Trouble were one of many acts who played the fictional bar during one long production day that also saw handpicked artists including Nine Inch Nails, Sharon Van Etten, and Eddie Vedder take their turn to be directed by Lynch while pretending to play their own music. Early on in the series’ run, these Roadhouse scenes could seem incongruous, like clunky appendages often added to the end of every episode. Yet their role began to reveal itself as the show evolved: The scenes, and the music within them, are used as a guide back toward something resembling reality, a reassuring embrace of the familiar following the rest of the show’s deeply disturbing and bizarre images. In “The Return,” once you’re in the Roadhouse, you know you’re safe—relatively speaking, at least.
Even though the show’s music has been largely defined by those star-studded Roadhouse performances, they were never part of the original plan. “It wasn’t in the script,” Hurley tells me, adding that the scenes were constructed to allow editorial fluidity—to act as a punctuation tool—because Lynch imagined “The Return” not as a TV show but rather an 18-hour film broken down and shown in parts.
As composed by Angelo Badalamenti, the role of music in the original “Twin Peaks” remains as crucial to the program as any character or plot line. Its moody, melodramatic presence was embedded into the show’s most fundamental DNA, running through the town’s core with the same tangible presence as its gushing waterfall or buzzing sawmill.
Music remains a big factor in much of the new series, but its form has altered. Badalamenti remains the show’s primary composer—his original theme still plays over the opening credits and he contributed several original and previously unreleased compositions to the series—but overall the music has become much more disparate. The new series features a mix of industrial sound design akin to what Lynch employed on his 1977 feature debut Eraserhead—thuds, whirs, malevolent drones, static hums, looming tones of dread—with a more traditional soundtrack featuring those Roadhouse tracks along with older songs from artists such as ZZ Top, jazz great Dave Brubeck, and, for that instantly classic dawn-of-the-atomic-era sequence, Polish modern classical composer Krzysztof Penderecki.
Lynch mentioned including some songs in the new script, including the Platters’ “My Prayer” and the Paris Sisters’ “I Love How You Love Me,” but the director’s gut instinct pointed him toward the man who made the sound of the original series so iconic. So Badalamenti was sought out to create the tone of “The Return” before the revolving door of Roadhouse bands came to augment it.
Along with Badalamenti’s solo work, the show’s soundtrack features the composer’s collaborative side project with Lynch, Thought Gang, which was created for the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.Lynch, who is credited as the new series’ sound designer, also worked on original musical pieces with Dean Hurley, while dream-pop auteur Johnny Jewel contributed both instrumentals and songs to the show.
Despite being more involved than most in the musical process, Jewel too was working in the dark. “No storyline, no script, nothing,” he tells me. “I didn’t want to know anything either. I’m very secretive about how I work so I can completely sympathize with someone who wants to just capture people on a really instinctual level, without a preconceived notion.” In this spirit, he chose to not re-watch any of the original “Twin Peaks” before working on his own compositions for the new series. “Everything was based on emotional memory,” he says.
Of all the Roadhouse acts, Jewel’s band Chromatics get the most screen time, including performances in the opening and penultimate episodes. In that second-to-last part, Jewel and his bandmates back the defining musical voice of “Twin Peaks,” Julee Cruise, on the Badalamenti/Lynch song “The World Spins,” which she also sang in the original series. “I was really manic about doing it because the song is six minutes long and it’s non-linear—it’s a very, very odd piece of music,” says Jewel. “For about a week and a half, it was the only song we listened to—we would play it six to eight hours a day, over and over.” He even played the original Rhodes piano from 1973 that Badalamenti used for the original series on set.
Jewel and his bandmates were so keen for Cruise to be the focus when filming that they consciously tried to fade into the background. “I didn’t want there to be any distraction on stage,” he says. “The old Roadhouse bands were these rockabilly greaser types, all in black, so I had the band wear black. We were aiming to be shadows.”
Though Lynch generally let the various Roadhouse bands simply do their thing, according to Jewel, the director did whisper something to Cruise that changed their scene dramatically. “The first take felt very logical, but then after David spoke to her, the second take was insane. The feeling on stage was so incredible. The difference was night and day.” The performance with Cruise proved to be an overpowering one for Jewel. “I held it together at the Roadhouse, but when we left I completely lost it and was sobbing uncontrollably for hours,” he says.
Many that were invited to the Roadhouse share similar feelings of intensity on set. Heather D’Angelo of the synth-pop group Au Revoir Simone found the environment to be otherworldly. “It was literally like stepping into someone else’s dream,” she says.
For Rebekah Del Rio, who sang the Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in an unforgettable scene in Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive, returning to the director’s realm was especially poignant. After undergoing brain surgery to remove a tumor in 2012, she thought she may never perform again; the ordeal forced her relearn how to sing from scratch.“When I got to the Roadhouse, I was once again transported into that world,” she says.
One of the oddest Roadhouse scenes—in which a woman crawls and screams on her hands and knees through the crowd—was soundtrack by doomy London band the Veils. According to the group’s frontman, Finn Andrews, though, lending sound to strangeness has become something of a specialty, as other bold auteurs like Tim Burton and Paolo Sorrentino have also placed the band’s music in their work. “We seem to sound good paired with generally pretty unwholesome imagery,” he says. “If there’s ever a scene with someone having sex with an amputee, or a horse is dying, or there’s a slow-motion hanging, we get the call.”