Feature photo by Rene & Radka
It’s been a wonderful and strange time for Johnny Jewel. For the last couple of years, the Italians Do It Better founder and multi-instrumentalist of Chromatics, Glass Candy, Desire, and Symmetry has been shuffling in and out of a multitude of realities. He’s devoted much of his time to Dear Tommy, the followup to the Chromatics’ 2012 magnum opus, Kill For Love. He’s scored films for Ryan Gosling and Fien Troch. He released a solo album.
But he’s also been collaborating with David Lynch, and that’s a whole other world unto itself. Whether it’s a feature-length film, a Calvin Klein ad, or a music festival, Lynch operates with razor-sharp precision and the utmost mystery. As such, he’s very selective about his extended Lynchian family, which includes anyone from composer Angelo Badalamenti to actress Naomi Watts to singer Chrysta Bell and the list goes on.
Needless to say, Jewel stepped right through the curtains with Twin Peaks: The Return. He brought revelry to the ending of the two-hour premiere with his performance of “Shadow” alongside the Chromatics. He gave depth to Special Agent Dale Cooper as “Windswept” reverberated across a desolate and confusing Las Vegas nightmare. And he backed Julee Cruise for the conclusion of the series’ emotional, penultimate episode.
Yet for all his involvement, Jewel has similarly been in the dark like us. In fact, when we spoke to him, only four days ahead of the series’ two-part finale, the only thing he knew for certain was that he performed “The World Spins” alongside Cruise for “Part 17”. So, naturally, it was exciting to stumble around in the abyss together, trying to parse out what’s to come, and what we learned is that, for him, there’s plenty of light ahead.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
You’ve done a lot of work with Nicolas Winding Refn, but how did you get connected with David Lynch? It almost seemed like you got sucked into a “Black Lodge” yourself. We were waiting for Dear Tommy [the announced upcoming Chromatics album], then, all of a sudden, boom, a new Johnny Jewel album. Then you were involved with Twin Peaks. How the hell did this all come together?
A couple years ago, we released a rough version of the “Shadow” single, a Chromatics song, and Dean Hurley, who is David Lynch’s music supervisor, heard it. He also works with him on his solo albums, and they remix them together. Dean also has some tracks in the series, as well – more abstract score things. So, Dean heard it and was given the task of presenting things to David for what The Roadhouse in 2015 would look and sound like. So, he was suggesting bands to David that he thought appealed to the Twin Peaks universe. So, he put “Shadow” in front of David, who felt it was perfect.
From there, we started a dialogue. I presented things like Desire and Heaven and other projects I was working on. The Desire song I presented, David asked Chromatics to cover, on a whim, at The Roadhouse, which is the instrumental version in “Part 12”. Any time I work on a project, I go all in, and it becomes my world. So, I just began recording more and more unsolicited stuff and kept sending it to David. And he got ears on it, and it just sort of unraveled. It was never the intention to actually submit any score. But, like with Lost Highway or Wild at Heart, there’s a bouquet of artists and composers all interweaving. And it kind of worked out to be a situation like that.
At first, I was a little shy. Angelo Badalamenti is untouchable. His work on Twin Peaks is phenomenal. So, it wasn’t something I was taking lightly at all. I felt compelled to keep recording music and a series of improvisations. I think I sent them about five to seven hours of stuff. In the end, I recorded over 20 hours. I tried to keep it judicious. I knew the show was 18 hours, so I figured, well, five to seven hours of music isn’t a big deal. Of course, I think David wanted it to be modern, more contemporary, more sparse musically, which I think really worked. I’m really enjoying the space, like the negative space, sonically.
So, that’s how it started. I felt compelled to do it and wanted to be involved and contribute to the larger picture in any way that David found useful.
Photo by Rene & Radka
Did you and David Lynch ever meet in person?
Oh, yeah. I wasn’t working with picture, though. No one was. That was something that was really different. Usually, you’re working in tandem with picture. That has benefits and side effects, as well. You look at filmmakers who are known for a really, really intense musical presence in their films, like Scorsese or Tarantino or Lynch. Mostly they’re using previous material or music that wasn’t specifically composed for their film. This synergy with the image and the sound is much larger and has this magical thing. I believe that part of that is that the music is allowed its own impetus without the confines and parameters of a picture cut.
