Beach House
UK Tour
March 2010
Interview: Steve Bateman

Born in Baltimore in 2004, Beach House take their primary musical cues from dream pop and shoegaze – the bedrock of their calming atmospheric rhythms and weightless starry sound. As a duo, Victoria Legrand (vocals / organ) and Alex Scally’s (guitar / keyboards) creative partnership could be likened to Yin and Yang coming together in unity, with Victoria also now embodying all of the vocal traits and qualities commonly associated with a classic chanteuse, for her husky voice has truly become traffic-stopping!

When asked by Pitchfork: ‘You’ve talked in the past about working within a set of self-imposed limitations. Did you feel the need to break out of that this time around?’ Alex answered: “It’s a lot of the same limitations. We try to write just with two instruments mostly and keep it really simple. And, actually, most of the same instruments for Devotion were used on this record. I think we just recorded and utilised them in a kind of drastically different manner.” And Victoria: “We were thinking about stripping things away and pushing them further. There was a kind of constant feeling of not settling for things that we may have done in the past. We pushed ourselves harder.”

Also obsessed with the pacing and the sequencing of tracks on a record (wanting a beginning, middle + end) and even thinking of their LPs as ‘families of songs’ or as mood-pieces. Notably, the autumnal hue, hazy reverb and lo-fi syrupy sound that soaks the band’s first two albums, Beach House and Devotion, was consciously toned-down for Teen Dream, making the music much crisper and the individual tones much brighter and almost gossamer-like.

The NME wrote: “They’ve made an absolutely magical record – the jagged edges of their past have been smoothed by the sea, making Teen Dream a soft shore gem in the crown of the great chronicles of youth.” DOA: “They’ve always been able to create music to pair with this feeling of nostalgia, but Beach House has somewhat, in a way, perfected their dream pop with Teen Dream, an album that flows like the beach and cascades with lush melodies, harmonies and fantastic gentleness.” And Clash: “Many have already been drawn into the melancholy whirlpools of their past two albums; yet more will surely be drawn by the warmer embrace of Legrand and Scally’s latest statement, a stronger, rhythmic definition offering a hand through the ether, beckoning the listener into their fluid tapestry.”

Signed to the brilliant Bella Union in the UK and the superb Sub Pop in the USA, with their third long player, Beach House have made an exquisite and incandescent record that will make a big impression on anyone who listens to it, and which you will want to return to time and time again! After a week-long run of shows in England supporting Grizzly Bear, I spoke to Alex over the telephone, about how Teen Dream is helping the group’s dreams come true…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.To begin with, have you been pleased with the response to Teen Dream and how do you feel before releasing new music – is it still exciting?
“Yeah, it is exciting and with Teen Dream, there’s nothing to be displeased about. For us, we’ve always been a really DIY band, very small labels, doing a lot of touring, not selling a lot of records – we’ve always done it because we like doing it! But for this record, there’s been more support than with our previous records, because people have liked it more. I think it also has to do with the fact that we’ve been touring so much and working so hard for so long! So, there’s absolutely nothing to be upset about with the reception that Teen Dream has received. There’s been good reviews and we’ve been playing great shows, people have been coming out, so we consider ourselves to be very lucky at this point in time!”

2.What are your memories of the band’s early years and has your outlook on The Music Industry now changed?
“My outlook on The Music Industry has changed since Beach House’s early years, but I wouldn’t say it’s changed for the better or worse (pausing), it’s just fascinating how everything is going. In some ways, it’s against artists because it’s harder to make money, but that’s almost kind of for the artist too, because I think that there are a lot of people out there working very hard and I think that’s good! I don’t think it should be easy for anybody.”

3.How long was it until you first felt that you had ‘found’ your audience, and did the success of your first couple of LPs give you more freedom to pursue the musical path that you wanted to?
“Yeah, definitely – it’s been very lucky for us! Our first records were received well, but not too well, so we were allowed to develop. We toured a lot and we learned a lot and we were able to grow and save-up some money, and then with that saved-up money, we went to a nice studio. So, it’s been a very steady growth and we couldn’t be more happy with how it’s been!”

4.Can you remember when you first felt that you were beginning to grasp the art of songwriting, and do you see a thread running through your lyrics?

“I think I do certain things very, very well and Victoria does certain things very, very well – and when we met, it was just really, really amazing! Because it seemed like all of the things that I couldn’t do, she could do, and all of the things that she doesn’t really do naturally, I kind of do naturally. So, I think if I were to write my own song, it wouldn’t be that great, I think it’s just working with her that makes it good – it’s kind of like a marriage of sorts you know? And hopefully, in most relationships, people bring out the best sides in each other. Victoria writes all of the lyrics, but the only common thread I see, is that she tends to write in a very interesting and abstract way. She just lets out whatever she feels and I think that’s really the thread that you could connect all 3 albums with. Her style is very much her own and I think she really writes from her heart.”

5.As you’re classically-trained musicians, how do you agree on the final sound of a song, if you’re both pulling in different directions?

“One thing that’s really lucky about us, is that we tend to always agree about everything aesthetically. When one of us thinks that something sounds good or looks good, generally, we both think so. So when we’re writing, it’s just kind of a fun process of putting out ideas and methodically working over them and waiting for the inspired points to emerge."

