Brooklyn’s George Lewis Jr. released his first album as Twin Shadow, Forget, in 2010; its washed-out production and indebtedness to atmospheric new-wave pop got it lumped in with the emergent chillwave scene, though Lewis’s R&B leanings and mannered image made the label an uneasy fit. Recently 4AD, the label that picked up Forget from Terrible Records (run by Grizzly Bear multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, who also produced the album), released its follow-up, Confess. Inspired in part by a vintage motorcycle Lewis owns, Confess is more confident and fleshed out, and lives up to the frequent comparisons he’s attracted to Prince and Depeche Mode.
Lewis was interviewed for this week’s Artist on Artist by Kyle Leuck, a fixture on the artsier wing of Chicago’s dance-music scene for years before transitioning from club kid to performer and adopting the stage name Yoko Homo. His music is full of allusions to David Bowie’s Berlin phase, Morrissey’s swoony side, and Giorgio Moroder’s beats. Recently Leuck completed his first serious tour, and fittingly (in light of his influences) it took him across Europe. —Miles Raymer
My music project is called Yoko Homo, and I definitely know your music and have been listening to it a lot lately. So when I was asked to do this interview I was really excited. Well, thank you. I apologize because I’ve only heard your name but don’t know the music.
I feel like you’re a little bit further along in your music career than me, for sure. Do you have any day job unrelated to your passion for music, or do you make your living off being an artist? I’ve been making enough money to live off music for like four years now. I actually was making money off music before Twin Shadow, but I kind of considered it a day job because I didn’t really love it. I composed music for a dance company—that was my day job.
That’s awesome. I’ve enjoyed all forms of performance since I was little, so that’s really cool. Did you dance as well ever, or just compose the music? When I was a kid my parents used to make me take dance lessons with my sisters. I grew up with three sisters who were all dancers and still are, so it was just kind of around me all the time.
Have you always felt like you were supposed to be a musical performer, or is that just something you fell into just by being a part of the arts your whole life? I fell in love with Boyz II Men when I was a kid. I remember the moment they sang the national anthem for some important baseball game and I realized that that was more interesting to me than the entire baseball game. That was kind of the moment where I was like, “This is what I need to do.”
I definitely felt the same way. I’ve been performing ever since I was little, but I’ve still always had a day job that wasn’t my passion. I cut hair by day, music man by night, so I’m working on it. Will you cut my hair when I get to Chicago?
You’re doing Lollapalooza, right? Right. Maybe you can give me a haircut when I get there.
That’d be awesome. So I remember reading that you weren’t a classically trained musician, right? You’re kind of self-taught. Yeah, I’m self-taught.
That’s awesome. I’m kind of the same way. I was in a band doing percussion in grade school and I had some piano lessons from my grandma, but besides that I taught myself. Have you read that book This Is Your Brain on Music? It’s written by a neurologist/musician, and he talks about how if you’re taught any music as a child it kind of wires your brain so you’re always in touch with it if you go back at a later age. I thought that was really cool. You should check out that book. It has a ton of really interesting stuff about music and how our brains react to it. So were there a lot of obstacles you had to overcome in getting your music career to where it is? Certainly. I mean playing instruments was never a challenge for me. It always came pretty easy. It just seemed like something I was supposed to do. I learned how to play the saxophone really early on; I just taught myself that. The real obstacles were, like, how to put your personality into the music or how to connect to the actual “you” and expressing that through music. That took a long time to figure out, I think, for me. Those were really huge obstacles.
I definitely feel like that as well, about putting yourself out there. I mean, I make art for myself, but I feel like there is this whole energy cycle where you put it out there to the audience and they give you back energy and it kind of goes in this circle of life. So it’s kind of scary for me when I put that music out there myself. It’s like I’m birthing this child and everyone is going to judge it. I think that’s definitely an obstacle as well. I don’t have that problem, really. I understand that problem, but my feeling is that if you’re really honest about what you do and you put all of yourself into it, it’s just like walking into a room and meeting people. If you’re shy, people are going to see you as shy. If you’re cocky and overconfident, people are going to read that as not attractive. But if you’re charming and you’re honest and you speak your mind, I think that’s always very inviting. It’s the same thing with music.
I definitely feel like I’m this different person once I’m onstage, this completely different person. It’s a weird thing. It’s kind of like becoming a superhero. Maybe that sounds stupid, but that’s kind of what it feels like. I don’t feel like I’m the same person as I am when I’m having doubts about myself. Right when I’m onstage or recording or performing, I become this very confident person. I think the music does that for me. Oh, I see. Certainly I become more confident as well when I’m playing music, and I think that’s because it’s the best of you—it’s the essence of you.
So Twin Shadow is essentially a solo project, but you work with other people in the studio and when you’re performing. Was it hard finding other artists who were interested in bringing your vision to life as opposed to being a band with equal creative input? It’s not really that hard to find people who are interested in helping me, I guess, but I don’t really seek that out very much. I’ve worked a bunch with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear and I’ve worked with my keyboard player, so it’s pretty much exclusively been those two people.
I think I was thinking more of like when you’re playing live and have to get a live band to share your vision. How did you go about that? Was it just friends or did you hire them? I hire musicians who are, like, cool guys, cool girls. I wouldn’t say that I have a session band—it’s people who I hang out with, not people who I know through music. What’s cool is when you have good musicians—and I think my band is some of the greatest musicians out there right now, and I’m really lucky to have them. I think when you have great musicians, it’s not that hard to get your thing across. It’s a matter of how disciplined you are to make sure everyone is playing the right thing.
I find it hard to find people who want to play my music instead of making new music with me. That’s kind of what my issue has been so far, but I’m slowly building a band. Everyone wants to be a star.
Yeah, exactly. So do you feel like being more in sort of a media spotlight or having a big fan base makes you more confident with human connections, or do you ever feel less able to relate to others because of it? I don’t know if that affects you at all. I think that stereotype is true, where the more attention you get publicly the more private you become.
Really? I think so. You have to become more lonely in a way to balance it all out.
That makes sense.