Like, “Tick of the Clock” for Drive existed completely as a musical moment for so long, and then it was merged in this way that completely dominates the feeling of the film. But if you had asked me to write something for that scene, or if you had asked me to write something for the closing of the pilot to The Roadhouse, it wouldn’t have been as strong. It would have been good, but there’s something about “intent.”
David edits around music, and it works really, really well. One of the greatest composers of all time, Ennio Morricone, I’m not sure that he ever scored to picture in his life … I know, generally, he did the music and they’d cut the film to it, which is why those Spaghetti Westerns are three hours long. The musical scenes were unedited, and they would just hang on the shot. As a result, there’s this really epic feeling about the music. It’s gorgeous already, but there’s just something to be said for not squeezing the composer into oblivion with picture cuts. I think David understands that.
Also, he was preferring to work with everyone in the dark. The actors knew their parts. But the full assemble and full arc, very few people knew. Even at the premiere in LA, Showtime had the daunting task of introducing something they hadn’t even seen yet. To have that kind of autonomy and veil is pretty powerful and rare, especially in the digital world.
Were you there at the premiere at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles?
I was down the street at soundcheck. We had seats, but I decided not to let the band go. David wanted us to be the only band playing afterwards, and we hadn’t played a show in four years. The last time the Chromatics were on stage was actually at the theater where Rebekah Del Rio collapses in Mulholland Drive. The first time we were on stage since then is The Roadhouse, and the first time we were live again is the Twin Peaks after-party. So, it’s pretty weird. We were supposed to go to the premiere. They were surprised. David asked me at the after-party, “What did you think?” I told him, “Well, I was here soundchecking.” He was really excited to know our reaction about the pilot, his secret. So we had Glass Candy (Ida [No] was there), and Megan [Louise] from Desire. Heaven and Twisted Wires. Everyone else was at the premiere. Everybody that was rolling with us except the band was at the show.
Photo by Rene & Radka
So, you didn’t watch until the television premiere like everyone else…
Two days later, we rented a giant house in Palm Springs, flew everybody in and had a big party, and watched the first four.
I can only imagine what that must have felt like for you, seeing that for the first time. Did everyone just erupt?
I turned away because I don’t watch myself on screen. But I got a glimpse. I just wanted to see the lighting and see Ruth [Radelet]. I got the gist. I still haven’t seen the full scene. It was a long time coming. And the impact of the original series on me musically and the work of Julee Cruise and everything, it was a huge, huge honor that David wanted us to be that first taste. The first two hours are really challenging, and, of course, he knows that. And to go out with sugar on top, and that’s Chromatics, is a huge honor for us.
And it’s a callback; I think he used us to convey a familiar feeling. It was really romantic.
I really love “Windswept”. I love that it’s Dale Cooper’s theme — and how Lynch used it when he’s wandering around Vegas and lost and frozen — but I also think that it’s an appropriate theme for this year. It’s melancholy, but there’s this glimmer of hope underneath the saxophone. What does this song mean to you, and where do you think it came from?
So, the track and the album were named after the street I was born on in Houston. “Windswept” was in the second batch of stuff I sent to David and Dean unsolicited. I felt a little bit shy about sending this stuff, but I felt compelled to do it. Just meditating, not literally, and thinking about the series and what it meant to me. Another thing that was unusual about the process — when we were working on the show, I made everyone promise me that they wouldn’t watch the old series. I wanted our interpretation of Twin Peaks to be from disintegrated memory, rather than on the nose or trying to aim for anything like that. I felt if something was going to work, it was going to work in an intuitive way because David is so into intuition and happy accidents.
I make all my albums like this. I don’t try to guess what’s going to be popular or what’s going to work. I try to go with what I feel is strongest. We make pop music, but we’re not in a pop realm, in terms of trying to get on the radio or on the charts. We’re making traditional pop songs, but we’re going off instincts and intuition and wherever that takes us. Sometimes, it’s into really obscure territory. Sometimes, it’s into more catchy territory. But all that matters is that it’s really, really strong and that I feel like I’m doing the idea of the song justice.
