David Lynch branches out into music

The film director is taking a risk with his decision to make a record, given the disaster the move has been for some others in his industry.

US film director David Lynch last week released two songs, available on iTunes.
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It starts with what sounds like an explosion, a whirring noise that evokes a landing spaceship, and some spooky scratching. Then a fast techno beat and repetitive synth loop kicks in, with David Lynch's voice - high-pitched and run through an effects machine that makes him sound like a robot - layered over the top. "So tired," he sings, "send me an angel, save me. I want to have a good day today."

The song Good Day Today is one of two tracks released last week by Lynch, in what appears to be an unexpected career shift away from movies and towards music. Its companion song, I Know, is slower but no less atmospheric, with plaintive, repetitive vocals and a shuffling beat that sounds like slow-motion hip-hop. Both are available on iTunes, via the British independent label Sunday Best Recordings.

The idea of celebrities extending their personal brand from the world of Hollywood to planet Pop is common enough to have become a cliché. While the likes of Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves and Jared Leto have been in long-running bands that take on a cult status (or, sometimes, the status of a joke) following their rise to fame, others, such as Juliette Lewis, Scarlett Johansson and Zooey Deschanel have turned to making music after becoming household names.

The results can be mixed. While Lewis, with her punk-rock band the Licks; Johansson, with an album of Tom Waits covers; and Zooey Deschanel, who makes up half of alt-country duet She & Him with the revered Oregon songsmith M Ward, are examples of how the transition can be made with style, but not everyone makes the leap as gracefully. Anyone who has heard the album Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favourites, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts' three LPs (with Russell Crowe on the mic) or Kevin Costner's country-rock record Untold Truths might start wishing that the actors involved had stuck to their day jobs.

Let's hope House star Hugh Laurie doesn't embarrass himself in a similar fashion. The comedian, writer and actor is certainly multi-talented: he can play five different instruments and his old buddy Stephen Fry has been praising his singing voice for years. Whether his forthcoming blues album on Warner Bros records will be a blemish on an otherwise spotless career remains to be seen. "I know the history of actors making music is a chequered one," he was reported as saying when the deal was announced, "but I promise no one will get hurt."

The fact that Laurie has written and directed in addition to acting bodes well: he's used to working creatively. While Hollywood actors are often better known for their good looks than their brains, directors are used to experimenting, developing ideas and creating mood.

There aren't too many director-turned-pop stars around, but Miranda July shows it can be done successfully. The multi-award winning writer-director is best known for her feature film You and Me and Everyone We Know, which was a hit at Cannes and Sundance, but she has also released four quirky records (two albums, two EPs) on the prestigious US indie labels K Records and Kill Rock Stars.

Like July, Lynch has better credentials to start making music than most. His movies are known for their meticulous sound design and he has written lyrics, produced and composed music for pop albums since the 1980s and has written music for his own films, including Inland Empire, on which he made his debut as a vocalist.

On the release of these two latest tracks, Lynch assured fans that he wasn't abandoning the world of film completely, although he has built a home studio to experiment in, and described music as a "magical medium" that can "really thrill the soul".

As if to prove his commitment to visuals, he has announced a competition to make promo videos for the two new songs: you can upload your creation at genero.tv between now and December 20, and the winners will be picked on January 3.

"I always say ideas are like fish," he says in a YouTube clip promoting the competition, "so get that line in deep and see what you can come up with."

Lynch gives every impression of a man not trading on his famous name for a vanity project, but expanding his creative output and challenging himself in a fresh arena. His songs may not have you dancing around the living room, but they are poignant and bold, showing us a rarely revealed personal side to an artist best known for terrifying and thrilling his audiences.