Confessional: Twin Shadow talks about motorcycles, mushrooms and making music for a schmo

Photo by Tina Tyrell

George Lewis Jr. (aka electro-pop musician Twin Shadow) last played Asheville at Moogfest in 2011. That’s when this happened:

“I was outside and it was some guy’s birthday and he’d just seen the show,” says Lewis. “He’s like, ‘Hey man, reach into my pocket and grab a handful,’ so I reached in and grabbed a huge handful of mushrooms, and I shoved them in my pocket.”

Just then, Lewis was tapped for a (very surreal — check it out) Magnifier interview with Chris Taylor (CANT) and Alan Palomo (Neon Indian). “So we’re talking on camera and I’ve got this handful of mushrooms.”  He wasn’t in the mood to take them so he eventually gave them away. But before he could do that, “I was touching my face, eating, whatever, so by the time I got to bed I was feeling really strange. I didn’t totally go off, but I had that little taste of hallucinogen running through my veins. It was amusing.”

Though Lewis is upfront about his drug use (he recently told Pitchfork that, while he’s “pretty mellow” these days, he landed in the hospital a few times during his last tour), his music — especially the emotion-and-synth-drenched songs on this year’s Confess — is ruled by the heart. These are not psychedelic tracks, but opulently layered voyages into anguish and palpable longing. There are definite nods to the ‘80s (can anyone listen to Lewis sing, “I’m in love with the unlovable / You’re all in with a cruel world” on “The One” and not think of The Smiths?). But as much as Confess is a time machine back to Springsteen, The Cure and Love and Rockets, each note, each back beat, each shimmery guitar is filtered through a thoroughly modern sensibility.

For all the brooding angst of the album, Lewis says that it’s not hard to connect with the impetus on stage. “I have a harder time doing it in the studio,” he tells Xpress. “I really grew up around playing live. It’s always come naturally, emoting before a live audience.”

But, as deep as Twin Shadow material sounds, Lewis isn’t precious about the stories behind his songs. “I think people get hung up on art. It’s just there to feed your ego,” he says. Forget about intellectualism: “First and foremost, my music is for a schmo.”

He continues, “Some of the songs, I can’t even remember what they’re about, so I have to invent new meanings. I think they have to evolve for us to stay interested and to keep bringing the same energy every night.”

At press time, Lewis says that are songs from Confess that the band hasn’t performed live yet — “Be Mine Tonight,” the album’s hidden track, is one, though, “we should be able to do that by the time we get to Asheville,” says the musician. As far as a favorite to play live, “Patient,” with its minimalist opening soundscape and bass-drum-in-a-cave echo tops Lewis’ list. And there’s sparkly lead track “Golden Light,” which has only just been added to the live set list.

One song that’s sure to be on the roster is “Five Seconds,” a booming, adrenaline rush of unrequited affection, “Boys of Summer”-esque guitar riffs and coiled intensity that snaps and lashes at the track’s apex.

Last month, Paste magazine linked the video for that song to The Night of the Silver Sun, Lewis’ novella-in-progress. The video is a loose ramble of chase scenes, kung fu-inspired fighting and rival biker gangs. Lewis says that the book began when he wrote a non-fiction piece about purchasing his first motorcycle. That inspired him to “try fiction, because I’ve never really done that. Most of my music is autobiographical.”

What was intended as a 500-word story grew to 7,000 words and then 10,000. “I just kept expanding on it,” says Lewis. “Now that I’m taking it seriously, I’m hammering out the details.” But with his tour in progress, getting the book in print is not a priority — making music is.

There is a vintage motorcycle gang theme that goes along with Confess. Lewis’ pompadour hairstyles and leather jackets are part of that; the Ton Up tour (with its retro art work) takes its name from a European cafe racer club for “rockers into rockabilly, motorcycles and hell raising.” But Lewis doesn’t want to talk about how life imitates art or vice versa.

“I just see all of this as fun,” he says.

Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Twin Shadow with Niki & the Dove and Total War
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Sept. 21 (9 p.m., $15 in advance or $18 day of show. http://theorangepeel.net)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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