Golden Light, Twin Shadow:
George Lewis Jr. Fesses Up
When Twin Shadow’s debut album Forget was released two years ago, it didn’t take long for the band’s soulful shadow to gradually cast itself over an ever-growing fanbase that encompasses demographics as diverse as the band’s sound. Forget’s dark and soulful synths were complemented by heartfelt lyrics, pure compassion and booty-shaking dance beats, all from a little guy who funks a little like Prince, broods a little like Morrissey and sells merch that makes light of his numerous hairstyles, which seem to change as often as his cool jackets.
The keyboard-driven concept of Dominican-born George Lewis Jr., Twin Shadow came to be when Lewis’ creativity manifested itself between the man and his machines in the confines of places such as his Brooklyn apartment. But Lewis’ Southern upbringing (he grew up in Florida, but often found himself in Georgia for punk shows and other concerts) was also a big influence on Forget, as well as its recent follow-up Confess.
“That was more true on the first record, but ultimately Florida was a big influence on my life because I grew up there,” says Lewis. “But this new record was very much in the past for me because I dealt with a lot of things from while I was in Florida, more so than on the first record. Atlanta and Florida are very nostalgic for me, for sure. Florida, Georgia and North Carolina were a big part of my youth and I spent a lot of time in those places. They will always be a part of who I am.”
Confess, which continues down the new wave path Forget started with the danceable indie pop of “Golden Light,” the Peter Gabriel-like chorus of “Run My Heart,” the Culture Club-like groove of “The One” and the goth ambiance of “Be Mine Tonight,” also incorporates an unlikely musical influence from Lewis’ adolescence. But the loopy samples of football stadium drumlines create a much different atmosphere on a nostalgic song like “I Don’t Care” than they normally would during a halftime show.
“My dad was a teacher at a high school, so I spent a lot of time going to football games and hanging out,” he recalls. “Not really to watch the football games, because I was never really that interested in that, but I always loved watching the halftime shows and the dancers, of course, and the musicians. That really appealed to me and drumlines are obviously a huge part of the culture in Florida, and the South in general. I grew up being exposed to those things, so I recorded some samples of drumlines and used them on this album.”
Atlanta also holds a special place in Lewis’ broken heart as his musical palette was developed in his late teens in large part by going to see bands in Georgia’s capital.
“I used to go to Atlanta to see shows,” he remembers fondly. “When I was, like, 19, I had a friend who went to SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design] in Savannah, so I spent some time there and we would go to Atlanta to see shows. They were mostly hardcore and punk shows in people’s houses. I remember my girlfriend wanting to go see Any DiFranco, so I saw her [in Atlanta] a couple of times. I’ve seen so many shows there – Minus the Bear, the Dismemberment Plan and just bands I was into when I was 18.”
Perhaps that’s why Atlanta (particularly the EARL) has become a regular tour stop for Lewis, despite the fact that he could likely be playing larger stages at this point. Having played there less than a year ago, Twin Shadow returns to the EARL for a two-night stand Sept. 19 and 20 as the Ton Up tour begins to wind down before the band continues on in Europe in October.
“When we can keep it small, we do our best [shows],” says Lewis. “I think it’s important for the audience perspective, it’s really nice to have intimate shows. We like to keep some of those on the tour because in some cities we can’t do that, like in New York and San Francisco we have to play the really big venues. When we’re in smaller towns and can do smaller shows – by no means is Atlanta a small town, but it’s certainly smaller than New York – we like to keep it intimate.”
Though Lewis hasn’t forgotten what went into his first album, things are clearly a lot different this time around, which is reflected in the sound and feel of Confess. Lewis has gotten out of the cramped spaces he was in a few years back to play big music festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo. Twin Shadow has been the opening act for indie favorite Florence and the Machine. And Lewis had an epiphany one day while riding his vintage motorcycle really fast. So while Forget was the result of holing up with nothing more than his keyboard and emotions, Confess reflects the more tangible, worldly experiences Lewis has experienced since (and largely because of) Forget’s success.
“There was two long years between the two records, so I’ve just grown as a person and my life has changed completely since starting this band,” he says. “Before I had this band, I wasn’t doing anything. I was broke and stuck in my apartment and that was my life. Now I travel around the world and play shows, I’ve got a nice place in Cali now and things have really changed a lot. I essentially changed as a person, in a way, just in the fact that my lifestyle is completely different, therefore the record is a product of what I’ve been through.”
Lewis, whose backing band has remained solid during the past two years of touring, was also more open to collaborating with at least one of his bandmates while recording Confess. “It was really a collaborative thing between me and the keyboard player, Wynne Bennett, this time around,” he says. “She’s in the live band, and we have a new bass player since the last time we were at the EARL. But it’s very similar, with just a little more equipment, really. We have more lights and sound now, so it’s a much bigger show now. But the EARL will always be the EARL, so [the production] all depends on the venue.”
Surprisingly, however, Lewis says there’s not a lot of difference between a Twin Shadow performance in front of thousands of fans at the Sasquatch Music Festival or the more intimate shows at a place like the EARL.
“I kind of think of them all in the same way and try not to separate the two too much,” he says. “I treat big shows like little shows, that way we can kind of keep an intimate vibe going even if we’re on a huge stage. But we just kind of get used to switching between the two.”
And while Lewis takes his songwriting and performing very seriously, with thought-provoking topics such as heartache, missed opportunities and longing for days-gone-by, he claims to not put as much thought into the fashion-forward appearance he has become known for on and off stage. But it’s somewhat hard to believe that someone whose Clean Cut Tour poster featured satirical hairdos for each of Lewis’ tour dates doesn’t put much thought into his appearance.
“Yeah, it comes day by day,” the image-centric singer claims. “I don’t really think about it too much. I made some clothes for the band, actually. But it’s not something I’m focused on; it’s just something I like doing.”