Beach House interview: “Uh oh, trouble…”

04.01.10 Words by: Charlie Jones

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand are BEACH HOUSE. Over the past five years their union has produced of two of the most quietly magnificent albums of the past decade, carefully crafting the kind of dream pop that causes hearts to soar and tears to fall. Since the couple came together in 2004, their own very personal experiences have united, conspired and morphed into a collective vision that could trick anyone into thinking that they’ve lived one life, and taken cues from the same pain. Yet theirs is the kind of “musical chemistry” that has benefited from two separate understandings of where they are from, to now direct where they are going.

The pair released their first two full lengths on independent labels, supporting the organic side of the music industry, but have now made the move to the hallowed Sub Pop to release ‘Teen Dream’ the third instalment in Beach House’s emotional journey.

I met up with the band the night before their intimate performance in the Fleapit on Columbia Road to discuss the new album and learn a bit more about who they are. You can guarantee that most music gives at least a slight indication of the type of people who have created it, but Legrand and Scally surprised me with their openness and a playful attitude in relaying what they thought and what they wanted. So, we talked about them separating themselves from their lo-fi roots, making moves to realise a dream beyond the niche that their music is sometimes jarred into, and trying to create a feeling across the record that was derived from one song…and crocs!

I like to think of Beach House as a little world that always existed that we are all getting allowed to take a peek at now – but you guys only met about 6 years ago, didn’t you? How did you meet?

Victoria: Yeah, we met through a friend of mine that I played music with, and pretty much ever since then it’s been a very natural, easy connection that I made. Alex and I have a musical chemistry that I’ve never found with someone else. So, it’s just been like that since the beginning.

You’re originally from France, right?

Victoria: Well, I’d been living in Paris, but basically I’ve grown up in America. I was born in Paris, but I’m pretty American.

Alex: You’re pretty French too…

V: I’m also pretty French too. Half and half. So, I was in Paris and I decided to come to Baltimore…kinda a twist of fate, I guess.

Me, myself, I consider Beach House to be quite a dark project, existing at night almost, so the name Beach House doesn’t really fit with me…I was just wondering why you chose it?

V: It’s just a name. it’s not necessarily about the “beach” or about some “house” somewhere…I think it’s more of what you make of it I guess.

A: I think our heads it was very abstract, it was never meant to be a literal thing. So, it’s kinda more of a place where our music exists, but its not where we are. It’s a very wide open group of words…

V: Like ‘Teen Dream’.

What was your reaction when you heard Sub Pop were interested in signing you?

V: Umm, I mean, it’s always flattering to feel that someone wants you to be part of their family, but oddly enough we’ve sort of, since our first record, kind of knew that Sub Pop liked our music…so, it didn’t feel very out of the blue…

A: They were kinda just lying back and waiting till they knew it would be financially stable haha…you need to go out and tour and play music and get better, you know? It was very natural.

It wasn’t a hard decision to make to sign with them?

A: It was odd because we’re really into independent labels, but they are borderline not independent …

V: But they still are…

A: They still are, but they’re half not. They’re half owned by Warner.

As is the case with most labels now…

A: As is the case with most labels, yeah. Especially, in Britain where the indies are kinda all gone or taken over and cared for by an umbrella company. We were on this cool, really independent label, but we weren’t able to realise enough of our visions with the way we were working – we didn’t have enough people to help us. This record we got to record it just the way we wanted too, we’ve got this DVD project. So, we’re really happy that we had a vision and we did it, and I think that part of that has to do with being with Sub Pop, you know? They really helped it happen.

I heard about the DVD thing, being released with the CD, and it includes videos for all of the songs, right?

V: Yeah. They’re not music videos, but they are artists interpretations of the songs.

What sort of artists were you working with?

V: Local artists from Baltimore, who do like really amazing video work, and then we had like Kevin Drew and Sean Pecknold, who did like Fleet Foxes video, and who is Robin from Fleet Foxes brother – so it’s a variety of people.

A: We didn’t really seek out any artists, people we didn’t know…it was all kinda various tentacles of our musical and artistic family…there’s a big art scene in Baltimore, and it spreads from there. We didn’t find directors, and also, we didn’t have much money so we didn’t have to option to find them…we didn’t have the budget to make each one a giant production but it’s amazing how it came out.

