The impeccably coiffed singer and songwriter on motorbikes, battle scars, and why he feels like a modern-day gypsy.
1. He’s become an indie-rock lightning rod.
With Forget, his 2010 debut album as Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr. garnered the kind of industry acclaim that most new bands only dream of. The effusive praise came fast from influential music sites like Pitchfork and rock rags like NME. And while many of those critics have applauded the follow-up, Confess (which came out on July 10), some backlash has emerged this time around. A blistering piece in The Washington Post described Twin Shadow as “mediocre” and compared Lewis to Lana Del Rey, the internet-buzzy act whose high-ranking Billboard debut and online hype won her as many detractors as fans. The Dominican-born Lewis is quick to dismiss both sides of the argument, letting his fans do the talking. “My music wasn’t built solely on buzz,” he says during a recent interview in Toronto. “We have a steady stream of fans who are really invested, and I went into this knowing they would support my next move.”
2. He hates the road but loves Toronto.
With the release of a hotly anticipated new album comes an exhausting schedule of promotion and performances. The Brooklyn-based Lewis will spend much of the next year criss-crossing the globe, but don’t get too envious of his peripatetic lifestyle: Travel is one thing he can live without. “We’re like modern-day gypsies,” he laments. “Although even gypsies get to camp out for a while.” He does admit, though, that bringing his music to the masses has an upside. “The wave of energy that happens when a song is finished is the best thing in the world. There are nights when everybody in the audience just gets it and feels what you’re feeling, and that’s what makes it worth it.” Another perk? Finding new favourite places—like Toronto. “I love it here,” he says. “In fact, I think I’d like to live here for a short period of time.”
3. The shortest distance between two people is a motorcycle ride.
Motorcycles have become an obsession for the musician, who initially became interested in them as a life-saving tactic. “I started riding at 21,” he says. “My friend Damon taught me. He actually tried to kill himself and I was like, ‘Don’t kill yourself—get a motorcycle.’ The next day he had one, so we sort of had to learn to ride together. Since then it’s been a big part of my life.” On June 18, Twin Shadow premiered his video for “Five Seconds,” the lead single off Confess, in Times Square. Lewis came up with the concept for the clip, which features Twin Shadow and a pal on an apocalyptic motorcycle trip. “It’s based on a story that a friend and I wrote. It’s more about friendship and brotherhood,” he explains. Lewis did his own stunts in the clip, which showcases some daring tricks atop a bike. “My mom saw the video and didn’t freak out as much as I thought she would, considering I fell a lot. I scraped up my leg pretty bad. She doesn’t know that, though,” he says, laughing.
4. There’s a story behind every scar.
As its title suggests, Confess is full of tracks that convey a sense of confidence between Lewis and his listeners. “The first album had a lot of flowery lyrics and I wanted this record to be simple,” he says. “I wanted lyrics that you would actually speak to someone—everything I say on this I would actually say to someone else. I just wanted it to feel like a conversation.” That confessional spirit dissolves when he’s asked if the large scar on his arm is from another motorcycle mishap. Suddenly, Lewis isn’t so interested in talking. “All I’ll say is it involves a pit bull, a really large box of packing peanuts, and an air-conditioning grate. I’ll let you put it all together.”
Twin Shadow plays Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor St. W., 416-532-1598) on July 30 and 31. leespalace.com.