Written by Brett Thorne.
Twin Shadow‘s debut, Forget, sounds like 1985 Anthony Michael Hall was locked in a studio with 1985 Rob Lowe and 1984 Emilio Estevez while all of them were thinking about 1986 Molly Ringwald. The synths and bouncy bass of songs like “When We’re Dancing” beg to be listened to at full volume as you and your friends drive to the mall on a quest for new leg warmers. Or while you and your buddies go scope out the girls in mini-skirts waiting in line for Sixteen Candles. George Lewis Jr., the man casting the shadows, talked to us about why his music might be better-suited for a shoot ’em up action movie, his history with hardcore music and why he did his interview butt-naked.
So Forget is out now and you have it for sale for $1? What was the thinking behind that pricing strategy?
Lewis: Yeah, it’s a dollar for a limited time. I think we just talked about it all and we talked about wanting to get the music to as many people as possible without there needing to be either that need to steal it or just to take that out of the equation. The need to steal it or the need to not listen to it at all. So we wanted everybody to have the option. You can either buy an application or you can buy a Twin Shadow record. Just wanted to offer that for a little while because we just wanted to get it out there.
Yeah, I saw it out there and it seemed like an interesting commentary, which I don’t know if you meant it like this, but a commentary on the state of the industry and the status of the record as an artform.
Lewis: Yeah, totally. I think that’s all wrapped up in there. I didn’t really think about it that much, but other people around me thought about it that much. So there it is.
I know you’ve moved around a lot and you’ve taken some interesting gigs so what is your backstory as far as how you got in to playing music as Twin Shadow?
Lewis: I started playing music when I first got into high school. I started playing guitar and I was probably 14. I left high school when I was 16. I did a lot of bluesy or jammy bars in Florida with some older friends who would kind of get me involved and that’s really where I got my musical upbringing, playing in these bars in downtown Sarasota. Pretty typical young musician upbringing, just playing with other people. Then I decided when I was about 17 to move to Boston because… I don’t really know why. There were some bands that I really loved from Boston. I just remembered thinking that there was this huge scene going on up there, which didn’t really turn out to be true but I went there and kind of immediately stopped listening to as much of the straight-up rock and roll that I loved when I was younger and got in to punk music and hardcore and did that for a while. I had a band.
You had a hardcore band?
Lewis: I had a—kind of a punk band. A punk hardcore band. Yeah, I did that for a little while. I did that for more than a little while and that was awesome. And then I just didn’t feel that that music was doing anything for anyone. So I stopped making music in a way. I just started writing older sounding pop songs and going back to my love of Roy Orbison and The Beatles.
Is that what you grew up with?
Lewis: Yeah, kind of that and R&B music. You know, ’90s music and you know ’90s rap. It was kind of all that. But my original love was rock ‘n’ roll. You know pretty classic rock ‘n’ roll, like Bob Dylan and all that. So I got tired of the punk thing and didn’t think it was working. So I started writing songs again and—I try not to take music too seriously at that point. I tried being in a noise band and that was fun…for about two shows. And then I went to Denmark and did some music for this theater. I was supposed to write music but I ended up doing a bunch of Velvet Underground covers. Not by choice but that was just something they requested. When I got home from three months of living in Copenhagen, my sisters had all moved to Berlin and I went to Berlin and hung out there and just very casually was thinking about music. I wasn’t playing it. I wasn’t in a band. Before I had gone to Copenhagen I had gone out with my friends from Boston, in this band called Drug Rug and I was playing bass with their band.
Are they still together? I think they might have toured with Portugal. The Man.
Lewis: Yeah, yeah they did. They went on tour with Portugal. The Man. So yeah, I played in that. But I wasn’t living in Boston and it wasn’t really my thing. So after that I just very casually did music and started taking it seriously again wanting to put together this Twin Shadow project after being in Europe.
A pretty good portion of Forget was recorded on the road, right?
Lewis: Yeah. Well, some of it was. I was working for a dance company in New York, just writing music and playing music for them. And we spent a lot of time in Chicago and a lot of time on tour so I had just gotten in to programming and recording on my computer for the first time. So a lot of the drums got programmed on the road. The song “Castles in the Snow” was all pretty much recorded in a hotel room in a Marriott. So yeah, I was lucky enough to have enough to have enough equipment with me to do it. I had my amps and my guitars and a keyboard with me. And I had a really big room at this one Marriott, so it really worked out.
Cool. What was it like being in the studio with Chris Taylor?
Lewis: That was really awesome. Chris is an amazing guy and a great producer. It was very casual and a lot of hard work at the same time. He’s a perfectionist in a way and he has a sound in his head and he’s really good at what he does. He’s also a great guy. We became very close while making the record. It was a great experience.
You’re not as big of a perfectionist, right?
Lewis: I mean, I’m not really. Only in the sense that, I don’t mind the mistakes. I don’t like to overdo anything. I don’t like to play anything more than two, three, four times. It just loses its energy. That’s not to say I don’t work hard. I work really hard. But I work really hard on the idea before I lay it down. I want my recorded music to be about the performance. Not too much looping or too much trying to get it write or cutting and pasting. I try to play the synthesizer all the way through the song, I try to play the bass all the way through the song. Because I’m doing all of that I have to kind of be selective about what I do over, because of time.
Yeah. That makes sense. It sort of makes it more organic.
Lewis: Yeah. My drum beats are loopy but everything else I try to play all the way through.
What’s it feel like to be on Time Out New York’s Best-Dressed List?
Lewis: That’s sweet. I hope everyone in the world will name me the most stylish. Because that will mean that my pockets are full of money. So, let’s hope that continues.
Ok, right on. So, maybe a weird question, I don’t know… what are you wearing right now? And is it stylish?
Lewis: You know what? You’re going to laugh, but I’m not wearing a God damn thing. I’m sitting in my room and you’re interviewing a naked Twin Shadow. It’s really hot in New York right now.
Haha. Dude, it’s really hot in Texas right now too. It’s pretty ridiculous.
Lewis: Yeah, it’s brutal.
Yeah. Yet somehow, I’ve still found the time to put on some pants.
Lewis: Yeah, well. I said that, but I did throw a towel over me. As if you’re watching.
I saw a blog online that reviewed this performance artist show by this woman named Ann Liv Young. And this woman apparently called you out in the crowd and gave you a bunch of advice about how to handle being famous.
Lewis: Haha yeah. Yeah.
Is that weird for you? Would you say you’re ready to be “famous?” Do you consider yourself a celebrity?
Lewis: I don’t consider myself a celebrity at all because I’m sitting here freaking out about how I’m going to pay rent. Once that goes away, I’ll be ready to consider myself whatever. No, I’m not a celebrity yet.
Do you get stopped on the street in Brooklyn?
Lewis: Um. In the last week I guess I’ve been stopped a couple of times going out at night, but nothing too crazy. No paparazzi.
Last question: Forget has a very ’80s vibe. If your music could be playing during the credits to one movie from the ’80s, which would it be and why?
Lewis: Um. Okay. Good one. Well there’s a lot of great ones. I’m going to not be obvious and use a John Hughes movie. As much as I’d love to. but I’m going to go ahead and say, just because it’s my favorite movie this week, The Killer. John Woo’s The Killer. It was made in 1989 with Chow Yun Fat. I would re-soundtrack that whole movie with this record. It’s kind of like the movie Desperado, but way more violent.