What else is your creative vision going to extend to?

A: We’ll see. We’re getting really obsessed with, and I don’t want to cheese-out on this, but I think our live show is going to become a lot more of a production. When we are able to do that, we’re able to play much better and we’re able to create a vibe more. Whichever way we begin to understand, I mean we already have ideas, but we’re going to begin to understand how to translate our music to people more and more…and hopefully, it will be exciting.

The visual aspect is something you’re going to be working on then?

V: We’re just very visual people, so it just seems really natural. We are going to be getting the means to do it more, so they’ll be happening more…you’ve had the dreams, you’ve always had them, but now you’ve got like the potential to make them happen.

A: Hopefully, for us, it’s only a matter of time before we get to work with some directors and some cool soundtrack can happen…so, any directors that are ready this, call me not Victoria [laughs].

Baltimore was the setting for the first two albums and for you writing your new record. It’s meant to be pretty dangerous there isn’t it? Which is a heavy contrast to the music that you make…were you aware of the contrast when you were making the music for Beach House?

V: You don’t think about politics or the world when you’re in creativeland… if it comes out then it’s more from the subconscious. More than anything, more than what it actually is as a city, it’s been a place that we can afford to live in, can make music, can make ‘Teen Dream’, can find a practise space that is totally affordable that you wouldn’t be able to find in any other major city, because it’s huge and not expensive…

A: It’s a dangerous place, but none of that really reaches our world…that’s amongst people in the crime world…for us it’s just a place where you can have a massive practise space, where you’re imagination can kinda run free.

Do you shut yourself off? I mean, is it just the two of your when you’re practising?

V: When we are playing live we have two drummers that tour with us on and off…so, for the writing it’s definitely just us. We spend a lot of time together.

This record sounds a lot louder, with more heavy percussion…Was that intentional? Were you listening to anything different this time around?

A: A lot of the development of it has to do with touring so much last year and having our old songs and wanting them to grow and become bigger than they were…to encompass more feeling and more sound. The way this record sounds, it’s just so much more…after touring for so long, we just wanted to make songs that felt amazing live…

I think that listening to the records through, I think that Devotion was much more of an intimate experience…

V: I think that there’s a different life and energy in this new record…it still has darkness in it…darkness, obsession all things like that…it just has a little less reverb. It’s just more…I think you can just feel us more, you know? And that’s the thing that touring has given us, like he said. It’s just like, you tour and you have things revealed unto you and as you reveal things unto other people, you just to start to learn so much more about everything. It’s cool.

What do you think was the influence of Chris Coady on the record?

V: He’s awesome to work with…

A: We’d written all the songs 100% before we got to the studio. Every single part, every sound, even down to the shaker part…we felt as though we’d finished the entire record before we got there. So, his job was to, he has a tonne of experience…his job was to use these amazing microphones that this place had, and this amazing sound board, and help us record every sound just the way that we imagined it. He did that, but he also did something that I realised later, which was so amazing, he helped control the takes and work us into just the right energy for the songs. He has such a good sense, and really understood each song…he made me do like 25 takes on some songs, just pushing me towards the right feeling, and I don’t think that either of us had worked with someone that skilled before. I was really wonderful.

V: We were also allowed to be crazy because we all share the similar level of insanity.

A: We don’t ever want to work with anybody who is straight-minded…he has a really crazy mind and he’s always ready to try something new, and open up…

So, you had kind of a collective vision for the album?

V: The vision was safe with him. The vision was…

A: He was always ready to understand where you were going and didn’t try and put his stamp on it, the way that I imagined a lot of producers are, in that they always want it to sound like them.

I read in an interview that you’re a Gemini Victoria…

V: I’m a Gemini, yeah. Are you a Gemini?

Yeah, I am.

V: When’s your birthday? I’m May 28th

May 27th.

V: No! It isn’t?