So, when I was working on “Windswept”, the sound of Twin Peaks was just a distant memory for me other than Julee Cruise, who’s in frequent rotation. But the actual score and show and the way that music was used in the original show were really just distant memories. I stopped watching the show in the mid-’90s because it became too painful; it had to do with my best friend, who killed himself. Watching Twin Peaks had kinda been our thing. And then when I moved to Montreal and met Megan from Desire, that was the first time I was able to watch the show again. We watched the whole thing together, and that was around the start of Desire. So, as of now, it’s been another eight years since I watched. I’m waiting for the season to be fully over, and then I’m going to go back and watch everything together.
So, Twin Peaks came to symbolize the end of one era and the beginning of another for me. I know a lot of people hold it in high regards and have a reverence for the show in a similar way, for different reasons. So, for me, it was pretty intense working on it. In a way, I’m entering a new era of my life right now, and Twin Peaks is kinda there again — being a piece of that puzzle. So, I wanted “Windswept”, the name of the street I was born on, to be the name of the album and track.
When I titled the album that, I didn’t know if it’d be used or not, but it’s kind of an amalgamation of a couple recurring dreams I had as a child and just the geography of where that house is located. Two blocks away on one side are train tracks, and two blocks away on the other side is a graveyard. And I have distinct memories from when I was a kid of autumn in Texas, which is really romantic — the leaves all brown and dry, and the sound of the leaves, in gusts of wind, scraping along the pebble-stone concrete that was sort of popular in the ’70s. So, the initial idea was that I wanted to have the drums emulate the scraping, brushing sound.
I used to have this recurring dream of these dry leaves trying to form this shape, surrounded in black, but I always woke up before they could. And that was part of the concept of the rhythm section — the scraping leaves on the pavement and also the sound of branches in the wind hitting the window. And I wanted to have a musical element that mirrored the sound of a train coming. And when this train would hit, it would just echo for so long. But I wanted a really reverberate, brassy sound, which is that really long saxophone. So, I laid down the drums, laid down the Rhodes. Everything was improvised, all linear. I actually don’t remember recording the melody. Sometimes I can fall asleep when recording. It’s hypnotizing. I think I may have just zoned out that time.
When I sent it, there was no sense of how it would be used. I did send them a little video that I made on my phone. I just wanted to see how it would look like against Cooper’s face. It’s that scene where he’s dancing at The Roadhouse, slow dancing with a woman. So, I played it against that. Sometimes, I’ll just throw something at a picture just to see if it fits. So, in my mind, I was thinking Cooper, but that conversation was never had.
I kinda get those images when I listen to that song. I’m a huge fan of Ray Bradbury and the way he captures the feeling of fall and even neighborhood sounds. That kind of cozy but also unnerving feeling in the air.
Isn’t it autumn when Romeo and Juliet die? In my mind, they fall in love in spring and die in the fall. There’s this romantic aspect to the fall, but there’s this darkness there, too — the end of summer is so magical. Here in LA, people always say that we don’t have seasons, but we do. It’s spring in the morning, summer in the evening, and fall at night. In Texas, the autumnal feeling is so intense.
Well, I love the track and the entire album. I’m really glad it came out before the series.
I wasn’t going to put it out like that until about three weeks before we premiered. I was going to put it out after. But I got clearance from David and everybody on that side. I assumed they’d be putting out a soundtrack sooner. But they gave me the green light to do it, and I just tried to be really tasteful and celebrate the show. I wasn’t trying to make it all about me or anything like that. I just wanted to give something to the fans, who I thought would respond to it. Give them something to hold them over.
What was the filming process like for the actual performances on the show?
It was pretty tight. I was there three or four times for different reasons. For example, did you watch last week’s episode [“Part 16”]? So, the piano that the guy is playing in the jazz band — that’s my Rhodes from “Windswept”. I had loaned them some equipment, like a saxophone. So, I was there a few different times. In “Part 17”, it’s the final stop at The Roadhouse, and Chromatics was asked to be Julee Cruise’s backing band, so we had to do that in addition to our other two performances, and that was just absolutely incredible. We did the Julee stuff in two takes. Everything was really pretty brief. We played “Saturday” once. And we did “Shadow” twice.
