Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Interview: Beach House
This interview appears in this week's Wireless Bollinger.
“I didn’t know what blogs were when our record came out,” says Alex Scally, one half of Baltimore-based duo Beach House.
Scally found out only after the band’s self-titled debut album caught on, receiving online praise and finishing at number 16 on Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2006 list. With Victoria Legrand on vocals and organ, Beach House creates woozy, ethereal dream pop. Their sophomore album, entitled Devotion, will be released on February 26th.
The band recorded Devotion at Lord Baltimore Recording, the site of their first album’s creation. While the process was similar, the band benefited from previous experience, as well as additional time in the studio. That’s not to say it wasn’t entirely stress-free.
“Recording is a strange version of performing. You’re just hearing yourself constantly. Recording is nerve wracking, battling one’s own perfectionism and all that garbage. That can be really intense, but it’s worth it. I liked recording but I prefer writing and performing [live],” says Legrand.
The writing process seems comparably less intense, as the duo builds songs with aesthetics in mind, an organic process that is less about meaning and more about mood.
“One of us will have some chords or just a general melody and we’ll let it grow, play it and follow where it goes. Melody is at the core, it’s how it starts. The keyboard is probably the center of all the sounds, and it grows from that,” says Scally.
Although Legrand’s singing blends seamlessly with the band’s instrumentals, she considers Devotion a vocal evolution. “It has much more of a powerful presence,” she says.
Lyrics also became more of a focus. “They were very sparse on the first, and when I was writing out the lyrics [on the new record] there were many pages of words. I was very surprised. I felt like I had written some sort of story,” says Legrand. But she says the inspiration is unclear. “It’s some snippets from here and there, but it’s all meshed together, I can’t really say that it’s one particular thing. In the end it’s just a big journey, I think, of some sort.”
One definitive journey is the band’s continuous touring. In an effort to transition into a live setup, Beach House has enlisted opener Papercuts’ Jason Quever to play percussion on their upcoming spring tour. He provides “small sounds, accents, dynamics, things that are on the record already,” says Scally. The band also recently toured Europe, an experience that left them somewhat burnt out. “When you’re a new band, people aren’t as excited about you yet. You’re in a different country each day, and everybody is really different in each country. You’re just more distant,” says Scally.
Difficulties aside, there’s at least one good reason to hope that Beach House can break out in Europe. Legrand was born in Paris, and studied theatre at the International School of Jacques Lecoq. She was classically trained in piano from the age of 7, but eventually decided to pursue independence. “I would have more control making my own music, and being my own director,” she says.
She ended up in Baltimore through a friend who was also a musician.
“In the last two years there’s been a lot of attention on Baltimore for various things like Wham City, but that’s just a small gbeach_house_1_300roup of people,” says Legrand, alluding to the collective that includes Dan Deacon. She became involved in various other bands, but “nothing ever too serious,” before forming Beach House with Scally, a lifelong Baltimore resident, in 2005.
Thus, Beach House, the most committed project the two have worked on. But for such an involvement, Legrand is pragmatic when it comes to the current state of the music industry.
“When you have a record that leaks, for a moment it feels bad. It feels like something that you worked so hard on, it’s there and everyone can say something about it. It feels unfair, but in this era, information is going around constantly and you have to accept that,” says Legrand.
The benefit of such a fluid environment is that bands as independent as Beach House can flourish, thanks to an active, wired musical audience. Although the Legrand and Scally have second jobs as a bartender and carpenter, respectively, they’ve had success as a band.
“It’s nice when what you do supports you. It’s validated, it’s a real thing. The culture you’re in has to respect that art is a way of life for a lot of people,” says Legrand.
Scally compares music’s value to his preferred form of media.
“I really like vinyl because it’s really special. It’s big and the artwork is big and you can hold it in your hand and it gives you something real. Ideally, it’d be cool if people felt that way about music, where they owned it and possessed it and really loved it,” says Scally, who cites the Beatles as an influence.
When contemplating such huge success, Legrand notes the obvious perks, but reconsiders.
“I would kind of be surprised if we got to that level. I think it’s two of us and I think it’ll always be down to earth, hopefully,” she says.
Thanks to Alex, Victoria, and Ash for setting this up. Beach House plays at the Bowery Ballroom on April 2nd.
MP3: Beach House - Gila
MP3: Beach House - Master of None
MySpace: Beach House
Official Site: Beach House