Nine Songs: Chrysta Bell
The songs that have meant the most to Chrysta Bell, a polymath by nature, reflect her fascination with film and philosophy, underpinned by a lifelong love of music.
As well as appearing in the new series of Twin Peaks as FBI Agent Tammy Preston, Bell has just released her second record We Dissolve.
Having collaborated with David Lynch for nearly two decades, of which she says “there’s a sweetness about the art I do with David, it’s got its darkness, but it’s so rich”, We Dissolve was written and recorded without her long-term collaborator. “I have a different capacity in this part of my life with David, it’s an interesting trip we’ve taken. I’m endlessly fascinated and entertained by our dance and karma together.”
Bell’s choice of songs draw on her origins as a singer, growing up and the music of Twin Peaks. “The theme song is very much music for a journey that’s moving through time. We’re all in this together and the music is like the air that we breathe to be able to survive in this world. It’s like there’s a different atmosphere there and this is the oxygen mask that we put on to be able to function in this universe.”
“This song entered my life through someone who introduced me to Jeff Buckley and The Cocteau Twins. I’ve covered the song he and Liz Fraser did ('All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun'). The two of them singing together was a fantasy for anyone who loves them, it was like it was their duty, cosmically, to come together for that song.
“I can’t overstate how influential Grace was. As a young person, to have these deep aspects - emotions that you can’t even put words to - and suddenly this man is writing these songs that come from the depths of your soul. You just feel, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that I could be seen like this.’
‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’ was beyond my years. When you’re twelve or fourteen and you’re in love it’s the most brutal and ecstatic experience of a lifetime. You’re already so there and everything is so meaningful, you’re tortured, enlivened, life is so new and you’re taking it all in. This song took me to a new place within myself, his voice, the guitar, the arrangement, the lyrics, all of it affected me really deeply.
“I had a live version and hearing him sing it was like hearing his soul. I was on tour with Brian Setzer and his orchestra in 1999 and as we were going from city to city, listening to it was my ritual in the little cocoon that was my bunk, I would lose myself in the music and his voice. I’d dream about him, because of course we were going to get married! Even though he was no longer present in this dimension, that didn’t matter, he transcended.”
“I think Fiona Apple is a profoundly gifted poet, the way she puts her poetry to music is remarkable. She was very big in my life at a young age. She was extraordinary, she was seventeen when she wrote this music and it’s really, really something.
“Similarly to Grace, Tidal was the soundtrack to my coming of age. ‘Slow Like Honey’ was an empowerment in a way, because I wasn’t the girl that was getting the boy, I was the girl that was desperately in love but never getting the second look. Her trip was “Look, I’m crazy, but I’m amazing.’ I didn’t feel the crazy tip so much, but if I had more reflection I would have caught onto that quicker.
‘Slow Like Honey’ was like ‘you’re going to see me’, it’s subversive, like ‘you might not even know it yet, but it’s going to affect you so deeply, you’re going to write poetry about me, you’re going to doodle my name on your textbook and it’s going to be on!’ Maybe that wasn’t the reality I was living, but in my mind I could conjure that with this song, because it was below the surface.
“She was the voice for a lot of women like me, that were sensitive and fancied themselves as artists and poets, who felt things a little deeper and experienced things a little more intensely. She was giving a voice to that so beautifully, there this undercurrent of angst, beauty and poetry. ‘Slow Like Honey’ is just a brilliant song by a very gifted singer, poet and musician.”
“I chose ‘Utopia’ for so many reasons. Felt Mountain covered some of the grounds of my deep affinity with Ennio Morricone, who I feel was a major inspiration for this record. The sensibilities of Morricone and all the associations I have with some of his soundtracks, like Days of Heaven and Malèna are infused into this song, but they brought it into pop and Alison Goldfrapp’s voice is just sublime.
“Lyrically it’s a motif in my music and in my life, this kind of dissolution into ‘the allness’ of all that is. There’s this dissolving of dimensions and connectivity to all that is, to the greatness of existence and transcending that into nothingness and into everythingness. That kind of stuff really turns me on and when it’s captured in a song like this, with the combination of the lyrics, her voice and the music, it’s trans-dimensional for me.
“And then you have this lyric ‘Fascist Baby’ thrown in. It’s so great, it’s like I have no idea what it’s about but I understand it perfectly, it’s kind of Lynchian in that way. When we get out of our conditioning, out of all these filters that we have on and all of this learned behaviour and we start to lift the veils, then you’re going to start understanding ‘Fascist Baby’!”
“I heard this around 1999. I’d joined a gypsy jazz band but I was kind of a rock and roller / musical theatre person at the time. I was trying to get a crash-course in sophistication and started to really dig in and get recommendations about music and I heard this.
“I feel like she’s the essence of femininity. In the rendition I’m thinking of it’s her with just an upright bass player. She’s standing next to him and her voice is like liquid sex velvet, it’s so delicious, deep and resonant, it’s effortless. As a singer you’re trying to get to a place where it doesn’t seem like it takes anything at all and Julie London embodies that. It’s just this breathing, it sounds like a Jaguar purring.
“It turned out that her breakout song ‘Cry Me a River’ was written by my grandmother’s brothers’ son, Arthur Hamilton-Stern. I was obsessing over Julie London at the time and learning the songs and my father, who’s not musical in any way, shape or form said ‘Arthur Hamilton is in our family, he wrote that song’. I rolled my eyes and said “Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about, this is a standard!’