For the bands, David just wanted everyone to be themselves. We all dressed ourselves and did our own makeup. The only organization we had was I gave them a stage spot of where I thought Julee should be in regards to Chromatics because I played piano, Ruth played organ, Adam played guitar, Alex played saxophone, and Nat played drums. So, we had to figure out how to get everyone on stage. That was pretty much the only coordination. I think David’s approach with the bands was Well, let’s just just see what they’re gonna do — see what’s working. He was really warm with everybody, but he was pretty hands-off with the bands. I think he was just in the mode of “collecting.”
For “Audrey’s Dance”, I was there. That was way more orchestrated. I was behind David when they were filming.
Did you ever get to a point where you stopped being shocked that you were there? Or did you get used to it?
It was weird. The whole thing seemed incredibly appropriate and normal the whole time. It’s surreal if I try to file it logically and think about watching the show and never imagining myself all these years later. But, if I’m being honest, it really wasn’t how it felt. My attitude was that I want to be the best chess piece I can and to do my job and be as in the moment as possible, so I can be as useful as possible. When you’re in that state of mind, which we talked at great length about before we went in, ego’s out the door, pride’s out the door, any type of “oh my god” is out the door because you’re just trying to be a conduit as much as possible.
It kind of felt like doing a festival, not because there were bands there — the way that you’re almost going into battle, in a sense, and you just want to do the best you can for everybody that’s there and connect as best as you can. It was a rare situation, for me, because I was really able to let go because I wasn’t in control, which I normally am. It was like floating or something.
Someone pointed out on Reddit that the guitar player was wearing the owl ring…
Yeah, we all are.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Wow, was that intentional? Did you guys just slip that in there on your own?
Yeah, it was intentional. But we’re not doing it in The Roadhouse; we are in the “Shadow” video. The whole idea of a shadow world and doppelgängers and mirror images and a multiverse play into the themes of Twin Peaks, which is one of the reasons why I think David responded to “Shadow” so much was the lyrical content. And you know, I like the idea of recording the video on Valentine’s Day, which is now notorious for Dear Tommy Didn’t Come Out Day, so I thought it would be kind of an interesting nod, not a joke, but just the idea that the band is trapped in this weird shadow world. So, we filmed the video to echo Blue Velvet with Isabella Rossellini, but I didn’t want to dress up Ruth like Isabella, so we just had her dress like how she would dress, and she has blonde hair. The song, itself, is like a syrupy doo-wop, so it has these elements of familiarity with Julee Cruise, so we wanted to dedicate the video to Blue Velvet and Julee Cruise.
And at this time you had no idea you’d be filming with Julee Cruise?
No, we made the video after we had already shot The Roadhouse with Julee. Well, I deleted the video because I deleted everything … The Roadhouse footage was shot on the same day as the “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” video. We’re wearing the exact same clothes. Ruth’s got that white Gucci blouse on. We’re playing the same guitars, and we filmed the video as kind of a warm-up. Before we went, we wanted to do our own kind of screen test. And we thought, if we’re doing a screen test, we might as well make a video. And I thought that, in the long story of things, it’s interesting to have a dueling black-and-white video against the color Roadhouse footage, again kinda mirroring some of the Twin Peaks ideas. But again, that was with the intention that Dear Tommy was imminent.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
To go back to Julee Cruise for just one second. Did you get to collaborate with her on a new song, or was it an older song that you were covering?
We did “The World Spins” in six minutes and 38 seconds. The only drums are these really, really rare cymbal hits — they’re really sparse and random. So, we actually practiced for over a week, like seven or eight hours a day, playing the song. We were going with playback for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons was totally different union scales for if you’re playing live. That’s one of the reasons why Ruth’s name leaked early on. A lot of people don’t realize this, but that list of 200 people that leaked … that was a SAG list, a Screen Actors Guild list. That’s basically anybody who had speaking parts, which costs the same if you lip-sync. That was why Ruth was on there and the band wasn’t — because Ruth was the only one moving her mouth.
So, everybody thought she was acting in the thing, which we never said. Then everyone thought the band broke up, which is something we obviously never said. But I also told David’s camp that I wouldn’t say anything about the show at all, so I wasn’t going to get on there and debate these theories either. Everyone was supposed to be secretive, but all the bands talked about their involvement except us. And finally they were like, “Aren’t you ever gonna say anything?”
