photography / FILIPPO DEL VITA
story / HEATHER SEIDLER
stylist / Turner
makeup/ KIMI YUKI MASAWA
hair / BRIAN FISHER
shot @ THE ACE HOTEL, NYC
Not much of an introduction is needed as to who Beach House are. Reigning throne bearer of the dream-pop circuit, the Baltimore-based duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are ready to deliver their fourth installment, ”Bloom.” The album, recorded in a secluded Texas town, offers ascendant indie-pop that earns that rare distinction of sounding the way America feels: full of saffron sun and streaks of sadness. It’s more than just the willowy slice of atmospheric pop most are eagerly expecting. If anything, it’s the whole dream itself.
”Bloom” is equal parts indie rock, ethereal soul and outsider pop, all of which are a gestalt model of the dream-pop label that follows Beach House around. Haunting melodies? Check. Hypnotic atmospherics? Check. Light and dense lyrics? Check and check.
Since the pair came together in 2004, their own personal experiences have morphed into a collective vision that has produced some of the most magnificent albums of the past decade. In 2010, their third album, TEEN DREAM, was heralded throughout Internetland and championed fiercely by in-the-know indie cognoscenti, sitting atop of pretty much every year-end Best-Of list. Beach House’s newest offering is poised to do the same. Each song flows delightfully into and out of each other, carried over as the music erupts into a tapestry of sound, much like gates opening to caverns of abandoned imagination.
Legrand’s quietly magnificent but soaring vocals indelibly soothe and allure while Scally’s dew-dripped guitars blend together to create a mélange of noise unified by a great landscape of sound to settle around your ears like a perfumed cloud. All of this leaves little doubt as to the band’s ability to touch new ground and create its most immersive and expansive effort to date. Most of all, it encompasses such a broad spectrum of feelings and sounds that it’s eluded journalistic pigeonholing solely due to its flexibility in the face of definition.
Ladygunn spoke to Legrand and Scally about the new album, new directions and a little bit about who they are, giving us an indication of the type of people who have created a sound that has been mimicked by other bands, but never duplicated.
LADYGUNN: First I want to know what does Bloom represent for you?
VICTORIA LEGRAND: For us it’s another work of ours. ”Bloom” as a title is something abstract—like most titles are. It becomes what it is because of some feelings. It just happens. Not something too intellectual should be done about it. When you listen to it, hopefully you’ll hear and feel the things inside of it that the title draws from.
It’s a really spiritual experience listening to this album. Not in a gospel sense, but in a way that comes from inside of you.
That’s all I could really ask for when someone listens to our music. We’ve moved on from the record in the sense that we’ve finished it. We’ve been working on it for two years now. The process of making an album generally takes two years from the first idea that you have down to the artwork to preparing for the tour. At this point, we’re just anticipating the release.
Did you have a particular blueprint for this album when you first started writing it or did everything evolve organically?
ALEX SCALLY: Organically on its own. You can just actually put that for every answer and that’s probably what I’ll be saying. People always want a backstory. People always want to know what it means. And we don’t know. We start to play a song, we begin to play a few bars and then it becomes something else. And then once you have more songs you start seeing the whole album and it just evolves in a feeling and that evolves into other songs.
VL: There’s never a blueprint, all there ever is a few ideas and inspirations that you keep with you and hold onto. There’s never a plan—you have to have a moment of art on each song. You work diligently and passionately, but you don’t really know at the beginning where you’re going to end up. You follow a thread and it becomes a record. It tells you where to go. It tells you how big it’s going to be. In the beginning, you don’t know any of that stuff. A lot of it becomes out of your control—the trial and error becomes part of the process. You try to maintain the first few moments that inspired you. You have to make sure to take care of that inspiration, building structures that preserve that.
You recorded for a few months in Texas. Did you feel getting away from your home town was an essential part of making this album?
AS: The first time we did it, we had too many distractions. So I think that’s why we like to go away to a studio. Somewhere where we don’t know anyone and there’s nothing to do except make music in the studio.
