Baltimore’s Beach House play a sold out Whelans show on February 13th. Siobhán Kane spoke with Victoria Legrand about their latest LP Teen Dream.
Sometimes you fall deeply in love with a band and their music, and Beach House is the kind of band that loves you back, since their sound is so generous, raw, and honest – perhaps these rare qualities are what adds to the even rarer nature of their third record Teen Dream. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have been creating alternative (and mainly better) worlds for us to inhabit for the last few years; from their self-titled debut to their second record Devotion, but like their beautiful cover of the Daniel Johnston song, some things really do last a long time. You can almost sense the inventiveness and delight in creating and confiding; from the soft echo of the cuckoo clock on the opening of ‘Silver Soul‘ to the bittersweet piano melody on ‘Used to Be‘, and directly painful, resonant lyrics such as ‘been a fool for weeks/’cause my heart stands for nothing and your soul’s too weak‘ on ‘Better Times’ to ‘we don’t need a sign to know better times‘ and ‘Real Love’s ‘there’s something wrong with our hearts when they beat pure they stand apart/ In the black room, the light, watch the seabird fall/ Real love, it finds you somewhere with your back to it/ I met you/You know we belong by the stream, to the dawn‘, or even something as seemingly simple as ‘don’t forget the nights when it all felt right‘ from ‘Used to Be’ takes on a greater weight, because it all exists within the most magnificent atmosphere, helped along by Legrand’s dignified vocal and the obvious sympathy between the two musicians that literally makes you hope. They have the ability to pass on a hard-won sense of possibility, of something worthwhile. It is a kind of true love, the best kind, and the one ‘Take Care’ so heartbreakingly portrays, and that Legrand talks to Siobhán Kane about.
The last time you played here was at the very end of the Electric Picnic festival in the small hours of the morning; you were very humorous about it, as well as brilliant.
That was crazy, it was great in the end though, but it was like we went through something, but only until I saw ‘Avatar’ did I really understand what [laughs], I felt like bombs were dropping all over the place, we were staying in those pod things, and it kind of felt like we were in some kind of harem, but also in a Steven Seagal movie, kind of.
With that performance, you were literally ensconced in a kind of forest, and Teen Dream has many references to nature and the elements, for example on ‘Norway’ you mention wood and stars. The record is one that you feel you can almost touch as well as inhabit.
That’s so great. I suppose I like the quality of things, how they literally feel, and I also like the contradiction of things and how that feels, so there is a lot going on in that respect this time, in terms of imagery. It means a lot to us as artists to answer such questions, as we stand fully behind this record. Perhaps because we had much more time with it, also. The first we recorded in two day, the second three weeks, and this one we recorded in a month, but we had almost nine months of writing and trying things out beforehand, uninterrupted.
This was the first time you worked with a producer, I remember you previously being quite clear about never working with one, unless it would be a guaranteed unique experience.
I remember. It just had to feel right, and we knew Chris [Coady] from Baltimore, and mutual friends had worked with him before. He is such a talented individual and we reached out to him. We had always believed in producing ourselves, and we are quite clear about what we want, but he is very clear-headed himself in that sense; he understood our vision.
That vision is quite a complex one; it seems about more than just creating an atmosphere, though that is obviously a huge part of the creative impulse for you.
Part of it is trying to capture that energy of performance, the tasteful side of that. The live energy is something that is really hard to capture on record, and it depends very much on your relationship to those songs. For example, over the past while, playing Devotion over and over again live led to a kind of lethargy, but these new songs are bursting out of us, and the funny thing is when we had played and played Devotion live on tour, we came home and went straight into writing Teen Dream, so it had a propulsive effect on us.
And yet, the core of Teen Dream is obviously not just a reaction, but a reflective, searching, real document of true and often painful experiences, which must be so hard to put out into the world, because it is so private, and yet must be put out in the world, in order for you to write yourself into a better understanding of those experiences, and more importantly, yourself.
I know what you mean, it is intimate and intense and heartbreaking, it’s a combination of all of those things. The record is about the wild world, in a way it is freeing writing about the truth, there are a lot more moments of that on this record, it is about space, all different kinds, different worlds – ‘Silver Soul’ is about a dark sexual being, and is described as a metaphysical thing, but it also links to the imaginative world and experiences.
That desire to create alternative worlds, perhaps ones that are more worthwhile, worth spending time in, seems to be another impulse within the band.
We make a conscious decision to do that, it’s all true. I don’t over-analyse what I am writing or what we are creating really, it’s more instinctual, as is everything I do; it’s a feeling, and as an artist, I just do it, and from that you learn a lot, you get more brave.
When you actually recorded Teen Dream upstate in New York, did you regard that as a kind of exile that you needed to complete what you had started?
It wasn’t so much an exile, but we were really glad to get there, because it felt like we were waiting and waiting with baited breath, and we were so inspired, and it was a continuation of the intense world we were living in. Alex had found us this inspiring place in Baltimore to work in, and we had moved pianos and organs, and funny objects into there and then moved literally everything to New York, so it was a real continuation. We also didn’t want to have distractions.
It must be hard to exist between varying levels of what is perceived as normal behaviour at home when you are working so intensively.
That is so true, and in Baltimore we would often be working on the record for thirteen hours straight and in that intense mode, and it can be hard to come down to a more ‘normal’ level with people, when you have been thinking and working out a reverb on a guitar for hours. So it was great to be in a space where we didn’t have to be ‘normal’, and in New York we also had an inspiring workspace, this beautiful room within an old church with great equipment, and insane mics.
Do you still find Baltimore as inspiring a city as you did when recording Devotion?
Baltimore is still inspiring, it is somewhere we can really work because it is so cheap. The city itself is beautiful, though torn, and it has so much character and been influential on so many things, not just music necessarily.There is a sense of community, and a supportive one at that, which can be intense sometimes, but it is also vibrant and healthy, and it won’t be threatened in any way, I think maybe because it also encourages people to hunker down and work.
You have some interesting collaborative gigs coming up with Grizzly Bear in London soon; there is obviously an empathy there in terms of the atmosphere you both strive to create.
I know what you mean, and they have a great stage set-up, and we really like hanging out with them, it’s a lot of fun. It’s funny, I really see them more in the rock realm, and we are very much in the pop world, so it’s interesting.
How has your experience been so far of touring this record, as you are trying out several new elements.
Up until recently we were doing half of Devotion and the new songs, and we have been rearranging some of the older songs live as well. One of the new elements we have introduced for this record is the visual aspect. I suppose it was about the idea of teenage obsession, and obsession in general, and it is a new vocabulary for us. We invited five artists to interpret some of our songs, and had no control over it! They were all people we know or worked with or met on the road, and it involved months of preparation so we are really excited about it, it will be going on DVD too.
Though Teen Dream is not about being a teenager, it does at least partly seem about that intense feeling that some people regard as acceptable when a teenager, but lose sight of it when they get older, is it more about being true to that raw feeling, and the ultimate frailty but worth behind being brave?
It is. When you think about the music you listen to when you are a teenager, it just takes you somewhere; it is passion. We haven’t lost that and it is good for the creative process, and the imaginative universes we create, but it is also about more than that, it is about how you live. It is about the love of something, which, to an outsider might seem ridiculous,but is really about the true essence of things. When you grow up and get older, some people lose their passion for love, for so many things; it can be because of a nine to five job, or they don’t know themselves, lose themselves, or other reasons; but you have to try to hold on to that feeling, no matter how hard things get.
Beach House play Whelans on February 13th. Teen Dream is out now on Bella Union Records.