George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow on how he wanted to be in Boyz II Men's gang growing up
Kimberly Ayala Ramirez
George Lewis Jr. grew up in Florida but moved to Boston where he formed his punk-funk cabaret outfit Mad Man Films. That band split after releasing two albums, and Lewis moved to Brooklyn, where, inspired by the music of his childhood, he started writing songs on his own under the name Twin Shadow. The project's debut album, 2010's critically acclaimed Forget, produced by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, drew upon the more synth-tinged pop and R&B from the '80s, but also seemed lush and sultry, like an offering from later-era Roxy Music.
The followup, this year's Confess, expands on the thick atmospheres and injects a kind of soulful urgency reminiscent of Sparks. The music video for "Five Seconds" has a dreamlike world-weariness that captures the mood of the entire album. While hazy, the music is hopeful and sonically rich, like early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Building on a foundation of synthpop and R&B that is the core of the band's sound, Twin Shadow's latest offering gives the songs an air of the melancholic and introspective. Like the mood of someone assessing his life and finding a way to move beyond regret and a yearning for simpler times. We spoke with Lewis about his unexpected Colorado connections, his motorcycling hobby and why he moved on from punk.
Westword: The Night of the Silver Sun is a novel you wrote with Eric Green. What got you interested in writing a novel about a motorcycle gang in the future?
George Lewis Jr.: Nothing, really. I was just bored one day. That's it. I wrote a piece in a magazine called "'Sup." It was a non-fiction piece about my experience around buying my first motorcycle eight years ago. Somebody asked me to do some writing, and I thought, "Why not try some fiction?" I was bored on tour and started it, and it sprawled into something bigger. I guess the fact that it's in the future doesn't matter. It's the difference between something taking place inside or outside. Obviously it affects the characters but it's not substantial.
In the video for "Five Seconds," on the back of one of the helmets, it says "The Teds." Is that related in any way to that British sub culture?
It's loosely based on that. In the story, it's based on the fact that this very prestigious family is called, "The Edward Family." And "Teds," which is the name given to Teddy Boys in the '50s and the British motorcycle subculture who were called "Teddy Boys" because of King Edward and the Edwardian period. He was kind of the most fashionable king. It was a time when dressing well was really important and being flashy as a man.
What got you started riding motorcycles, and what was -- and is -- the attraction of that for you?
I had seen pictures of my father with the first kid that he had on his motorcycle. I was always fascinated with that picture because he didn't ride while I was alive. He would tell me stories of he and my mother going on rides. It always excited me, and it was something I had always gravitated toward, in terms of looking bikes up at the library in an encyclopedia of motorcycles and loving motorcycle movies. It's my hobby in life. I'm not passionate about it like I am with my music. I don't eat, drink and sleep it. I just do it for fun.
Referencing that interview you did for Under the Radar, why do you want Bob Dylan to hear your record?
I feel like I have a kinship with him. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. I just have a feeling he might like my songs. He's been an inspiration to me as a lyricist. I think that there's not a lot of people who really care about words as much as someone like him or Leonard Cohen. I just take words very seriously. They're almost more important than the music to me in a way.
Why did you want to record in L.A. beyond there being a studio you felt would work for you?
It's literally because I wanted to be able to ride my motorcycle in the winter. I knew I was going to have to record it in November and December. There's just no way I would have been able to do that and enjoy riding in New York or anywhere in the northeast or anywhere in most of America for that matter.
What inspired your move from a kind of punk band to the kind of music you do now?
I think I just got more focused. I think everybody has this thing where they go back to basics. You could say punk is basic, but, I mean, in terms of popular music. When you grow up, you're inevitably more surrounded by pop music than you are by music of any kind of subculture or subgenre. That early exposure to that, I think, you always want to come back to that. Part of that, I think, is just knowing that it reaches more people in a way. Not everybody wants to smash their first through their door. And I did want to do that, so I did that and then I moved on.
How did you get introduced to the punk world?
My friend David Hopkins used to come over and kind of forced me to watch Sex Pistols tapes. I hated it. I just didn't get it at all. I was too happy-go-lucky a young man, I think. But it definitely planted the seeds later for when I got pissed off. That music started to make more sense to me. But he was probably solely responsible for me getting into punk.