Twin Shadow on Coachella, Opening for the Strokes – & that Hair

George Lewis Jr. is about to have one hell of a summer. The Dominican-born, Brooklyn-based musician, who plays under the moniker Twin Shadow, has a king-making trifecta of festival slots this summer that will surely skyrocket his fledgling profile. Kicking off with this weekend’s Coachella, he’ll then head to Washington for Sasquatch, and then down south for Bonnaroo. It doesn’t get bigger than that. Lewis made waves back in October, when his debut album, the synth-laden, ’80s New Wave-channeling Forget (produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear), garnered critical praise. We spoke with Lewis as he wandered the streets of New Orleans (possibly while intoxicated) about opening for the Strokes at SXSW, strange subway encounters, and his famous ‘do.

You’re walking around New Orleans right now. Are you drinking one of those hurricane drinks? I’ve had four of them already.

How does it taste? It’s terrible. I can believe people do this to their bodies. Oh wait. A horse in a carriage is running down the street and not really paying attention to any of the cars. The driver is screaming. And I get this weird feeling that I am standing outside of Trent Reznor’s house. There’s a gate with a chain.

When I was waiting around for you to call me back, I was listening to your record and sort fell asleep at my desk for a minute. Please do not take this as a diss. Does this happen every time? Is this a Pavlovian response to my music?

This does not happen every time. But it does relax me. I will say it’s a woozy record. It’s kind of like that Chris Isaak song [“Wicked Game”], which used to put me to sleep as a kid. I think of the record as a small pop record, actually. It’s pop.

You had a really good SXSW with the Fader Fort and opening for The Strokes. It was a busy day. It was hard for me to remember that set at the Fort.

What do you remember? There was more pot smoke than I ever could have imagined. Waves of it. And I remember some people responding to the music. And I remember this one guy in the front row had his middle finger up during the entire set.

That’s a positive sign in some cultures, no? I looked at it like he was giving me the devil horns, but was missing a couple fingers.

And opening for The Strokes? It was a trip, playing in front of 20,000 people. Recently [before SXSW], Albert Hammond Jr. came up to me and said he had seen me play at Music Hall of Williamsburg and had loved the show. So we exchanged numbers and I invited him to my studio for the day and we hung out. Sounds like a dude date. We had a dude date! But there was a girl there too.

Lucky girl. It was actually Oh Land. It was kind of a dream, like we were starting some sort of new Brat Pack. We were just hanging out, and Oh Land and I were working on something. It’s all super casual.

You’re playing Coachella this weekend. What are you looking forward to most? Playing a big festival and seeing how many fans we actually have, I suppose. I’m excited to see Kanye.

What’s playing in the van on the way to Coachella? It’s mostly Dirty South hip-hop. Today we listened to a lot of 2 Live Crew and Mystikal. Thin Lizzy has been popping up a lot. And you know the best Pandora station, believe it or not, is Barry White. It’s opened my eyes. He goes so far beyond the pillow talk thing. You’ve lived in Copenhagen and Berlin. What does an American musician gain from living in those cities? Experiencing the European people and establishing relationships with them, one of which was my girlfriend—which was on and off for four years. It changed the way I thought about music. I was stuck in all these American, indie-slash-punk-rock ideals, which ended up building walls around me creatively. When I got outside of America, and realized there isn’t so much of this “I’m a punk” and “I’m a hood rat” label system, the attitude made me open my head up. I had put all these restrictions on myself.

What bands were you listening to over there? The Knife really excited me, even before I left for Copenhagen. I was immediately inspired. And from there, I researched what stuff they were into. All of a sudden I got into the Kate Bush “Hounds of Love” record and Kraftwerk and a bunch of the krautrock bands.

And this girlfriend. She influenced this record, obviously. Of course.

Are you on or off? It’s pretty much off, but she is amazing. A very special person, and I think she will be in my life for the rest of it. The distance thing is hard and my life choice is also really hard. I don’t have many working relationships, even with friends these days. It’s near impossible.

How did you hook up with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear? I was recording the record on my own and my manager and I had several conversations about getting somebody to come in from the outside—to give some perspective. It was more my manager’s idea than mine, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. I felt, at times, a bit stifled. So I had two people in mind—pretty much anybody from The Knife or Chris Taylor because I had been listening to Veckatimest a lot over Christmas, and was mostly into the production. I loved how lush it was and that you could still hear everything. I don’t think my music is at all like Grizzly Bear, but I thought there are a lot of layers to my music and that sometimes there is too much going on. It needs clarity and I heard clarity in Chris’ production.

What turns you on? Dinosaur Jr. turns me on!

J has that hair. He can really play that guitar. And the hair is really good—that peppered Addam’s Family Cousin Itt look.

Speaking of hair, yours is ridiculously good. It changes a lot. I get bored with it. I kind of treat my hair like a woman. I like to do as much with it as I can, and before it disappears.

Do you use some special hair spray of gel? I go to a Dominican or black salon and they usually blow out my hair with a blow drier and a comb. It gets really straight and flow-y and beautiful. My keyboard player will do my hair sometimes. You can catch me, sometimes, looking like a mess. If you look at James Brown, he sometimes looked like a mess. But it didn’t matter.

Do you shop on tour? I’m always picking up clothes, but I’m trying to move out of vintage land. I’m kind of aspiring to having a tailor who makes me all my clothes. That’s my mission. Have you ever modeled? As a kid I modeled in a Wal-Mart advertisement. I was modeling sunglasses. I don’t think anybody will find that.

Last random encounter on a subway? The other day these two girls noticed me and, very loudly, started talking about me as Twin Shadow. I assume, because I had my sunglasses on, they felt it was okay to go into a conversation like I wasn’t there. At some point it got personal. There was a comment about the shoes that I was wearing. Something like, “He wore those shoes at the Brooklyn Bowl show the first time they played there. They are kind of beat up.” Eventually it got so ridiculous that I stood up and said hey. They kind of just gulped, and the subway door opened at Bedford Ave. and they ran out. That was weird.

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