Velvet he was writing it to the Bobby Vinton song and to Shostakovich’s “Symphony 15”, and that ended up defining so much of the tone of the film. I actually found the mix tape he must have written it to when I was going through the archive a few years back.
You do hear about a lot of people writing to music, but it’s different when you’re writing in the music; there were a couple of instances in Twin Peaks: The Return where the music was written into the script. Like the moment when Becky has her head back in the convertible and The Paris Sisters’ “I Love How You Love Me” is playing. Or when “My Prayer” by The Platters is playing in Part 8 during that whole sequence. Those are the kinds of relationships that are best when they come from the director, because they’re the emotional compass throughout the whole thing.
I think that music has birthed a lot of the ideas in David’s films. Even the story of Mulholland Drive and Rebekah Del Rio – that whole scene was born out of a lucky visit. Rebekah came to the studio to meet David and she went into a booth with a live microphone, and the engineer at the time was rolling. She sang the song that appears in the film, and that was the take that was used. And then that inspired that scene. David’s real big on serendipity and the cosmic alignment of things. When you get these clues or when something strikes you in a certain way and it carries a weight or an importance, you’re just sensitive with that. And you listen to that and see where it takes you. It can lead to a lot of really cool things.
Angelo Badalementi is of course back on board for Twin Peaks: The Return. You recently mentioned that he’s been working on the show via Skype?
Angelo has lived in New Jersey for quite a long time, and so it’s just harder him and David to get together. Jim Bruening, Angelo’s studio assistant, and I were having a chat about this plug-in called Source-Connect – it’s like an alternative to an ISDN, and it broadcasts 320kbps MP3 quality audio with a minimal web latency so that you can literally pipe it into a studio and broadcast to another studio and have the audio quality be as if the person was in the room with you.
So I think because of that technology we wanted to give it a whirl. This was well before they had started working on the new Twin Peaks – it was just about giving them the opportunity to get together and work with the technology. Both of them loved it because it was how they worked in the early days, being in a room together talking through different ideas. It was kind of a “whoa” moment because the technology allowed them to be able to do that same thing without leaving their houses. They could get together at any point.
That’s amazing. The show has been relatively sparse in terms of score music so far, will we be hearing more of Angelo’s work in the second half?
Yeah. I mean I’m sure you will…
Is this something you have to be quite tight-lipped about?
I can’t really go into detail or create any anticipation or expectation for what people think they may or may not experience. That’s been the challenge with this whole thing, and I’ve learned a lot with David’s mentality that it’s an experience that really needs protecting. Everything today is so putrefied by going into an experience, having heard this or that about it. You’re literally walking in with not only a frame of reference, but sometimes a judgmental quality of, “Well, I’m expecting to hear this because I read about this”, or, “They said this was going to happen, so, where is it?”, you know? David’s really against that sort of thing, so there’s a lot of secrecy because you’re trying to protect the individual’s experience.
The first musical cue of the show sees “evil” Cooper entering to “American Woman” (David Lynch Remix) by Muddy Magnolias. What’s the story behind that?
That was an interesting one. David has had a music agent at CAA for ages, a guy named Brian Loucks. He’s a real special person because he’s been working with David since Julie Cruise’s “Floating into the Night” LP – he crafted that deal. When he saw Blue Velvet it spoke to him so much that he contacted David and said, “I want to work with you. I don’t care what it is.” He just felt compelled to offer up his help. He was the one who said, “If you ever want to make an album, let me know”, and I think that really helped plant the seed for those Julie Cruise full-length albums.
David and Angelo had worked with her on Blue Velvet for the song “Mysteries of Love”, which of course was born out of David not being able to use This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren.” The producer Fred Caruso was encouraging David to work with Angelo on a replacement song, so David gave him some lyrics and out came the song. And then Brian came along and brought Warner Records into the fold; this was a big reason we got even more music from Angelo, Julie and David. It was almost like an entire little sub-genre of whatever it is that “Song to the Siren” had touched upon – this sort of cosmic ethereal sound.
