“I feel like I’m standing above myself looking down and seeing more of what’s going on. There’s more awareness and hopeful discovery now,” says George Lewis Jr., the man behind the Twin Shadow mask. Befogged by “discontent,” the three-syllable word as heavy as a heartbeat, his third album, Eclipse, takes that inward devastation and strips it down to its most honest state. Lewis now writes with enough grit to expose the truthful side of disappointing relationships — the kind of stuff that only settles in during the years after initial heartache, the kind of stuff that’s rooted in the necessary vulnerability and surrender self-discovery requires.
Only now am I thinking about the significance of “Twin Shadow” as a moniker. Even when the details of the new album flew in from the press, the dual title of its first single, “Old Love / New Love”, should have sparked it, or the striking twofold black-and-white album imagery of Lewis himself cloaked under a shadow, maybe? Nope, nah, no. Not even the title Eclipse did the trick. But it unmasked itself after this conversation as he detailed his shift from the negative to the neutral. Altogether, this new chapter of his embodies a paradox for modern listeners, too: His album evokes a world where modern life has eclipsed, and yet it feels as vivid as anything you might want from pop music today.
I feel like you arrived on the scene five years ago with a certain kind of confidence. How did you achieve that?
I worked so hard before the first record came out. From being in collaborative bands to learning how to produce myself and play instruments that I didn’t know how to play, I learned a lot before I released Forget. If people read it as a sense of confidence, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that I spent so much time doing only music and trying to figure out what I wanted things to sound like.
So what aspects of vocal technique or composition do you think about now that you might not have before?
I think the biggest thing that has changed in my writing is not to try and be as clever as I used to be.
Clever in what way?
There’s a tendency as a younger artist to make it excessively poetic. There’s a lot of code, clever little secrets, that if you read all the lines, you see how they all connect. I used to spend hours crafting these lyrical compositions. I think you can hear that a lot on my first record. You could probably do a word count, and you have five times the amount of sentences. Now I try to say less and put more emotion into it.
But your past two albums have shown an upward trajectory in terms of subject matter, too. The first one was about the traumatic experiences you went through but chose to ignore at the time, and Confess was about getting over that and saying what you feel. So where are you now?
I think you’re right. Confess was a very heart-on-my-sleeve record, but in a biting accusatory way. I made a joke the other day because two friends were getting engaged and wanted me to sing some Twin Shadow songs. The funny thing about singing Twin Shadow songs at an engagement party is that there’s no hopeful songs [laughs]. They’re all really depressing! I was thinking if the new record were out, some of the songs would have suited the mood better. I do realize that there’s positivity on this record that hasn’t been on other records. Now, I feel like I’m standing above myself looking down and seeing more of what’s going on. There’s more awareness in general and hopeful discovery. This record reflects a lot of me becoming more open again. I’m just not sure if that’s how people will read it?
There are still some moments of discontent, but it feels natural as you need both sides to function. There’s a song on the record that epitomizes…
“Watch Me Go”, right?
Yes. That’s got that biting attitude you spoke about before.
Oh, definitely, and that song’s kind of a heavy one for me. My father has bipolar disorder, and he’s been healthy for a very long time, but when you grow up around that, you have this way of understanding when disaster is about to strike. One Christmas ago when I was in the Dominican Republic, my father was in a great mood, but I had this feeling in my gut that something was going to happen, and even if you know it’s coming, you still don’t know how to approach it. My whole family just sat there, and you become cowardly in those moments.
How easy was it to put this song on the record, then?
Well, it was finished before my father became completely … well … nuts. I finished a very positive record and then a very negative year followed, so it was the last to get on there. It’s interesting because this album ends almost as a warning of what’s to come in my own life.
But that’s the thing about your music. You expose this constant friction between ego and perspective, and sometimes when you deliver harsh lines, you back it up with this melody that could potentially make someone feel better.
Well, thank you. I should have you write my press releases. I’m serious!
It felt pretty clear from the first listen. Sure, your last album was called Confess, but Eclipse sounds even more like a confessional.
What’s funny about Confess is that it was supposed to be called Believe, and then Justin Bieber released a record called Believe and robbed me of my title! I’m really glad, though. Had it been called that, it would have had this extra layer of irony because the truth is the record was very much about my disbelief about everyone around me. Nothing seemed backed up in my mind, and no relationships were valid.
For that reason, do you feel more invested in this record than some of the others?
I wouldn’t say invested because I cherish all these songs just the same. Do I feel better about my life right now? Yes. Me being so closed off last time really affected my life and work, so in that way, I’m glad to invest in this right now. I had a lot of friends saying that it’s hard to listen to my past albums because it reminds them of the ugliness between us. Thing is, there’s times when I need a Nine Inch Nails record, and other times a jangly Beatles record. I live in both worlds.
Is that why you called the album Eclipse?
I think that this is the record where I play the most with both those light and dark worlds. God, it feels really corny to talk about it in this way, but like, I imagine myself as if I am Earth and my goals, my ego, my ambition is the sun. I imagine the people in my life being moons and this idea that something so small with a more humble path in life than my own — the biggest example being my mother. I imagine her constantly revolving around me and without her I am nothing. That this person can align with you and be this eclipse coming in between you and your ego blocking it out completely is a phenomenal thing to happen. That moment only lasts so long, but the beautiful thing is that you know it will come around again.
Did the album represent anything when you were recording it?
Oh, absolutely not. That’s the beauty of being a listener. I think my audience gets a better perspective of where I’m at than I do. Making music makes me understand myself better.
I think it does the same thing for a listener. Singers have this opportunity to say the things that we might not have the courage to say. We can let music just speak for us. This album takes aim at a lot of traditional values, too: honesty, vulnerability, hurt.
There’s a lot of responsibility attached to being a musician and a songwriter to reinforce those exact values. I wouldn’t even do music if I couldn’t express those values because I can’t always be honest or confident. So all of those virtues are much easier to experience and achieve by doing music. I spent a lot of time when I was younger making pretentious music.
Photo by Ben Kaye
That’s big of you to admit.
I think everybody is guilty of it when you’re young. I mean, I had a punk band and thought we were the greatest band in the world. It doesn’t propel us culturally to be pretentious.
I can’t remember the author’s name, might have been Barry Hannah, but he likes to write from a first-person perspective because, for him, the concept of wisdom is false. People think they know something, but are just piloting through what little they understand. None of us know what we’re doing here. We might as well be honest about it.
I hate when I hear people ask why rappers sing about guns, the club, and money. But it’s like, you’re not going deep enough at all. These people are talking about real desires that we all have. I hate it when people think that’s negative. It’s a fine line, and honesty is the core.
Have you ever thought about your idea of what your perfect relationship would be like?
That’s where I get lost! I guess there’s still this thing in me that I don’t believe attaching much to a relationship achieves the same thing as just letting things happen. There has to be a blanket way in which you accept human beings, but intimacy is complicated, and it’s dangerous to attach too many values.
You mean expectation?
Yeah, completely, and the relationships that become closer are when you just follow your gut without having expectations.
So what memories from the recording process stood out?
I moved to LA and didn’t have a ton of friends, so I went into solitude. The song “Alone” covers that. Just the whole line of “Isn’t it unfair that I should be alone?” is a very selfish statement.
It was wonderful to hear a female vocal on that track. It softened some of the ideas behind the song.
To be honest, a year ago, if you told me to put a girl on my record, I would have said no way. One thing I thought about when I was writing was the music that was around me and how everything felt very downtempo, smooth, and sexy. This was the first time I looked out beyond my friends. People say life is cyclical, but I generally feel like we’re in a pressure cooker right now. I just want to stand and scream for everyone.