Making that second album look easy, Twin Shadow is back and gearing up to take the world by storm.
David Bowie might have vowed he was “never gonna fall for modern love” but now, on the brink of releasing his ridiculously romantic second album, Twin Shadow is taking listeners in a different direction; the road lesser trodden of the hyper-heartfelt. Sorry Bowie – your time is up. Poetry books at the ready, Crack gave Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis Jr, a bell on what was a blisteringly sunny afternoon in LA and blustery rainy night in London.
Our Dominican born, Florida raised, usual Brooklyn resident came to the music world’s attention almost two years ago with the release of his haunting debut Forget. Don’t be fooled into thinking George Lewis Jr is some new kid on the block though; he’s been making music for over ten years, in many guises. Crack would love to hear his turn in a punk band – Mad Man Films, for example. But it wasn’t until he went solo and dropped the heavy riffs for hazy synths that he came to the attention of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, who saw the potential in George’s dreamscapes and offered to put him out on Terrible Records, Taylor’s own newly launched label. A single deal became an EP deal became an LP deal, and soon after 4AD came knocking.
George has been living out in LA for a few months now. It’s a second home since he recorded Confess out here earlier this year. It’s downtime, but even downtime is interrupted when you’re Twin Shadow. He’s just made the music video for his new single Five Seconds, played a few album preview shows and of course, is taking calls from the press. Quite graciously, we might add. He’s a very friendly fellow. When not handling these interruptions like a pro, George can be found on the back of his beloved 1972 Triumph Bonneville, which we both believe is the same model Steve McQueen had, but we’re not sure. He enthuses: “I love riding my motorcycle round LA. The PCH is really nice – that’s the Pacific Coast Highway – and I ride in the Angeles Crest, that’s up in the Angeles Forest. That’s really beautiful.” These rides are more than just a hobby. They are an integral force behind the new songs on Confess, which was inspired by George’s motorcycle crash, with a friend on the back of his bike. More specifically, inspired by the moment of calm clarity after the shock of crashing and before the panic of realising what happened. That moment made George wish he could “say everything in a split second”. Confess is an apt album title, to be sure.
For those unfamiliar with Twin Shadow’s first album, there is a definite air of the 1980s about his sound. Comparisons have been made to Depeche Mode, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Smiths. Comparisons he doesn’t shy away from so much as own, safe in the knowledge that whilst having those influences, he has managed to now create two albums that embrace that decade whilst sounding immediately modern. Did recording Confess out in LA have impact on the sound of the album, we wonder? George ponders. “I always think of those things. The atmosphere obviously has an influence. I just wanted to bring an energy to this record, because having experienced playing with a live band throughout the year, I wanted to capture the energy on record. That more than just being in LA.”
Is Crack right in thinking then this concept-heavy album was longer in the making than his first, Forget, reportedly written and recorded in a week? George sets us straight. “I still feel this record was done rather quickly. I had some songs written from on the road. But really for the most part it was written in two weeks and recorded in six weeks. So it was actually a pretty quick record as well.” George decided to produce this album himself, which he says was “really good as a challenge.” He pauses before continuing. “I also produced a lot on Forget so it wasn’t all new for me, but it was a conscious decision to be the main producer. It put a lot of responsibility on me in terms of learning how to use certain types of music equipment I didn’t know how to use, so I had to have a bit of reassurance. I had to use some YouTube tutorials.” Crack laughs and has to agree: you can learn anything from YouTube. “You certainly can.” He adds, “I learnt how to tie a turban actually. That’s something everyone should learn.”
Something we can learn from George, though, is how to be remarkably romantic. With his second album he is unavoidably flying the flag for the lost art of wearing your heart on your sleeve. Literally, lyrically, musically – the heart in these songs is overwhelming. Can all these words be based on real emotions he’s been through? He is almost offended that we would ask such a question. “Yeah, of course”, he says incredulously. “I mean, I think that it’s so funny that some people have such a lack of emotion. It’s kind of the most ridiculous thing in the world to think about because originally music has always been about expression.” He gets more impassioned as he continues. “You know, romantic is seen as a negative word, which is really crazy to me because life is romantic and life is beautiful and it should be expressed in music. Music is the best way to express beauty so I don’t really shy away from being colourful with language.” Crack admits after a few listens Confess reminded us of the British romantic poets Keats and Shelley, particularly Shelley’s Love’s Philosophy. George is flattered, but we mean it. It’s startling just how open and full of feeling these new songs are, surely there’s a certain vulnerability when expressing yourself so honestly? He agrees. “I think it’s dangerous, because a lot of people don’t know how to deal with listening to things like that.”
With Confess, he’s dropped the metaphors and gone straight for the jugular, covering the same highs and lows, loves and losses, but in a more frank way. “I think that Forget was quite flowery in term of language, and I feel like this record is a bit more direct and more like the way I would actually speak to someone in person. But I recently read Michael Ondaatje’s poem The Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife. Even though I’m trying to use simpler language with the new stuff, I go back to stuff like this poem and I’m just blown away with how lush the words are and how important that is to me. So that’s all a part of it.” So does he have any guidance for those cold and jaded folks out there? How can Crack and Twin Shadow melt those hearts and spread the love? He mulls it over for a while before deciding, “I think what we’re talking about is this weird thing where people typecast themselves into roles in their subcultures. ‘I don’t like drum and bass’ or ‘I don’t like rock n roll’ – all of that is a way of becoming callous and hardened instead of opening your heart and your mind. People need to let go of typecasting themselves because it’s really ridiculous and it confines them to a very small group of people that they know. People would have a lot better sex and a lot better a time if they opened themselves up a bit.”
But what about the broken hearted? What can we say to make them feel better? “It’s never gonna stop!” he laughs, “that’ll make them feel better!” He continues. “The thing is, when you’re heartbroken you think it’s the end of the world, but the truth is it’s always the end of the world, but it goes on and on and on and there’s a hope in that, you know? You will live to be heartbroken again.”
So on the eve of embarking on his world tour, a little daunting to a homebody like George, let’s be positive; there must be places he’s looking forward to visiting? “Yeah, I want to go to Ireland more. I would love to spend like two weeks in London. I’ve been a million times but I’ve been for two nights. I’m over the other parts of Europe, the baguette and coffee, I think I’ve had enough of that – I think I can move on to Africa, more Asia. I think I’m ready for all of that this time around.” Why is he ‘over’ Europe? He explains “I love France, Germany, Denmark and all that, but there’s only so much beautiful people, beautiful coffee, beautiful baguette that this guy can handle!” It sounds like he needs some wilderness? He agrees, laughing. “Yeah, I need some wilderness and I need some raw people. I need some ugly people!” Crack can’t help but laugh too. We doubt he’ll have many of those in his life for a while.
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Confess is released on 4AD on 9th July
Words: Lucie Grace