SXSW Music: Twin Shadow Goes Acoustic for Charity



“Yeah, I mean, I guess we don’t really do acoustic,” says George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow. “It’ll be just us, except with acoustic guitars.” Minutes later, the frontman takes his seat in front of industry bigwigs to perform for MusicRX, a charity with which the New Yorker-by-way-of-the-Dominican-Republic is involved. The program, explains Lewis, exposes music, the musicians who play it, and the entire recording process to terminally ill children. The 15-year-old initiative, founded by Regina Ellis of Portland, has tapped Lewis as a sort of a spokesperson, specifically while launching their new iTunes-based digital platform. “I’d love to do some recording,” he explains, and then pauses exhaustedly. “…If, and when, we have the time.”

Free time is something that Lewis certainly lacks—aside from South By Southwest and MusicRX, there is also Gaga. Tapped by the Lady’s team to do an official remix of “Born This Way,” he turned the hit into a decidedly un-Madonna-like funky ballad of which Gaga herself would surely approve. “They reached out to me, and I did it,” he says, slightly amazed. “Gaga’s vocal is a great vocal, and that’s all you need for a good remix.” Describing it, he says there are “George Michael-isms” in the production, evident in the synthetic strings and dance-friendly tempo. And without pause to decompress from touring, Lewis plans to immediately head back to Brooklyn to begin work on his next album—despite having released his first at the end of last year.

Though written and recorded—like most aspiring musicians do these days (especially ones with the now-popular electro-nostalgia aesthetic)—from a computer at home, the ethereal, acoustic-tinged record is not a “bedroom project,” Lewis explains. Not that he minds bedroom projects or studio-less albums, but Lewis is wary of hiding a lack of quality behind low production values: “I don’t think lo-fi is charming,” he says. “Some people make electronic music in their bedroom and it’s amazing, and some people make electronic music in their bedroom and it’s embarrassing. The whole bedroom thing is kind of a joke… people make electronic music because it is more accessible. Whatever is the most accessible thing becomes popular.”

For his particular sound, it revolved around what means justified the ends: “I did what I had to do out of necessity. But then an opportunity came along where I could take my record to another level, in terms of mastering.”

“Forget,” produced by indie mastermind Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear (and owner of Lewis’ label Terrible Records), sonically swings from menacing to gently confessional. Like a sun-bathed Depeche Mode or a softer, dreamier Junior Boys, the debut is robust, with fully realized layers recalling funk, soul, or ’90s-era house music.  “I don’t mean to sound jaded, but when the record was finished, I felt like I knew what the response would be. I thought it’d be well-received, and people would slowly get into it the more they listen and explore. And that’s honestly how it’s been.”

The young Brooklynite is right: the record was critically acclaimed, but it appears to only be picking up steam now—with over five SXSW appearances, including opening up for the Strokes. “Forget” is easily one of the most pleasurable listening experiences of the past year, with groovy, chilled-out beats alongside Lewis’ soaring vocals. Despite his computerized music, the acoustic setting complements Twin Shadow, with soft synths and a drum machine playing along with Lewis’ guitar. And on a brilliantly sunny Friday afternoon in Texas, nothing could be more fitting.