Twin Shadow Talks Getting Sober And Growing Up

Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. speaks on his new album, turning 30, and his views on the world at large.

December 09, 2014

George Lewis, Jr.'s last album as Twin Shadow, 2012's Confess, drew inspiration from a nighttime motorcycle ride that Lewis once took. Though he hasn't given up riding his hog just yet, he's recently taken up more aquatic pursuits. "Once you actually buy a wetsuit, you've officially moved to California," he laughs over the phone last month while talking about his newfound appreciation for surfing—a byproduct of his recent settling down in downtown Los Angeles. The move comes after nearly a decade of living in Brooklyn, which the Dominican Republic-born artist moved to in the mid-2000s after growing up in Florida.

Lewis' life has been marked by periods of transience and change, and the making of his third album, Eclipse, is no different. It was recorded in LA with the assistance of producer Dennis Herring and keyboardist Wynne Bennet, who shares co-writing credits on several Eclipse songs; several songs ("To the Top," "I'm Ready," "When the Lights Turn Out") were mastered in the English town of Downtown by mixing vet Spike Stent. After writing, recording, and producing his previous two albums by himself, Lewis sought outside help this time around after finding it difficult to go it alone while recording at LA's Hollywood Forever Cemetery: "I went to a chapel there and was alone 24 hours a day by myself, losing my fucking mind," he remembers.

That's all behind him, though; Eclipse is set for release on March 17th, via his new label home, Warner Bros—a step up from the major-indie trappings of previous label 4AD, which he says has allowed him more creative freedom. "I have more access to realizing my craziest ideas," he says. "Obviously, the way to reach your goals when you're talking about putting ornaments on your product—your music, your vision—is money, and having people who believe in you enough to spend money responsibly is really important. To someone else, it's just money, but to me, it's priceless...Right now I'm in that sweet space where you're the new baby and you're getting more pull off of the bottle than other people," he says regarding the shift. "I'm the new guy, and it feels good."

Sonically, the record represents an equal balance of Forget's smeared-lens new wave sound and Confess' burly rock swagger, a dichotomy represented respectively by new song "Turn Me Up" (the video of which you can watch above) and previously released cuts "Old Love, New Love" and "To the Top." "I started hating anything with a guitar in it and exclusively listened to hip-hop," Lewis says, citing Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city as a record he had on heavy rotation while recording. "I probably listen to music less than most people I know. It's become that thing where I can make it with tons of passion, but it's very hard to listen to it with passion."

We also spoke about the personal themes behind Eclipse, getting "annoyingly sober," turning 30, and his views on the world at large; read on below.

Was there anything that took place in your personal life that inspired the material on Eclipse? The whole Confess album cycle was a really hard time in my life. My personal relationships had become very damaged—it was my final days living in New York, and I was playing with the idea of moving out to California after not having seen friends from the Forget album cycle in so long. Things were getting weird—people assuming a lot of things of me, and me also assuming things of other people. It was a really damaging time that got out of my control, somehow. I chose to move to California to get back to a healthier place, mentally, and this record is an extension of that experience—of realizing that I wasn't liking the way that I felt about myself and people around me, and making a physical change to remedy that.

After Confess came out, there was a fair amount of online vitriol directed at you regarding the excerpt from your novel The Night of the Silver Sun. For a while, I paid attention to what people were saying about it—it was a lot of people being like, "This guy can't even spell on his Twitter properly, he doesn't know where to put commas." It's so petty and it totally misses the point. I think people thought, "Oh, he's going into a more serious artform now," which is so ridiculous because music is, to me, a serious, beautiful artform. During the Confess period, there were a lot of misconceptions, and a lot of that had to do with me—I was very spontaneous and I didn't want to follow through on things. My life was a wreck. I would find myself on nights being really alone, really wanting to call someone, paging through my phone, and feeling negative things about every name that went by. And it wasn't even about them—it was about me. I didn't know what kind of people I wanted to be around. That's the obvious aftermath of touring—you don't even know what is normal life anymore. So I worked on my car and my motorcycle and kept to myself. It was peaceful, but it was also a little bit dark and lonely. I needed to get into a social existence that I felt happy about, where I was really showing love for people and getting that back.

