In 2001, 18-year-old George Lewis Jr., the musician behind Twin Shadow, took a chance on a girl he didn’t really know. The relationship wasn’t meant to be, but during a weekend visit to her college, buried deep in a VHS she rented from her school library, he discovered James Chance. There was something about the carefree nature of the “No Wave” music scene figurehead that Lewis instantly became obsessed with.
“His music is all about self-destruction and how that was the way to enlightenment,” he tells CR. “One of the most memorable lines is ‘First you shatter your frame.’ I still believe in that very much. I believe you need to break yourself down constantly, especially as an artist. I don’t think a lot of people are willing to break themselves down constantly.”
Whether subconsciously or not, that lyric has served as a blueprint to Lewis’ career. His 2010 debut album Forget became emblematic of Brooklyn’s brief flirtation with 1980s sounds. It didn’t hurt that Lewis could moan like Morrissey while delivering hooks akin to an early Echo & the Bunnymen, or that Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records (who would later deliver Solange to the next phase of her career) released it. But by 2012, his musical persona as the guy who would flirt with your girlfriend at a party was replaced by the guy in the leather jacket actively out to steal her. Where Forget was shadowed in reverb and introspection, Lewis’ sophomore album Confess was aggressive, with lead singles like “Five Seconds” and “Golden Light” packed with squealing guitars and drum machines—rock and roll served with a side of R&B production. On 2015’s Eclipse, he flipped the script again with a series of anthemic rock tracks. Lewis was unashamed of his ambition. He no longer wanted to drive in the dark, listening to songs. He wanted to be on the radio.
But in April of 2015, while on tour, the Twin Shadow bus was involved in a crash outside of Aurora, Colo. The driver and the band’s drummer were hospitalized. And Lewis was left with a hand injury that required reconstructive surgery, and a level of post-traumatic stress disorder he still can’t completely pinpoint. The process of claiming a new identity had begun without his consent.
“At first, it made me very closed off to music,” Lewis says. “People think as soon as you break up with somebody, or as soon as you have some traumatizing experience, all of a sudden you’re inspired and you have all these stories to tell. But they forget there’s this massive waiting period for you to have any sort of understanding of it.”
To center himself, Lewis took time away from work, riding his motorcycle around the Los Angeles and traveling to Japan for the first time. (“I was just trying to find some quiet,” he recalls.) Ultimately, it was a year before he felt ready to return to music—by his account, an unprecedented break.
He began what he describes as “blue collar” work sessions, pushing through doubt and forcing himself to write and produce songs consistently. It was a method that ran counter to his previous ethos, which he describes as dumping out all his inspiration into a single song and then waiting for life to fill him back up again. Caer (“fall” in Spanish) is Twin Shadow’s most experimental album. It’s the sound of Lewis at play, layering ambient vocals from Los Angeles a capella artist Rainsford over the Tom Petty-referencing opening track “Brace,” twisting together blasts of organs over anxiety-ridden lullaby “Little Women,” and dipping into spoken word bombast on “Bombs Away.”
“Obviously, any time you lose your faith in something and then find it again, you have this renewed energy,” he says of the process. “What I was more interested in on this record was less documentation of the time, or of the political, and more the documentation of an artist or a sensitive soul in a time of turmoil…I’m more interested in the personal and emotional politics of human beings.”
Which isn’t to say he isn’t aware of his audience. As a Dominican American, the threat is so real that Lewis worries about wearing his favorite holsters in public, lest he run into a police officer. “You really do know that society has made you afraid when you’re afraid to wear a piece of clothing,” he says. “Illogical fears like that can become actual fears in the current cultural climate.” But as an artist, he finds the micro strains and threats to relationships more immediate. Like he pleads on mid-tempo ballad “Too Many Colors,” “I want to be loved/don’t want to be hated/I want to be friends/don’t want all this fake shit.”
He believes in the importance of talking about his surroundings—both the people and culture—and he takes on both in “Saturdays,” a slinky pop track he wrote in collaboration with Haim that beings with the telling line, “This could be the last time,” before launching into a hook-filled chorus that celebrates dancing in the dark—an action that echoes the same bittersweet joy as the Springsteen song of the same name. However, Lewis rejects the idea that this ballad might have accidentally revealed his lighthearted side. Yes, it’s a tribute to love, but it’s set in an era where Rome is burning.
“I think most people who know me well would probably not let me say that I’m an optimist,” he says. “I definitely get called out for being a pessimist a lot of the time. I see the darkness in things before I see the lightness. I guess I’m trying to balance it out.”
Not an optimist, not a savior, not any party’s political puppet. Would he have found this new middle ground without having gone through his previous incarnations? Or the bus accident? Lewis quickly adds pragmatist to his list of descriptors, admitting there are better and worse emotional states he could be experiencing—he doesn’t know what could have been. But he does know evolution is hardwired into his personality.
“I believe in fate,” he laughs. “But I also believe in human curiosity. More curious people seem to have more fateful things happen to them. I think it’s a combination of both. One leads to the other. As soon as you make that connection it becomes fate. But it starts as curiosity.”END
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