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On Working With David Lynch: 4AD's Vaughan Oliver

Influential designer cites "sense of ambiguity"
as a sensibiity he shares with the director

By Gustavo Turner

(Thursday, Jan 20 2011)
The songs David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti composed for Julee Cruise in the late 1980s, many of them repurposed for and rom the Twin Peaks saga, are some of the most distinctive examples of what people would recognize as "Lynchian" music. And they all stem from "Mysteries of Love," a song Lynch and Badalamenti wrote for Blue Velvet.

But the reason Lynch had to hastily become a lyricist, as legend has it, was that he could not secure the rights to the song he really wanted: This Mortal Coil's version of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren." Lynch eventually was able to afford "Song to the Siren" (for Lost Highway), a quintessential track released by cult U.K. label 4AD.

But it took a while longer to pair him with a crucial (some would say the crucial) architect of 4AD's success: visual designer Vaughan Oliver, the founder of groundbreaking design studios 23 Envelope and v23. Oliver designed the striking packaging for the many versions of the "Good Day Today"/"I Know" single, including an elaborate sleeve for the vinyl edition.

We asked the legendary designer about how the collaboration with the like-minded director had come about. "I was invited by the label Sunday Best, with whom I'd had no previous contact," Oliver says. "I guess they could see I would empathize with Lynch's work. Empathize? I adore it and have been inspired by it for 23 years since first seeing Eraserhead. 'Do they cut them up like regular chickens?'?"

Oliver thinks Lynch's music shares many elements with his own design sensibility: "Sense of ambiguity. Duality. Horror and beauty on the same page, in the same image. Understatement." And even for a revered designer used to working with some of music's unique creative minds (Pixies, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil), the "Good Day Today"/"I Know" project was one of a kind.

"Nothing compares to David Lynch," he enthuses. "And he was gentlemanly enough to take a backseat in the process. A real gentleman and inspiration."

© 2011Turner/LA Weekly

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