During the Confess tour, you had a life-size cardboard cutout of yourself standing near the merch table at your shows. I was going to miss the wedding of one of my best friends in the world because I was on tour, so I was going to send a cardboard cutout of myself to the wedding and not tell anybody—I'd say that I was coming, reserve my seat, have the delivery man say he was me, and have him go put the cutout in the seat at the wedding. It was symbolic of me saying. "I have to do this thing because this is my job, but I'm here, supporting you." Then it turned out that I got to go to the wedding, so we put the cutout at the merch table, which was a way of me being like, "I'm here at the merch table, even though I really don't want to go to the merch table." It worked for the fans, but for the non-fans it was like, "This egomaniac has a cardboard cutout of himself." And I was like, "Great, let them think that."

"In the world that we're living in right now, as a musician or any kind of artist, there's a tendency to feel a little bit like an asshole—you could be doing something more important."

You turned 30 recently. How did hitting that milestone affect you? I stare at a book on transcendental meditation—I'm kidding, but there's probably one somewhere around this apartment. Your body can only handle so much. Your personal relationships need to be anchored in more than just lusting after each other—and I'm not just talking about lusting after someone you want to fuck. I'm talking about lusting after attractive friendships because they yield exciting nights. You need something really solid and consistent. I found a little bit of that in LA, and I really love LA for that reason—which is ironic, because this is supposed to be the place where that doesn't exist.

You've been candid about drug use in the past—have you cut down or given up on that? I've been annoyingly sober—I've become the guy where everyone is like, "What do you mean you're not gonna have a coffee?" And I'm like, "I'm gonna have a peppermint tea, thank you." I want to live better, I want to last a long time, I want to keep making music, I want to keep being a better singer, a better performer. I want to write better songs, always. I feel like I'm sounding like a heroin addict who just found jesus—not that I was a heroin addict, and I didn't seek God. I just want an amazing life that's filled with art and music. Seven years ago, I was flipping pizzas. I'm so happy I don't have to do that. It's my life and that's so cool.

How do you feel about the world at large right now? It's really ugly right now, isn't it? More than ever, it's time for people to reflect on what's going on and what they're doing. In the world that we're living in right now, as a musician or any kind of artist, there's a tendency to feel a little bit like an asshole—you could be doing something more important. I constantly go through that, but then I always fall back when I go to a concert and I see people reacting. I'm like, "We are the joy-makers, and we have to continue to do this." I'm really concerned about the state of things, though. I hate when people say that history repeats itself and that everything is cyclical because I think that's bullshit—I actually feel like we're spinning out of control. Things feel more doomed than they ever have, and it's not a current paranoia that will pass. It's a real problem. We've been exposed to too much ugliness, and the general response to all of it is incredibly cynical. It's so easy for someone to not take a moment of silence and instead show how witty and unaffected they are on social media. That, to me, is a really disgusting thing that my generation and the generation who are coming up are involved in. I wish would we would trend out of it.

I was listening to Prince's "Sign o the Times" and I had never realized that it's a song about returning to conservatism. He's like, 'It's all spinning out of control, you don't need to send a rocket ship up into space. You need to find God.' When I first really listened to the lyrics, I was like, "Prince is so fucking conservative." But then I got it. When things get to a point where we're as wild as we can be—you can do drugs and everyone can see you doing drugs on Instagram, you can have sex on the internet and it can be not a big deal, you can just be wild as fuck and it doesn't make an impact—you realize that we need to step back for a second and get over ourselves, get into a deeper part of ourselves. I'm so privileged that I make music, because I basically get to dance around all the major issues—if there's a war breaking out somewhere where we're playing a show, we cancel the show until it's chill again. But what if I had family in Gaza, or Israel? I'm very lucky that I live the life I live, because I forget how ugly the world is—but it's very obvious that it's gnarly.

Twin Shadow Talks Getting Sober And Growing Up