6.Your songs have a real mystique to them, but are you interested in rock ‘n’ roll mythology and the mystical / indefinable qualities that music can have + are there any records that you just love the overall atmosphere / sound of?
“I think my answer to the first part of the question would be yes. Because I think that Victoria’s and my aesthetic, the things we like and the things that we go after, are very much things that aren’t defined – they’re very abstract you know? Like very open sounds and very open feelings, something that’s not a song about one thing, like a love song about two people. They’re much larger and less defined. In terms of records that I love the overall atmosphere / sound of, I think a lot of great records have a feel that’s continuos throughout the whole listening experience. Recently, records that I’ve really liked for the feel of the actual overall sound, have been Washed Out – Life Of Leisure, and I know it’s more modern music, but The Walkmen’s last record, You & Me, has a great feel throughout the whole record. The sonic element of the record is really continuos and it doesn’t sound like a studio you know? I think that’s what I’m always interested in, is when a record has a real sound and it doesn’t just sound like people in a studio doing multi-track recording – it has an organic feel to it.”

7.Recently, some artists / groups have been going on ‘Reworked Tours’ whereby they reinterpret and rearrange songs from their back catalogue. Are there any bands that you would like to see do this?

“I tend to be of the opinion that when artists write a song, that it’s probably at the best point that it ever will be at – it doesn’t really get (pausing), I kind of think when someone’s written a song they should go on tour and play it and then stop playing it (laughing)! So, I don’t think I’d like to see anyone doing that. I always think it’s really sad when I go and see someone like Neil Young (pausing), well, I’ve never ever seen Neil Young, but you know, like an old artist and all they’re doing is playing their old songs – I think that’s really sad, because there’s no way that that could mean anything to them anymore. They wrote it 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 5 years ago… Or when you go and see a band and people just clap for ‘The Hits’, it’s kind of like that. I like when artists are playing new material.”
*I ask Alex if there are any musicians he would like to collaborate with in the future*
“I don’t know, I’ve always been so obsessed with what we’re doing, that I’ve never thought about collaborations.”

8.One of the most outstanding aspects of Beach House’s music, is Victoria’s extraordinary voice – but which other vocalists do you find inspiring?
“Singers? I mean that’s kind of my favourite thing about music, is the voice. There are a million singers who I think are great; I really love John Lennon’s voice, I really like Kim Deal’s voice, I really like Phil Lynott’s voice – I’ve been really into his voice lately, there’s almost a kind of hidden emotion in there, but it’s over this cheesy rock thing, which is kind of awesome (laughing)! It’s really endless – I think there are many, many great voices!”

9.Have you had any personal highlights / spine-tingling moments during your career so far?
“Um (long pause + thinking), there’s just been a lot of really good shows along the way, a lot of great little moments you know? We’ve met a lot of wonderful people and I think the main thing about touring that’s so wonderful, is meeting all of the various people and seeing the different places. It’s all very transient, so I would say there are too many personal highlights / spine-tingling moments to count.”

10.Do you enjoy the promo side of things – photo shoots, making videos, interviews etc. + do you read your own press / has there ever been an opinion that you didn’t agree with to begin with, but now do?

“I like the things that feel creative, and I think photo shoots, videos and interviews, can all be really creative, but then all of those things can also be really banal and soulless. It’s like everything – like touring too. I think touring can be really inspiring, but then it can get to a point where it’s very soulless. So, I think anything in the world of creativity, can be very good or very bad. We do read our own press, like if it’s for something big, like a big magazine you know, something like that. But, I always find it quite odd, because the thing is, I think everyone listens to music so differently, that of course we’re not going to really understand or agree with a lot of reviews. We both take it with a grain of salt and we don’t really care what people say. So I would say no, there hasn’t ever been an opinion that we didn’t agree with to begin with, but now do.”

11.As you’ve now established yourselves as a formidable two-piece, who do you consider to be among some of the great duos of all-time?
“Great duos? Oh, The Vaselines (without any hesitation) – they’re a pretty great duo (long pause + thinking)… I’m having a hard time thinking of other duos now (laughing)… Hall & Oates, they’re pretty sweet (laughing)!”

12.Your songs are very melodic with lots of dreamy harmonies and have been described as both “uplifting and heartbreaking.” But from all of your favourite music, which melodies and harmonies instantly spring to mind?
“Well, I’m pretty obsessed with Fleetwood Mac, I love their harmonies and the way they tend to do it, is to have a wall of sound, where distant harmonies sound really giant and spaced out – I love that kind of harmony. As far as melodies go, I just feel like there are infinite good melodies made all of the time, but I think that some of my favourite melody makers were all of the really early ones, like early pop melody writers, such as The Beatles, The Zombies, The Beach Boys, the girl groups… I think those melodies are unbelievably inspiring and they somehow never get old!”

13.How is your current tour treating you and is there anything that you always carry with you on the road?
“(laughing) Not really, we’ve been trying to eat a lot of fruit and drink a lot of water though, so we can stay healthy! But the tour’s been great – this is kind of our first tour in Europe where lots of people have been at the shows, so it’s been a blast and we’ve been sort of getting to know all of these different cultures, trying to understand them and see what each little country sees in our music. So, it’s been really good, definitely no complaints and we’re looking forward to the Summer Festivals too!”

14.If you could own a beach house on any beach in the world, where would it be and why?
“Well, I don’t really like vacations, so I would probably choose a beach that had a studio (laughing)! Maybe it would be somewhere cold like Maine, or I really liked Brighton – Brighton is very beautiful. I think it would be a cold beach that was near a lot of people, because I like cities.”

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“Oh, I think I’d go for savoury (laughing), so chips!”

A very special thanks to Alex and to Luke @ Bella Union, for all of their time and help.

“We were sleeping ‘til you came along”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?