Even before meeting up with Twin Shadow's George Lewis Jr. to talk about his new Confess, we'd worked out where he was coming from on many of the songs on the sparkling second album. He laughed when we reminded him of the thematic pop lineage it joins: "Baby, don't get hooked on me, cause I'm a ramblin' man and wherever I lay my hat, that's my home." And is there any more free-spirit-enforcing image than the biker persona that the longtime motorcycle enthusiast assumes in his new video, "Five Seconds"?
But Lewis can hardly be blamed for wanting to minimize commitments in his life. His woozily romantic, New Wave-recalling 2010 debut Forget didn't so much blow up as build gradually, steadily transitioning Twin Shadow from blog favorite to genuine pop article, playing Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2011 and opening for the formidable Florence + the Machine. As you'll see below, such a transition is just fine with Lewis, who's no exclusionist; and it's almost certain to continue with Confess. It's a more driving and immediate album, anchored by a splendid mid-section that includes "Five Seconds," the New Order-y "Beg For the Night" and "Run My Heart," on which Lewis fairly channels Sting.
The table is set for Twin Shadow to have another whirlwind year, the kind that only allows for personal ties of the most flexible kind. We talked with Lewis talked about matters personal and professional recently, at Entwine in New York's West Village.
JOHN NORRIS: Are you living in LA primarily now?
GEORGE LEWIS JR.: I'm been back and forth. We were in LA for two months recording the record, November and December. Back here in January-February-ish, then back there more recently.
NORRIS: Do you hate the "b" word—bicoastal?
LEWIS: No, I am bicoastal, or that's the mission at least. Because LA is missing a lot that New York has and vice versa.
NORRIS: There have been some changes in your band of late.
LEWIS: Yeah; our bass player, Russ, left, and we have a great new guy, Brandon, on bass. Andy Bower is still on drums and Wynne Bennett on synthesizers, and she is also doing a lot of stuff now.
NORRIS: She played a big role in the record, right?
LEWIS: Yeah she's all over the record, and becoming a big presence in Twin Shadow.
NORRIS: Now is it true when I see co-producer, is that really the role she played?
LEWIS: I mean, essentially. She was there almost every step of the way, and she and I fought and fought and fought, and I consider that a co-production. [laughs] You know, someone to fight with. And so she was there every step of the way and I thought she was a really important part of that process. She's perfect to have there in the studio. I don't think that I could have worked as closely with any other person on the planet. I think she really is my secret weapon, in a way.
NORRIS: You mixed with Michael Brauer?
LEWIS: Michael Brauer, yeah.
NORRIS: His CV is pretty impressive, but it's full of a lot of names that you initially wouldn't have associated with Twin Shadow. And I don't know how much you can extrapolate from who a guy who's mixing the record has worked with in the past but—John Mayer and Young the Giant and The Kooks and Colbie Caillat—these are, I think it's safe to say, more mainstream pop people.
NORRIS: And as you've told me before, you're not necessarily interested in just being a niche indie artist, regardless of whether that may be who initially embraced you. You're fine with whoever wants to come to the Twin Shadow party right?
LEWIS: Of course, I think, any time the word "indie" happens around me, I get goosebumps; it makes me nauseous, you know? I just hate it. Everything that has to do with that word now, I'm just, don't say that word to me. I want to think about my music and my world as just as small or as big as I want it to be, and anyone can come. Of course. I want the biggest audience possible, even if it's people who would beat me up in the street. I don't care, I just want my music to be heard, and I think it deserves that.
NORRIS: I know with Forget, you were having a little bit of fun with that title. Because it did have a lot to do with memories, particular ones, and more general ones, but to what extent is Confess—you're not a heart-on-the-sleeve confessional type of writer in the traditional sense, do you think?
LEWIS: No, no.
NORRIS: Right, so where did that idea come from?
LEWIS: Well, to be honest with you, I really wanted the record to be called Believe. And then I found out Justin Bieber's putting out a record called Believe.
NORRIS: That is correct, he is.