A: Uh oh, trouble…

  • ..And that you believe in duality and that ‘Devotion’ had “two sides.” Do you feel the same about ‘Teen Dream’?*

V: Well, the two sides being the ‘light’ and the ‘dark’. I think that ‘Teen Dream’ doesn’t have sides, I think that ‘Teen Dream’ is more of a spectrum…it’s fluid, do you what I mean? It’s got fire and water, and I think that it has bigger things to it than just one or two sides. It’s not monotone to me in any way. Each song…it’s not like a concept album, where they’re all connected, but they’re connected in the way that like minerals are in a pile on the beach…they’re all related because they’re all on the beach. They’re all part of ‘Teen Dream’…there’s duality in everything, but I think that this has a wide range of like colours and feelings. I think that’s what makes it more tangible.

What were you listening to, out of interest, when you were recording ‘Teen Dream’? Do you listen to music to get inspiration from other places?

V: We don’t listen to music to get inspiration…music is just something that you fall in love with. We both fall in love with a song at a time. Never just a whole record.

A: I’m actually looking forward to a time, maybe it’ll be this winter…I’ve actually been shut off from music a bit, maybe because we’ve just been so focused on our thing. But I remember having this one vision, we were both having this same vision, you know the song by Jimmy Ruffin called What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted ? I was obsessed with having that feeling, not that sound, but that feeling and that ‘Teen Dream’ would have that feeling. I would play it to Chris Coady and be like “this is the feeling!” And it’s kinda a crazy feeling of you don’t want to stand still, and he saying the saddest things, but it’s almost triumphant. It’s like a really confusing feeling where you feel sad, you feel happy, you feel like ruined, but you also…I think I was obsessed with that kinda multifaceted thing, like she was just talking about with the record not being one-sided…I was obsessed with that song for months.

V: I think with ‘Devotion’ it’s like all of it was under the surface, and what he was describing with that song, what it is is an incredible physical evasion of something that is extremely turbulent and internal. I think that we were really trying to do with this record is physically build these big things out of these feelings that we’ve always had, and always will have, which is like a depth, like an internal, deep layer of raw energy or emotion. We wanted to get that energy out, and so we feel in that song that it’s complicated, emotional stuff, but it’s intense and you feel it really physically. Do you know what I mean? Wanting to dance, but not being able to is part of that, you know? The music is literally doing something to your body…

A: It’s less one dimensional, like we got really good at writing those one dimensional songs, but we just became a bit bored with it…

Do you think that the songs on ‘Devotion’ are one-dimensional? I don’t think they are…

V: No, not for us as writers…

A: It’s not that they’re one dimensional…

V: One colour…

A: One colour…it’s not that they only have one feeling, but they’re always kinda one colour. They always stay in the same place. We wanted to make songs that have a real tonne of movement in them, like they’re spiralling and churning and full of life. Life has been a big word for us in these interviews.

What’s your favourite song on the record? Is there one song that means more to you than the others?

V: I really like Silver Soul or Take Care … I love them all. Go little children!

You mentioned after you had finished ‘Devotion’ that your perspective had changed since the first album – do you think it’s altered again for ‘Teen Dream’? What kind of place were you in for this record?

A: Yeah, yeah, I think it’s growing constantly. I mean, we are touring constantly, we are writing constantly…hopefully that will continue to happen and no two records will be the same. We are evolving, we are becoming better artists, more focused. We’re honing our skills. It’s definitely a very different album, otherwise it would be boring as hell for us and probably for everyone else too. Every artist evolves, or there’s something wrong…

V: Or you stop…

A: Or you stop.

Do you think that there’s a particular place that you’re both in, personally, for this album?

V: If you call planetary suspension a place…cut off of all ties to the ground.

A: I think that we were both very excited about how…we were lucky enough to have a very amazing chemistry together and I think that we were both insanely excited about what we were making, so it brought us in more. We would start work on a song, and it was getting really intense, but we were like “we can keep making this better and keep making this feeling happen” and it kinda begged us to go further into it and spend more time on it. It’s kinda a gravity or suction or whatever…

V: We are just slaves to it. Slaves to the things that we make.

A: It’s just more interesting than anything in the world to us right now…

V: Marriage, for me, not interesting right now.

Do you think it ever will be interesting?

V: I’m not adverse to any idea really…except for Crocs.

A: We just got a huge Croc endorsement deal. We are going to be making millions.

What colour have you decided to go with?

A: Pink.

Preorder ‘Teen Dreams’ now. It’s out on the 25th of January.

BEACH HOUSE’s myspace

If you like hearbreaking melody, you’ll probably like this band called GIRLS.