"My father’s very intelligent, but musically he was a whistler, every song he sang turned into the Meow-Mix commercial. So to find out that this composition came from his side of the family was extraordinary and strengthened my affinity for Julie London even more."
“Part of my love for this is the video, watching the words fall like petals from her mouth, her voice and the whole thing is so captivating, but when I read the lyrics I was just floored. I’d heard the song many times before I looked at the translation and it fits so beautifully with motifs that I find so fascinating, the life/death cycle, the rebirth and this concept of the rose that is blooming, blossoming and then dying, these moments in time where it’s the eternal blossoming.
“And then there’s how it relates to femininity and the woman and this association with the rose and the infinite nature of the cycles of life. And of course it’s how it ties in to Twin Peaks and how we’ve opened up this idea in the return that we have a ‘blue rose situation’ on our hands. So with all of these things together, this was irresistible for me, it had to be on the list.
“Françoise Hardy was introduced to me by my songwriting partner Christopher Smart, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. I often say to him ‘show me something that might open me up and get me to a new place’ and one of those times he played me Françoise Hardy and I was ‘OK! And now I’m dead!”
“I can’t speak for every artist, but at some point you want to write something that has a different level of awareness and capacity, that allows people to step out of themselves and receive information and expansion in a gentle but beautiful and effective way.
“Marvin Gaye could sing or write about anything but his awareness and compassion for humanity, and his desire to bring forth awareness is one of the most remarkable things that an artist can do. It’s not easy to write a song that’s politically aware but is also soulful. For me, this is the height of what an artist can do with their voice, a song about human nature, not exiling someone for being bad. This collective understanding of who we all are, with the words ‘Mercy, mercy me’ you’re understanding your weakness and fragility, asking for forgiveness and strength at the same time.
“It is just beyond, with Marvin Gaye we had this gift of an artist, the tragedy of his death is unspeakable and I feel like this was his karma. He couldn’t exist in this world somehow, he was too advanced, he came to give this gift and then he had to go. I can only think it’s because he had celestial responsibilities and had to cross over saying “I’ve done what I can.”
“This song has always been there, at first you think it’s just a beautiful song and then when you become old enough you’re like ‘Oh shit! Oh man!’ It grows with you and continues to, it’s such an enduring piece of art.”
“I think Janelle Monáe embodies so many qualities of the ultimate artist, she’s a writer, she’s a dancer, she’s phenomenal. Now she’s producing these other amazing artists and I’ve just seen her act in Moonlight. She has this very strong voice of consciousness, she’s very outspoken and eloquent and on top of that she’s a beautiful, beautiful woman. I feel like she’s a very strong role model for what an artist can be.
‘Tightrope’ shows her intelligence and wit. It beautifully encapsulates this idea of creating balance in one’s life and I can relate to that a lot. You have all these positive things going on and that’s just as delicate as when there’s not a lot happening and you’re trying to create things in your life. Whether you’re high or low, there’s always new things to figure out, new delicacies to gently unwind, overcome and figure out, new puzzles to confound you and then eventually overwhelm you and for you to see beyond.
“It’s like a constant dance, it’s the life that we’re living and I think 'Tightrope' explains this so beautifully and leaves you with an uplifted feeling because of the beat of the song, but it also has compassion for the intensity of the process too, it’s ultimately about overcoming.
“She’s so poised and beautifully spoken and intense, I think she’s the bee’s knees.”
“This one only came into my awareness recently. I’m a massive Nina Simone fan but this went viral and someone sent it to me, somehow the video had escaped me and I love the song. So when I saw Nina Simone do it with only a Hi-hat, I was like ‘This woman is an interpreter in a way that very few can rival’. She just embodies the song and also happens to have a remarkable capacity for musicianship and this expression in her voice.
“Even when she’s singing you can tell she’s a concert pianist. Her musicality shows through in her voice in a way that I can only compare to Prince. Nina Simone transcends being a musician and being a performance artist, she’s in another dimension and this song, maybe because I just fell in love with it, the timing, her inflection, everything about it is just an impeccable execution. It's all just with percussion, but not for a moment are you anything but riveted.
“That’s a sign of an exceptional artist and Nina Simone is in a category of her own.”
“This piece of music is very close to my spirit right now. When I first saw Twin Peaks I was very young and many of the plotlines, characters and nuances were so over my head but the music was everything to me. It was very compelling for my young being and so I’ve always had a very strong reverence for the music of Angelo Badalamenti and in particular the music of Twin Peaks.
‘Moving Through Time’ represents so many of the other pieces of music within Twin Peaks, it has this beauty and yearning, it holds this space of human exquisiteness with this undergarment of restraint. It’s stained, it’s rough to the skin and it’s uncomfortable, but it’s got this beautiful thing happening at the same time. It’s creating this feeling that’s so familiar, when you’ve got this beautiful life but it’s so fucking hard sometimes and you’re experiencing all of this at the same time.
“Then there’s the idea of moving through time and playing with dimensional restraint. The lifting of the veils and seeing through the illusions of these things that we’ve built for ourselves, but able to hold it in a capacity of what we’re doing in this life, so that we’re not utterly overwhelmed and taking these bitesize morsels of existence.
“Music like this opens up some of those things and allows us to expand and hold just a bit more and maybe recognise time as this figment until it closes back up again. It opens the portal just enough and then it squeezes it back together again.
“Angelo is a master at bending these realities, opening things up, closing them again and leaving you to just bask in whatever it is you’ve just found in yourself.”