But I didn’t want to say anything because … I’m still in a period of not doing interviews, but this is different because I’m trying to support the soundtrack. So, I decided instead of saying something, I was going to make an image, so I made that Laura Palmer image with the records and the guitar and saxophone [see below]. That was my way of making a public statement that we were involved.
It’s like you learned the ways from David Lynch yourself.
Well, I first saw Twin Peaks when I was 15, so it’s gotta be in my DNA somewhere. But everything just felt natural, and it felt more appropriate to do something visual than make a press release that felt kinda cheap. I did a Q&A in New Orleans last week with Dean — they asked me to go out there and do it for the soundtrack — and Rebekah Del Rio performed. And I realized on stage that that was the first time I had spoken publicly about the whole thing.
That’s gotta be hard not talking about something like this.
It was really easy for me because, again, I keep coming back to this word “reverent.” It was really important for me not to be feeling myself or pretending that Chromatics was the new Julee Cruise or anything like that. I mean, Angelo, Julee, David — all that shit is 100% untouchable. And so it was just so important to me to be respectful and contribute in any way that he and Mark [Frost] saw fit and not get in the way, get on social media, or Instagram backstage — a selfie with Julee or some shit like that. It just wasn’t appropriate. Also, when we played the party after the premiere, I had a fireproof lock box at my house with 15 cell phones in it. I took everyone’s phone for the premiere. And also for The Roadhouse, none of us had phones. It was really, really important to me that everybody was in the moment, and that there was no distraction, there was no ego, there was no, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to text my friend about this.”
Photo by Rene & Radka
I think that’s what’s made it such an interesting series. I still have no idea what’s going to happen. Even with Game of Thrones, they try to wrap up as many secrets as possible, even if they never do. But with Twin Peaks, up until the second it premiered, we were in the dark. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen, and I think a lot of it does speak to the reverence of the people involved. Everyone really committed to making it this enigmatic thing that you had to experience in that moment…
It’s a gift to the audience.
As soon as we hit The Roadhouse in New York on Eastern Time, we unlocked the “Shadow” video from Palm Springs because we knew we were going to be in the closing scene. And I even wondered whether or not we should release the “Shadow” video earlier in the year because we’d been sitting on it for months. We shot it in 2016, and then we ended up editing it in early 2017. And I decided, I’m not going to rob the fans of that moment. And by the time we hit New York, everyone on the West Coast will be watching the premiere, and they shouldn’t be checking social media while watching the premiere.
So, we unlocked the “Shadow” video to be this kind of whiplash, one-two punch, because I also didn’t want … We had the option to share that Roadhouse footage, but I really wanted everyone to experience it in that two-hour span. So, we decided to do the “Shadow” video instead. Even still, we took down a lot of videos on YouTube ripping the Roadhouse footage because I want to respect the first two episodes. It was something that we really put a lot of thought into. For example, David wanted to keep our instrumental version of “Saturday” for the soundtrack as a bonus, so we never released that out of respect.
It was all about trying to facilitate, anyway we could, for the whole Twin Peaks world. To let it be as special as it could be for the fans, which is hard with everyone chomping at the bit to capitalize on stuff — it’s gotta be frustrating. I’m just a tiny, little producer, but I understand in my world that I have autonomy and I have control over privacy and secrecy, and that’s very, very important to me. And I just try to imagine how, if people from my crew were just constantly leaking stuff, that would make me feel. With David and something as iconic as Twin Peaks, it’s even way worse, and the temptation is so strong. I’m proud to say that we didn’t ruin the surprise for anybody.
And I remember looking for those scenes afterwards, just because I really wanted to relive it, and having to scan to those scenes, which is great because I actually ended up watching the episodes multiple times.
That’s what I wanted. Even if you’re skipping through to see it, you’re still seeing it in context, and I felt that that was very important. Even, though, it does sort of feel like a music video at the end with these performances at The Roadhouse, I still wanted to do everything in my power to try and keep it in the world of Twin Peaks. Since we own the copyright and publishing, anyone who uploads it without our permission — we’re able to keep steering things back to the show.
So, now, what happens for you and Chromatics? Now that you’re moving ahead from Twin Peaks, you get to go back to your original plans.
Season Four, man! [Laughs.]
Well, we’re following this through. We have a video coming out on Tuesday that’s a montage of live footage from that Twin Peaks party. We did a different version of “Blue Moon”. Some of the scenery from the party, which is really crazy … there was taxidermy all around.