LEWIS: [laughs] And I thought about just keeping it, because as I was thinking about other album titles, I just couldn't find one. And then my good friend who's an amazing poet, Eric Green, he texted me "CONFESS" in all capital letters. And it just made sense in that moment that the record is a lot about, not pouring my heart out, but my confessing to someone what I think the reality between us is. This record is very much about my relationships in the last two years, of constantly touring and having so much contact with so many people, but so little contact, in a way. And how a lot of people in that time period assumed that our relationship was a certain thing or held a certain weight.
NORRIS: Romantic relationships?
LEWIS: Romantic or friendships as well. Both equally, and it's just kind of like me setting the record straight. I feel like that is what this record is about. It's just like, this is what it really is. So in that way there is a lot of hidden code, in a way, but it's also a little more direct to those people in particular. It's also more confident and more aggressive.
NORRIS: Hopefully by this point, people have seen the "Five Seconds" video, which seems to come from a larger film. It's got you, a friend, a biker gang, and I understand it all began with a story you wrote?
LEWIS: With Eric, I wrote a story called "Night of the Silver Sun." It's like a short novella that I am hoping to get published. It's kind of a science-fiction thing, barely, but it's really about a motorcycle gang, a guy who's born after the sun and the moon collide, and his life growing up in this family underground. Everyone seeks shelter underground. His life in a wealthy family, even though he was like left on the doorstep, type of thing. Very superhero-y. And he grows up to start this gang called The Teds. And it's kind of about him and his best friend, and his best friend is kind of in love with him. And there's a love triangle between him and a girl.
NORRIS: Last time, when we talked about Forget, I asked about some of the comparisons that people had made between that record and certain bands that had come 20 years prior. Some of which you knew and some of which you were like, "Uh, if you say so..."
LEWIS: Yeah what was the band you mentioned?
NORRIS: OMD, Orchestral Manoeuvres...
LEWIS: Yeah I had never heard of them.
NORRIS: Well, I'm sure you've heard of a little band called The Police. And your new song, "Run My Heart..." I haven't seen reviews yet. But someone's gonna mention that.
LEWIS: Well, you just said it. [laughs]
NORRIS: It's a great song. Can you say whether there was any particular idea behind that one?
LEWIS: That song was one of those really beautiful, honest like, I am pretty sure that the very first vocal take I did on it is the one on the record. Which was the day that I wrote the song. I think the chorus I did a second take. But it was just one of those things that came out, just guitar and drums. And I was messing with this new drum machine that I have. Just sitting there with my guitar and a microphone, and just everything came instantaneously just came out. But anyway, there was a lot of pressure from a lot of people this year for my attention. Especially with lovers and things like that.
NORRIS: A succession of them.
LEWIS: [laughs] You're getting me in so much trouble!
NORRIS: [laughs] No, but I remember "Castles in the Snow" was all about a sort of, fleeting thing. And you know, saying, "Let's just appreciate it for what it is."
LEWIS: I do appreciate it for what... they are.
NORRIS: The multitude of them.
LEWIS: [laughs] But there's this thing where people get this sense of ownership. And when you have a really special connection, that sense of ownership becomes like so solidified in their minds, like "you belong to me." So that song was like, "No, I don't belong to anyone. Get away from me." In that sense, you know. Enjoy me while I'm here, enjoy this thing that's going on.
NORRIS: Because you find yourself having to say that to people.
LEWIS: Yeah, all the time! Even with friends, old and new friendships. I have a lot of friends who are like, "What's up bro? You don't call me anymore." And it's like, you're bored, cause you've got nothing to do. And I've got a lot of shit to do! It's a hard thing to figure out, and juggle.
NORRIS: The last thing you need is someone texting you, "When are you gonna be home?"
LEWIS: [laughs] George does not want commitment! But that's not true though. I hope someone just changes all this in me, and really makes me want to cuddle up and chop wood and bake.
TWIN SHADOW'S CONFESS IS OUT TOMORROW. YOU CAN SEE JOHN NORRIS' VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE LEWIS JR. ON NOISEVOX.