VL: Well, we’ll write everything and record the record twice. We’ve done this for every album. We write everything and then perform it all to get production ideas. We know how we want things to sound and feel all the time. We don’t really have any loose ends, so when we go to record there are no interruptions. We don’t worry about the arrangements because we know what the identity of the song is. I think that for us, being there for seven weeks, we need to concentrate and not be distracted. Being in that part of the world provides that. It’s a small town. There’s nothing really there. There’s a lot of openness, big skies, it’s just desert. It affects you somewhat as a person, but artistically we’re control freaks. Everything is already composed.
LG: Even though you say that, I think the album definitely has a sense of exploration. Is there a particular moment that inspired you or pushed you in a certain direction—a particular time or place that stands out as a defining moment that inspired you?
AS: Victoria and I get a lot of inspiration from everything. I think we kind of live our lives like children or something. I think we very much get caught up in the kind of wonder of everything. I get caught up with the love of things and the feeling of wonder. That’s just something that I’ve always been obsessed with. And I stress that that’s a big part of this music is expressing that wonder. Exploring it and believing it. So we feel really lucky to be able to travel. Even though you don’t get to see a lot of places for more than an hour, just meeting some of the locals is a source of inspiration. It just sticks in your mind. We finally got invited to Japan and when we went, it was completely mind blowing. And you can say that about just about anywhere. I think there’s no end to the beauty and wonder everywhere for us.
VL: I really feel like life is pretty insane and miraculous. Every day something happens that ruins or changes you, and I think that travelling all the time, touring, is one of the biggest inspirations. It’s the experience of life itself. Those things are always behind our records. Because we’re musicians, it’s how we express the things in our lives. We just feel compelled to do it. We don’t know why; we just make records because we want to. We’re lucky that people see and hear things inside the world we create and maybe connect to our experiences, too. A lot of it is subconscious. In music and art, there’s an invisible frequency that happens when you’re looking and hearing something. That energy that you put into a work of art is literally vibrating through you. I think that there have definitely been things in my life that have inspired a moment creatively, but I find things to be more fascinating when they reach a more universal feeling. They can come from small moments, but move closer towards that larger thing—closer to the sun. It’s never going to be like a Sheryl Crow song where it’ll be about the guy I met at the bar smoking a cigarette. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not an inspiring world for me.
LG: Do you ever dream songs? Or lyrics or a sound and wake up singing it? Or try to recreate something that you’ve dreamt?
VL: Definitely. I’ve woken up to a melody and tried to remember it. I also will have heard one in my sleep and recorded it. When that happens it could be important or it could be nothing at all. Sometimes the melody doesn’t stick around, and it’s just your brain adjusting other things. A lot of people experience colors when they hear music. It’s the feeling that a color gives you more than something visual, if that makes any sense. The colors that we choose or pick in our live shows are very deliberate. They’re themes that we’ve played with.
LG: When you play your older material in a live show, songs you wrote eight years ago, do you find a way to connect to the mood of when you first wrote them?
AS: I think so. It’s also the audience. You sort of live off of the energy that the audience is giving back to you. Because I don’t think we would be playing those songs if we were alone. We usually like to play songs that people are going to get in the moment. We cater a lot to our audience. We put a lot of effort into making a show feel like something. In our turn, we’re playing these old songs and not making it feel horrible because were trying to do it for people who know them and want to hear them.
LG: What’s the biggest highlight in terms of your career—places you’ve travelled, people you’ve met?
VL: There’ve been so many amazing things that have happened, so it’s hard to choose. Going to Japan for the first time was a very beautiful moment in our lives. One thing that I always try to remember is that every day has a special highlight or lowlight, but it doesn’t matter because there’s going to always be an up and down. In the recent years, I think my trip to Japan was something that I never thought I would do. Whenever you think something can never happen, that’s when life throws a surprise at you. I kind of feel like having zero expectations is the best way to be.
LG: Alex, where do you think you’d be in your life if you hadn’t met Victoria?
