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Singer Chrysta Bell finds new collaborator in filmmaker David Lynch

Chad Swiatecki

Austin fans who remember singer Chrysta Bell from her days as the voice for the swing/jazz band 8½ Souvenirs will get a pretty big shock when they get a listen to her new album, "This Train." And they'll be even more surprised when they learn the backstory behind the album, which Bell celebrates Saturday with a performance and listening party at Austin Ventures Studio Theater.

The details: produced and almost entirely written by avant garde filmmaker David Lynch, "This Train" is an album nearly 13 years in the making, beginning with a meeting between the two in 1999 when Bell's manager learned Lynch was looking to focus on music and needed a vocalist. On and off in the years since, the two met and collaborated, with Lynch using moody, atmospheric beds of music he'd composed for his films as the starting point and guiding Bell as she put her breathy, torchy vocals over top of them.

The result is an album that's miles away in terms of style from anything Bell has done before — moody and evocative, and at times challenging — with the overriding feeling that Lynch is watching us from some secret door as we're listening to Bell sing.

It's an album where the process is almost as interesting as the finished product, one where at times it took Bell years to grow into songs emotionally before she could deliver what Lynch wanted to hear. To get a peek behind the curtain — and if anyone in show business evokes Oz, it's Lynch — we asked Bell, who moved to San Francisco from Austin over the summer, about the album, the director, and how it feels to come out of the other end of a recording process that spanned more than three presidential terms.

American-Statesman: After 13 years, what are your reflections on how this album started?

Bell: I always enjoyed the time we had, and we made a song the very first day we met to work together. From there he'd get in contact when we had some time and ask if I wanted to make some more music, and we'd make three or four songs. It was one of those things where we always felt like we were enchanted with this idea and what we had. I was fortunate because at that time I was looking for a composer to work with and he had this really great place. The fact that it was David Lynch was like "whoa!," but he was also doing all his other art and it was a long journey.

Did you ever wonder if this album would be finished?

I was traveling the world over those years, playing with different bands but David's music was always what had me really engaged even though it took a tremendous amount of patience to stick with it. When we started out it really was this ingenue situation because on some of those songs I'm 19 or 20, and some of those are the ones that are more structured.

How did the creative process work with him? Was it like anyone else you've recorded with?

He'd start out by playing a piece of music because he'd stockpiled lots through his other work, and he'd give me the lyrics he'd written. I'd go into the studio and improvise based on the music that was playing, and he'd tell me if I was hot or cold in terms of what he wanted the song to sound like. Some of them I just wasn't in a place to do what he needed me to do, and we put them aside for years. "Down By Babylon" is a song that we finally did after I'd lost some family members and loved ones, and I needed to go through that to offer up those moments. It's David's material, and it's my life.

This album feels very much like another piece in the grand David Lynch puzzle, whatever that looks like. Were you ever concerned or worried about becoming lost in it, or seen as an artistic conduit, who's only there in service of someone else's artistic vision?

This album couldn't have been created without both of our spirits. If I can be an instrument for David, it combines with something that's beyond ourselves. However it's perceived isn't an issue because I had to go beyond thinking about whether I'd be seen as an instrument, because he's a catalyst. You could view both of us as being instruments, same as with any process of being in a studio creating the vibe and the energy of the song. You give yourself credit for being part of that process, and having what it takes to create what we worked on for so long together.

Chrysta Bell CD release show for ‘This Train'