Published Jul 01, 2012A violent clash between masked, bare-chested goons brandishing chains and crowbars and a leather jacket-clad motorcycle crew isn't exactly the kind of wide open, sunny image most think of when they imagine California.
The scene, from the video for Twin Shadow's latest single "Five Seconds" (based on the short story "Night of the Silver Sun" written by Eric Green and Twin Shadow himself, George Lewis Jr.), is more Charles Manson than Laurel Canyon. It spits in the face of the Golden State's fun in the sun image currently being peddled by a cadre of indie stars like Best Coast and Wavves.
But then Confess, Twin Shadow's sophomore album isn't your typical California pop record, despite being written and recorded in Los Angeles. Lewis's debut as Twin Shadow, 2010's Forget, offered a heady blend of dream-pop synths and R&B rhythms held together by his formidable vocals. Confess offers a more aggressive take on this sonic blender of influences; the songs are bigger, the playing tighter, the production cleaner. The beats, inspired by marching drumlins, provide a crisp backbone to hooks that sit front and centre. "I didn't feel like L.A. was influencing me in any way," says Lewis, sporting a mesh shirt and sports jacket in the relative comfort of an air-conditioned Toronto hotel lobby. "Environment influences you, but when you're making a record, you're inside. The sun is shining outside and you're inside making a record."
This, of course, begs the question ― why record in L.A. when there are plenty of great studios in Lewis's New York home base? "I bought a motorcycle when I got off tour," he explains "I wouldn't have been able to ride it if I had made it in most places where there are studios. So L.A. became the best option."
Lewis headed west last November, renting a house where he erected a home studio for writing and demoing ideas with touring keyboardist Wynne Bennett, who also played on Forget. "She and I have a really great way of understanding each other," he says. "We fight a lot. We fight like crazy, like an old married couple. But we both have a similar sensibility and we both want the same thing. We both have our eyes on the same prize."
Lewis ran into trouble when it came time to write lyrics for his compositions. He says Forget, which traced the disintegration of a relationship, was "a breakthrough" lyrically, so he tried to recreate the conditions under which those songs were written ― on a typewriter, chronicling words and phrases that popped into his head and then piecing them together. "It just wasn't working," he says. He ploughed ahead with the music and many of the lyrics were recorded later, while the record was being mixed. "I just wanted to be more direct. I want this record to be the voice of what I sound like actually talking to a person and not so much the voice of the artist."
While toiling away, Lewis would take the bike, a '72 Triumph Bonneville (he can be seen riding it in the "Five Seconds" clip) on long rides with undetermined destinations, as a way to clear his head. "When I did Forget my release was watching movies. I'd work on stuff until I couldn't work anymore and then I'd watch a movie. So instead of watching movies I'd take a motorcycle ride. It got my mind right, especially after a long year of being in a cramped van. It's very independent."
After two weeks in the house, Lewis and Bennett shifted to a proper studio to lay down tracks. The rest of the sessions saw the pair flipping back and forth between house and studio where they played all the instruments themselves. "It was just her and I becoming a band. We played drums, we played bass we played keys, whatever was needed to get it done."
This process was a far cry from the bedroom origins of Forget. That record's 11 songs started life on Lewis's laptop before making their way to Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor. He bulked up the original instrumentation in a studio and released them as the debut release from his own Terrible Records. Mega indie 4AD soon picked up the record and coupled with relentless touring, brought Twin Shadow to the top of the indie-rock heap.
Despite coming up through the indie ranks, Lewis says he never identified that world and has no qualms about leaving it behind him. "I don't think indie means anything. It's a term that I kind of cringe at."
Indie he says, as a genre, business or way of life, is a limiting way of thinking. "I saw how closed-minded I was. It's like me being like, 'I'm not going to hang out with you because you wear red glasses and you're a white guy.' If I say that and I live by it, I'm screwing myself out of knowing who you are and a lot of life. If you do that as a musician you're screwing yourself out of a lot of interesting opportunities.
"I was indie when I had my first punk band. I didn't want to be commercial at all. I wanted a very small group of people to hear my music. I didn't want anyone that wasn't like me to hear my music. Now I want everyone whose not like me to like my music."
But Lewis isn't about to let notoriously unforgiving music industry walk all over him or wait for someone else to turn him into a star. "All lot of people feel like they'll lose control of themselves. But if you lose control of yourself, it's your own damn fault. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you're in a big pond."
To wit, Lewis opted to produce Confess himself, to ensure that buck stopped with him, and him alone. "I just really wanted to own everything. I really want to be the one to blame if it all goes tits up. I don't want to be resentful to anybody."
But while he's fully committed to expanding his sonic palette and fan base, is Lewis ready for the fame that could accompany such aspirations?
"Sure, yeah," he says. "There's a lot of good things that come with it. There's a lot of bad things too, but I'll take both."