Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti on the creation of Twin Peaks’ timeless theme music

The composer and singer explain how they soundtracked David Lynch's show

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How Julee Cruise’s haunting and glacial theme song set the tone for David Lynch’s off-kilter TV series. Originally published in Uncut’s June 2017 issue. Words: Tom Pinnock

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“Excalibur Sound was the darkest, dingiest place imaginable,” says composer Angelo Badalamenti, recalling the Manhattan studio where he and David Lynch produced much of Twin Peaks’ music. “The lights would flicker, the electricity would go in and out, like something from a David Lynch movie. When we went to see it, there was a terrible odour to the room. It was tiny, the mice were even running around hunchback. But David loved it – he said, ‘This place creates such a beautiful mood for us, Angelo, doesn’t it?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess…’”

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From such humble surroundings came a wealth of beautiful and dark music; both for Julee Cruise’s dream-pop masterpiece, 1989’s Floating Into The Night, and for Twin Peaks, Lynch’s maverick TV series, which returns for its third season in May after 26 years away.

Its theme, a glacial ballad driven by electric piano and what sounds like a twanging bass guitar, was an instrumental version of “Falling”, a highlight of Cruise’s album, written and produced by Badalamenti and Lynch after discovering the singer during the making of 1986’s Blue Velvet. “David would say, ‘Julee, imagine you’re whispering to your lover’,” says Cruise today, remembering the sessions. “[At first] I didn’t want to sound like that, though, I didn’t want to show that side of me.”

While Badalamenti, who has just turned 80, has promised Lynch he won’t say anything about the new series – even its theme – he’s keen to stress how important the music of Twin Peaks is to him. “Some of my finest moments have come from my long-term professional association with David Lynch,” he says. “And the music for Twin Peaks is probably the work I’m most proud of. David and I have just an unbelievable relationship… David would verbalise things that he has in mind, pictures in his head, and then I would write music. On ‘Falling’, David set the tone for me, and I understood. That kind of relationship is a marriage made in heaven.”

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ANGELO BADALAMENTI (songwriting, keyboards): The first time I met Julee was when I had a workshop in Lower Manhattan, for a country show I had written. She was one of the members of the cast.

JULEE CRUISE (vocals): I was a belter. I’d come from Minneapolis, where I was an actor in theatre. My background was French horn and I was really good, but I decided to be an actress. I was always a character actor and a belter – I didn’t feel comfortable singing real soft or real pretty.

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BADALAMENTI: When David Lynch and I were looking for an angelic voice for “Mysteries Of Love” [from Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet], I asked Julee if she knew any singers that could sing in that style. She sent up a couple of friends, but they didn’t cut it for me. Julee said, “Maybe I can give it a try.” I said, “Well, I know you as a show singer, a belter.” She said, “I think I can do it,” went home, did a little work, and as soon as she opened her mouth it was love at first sound.

CRUISE: It was the music that led me to that. “Mysteries Of Love” was meant to sound like This Mortal Coil with Liz Fraser, but I didn’t know that. I remember writing out the lyrics, because they were written on a napkin by David. I was horrified [singing so soft] at first. I was showing a side of me that I didn’t want to show, and that’s the beautiful side, the romantic side, so I approached it as a classical musician would.

BADALAMENTI: She did exactly what David and I were looking for, because she sounds like an angel. Once we’d written “Mysteries Of Love”, that started it all. I said to David, “Give me lyrics, you’re a lyric writer, you can do these things.” I’d write music to just about everything he gave me. I remember that “Falling” was simply one of the lyrics. Floating Into The Night was released before Twin Peaks, but David was well into the show and the concept by that point, so as we were doing songs for Julee, I’m sure David had Julee’s cuts in mind [for Twin Peaks].

CRUISE: We just concentrated on getting that sound right, getting those notes right, getting that feeling right. We started with piano and vocal in the office, then went to the studio.

KINNY LANDRUM (keyboards, sampler): “Falling” as a song was completed sometime in the Floating… sessions, which were something like summertime of ’89.

BADALAMENTI: There was nothing pristine about Excalibur Sound, but it was a fantastic place to work. Artie Polhemus, the owner of the studio, was the very best engineer, not only with recording but also with mixing and editing. I had some of the best jazz-oriented musicians in town. They could play anything. Kinny Landrum was a top-notch musician, and I had Vinnie Bell on guitar, who had some of the most unique electronic sounds of the day. On saxophone, Al Regni – we went to Eastman School Of Music together and he’s still my good friend today. Grady Tate is one of the best jazz drummers, I might even say, of all time – he played on virtually everything on Twin Peaks. He had a great sense of humour: once he said, “Every time I do an Angelo and David session, I play in two tempos, slow and reverse.” David thinks music can be so much more beautiful if it’s played slower. Even when I started composing “Laura Palmer’s Theme”, David said, “Oh, Angelo, that’s beautiful, but play it slower, slower…” My God, I really felt like I was playing in reverse! But that, to David, is beautiful.

CRUISE: We recorded for almost a whole year. I was so scared with each new song. We had already set keys for every song, and they’re rather low. But because I brought the head voice in, it sounds higher. First we’d get the main vocal down, then I would sing it again and the second part would be a little softer, and less consonanty, then the third would be barely any consonants at all. I went home with a demo tape every day and thought, ‘This is awful work I’m doing, I sound terrible. The music is so great, but I’m not living up to it.’ So I decided I had no choice but to be myself and show that intimate, quiet beauty that is inside. It just came to life with the musicians, and making it a whole [in the mixes].

