To the Heart
George Lewis Jr. casts emotional immediacy in Twin Shadow
Photo Credit: Tina Tyrell
Punk begat new wave. And for George Lewis Jr., the path to his crooner-meets-synth-pop outfit, Twin Shadow, wound through his time with the Boston soul-punk band Mad Man Films.
“I always thought we were the odd band out,” Lewis, 28, recalls of Mad Man Films, which called it quits several years ago. “We weren’t necessarily doing what people would traditionally call punk, so it wasn’t really a big deal to change into anything else.”
Raised in Florida, the Dominican singer/guitarist has thrived by changing landscapes, musical and otherwise. By the time he arrived in Boston at age 18 (“I came pretending to go to school to appease my parents, but that’s not what I wanted to do,”), he’d devoured influences from Tupac Shakur to the Clash. He absorbed Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Prince and Nina Simone, moved to Brooklyn and spent time abroad in Berlin, further broadening his outlook.
“I call it my mutt taste,” Lewis says. “I really have a passion for all those different types of music equally—and always have. We’re living in a time, finally, where genre doesn’t matter anymore.”
Nonetheless, given Lewis’ earlier dalliance with angst, Twin Shadow is a leap, which uses an electro-pop sound that nods to the ’80s with richly textured minimalism, leaving his vocals exposed.
“That was a big step for me, getting more comfortable, wearing my heart on my sleeve and making truly emotional music,” Lewis says. “I’ve found that synthesizers get a more lush musical vocabulary and aided me in being able to get my feelings across.”
He found a catalyst in reflecting on past relationships, mainly on a long-term romantic affair that had recently ended, and he poured those feelings into his 2010 debut Forget, which Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor produced and released on his Terrible Records label. “I’ll always consider Forget probably my most important record because it’s the thing that helped me find myself musically,” Lewis says.
The Twin Shadow frontman took full control of his follow-up album, Confess, which was released earlier this year. Working with keyboardist Wynne Bennett from his touring band, Lewis produced an album with bolder, sweeping pop strokes. Opener “Golden Light” swings with a percolating gospel sheen while Lewis swoons as he sings, “If I chase after you, doesn’t mean that it’s true,” his vocals reminiscent of TV on the Radio’s frontman, Tunde Adebimpe. Lewis brings darker tension to “Patient,” where he declares, “I am patiently waiting for you to give up everything and say just what you mean,” while the slower beat gives way to drumline-inspired percussion breaks and a skittering guitar lead.
“It’s a tougher record,” says Lewis, who made Confess in a Los Angeles home studio. “It’s just the immediate emotion, not the thing you figure out, not the things you learn after the fact.”
The impetus for his temporary West Coast move was to record in an environment where he could enjoy his new motorcycle (a 1972 Triumph Bonneville), since he’d been too busy touring the past two years. Lewis can be seen riding it in the video for “Five Seconds,” the lead single off his new album. The track’s brisk drum-machine pulse and his “I can’t get to your heart” lyric fuel the urgency in the clip’s violent showdown with masked thugs, a glimpse of the story line from Night of the Silver Sun, a futuristic novel that he recently coauthored.
Lewis says his California motorcycle trips helped clear his head to visualize the direction for Confess—and to get over an accident in Allston in which he fell off his bike.
“It’s definitely an escape,” explains Lewis, noting that his bike is more fun than his tour bus, which is currently rolling across the States with a final stop at the Paradise on Sept. 30. “It’s just the fact that it’s relaxing,” he says. “Some people play badminton.”
Twin Shadow plays the Paradise Rock Club on Sept. 30.