Posted by CHRIS on March 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM
“Baltimore? Nobody wanna live there.” – Victoria Legrand
Strange but true: I just realized that I have never written anything about Beach House. No reviews. No articles. Nothing. Yet, ever since Victoria Legrand and the well-spoken multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally released Devotion, their sophomore album, I have constantly mentioned them in blog posts and conversations. It has become almost an obsession of mine. Things such as her incredible timbre–how any man would be scared of her, that dream-like quality blended with a snotty Bmore attitude, her working with Grizzly Bear and so forth. And speaking of obsessions: Teen Dream, album #3 and their first to drop on Sub Pop, is something to obsess over. It is clearly a Beach House album–an obvious contestant for album of the year for 2010, and clearly some next level stuff. The reverb is gone; the haziness was swept away, and replaced by massively dense layers of gargantuan grandness. It is Beach House with superpowers. In fact, there is even a monstrously gorgeous ballad, “Real Love” which just kills you and makes Lady V sound ever more frightening. We were lucky enough to finally meet them to discuss didgeridoos, self-baking cakes, and other people’s trash.
How does it feel to be in the land of small coffees, as you called Germany on your Twitter?
Victoria: It feels really good.
Alex: Oh, I wrote that one. You know in America everything is grossly huge, but one of the only things that I like being huge is the coffee. You can get 20 ounces, and you have a huge hot drink for fifteen minutes, and once you’ve done one of those coffees, your brain and your body just explodes.
V: So if you’re an addict it’s really good.
A: Right, and I’m a caffeine addict.
V: I’m not a big coffee person, so the German size is cool, because I can’t handle the caffeine.
You’ve been one of the most blogged-about topics on Hype Machine and so on for the past two weeks or so… How does it feel?
A: I don’t really know what that means. I keep thinking that it’s really flattering that the blogs are interested in our new album, or maybe that’s just because it just leaked.
Oh, it already leaked?
V: Yeah, that’s why it’s huge on Hype Machine.
A: So I think it’s flattering but I also think that only a small part of the world is hyperactive blogs, you know?
Yeah, I guess so. But I also guess being featured on more and more blogs also means that you guys do more and more interviews. And since you once said that you never really know the answers to all the questions you’re being asked, so that you basically learn new things about yourself every time you sit down to chat for an interview. I wondered: do interviews work like some kind of lessons in self-perception for you?
V: I think sometimes it forces sort of an unnatural perspective of yourself because it feels egotistical… I mean, the questions are never like that, it’s not awful to talk about what you do and it’s nice to share with people, but I think when you go back, like “Why did I do…”
A: It often feels to me like why would anyone care? I don’t know if I would care about what we have to say. We’re musicians, you know, not authors or public speakers…
V: It’s all part of our job though.
A: Still I’m glad that y’all would like to talk with us for this beautiful magazine, but we’re just musicians, we’re just people and we don’t have this grand perspective or knowledge or anything.
continue reading on the next page
But isn’t this approach of not knowing and then finding out as you go along also comparable to what you do when you come up with new music?
V: Yeah, you’ve done the record and when you talk to people you get new information because you get to hear their interpretations of it, so everything starts to change meaning–so that’s something to look forward to. They’re not ours anymore. It’s yours.
How has your perception of the first two albums changed over the past years?
A: I think it’s like she was just saying: when people come up to us and talk to us after shows or when we do interviews, we get to constantly learn these new ways in which our music is being interpreted. And I think all that seeps into our psyche a little bit, so that’s maybe one of the reasons why we were obsessed with making all of the new songs giant. Like really epic, containing tons of energy, feeling and being multi-colored. Maybe that has something to do with it.
Yet, what exactly did people say that in turn triggered this urge to create vast songs?
A: Well, I don’t think it works like: A plus B equals C. It’s more just what we did, we weren’t thinking about it so directly.
V: Whenever you do something it’s just very natural that you want to go further. After two records we just didn’t want to make another heavily reverbed record. We wanted something that had life and movement and dynamic. A lot of bands will just do the same thing on every record, and they don’t change the envelope because… I don’t know, maybe their audience doesn’t want them to change.
A: I think that the constant influence of people talking about how the music relates to their lives probably did help us to see it as grander, larger, more meaningful, and representing a greater part of the emotional spectrum than just this one thing. I feel like our earlier stuff was more monochromatic.
I totally agree, though the new album still sounds like a Beach House record.
V: That’s because we don’t do things we don’t like. We give a lot of freedom to ourselves when we’re writing, but we also just know when it’s right. That’s very much like how we roll. How we roll!
