Interview: Twin Shadow, on overcoming depression and why he left 4AD to embrace his pop side

Twin Shadow, on overcoming depression and why he left 4AD to embrace his pop side

George Lewis Jr.’s major label move hasn’t been short of difficulties - he speaks to David Zammitt about why he “really, really wanted to switch” homes.

George Lewis Jr. is sipping on an Old Fashioned in the bar of the Hoxton Hotel. He swirls the golden concoction and stares into it for a second. “It’s not the best,” he says with a grin. “But it’s doing the job.” True to form, he comes clad in his signature leather jacket and his motorcycle helmet sits staring back at him from the opposite chair, but over the course of the next hour he reveals that there is an awful lot more to the Dominican-born songwriter than initially meets the eye.

Though he’s conscious of his own role in the construction of Twin Shadow’s brooding throwback image, he’s also keen to move the narrative beyond the merely superficial, and as he releases his third LP and major label debut, ‘Eclipse’, he meditates on the depression he suffered around the release of previous album, ‘Confess’, and talks openly about flying the 4AD coop for the more affluent climes of Warner Brothers. As he speaks, his words seem more measured, his points more considered than in past interviews, and he’s keen to point out that he is tethered to a strong sense of perspective that’s taken root as he’s moved into the relative rockstar elder statesmanship of his early thirties.

“Believe me, I understand there are tragedies in the world greater than people misunderstanding an artist. There’s people’s families being torn apart as we speak,” He says firmly, annunciating every syllable. “I understand the great weight of the world - but I’m also an artist and I also take what I do incredibly seriously.”

Watch DIY’s UK premiere of Twin Shadow’s ‘I’m Ready’ video, above. Directed by Lance Drake.

And why shouldn’t he? Back in August of last year, you might remember, Lewis postponed the bulk of his ‘Eclipse’ tour indefinitely. “There have been several moving parts,” read an eyebrow-raising press release, “that have lead us to re-evaluate the time that we have to launch [the tour].” A couple of months later it was announced that ‘Eclipse’ would be the first Twin Shadow work to be released anywhere other than 4AD. When asked about making the move to a major label, Lewis chooses his words extra carefully.

“I really want to explain to people so that they understand; I made this record on 4AD. And once it was finished I really, really wanted to switch homes for it. Not that I think 4AD has a sound, but I felt like it needed a home where people knew what to do with it.” The graft that he puts into his work and the desire to have it heard by as many people as possible, he says, were the primary motivators in the move. “A lot of musicians are lazy, but I know a lot who work their fucking asses off and ruin their lives, basically, to make music. You have to work out a way to sell your music and, more importantly, to get your music into people’s ears. That is the most important thing.” That goal, it seems, could no longer be matched by 4AD. “The enthusiasm that came with putting out my record there was a game-changer for me and I felt like I had the support I’ve always wanted on a record.”

The move ties into a burning desire to infiltrate the mainstream, a space he sees as too restrictive and overly curated but also, ultimately, his aim as an artist. “For me, I’ve been pop since day one. I’ve always wanted the majority of people to like my music. I was naïve enough on my first record to actually think this is the same exact thing as Beyoncé. I really believed that!” He laughs but the glint in his eye and his disdain at the mention of the word ‘indie’ suggests that he remains undeterred in his pursuit of stage centre. “I wish we lived in a world where you could hear Burial, Taylor Swift, James Blake, Twigs, Twin Shadow on same the radio station and that drives me crazy – young people are still being taught that they need to be into one thing.”

“I was naïve enough on my first record to actually think this is the same exact thing as Beyoncé. I really believed that!”

George Lewis Jr.

But regardless of whether or not ‘Eclipse’ catapults him into Grammy nomination territory, Lewis is just glad to have come through the psychological troubles which surfaced after the completion of that last album. “When I look at ‘Confess’, I was freaking out. I was like, ‘I don’t believe in this record.’ But here’s the thing; now I listen to it and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a great record,’ because it’s so honest it hurts.” At the time, however, Lewis found it difficult to even perform the album live, so entrenched was his rejection of his own work. “Here I was; very not ready to be in the limelight, very not ready to be public about anything, but having to do because I made this record which very much expresses what I was going through. Still, I wasn’t cured. So I’m pushed out on to the road, having to prop up this thing that I’m supposed to believe in so much.”

The depression, he says, hit him like a ton of bricks. While he has come in for criticism of that self-cultivated, overblown rockstar image on the album’s cover, he looks at the picture and sees only the despair etched on his face. “What’s crazy to me about depression is that I grew up my entire life, my father was in and out of mental hospitals. He was bipolar. It really shook me when I was a kid and it’s really affecting me today.” Nothing, he says, prepared him when it actually reared its head. “Even though I have that in my life and I’ve heard about tons of artists with depression, read about depression, listened to records about it, it’s unbelievable how naïve you are about it until it happens to you. You think you understand everything about it but when you’re in it there’s no making sense of anything, really.”

Luckily he feels as though he is approaching somewhere that might be described as getting back on track. In order to regain mental and creative stability, he’s focused on his interactions with the people that matter as well as occupying himself with the more mundane, everyday things in life since abandoning New York for sunny L.A. “The transition had to do with repairing things in my life. So like, trying hard to mend relationships, trying really hard to – just doing practical things like fixing my car. I can’t tell you how important it is – it sounds so corny.” He pauses, as though deciding if he should share the ordinariness of his daily life lest it shatters the Twin Shadow myth. He ploughs on. “Like right before I came here to do all this press I really wasn’t looking forward to it. I hate having to constantly talk about myself so part of what helped me was that I painted all the furniture on my rooftop, I moved my studio from one side of the house to the other where it would be a cleaner work environment.” He laughs. “Even though it’ll be a disaster when I try to use it! Doing all of these practical things help me to get my head together.”

Twin Shadow’s ‘Eclipse’ is out now on Warner Bros.

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