Ever since the 16th century, “the dark night of the soul” has come to symbolise the depths of man’s loneliness and desolation. It’s a state of mind you want to avoid – ask Mark Linkous. While touring with Radiohead back in 1996, the frontman of Sparklehorse ingested a near-lethal cocktail of hard drugs and booze before blacking out in his hotel room, alone, slumped on top of his own legs. When he was pulled up over 14 hours later, his heart briefly stopped as a result of the built up potassium. He was lucky to ever walk again.
A decade and two acclaimed albums later, Linkous found himself in a musical rut, searching for inspiration. Oblivious to its content, he picked up The Grey Album by Danger Mouse, thinking it “was probably some band from North Carolina”. Hearing Jay-Z ripping up Beatles beats not only gave him a fresh perspective on music, but also led him to an unlikely collaborator – its creator, who had long been a fan of the Virginian songwriter’s surreal fables.
For the next three years, the pair would trade songs and instrumentals while Danger Mouse collected Grammys and number ones with Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz. The project slowly became a concept album, with the likes of Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas, Gruff Rhys, Vic Chesnutt and Wayne Coyne writing lyrics about twisted dreams, revenge and war, with no prior knowledge of anyone else’s stories.
Unable to ignore the Lynchian themes that coursed through each set of lyrics, Danger Mouse wrote to the cult director to see if he’d like to make a video for the album. The Twin Peaks legend wrote back saying that he’d actually prefer to shoot a series of photographs to illustrate each song – and also sing on a few tracks.
This month, the world gets to witness the results, with a gallery show in Los Angeles and a limited-edition run of Lynch’s pictures. In the book will be a blank CD – due to a dispute with EMI, Danger Mouse can’t release the album for fear of being sued, so, like The Grey Album, fans will have to rely on word of mouth to hear it.
Buy the latest issue of Dazed to read exclusive interviews with each of its creators to find out what inspired their cast of paranoid housewives, sinister schoolgirls, and hallucinating dinner party guests. Here is an excerpt from the David Lynch interview...
Dazed Digital: Looking at your work you seem to have a real empathy with troubled characters
David Lynch: I love troubled characters, I love the human condition, I love stories that reflect those things, but I don't set out to do those certain things. I suddenly get ideas and then I go 'whoa, cinema can do a fantastic thing with that, or a song, or a painting' and then I go to work.
DD: So the big pre-conception with David Lynch being drawn to the dark thoughts is rubbish?
David Lynch: No, it’s not exactly. Every human being is different, so when I fall in love with certain things, other people fall in love with different things. I like stories that involve absurdity and trouble, and characters that are involved in different things like that but I am so happy doing it I am not suffering doing it.
DD: That's good to hear, I'm glad you're not suffering David!
David Lynch: (laughs) People generally say that I make dark films, but if you look at all of them, some of them are very light, and so each idea is different, it's just a question of which ones you fall in love with, and how want to translate that idea. I like stories that hold a concrete base along with abstractations, just like life. Music is one of the most abstract things, but cinema is a magical language, it holds music, but it can be as abstract as music.
DD: You once said that "ideas are like fishing, you need to have patience, a good hook, and a bait, and if you want to catch a big fish you need to go deeper". Do you think you've caught a big fish with this project?
David Lynch: These are good fish. How deep, well I got the great honour to work with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse on two songs and to do the photographs, so it was a very pleasurable experience. I'm really glad I got the opportunity to do it.
DD: You usually stick to the same kind of aesthetic, you reference suburban life, what happens behind closed doors
David Lynch: Uh huh, there's some of that for sure, but again it came from the music and I think that Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse may say that it's about anger and revenge, but their music just holds something. When other people hear it something comes to life in their brains. And then the lyrics come and a way to sing them, a feeling but it all starts with the music.
DD: It seems to me that this book further consolidates your view of society, how you like to subvert classic American characters...
David Lynch: Oh no, I'm not trying to, what was the word you used?
David Lynch: Subvert. I'm not trying to subvert. A lot of people do that and a lot of people see art as a political thing. These things are ideas that came from the music and I am not trying to do anything other than translate those ideas that came to me. There's no other motive, this is what came out of the music.
DD: Your work has been so widely referenced and plagarised, have you ever felt that your world view was in danger of becoming a cliche?
David Lynch: No. There's always new fresh ideas waiting. They do pass through the machine, and the machine is a certain way, but if ten directors made a film out of the same script there would be ten different films. We will never run out of ideas. I just don't know what the next thing will be in terms of cinema, but right now I'm interested in painting and music.
DD: Do you approach painting and photography in the same way as you would creating a scene for one of your films?
David Lynch: Yeah, exactly. If an idea comes for furniture, you will see a table in your brain. You will see what it's made of and the shape of it, and if that idea is something you love, then you go into the wood shop and start making that table. If you get an idea for a painting and you're all fired up about it then you go right into the painting studio and start working on those. Making a film is just a longer process, but when you're in love you don't care how long it takes to make something.
Dark Night of the Soul is out there, somewhere, right now. dnots.com
Follow Tim Noakes on Twitter here @TimNoakes