George Lewis Jr. slides into his chair at Keith McNally’s downtown NYC pizza joint Pulino’s, and the Twin Shadow frontman instantly looks a bit skeptical. He’s just back from a tour of Europe in support of his band’s rollicking second album, Confess (4AD), that included some memorable dining experiences in Rome. From his expression, I can tell Lewis thinks it’ll be tough to top a pie he has floating around inside his head from his recent trip.
But we give it a shot. We order an arugula and prosciutto pizza, hold the prosciutto (“I don’t do swine,” Lewis says), then talk about the progression from the breakout yet kind of moody first Twin Shadow album, 2010’s Forget, to the driving Confess, which features track after track of lush pop melodies and spirited rhythms. It’s an album that evokes the best new wave of the ’80s, the soulful swagger of vintage Prince and maybe even the music-as-joyful-release sensibility of Arcade Fire. (Scroll past the interview for a video sample.)
We also talk a lot about food — from Lewis’s early experiences growing up in Florida to his love of cooking to getting fed up when people take it too seriously. Serious foodies with a thin skin might wanna sit this one out…
Let’s start with music. How does it feel to have Confess out for a couple weeks now?
I wasn’t as worried about this record. The first record had that feeling like my life depends on it, and this one was, as long as I feel like I’m progressing, I feel good. And I feel like I have progressed.
It’s a pretty intense production, isn’t it?
My production is always pretty layered, involved. Every day that I think about music I think about what I want to do next.
Some of the production reminds me of the ’80s new wave bands—
The funny thing about the ’80s thing is that it’s not something that I try to achieve, and it’s not something I’m very knowledgable about. I admire production on records like Purple Rain. That record is perfection in that it’s pop, it’s R&B, it’s rock, it’s metal. I’m obsessed with every single musical form. I used to only listen to hardcore music, only punk. There was a stage where I only listened to Bob Dylan.
You grew up in Florida, right? How did that affect what you listen to?
Yeah, the Sarasota/Tampa Bay area. What’s weird is I was more into hippie type music. I hung out with hippies all the time. Then as I started getting older I got into punk. Then I got more into metal. I liked Tool, bands like that.
You art part Dominican, right? Did your ethnic background affect you?
Not really. My mom is Dominican, but my father’s Jewish-American. I wasn’t raised Jewish. My house was unique. We ate a lot of Dominican food and listened to Dominican music, but we didn’t live the lifestyle of most Dominicans. The lifestyle was whatever phase my father was going through. If he was listening to a lot of Deepak Chopra, then we were in that world, and if he decided to become a conservative Republican we’d live like that. Which all happened.
What about food-wise? Your mom’s Dominican background; did it give you an appreciation for that type of food?
Definitely. It’s one of those things where I ate it so much when I was a kid and then I stopped eating it. As I got into my teenage years I was vegetarian for a while, vegan for a while. It hit me when I moved to New York how important food is to me, how comforting it is. If you go to a place where a Dominican is cooking Dominican food, you can’t go wrong. You go out to eat at a nice restaurant in New York, your brain is always turned on.
Did your mom ever teach you how to cook?
I do Mexican way better than Dominican. It’s hard. There’s a special thing you have to have to make Dominican food. I don’t get it.
So you got into cooking on your own?
Yeah, definitely. Cooking’s become my favorite non-musical hobby. I love cooking for myself. I like taking a lot of time when I cook. I like baking as well. It’s just a really relaxing thing for me. It’s better than the actual eating. That’s the only problem with it in a weird way; you spend hours on it, and then when you eat it you’re like, it was good.
What was the last thing you cooked or baked?
This week I made my very first arepas — with shrimp. That’s my new favorite thing.
What inspired you to do arepas?
I was in Queens in this Colombian food store and they have this huge arepas section, and I was like, oh I’ve never done that before and it seems easy. So I just got some; I dind’t look at any recipes, I just went for it, and it was amazing. Really delicious.
What about touring. Do you ever go out to eat?
Where it’s important to, we do it. In Rome we went to a really nice restaurant and had amazing pizza and pasta. When we’re in France I don’t go out anymore. I spent two weeks in France once and I purposely went to restaurants that people recommended, and I never had a good meal. Everything was disgusting, for two weeks solid. There’s something about French food that I just don’t like.
You’ve recently relocated to LA from New York. How’s the food out there?
LA is good. I’ve been eating kind of hippie-ish. I’ve been mostly going to the store and getting my goji berries.
I’ve been superfooding! I’m only doing it because I think it’s going to make me feel better. But you don’t really know if it does; it’s like this is what they say I’m supposed to be doing.
A nice quinoa salad can be good —
It can, it’s tasty. But it gets really boring to be constantly feeling like a horse – breaking down things you need really good teeth for.
Maybe you should go to some food trucks?
I was steering clear of that because I know it’s a slippery slope, but there is a taco truck right near my house that’s like really killing it on the fish tacos. It’s El Siete Mares. They have a restaurant and a food truck/drive-thru thing.
You must have to stay in shape to tour and perform as hard as you do.
It’s amazing how much it’s changed. On our first tour it was hard to find a health food store in every state, but now it’s like I feel like there’s a Whole Foods at every truck stop. Bands who eat fast food on tour have no excuse.
I was reading a food magazine from Paris and it had an interview with Chris from Grizzly Bear, who put out your first album, and who now is investing in a restaurant or something —
Yeah, Chris is really heavy into it. It’s funny because there’s a certain amount of talking about food that is a little nauseating. It’s stuff that you put inside of your mouth and swish around with your saliva and then it goes into your stomach and does a lot of crazy shit. I’m guilty of this too, but when people break down food… It goes back to the thing about Dominican food. It’s rice and beans and chicken. You eat it and it’s delicious and you feel great, you know?
There used to be a site called Shut Up Foodies.
There are a lot of women’s blogs that obsess over recipes, dissect everything—
But I have guy friends too who slave over [the details]. If they don’t have the right 12-year-old aged vanilla extract they’re just not going to be able to make the fucking brownie. It’s ridiculous. For me, you get the basics in your house, you get flour, you can do all kinds of crazy shit with very few things. Experimenting is fun and blah blah blah.
OK, so what do you think of the pizza?
I’m digging it. But I’m biased because I was just in Italy and had a similar pizza there. I hate to say it, and reinforce the stereotype, but there’s something about it. I think this is too crispy. But it’s good.
You’re a foodie!
Haha. The arugula is not as bitter as I’d like it to be. Listen to me. This is awful!
Watch the video for “Patient”: