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Beach House

Hear the Universe

Aug 28, 2015 Beach House Bookmark and Share

Though it has been only a little over 10 years since she started Beach House with bandmate Alex Scally, vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand has the perspective of a much older musician. While her band shows no signs of having lost its creative momentum, she seems aware that Beach House is quickly reaching a place where it will become increasingly difficult for a band with such a refined aesthetic to surprise listeners. Just back from a European press tour for their new album, Depression Cherry, she talks about how she now sees many of the same interviewers that she talked to for Beach House’s last couple albumssomething that she sees as evidence that band has reached a new point in their trajectory. The frenzy that once surrounded them as a buzz band has largely subsided, leaving only the glowing reviews and a loyal army of listeners. Legrand seems content to let the attention fade. Beach House is in a good place.

That’s at least partly the story of Depression Cherry, an album built out of homespun and intimate sounds and themes. Produced during an unhurried recording process in Bogalusa, Louisiana, the duo has rarely sounded so utterly at peace, allowing the album’s nine tracks to unfold and unravel at their own pace. And yet there’s an underlying restlessness on the album, with dissonant keyboard tones filling the space where thudding drums used to resonate and Legrand’s lyrics taking on a newly longing tone. Here Legrand examines how time has changed the band’s approach, why tapproach for their new songs, and how they keep their recording process fresh after 10 years.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): Do you think you feel differently about being in a band now than you did 10 years ago?

Victoria Legrand: I think it’s naturally different, because you don’t stay the same. Every day you change a little bit. I’m not in my 20s anymore, and some things are gone, like a certain type of innocence. But I still feel like so much is the same in the sense that I don’t think the passionitement is gone. The only thing that has changed are the experiences, and I think we just know more about stuff. I think we know ourselves more as people, and I think we were always pretty serious about protectiveness and preserving some sort of innocence. But with all of these experiences, we’ve sort of chilled out in a way. It’s a nice feeling. You get older, and you’re a little less hyper about things and a little more patient about things.

This far along, how do you maintain a sense of discovery in your work?

That’s interesting to think about. I think time is your friend and also not your friend, but I choose to think of it as a friend, because I think taking a little bit of time after Bloom actually allowed more discovery. For us, it has always been very instinctual, gut feelings. I think taking five or six months off really wasn’t that much time, realistically. But that’s what I need personally for things to start coming into my brain and hearing words and melodies and random things. I think you need to have nothing going on in a certain way to discover new things. So I think being on the edge of discovery, I don’t know if you can control that or make it happen. But I do think getting to a point where you aren’t doing anything is vital for that. I also don’t think it matters how old or young you are. I think if you don’t force it, good things can come.

How long after Bloom did these songs emerge?

Some of the ideas started, just as an idea, in 2012. But the majority of the writing occurred between 2013 and ‘14, so it wasn’t until after we got home. We got home in the fall of 2013, and I think one of the first things was “10:37.” And then later, in the springtime, we started to develop a bunch of these little thoughts. And we weren’t worrying about time or anything.

At what point in the writing process did your realize this record was going to be more stripped back and intimate?

It’s hard to say, because it could be before you’re even starting to write. It could just be a subconscious feeling, and then it just bubbles and gets bigger and bigger as you’re writing the songs. It’s hard to say. I really think it could have started before they were being written. It could have started manifesting itself in our bodies after playing hundreds of shows and all different kinds of venues and festivals. I think that by removing certain frequencies, like, for example, when you have two hands on the keyboard and there’s a drum playing in the room. If you remove one of the hands, you’re not going to notice the change. But if you have no drums, and you have two hands on the keyboard and you lift one hand, the feeling that that causesthat little tiny adjustmentcan be huge. So that was something we were trying to get back to. Our first album, and even our second and Teen Dreamdrums weren’t fully there. I mean, they were there in pieces and punctuations and would appear at these moments. They’d be there, but they never overshadowed the story or the narrative or the colors. They were always trying to be with everything. Bloom was the closest we had ever gotten to where it may have stifled certain energies. I think we weren’t interested in that for Depression Cherry. So it was like, “Well… we’ve done that. Let’s do it this way. We like doing it this way, and we’ve always done it this way, but let’s do it again.”

It’s interesting to hear you talk about how you took those six months off, because you can kind of hear that in the album, that this is coming from a different place. More contemplative and relaxed, maybe.

I think it’s interesting how time affects everybody and everything in the universe. And also the concept of time off is funny to me, too, because we’re always listening to music and thinking about it, but I think you almost need to have no input to be able to create output. I think it had been awhile since I had that happen. Pretty much after 2009, Teen Dream to Bloom, it was a very busy couple of years. It was completely up to us, and we chose to do that. Nobody made us. But it’s not natural to try to keep that pace at that level. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lotthe idea of an artist’s growth is something that is extremely personal to that particular artist. For a company, the idea of growth is expansion and money and everything growing and more employees. I feel like that blurs with art and business, where people get confused. The word “growth”how a band grows and developsthat’s sometimes conflated and confusing. I think one of our strengths as people has been to listen to, as we’re growing in whatever direction that is, what feels right and what doesn’t. It really has become so much about what feels right for us, ourselves. If it feels right for us, I believe it’s true and that it should be in the music somewhere, whatever is going on. It has less to do with playing bigger and bigger rooms and getting louder and louderall these external things that start to seem really important at some point in every artist’s career. But every artist makes a choice, and I think we very naturally ignore all that as much as you can. [Laughs] Because I don’t think you can ever get that first innocent thing back, that first moment where you’re like, “Oh, my gosh. What’s happening?” Like when we wrote “Saltwater,” which is the first song we wrote together. You can’t have that exact moment again, but I do think you can revisit an early feeling. You have to be able to shut the door to all of the noise in the universe in order to hear the universe.

