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Begging for Faith

Interview

TWIN SHADOW – Hey, what’s up? 

 

OFFICE – Last I left you, you were headed to serenade your friend’s proposal in LA, how’d that go?

 

TS – Yes! It went well, she said yes. So we’re in the clear. It was really cool because I was there at the very beginning. I was kind of the witness to the start of their relationship, as well as the soundtrack. The groom to be is the brother of the guy that put out my first record, and she was already a fan, so they connected over my music, and they met in a bar that a friend of mine owns, so it all just kind of tied together.

 

O – So what’s brought you out to New York?

 

TS – Fashion week, lots of press, lots of interviews. I’ve been doing the music for the Public School runway show, I’ve been doing their music for a couple years now. I’m actually headed there tonight to go over music for the show, which should be exciting because they’re kind of taking a hard left turn this year.

 

O – Working with them for the past few years you must’ve seen a big upswing in their business and their profile.

 

TS – Yeah, totally. It’s cool, I actually think they’re at this weird place where they’re tired of being the darlings, and now they want to get into the grit of really challenging themselves, and making the stuff that’s what they always envisioned the company to be. I think they’ve proven themselves and now they’re really going to go for it.

 

O – Do you find yourself in a similar position at all? The point you’re at in your career trajectory now, are you looking to challenge yourself more than before?

 

TS – For sure, in a different way. For them, it almost seems like they’re going to play with more of the underground, now that they’ve gotten the accolades of the mainstream. Me, I feel like I’ve been in the underground, and want to break up into the mainstream.

 

O – How are you enjoying the major label treatment, insofar as you’re receiving it?

 

TS – It’s good, you know? I keep thinking it’s the honeymoon period, how long can it last, but I just get a genuine sense of support. My A&Rs are really great. I truly don’t feel any of the sleaziness that’s usually synonymous with major label dealings. Of course, where there is money there’s bound to be some asshole with a lot of power, but that’s exciting to me too. I’m kind of excited to see all of it go down, and be part of the whole big mess that is the music industry.

 

O – You recorded this album before you signed your new deal, so when you brought it to the label were they looking for any changes? Did they have anything they wanted to superimpose on it? 

 

TS – No, they really didn’t, it was surprising. I think it’s because I already had in my mind that I wanted to switch labels, before they came to me. So I feel like the music projected this bigness, kind of simplified, less self-aware and more confident, more spontaneous guilty pleasures.

 

O – It feels like you were courting them as much as they were courting you, like you plotted this one out.

 

TS – I was baiting, yeah. I think so. All of these things are subconscious. I couldn’t make music if the endgame was always getting more money, or just achieving the next thing. That’s part of it, but I couldn’t make it—I wouldn’t make it unless it had to do with me really trying to express something. But your desires get wrapped up in the music, and my desire to be in a different situation than I’ve been in for the last two years was really strong, and I think it filled the record. It worked, for what I needed it to do, in that sense, and I hope it works in terms of more people listening to the music. 

 

It’s totally pitch black, except for the headlight of my motorcycle playing off the headstones. I started feeling smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and smaller, just this tiny little dot in an ocean...

O –You’ve spoken about the songwriting and recording process taking place in a chapel in the Hollywood Forever cemetery?

 

TS – Yeah, it was actually the first building built on the property. I don’t remember the date, but I think it’s 1899 or something. I don’t know, it’s old. What’s funny is, I think after I left, some really rich LA guy actually bought the chapel, and it’s going to be his tomb.

 

O – Wow. That’s a move.

 

TS – Yeah, it’ll still be active. They’ll just chew up the stones and throw him underneath.

 

O – It’s a funny location, because when I heard about this chapel in a graveyard, it sounds so secluded and solitary, but then the fact that it’s a huge cemetery in the middle of LA, there’s obviously a lot going on around it. It was initially a place where you wanted to be fully alone, but eventually you ended up inviting people in. Who was coming by and working with you?

 

TS – At the beginning it really was just me. I moved in, I built the studio on my own. I think I literally just stayed up and set up the entire thing in forty-eight hours. I wanted to get going. So it started off very much me by myself. I’d ride my motorcycle to the cemetery late at night...

 

O – Sounds very cinematic.

 

TS – It is, the whole thing was surreal. That cemetery has very high walls that surround it, so once you drive in, you’re in. You’re confined. All you see at night is the silhouette of the Paramount lot, and all these gigantic palm trees, blowing in one direction, really lazy. It’s totally pitch black, except for the headlight of my motorcycle playing off the headstones. I started feeling smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and smaller, just this tiny little dot in an ocean, being in that environment. So I would just start having friends come by. 

My friend Adrian would come by on his motorcycle, my keyboard player was brave enough to ride her bike there, Dennis Herring, whose studio I ended up finishing the record at downtown, he would come by and listen to stuff, D’Angelo Lacy would come by and we would do sessions, and my friend James, she’s like the only person I know who loves to just sit down, say nothing, and listen to someone make music. So it was cool, the presence of another person became very important, and different for me because I usually can’t work if there’s anyone around. If somebody says something to me right when I’m in the middle of an idea I will lose it. Also, a really funny story, I’m hesitant to talk too much about it, because of the whole thing with people thinking my music sounds ‘80s, which I don’t agree with, but I was asked to help write some songs for Billy Idol’s record, and I actually spent a week in the cemetery with Billy Idol working on music, which was really fun. And really hilarious.

 

O – He rides a bike too, I’m sure.

 

TS – Yeah, a Triumph. We never went riding together, which I’ve got to bug him about. He’s kind of like me, he’s a solo guy.

