Twin Shadow | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Twin Shadow

On the Brink

Mar 17, 2012 Issue #40 - In the Studio 2012 - Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, and Twin Shadow Photography by Tommy Kearns Bookmark and Share

Twin Shadow, aka Brooklyn-based songwriter George Lewis Jr., emerged in 2010 with the stunning debut LP Forget. The album is an intimate glimpse at the deterioration of a transcontinental relationship, and it saw significant critical acclaim and commercial success. Despite its gravitas, the record’s ebullient synth hooks and universal theme of love lost caught on with increasingly larger and more fervent audiences worldwide.

With a backing band in tow, Lewis’ steadfast commitment to touring paid off, as Twin Shadow’s level of success has been rising at a brisk yet incremental pace. Forget was released in the U.S. on Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear’s Terrible Records imprint, but was quickly scooped up by 4AD. Lewis’ live audience has been growing rapidly as well. His band began playing in NYC to small crowds of less than 50, but recently sold out the city’s 1,500-capacity Webster Hall.

“I always say it’s not happening fast enough,” says Lewis regarding Twin Shadow’s popularity. “But it is happening quite fast, and I’m excited about where it’s at. I hope that there are still substantial jumps to make.”

When and if those jumps occur, they’ll likely be on the back of Twin Shadow’s as-yet-untitled sophomore LP, due out in the summer. Lewis has been self-producing (“I don’t like the idea of being able to blame someone else. I like to be able to blame myself,” he laughs) with assistance of touring keyboardist Wynne Bennett, and claims at the time of the interview that “it’s about 90 percent there,” with mixing still to be done.

When he first talked to Under the Radar in 2010, Lewis drew a parallel between his work and the films of Ingmar Bergman, citing The Seventh Seal as an inspirationin particular the manner in which the director pared down scenes from his original script to their essence. It’s an aesthetic that still guides Lewis’ work.

“I think I’ve trimmed the fat down,” he says. “I’d like to think that every single song is equally as important, single-worthy, but I also felt that way about Forget too.”

Thematically, Lewis has largely jettisoned the film and book infatuations that he used as devices to convey his emotions throughout his debut, mainly due to the sheer pragmatics of touring.

“Making the first record, I read so many books and watched so many movies and a lot of it had to have been inspired by that,” he says. “This time I was on tour all year, and reading in the van doesn’t happen, and you have a DVD player in the van but no one wants to watch all the shitty art house movies I want to watch.”

Lewis and Bennett recorded the bulk of the record in L.A., where Lewis sought a more forceful, visceral approach at odds with Forget‘s diaphanous anthems.

“I took a lot of inspiration from Drumline, DrumCore rhythms and patterns, things like that,” says Lewis. “So that’s kind of the biggest element, that I’m using less and less drum machines and doing more sampling.”

L.A.‘s sunny environs didn’t lighten up Twin Shadow’s sound. In fact, according to Lewis, they toughened it.

“It’s funny, the record is actually more aggressive,” he says. “You’d think that I’d go out to California and make this really mellow record, but it’s not, it’s more aggressive.” Lewis also found himself in some stereotypically surreal Hollywood situations, divulging one that involves one of the more infamous horror directors of the past century.

“I ended up at Wes Craven’s house one night,” he remembers. “Crazy stuff like that happens.

I’m probably blowing up his assistant’s spot by saying this, because [Craven] wasn’t there. It was weird to say the least. You’d think, ‘oh, it’s probably super normal.’ But it’s not at all. It’s totally fucking weird. I won’t blow up his spot and tell everyone all the things I found in his house.”

The talk of L.A. leads to tangential mentions of celebrity encounters. Lewis reveals that Jessica Alba is a fan, and that he had the opportunity to hang out with her after a recent gig. He’s also heard rumors that Scarlett Johansson loves Forget, but what he really wants is for a somewhat unlikely hero to hear his music.

“If anyone out there can get Bob Dylan to listen to my record, please, make it happen,” he says with a laugh. “I just want him to hear it.”

Lewis also managed to indulge a longstanding passion while in Los Angeles: that of motorcycling.