Did you work with anyone else when it came to recording the album?
A: Yeah, we worked with someone named Chris Coady who has been the engineer on a lot of records and has only in the last three years started producing himself; being the one to tell the band to do another take instead of just turning all the knobs. He has a ton of experience and he really helped us. I think we really made this conscious decision that we wanted to move a way from reverb, because reverb is a way of hiding. He really helped us get this three-dimensional, giant sound without giving anything up. Like, we wanted to use this one organ that had all this bass in it, and then we wanted to use this other thing that had all this bass in it. Rather than going, “Well, you can’t have all this bass because you won’t be able to hear what’s going on”, we worked together and found ways to fit it all into the sonic spectrum. It was recorded on this massive sound board, and I’m just blown away when I listen to it, how you can hear eight distinct sounds so clearly at the same time–it’s like unnatural but really beautiful. He really helped us to achieve what we were already hearing in our minds.
Though more so on the older records, but I’d say that there’s still this feeling of nostalgia to be found in your music. Are you nostalgic?
V: I don’t like this topic.
A: Victoria hates nostalgia.
V: I don’t like the past. I find it kind of revolting. People are totally obsessed with what was… And I’m not saying that you’re revolting.
Well, I like nostalgia, so if I hear it in your music that’s a good thing, really.
V: I was going to say: I think it’s your nostalgia for the first two records, and that is what makes you feel like that. But to answer your question: no. Maybe my voice just sounds like that. So I’m screwed.
You could try Auto-Tune, it’s the future.
A: I think the reason why people always say that is because maybe in our songs she’s working herself through her own past. Working on something is a way to get beyond the past so you don’t have to deal with it anymore.
…Unless you decide to put it out as an album.
V: Yeah, I like that.
continue reading on the next page
Speaking of the past, you’ve known each other for, what, 5-6 years now?
A: Yeah, but it feels like many lifetimes.
What I wanted to ask: even though your new album sounds different from the earlier ones, but still you already had a “sound” when you dropped the first one–how did that “sound” come about in the first place?
V: It was innocent.
A: Ultimately what it is, it’s instruments that we both had, like these kind of organs that we’d find in thrift-stores that we both loved. I’d been infatuated with them since before I met Victoria: I owned a few, played them all the time, made a lot of recordings with them. Victoria had a few organs herself. She’s a trained piano player, and I think when we got together and we first started making music together, it was with her voice and with these organs that I had. And so naturally those forces just blended right off the bat. We wrote our first record in a matter of two months after just having met each other and recorded it. And that’s how we’ve always written, you know, we’ve gotten together with some instruments, and we’ve done it three times now. It happened really, really quickly and really, really naturally.
V: Kinda freaky.
So, if someone gave you a bunch of different instruments, would that lead to a totally different sound?
A: I think so.
V: Well, not a didgeridoo, but…
A: We would find a way of adapting them to our taste, but it’s a very musical dynamic, her voice, it’s like a conversation between…
V: Brains. Brains, hands, voices.
A: Like Victoria has some chords, I start to write some music to it, she keeps writing more lyrics and she writes some music to it, then I come in–so it’s like a back and forth kind of thing. Every song is written over the course of five to ten sessions.
V: It’s like a cake that bakes itself.
A: It’s always about making these things get huge without losing the thing that was right at the beginning.
How big of an influence is Baltimore? I talked to Cex, Rjyan Kidwell about seven years ago, and he said the city was so bad it basically forced you to be really creative. On the other hand a lot things have changed since, and I guess it’s not such a shitty place anymore…
A: It’s still pretty shit. Still I’d put it like this: you can be extremely creative because it’s so easy to get by financially.
V: And there’s no distractions. It’s no hot spot where you need to go out all the time.
A: It’s not like New York where you can go out any night of the week and meet all these interesting, attractive people–there’s no one like that in Baltimore. You have to create all the stimulation yourself, so I can see Rjyan saying it in that way.
V: As for a direct influence on our sound, I don’t see it though.
A: That only applies to certain parts of the world: California, the South…
V: Dark Metal.
A: But Baltimore is not like that.
V: If anything, there’s so much character in Baltimore, and there’s so much violent stuff that it just built a crazy collection of things… That’s why there’s so much variety to the music, because it doesn’t need to make any sense because the city doesn’t make any sense.
A: Are you into John Waters?
A: Yeah, I think his reaction to Baltimore is really awesome: He was just like “all this shit that doesn’t make sense, that’s so ugly is quite beautiful.” That was his reaction to Baltimore. And all of the things we love are trash. All of our instruments and our clothing, everything we buy is other people’s trash. And we love it.
