For some people, the isolated pockets of downtown Los Angeles can be daunting. But for George Lewis, Jr., it’s something he relishes. Having moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn three years ago, ahead of the release his acclaimed sophomore album, Confess, the musician known as Twin Shadow has gladly left the East Coast in the rearview mirror.
Lewis arrives at the Ace weary and tired. He woke up at 4 a.m., but as he casually strolls into the hotel sporting a leather biker jacket, backwards Nike cap and jeans, he seems calm and collected for someone who has been up since before dawn. He’s become accustomed to a chaotic schedule, which most recently found him heading to New York City and London for Fashion Week to play a couple of DJ sets.
“It’s weird for me, because I always feel like I’m being torn from it and can’t really hit a groove with anybody or anything,” he explains while nursing a cup of yogurt, sitting at a table on the hotel’s rooftop. “My schedule is too inconsistent and making records, it drives you away from all those normal life things. But I’m also really comfortable that that’s my sacrifice.”
Keeping a nocturnal schedule is essential for Lewis and became a factor when it came time to record his major label debut, Eclipse. Pondering places that would capture the ambiance and tenor of the album, Lewis decided to contact the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Attending shows there is one of the few “L.A. things” he’s been able to do on a consistent basis, so he figured it was was worth a shot, albeit a long one. To his surprise, his manager’s call was returned promptly, and soon, he was touring the iconic cemetery looking for the right place to cut the album.
“I don’t want people to think that I went out of my way to figure out the weirdest place to record,” he explains. “That place is full of life and good energy even if it is probably the quietest place in L.A.” From time to time, he’d take a break from recording to peek out the window or sit on his motorcycle and watch a funeral procession.
Unlike the angsty Confess, Lewis says on Eclipse he wasn’t trying to “stick thorns in anyone’s side.” His outlook is sunnier; this album, he says, is a reflection of brighter days and the healing process that he’s put into his personal life. He calls Eclipse his “most positive record,” even if some circumstances could have dictated otherwise. Whereas the synth-laden Confess channeled the sounds of '80s, Eclipse is as close to a pop sounding record as Twin Shadow could produce. With peppier overtones and the exploration of a bigger space, the new album retains the delicateness that Lewis is known for, yet is more expansive than anything he's done.
Towards the end of the recording sessions, while Lewis was vacationing in the Dominican Republic with his family, his father, who has an unspecified mental illness, had an episode that led to his hospitalization. Even though things have improved since, the episode had a profound effect on Lewis, reflected in one of Eclipse's most emotional songs, “Watch Me Go.”
“The thing with my dad was tough,” he says quietly. “I actually wrote that when we were [in the Dominican Republic] in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping. I remember hearing my father being awake at night — and he was so healthy for so long — and hearing him get up was this signal to me that it was all going to fall apart, which is what happens when you know someone that has mental illness, there’s not much you can do because the trigger points are so random and all you can you do is sit there and watch.”
While recording in the cemetery, Lewis started to dabble in writing songs for others. As he starts to talk about this, he shakes his head and gives a wry smiles, calling it “a very L.A. thing.” His first two credits were with Haim (“We sat in my old house in Silver Lake, worked for three hours and then went swimming”) and Billy Idol (“He’s no bullshit, he likes to work”), which he acknowledges was initially difficult. However, he eventually formed a bond with the legendary punk rocker; their efforts are showcased on Idol’s latest single, “Save Me Now.”
“It’s hard as hell,” he says, describing the hired-gun process. “The first thing you experience as a writer for other people is that you really want to give 50 percent of yourself. You’re prideful of your energy and signature, and that’s what makes a bad writer. Good writers I’ve met are incredibly disciplined and write all the time. They are not self-conscious of making crap and give 100 percent of themselves to a song. That’s the most important thing you can do as a writer for other people.”
Lewis says he has composed more songs for others, but is afraid to divulge any of his potential prospects. He knows too many other songwriters who have proclaimed a song was being placed somewhere, only to have it not come to fruition.
After three years in the city, Lewis champions Los Angeles, calling himself “a leader in the fight to move west” by constantly recruiting New York ex-pats.
“Eventually New Yorkers are going to ruin L.A.,” he dryly states. “But what’s cool about it is that there’s going to be a golden era that will happen here in the next five years. It’s an amazing time to be in L.A., there’s going to be a lot of wild shit and it’s going to be great.”
As the sun starts to edge out from behind the morning clouds, it’s time for Lewis to head to Atwater Village for prep for his upcoming shows at SXSW in Austin. He looks up at the emerging light, glances back, basks in it for a second before nodding his head and before heading down a quiet Broadway, just the way he likes it.