“I bought a motorcycle and shipped it out there,” he says. “So a lot of my time when I wasn’t recording was spent riding my vintage ‘72 Bonneville. That was totally different for me. I had a motorcycle before, but it was in the city, where you can’t open up and have a real drive. So I had the Hollywood, L.A. experience on my motorcycle, having fun. But it was mostly a time to relax after all the touring we’d done.”

The arduous touring contributed to the record’s paramount, recurring themethe disconnection you feel from your loved ones and friends when you’re away from them for months on end.

“It’s not just my relationship with lovers, but friends in general,” he explains. “It’s weird when you’re on the road so much, there’s this longing for home and friendship, but at the same time it feels weird to call someone back home and just have a chat. It almost makes you feel even worse, so it reminds you of home. You hear the things, and you want to be a part of them. Solid relationships definitely mess things up a bit.”

Lewis currently finds himself single, after a few failed attempts to reconcile the relationship chronicled on Forget.

“And since then I’ve promised myself to be a bachelor,” he says.

Without a romance to provide the grist for his follow-up to Forget, Lewis often found himself in uncharted emotional territory.

“I feel like I was almost empty in terms of inspiration for this record,” he says. “I had to pull from a more emotional place and a more simple place I think than Forget. Forget is more complex. This record is more current, my current feelings about love.”

Sonically, Lewis is giving away little regarding the overarching sound of the record, aside from his comments that it will be a more forceful recording with complex rhythmic patterns. But stylistically, he has myriad directions he’s been enamored with at various stages of his life.

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Florida, Lewis was exposed to an eclectic range of musical styles and developed a childhood infatuation with classic hip-hop and rap.

“Biggie, Tupac, Nas, I liked The Fugees, Warren G. All the dudes who were just killing it on MTV,” he recalls. “[Dr. Dre’s] The Chronic record. Wu Tang. All that stuff. But most of all, Tupac.”

Lewis was later exposed to rock music by his twin sister, who introduced him to Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

“She was like, you need to stop listening to that crap,” he recounts. “This is real music. Rock and roll was born out of her shoving it down my face, and I really did make a switch in a way. It all kind of came when I started playing guitar. I guess I was 13 or 14.”

Lewis’ sister and the rest of his family continue to support his Twin Shadow endeavors, albeit from their present home in the Dominican Republic, where they gathered to watch his network debut TV performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last May.

“My sisters are all fans,” he says. “They’re all supporters. They always take a few months when I come up with something new, and then they get it, and they’re like, ‘oh, all right.’ But they’re all big supporters and big fans, and my mom listens to my music a lot, which is really cool. I don’t know if my dad listens, but my mom listens.”

When Lewis was in his late teens, a co-worker in a coffee shop exposed him to indie rock, the likes of Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes. At the same time, another friend introduced him to the likes of Fugazi, Minor Threat, and The Clash.

“I got super into punk rock and started a punk rock band,” he recalls. “And it just sort of evolves, the next thing for me.”

After extensive travels overseas, at which point he found his muse for Forget, Lewis formed a punk band in Boston, one he’s not altogether comfortable discussing.

“This is the first time I’ve admitted the name of that band: Mad Man Films,” he reveals.

Splitting time between Brooklyn and Boston, Lewis became disillusioned with making music and retreated to Berlin to work with his sister on theater projects. And then, rather fortuitously, Eddie Bezalel, the manager of Cymbals Eat Guitars, heard solo recordings of what Lewis had been up to, and offered to manage him.

“I had some demos online, just songs I had written,” explains Lewis. “They were weird acoustic guitars with layered vocals. He just found me through some other friends who he was working with, Apollo Sunshine, and just kind of supported me and helped me to explore whatever I wanted, really. He got me away from thinking about starting a band and just working on things myself.”

That ethos has continued to this day, as Lewis puts the finishing touches on his second LP. As he contrasts the material he’s presently working on with Forget, it’s obvious that he feels a more personal connection to the new music.

“A lot of it has to do with when you sacrifice your life a little bit to something you love to do,” he says. “Your art, what that’s like and what comes out of that and who you become in the face of that. I think this record is a lot about that. That’s the biggest thing you have to sacrifice when you fully commit to being an entertainer. This is more like having gone through a bunch of things and reporting back, and I’m still not sure what it is yet. I haven’t stepped back yet.”


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