AS: That’s a good question. I think I would be playing music, not necessarily in a band but just making it. Because that’s what I was doing before I met Victoria. I like a lot of things. I have a lot of interests. There are a lot places I could be in. I could be a teacher. I could have gone back to school and done science stuff because I really like science. I could have done carpentry because my father was a carpenter and I may have continued to work with him because it’s really nice. Or in a different band. There’s no way I would have been in as good a band as I am in with Victoria, so it’d be likely be a crappy band. So who knows? It is really fun to sit and think about the forks in your life.
LG: You’ve been quoted as saying that on most of your albums, you only work on two instruments. Is this the same for ”Bloom?”
AS: Yeah, I think we work in very much same way. We start every song just the two of us and a lot of the direction where we go is based on what two people can play using two or three instruments. Then we try to make an orchestra out of a couple instruments.
VL: Our core instruments—Alex on guitar and me with the keyboard—are on all of the records. But we’ve always used more than two instruments. What I was trying to explain is that at the core of the writing process there is always a guitar, a keyboard, and a drum machine. All of the songs we’ve ever written have involved an organ and a keyboard and a guitar. I think that our ability to construct songs has developed over the years. Our ability to extrapolate landscapes or feelings or big moments out of these simplistic elements and not just piling on different instruments and sounds for no reason.
I think maybe our first record is the most simplistic in terms of guitar, keyboard and drum machine. On ”Bloom,” there are about fourteen different types of keyboards: piano, organs, a few different electric keyboards, Yamaha, etc. We really have all these amazing sounds, but they have to make sense. They have to fit in the melody and the feeling. There is no end to the universe of sound. When you listen to the record, there are sounds that you can’t quite make out what it is, and we spent so much time trying to establish that. There’ll be a sound like the fluttering of wings or electronic things on the keyboard. That’s something we care about a lot. It’s about cultivating and discovering precious things.
LG: Is it tough for you personally to balance the desire for Beach House’s success with weariness towards fame?
AS: That’s another good question. No because I think that we try all the time to avoid certain types of exposure. I think there’s a really big difference between that cheap fame where people know who you are in your personal life and where people know you as an artist and for your music. I think we’re trying all the time to go through that at once. Artists worry that people won’t appreciate what you do, but we very much worry that people understand what we do.
We turn down a lot of things that are offered because we don’t think it’s the right kind of exposure. It’s about what we’ve developed and our aesthetic for our fans.
LG: What kind of feelings and influences trickle into your sound or infiltrate your songwriting?
AS: I think something that is constantly a source of inspiration is that feeling of love when you get into art. You get this thing where something is really beautiful. And then really horrifying at the same time. I think it’s that feeling, which you find in so many places in art and film and visual art and music, that whirlwind feeling of beauty and horror. It’s such an insanely inspiring feeling. for us.
LG: Yeah I think that dichotomy of light and dark is something that’s very essential to the albums that I connect to. You can take a really beautiful melody and counteract it with a certain lyric or a way of singing that lyric and it can just create that feeling…
AS: Yeah and of course we’re talking about subtle abstractions. I think more than anything it’s the multiplicity of things. I think that Victoria and I feel like you just don’t get any joy when you experience art that’s too simple, like ‘I’m happy’ or ‘I’m mad’ or ‘This is horrible.’ It’s not realistic, it doesn’t hold a mirror to reality. Things that are truthfully art are twisted.
LG: The theme of this issue is “Obsession and Confession,” so what’s your current obsession and if you could confess anything to Ladygunn, what would it be?
VL: I’m currently kind of obsessed with bananas right now. My confession is that I’m currently needing to sleep a lot. Actually another obsession of mine right now is the Kentucky Derby horse that just won. I’m trying to find out about this old horse. I think I get obsessed with things pretty often so it’s hard to find one particular thing.
AS: In my down time I’ve been reading about the modern world of physics. A lot of crazy stuff is going on right now in technology. A confession…um, my first arena concert was No Doubt.