Photos by Roman Koval
From the shimmering bedroom pop of his debut, Forget, to the elevated production and soul songs of his last record, Eclipse, Twin Shadow’s body of work continues to prove George Lewis Jr.’s versatility and prowess as a songwriter.
On his fourth album, Caer [meaning ‘to fall’ in Spanish], released this week, the band seems to have found a comfortable balance between two extremes. Coming out of a forced hiatus following a tour bus crash three years ago, Twin Shadow returns with a headstrong offering, pairing catchy summer jams with sentimental songs and a heavy heart. The songs on Caer take a sentimental look at the past, show an immediacy for the present and a questioning of the future. Oh, and of course you can expect some more of those trademark motorcycle metaphors.
Throughout his career, Twin Shadow has shown the rare ability to take lyrics laden with fragility and juxtapose them with a strong backbone of instrumentation, leading introspective songs into cathartic crescendos and anthemic jams that would surely be hit singles in a perfect world. This record proves that, more than any that have come before it.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Lewis Jr.
Tell me what your mindset was going into this record, I know you were forced to take a break from touring because of the accident. Was that a difficult period?
Yeah, I think I kinda lost my reason for doing this and then regained it somewhere along the way. It was such a huge letdown…. the whole bus accident thing. It was another moment where I lost my passion for doing music. I had to question why I was doing it and who I am doing it for. That really took a second to figure out, but it was much needed. It’s funny how that happens—you’re sitting there, you get knocked on your ass and then you wake up and have to see if you still like doing this and if it’s still worth the sacrifice.
The three-year ‘anniversary’ of your bus crash just happened. How did that accident change you and the band? Is everyone fully recovered? Are there still some lingering injuries? I think the last time I saw you play was a few days before that accident.
There are still a lot of injuries. People are still healing. It’s been real tough on a lot of people, but I think everybody is on the up and up.
Did you feel like the bus crash and the consequential tour cancellation derailed the potential successes of your first major label release? Did that wear on you a lot?
Yeah, I mean, it was kind of a slap in the face. Honestly, I look at it more like a blessing now. I think I made that record with the intention of getting to a major label… and it worked. So, in a weird way, a goal was met. I still have my days where I hate that record and days where I think it’s a good record. I wasn’t in love with it. And that happens, you know? The process of making an album is so crazy. I think when people put out an album the audience just assumes that it’s an artist at their best. But in reality, sometimes it’s an artist in the midst of transition and I was certainly inside of a transition at that point. I think this record that’s coming out puts me back in another moment of being my best.
Where do you see this record in the canon of your work? Do you feel like this is more akin to the songs on your debut, Forget?
I’ve said it feels like it’s a sister record, but more than anything I think of the last three records as a trilogy and this record as a new beginning.
When were these tracks written? Was there a similar spirit and timeframe that links them together?
They all came after about a year of not playing music at all. They all came from that time period, but they came from different places. I changed studios about six times before I finished this record. It was a real process.
I saw that in the liner notes. You recorded at April Base [Bon Iver’s studio], Joshua Tree, the Roosevelt Hotel. How does that affect a recording when a song has so many homes?
I first wanted to record in Malibu and do that whole thing. I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment, but it didn’t have the feeling of what I imagined it would be like. It was during the time of the drought and it was really dry and just not very inspiring to be on this dry crust of land. The first breakthrough I really had was moving my studio back into my garage. That felt great. That became more inspiring and from there I really focused on my impulses. As soon as I felt like I was stuck, I moved on to the next place. I don’t put too much weight on location anymore. I feel like if I can’t get into it I either move or figure out how to get into it and not make it such a big deal. I remember when I used to make records the biggest thing was choosing the place where I was going to record it. Now it just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I can do it anywhere.
There are some serious summertime bangers on this record. After my first listen there were songs I couldn’t get out of my head for days. Obviously that’s not an easy thing to do. Can you sense these things as an artist—knowing you created a single or something that could/should be a hit?
I’m addicted to that feeling of music making you feel good. I think I’ve always been drawn toward the anthem. I think the first time I ever heard “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” or even “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” there was something about the bigness of the song that caught my ear—like “London Calling” or other anthem-y songs that also had pop overtones. I just have a natural ability and inclination to make stuff like that. But I also have the opposite side—the softer, more mellow, introspective side. I think those two sides are constantly fighting each other and they both tend to land upon the records.
Is it hard putting yourself out there, assuming you’re writing autobiographically?
