Twin Shadow Returns to the Light | a Q&A with the Singer-Songwriter
Around mid-February Twin Shadow emerged from his self-imposed exile. The singer made his return to social media with a video promoting his upcoming album. In the many weeks that have followed, he has teased his fans with clip after clip of similar soundbites. The foreplay is over now; Caer is upon us.
The album (out now) marks a return for Twin Shadow (né George Lewis Jr.), who has largely flown under the radar for the past three years. Back in 2015, he dropped Eclipse and toured the country promoting it. But in April ‘15, things came to a crashing halt. His tour bus endured a serious collision, which rendered his right hand useless, until he could undergo reconstructive surgery.
Lewis retreated from the prying eyes of the public and began using songwriting as a tool to explore the chaos of both his personal life, and the world at large. As Lewis fell deeper into the creative process, he simultaneously found himself falling for someone new: actress, electro-pop princess and recent Flaunt star, Rainey Qualley. Their chemistry radiates in the effortless harmonies of their earlier duet, “Intentions,” and now even more so in the sweet poetry of Twin Shadow’s recent single, “Brace." It is fitting then, that he named his new album Caer— the unconjugated Spanish verb meaning, “To fall.”
After stopping by The Standard to catch his acoustic performance, I spoke with him about falling in love, being disillusioned with the world, Migos, the bedroom, the creative process behind Caer and what’s next for Twin Shadow.
During your interview with Culture Collide, you mentioned that you saw your first three albums as a sort of trilogy. Where does Caer fit into this trilogy? How is it connected and unconnected from your past work?
In a way it feels very separate to me. My experiences collect and become what the next thing is, but this is the first album where I took a big break before making it so it wasn’t the typical cycle of making a record, going out on the road, promoting, playing festivals, and as soon as you’re done, get back in the studio. There was a good year where I took a break from making music so it feels like a new start for me and for Shadow.
Caer is said to be a reflection on your personal falls and the world’s decline. How did current events like police brutality influence your album? Where do they manifest?
I would say that it shows up from a very realistic place of being—actually just being, aching, being an artist, living during this time with these pressures. It shows up from an emotional place. I’m not big on hot topic issues, certainly on social media I am, but musically I always just want to display the emotion of how I feel about all these things.
So if it is [manifesting], it’s this sadness or this worry for my generation or worry for the generations to come in America especially. I think it shows up in the way that I’m actually singing and the inflection in my voice, rather than literally. There are some lyrics that do hint at all of these things, though. The destruction of mankind, what it means to be an artist during this time, what it means to fall in love or just be with other human beings in this space that we live in right now.
On your liner note you quote, “When I was in love there was somebody in the world who was more important than me, and that, given all that happened at the fall of man, is a miracle, like something God forgot to curse." How is your relationship with relationships changing as you get older?
I read that quote and I just thought that was kind of the positive answer to all of this, which is that I think sometimes the most courageous thing people can do is allow themselves to fall in love. I know for myself that is the case. I have had a real resistance to that. In the past, I really reserved my love. And as I’m maturing I spend a lot more time in relationships and I put in a lot more work to make it work.
I try to understand the complexities of relationships. I try to understand the value. I don’t do it just with lovers, I do it with my friends as well more than ever. I know who my real friends are and I try to put some extra energy towards those friendships. But it’s not easy. That quote is like, “Considering all that is shitty in the world, it is still really incredible that we have friendships, that we have lovers” and that is the most beautiful thing that we have.
Can you explain your love-hate relationship with guitars? Why have you been drawn to them more recently?
Throughout my life I’ve kind of like denounced certain things in music and then kind of flipped over and accepted them or held them up as my religion almost. I love this idea of restricting yourself sometimes by giving yourself these weird rules. Giving yourself these guidelines, like, “Okay, I’m not going to do this on this record.”
I enjoy what comes out of that. I’m constantly challenging myself. If I hate guitars for three months and I don’t use them in music, then I find other ways to make music, and then something interesting happens. Then I’ll accept them for three months when I get excited about it. I recently posted on my Instagram a part of a recording from my song “Saturdays,” and it’s just the guitars and when I listen to them all together, I really hear fourteen-year-old me who wanted nothing more in life than to be the best guitar player in the world. That’s cool to hear. So these rules and restrictions I give myself are just a way of challenging myself.
If that’s something that you do to challenge yourself, what are things you might challenge yourself with in the future?
It’s interesting, I don’t make hip-hop or rap, but I think that music is “The Call of God” music. I think that rap music, from Kendrick to Migos, is the most relevant, most beautiful, most God-like, most creative, most impulsive music on Earth. It’s incredible. I don’t make that because I didn’t come up making that kind of music, but I’ve always appreciated it. If anything, that music keeps me on my toes and thinking about where other types of music can go or whether I should experiment with those types of ideas and those types of feelings. I look to that. Rap music is what I look to as inspiration. Not necessarily on a sonic level, just more on a cultural level.
Speaking to other genres, would you ever want to score a movie? You clearly have a knack for pairing sound with image: Your song “To the Top,” appeared in the movie Paper Towns, you’ve composed music for runway shows. “Twins Theme” could definitely work in a movie.
When I find the right person that I want to work with, I’ll go after that. I’m a bit casual about doing those things. I know a lot of people who’ve done film scores. There’s a lot of compromising. When you meet somebody whose visual mission is in line with your sonic mission, I think that you can have a symbiotic relationship that isn’t about compromising but is more about completing the empty parts.
Speaking of movies, you appear in two movies coming out this year. Is acting something you will continue to do in the future?
I’m a big fan of listening to the universe when things start happening like a domino effect. I like to try to pay attention to it and just kind of roll with it. I’m pretty casual about it though. Music is the one place where I devote my attention, my craft, my everything into doing it. So everything else, whether it’s working on my motorcycle or car or acting or writing or drawing, these are all things that are hobbies. I’m waiting for that domino effect, before I take them seriously. I’d rather put all my attention on making music.
I watched your videos for “Little Woman” and “Brace,” and I’m curious about the meaning behind the recurring setting?
“Little Woman” and “Brace” were shot in the same day on the back end of a photo shoot, so we put them together out of scraps. Economic art! So many ideas, for most artists, come when you first wake up. Everything has this emotional clarity when you first wake up or when you lay in bed at home. Twin Shadow started in a Brooklyn bedroom—the bedroom really is the epicenter of creation. That’s usually where we create. And breaking out of that room is kind of the goal.
words and photo by Tori Adams