In Conversation with Twin Shadow

Twin Shadow’s music has been christened many things: a resurrection of synth-laced 1980s tunes! Hazy new wave-tinged pop! Bedroom electro-disco! All of these revival features have garnered the band’s founder George Lewis Jr. enough cred to earn him the moniker the “black Morrissey,” and not without merit. His songs have wonderfully danceable beats, yet the tinge of perpetual melancholy in his voice adds emotional depth.

Twin Shadow is Lewis’ brainchild. And, yes, he is a twin himself (fraternal). The Dominican-born performer grew up in Florida and currently lives in Brooklyn—if absently, as he’s been touring steadily to promote his debut album, Forget. The album is the result of both Lewis’ solitary bedroom-indie experimentation and the influence of Chris Taylor’s (of Grizzly Bear fame) production. After hearing Lewis’ demo recordings, Taylor elected to release the album on his label, Terrible Records.

Lewis is not solely known for his music. He’s responsible for some awesome remixes, from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to Surfer Blood’s Floating Vibes. He’s also known for his impressive and self-conscious style (as if to confirm this, he changed between our interview and his stage performance). His look samples from Prince and Little Richard, riffing on each icon’s signature pompadoured coif and trim mustache. We met just before Twin Shadow’s performance at La Machine du Moulin Rouge in Paris, where Lewis playfully discussed his formative influences, who he cops style ideas from and his nostalgia for the virtues of certain cable television programs.

Sarah Moroz: You’ve lived in various places and you’re currently on a European tour; how much does place influence your work?

George Lewis Jr. : I’d say that it’s more people than place. I mean, people, place, they go hand in hand. But I’m influenced by people, and [places] where I haven’t met anyone interesting, haven’t left much of an impression on me.

Sarah: Your home base is in Brooklyn. Given how much music comes out of that borough, what does being a “Brooklyn musician” mean to you?

George: I’m almost never there, actually. Since November, I’ve spent maybe… 20 days there? So I don’t see much of ol’ Brooklyn. I don’t know if there’s an identity… The thing I love about Brooklyn is that it seems there could be this sense of community there if you really seek it out. And there are a lot of young people trying to do things together, and I think that’s appealing. Not that I’m a part of it in any way, because I don’t have the time.

Sarah: You’ve done a variety of remixes, from groups like Bear in Heaven to Oh Land to Gaga—how do you go about deciding which songs you want to reconfigure?

George: Usually people approach me, and based on how good the song is, how good the vocal is, I say yes or no. I say no a lot more than I say yes. It’s something I got into because people asked me. I had never done that before, and I was interested in doing what I’d never done before.

Sarah: Is it something you do on your own, or it is collaborative?

George: It’s usually just me working with the song. But part of it, in doing that, was to try to start moving towards getting some co-writing and working with other people.

Sarah: Who are the people you would like to collaborate with?

George: Anybody and everybody. I’m really pumped on everybody right now. I’d like to work with Odd Future, The Dream. Madonna, Janet Jackson… I’d love to write Janet Jackson a song. She should ask me. She needs one of my songs. I’m serious.

Sarah: On your website, you’ve posted a few of your own drawings and paintings. Can you talk about other creative outlets, aside from music, that are important to you?

George: Long before I wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be a cartoonist or a painter. And it’s something I don’t have the time to do, to learn to do well. But it’s something that I keep in the back of my mind, as something I’d like to achieve one day. It scares the shit out of me, you know… Sitting in front of a canvas is daunting. While it’s something that I’d like to do, it’s something I’m very afraid of. So we’ll see if I can get over that.

Sarah: But as a musician, especially in the early stages of creating your music, you’re dealing only with yourself internally… Why do you consider that confrontational aspect differently for painting?

George: Yeah, it’s awful. It’s great at first, because nobody is telling you what to do, and I can just have my own way with everything. But at some point you start to talk to yourself and tell yourself that you’re not good enough, that you’re wasting your time—and that’s a scary thought to deal with.

Sarah: So how do you evolve from uncertainty to confidence?

George: Well, it’s not just self-doubt; it’s things that happen in your own mind that you can’t explain. At some point, you climb over the wall. But, I don’t believe everybody can do that. Nor do I even believe I can do it again. There has to be something different the next time. Someone else has to get involved—or they don’t and maybe I fail. I’m just saying that—just like I’m saying about paintings—it’s really scary, and sometimes you go and you make it, and sometimes you don’t. It’s not a better or worse thing. It’s just what it is.

Sarah: Everyone who talks about your work inevitably whips out the comparison to ‘80s music sounds and production. What are you ‘80s-era cultural touchstones, outside of the music scene?

George: Same as everyone’s, probably: John Hughes… USA’s Up All Night is the one that not a lot of people know about. It was this great program hosted by Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Godfrey on the USA Network, and they basically showed horror flicks for kids. This was actually well into the ‘90s. It started in ’85 or something. It was my first time seeing punks and surfers and fake boobs and people riding motorcycles and all kinds of crazy things.

Sarah: Aside from your music, style seems to be really important to you. How do you go about feeling connected to fashion?

George: I painted these shoes. I ripped them off from this guy from The Dandy Project. I mean, mine don’t look like his; these look like a mess. I just pay attention to people around me. New York kids have been slacking a little bit, it seems. But you walk around Paris and… Look at this beautiful gentleman [gestures to Greg, who works for the music agency Super Mon Amour], I like his shoes. I’d get those. It’s just coveting. I love whatever sin that is: I love coveting.

Sarah: You started playing music in a punk band, and earlier you cited wanting to collaborate with The Dream. You’re obviously interested in very different musical genres; do you think you’ll change direction with the music you make at some point?

George: It’s all harmonious to me. I’ve always done music from a performative standpoint. Only when this record happened was I doing it because it was more about me, more about my own creativity, not necessarily sharing it. Well, now I’m sharing it, with a touring band. And to me there’s never been any blockage. I’ve always loved R&B, I’ve always loved punk music—I’ve always loved everything about playing music and I see the beauty in all that. So everything I do from this point on is probably just going to be a continuation of what’s going on now. Because you realize there’s a point where you can’t just spread yourself thin, you need to kind of stick to one thing and do it really well. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Yeah, so, it’ll just be a continuation of this, but if it sounds a little this or sounds a little that, or I collaborate with The Dream

Sarah…or Janet Jackson…

George: …I’ll try to make her sound more like me.

One Comment

  1. Zak
    Posted June 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    great interview

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