With an elaborate coiff, ’50s threads and an ultra-smooth voice, Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. calls to mind a poetic James Dean. He has the style of the rebel but the subtle sensuality of a soulful R&B star. While this description of the Brooklyn-based artist might sound like a curveball, his looks aren’t all for show. His style, very much an extension of himself, takes its cues from his music. Just check out his [NSFW] video for “Slow,” and you’ll see his appreciation for a certain kind of subaltern Americana aesthetics.
Twin Shadow’s debut album, Forget — which was released through Terrible Records, a label run by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor — glows with synthesizers, cuts with guitar, and mellows with velvety vocals. To break it down, the record sounds like one-third rock, one-third soul, and one-third sex. Songs like the opener “Tyrant Destroyed,” layered with throbbing beats and slinky, quivering verses, just devours a listener whole. Others, such as “I Can’t Wait,” are more groovy ballads, showcasing the sleek George Lewis Jr. as a vulnerable yet impassioned and free-spirited lover. In the song, he half-boasts, “Her hands around my waist/ My arms around her back/ You know she loves my moves.” Altogether, Forget is a catchy yet intriguing piece of work, and one that strongly values both style and substance.
In the following interview (transcribed and condensed), Lewis talks more about the album, including how it was influenced by trips to Copenhagen, as well as life in Floridian suburbia and the Swedish girl that got away.
When did you start playing music? And how did Twin Shadow begin?
I started playing music when I was 14. Twin Shadow is a pretty recent project, which I started about two years ago after spending some time in Europe, working in Copenhagen for three months, doing music. I did music for a theater company, writing and playing Velvet Underground covers. [Laughs.] It was fun. I visited Berlin — where my sister was living — a lot, too. After coming back from several of those trips, I sat down, got settled and really realized what I wanted to do — and the kind of record I wanted to make.
I played with a bunch of new “toys” that I had gotten. Also for the first time, I accepted computers as a means to create music into my life and embraced the idea of recording a record by myself. Actually getting into drum programming was something that I wanted to do for a long time, so the record was sort of a product of me learning that and applying it to songs that I wrote out on a piano or on a real synthesizer.
Your music borrows from many genres. How would you describe your sound?
I wish I could play the naive card, because I actually do feel naive about the sound of the record. I feel like I was just doing what came naturally, and that probably has to do with a lot of the music that I remember coming from my mom’s radio, Smooth 96 or whatever the fuck it was. I also had been listening to tons of Can, tons of later Bowie. There’s tons of influences because I love so much different music. I’m not sure exactly where all my influences came from; it was more me experimenting with the things that were around me and getting familiar with synthesizers.
The transition you made — from doing music for a theater company to doing music for yourself — what was that like?
I don’t even connect the two, actually. I really looked at the other thing [the theater company] as just a job, but one where I happened to get to play the guitar and do what I had always done when I was growing up. You know, I played guitar in a bunch of bands, screamed my ass off in a punk band. I don’t know, the theater company job and my own music were both very separate, but both very the same, too.
I’ve always looked at music as like just something that I really feel — and this might sound cheesy — born to do, and possibly the only thing I can do well. It’s all very similar, but the theater stuff was totally for financial reasons. When I came back, that money that I had earned allowed me the comfort of sitting down every single night and thinking about and developing this Twin Shadow thing.
It sounds like, despite the fact that that job was mostly a financial thing, you took a lot from the entire experience of being abroad and brought it home with you.
Yeah, definitely. I just kept going back and kept being drawn back to Copenhagen and Berlin. When I was in Copenhagen, and I started going out to clubs there, it opened me up to loving everything that is music. It made me realize it was definitely worth exploring.
I was just in Berlin in May. I wish I could go back.
It’s really amazing. There’s so many different parts to that city. It does have this kind of bohemian, utopian vibe to it. It also has this coldness to it. I think that coldness gives it more of a character than other cities.
Are there any specific experiences you drew from when you were writing Forget?
I don’t know if there’s anything that’s too direct aside from talking about some people that I met there. I had been in a relationship throughout the last three years, with a Swedish girl who was living in Denmark, and we dealt with the whole thing of us being away and together, then away and together again. That probably influenced many of the songs. But what I got the most from the experience was some time away from home to kind of think about things that I had experienced during a time even before I moved to New York, when I still lived back in Florida. I think there’s a lot of Florida in the record, really. Being in Europe gave me time to stop thinking about New York and city life. That’s more of the connection that Europe gave to the record.