This is a real roundabout way of getting back to Brian, but sometimes he’ll send me music. So he sent me “American Woman” by Muddy Magnolias which is a nice pop song, but I didn’t think David would be particularly enamoured with it. But because it was Brian I felt an obligation to play it for him, and when I did he’s like, “Well, do me a favour, slow it down by half speed.” So I did that and it was like “whoa” – this thing just took on a whole new life. What was a pop number became the most unexpected, rough, ragged, moody piece I’ve ever heard. I was just blown away, because again, like with what we were just talking about with trying to protect someone’s experience of something, I was very ready to just write that song off.
“It just takes somebody like David to throw a different perspective on it and there, hidden at half speed, was an incredible piece of music.”
It just takes somebody like David to throw a different perspective on it and there, hidden at half speed, was an incredible piece of music. He’s done that before – he took Chris Isaak’s “In the Heat of the Jungle” and slowed it down to half speed for the backyard motel sequence in Wild at Heart. That was one of my favourite moments and pieces of music in that film. Sometimes you forget things are possible. You forget that you can just slow something down and turn it into something incredible.
Yeah, that’s amazing. And then that track ends up being the first real musical cue in the series.
Yeah. I mean at the time it wasn’t, because it’s not like things are worked on linearly. But yeah, it ends up being the first needle drop in the series that people took notice of because it sounds otherworldly, it sounds totally unlike anything. It ended up being a challenge to try to license that with the artist and the record company. We had to jump through some hoops, but it was worth it.
The majority of the music in the show is heard (and seen) in the Roadhouse. How were those artists chosen? Were you inundated with bands wanting to be involved?
I would say that none of them were general submissions, or people saying, “Consider me”, because I don’t think it was even known that it was going to be a possibility. Had it been known that it wasn’t going to be like the original series, and that instead of just a house band and Julie Cruise there was going to be a different act each time, I’m sure the response would have been ridiculous.
David wanted a variety of bands to play at the Roadhouse, and at first he wanted all local bands, because we realized it could get really cost prohibitive flying all these bands over from different areas. But it turned out that artists I began having conversations with were very willing to travel, so it became just about bringing in whoever felt right. David had an idea of bands he wanted in the show that he’s always liked, such as Au Revoir Simone, and then from there I set about finding additional artists to put in front of him.
The Cactus Blossoms are an example of a band I randomly reached out to. I discovered them online – they had just put out an album and I thought, oh man, David’s going to flip when he hears these guys. I was really excited to play them for him. The familial vocal harmonies that they have are amazing, it’s like The Everly Brothers. So I remember hyping it up to David and saying, “What if I told you that you could have The Everly Brothers play in the Roadhouse?” He just looked at me and his eyes got really wild, like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about but I want the Everly Brothers to play in the Roadhouse.” So I played The Cactus Blossoms for him and he loved them. And he didn’t even pick the song that I thought he would pick, but I think that song, “Mississippi”, ended up being perfect.
It’s always difficult with something like this because it’s so high profile. When I’m reaching out to managers I have to be a little coy at first and not reveal what it’s for, but still express some interest and get a feeling for the personality of the band and whether they’re going to be cool to work with. Chromatics were another example of a band I put in front of David. That relationship ended up being super fruitful because Johnny Jewel is probably the nicest guy living in Los Angles. He is so generous that not only was it about getting his band in the Roadhouse, but he would also send me other thematically appropriate score ideas. We ended up with this small library of Johnny Jewel cues in the show, and that’s how it’s supposed to happen, you know; it’s supposed to be super organic. There’s not a lot of talk about money upfront or anything like that, it just ends up being all about facilitating the art.
Check out Part 2 where Dean talks about working with Riley Lynch, Nine Inch Nails, lessons he’s learnt from David, and more.
You can also listen to the music from Twin Peaks: The Return via Showtime’s playlist: