Chrysta Bell is attuned to the aura of the universe; to the static, the present, the here and the beyond. This is evident in her music, her thoughts, and her co-creations with director, David Lynch.
The openness of her spirit appeals to me. As a kid in England to the woman at the other end of the line, eight hours in the past, in a place called Oakland, just outside of San Fransisco and maybe even before that. When I tell her I reached out to her on a whim; that something told me to do so, the intonation in her voice lights up. “I am a big, big fan of good signs. They separate the moments,” she tells me joyously.
Talking to Chrysta Bell is like talking to the part of ourselves that we wrongly lock away on hitting adulthood. She exudes the meaning she finds in the world, which as a kid with her head permanently in the clouds, speaks to me, and we build on that. Our shared excitement, life philosophies, our shared dependence on caffeine, and the pesky little elves that deliver (and take) ideas.
“I think those signs are readily available if you’re really looking. I think they happen all the time,” she continues. “But there are just some times where just magic just slaps you in the face, and you’re like, okay, wow. Even my dense brain, just Zombie-walking through life, even I got that magic. It reminds you to be open and present and aware.”
Like me, the chances are you discovered Chrysta Bell as Agent Tammy Preston from Twin Peaks: The Return. When I tell her I watched the series on a 6-hour bus trip, shielding my laptop screen from the kids across the aisle from me, she laughs out loud. I picture her tilting her head back to go with the raucous bouts of laughter we exchange throughout the call and it makes me smile, even now.
Like me, you also may not have known that Chrysta Bell is, first and foremost, a musician.
Raised in San Antonio, Texas, Chrysta Bell Zucht’s world was swathed in music. Her mother is a professional singer who owned a studio with Chrysta’s late father and Chrysta gave her voice to the studio as a session singer, long before her post-high school uprooting to the state’s artistic capital, Austin.
Chrysta Bell met David Lynch almost twenty years ago when he became understandably captivated. Since then, they’ve recorded two full-length albums together—This Train and Somewhere in the Nowhere—and has recently released both an album and an LP independent of the pair’s collaborations.
We Dissolve—released via Meta Hari in 2017—was produced by long-time PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish and it was from that album that the track Heaven pulled me in, in my post-Tammy soul depression. The intoxication of Chrysta’s voice and the track’s rolling, Cocteau Twins-inspired guitar lick opened my ears to a new way of listening, and I had to reach out.
Luckily for me, something also told Chrysta Bell to speak to Inspirer, and I got to ask her questions about everything from her music to Twin Peaks, and how We Dissolve came to be.
“Take a moment to allow yourself to exfoliate the debris. When you take in all of that stuff—some of it is good stuff and thoughtful things, but a lot of it is like bugs on the windshield—it gets hard to decipher pure thought.”
It started with the weather. February sure is colder in Bristol than it is in Oakland.
So, you were in Bristol in February to record your album, We Dissolve, and you worked with John Parish. Like, the John Parish. PJ Harvey is one of my idols, so I was like… gasp. How did that all come to be?
Oh my God, I know. That is kind of how it came about.
I knew that I needed to find the next incarnation of my musical self; my musical existence and my sound and all of those things. After doing two records with David [Lynch] and identifying so much with the music that we were making, I knew that it was time for me to do whatever was coming next. I needed to figure out what that was as an artist. I mean, who follows David Lynch, as far as your producer—your captain—is concerned?
And I’m a collaborator. I love to collaborate.
I wanted to have a strong producer at the helm, and it had to be someone whose aesthetic and approach music wasn’t going to alienate the audience that I’d created with David or the music we’d made. So, the list was shorter and shorter as far as who could follow David and whose style could resonate with the music that I’d done.
I had a few people on the list and I talked to my manager [Annie Ohayon] about it. She was like, “Well, we can get in touch with John Parish. He’s a friend of mine.” That felt like a sign to me. I asked if she would please reach out. She represented Lou Reed for 20 years. She had amazing connections, but that she would just have John as a potential that she could just reach out to was… it felt very auspicious. So, she did reach out to him and we started communicating. I sent him some demos, and he basically said, “Yeah, I think this can work.”
“Someone told me an anecdote about the Beatles. Like, if they had to write down the melody, then it wasn’t good enough. And so, in my mind, I was like, if I’ve got a melody and I can’t remember it, then it’s not good enough. Eventually, I was like, fuck that. I am not the Beatles.”
He ended up being not only a talented, phenomenal musician but so low key and no fanfare. He does things impeccably well, like putting down entire drum takes in a single pass. He has a strong confidence, but it’s quiet. He gets the job done gracefully and graciously. He’s so lovely to be around and, all-in-all, I felt like we, scored on so many levels.
I have all these powerful associations with Bristol and John Parish, and so it was very satisfying and exciting to be able to work with him on the record [We Dissolve]. I felt like it was destiny. It was—it was destiny.
There are some things in your life where you’re like, “Oh, that was supposed to be like that.” And, sometimes, those things are great things, and sometimes those things are not so great things. Fortunately, in this case, the destiny was very positive and it worked out right.
Not everything does, but that worked out right.
With the demos, what was your process when it came to recording them? How do you come up with ideas for your songs and get them down on paper?
I have a songwriting partner in San Antonio, that I’ve been working with for a long time who works on key bass. Essentially, we’d sit in front of the computer—there’s a lot of sitting in front of the computer—toying and experimenting with sounds. He’s got a closet and a microphone. So then there’s a lot of me in the closet, improvising melodies and lyrics. That’s basically it.
The songs start in different ways. A lot of them start in my car and a lot of them start, like, I’ll have an idea when I’m about to go to sleep, and I have to drag myself out of bed. I’m always just like, “Oh, you rascal!” Those ideas that come right as I’m trying to fall asleep, I’m so grateful for, because an idea is so precious, but I’m always just like, “Oh yeah, you gotta make sure I work for it, man!” [laughs]
If you don’t make a note of that, you wake up all, “Awesome! This is such a good idea. I’m going to remember this.” And then you wake up in the morning and you’re like, “I… had a good idea?”
Nope! I’ve learned that the hard way. And then that’s the knife in the back that you’ve given to yourself. You’re like, this idea is so good, I won’t forget it. And then you do. But you remember the impression of how great the idea was, and you don’t have it. So, now you know that you’ve lost a great idea.
Someone told me an anecdote about the Beatles. Like, if they had to write down the melody, then it wasn’t good enough. And so, in my mind, I was like, if I’ve got a melody and I can’t remember it, then it’s not good enough. Eventually, I said, fuck that. I am not the Beatles! If I have a melody that I think is great, I’m gonna record it, because not everybody does this the same way. Maybe Paul McCartney didn’t have to write down or remember a melody by recording it or figuring it out on a piano because it was just so good that it wouldn’t leave his brain, but some of us are still human. [laughs] Everyone has to find their own way.
“I hadn’t seen Twin Peaks since I was very young, and what had made the deepest impression on me at the time was the music. So many of the concepts were so mature, sophisticated, and nuanced and the characters had so much going on, but the music and the visuals awakened something within me that was very special.”
Now, I try to give myself grace when I let an idea slip away. We have to treat our ideas as if they’re very, very precious. I guess maybe I think of ideas as little elves. Sometimes they come and hang out and sometimes they’re like, “Hmm, no, you didn’t treat us well the last time.” If you’re a place that is a fertile territory for ideas or if ideas know, as entities, that they can come to you and that you won’t squander the opportunity to receive them, they will. I feel like the ideas are like, “Hey! I’m gonna go over to this lady, she takes care of business. This guy, he will drag his butt out of bed at three in the morning to write it down.” [laughs] Now I’m just visualizing all these little weird idea elves.
When I was a kid, I used to picture sentient mice in my head, running on little wheels. That’s kind of like idea elves! I think maybe if start running in the middle of the night and, then, are like, “Yeeeeah, you’re not waking up, so I’m going to go somewhere else…”
Yeah! I mean, how many of my great ideas have, like, gone over to David Lynch? I could be the one that’s helping him be so fertile with his ideas because of all the little elves turning away. [laughs] I’m working on that. I’m always working on being a better artist or better at life, and so much of that is the grace that we give ourselves when we’re not doing the right thing. There’s that moment where we can either get better or we can keep doing what we’ve always been doing.