 

O – Being in a cemetery of all places, in a chapel—do you consider yourself a spiritual or superstitious person at all?

 

TS – I’m definitely a paranoid person. Which I’ve started to realize, paranoia and superstition, there’s a fine line there, right? Just like religious and spiritual, there’s a fine line. It’s interesting, I in no way think of the cemetery as a symbol for any kind of spiritual awakening or awareness of death, or anything like that, but this record does have this kind of church vibe, a bigness, a kind of begging for faith. I don’t necessarily have faith yet, but I’m looking for something to believe in for sure. It’s funny because the last record was called Confess. It originally was supposed to be called Believe, but Justin Bieber’s record Believe came out, and I’m really glad that happened because I think I would have regretted naming mine Believe. It would’ve been a sarcastic statement, on that record. That record is very angry, it’s incredibly cynical, whereas this record is kind of the opposite. This is me trying to look over all that, and search for things that are more positive, things that are more tried and true. It’s weird, because at one point in my life I was religious, and spiritual. When I was a kid I was really on the Jesus train.

 

O – Were you raised in that sort of household?

 

TS – Not so much, but because my parents couldn’t afford to send us to regular summer camp, where you actually get to have fun and go waterskiing, I got to go to Christ camp, because it was free. That was in Florida, Nor th Carolina, Tennessee...

 

O – Serious God country.

 

TS – Exactly, so I got filled with it. What’s cool is that I think, because my family isn’t like that—my father grew up Jewish, my mother grew up Catholic, Dominican—because my parents weren’t that, when I turned the switch off on my faith it was really easy. It was literally as easy as turning off a light switch – “Oh, this is bullshit.” Now I’m more open again, I’m interested in what it means to believe in something. More so in a practical way, what is my daily practice, what are my rituals as a human being.

 

O – Your albums are called Forget, Confess, and now Eclipse. Forget seems like the most reckless, almost juvenile, just putting your issues behind you. Confess is more engaging with those issues, beginning to process them. Eclipse, as a verb especially, is finding and seeing those things that are bigger than you.

 

TS – I’m glad you said the verb thing, because I’ve been saying it all day, “Think of it as a verb.” Like, the passing of a phase, a phase that has a peak moment. Being conscious of the fact that we come into focus and we fall out of focus. Rather than on the first record trying to chase the perfect moment, the second record, trying to smash everything that I believed to be perfect but knew was bullshit. This, I guess, has a more mature theme, that there will be this apex, and that will pass, and there will be another apex, and that will pass. It’s cool, I think that’s why I’ve kept the theme of the one-word title, it helps me track my progression. I like the vagueness of it as well, it doesn’t have to be what I intend, it can be what a listener gets out of it.

 

O – You’ve said that your concept of the eclipse is related to your mother, and that the name Twin Shadow has to do with your twin sister. How has your relationship with them affected your relationship with women in general?

 

TS – It’s been really interesting, because I grew up with so much feminine energy around me. I grew up with three sisters, I’m the only brother. Each of the women in my family displays a very distinct characteristic of femininity, my mother truly being the mother hen, nurturing, protective, and simple in a lot of ways, but at the same time, the quiet genius. There’s my oldest sister, who loves being pampered, loves being taken care of, we call her the princess. Then there’s my sister Isabel, who went to an all-girl college, is into feminist theory, and at the same time she’s aggressively feminine, she goes after what she wants. My twin sister, she’s kind of got the wild card, she clicks through all of those different phases. So I’ve had this extraordinary experience with women, I think it’s given me an advantage in some ways, in dealing with women. I’m always careful to talk about it, but having an advantage also can give you power, which you can abuse very easily, which I fully admit to having done—not being abusive, I want to be sure that people understand that. But it can make you manipulative, understanding women so well. Ultimately it makes me way more appreciative. I certainly look to women and see them in a superior light. It seems to me like they have one foot ahead—as a generalization. Obviously I know a bunch of stupid girls. [laughs] But in general I’m more receptive to feminine energy.

 

O – A lot of the talk about you and your music focuses on ego, grappling with it, embracing it. Is ego a positive force?

 

TS – Ego can be an incredibly positive and productive thing. I think of it like a chemical. It’s like an embracement of ambition. It makes the world go round, and it’s the source of a lot of great ideas. You have to be able to control your ego, and box it in a little bit, contain it so that it’s not just flagrant, sparks flying around the room, catching something and burning the whole fucking house down.

 

O – I see ego as being tied in with the motorcycle too. It is powerful, efficient, a beautiful piece of engineering, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. It’s an egotistical vehicle.

 

TS – Yeah, somewhat. And from a physical standpoint it is the embodiment of very small things that together create explosiveness, which is then contained inside of all this metal, and controlled to propel you. God forgive us for using this analogy, but it really is true, you have to bottle up your ego. I’m glad you brought up ego, because a huge part of the whole eclipse thing for me, it really is about someone who seems less egotistical than you coming and blocking out this big egotistical view you have. They’re so small, but because they’re closer to you, in physical space, they’re actually blocking out everything else for one moment. That apex. For that moment your attention belongs to that one person, and that’s what this record is really about, these epic shifts happening, but then there’s calm inside of these moments where you realize that the people around you are so much more important than your ambitions, than your glowing ego. That we are nothing without the people we love.

 

O – It’s a fitting culmination for the progression of your records, that on this album, your biggest, and in some ways most self-aggrandizing, that you have these revelations about your ego.

 

TS – You heard it here first, this is the last Twin Shadow album! [laughs]

 

O – That’s it! You’ve reached the apex.

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