Actually, Dean Hurley and I rented a Norwegian cabin in the woods in Washington. Like we did in Palm Springs for the premiere, we’re doing a party for the finale, and everybody’s coming in. You’ll probably see some photos from the Double R because we’re gonna have cherry pie. I’m really ritualistic, and I like to send things off and tie them up with a bow. So, we’re all going to re-converge — all the people who were there at Palm Springs. And we’re gonna do it in Washington and watch the finale and go out to the waterfall.
I’m inviting all the same people who were at my premiere party. My wife and I are going nuts making our living room look like The Red Room. We had to bookend it. My friend is flying in from Florida. It’s ridiculous, but I don’t want this to end. I’m dying to see the ending, but I’m getting anxiety about all of this being over.
The video I’m doing for the performance sort of sums up that feeling because we all feel the same way, too.
Because it’s probably over, right? I can’t imagine it’ll continue. The narrative feels like it’s over.
That would be my guess, but I never thought I’d see Season Three.
That’s a good point. So what now for Chromatics?
Not that anybody wants to hear this, but we’re actually recording the next record. I’m really close to mixing and achieving the final editing on Dear Tommy. I don’t want to put any dates out there, but it’s sooner rather than later. It’s a beautiful album. It does exist. It’s the same tracklisting, all the same lyrics.
So, Dear Tommy is definitely happening?
Oh, 100%. It’s the No. 1 priority. Right now, personally, I just gotta decide how much I wanna let Twin Peaks breathe. Because there’s everyone still catching up on that. And then there’s the thing about releasing records late in the year, and we’re right on the heels of Christmastime, so I want the vinyl to be simultaneous this time, which has never happened. Night Drive came out like three years after the digital did. That was because I needed to make enough money to be able to press it. We work on cash; we don’t do credit. So, anything we press, we never go in the red. It’s a core philosophy of mine. If you press something, you have the money. And if you have the money, that means there’s the demand for it. So, not this over-press and try to cram it down everyone’s throat and make them think they want it.
Obviously, we’re in a different position now than seven or eight years ago when Night Drive came out on vinyl. But with the vinyl quality, and I cut the vinyl with Bernie Grundman in Hollywood, pressed in Germany, and there’s different plants in France I need to use. It takes time to coordinate. And I’m not finished with it, so … And to try to cut corners on vinyl quality … to me, vinyl is the lasting copy. Digital reigns supreme in 2017, but personally, for me, I still think of everything in four sides. And the vinyl is very, very important. And I made a promise to myself for this album and for Body Work that the vinyl needs to be simultaneous with the digital release, so that’s going to slow things down.
Chromatics were pretty ahead of the curve, working with material and sounds that pretty much only become popularized again last year after Stranger Things. Has that changed your outlook on synth music at all?
The thing with Stranger Things — the Survive guys are friends of ours, fellow Texans — that’s sort of a double-edged sword. I prefer personally using analog stuff, but I’m not a purist. I feel like art can be made on a toothbrush. Anything can be used to make something. It’s all about the artist, all about the soul. I prefer certain tools for myself, but I’m not a purist from an aesthetics standpoint. One thing I will say about Stranger Things is that in a way it’s a double-edged sword because it is a period piece. It’s period-inspired music. I’m curious to see if people, the mainstream, can get down with that stuff outside of that context. It could be boxed in in that way.
Twin Peaks definitely turns a new audience onto Chromatics — an audience that would like a band like Chromatics if they heard us. But because we’re independent and not being pushed by majors on mainstream radio, they’ve never encountered us. These are TV people, Lynch people, film people, comic book people, video game people discovering us. They’re not necessarily hardcore underground music people. But they do respond to the stuff when presented with it. Same with Drive. They respond to good music when they’re exposed to it, and that will really broaden the audience for a band like Chromatics.
Bands like Chromatics and Glass Candy were always anomalies. Like a band like Ariel Pink, we exist in our own world. There’s never really a time when the mainstream “catches up” or “gets it,” which I don’t like those phrases. But I feel that people are much more open to moody synthesizer music than they ever have been. We had our hand in that, as well as Daft Punk, in a larger way. It’s exciting to see traces of that stuff in the mainstream. It’s pretty surreal. I remember being crucified for the same things that I’m now being heralded for. As an artist, you’re kinda always on your own thing, anyways.