2018 has already provided a lot of moments where I’m just like, “Okay. It is a new year, Chrysta Bell, you’ve got this. You can start fresh.” And I would say 67% of the time I am grabbing hold of that opportunity to start fresh, and then there’s the other 33% that was left over. And that’s okay. We’re human. We’re just doing this dance we call life.
…this is what happens when an interview before coffee. [laughs]
I wish I was this good pre-coffee. I’m like in the new season of Twin Peaks before Cooper gets his groove back and he’s like a zombie, and he’s walking and is like, “Coooooooooooffeeeeeee.” That is me. That is me all the time. Which is a good way to get on to Twin Peaks.
I love Twin Peaks. I love Tammy. How did you get involved?
David was like, “Chrysta Bell, I think there might be a role for you in my new project.” I was like, “Oh really?” And then I said, “David, I haven’t watched it in a really long time, but I’m gonna go ahead and do that now.” [laughs] And so, I did.
I hadn’t seen Twin Peaks since I was very young, and what had made the deepest impression on me, at the time, was the music. So many of the concepts were so mature, sophisticated, and nuanced, and the characters had so much going on, but it was the music and the visuals that awakened something within me that was very special.
There’s a point where—because I’m so connected to David and there’s so much of his influence in me—I try not to inundate myself with his art because I need to have my own identity. I just hadn’t really watched Twin Peaks, and I now have, I have this gift of something that so many people have also felt so connected to and enlivened by, which I don’t know I would’ve gotten if David hadn’t asked me to be in it.
Twin Peaks is overflowing with magic and mysticism. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it, to make it come to the remarkable entity that has brought so much to so many people’s lives. To be a part of it—to even understand that I am a part of it—is a bit incomprehensible.
Slowly but surely, it’s sinking in.
I want to ask you about a transcendental meditation and how the process of that contributes to your ideas—your process, your songwriting, your music—your creativity. and everything like that. Are there any ways in which it helps you to channel those things?
If I could write the word “yes”, in neon, and blink it in your face, I would! [laughs] It does, but it does so much more than that.
Creativity is so much improved when there’s less clutter—all of that stuff that toxifies and bogs us down. And it’s not just creativity that’s assisted. It’s everything. Once you take a moment to allow yourself to exfoliate the debris. When you take in all of that stuff—some of it is good stuff and thoughtful things, but a lot of it is like bugs on the windshield—it gets hard to decipher pure thought.
What I mean is what’s coming from a place of awareness versus something that’s like, a thought-y thought; like something that got to you because someone said it somewhere or you heard it on a television show. There’s so much investigation of information, and I’m sensitive to it. I’m just like, “Wow, there’s a lot happening in my head right now.” In those moments, I feel clogged up. Like there’s no space for creativity. There’s not even a space to feel okay or to feel well or exuberant. It’s not that I get depressed a lot, either. It’s just that it’s a lot to hold. There is a lot going on, and our sweet spirits are just taking in all of this junk.
Connecting with loved ones, yoga; there are all kinds of things that cleanse you, but they’re just scratching the surface. They are all helpful, wonderful, beautiful things, but TM [transcendental meditation] is like taking a scrub brush to yourself. That’s so inelegant to say, but that is what it’s like; like you can clean a window, and sometimes you just get one layer of goo off of it and you’re like, “At least I figured out that it was a window because it looked like a wall…” [laughs]
You have these opportunities to release what you’re holding on to. And once you release it, you feel more peaceful. And once you feel more peaceful, you’re more open to ideas. TM takes you out of your own web of issues. It lets things melt away. And that is a profoundly powerful tool. I give it two big thumbs up!
“I think, maybe, some artists feel that if they’re not living on the edge of existence, that their art isn’t going to be potent, and I think David Lynch is a prime example that, that is not the case.”
There are a lot of people who are creative that create their magic from being low and from feeling isolated. And, it’s not that sadness is not something that can create beauty, but rather that what TM shows me is that you don’t have to make that sacrifice to be creative.
Clarity and inner peace can also create a beautiful flow, and it’s much easier to live and to be around others when you’re in a better place. I think, maybe, some artists feel that if they’re not living on the edge of existence, that their art isn’t going to be potent, and I think David Lynch is a prime example that, that is not the case.
Nobody has to suffer. We don’t need to suffer; we will and we do, but it doesn’t have to be absolute. There is so much to be gained from relieving ourselves of all that pressure.
Do you think that like we create our own meaning?
I once took this course called The Forum, and The Forum was all about getting down to the simple phrase that life is meaningless. At first, you rail against that because it seems like it’s such a violation or the taking of this life for granted, to say that it’s meaningless, but it’s the opposite of that. There’s nothing that can assess or assert meaning except for your own soul journey.
I think life is meaningless, but not in a way where nothing means anything. I mean it as in I think everything means everything. You can’t slice it up into bits. It’s like there is an all that is; there is a great unknown, there is an infinite awareness that is so much bigger than we can possibly fathom. Yet, we slice it all the time. One of the things that TM does is it gives you those minuscule moments of absolute truth. Like taking huge exhale. That’s just kind of how I see it.
Those moments are so we can appreciate where it is we come from and the connectedness that can be so comforting on a level beyond what our emotions can encompass. Beyond the feeling of happiness or sadness or anxiety or fear. It’s the totality of everything. That’s the kind of stuff I think about late, late at night and what brings me a sense of awe and of peace.
“People resist beauty every day, all the time; people resist love, people resist connection, and our world is toxic with resistance. But, when there is that surrender, it’s so beautiful, and that’s what this life is about. Breaking down that resistance.”
If fear starts to come up, like how this is so much bigger than I know how to understand. Like, I just want to handle life right now. I don’t want to think about the great beyond. When those thoughts come up, if I just surrender to those of life’s boundless joy and infinite wonder, the fear melts away. The fear is just fear of trying to make sense of things. And if there’s something we don’t know, we feel fear, right?—resistance, I like to call it—of the vast beauty.
People resist beauty every day, all the time; people resist love, people resist connection, and our world is toxic with resistance. But, when there is that surrender, it’s so beautiful, and that’s what this life is about.
Breaking down that resistance.
As a traveler, and not just on tour, have you ever had any of those moments of surrender?
When Inland Empire went to the Venice film festival—this was in 2006 or something—I had jet lag, woke up at midnight, and just started walking the streets of Venice. I had the most soulful experience. Like I was an apparition.
I was walking the cobblestones, and I walked and walked and walked. I felt like I was a part of the essence of the city itself. This was one of those moments when I felt like I was connecting with the greater humanity; to the idea of a city and all of the energy it can hold in its rocks; the wheels that have passed over and the seats that have sat on and the windows that people have cleaned. There was an integration with everything that was there. It was really beautiful and memorable.
There’s a song that David and I did later called, Somewhere in the Nowhere. There are parts of that song that reflect that feeling. In the song, it’s a little more intense. It’s screams and fights and crying coming out of the windows. More like beat poetry; kind of intense. But the chorus to Somewhere in the Nowhere is that same collective energy that I was sharing with all of these other beings in this city of Venice, Italy with all of its own history.
It had this energy of infinity, but it was still inside of a moment. It was all of those things at once. I think about that walk alone at night a lot. I’ve written about it. I’ve got a lot of those experiences, but that one was super special.
“It had this energy of infinity, but it was still inside of a moment. It was all of those things at once.”
Kind of like Chrysta Bell herself.
“That’s the elves again,” I tell her. “But we’re listening.”
She laughs, fervency in her voice as she proclaims, “That’s it! That’s it, I love it.”
Chrysta Bell is embarking on her European tour as we speak. Dates can be found on her website. Don’t hesitate to catch her live if you can help it.
Her eponymous EP, Chrysta Bell, is also available to stream and by, as of March 3rd here.