“Bands aren’t a very modern way of doing things, I think we’ve evolved out of them…” – hmv.com talks to Twin Shadow
As he prepares to release his third album and major label debut Eclipse, we sat down with electro dreamscape maestro Twin Shadow, a.k.a George Lewis, to find out all about recording in a graveyard, why the night time gets the best out of him and why he thinks bands are past their sell by date…
(This interview was conducted before Twin Shadow and his band suffered their tour bus crash and were forced to cancel a series of tour dates, which is why it doesn’t come up.)
How long have you had the record ready for?
“It’s been finished since the spring of last year, but in that time we ended up switching labels, so that took up a lot of energy, I’ve had time to live with the record for a while though.”
Did you anticipate the move to Warners when you were making the record? And is it something you were actively seeking?
“It happened afterwards really. I was wrapping it up. I’d had it in my mind for a while that this record needed a different home, I love 4AD, but I needed something else for this album.”
How has the change been for you?
“It doesn’t feel all that different. I’ve had friends who have had nightmares at major labels, but it’s all been positive so far. I wanted extra support and some more weight behind this record and this gives me that.”
How did you want Eclipse to move on from your last record Confess?
“To me Confess is a great document of what my life was at the time, but that was quite a negative time for me. It reflects that absolutely, but I wanted this record to branch out, to have more of a balance of light and dark, to have some positivity. I don’t think you ever say to yourself “Okay. I’m going to feel this way and write this way’, you just work and the music follows. Nothing is as deliberate as it seems.”
You recorded most of the album in a cemetery right?
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“It was more a practical thing. I didn’t do it for the novelty, I was looking for spaces to record in LA and I wanted something that had 24 hour access. I’d looked at all these industrial spaces and they all had lots of work required to make them usable. I’d played a show at the cemetery there so I knew all about it. It’s so quiet there and I said to my manager ‘See if they’ll let us use it’. And they did, we ended up picking this chapel, I moved into there, built my studio inside of the priest’s quarters and then did all the drums in the chapel itself. I didn’t quite move in there, but I practically did.”
Why did you need somewhere 24 hours a day?
“I’m a very impulsive writer, I have ideas after I dream or I’ll sit down and watch a movie and have a song idea and I want to go straight there. I become somewhat nocturnal when I work on records, almost all of my records have been written in the middle of the night.”
What is it about the night time that inspires you?
“There’s something magical about the quiet at a certain hour. If you’re in a major city, by 3am there’s this calming silence, it’s just magical, it has a real profound effect on me, it’s a very creative time. Also your brain is just a little bit unhinged at that time, you’ve been up too long, you’ve had one too many cups of coffee, that’s when the interesting things come out.”
Is this a more collaborative record?
“It is. I’m also somewhat resistant to collaboration, it’s a big deal for me to trust anyone. I don’t like having to be democratic. There are so many things in life that do need to me democratic, relationships, family, and government. But to me, democracy equals compromise and I don’t like that. What I need is perspective. I worked with a guy called Dennis Herring, who was a great sounding board for me.”
Are you ever tempted to make Twin Shadow into more of a band? Or do you think it’ll forever be you and a rotating cast of players?
“It just doesn’t hold any interest for me. I stopped wanting to be in bands a while ago. I know who will be touring with me and they have as much input on the record as I want them to. To me, bands aren’t a very modern way of doing things, I think we’ve evolved out of them. I’m not saying it can’t be done. Technology is so advanced now that you can do everything yourself. You don’t have to master instruments to make great movements. I think it’s all leading to more singularities and projects with one vision.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“It’s a little more stripped back, there’s a lot less talking in code. I didn’t write many of these lyrics down on paper, it was a lot more improvised, to me lyrics are an impulsive thing. That’s new, my first record I slaved over the lyrics, I could spend hours and hours moving words around. I always find myself trying to be too clever, I want lyrics to be direct and not trying to prove anything. It’s a bit more basic.”
That’s interesting, musicians normally evolve the other way, they write quickly and without much thought when they’re younger and then spend more and more time on them as they get older. Why did you think you’ve gone the other way?
“I think of it in the same way that I know a lot of R’N’B and Soul singers do, the mood is more in the delivery than the words. Clever rhymes aren’t as important as the delivery. I used to read a lot of writers where the language is very flowery, people like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.”
“Now I find myself drawn to guys like Haruki Murakami, very simple, someone who doesn’t feel like they’re trying to prove they’re a good writer constantly. Trying to prove yourself all the time is a really dangerous thing.”
It’s a shorter record, which is different for you. There’s only one song that goes over four minutes, why’s that?
“I’m a big movie person, I go to lots of them. I started to realise that long-form movies really bothered me. It’s not an attention span, I just want to understand things in a very short space of time, I don’t need lots of exposition, I don’t want 20 minutes of suspense, it’s about the craft. You think about what The Beatles and The Clash packed into two minutes and 30 seconds. Someone doesn’t have to get into a mood to understand you completely.”
Are there any particular movies that inspired the record?
“It was more books actually. In particular Less Than Zero (Brett Easton-Ellis' classic 1987 novel), I feel like I consumed a lot of California quite quickly. There are surfing movies in there, LA Confidential, I watched a lot of gangster documentaries, flicks on Micky Cohen (The notorious mobster and inspiration for the 2013 movie Gangster Squad). My first record was very inspired by movies, this one is much more literal to my life.”
Twin Shadow’s new album Eclipse is released on Monday (May 18th). You can pre-order the album in store now.