On Lynchian Album, Dan Weiss Combines Jazz And Metal Elements


Dan Weiss’ Natural Selection appeals to the drummer’s penchant for conceptual continuity.

(Photo: Courtesy Of Artist)

Few jazz albums are overtly inspired by TV series. Then again, few TV series are like Twin Peaks, and few jazz musicians are like Dan Weiss.

“It really got me. Really got me,” the drummer stressed, discussing David Lynch’s legendary TV mystery (specifically, its third season, which premiered in 2017 after a two-decade hiatus). “I just found myself so caught up in that world, and so taken with it, that it was pervading everything that was going on during the day.”

Weiss channeled his obsession into Starebaby, the self-titled 2018 album by his then-new quintet (guitarist Ben Monder, keyboardists Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn, and bassist Trevor Dunn). He had hoped that the music, a hybrid of jazz and heavy metal, would capture some of the show’s vibe: “the juxtaposition of the worlds that Lynch creates.” Yet Twin Peaks carried too much inspiration for just one record. The band’s follow-up—Natural Selection (Pi)—is a companion piece to the first. However, in keeping with the various aesthetics involved, the album relates to Starebaby in a unique way.

“I like thematic material, things that span,” Weiss explained. “I think it was natural for me to see what would develop out of the material of the first record and what I could do with it.” The Tibetan Buddhist concept of the tulpa—a willed-to-life being that mimics, but is distinct from, an original—was a major theme of Twin Peaks’ third season. That idea appealed to Weiss’ penchant for conceptual continuity. So, for Natural Selection, he devised a set of tulpas based on the tunes from Starebaby’s debut.

This could have taken many forms: remixes, contrafacts, variations or the same songs with new improvisations. Weiss took a more abstract approach. “I thought about the process with which I went about composing certain tunes from the first record and tried to duplicate that process for the second record,” he said.

The most obvious example is “Episode 18,” whose title references not only a Twin Peaks episode (season three’s finale), but the Starebaby track “Episode 8.” Weiss had written the earlier track entirely on electric bass, so he did the same thing for its tulpa. He also kept certain structural elements of “Episode 8” in “Episode 18.” The songs aren’t duplicates, but very loose analogs.

There are other similar counterparts on Natural Selection: “Acinna,” whose piano-and-electric-bass drone and multiple sections echo those of Starebaby’s “Annica”; and “A Taste Of A Memory,” whose alternating sections of eerie quiet and crunching loudness vaguely resemble 2018’s “The Memory Of My Memory.” The covers of the albums also shared motifs: stark black-and-white photos of baby dolls.

However, the new recording never was meant to map directly to the old. They are companion pieces, but not twins. The sequencing of Natural Selection, for instance, is entirely unrelated to Starebaby’s. “I pride myself on that kind of architecture,” Weiss said. “I just really wanted to make the best sequence possible for this specific record, get a balance of the long tunes and medium-length tunes.” For that matter, he hopes that the album is strong enough that listeners who’ve never heard the first one still can enjoy it.

The same is true for Twin Peaks. “Nobody needs to have seen it; they don’t need any kind of reference,” Weiss said. He’s not even sure that the whole band saw the new season—although he, Mitchell, and their significant others did watch it together.

“I don’t think it would have made a big difference,” the drummer continued. “Having seen the show might have had a little bit of influence on the guys, but not much. They’re gonna interpret the music the way they’d do anyway, show or no show.”

The band has more to say, too. Weiss has already started writing (non-Twin Peaks-related) material for a third Starebaby record. He intends to keep the band together as a long-term project for recording and performing. Still, touring with a quintet, all of whose members have busy careers of their own, is tough—even in the best of circumstances. Now, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible.

“I still plan to make records, at least,” said Weiss. “I like the formation, I like the guys and I like the mix of music. It’s my hope that the band stays together. But we’ll have to see how touring pans out over the next one to five years.”

In the meantime, Weiss is writing new music, rewatching The Sopranos—“It really holds up.”—and keeping his fingers crossed that rumors of Lynch’s developing a new season of Twin Peaks are true. “I hope that happens,” he said. “Give me some more inspiration.” DB

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