It’s crazy how that happens. You sometimes need to get away from everything in the present just to remember your past.
It really did unlock a lot of things that I didn’t even think concerned me at all.
What kind of memories were unlocked?
I really thought about my old Florida friends and the deterioration of their families. I had a lot of friends whose parents got divorced, and I had a lot of friends who experienced deaths in their families. One of my friends died of a drug overdose when she was only 16 years old.
I thought about what their lives were and what their lives became. I also thought about my own family and took a hard look back at family conflicts, questioning whether some of those things are forgiven or not. I wasn’t trying to be too heavy-handed, but a song like “When We’re Dancing” is very much about how so many of my friends just kind of became nothing in such a short span of time — especially those people who I thought were going to be so successful. Their lives were torn apart by extremely disturbing things or things that were out of their control. All of that stuff is in the record, but I hadn’t thought about any of it until Europe because as soon as I turned 18, I was out of there [Florida].
Have you gone back to Florida since then?
I went once. I met with a couple of friends at a Chili’s. [Laughs.] That was the last time. I’m really out of touch with a lot of them. I can’t say that I care to be in touch with them, but I did think about them. I think about a lot of them through my music.
Isn’t it a little ironic that the album is titled Forget, after you unlocked and remembered a lot of your past?
Irony is not a thing that I’m at all interested in. I’m only interested in complete honesty, or complete lying. [Laughs.] I’m not into wishy-washy stuff or feelings or expressing wishy-washyness at all. Forget is both a question and a statement and for me. It’s about remembering the things that I had forgotten, and trying to forget them again. I’m very into that kind of idea of taking a look at something, and then being done with it. Or that’s kind of my hope. I don’t know if I can be done with something, really. Also, there’s a joke about the title that everyone who knows me will understand: I’m person who forgets very quickly, even right after I’ve experienced something.
Forget was put out by Terrible Records. How did you cross paths with the label and Chris Taylor?
I had heard Chris was starting a 7-inch label, and he’s someone who I had wanted to work with for a while. I told my manager, joking, that the two people I’d like to produce my record are Chris Taylor or Olof of The Knife. Through a serious of coincidences and meeting people, I got some music to him. At first, I didn’t even hear anything for a while. I didn’t think too hard about it. But then I got an e-mail from him one day when he was on tour, and he said he had been listening to my stuff and loved it and would like to meet me when he got back into town. He told me he wanted to take essentially what were demos and make them the record.
What about Chris Taylor, aside from his awesomeness in Grizzly Bear, made you want him to be your producer/record label person?
I really liked the idea that he is a musician, because I had worked with people who weren’t actual musicians and it didn’t really work out for me. I’m a fan of the Grizzly Bear stuff — it’s not something that I do, but I could hear on their records a quality that was appealing to me. When I saw them perform in Copenhagen, I kind of pinpointed Chris as someone who really interested me as a performer, singer and multi-instrumentalist. After that, it just kind of became some goal of mine to get him to listen to some of my own music.
How was it working with Chris throughout the recording process?
It was great because Chris and I have formed a really beautiful friendship in the process, and now we are working on some other music products together. He and I spent some time working on his record, so it’s cool that this kind of musical kinship happened and will continue to happen.
Despite its name, Terrible Records sounds very nurturing.
It’s very friendly and Chris works closely with the people that he and the label put out. I think they will probably continue to keep it about putting out music that they believe in from people whom they love.
TimeOutNY deemed you a “stylish New Yorker.” How much does fashion influence your music?
I think that clothing is the extension of the man, for sure. Things that have influenced my fashion style are classic American movies and old cars and motorcycles. Style is huge for me because I’m naturally interested in it. Aesthetics is something that I really appreciate. I don’t think a lot of people who are into fashion realize how important a fabric feels on your skin is. Unless you’ve worn a suit made out of amazing cotton, you would never know. But then when you try one on, you’re like, “Wow, this is amazing!” There’s more to fashion than just what people think about your appearance. There’s something special about feeling comfortable.
At the same time, I think that image is important, and I think that it has a lot to do with escapism. You go to concerts to see people who aren’t better than you but people who excite you. You can’t really get excited anymore about the things that you see everyday or the people you see everyday. So you need that thing on stage, you need something beautiful to look at it. In that sense, fashion is important. But as far as its effect on music…. I actually think music has more of an effect on fashion than vice versa.