When last we heard from Twin Shadow, a.k.a. George Lewis, Jr., the stylish synth-rocker was charming critics and winning fans with 2012's Confess, an album that NME rightly called a "thrill ride." After spending three years touring, writing, and recording — not to mention moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and signing with Warner Bros. — Lewis is back with his third full-length, Eclipse. Although this one is less propulsive and guitar-centric than its predecessor, the record is filled with the same emotive lyrics and stirring hooks that have caught the ears of indie kids, New Wave lovers, and pop fans alike.
We caught up with Lewis one very chilly February day to talk about the new record, the pros and cons of recording in a cemetery, and our shared love of Drake.
Why did you decide to call the album Eclipse? What's in the name?
"I kind of feel like — I don't know if I should quote myself on this one, but I kind of feel like this will be my last one word album title. To me, it feels like it completes a set of records. It feels like it arcs over everything. Often times, I think you pick these titles in an arbitrary way; it's very secondary. I wrote a song called 'Eclipse,' and as I was finishing it, the refrain 'You eclipse me' really took hold and seems to make sense across the whole record. The last record felt so self-serving. This record seems like almost the opposite. The making of it felt like I was trying to get back to my personal life; get back to letting someone else take the stage in my relationships; letting someone else lead the way; letting someone else block all my ego and bullshit. It's helped me see things a bit clearer. That theme seemed to pop up in all the songs — this feeling of redemption. So, in naming the album, it just seemed right that everything was centered around the refrain of that song."
The press release for the album mentions solitude and "losing self-confidence." What does that mean? Was that the goal?
"It's always an afterthought. I never set out with a particular goal when making an album, unless it's a certain production technique. I rarely have an emotional goal, but it often is just mirroring whatever's going on in my life. By the end of it, when you get to name the record and do all the artwork, you realize — through your own work — a summarized version of what your life has been while making it. In hindsight, I realized I had lost control of a lot of things. I lost a lot of desire to make relationships work. I lost desire of people in general. I became very inclusive. Over the period of the record, I kind of gained a lot of those things back. I think it's reflected inside the music."
What changed in you to pull yourself out of that?
"It's simple. When you go down these grim paths of — I don't want to say hopelessness, but when you get stuck in this cycle of not being interested in anything, it's just the worst place to be. I'd rather be angry at somebody or really nervous about something than that. There's a song on the album called 'Locked and Loaded' that's all about nervousness and regaining it. It's about how exciting that is. When you become flat, it's a very scary place to be. It's not necessarily a bottom. It's a sticky middle point that's very hard to leave. It's very boring and kind of useless. When you realize you're in that, it gets scary because you don't really know whether you should spiral down or spiral up. This album is me kicking and screaming to get out of that removed state."
Did you dance with the idea of spiraling down?
"Yeah, of course. That's a whole part of it. There's a ton of reckless things I don't care to recount that I did in order to explore what it's like down at the bottom. I don't think there's a way out of the middle without trying both."
What was it like recording the album in a cemetery?
"It was really interesting. I really always stress the fact that recording in a cemetery seems like such a novelty, but it's very much a practical decision. I couldn't find a quiet place in Los Angeles to record at all hours. This cemetery in particular puts on shows in the summer where they project movies on the walls of mausoleums. So, everything about it was incredibly inviting. We played a show in a building near the chapel I recorded in. It's an active cemetery that's full of life. People go there to walk about and, like, enjoy the sun. It's not a grim cemetery. So, I just asked and surprisingly they said yes. I just set up there and didn’t think much about it. With that said, things did get weird at times. Like, riding my motorcycle into a pitch-black cemetery at night was eerie. You just see the silhouette of palm trees waving in the wind. It creeped me out at times. I definitely ran to my motorcycle sometimes."
This album is more anthemic than the last one. What are you celebrating? What are you breaking free from?
"It's a release of energy. Part of what was concerning me while making the record was this ridiculous sense of coolness that's in everything now. Everything is down-tempo, brooding, sexy, smooth. All these things are coming back. I live in that world and I love that world, so I'm not criticizing it. But, this saturation of coolness was on my mind. I look at the world and I get this sense that it's all on fire. It makes me want to scream out. So many people are making this very understated, mumbling, sexy tone while the world is burning down. I just felt the need to let it out a little bit for the sake of the loss of human beings. We need to cry out right now."
I totally hear that. I hate the term PBR&B, but that's definitely the catchphrase of the moment. But, what about being pigeonholed into a sound at all? "To The Top" has a definite '80s vibe, which has become the sound recently, and because of that, people will latch on to it and apply it to entire project.
"People might do that. They've been on that beat for a minute. Now everyone is trying to find the '80s in their music. I could argue all day about how 'To The Top' doesn't use any synthesizers, which lends itself to a more '70s vibe than an '80s one. But, you know, it's a powerful anthemic song; people are going to think it sounds like Journey or whatever. I don't really like to speak too much to genres. It is what it is because people are going to pigeonhole you either way."
Is there an allure to being this private, enigmatic artist? FKA twigs used to be this elusive thing and now she's everywhere. You know who she's dating, for crying out loud.
"I don't want to criticize this at all, but there's a lot of manufacturing of hype these days. We saw how The Weeknd blew up. We saw how FKA twigs blew up. I think their successes have become templates for people to use to get people excited about the next big thing. You know, keep it hidden away and mysterious before it explodes onto the scene. It's a great marketing technique, but it's not always going to work. Just like any marketing scheme, it always evolves into something else. Plus, you aren't always going to have people who are of the quality of twigs or The Weeknd. Most likely, you're going to have a lot of derivative shit after them. For me, I try to balance the world of private and public while not being too concerned with it. I feel like I'm in this comfortable place where I've put out two records and am not seen as the new kid on the block. But, in other scenes, I am the new kid on the block. I feel like I'm entering this other world now. I try not to think about it too much. I really hope in my heart that all my music has all the hype already; that it does what I need it to do. I don't want to rely on stunts. I know marketing is necessary, but I want my music to do the work for me."
Speaking of marketing stunts, Drake just pulled a Beyoncé, which feels tired. Is there a new stunt? Where do you see us going from here in terms of getting music out there?
"Wait, Drake released a record that I don’t know about?"
Hah! Yeah, he dropped it at midnight this morning.
"Oh crazy! I gotta get it. That's exciting to me. Anyway, I think it's a shame that that's a thing now. The thing is, though, as an artist, some of these things are out of your control. There is the whole marketing team and their challenge is finding an angle. How do you sell records, because the truth is records don't sell. If Drake was doing his thing in the '90s, he'd — or someone — would be making a ton of money off records. But now, if you look at album sales, you'll see a huge spike on the first week and then the numbers dropping off — almost like a cliff — and disappear. The only tried and true way is having great content. It's why everyone is holding an iPhone in their hands; yeah, the marketing is great, but the product is also doing all the things you want it to do. I don't want to compare music to a cellphone, but music is similar. If there's quality there, and it does exactly what it needs to do for a lot of people, that is the only way of having something that is relevant and meaningful. I hope that people can get on that tip more and not rely on all these gimmicks. I'm sure there are people on my team who are thinking of a million different ways to get my music out. And, that's not bad! It's fun to have a record be a surprise or have someone helicopter in somewhere and drop 10,000 records on a town. I'm all about the shenanigans about music and pop culture; it's all fun. But, people should be careful thinking these gimmicks are what's going solidify them into things that actually matter."