The mysterious death of Lyle Lynch

Jan 17, 2018 at 1:00 am
Lyle, err, Sean Lynch.
Lyle, err, Sean Lynch. Courtesy photo

I'm mad at Sean Lynch when we meet for coffee to discuss the justifiable, albeit metaphorical, death of Lyle Lynch and the disbandment of his Bad Hombres. Or maybe Sean Lynch is mad at me. After nearly eight years of friendship, this happens from time to time and it's not always easy to tell the difference.

Lynch is, undoubtedly, an intense person — with an equally intense, though fully formed and thoroughly researched thesis on the art he creates and why he creates it. He can quote Nina Simone in the same breath that he can identify the make and model of an FX pedal on a Liz Harris track, and I guarantee he will bring up Portishead at some point — he really fucking loves Portishead.

Like most conversations between us, we often start with some common observational ground and move upward (and usually end up just north of six feet under). Today, our common ground is "Smells Like Teen Sprite" (the viral reimagining of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), the unseasonably warm weather, and the uncomfortable text message exchange from two weeks ago that led us to clutch our respective coffee cups with white knuckles while avoiding direct eye contact on this particular morning.

I ask Lynch what he had meant when he told me that he felt that "the material was expired," or at least irrelevant enough to warrant an interview.

"I was stupid for saying that," he interjects. "People that make music think they have an aerial view of the fucking world. I have to remind myself that I don't know. Of course, it's expired material for me. I told myself that as soon as 2018 happened, I wouldn't write anymore from that mindset. It was too destructive to things in my life and I'm still paying the price of having filtered that toxic shit through me. I'm surprised I even released it."

This is not the first time Lynch has buried someone... or something. Having spent 15 years in death work as both a funeral director and mortuary restoration specialist, Lynch has adopted a ceremonial approach to most things.

When he announced the final show and disbandment of 800beloved, his dream pop project of 10 years, in the summer of 2016, the performance received the full funeral treatment — flowers dressed the stage, a eulogy had been prepared, and a coffin was the visual focal point for the entirety of the show. It was never about gimmick when it came to 800beloved, though, nor was there anything remotely ironic about The Uncanny Valley, the only record under his solo project No Body. As commonplace as death might be for someone as emotionally seasoned as Lynch, it's still death — an ending.

"Are you comfortable talking about Lyle?" I ask delicately.

"Absolutely. I'm here to represent Lyle," Lynch says. "The last I heard, he was in a doomsday dome in Northern Michigan. That's the last I heard, anyway."

Last month, Lynch released The Elephant in the Room, a four-song EP recorded in mono under the moniker Lyle Lynch and the Bad Hombres. Originally seven tracks, the album is overtly American — Lynch describes Lyle as having a "meat and potatoes delivery" and that the record is like "a pack of Marlboros or something." A far cry from the dreamy shoegaze days of 800beloved (though some of Lynch's reflexes and muscle memory shine through), Lyle and his Bad Hombres are a bit of an anomaly. First, there are no bad Hombres. It is 100 percent a solo record. Secondly, the music has a sort of western swing that Lynch says was purposely crafted to sound like something a Trump-voter demographic might identify with, but when listened to more closely the songs are actually quite subversive and as macabre as anything Lynch has ever done.

"I went mad 'cause I couldn't have Uncle Tom for my Uncle Sam," Lyle spits on "The Limbo," a song that forced Lynch to learn the lap steel guitar overnight. "I told the government get off my land and just control my woman," he continues — a sentiment Lynch admits is pretty fucking terrible, "But that's what goes through the mind of most white men who are shacked up in the suburbs with this hostage situation of a marriage and they're angry about something they can't put their finger on," he says.

The EP explores a new cadence for Lynch, who abandoned his knack for dreamy prose and romantic abstractions for palatable rhymes that appease modern attention spans — "burn me a bridge, build me a wall," "fake news and real guns," and even going as far as to say "This land ain't your land/ This land is my land/ Goddamn America."

But what Lynch wants us to know is that this is in no way a protest record.

"If you think I'm going to waste my time going after a piece of trash like Donald Trump, he's a fucking turkey shoot," Lynch says. "This record has nothing to do with Donald Trump. This record has everything to do with us: the people and our poor American taste. This is two clicks off from wearing your PJs at Wal-Mart, buying your Monster Energy drinks, cursing the world that never did you wrong because your skin was white."

