Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

September 15, 2017

Note Books - Ellia Bisker of Sweet Soubrette

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Previous contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, Mark Olson, Mac McCaughan, and others.

Sweet Soubrette, based in Brooklyn, NY, began in 2008 as a solo project featuring the songwriting, vocals and ukulele of Ellia Bisker (also known as half of folk-noir duo Charming Disaster). Over the following eight years and the release of four critically acclaimed albums, Sweet Soubrette expanded into the 8-piece band (bass, drums, strings, keys, horns) featured on 2016’s album Big Celebrity, whose songs took on personal history, existential questions, and works of literature. Now, with “More Wind,” Bisker returns to her roots as a solo artist, collaborating with bassist/producer Charlie Nieland (Her Vanished Grace, Lusterlit) to produce a track that expresses the darkness and mystery found in the work of David Lynch.

In her own words, here is the Note Books entry from Sweet Soubrette's Ellia Bisker:

David Lynch's book Catching the Big Fish is a slender volume of vignettes in which the famous director muses on transcendental meditation, intuition, filmmaking, and the creative process. It includes some neat anecdotes about Twin Peaks and his films, but it’s mainly about the inside of Lynch’s head.

I read Catching the Big Fish knowing I was fishing for a song. As a songwriter I often work from books; back in 2009 I got involved in the Bushwick Book Club, a performance series in which each month or so a dozen songwriters create and perform new songs in response to a book, and the practice has stuck with me. Working from a book hits the sweet spot as a songwriting assignment, balanced right between limitation and freedom. It gives you something substantive to grapple with—to distill or to resist, to understand or to struggle with—within the frame of a universe defined by someone else’s writing. I recommend it.

One of the practices I’ve developed for writing songs from books involves collecting images and phrases that strike me as I read, then going back and figuring out what kind of pattern I can make out of those moments. This was an especially fitting way to engage with Catching the Big Fish, because Lynch describes his own process as a filmmaker in much the same way:

“It comes, for me, in fragments. That first fragment is like the Rosetta Stone. It’s the piece of the puzzle that indicates the rest….In Blue Velvet, it was red lips, green lawns, and a song – Bobby Vinton’s version of 'Blue Velvet.' The next thing was an ear lying in a field. And that was it. You fall in love with the first idea…once you’ve got it, the rest will come in time.”

The song I wrote, “More Wind,” begins with the same sequence of images; it seemed right to start with those enigmatic fragments and see where they led. There’s a moment in Twin Peaks when Agent Cooper (played by Kyle McLachlan, who Lynch describes in the book as “kind of an alter ego”) has a vision of a giant, who tells him: “A path is formed by laying one stone at a time.” The giant could just as easily be describing Lynch’s process, or my own.

A fragment: when Lynch is making his first film, Eraserhead, he’s too broke to shoot it all at once, so he does it piecemeal, taking long breaks to work at jobs where he can make enough money to fund the next part. There’s one sequence where the main character is going through a door; Lynch shoots the scene on one side of the door, and then he has to stop shooting to work for a while. A year and a half goes by before he can pick up the project again and shoot the scene on the opposite side of the door. That whole time, not just the character but the entire story is in suspended animation, hanging on the threshold, waiting to emerge on the other side. As an artist, how do you have that much patience, that much faith in your vision? It is an enviable skill.

Another fragment: Twin Peaks’ iconic Red Room first comes to Lynch as an image out of context, an idea he doesn’t yet understand: “There were cars in the parking lot. I leaned my hands on the roof of one car…and—ssssst!—the Red Room appeared…That’s how it starts. The idea tells you to build this Red Room.” Lynch’s sense of trust in his intuition, his comfort with the unknown, makes him leave space in his work for serendipitous connections, for the idea to explain itself, for dream logic to connect the dots into an image. And he encourages a similar attitude in his collaborators and crew: he writes, “You develop these little codes with certain actors or actresses. For me, for example, 'more wind' means 'more mystery.'"

More mystery. What could that mean? Lynch talks about mystery throughout the book in an almost theological sense: something that’s unknown not because it has yet to be revealed, but because it’s essentially unknowable—at least by the conscious mind. As a filmmaker, as a songwriter, as any kind of artist or maker, there are moments in the creation process when you slip past the things you know into the realm of intuition, which is where the magic happens. I think what Lynch is demanding of his actors is more of those moments. It’s a tall order. But he seems to have figured out how to get to that place himself; he says his transcendental meditation practice is what has taught him how to pass beyond the surface of intellect, to access hidden depths of consciousness. I believe it.

“More wind,” a film director’s instruction to his actors, was my Rosetta Stone moment reading this book, the fragment that made the other puzzle pieces align. Because it felt like Lynch was addressing me, too: Go deep. Trust the unknown to guide you. Have faith in the mystery.

So I made that phrase the chorus of my song, the repeating phrase an invocation, a demand upon the listener, a demand upon myself. Or a mantra: more wind.

More Wind

Red lips
Green lawns
And Bobby Vinton’s song
See a lonely ear
Lying in a field
Paint a picture till you can believe it’s real

But you need more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind
And you seek more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind

Better do your work
That’s all you can control
Gotta feed your family but don’t sell your soul
You’re on the threshold
As you wait for more
Someday later you’ll be walking through that door

But you need more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind
And you seek more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind

Don’t fight the darkness
Build a red room of your own
Learn how to unlock it
The wind will tell you if you let it blow

You don’t know the box
And you don’t know the key
But something is unfolding into mystery
Like a rush of air
Brushing against your skin
Is it a secret message
You can smell the jasmine
In the storm that’s rising
On the vast horizon
There are forces wilder
In the world inside you

But you need more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind
And you seek more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind
And you need more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind
And you seek more wind
More wind, more wind, more wind

Ellia Bisker links

Sweet Soubrette website
Charming Disaster website

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (highlights of the week's comics & graphic novel releases)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

submit to reddit