New school new waver Twin Shadow plays Crawdaddy on February 19th. Siobhán Kane had a few questions for him.
Even George Lewis Jr’s name sounds like something from another era, borrowing a little in terms of his aesthetic as well as attitude from the period he likes the most – the 1950’s. His music is also infused with a sense of the more romantic aspects of the 1980’s; elements of The Cocteau Twins filtered with Disintegration-era Cure, and his layered sound delicately clambers over a myriad of influences, not least the sense of nostalgia and remembering. With his debut record from last year Forget, there is an active yearning call to memory; often it seems as if he is reciting the words in a kind of chant as if to somehow conjure back that time, that person, that life, but sometimes the yearning goes forward just as powerfully, for example on a song like ‘I Can’t Wait’, where he is hopeful for future memories: ‘I cannot wait for June/When all the ghosts are quiet/When everything is new‘, which is reminiscent in tone to Björk’s ‘I Miss You’ (dedicated to the love of her life that she just hasn’t met yet).
This record feels very homemade, yet there is also an ethereal quality to it as well, helped on by Christopher “Grizzly Bear” Taylor’s production, it is warm and yet manages to be grandiose at the same time – some of his songs seem worthy of choirs and cathedrals, but then he drops a fuzzy guitar, or eerie synth, as on ‘Tether Beat’, and the sense of dark pain within the question ‘does your heart still beat?‘ stays with you long after the song ends, in fact, all of that wrenching song does . In some ways it is like he is both Iceman and Firestar, two of Spiderman’s ‘Amazing Friends’, at turns cold and distant; warm and passionate – he somehow translates the pain contained within both states. His expressive voice frames so much of the record, from the sparkling, jaunty ‘Forget’ to ‘When We’re Dancing’ – this is a joyful record, wedded to a sea of pain, as so many meaningful things are, Siobhán Kane talks briefly to George Lewis Jr.
How did you meet Christopher Taylor? Had you been a huge Grizzly Bear fan for some time? I met Chris through his sister. I had seen Grizzly Bear in Copenhagen and was very impressed particularly with the blonde dude.
He has such a sense for placing things, and your record is no exception; so full of different sounds, yet nothing clashes – it is like a poetic hoarding of things – all beautifully presented, messy, yet rich. He seems to have almost a classical approach to producing and arranging music, which makes sense considering the band he is in. How did the process work? It was fast; very fast… that’s how I work, well, for now. I like the ‘problem’ of making too many things work, but I am obsessed with the goal of making it sound simple and not too heady.
New Wave seems like a huge influence to you, is it something you really fell for? I never fell in, I like some New Wave but it was never a huge part of my musical upbringing.
You used to live in Sarasota [Florida], did you start making music when you were there? I was the guy playing guitar in the hall way at school and at the coffee shop, that’s all there was.
There is a dreamy nature to your music, like a swirling haze, as if caught amidst The Cocteau Twins grasp -would they be a band you have always admired? I do love them and was only listening to them today.
There is also a lovely vagueness about the production, it reminds me of how drifting and indecisive we can be in our daily lives – was that an important quality for you to put across in your work? I really appreciate you saying that! But I don’t think about it that much.
There also seems to be a sad atmosphere within the record, linked up with nostalgia, a feeling of loss. Just feeling anything… it seems harder and harder to feel these days, so any time there is feeling I am inspired by just that.
While the 1980’s appear to be one musical touchstone, your aesthetic seems inspired by the 1950’s, where did that love affair begin? I love Roy Orbison as a song writer more than just about everyone! I have since I was a kid.
You really are a twin, did you ever think of making music with her? Yes, maybe she writes all the songs? No, she is a dancer.
How important is that sense of your roots, the Dominican Republic [where Lewis was born] to you, in terms of inspiration and culture? I haven’t explored that aspect quite yet; I’m still feeling very much like an American kid in love with rock and roll.
Your year seemed very busy last year, how did you find it? Putting out my record was very important, and going on tour with my first real full on band was as well.
How do you find living in New York? Have you found a really interesting community in Brooklyn? You can really sense the old communities there, mingling with the new – free spirits; it must be a never-ending well of inspiration. Have you found a very supportive musical community there? It is very inspiring but I would hesitate to say that there was a supportive musical community. I hope to build one though.
You have written music for theatre as well as your own work, what else would you like to work on? I’ll be secretive now but, I want to work with everyone, like Quincy Jones did.
Not the most verbose of interviewees for sure, but his album rules so we can forgive him that. Twin Shadow plays Crawdaddy on February 19th.