Huge In Poland
Brooklyn's Twin Shadow were one of SXSW 2011's undeniable breakout stars. Riding in on a buzz gleaned from a fall tour with Jamie Lidell, the laptop/bedroom project headed by George Lewis Jr. kicked off SX's first day at The Mohawk with a beautiful, noisy and danceable set that actually pried the crowd away from their free drinks and texting. The band have spent most of their time since then on an endless tour of North America and Europe, but return for two shows in Austin this weekend at Emo's and ACL.
If you're not familiar with Twin Shadow, their debut Forget was produced by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, but you'd never know it from the music within, which channels early solo Morrissey and The Psychedelic Furs' Mirror Moves (with just a dash of chillwave) to pitch-perfect effect, showcasing an artist recalling youthful triumphs and tragedies with both nostalgia and regret. We called Lewis at a tour stop in Atlanta recently to discuss his 2011, what's coming next for Twin Shadow and his surprising affection for Poland.
CultureMap: When we last saw you here in Austin, it was South by Southwest, and I feel like I saw you on every stage and on every sidewalk. How did you guys survive that few days and how was the experience for you?
Twin Shadow: We didn't survive it! It was like a fun mission. It was like boot camp or something. It just felt like we were training for something, something bigger, but I suppose it had that "go in and just go for it" feel, but it wasn't something…I wouldn't do it ever again!
CM: That leads me to the fact that you've been on the road all year touring this record. It is hard to write when you're in the business of playing the current record every day? Is it hard to get inspired to create new material?
TS: It is and isn't. My [challenge] is that the type of traveling that we've been doing is so jumpy and inconsistent. We're just flying here and driving there. There's never a real pattern that starts to develop. And when I was writing Forget, I was on the road as well a little bit. I was working for this company, but I had a week in the same exact hotel, you know, so it was easier for me to write than now, where you jump to a different hotel every night. That can be a little bit…it can take away from your desire to sit down and work. So it's been tough.
CM: Do you have some material you've put together that you're thinking of recording?
TS: For sure. I have some demos. I'm always working on something I can apply myself to, like a remix. I'm always messing around with music, and you know, the beauty of getting into electronic music is that you don't need to have all of your guitars and amplifiers and recording equipment available. You can just create on your computer. So I like doing that as well, and I have a lot of that put together.
When you look like an ant on a huge stage at a festival, it's each player's decision to be bigger than themselves and perform more—but we don't think about it that much.
CM: I felt like Forget was a focused and thematic album in an era driven by singles and albums with less cohesion or harmony. Is that something you'll try and do in the future?
TS: I do believe in this. I think it’s a mistake for people to compare one art form to another, but I will say there’s an element of film that I really like, where even if a film is incredibly random and non-linear, there’s still an aesthetic that carries throughout and there’s something that keeps you in the same world. So, I'd like to apply that to my music - but I'm not really sure, because I do think it's very modern to just kind of focus song to song. I think that that's the way things have become, and perhaps that's the way that people need to start thinking about records. Maybe records don't really mean anything anymore. But I'm not sure. I like themes but I can't say that I'm like, "The next record needs to be the same." I don't know. It's totally open.
CM: Do you have to adapt a lot to play this current record live? The live sound is really quite a bit different than what's on the record. In my mind, it was bigger and a little more extroverted. Was it a tough thing to make the transition from record to stage?
TS: It was. We started off sounding a lot like the record, in fact: using a lot of the tracks from the record, using programming on stage. But I wasn't getting the joy out of it that I had hoped. It wasn't the same. It was like I was trying to chase the same feeling I had when I was making the songs and I realized that it wasn't working. Sometimes I like seeing bands just hearing exactly what's on the record reproduced but I felt like the songs are bigger than that. The songs are more dynamic than doing just what's on the record. Those songs can be played on any instrument by anyone and they'd hold up.
I think I came to a point where I said, all right, let's just go at this very basic and very much like the way we all learned how to play music on our instruments and just go for it and see what comes out. What came out was this very aggressive approach to the songs. I don't love it all of the time. There are moments where I wish our live show was a bit more subtle, like the record, but right now it's working for us and it still feels good every night...and that's the important part.
CM: There's a big difference between playing big club gigs like you're doing on the majority of this tour and doing a festival, which I'm sure you've done a lot of over the summer. Does it change the material you play? Does it change your approach to play to an audience at 2 p.m. that is coming to hear you for the first time as opposed to a devoted fan base that's there at 10 p.m.?
TS: You know, I think that we've basically prepared ourselves to pretend that every single show is in a stadium—so I think that's become the live aesthetic. It doesn't really matter; we're just as loud in front of 10,000 people as we are in front of 500. And if we're not, it's the club's fault, or their sound system's. We do the same thing, I think. And I think each player caters to the size of the audience. When you look like an ant on a huge stage at a festival, it's each player's decision to be bigger than themselves and perform more—but we don't think about it that much.
CM: Fair enough. Are you still working with the live setup you were using back at South By or has the band changed over the course of the year?
TS: Same band as South By, yeah. The band's evolving in terms of us getting more robots on stage, I suppose.
CM: I just came across you in the Spin fashion issue. I thought that was interesting, because at the South By shows where we saw you, I heard several people commenting on your hair and wardrobe and such. I think a lot of musicians these days don't bother with that. Could you talk to us about why the visuals of a performer or clothes are important to you?
TS: I think there's been a turnaround. I think maybe people are starting to actually really pay more attention to the look of things. And I should stress this point before I become such a fashion icon that I can't handle it. (Laughs) My thing is, I just like to look good all the time. Like, off-stage, on-stage. I wear the same stuff on-stage as I do off-stage. It's not a costume. Nor do I think I dress that extravagantly that people would call it a costume. But fashion is just a part of my life, and I bring it on-stage as well as off-stage. So that's the thing, I want to stress that point. Hey, everybody do whatever the hell they want. I don't care what everybody else does. Actually, this is much simpler than what I'm trying to make it. I care about fashion. And I like to apply it to my music. It's just a taste thing. It has nothing to do with any great philosophy, I don't think.
CM: One piece of the puzzle.
CM: Finally, I know that the touring life is definitely challenging. Lots of long drives; not a lot of time in each place. But are there any areas or regions that you are always excited to get back to in terms of food, weather, friends—things like that that give you a break from the monotony of the road?
TS: You know, it's funny, I guess months ago I would have been able to tell you my favorite places and now, as we're starting off this final tour for the record, I'm realizing that each place in America really has its own charm and people, the crowds, are actually really different every night. I thought that all the kids acted the same in America across the board - but each place is really different and unique. Each place has its own charm. We played DC and then Baltimore the next night - totally different audiences. And they are right next to each other. I really just love all of them. There's something certainly to find in every city. I really love Atlanta. We're in Atlanta now. We have friends here, so they take us out to clubs and that's amazing. But my favorite place we've ever played is Poland, actually.
CM: Poland? Why?
TS: Poland was amazing. Purely because…it was ugly in Poland. It was stormy. The city was disgusting, wherever we were. But the people were amazing. There was just like this really crazy warmth from these people. And a tent full of Polish people screaming the lyrics to Forget. It just blew my mind. I wasn't prepared for it. Just the people were so sincere. It was really cool.
Twin Shadow's 2010 debut LP Forget is available now. He will perform in Austin on Friday at Emo's with Diamond Rings and Theophilus London and on Saturday at the ACL Festival at 1:15pm on the Google+ stage.