I wouldn’t say it’s hard, I don’t know anything else. I’ve been doing it since day one in a way, certainly with the Twin Shadow project. This project became less about broader ideas and more about my life. There was an initial step I had to take to do that, but once I jumped into that world, that became what I do. I think the hardest part is continuing to feel things and when you’re feeling passive about life in general to find something to care about. No one wants to hear a song about nothing.
It seems like there are a lot more references to family and cultural upbringing on this record. What prompted that?
I think as you mature and get older, the idea of Friday night and Saturday night adventures start to wear thin. You start looking back toward your family and looking back to old friends. You go back to where you came from and maybe some things from your origin that you may have missed. I think that starts to get into your work and I think it happens to a lot of artists. Your origin story starts wanting to pop out. I’m getting to an age where people are starting to die or people are starting new lives and having babies. I think that naturally happens for everyone. As you see new life, and as you see death, you start to think more about your lineage and your bloodline because often times that dictates your destiny.
I like the album title, Caer. You can either fall from grace or fall in love. This record seems to have a little bit of both in there. And also if you change the letters around you get “Care”—and this album definitely has a thoughtful sentimental tone to it. Did you think about that duality when you were naming the record?
Yeah, 100%. You pretty much nailed it. There’s a minute where we were going to call the record three different titles, “Caer,” “Care” and “Race” and I was drawn to “Caer” because of the way it looks. I thought about the duality of that a lot. That’s pretty much what this record is about. It’s the same action, but the result is different. Either way, that verb is courageous or daring… or reckless.
Do you want to talk about collaborations on the record? You have the ladies from Haim on there and from Rainsford, whom I gather is your new partner-in-crime.
Yeah, that’s my lady. The Haim collaboration is really simple. I’ve worked with them before and it’s always super fun and we all get together and it happens really fast. They’re so talented and it’s a friendship we’ve had that grows. I worked on their record and they worked on mine. And then working with my girlfriend, she just has this amazing voice. I did a track with her and she was always around in the studio right next to me and I would ask her to sing on some stuff.
So there’s a Tom Petty reference in the song, which is a great feel-good song. Did you write that before or after Petty’s death?
It was written way before. Almost a year before.
That must add some heaviness to that song.
It’s interesting because the name of the record almost came out of that lyric. It really tripped me out. I had just gone to see Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl and I saw a flyer for an upcoming Tom Petty show. I made it a point to go because I’ve never seen him play. Then something happened where I totally forgot about it and then he died two days after that show. I was super bummed about it, but because I had written that song so long ago the whole thing didn’t hit me until a friend mentioned to me that the lyric has a whole different thing to it now.
Right after Prince died you also did a few gigs where you performed “Purple Rain” in its entirety. What’s happening to our heroes?
Part of me just thinks that they were really smart and they didn’t want to wait around to see what kind of disaster we’re about to make.
On that note, your record has this sentimentality to it where you’re looking into the past, but there’s also this sense of immediacy and hints of impending doom. Explain.
I don’t want the record to feel defeated. I just genuinely believe that we’re all—whether you’re a writer, or a painter or a musician, any kind of artist—we’re all making work in a very strange time. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to look forward to, but then again there is. Technology is a way to look forward, but so much of technology is run and owned by the type of people who want the world to not be what we dreamed it should be. It’s an interesting time and place to be in. We can look forward to all of the amazing things that could happen—we could live forever. But on the other side of that, we may live forever but with major assholes at the wheel. I wouldn’t say it feels like doom, but there’s an interesting problem on our hands.
Speaking of the future, I just saw a poster for the upcoming movie Future World and you’re in the top billing listed right after Snoop Dogg and just before Method Man. How did this come about? That must have been an amazing crew to smoke weed with.
Where did you see this poster? I haven’t seen anything about it. That’s amazing. Oh my god, I just saw the release date. That’s incredible. Well, I did smoke with Snoop before we did our scene together, so when you watch it you can be sure that I’m properly baked. Method Man is hilarious. He was in character the entire time, even in the trailer. It wasn’t until he left the set that he’d break character. I really don’t know what to say about this movie. I’m interested to see what happens with it.
Who do you play? I assume you get to ride a motorcycle.
I’m just James’ [Franco] evil sidekick. I think I mostly do a bunch of grunting and groaning. I get to do some of my own motorcycle riding in it, but there was also an amazing team of stuntmen in it who were way better at riding dirtbikes than me, so I did have a stunt double for some of it. Wow, I didn’t even know it was coming out. We’ll see what happens.