For me, the hope for the new Chromatics album and the label [Italians Do It Better] going forward is to make the best stuff we can make, and the goal is to have as many people as possible listen to it, fall in love with it, and have it become a part of their life permanently. There is so much there in the catalog to explore, and people, as a result of Twin Peaks, are going back in and discovering all this stuff. It’s a testament to how we work and the shelf life of this stuff, because we’re never really trying to predict a trend or tell which way the wind’s going to blow. So, when you’re working from a really instinctual place, the work becomes more timeless and feels forever young and fresh.
I have my own experience with the music, but there’s someone out there this week who will hear “In the City” for the first time, and they’re entitled to their first experience of that, even if it’s 11 years later. The same way that people are discovering Fire Walk with Me for the first time and are responding to the emotional notes of that. They’re not feeling any less deep than I did when it first came out. Good art is sitting there waiting to be discovered, and I hope we continue to improve what we do, and when it’s time for a bigger audience to discover it through something like Twin Peaks, it reaches people because it’s strong. In terms of sonics and aesthetics and tonal trends, I don’t think it’s that relative to what we do. I think it’s more relative to people who are trying to short-term capitalize on what’s contemporary.
Releasing a record like Windswept is pretty much the opposite of what I’m supposed to do right now. Think about “Cherry” and “Shadow” and doing an Air France campaign or doing a movie or whatever, the last thing I should be doing is an instrumental saxophone record. What the fuck?
But look at all the doors it’s opened. Like you said, anyone can discover your music at any time. I think that’s a record that’s going to catch the attention of a lot of producers and filmmakers. There are just so many different sounds on it.
I’m working on a jazz score right now because Windswept caught a director’s ear.
There you go.
You’re starting to see it happen. I don’t know if it’s directly related to Windswept, but I’m doing a record with Bryan Ferry’s saxophonist. She’s been playing saxophone with him for 10 years. I just had breakfast with her a couple days ago. She’s Australian and lives in London. She did this incredible synthwave record that we’re going to release — all instrumental John Carpenter-type stuff. It’s phenomenal. She’s classically trained and really cool, and I think she reached out because of Windswept. I don’t know exactly, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
That’ll be out on your Italians Do It Better label?
We have like 10 things at the pressing plant. And seven or eight things that I haven’t released yet because they were supposed to come out after Dear Tommy, so they’re just sitting at our warehouse.
I’ll send you a package. Do you have a record player?
Well, you never know, man. You might have your earbuds and Spotify. I’m joking because I’m just really neurotic about the mix and the mastering. We’ll be in Hollywood with Bernie Grundman, and there’s a huge wall of speakers, and I’m analyzing every frequency and the width and three-dimensionality under a microscope. It’s like looking at a Monet painting under a microscope. I also step back and look at it, as well. But one of the engineers was always clowning on me like, “You know, it’s gonna be for earbuds, dude.”
And that’s why I’m dying to get Windswept on vinyl if and when it comes out.
We’re getting it in two weeks because we’re actually distributing the Roadhouse double album and the score double album. Did I mention I cut those with Dean and Bernie?
No, I didn’t know you cut those.
Dean and I cut those at Grundman also and had them etch in the owl. Bernie is the guy who cut every single copy of Thriller and Purple Rain in the world. And The Chronic and Kendrick Lamar and Pink Floyd and Nirvana. So, the vinyl sounds really fucking good, and we were there, in person, overseeing the whole process, making sure it’s as loud as can be, as clean as can be, and as fat as can be — all that stuff.
Do you ever sleep?
I get tired sometimes, but I’m just so pumped, so inspired. And there’s so much that I want to do. I’m constantly working, and I don’t limit myself to staying on task. If I had limited myself, I never would’ve recorded Windswept in the first place. I never would’ve sent it. I never would have recorded “Tick of the Clock” because that’s a weird-ass track. I never would’ve put it on Night Drive. I never would’ve done “Digital Versicolor”. That’s the closing track on B/E/A/T/B/O/X, the odd man out. These huge breakthroughs creatively — I just have to trust that instinctual curve. For me, I just keep working. I pull insane hours. But sometimes I’m prolific; sometimes I’m a hermit.
