‘Mulholland Drive’ Singer Rebekah Del Rio on the Very Lynchian Time She Visited David Lynch’s Hometown

The "Llorando" singer recalls her early days working with Lynch and her time in Missoula, where she encountered a man who reminded her of the monster behind Winkies diner.
Rebekah Del Rio
Rebekah Del Rio in "Twin Peaks: The Return"

David Lynch never goes out of style. Ask any artist who’s worked with him, from Laura Dern to Patricia Arquette, they’ll tell you the Missoula native and Eagle Scout is a master filmmaker and an empathetic collaborator, with anyone he hires willing to follow his strange star down the rabbit hole together. And so, more than 20 years later, we’re still talking about movies like “Mulholland Drive.” While actresses like Dern, Naomi Watts, Grace Zabriskie, and Sheryl Lee are often thought of as Lynch’s muses, there’s one woman without whom the entire David Lynch universe wouldn’t be the same: Rebekah Del Rio.

The three-octave singer from Chula Vista, California, famously renders Roy Orbison’s wallowing breakup ballad “Crying” as a glorious a capella epic in Spanish, “Llorando,” during a pivotal “Mulholland Drive” scene that serves as the bridge from fantasy to reality nightmare. At the downtown Los Angeles “Club Silencio” (in reality, the still-standing historic Tower Theatre), Del Rio croons “Llorando” onstage before collapsing unconscious, her vocals continuing. But for a scene about the performative nature of singing and lip-syncing, Del Rio, as she explained during a recent IndieWire interview, actually sung the song in camera.

“Because I am a natural-born singer, and I don’t know how to lip-sync, I sang along for every take of that scene,” said Del Rio, who was in New York City to perform live at the Walter Reade Theatre as a preamble to a Film at Lincoln Center screening of “Mulholland Drive.”

“I’ve seen lip-syncing in a lot of films and television and have noticed the vibrato in their throats is not moving. It’s pretty apparent that they’re not really singing. For me, It takes away from the experience. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was lip-syncing. Though it’s ironic because, as you point out, the scene is set up with an illusion in mind, and I faint in the middle of the song, yet the recording still goes on. No hay banda. It’s all an illusion,” she said.

Rebekah Del Rio performs at the David Lynch Foundation Music Celebration at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Rebekah Del Rio performs at the David Lynch Foundation Music Celebration at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in 2015Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

“There were many takes. And with every take, I sang along, because I felt I had to produce that same feeling with the vibrato in my throat so the audience could see it. I also wanted the beautiful girls in the balcony, [the film’s stars] Laura Harring and Naomi Watts, to experience it live. They were present while I was doing my scene, so I sang to them. David uses live mics when he’s filming, by the way. He’s always listening.”

Del Rio, a loquacious interview who’s still chuffed all these years later to be talking about David Lynch at all, first met the director in what he calls a “happy accident,” but she said, “I call it money in my karmic bank! When I met David Lynch, I had a country record deal in Nashville. I landed my record deal by singing ‘Crying’ in Spanish years before I met the director. Our mutual agent, Brian Loucks [of CAA], introduced me to David and asked me to sing for him.”

Unknown to Del Rio, Lynch recorded her that very day, and with that recording was inspired to build the Silencio scene, which ultimately launched the by-then-debunked ABC pilot that was “Mulholland Drive” into the feature film it now is.

The Spanish version of “Crying” came out of a tribute to Queen of Tejano music Selena after she was murdered by her former manager in 1995. “I met this wonderful singer-songwriter from Venezuela named Thania Sans and asked her if she would help write the translation for me. She did such a gorgeous job. I started performing the song in Spanish, a capella, and it became my signature song,” Del Rio said.

Fifteen years after “Mulholland Drive,” Del Rio re-teamed with Lynch to perform (starring as herself) in Episode 10 of “Twin Peaks: The Return” at the fictional Roadhouse, where each week musicians like (“The”) Nine Inch Nails and Sharon Van Etten performed at the end of the installment. For Del Rio’s return to Lynch country, they featured the song “No Stars,” which began as a poem by Lynch that he then turned into a song with his longtime engineer John Neff and Del Rio.

Rebekah Del Rio
Rebekah Del Rio in “Mulholland Drive”YouTube

“When David started working on ‘The Return,’ I called him directly and told him, ‘Don’t you think our song, ‘No Stars,’ would be perfect for Twin Peaks’? And he said, ‘Yes, I do Rebecky, I really do.'”

But Del Rio’s real visit to Lynch land was a recent pandemic-era “No Hay Banda” tour through the United States that landed her in Missoula, Montana, Lynch’s hometown, where she performed at the Roxy.

“I really wanted to see where this man was from, what makes this genius tick. Missoula has a lovely college area that is bustling and somehow still quite provincial. They don’t call it Big Sky Country for nothing. It’s very clean-cut, conservative, and mountain-esque, yet there’s another side to this place that is riddled with drugs, dilapidated buildings, and terrible despair,” she said. “This is all within a radius of a few miles.”

Del Rio said she felt out of her element but that the experience brought her closer to the essence of Lynch’s work: peeling back the face-powder veneer of blue-collar American life to reveal the horror underneath.

“For me, an innocent tourist who was driving around in a rental car, looking for a screw that came off my mask shield, I got pretty turned around. It was only after ending up in a creepy warehouse, encountering a man that reminded me of the monster near the trash can behind Winkies, escaping within an inch of my life, then finally ending up at a bougie restaurant having the very BEST Mexican food outside of Mexico City, did I realize I was just within the limits of the strangest story in the safest and scariest place on earth. Inside the mind of the master himself,” she said.

“Now I think I know why David makes his art the way he does… and I’m so very glad he chose me to make some of that art with him,” she said.

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