LANDRUM: We’d usually work from lead sheets, which had a melody and chords underneath, and we’d do what we thought was right for that particular piece of music. On “Falling”, Grady played some brushes on the cymbal and maybe a little bass drum, then it’s just me and Julee. Angelo may have played, but generally I played the stuff. The electric piano was done with a Yamaha DX7. The strings were generally a combination of a Roland D-550 and a Prophet T8. Angelo loved those ninth-chord suspensions, so the string parts are moving all the time.

BADALAMENTI: The ’50s is David’s world, or at least his world for the projects that he was doing. I’d heard those songs and I knew them, but at that time I was more into the jazz world, hipper things. Certainly, he had a passion for the ’50s, and it complemented his vision because of the mood of that music and of that period.

LANDRUM: When we were doing “Falling”, David says, “You got something that will sound ’50s?” I thought about the obvious things, like triplets in the upper part of the piano, but it didn’t seem right to me. Although the song had low notes in it, it didn’t have a bass part per se. So I said, “I’ve got this twangy Duane Eddy sound on my Emulator II [sampler] – what if I pitch that down in the bass register and play a bass part?” David said, “Let me hear it.” So I added a little amplitude modulation – what you’d call tremolo if it was on a guitar amp – and played ‘bom, bom-bom’, and David said, “That’s it, put it down.” I think it was one take. Floating… was recorded in summer 1989, and then the rest of the music for Twin Peaks was done in early 1990, before the pilot premiered in April. It was a little hectic.

BADALAMENTI: We recorded on two-inch tape, 16-track, and we separated every element. Not only did I get a final mix of what that cue was gonna be, but I did mixes of different variations from that, whether you’ve got a mix of just drums and bass, or drums and bass and vibraphone, etcetera. So you’re giving the editor of the film all sorts of variations on your major themes. If you watch Twin Peaks, there are so many variations on “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and the main title theme, and “Audrey’s Dance”. Every time those characters came back, David wanted to use some motif related to that.

LANDRUM: The very first thing we recorded for the TV show was “Laura Palmer’s Theme”. David was there for that session, and we recorded it in one afternoon. I remember doing overdubs to make “Falling” instrumental – they were done by me overdubbing a French horn part to play the melody on my Emulator II. I remember that because Angelo himself was a French horn player when he went to Eastman, but so was Julee Cruise, which surprised the heck out of me. But neither one of them had their chops up – French horn is one of the harder brass instruments to play, and if you haven’t played it in years, you can’t just pick it up and play it. Maybe we added some more strings, but I think that’s all we did to turn “Falling” into the Twin Peaks theme.

BADALAMENTI: So, all of a sudden, we’ve got Twin Peaks, and David’s in California. Sure enough, when they sent me the first series, David had put in “Falling” under the main title. It just was unreal. He singled that out to use as an instrumental, and the rest is history – especially the first three notes.

LANDRUM: I really don’t know if it was always intended to be the theme. In fact, I was kind of surprised that they were going to use that. Not that the song wasn’t good, but it was a song. It worked fine, though. I always tell people that David Lynch always does stuff on time, in budget – he’s a real pro. He might sort of seem like an ‘artiste’, but he’s a pro.

BADALAMENTI: I had no idea what the network thought of the music, but I guess they were happy, knowing that the audience was happy too! I haven’t listened to Floating Into The Night in so long, but the other day I just lay down on my couch and put on the album. I’ve gotta tell you, every cut on Julee’s album, her vocals, the music, the songs, it’s just so incredibly beautiful. The simplicity and the darkness, and the beauty of “Laura Palmer’s Theme” on Twin Peaks is just something that is remarkable, too.

CRUISE: To me, Floating… is the perfect album from tip to toe. That’s why so many people play it to have a baby, to make love, or to take a bubble bath! It’s become this iconic thing that has lasted forever, and it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life. It’s everything, it’s the music itself, it’s the musicians, it’s David’s direction – David really is a musician, he just refuses to sing. I’ll say, “David, just go [sings note],” and he refuses to do it, still to this day!

BADALAMENTI: What I’m most proud of is once when I was in London, a woman came up to me and she told me that she had two children: “I’d just like to let you know, both of my children were conceived as your music was playing.” What better compliment? It just knocked me out.

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FACT FILE

Written by: Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch
Produced by: Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch
Performers: Julee Cruise (vocals), Angelo Badalamenti (keyboards), Kinny Landrum (keyboards, synthesiser), Grady Tate (drums)
Recorded at: Excalibur Sound, New York
Released: September 1989 (on Floating Into The Night); September 1990 (on Soundtrack From Twin Peaks); October 1990 (single)
Chart peak: UK 7; US –
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The August 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring David Bowie on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with The War On Drugs, Steve Earle and Jah Wobble, we countdown Radiohead’s 30 Greatest Songs and remember Gregg Allman. We review Peter Perrett, Afghan Whigs, ZZ Top and Peter Gabriel. Our free CD features 15 tracks of the month’s best music, including Peter Perrett, Floating Points, Bedouine, Public Service Broadcasting, Broken Social Scene and more.

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