Like, people can’t decide. If I don’t release something for a while, it’s like I’m not doing anything. But if I release a lot of stuff, I’m doing too much. My days pretty much all look the same. I’m chasing ideas, and sometimes those ideas are pop, sometimes they’re score, sometimes they’re graphic art, or sometimes they’re noise or field recordings. Only 5 or 10 percent of my work is actually ever released. For me, the “release” part of the work is no more significant than anything else. My relationship to the art is about the work and about the exploration. It’s not about the portfolio.
Do you ever have time to consume?
That’s a big problem of mine, actually. I get sad about that. I work in such a real-time medium, especially because I’m not dealing with loops; I’m recording linearly on tape. It’s time consuming, and some of these tracks are long. For a five-minute track, with rewinding and everything, even if you just rewound and listened to it over and over — you can only listen to it nine times in an hour. And if you’re plugging stuff in, trying performances, and recording and erasing, all of a sudden your whole day is gone and you’ve only worked on two or three things. I constantly feel blue, like I’m not doing enough, because my appetite is so intense. But reality is a whole other animal.
It’s the ticking of the clock, not to use a bad pun.
But it’s true. And I had the realization a few years ago that with every passing day the gap is going to widen between what I’m able to think versus what I’m able to complete versus what I am able to release. So, I’m going to become more dissatisfied over time — or more frustrated by this concept. It does have its positive side effects. It does cause you to be more efficient and judicious with your time. I am speeding up quite a bit. There’s just so much I wanna do. And I don’t work for Chromatics. I’m not an employee of pop music. I have to follow my instincts, and the worst thing I can do for a Chromatics fan is to work on something because somebody is yelling at me to finish it. The reason they love the work is because of how preserved it’s been, and changing that would be the worst thing ever. But we’re living in an on-demand culture.
The lack of patience can be bewildering.
That’s why you’re seeing such a ball-up in quality for full-length projects. Then you throw economics in there. People just don’t have the time to create.
It’s always like “You gave me this. What’s next? Okay, you gave me this. What’s next?”
Like the Kendrick record came out on Friday. And by Saturday, everyone said he’d release one on Easter Sunday. It’s like, holy shit. Chill.
It must be terrifying for anyone who’s creating right now.
It’s just important to recognize that that has nothing to do with you. In the end, you’re the one living with the record.
It’s my decision to choose to release it when I do regardless of what I say. Even if it’s not part of my master plan, I can change my mind. Anyone can go out there and create Chromatics 2.0 or 5.0. I’m not stopping them from starting their own label and releasing Dear Johnny, or something. Go for it. This is my world. This is my universe. I’m in charge. I earned my seat at this table, and I’m going to make my own decisions.
I think that’s why Twin Peaks worked out so well. You had total autonomy, and nobody waiting on it knew much. It made the product better and more exciting. I wish that could be a trend going forward — particularly for how entertainment works.
The problem with that idea is that there are not a lot of David Lynches and Chromatics out there. For me, I take away from it that it’s exciting to see that people can still fall in love and be surprised. I was really, really proud with what David did, I think in “Part Eight”, with the long Penderecki piece. To just see that somebody is trying to put that on television is completely humbling and inspiring. We’re conditioned to think that you can’t do that right now, but why not? We have computers, cameras capable of doing all this insane shit, and we’re obsessed with reality television.
Whereas when there were severe limitations in film, that’s when it got the most experimental. I just think it’s crazy that we have long-form television with all this freedom due to subscriptions; they’re more interested in getting niche markets because people will subscribe for the one show they want to see. That’s where things are heading, but we’re not having the level of experimentation and freedom that you think would come with that. There are a lot of cool shows and stuff that’s being talked about that was maybe taboo before, but it amazes me in the computer world, when things are more automated and easy for us, it feels like we have less time than ever.
Johnny Jewel’s Windswept is currently out now via Italians Do It Better. Both Twin Peaks (Music From the Limited Event Series) and Twin Peaks (Limited Event Series Original Soundtrack) will follow this Friday, September 8th. Stay tuned for exclusive track-by-track liner notes only on Consequence of Sound.
Editor’s Note: This article was amended following publication regarding the number of hours of music recorded for Twin Peaks.