Revisit David Lynch's surreal advert for Gucci featuring Blondie song 'Heart of Glass'
(Credit: Manchester International Festival)

From David Bowie to Bon Iver: 15 of David Lynch’s favourite musicians

If you look up ‘mastermind’ in the Oxford Dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted with a picture of surrealist director David Lynch. The repertoire of films that he has created over the last 40 years is almost unparalleled. Not only is he the brains behind the likes of Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Dune and many more but on top of being one of the most highly-acclaimed filmmakers — he has also released three albums and has a taste in music which is nothing short of sublime.

Every project that he has taken on is set in the dystopian Lynchian mould. Though his main field of excellence sees Lynch sit behind the camera, he is much more than just a director and his love of different art forms bleeds into his films. His love for music has also made for some killer soundtracks in those pictures. It means when he offers up a selection of musicians to check out, it’s worth paying attention.

In 2010 when in conversation with the LA Times, Lynch gave a sneak peek inside his record collection and spoke about his love of Brooklyn based trio Au Revoir Simone. “I’ve seen them live a couple of times,” Lynch said. “They’re such great girls, just great. Their music tells a story.”

In the same feature, he went on to talk about how he discovered Lissie on YouTube after her cover of Lady Gaga song ‘Bad Romance’ caught his eye and kept his attention. “You have to start with ‘Bad Romance,’” Lynch said. “The power is incredible. I like some of Lady Gaga a lot, and I think she has tremendous talent, but what I liked about Lissie’s cover is that it’s not tricked out. It’s pure. Reduced down to three players, it’s a great song, and Lissie knocks it out of the park.”

A classic rock selection that has stuck with the director throughout his life — through thick and thin — which he couldn’t help but mention was “ZZ Top’s ‘Sharp Dressed Man,’” Lynch said. “The guitar, the solo portion of that song — it’s not simple, but it’s minimal. It holds such a beauty, such a power.”

“David Bowie was unique like Elvis was unique,” Lynch once told Pitchfork sharing his love for the singer. “There’s something about him that’s so different from everybody else,” claimed the director, “I only met him during the time I worked with him and just a couple of other times, but he was such a good guy, so easy to talk to and regular. I just wish he was still around and that I could work with him again.” Lynch and Bowie even had the chance to work together in 1992, a time when Lynch decided to cast Bowie in a small but crucial role in Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me. Bowie makes an appearance as FBI field agent Jeffries who escapes the Black Lodge makes a somewhat deranged appearance in Philadelphia. 

David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption also offers a great glimpse at the sort of music that he enjoys, although the 2019 edition of the event was sadly cancelled it still provides a fascinating insight into what artists he is digging at that minute in time. The bill included the likes of Mercury Rev, Phoebe Bridgers and Garbage who had all accepted the filmmaker extraordinaire’s invitation to take part.

The prior year, in 2018, Lynch had welcomed more leftfield talents to his handpicked event such as Flying Lotus, Jon Hopkins and the magnificent Angel Olsen. Hopkins had appeared at the inaugural event in 2016 alongside St. Vincent, Robert Plant & The Sensational Shapeshifters and Sky Ferreira. The effort prior to that was another blockbuster line-up which featured the likes of Bon Iver, TV On The Radio, Laura Marling and The Kills, all featured in 2017.

As well as the director’s festival offering us up an indication of his favourite musicians there is also good old social media. We’ve all shared our favourite bands on Twitter or Facebook at one point or another and Lynch is the same: “Dear Twitter Friends, I heard a group I really like called Tiny Ruins. You should check this out,” Lynch posted in 2013 advising his fans to check out the Kiwi group.

The one record that Lynch has been known to say changed his life is an all-time classic by none other than Janis Joplin and her debut album with Big Brother & Holding Company. Writing as part of the Vinyl Writers project he said, “It is the great classics of rock music that inspire me. Who long ago made me want to create something of value, like they themselves did, with imagination and a sense for timelessness.” The director confirmed his point by saying, “There is a reason why these artists are love by everybody: they hit a certain spot within is, their music is so powerful and uncorrupted.”

Lynch goes on to explain that while he wanted to be Elvis when he was a kid, “primarily concerning his looks and style,” it was the unfathomable spirit of Big Brother & The Holding Company and most notably their singer Janis Joplin that really grabbed his attention as a teen. An “almost 20” Lynch saw the band’s now-iconic performance of Joplin with her band Big Brother & Holding Company at the Monterey Jazz festival and was left stunned. “The energy of this performance and Janis’ vocal power electrified me,” wrote Lynch. “Really it was like lightning flashing through my body. Since then, I have always searched for the music that triggered something like that inside of me. Most in vain.”

It’s hard to capture the sheer stunning brilliance of prime-Janis Joplin at the top of her game at the Monterey Jazz festival but it would seem the band’s first record goes a long way to inspire him still, “What comes closest is actually the first album by Big Brother & Holding Company, one of the two that they recorded with Janis.” Lynch calls it “A monolith of passion, the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. I keep it like a treasure.”

Another act similar to Janis Joplin that we’re sure Lynch was a fan of was the freewheelin’ troubadour himself, Bob Dylan. There aren’t many artists of the 20th century, of any medium, that weren’t influenced by Dylan and his autobiographical pop songs. We can also be sure of his affections because of the fact that Dylan was one of the few singers Lynch chose to cover as part of his LP The Big Dream.

Lynch covered ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown’ as part of the record but did try to dampen the significance of picking the song saying it was “important for the sequence of the album.” If that’s not the most Lynchian way of selecting a song and its singer, then we don’t know what is.

David Lynch is utterly unique. He is a famed director, a world-class auteur and, it turns out, a music aficionado too. With such an eclectic taste in music, one which reaches from Lady Gaga to Janis Joplin, we thought we’d pull together a perfect playlist to get in the mind of David Lynch. It’s a surreal but wonderful place to be.

David Lynch’s favourite musicians

  • David Bowie
  • Janis Joplin w/ Big Brother & Holding Company
  • Bon Iver
  • TV On The Radio
  • Tiny Ruins
  • Laura Marling
  • The Kills
  • Mercury Rev
  • Phoebe Bridgers
  • Garbage
  • ZZ Top
  • Lissie
  • Lady Gaga
  • Au Revoir Simone
  • Bob Dylan
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