He continues, "This is about what is actually going on in the mind of the gun shop owner who opens up shop 50-yards away from an elementary school in my fucking hometown. This is about that poor taste."

Lyle Lynch was conceived nearly two years ago, though only as a joke and a Facebook status. Lyle was first introduced via social media through cryptic Instagram footage of Lynch in a cowboy hat on various dirt roads, ran through a camcorder filter.

"If I wrote a love song and there were two teenagers who were playing that song and in that moment that song made it so they could kiss each other — if I possess that ability and I possess the ability to bury an ex-lover with another song, I should be able to possess the ability to get outside of myself for just a fucking second," Lynch says. Enter Lyle.

It wasn't until the late summer of 2017 that I met Lyle. On that day he looked like Sean, smoked cigarettes like Sean, but everything else was that of a stranger. I challenged his Southern accent with my own and created my own southern persona, rearranging the letters in my name to sound like someone who might serve you iced tea at a Waffle House. We stayed this way for hours, alternating between culturally insensitive buzzwords and pro-Trump farce, feeling our way through America's tabloid reality. Eventually, our voices, mannerisms, and ideologies returned to us in a fit of laughter as we chased after an ice cream truck like feral children on summer break.

But when summer left, Lyle stuck around. And suddenly the whole thing began to feel like performance art on quicksand.

"Everything about doing this record in every possible sense of the world was isolating," Lynch says. "I just didn't feel right getting to enjoy a dream world outside of the real world we were living in that had turned quite dark. When you sing a song like 'America My Island,' you've got to be pretty angry. I've always been intense, but with Lyle, I couldn't always turn it off."

Lynch confesses, "To be completely honest, I could have gone much further with it. It wasn't because I was speaking with an accent or singing in an accent and saying some pretty polarizing things, it was the afterburn. The residual effects of Lyle have hurt other areas of my life. Musically I wanted to do other things." He pauses. "I did not want to be doing this shit."

The shit Lynch refers to is the immersive process he subjected himself to in order to extract the source material for The Elephant in the Room. It isn't the immersion part that is new for Lynch — he's sort of always been this way. For 800beloved's 2009 debut album Bouquet, Lynch kept the coffin from the cover image at the end of his bed for several years as a creative relic. It was a series of dreams that spawned the lyrical imagery for 2010's Everything Purple. And 800beloved's final release, Some Kind of Distortion, was a wistful kiss of death to, well, death. When it came to The Elephant in the Room, however, Lynch turned to Breitbart and A.M. radio. He admits to having 75 pages of lyrical re-writes, and modestly claims that all he did was repurpose daily news by mixing up the language of headlines and buzzwords, and then he added an accent.

But not everything about the record spawned from nightmarish discoveries of alt-right media or the disturbingly blind beliefs of Trump's America. Rather, the record has everything to do with a blue-eyed toddler on Christmas morning.

Lynch says he knew he wanted to call the record The Elephant in the Room on Christmas morning, when he had come up with the melody for "The Limbo."

"When we got to my family's house, my darling niece who was 2 or 3 at the time picked out a book for me to read to her. She grabbed a book about an elephant who went into the jungle and befriended all types of animals, no matter how different they were," Lynch explains. "I thought it was such a strange twist on what we were going through with this foul mouth who is doing everything to close our world and here was this beautiful, young girl and this elephant who was embracing everything."

Lynch admits he suffers from "whatever disorder when you're always looking for meaning in everything." "It doesn't happen as romantically these days, it happens more methodically," he says. "But how do you look past a moment like that?"

Two hours into our conversation and we've aired our share of grievances — with the world, our cellphones, and each other. Coffee cups now empty, we discover that we are both equally obsessed with last year's cinematic flop Blade Runner 2049. He tells me that he will absolutely not make rock music in 2018, and that he plans to focus on electronic compositions and breathing. But of all the ground we covered, one thing remained unclear.

"So, wait. Sean, is Lyle dead or just off the grid?" I ask. "Because I really want the interview to have some dusty, western Tarantino-esque title. Like, 'The Death of Lyle Lynch and —'"

"Oh yeah, go ahead. Kill him," Lynch says, noticeably fighting the urge to dip into Lyle's signature Texas drawl one last time. "He's dead to me, and he ain't comin' back."

The Elephant in the Room EP by Lyle Lynch and the Bad Hombres is available for download and purchase via