Twin Shadow is the name George Lewis Jr. makes music under, but you probably know all about that that from listening to his albums, like 2012’s Confess, or his many dazzling, synth-sensual remixes of folks like Lady Gaga. But did you also know he’s a Rookie reader and fan? True fact! When he came to us with the idea of covering the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” with fellow singer Samantha Urbani as a part of his UNDER THE CVRS series and a Valentine’s gift for Rookies the world over, it was hard to remain upright due to our total excitement about it. He also made us this dreamy video, which, he as he says, he used iMovie to edit in a single day in keeping with the DIY inspiration he finds in Rookie.
I talked to him this morning for a little elucidation about his Smiths-peration for this song, plus why motorcycles are the best, what you can learn from covering Tori Amos tracks, and the importance of changing your mind as you grow up.
JESSICA: What have you been up to today?
TWIN SHADOW: I just fixed a motorcycle clutch cable on my bike since it broke. It broke three weeks ago—it’s a really old bike—so you gotta sit around and wait for the part to come from Japan, or wherever they still make a part. I have a car, but a motorcycle is my preference in L.A. It’s a huge stress-reliever.
What do you like most about living in L.A? Actually, I should ask, “Do you like living in L.A?”
[Laughs] I like it, it’s amazing. But it’s tough. I am still adjusting after nine years in NY. It’s foreign. I’m from Florida originally, and I always said that Florida is like the fake L.A., so I was kind of prepared for the experience. I am still finding out what I like.
For me, the best and worst thing was that L.A. is a bubble. It’s its own universe.
I feel that way about Brooklyn. When I lived in Bushwick, like there wasn’t anything outside that I needed or anything I stretched myself for. And it’s a shame to live that way. In New York that was easy, like, “Why would I go to this good restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, because I have what I want here within my reach?” The L.A. bubble is funny. A fair amount of my friends here are day drinkers, and I cannot figure if they are living in ignorance, just existing, or if I am the ignorant one and I should just be chilling like them [laughs]. I could not do that, though I am too concerned about what’s happening in the rest of the world, which I think maybe comes from the fact that I wasn’t born here. I am naturally inclined to look beyond whats directly around me.
In your recent series of covers, UNDER THE CVRS, so far you’ve mostly reworked the songs of really mainstream artists like Bruce Springsteen and Tori Amos—what’s the significance of the Smiths for you?
Everything I do, I mean sincerely, but there is a little joke within this one. In every critique of Twin Shadow, there is a dropping of Morrissey’s name, which I always thought was funny because I have never really been a huge fan of Morrissey or the Smiths. [Laughs] So it’s a nod to people calling me “the Dominican Morrissey”.
I think part of it is just that the trend in underground music the last 20 years has been to sing in a high, sort of whiny voice—coming from that MGMT, John Lennon place. I have a gloomy, low-ish voice, so I think people attach that to Morrissey.
I liked this song’s surprise ending. It’s like you are mewling from the wreckage. There is a real wink there.
It’s a wink to a lot of things. When I was 17 and really into punk and hardcore, I swore I would never do covers or play anyone else’s songs, but since then I’ve realized that you learn so much about the process of songwriting from learning other people’s songs. Doing covers is kind of my way of proving my younger self wrong. That’s part of the reason I have picked such mainstream artists—like, Tori Amos, she’s just an impeccable songwriter—so able to hit the nail on the head SO hard. I can learn from that, so this is is a wink to myself. This song struck me as the strongest Smiths song: Here’s Morrissey singing about being smashed to pieces by a bus, but he does it so effortlessly. And with the ending, I feel like I went for the dumb approach—something more simple and visceral, rather than what Morrissey intellectually delivers.
What other ways have you proved your young self wrong?
I tend to see things in black and white. When I was younger, I said I would never be in a band with synthesizers, but I have this very strong memory about the day I bought a synthesizer and I brought it to practice–and we got in such a fight over it that I quit. The band broke up over it. It was the introduction of something I never wanted, and I wanted to introduce it because it made me uncomfortable, but it excites me. ♦