It’s been a long three years away from the spotlight for Twin Shadow, but arguably, they’ve been for the best.
The singer, songwriter, record producer, and occasional actor stepped away from the public eye partly by choice and partly by necessity: his band and crew were involved in a nasty accident while on tour in April of 2015 that left twelve people injured. And while there were fortunately no deaths, the entire ordeal gave the frontman born George Lewis, Jr., plenty of perspective and food for thought.
“The bus accident really uprooted what I believed that I was doing with music, with my career, with my life,” Lewis says when I reach him over the phone in Los Angeles. Lewis is in his home in the East side of the city, the place he’s called home since relocating from New York City by way of Florida and the Dominican Republic – the latest in a series of upheavals and cultural displacements that have fed and fueled his voracious creative appetite.
“It changed everything and forced me to slow down and listen to what was going on, and look at what was going on around me. My life slowed down that year, and it helped me see all that was going on.”
Brightest Young Things: We’ve actually met once before, at The EARL in Atlanta. You were touring Confess – I think it might have been summer of 2011. We talked about the Dominican Republic, and how your mom and I are from the same town, La Romana.
George Lewis, Jr.: Damn! Yeah, I’m kind of remembering that – I try to remember all the Dominicans I meet. Especially now, I’m really trying to go back. I’m sure we spoke about my shitty Spanish, but I’m trying to go back soon and spend two to three months there to get my Spanish together. There’s some land out there I want to buy, actually, near San Cristóbal, where my grandmother was born. There’s a piece of land right by the actual farmhouse she was born in. I’m trying to buy that and set up a studio there.
BYT: Do you still have family back on the island?
Lewis: Yeah – well, my parents moved back there now. So I have more of a reason to be there more often. And you know, all my aunts and uncles; you know how it is. I’ve got family I haven’t met yet. [Laughs]
BYT: That’s the most Dominican thing ever. I feel that.
You relocated from New York to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. How has that change been for you? Do you feel like you’ve connected with the city?
Lewis: I mean, this is my home now. I go back to New York and it’s like a foreign country to me. I definitely feel like it’s legitimately my home. I have my issues with LA; it can live up to a lot of the stereotypes. It is a superficial and vapid place, and if you can try to live above it, or below it, then it’s pretty good.
I’m on the East side of town, but I lived right on the beach for about a year. That was a nice little moment in LA – and I think everyone should be able to live on the beach at some point. But Venice isn’t really that much fun; it’s pretty boring so I moved back to the East side.
BYT: You’ve been somewhat quiet the last few years, at least as it relates to traditional media. That being said, you maintain a pretty active presence on Instagram. What is it about that medium that appeals to you? It seems the visual element works well for your storytelling style.
Lewis: I think over the last two years artists have had the opportunity to tell their own stories without a translator. This can be good and bad – artists have a lot of power to control their image and what their output is. I still believe that someone like yourself, in the role of a writer – hearing someone’s story through someone else is still really important – but I believe the world has shifted, and you are able to define yourself on social media. You can control how authentic or inauthentic you want to be. That’s what’s appealing to me. This channel for authenticity opened up, but it’s a double-edged sword. As authentic as it is and as honest as you want to be on social media, it’s also easy to project something that is false because of ego and a desire to compare yourself to everyone else on that platform.
I’m in the same boat as everyone else, I think – it’s just easy. It’s easy to express yourself on that platform.
BYT: How do you keep yourself in check and make sure you remain as authentic as you want to be? Do you think about that?
Lewis: That’s something I try not to think about too much. It is important – it can be important, but for me it’s like watching TV, or binge-watching a show on Netflix. It’s just another distraction in life, but if you can turn it into a creative thing then maybe it can be positive. But I just don’t put too much weight on it – I want my music to have a visual element, and it’s a good place for me to hone the visuals and practice what I’d like to communicate visually. Yeah, that’s it. [Laughs]
BYT: You’ve said this about Caer, your upcoming album: “The patriarchy is falling apart. Our perceptions of who we are as human beings, because of technology and machines, are falling apart. We’re living at a breaking point, and a lot of the themes on the album are talking about these fault lines.”
How long were you grappling with these ideas or concepts before you started putting them to music, and what was the process of trying to translate all of that into art?
Lewis: It’s interesting – the bus accident we were in happened in 2015. Personally, it’s interesting it happened then because I really do feel that year was the breaking point for everything. It was that point where you had Trump emerging and about to be elected, you had all kinds of political parties shifting in power, you had the women’s movement and the gay movement, and mass shootings – we had all this stuff that was uprooting the way we think about things. And those things have always been happening, but we’ve never been able to see it happening as quickly as we see it now; we see it happening in real time. And although it started a long time ago, it really started to get charged up in 2015. I really think we’ll look back at 2015 as the turning point for what is going to become the next version of the world.
[Pauses, laughs] I kind of got lost in that, but I think I was able to make this record during that time when all those changes were happening.
BYT: I want to go back and talk about that period in 2015. Back then you were fairly outspoken on the importance of making sure that your music is released in the right context. You changed labels from 4AD to Warner Brothers after you had recorded your second album, Eclipse – deciding that a major label was a better home for the record and its sound. A few years down the line, does it still feel like the right decision?
Lewis: Yeah, for sure. I feel like my relationship with Warner Brothers is much more active. Ironically, people think that being on an indie label means you have all this control and creative license, and a team of people who really believe in the music. That’s bullshit in 2018. All people are trying to make money, including myself. It’s a business. Even an art magazine that seems really cool and underground – almost no magazines are created to just be creative outlets for artists! Someone, somewhere started it to make money.
I knew then that being on an indie label wasn’t my idea of what being on an indie label was going to be. I didn’t actually have as much support as I thought I’d have – it was a very lukewarm experience. Being on Warner Brothers I feel that I have more people that I’m talking to constantly, I’m more in touch with the reality of the business, I’m more in touch with what I want to do artistically and I can communicate that clearly. I’m working with people who have opinions and who have strong will, and also love the business aspect of music.
I feel great about the switch, and honestly, I wanted to leave my indie label right after my first record (Forget). I didn’t think those were the people that believed in the music – maybe some of them did – but it’s all an illusion. All of them are the same.
BYT: Taking a step back, you’ve done quite a few things in your career outside of music: you wrote a novel, and have taken an active interest in fashion and design, collaborating with Public School on a couple of their runway shows. Are there any other art forms you’re interested in exploring, and if so, what are they?
Lewis: One thing I really love doing when I have the time is drawing, painting – creating any kind of physical art. I wish I had learned to do it, and maybe that’s something I’ll teach myself, but I am pretty content with music. I feel very lucky to be making it, and I do love it.
BYT: What are you looking forward to in the rest of 2018? What excites you the most about this album and this tour?
Lewis: I’m just excited to put the record out. I’m excited to have a release, finally, after three years. To continue making music, honestly. I’m not stuck thinking that this record is the end all or be all – I’m just going to keep making music. I might try to do some collaborations, or maybe not, I don’t know. But I’m going to keep making music and I’m excited to be alive at such a strange time. It’s both exciting and unfortunate, and I’m looking forward to help human beings push forward into hopefully a better version of where we’re at. That’s what I’m excited for.