V: That’s totally true.
A: So in that way Baltimore is influential on our music. You know, our practice space, if it was broken into, for us we would lose millions of dollars of love and pain–and it would be the worst feeling. But if we went to an insurance person he’d go: “This is $4,000 of stuff you guys lost,” just because it’s all trash.
V: I was gonna say $800.
A: I once tried to count how much money we’ve spent, and we have like a million instruments and organs everywhere, but it was laughable: “that one was like 25 bucks, that was maybe 70…” But for us they are the most amazing things in the entire world.
V: What is value?
continue reading on the next page
Right. Another thing and coming back to nostalgia: the title of the new album sounds like nostalgia too.
V: Yeah, I know what you mean, but it’s more like an ode.
A: It can also be a mission statement, like a call to arms of sorts.
V: “Don’t give up on how cool you were when you were obsessed with crap.”
A: Like there’s nothing wrong with being 27 and having a huge crush on someone. And why just have sex, you can make out too. Making out is really fun.
V: Like, make a collage.
A: Yeah, if you see something in a magazine that you like why not cut it out. You don’t have to be so rigid.
Kids today would probably just take a screen shot.
V: It comes from that really awesome thing that teenagers have, which is an unlimited amount of energy to give to something that they like or believe in. I mean, all the time we’re obsessed and we’re just nerding out about stuff that we love. But for this record it just seemed like that title–not only did the words just kind of come out and immediately sounded right, because that’s what happens. It’s more about how we felt while we were making this record: we were passionate and we believed in it. People might think you’re a 28-year-old child but you’re just an excited artist.
What were you guys into as teenagers? What were your actual teen dreams?
A: I was really obsessed with music.
V: I was playing piano, I was pretty good in high school, but I was way into skateboarding–like skateboarders.
Skateboarding or skateboarders?
V: Both. Boys. I kind of wasn’t really allowed to date. But I liked music.
A: I’m still excited like a dog.
V: We were horny.
A: Yeah, obsessed with girls and music. I would play music every single day. I would just turn on the radio and play along to every song, because I was so obsessed with it.
V: It’s like when guys learn the guitar parts to seduce the girls–dry humping! Dry humping.
Did it work?
V: It did work on me because no boys wanted to do that to me. But Bob Marley was cool.
A: We both love Bob Marley. He’s so good. He doesn’t get worse over time.
Speaking of great musicians: how did you hook up with Grizzly Bear and become friends?
V: A dating chat room.
A: No, they sought us out to open for them, and over the course of three tours together we’ve all become really, really good friends. They’re kind of like older brothers because they’re more well-known… And they’re really great live. I’ve taken a lot from them in that respect: like, this is how you take this record and turn it into a great performance. I also learned about the importance of being a perfectionist. Not losing control over things. They’re all very particular and they work very hard to maintain a lot of control.
V: We’re quality control. We’re the arrangers. We’re coming to you–live.
So, when you start to present the new songs live, do you think you’ll still feel this energy that the entire album is all about? This teenage vibe?
V: Well, we’re not Fall Out Boy, so we’re not jumping off our amps and stuff…
That would be amazing though.
V: And it would be pretty teenage-style. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I always imagine it like some sort of punk show. Just because you make music that is considered a certain way, doesn’t mean that internally it feels that way when you perform it. There’s still a ton of energy and rage that comes out.
A: It’s way more exciting to play the new songs, they’re more propulsive, Victoria sings harder, and the drums are louder.
V: People always want us to play in churches and stuff, but I feel like we’re too dirty for that.
A: It’s so limiting, too. The church controls so much of the vibe, and it’s hard to win back the vibe in your direction. You sort of have to give it up to the church.
V: Give it up to God!
A: Take it from God!
So what are you working on right now?
V: Well, we’re not supposed to talk about this.
A: We’ve been told by other musicians that it’s not good to talk about your next record when you’re trying to promote another album. But: we’re obsessed with our new record already. We talked about it for two hours until five in the morning tonight – despite the jetlag.
V: But Teen Dream is what’s happening right now! We’re always dreaming. Fucking “dreaming,” Is there another word other than “dreaming”? “To fantasize”?!
V: Eroticize. We’re eroticizing the future.
A: We’re probably more excited right now than we’ve ever been in the history of our band. We’re kind of on a creative roll.
V: On a roll! I kind of want to shut up and explode at the same time.
Beach House | Teen Dream | album | Sub Pop
pic: Forensic Ounces