Do you think you and Alex both experience that need to shut out the outside world similarly?

I think we experience it similarly, but Alex was saying this the past week: we are different, but our core beliefs are the same. For example, the way we feel about a song or talk about a song, those things are different sometimes. They mean different things to us, but our passion and our love of things, things we’re amused by, things we think are grossI think we feel very similarly about those things.

Do you think the same things sound good to both of you?

I do. But I also think sometimes, because there are two of us, one can pull in one direction and the other will follow once the other one agrees. Things manifest at different speeds, as well. Like “Levitation,” for example, had its own chorus. And, sure, there were moments when I was unsure about something, but Alex would persist in believing in something, and I would come back to it. I feel like you really need the other, and every decision that’s made, it’s all based on whether this is true. It’s very much moving and coming back. There’s a lot listening going on, and there’s a lot of feeling. There’s not so much talking about it when we’re writing. It’s mostly seeing if things work and if they don’t fit. We definitely play a lot together and work through things physically.

Did you talk about how this album was progressing and how you wanted these songs to fit together?

I think you never know what album you’re about to make. You have each song written and arranged before we go into the studio. For us, if you want to experiment, you have the songs and know that they exist and they’re real. The knowledge of the instruments, it’s all tied in there with the writing, because when you write, you’re in the song, you’re writing the song. It’s very different than if you were to play something on an acoustic guitar and then take it into the studio and ask a producer to give you your sound. It’s not like that at all. If we wrote something on an acoustic guitar, that acoustic guitar would probably stay because it’s tied to the spirit of the song. So we don’t know what an album is going to be completely, but we do have all the working parts. There are things I figure out, like words here and there, but we work differently, as well. We tracked a song, but we didn’t do it super traditionally. Normally you do keyboards and bass and drums for a couple weeks, and then guitar and vocals would be last. We didn’t do it that way. Whatever song we wanted to work on, we would track and then we did that. Maybe that is something you might feel on the album, that level of truly doing everything because it wanted to be done and not because it had to be done. I don’t know if that explains anything.

Was there a moment when you realized the album was finished?

Yeah, there’s definitely a moment. I think when we had “Levitation” and “Days of Candy,” so we knew we had the opener and closer. I think when you have a beginning and endand we had the other songs obviouslythat’s a great gift. There is a story of some sort, something that needs to be expressed. Yeah, there’s definitely a moment. For us, it’s not healthy to hold onto things forever. And it has been a long time already for us, but it’s an album, so we don’t feel like it has been time off, really.

You spent quite a bit of time in the studio for this album. Did the final versions of the songs change much from the demos?

Well, that’s something that’s interesting. We didn’t really do demos for this record. We’d record the songs, but we didn’t get attached to any demos, and that was something else that I just realized. We didn’t allow ourselves to get attached to any demos. I think in the past that has happened, and there will be some songs here and there, and you’ll try to recreate the demo. Essentially, what you are doing is creating the record twice. You have your demos, and then you go to the studio and make another album, basically. But we didn’t do that. We fought for a few things here and there, but it was more like a particular way that something was recorded in the studio, and we’d have to fight for the sound of it. But we were never struggling to get it to sound like a demo, because we didn’t let ourselves do that. We did phone recordings or live recordings, just looking at the song, itself.

Did you have fairly developed ideas for the arrangements?

Like I said, there were some phone recordings we sent Chris [Coady], because he was like, “I need to hear what you guys are working on before I get down there.” That’s normal. So we sent him stuff, and it was just the songs. But it wasn’t a finely tuned attachment. We kept the freedom alive a lot more than we did on the last record. We didn’t want to track the songs, and we didn’t want to decide. We wanted them to have their life for as long as possible, so in that sense, I think we were devoted to letting things be and letting ourselves be and trusting ourselves.

Do you think that kept the songs fresher, more like you were discovering them in the studio?

Absolutely. I think that’s absolutely correct. A song like “Sparks,” for example, that song existed musically for a while, and even in the studio things keep coming to life. I just think that kind of happens in every song, and it’s such an exciting thing to have happen. You’re in this world class studio, and it’s like the ‘70s inside, and it’s exciting to hear your ideas and that what you believed to be true is true. And that’s because we let it be. That’s a simple thing to say, but if we had forced the songs into boxes, maybe we would have been more frustrated. But that kept things exciting in a very beautiful way.

Where did the words “depression cherry” come from?

It wasn’t there at the start. “Depression cherry” those are words that came out of my mouth somewhere in the middle, and those are two words that have never been side by side before. They have always been near each other but never right next to each other, and I think when they were uttered in a completely different context, it was playful. But they just because part of our lives, and as we continued working on the record, they kept coming back, especially as we were working on titles. It just kept coming. It was gravitating toward the album, and eventually it just stuck. We couldn’t find anything betterwe tried. It’s saying you’re going to do what you want, because you believe in it. That’s essentially full of love. You’re not putting something in the world that you don’t believe in.

[Note: Pick up Under the Radar’s current print issue (August/September 2015) to read a separate article on Beach House. These are extra portions of our interview with Beach House, quotes that didn’t make it into our main print article on the band.]


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September 9th 2015

Dats good stuff