Q&A: Beach House's Victoria LeGrand On Singles, The South, And Controlling Your Music
Beach House didn't entirely disappear from the cultural consciousness, but they did go hide out for a while. The Baltimore duo of Alex Scally and Victoria LeGrand toured the hell out of their last record, Teen Dream, before heading back home to write Bloom (Sub Pop), which comes out tomorrow. Even their Twitter account (the frustratingly hard to remember @BeaccchHoussse) fell dormant for about a year. After a seven-week recording period in Texas, the band had a hell of a collection on their hands: 10 songs that weave in and out of themes like death, life, and that moment, so very small, of truth.
Whereas their previous release rode a lot of the tailwinds from its standout tracks ("Zebra," "10 Mile Stereo," and the gorgeous "Norway"), Bloom comes at you with the wallop of an hour-long odyssey, charting paths that perhaps you never thought to take. With ideas taken from a long touring period (180 shows since Teen Dream was released!), Beach House has landed on a feeling expressed in song, and a haunting work of art that surpasses even their own personal bests.
Sound of the City caught up with LeGrand over the phone as she rested up in Baltimore before the new-album whirlwind. She spoke about how people forget that the band did not debut with Teen Dream, and how New York can be a rough place to play a show. She also kept bringing up this idea of how important it is for her and Scally to know that they control how their music is being heard by their fans.
First thing I want to talk about is the title of your new record. I think that there's a lot of imagery behind the word Bloom and your titles have gotten more ethereal, more metaphorical with time, from Devotion to now. Why the word "bloom"?
It's funny because for me, Devotion was a heavy title but I felt like it had some weight to it, and I actually feel like Bloom has more weight than it has the literal 'flower' meaning to it. For me, it doesn't represent that at all. It's an abstraction of many feelings and it's a broad spectrum. For us, the album Bloom has many things inside of it, and forces inside of it. To find a word or a set of words we felt curated the whole thing, Bloom was it. And it was based off of feeling and just a belief in the word. It actually has more weight for me than it has an ethereal quality. It came about where it made sense.
Where it actually happened was more than halfway through the writing of the album, maybe three-quarters of the way. Things take time, and you can have many working titles, and you can be playing with words for a long time. We were looking for a name, like for the band. Beach House kind of happened the same way. For things to feel right, it definitely has to sit for a while and I think that's why it's not ethereal for me. I associate that word with fleeting or not having any substance, I don't know. It's funny because that's something that we get thrown at a lot, and as the years go by, I feel less and less like that. I'm not attacking your words, I'm just saying that for us there's a certain intensity with this record, and I think the word "bloom" is an attempt at that.
There's all different connotations of a word. That's what's good about a word: it can be seen from many sides and it's always seen differently. It's something we enjoy. You know, Devotion could mean faith, you could see it as between two people, between one person to the unknown. You can see it in many ways, and that's something we hold very dear to us. Words can be very abstract.
In your bio, it mentions that you hashed this album out on tour before sitting down to record it for a couple of months. Is that different than how you recorded the previous records?
Bios are difficult to create, because you're basically trying to tell someone what you've been doing for the last two years, and what this giant piece of art that you just made is about, all in a few sentences.
Basically, the process of touring and coming up with ideas, that has been the same since we made the first record and started touring, right after that. We never stopped touring and coming up with ideas and that's why we've had a record every two years or so. It's our natural rhythm. For Bloom, and Teen Dream, and Devotion, that feeling of when you're done touring and you have ideas and bits and pieces, that hasn't changed. So, we played over 180 shows. I think that before we even hit the 100 mark, ideas started coming to us very quickly. We even had ideas at the end of the recording for Teen Dream, so some of the bits and pieces of this record started two years ago. Some things happened on tour, and some things happened at the soundchecks, something on the bus.
You hold on to these things, and the things that aren't meant to stay, they leave. Things that do resonate, you keep written in a notebook or you make a demo of it. We've never written anything on tour. It's more of the experience of touring, and taking it all in and becoming inspired on many levels. This record really started being written in March 2011, in Baltimore. That's where we've written all of them, and we wrote and we wrote and we wrote. It was very intense, but we had the most ideas and seeds that we've ever had. It was like 30, and you just start with one and you go from there. It's a wild ride and you know a lot of the ideas didn't make it onto the album. That's why there's these ten specific ones, in a very specific order and sequence.
Bloom tends to listen as even more of an album than, say, Teen Dream. It begs you to listen to the next track. Was there a focus on creating an Album, capital A?
I think that yeah, the album as a format is important to us. Especially in our era of "you hear one song and if you don't like it you don't listen to it any of the other stuff that the artist does," which can be really crushing, especially for new artists that are just coming out and trying to exist. For us it's always been about a record. It's our fourth one, and we're still about the fact that we make it as an entire entity and it's one through 10, one through 9, or one through 11. I do still think that there are songs on Bloom that you can take away and say I like "Wishes" or whatever.
That's what music's about. For example, you listen to a record and say "Oh I think I like these three songs, and these are my favorites" and then 6 months later I like a whole new trio that I didn't even notice the first time. I think that happens with albums. We're not dictating something like "you must sit and listen to this record" but I think it's just encouraging and reminding anyone that loves music at all that that's one of the best ways to experience it. Just let yourself put a record and let it float through your house or in your headphones and just take that time out. But Bloom, it can be experienced however you want it. You can listen to it backwards, do whatever you want. There's no law.
Are there secret messages if you listen to it backwards?
No! [laughs] You get my point though! There's going to be people that read our bio that don't know we have 4 records; they're going to think that we have two records, so you have to repeat things that you hold dear to you, in those informational things so it doesn't fade. It's just part of your history and you just have to repeat it until it's ingrained in people's minds that this is a band that works steadily and cares about what they do. They're not trying to sell you a slab of songs just thrown together.
You worked with Chris Coady on Teen Dream and then brought him back for this record. He seems to bring out a really intense quality in your ideas. How does that relationship work?
Well, Chris has a great understanding of artists. He respects people and he is also respected, greatly. He's a technical genius; he's amazing at getting takes out of artists. He knows when to stop and when to keep going, those types of things. He has a great sense of a lot of ways of doings things.
With us, because we have such a particular way of seeing things, we have our production ideas, we are control freaks. We write everything before we go to the studio. We don't leave things hanging. We don't want someone telling us "maybe you should put this part here". We don't like that and Chris knows that. Chris has never tried to do that, and that was a big deal with us. It meant that he wasn't going to try to change us, he was going to help us. We record records two times: we record an album before we go into the studio with demos, and then we try to recreate it/try to make it more in the studio, with better equipment and better microphones and things like that. Wherever it ends up, he understands what we want and helps us get there.
That's all I can really say; it's kind of the best way of complimenting someone: saying he understands us. I don't think anyone wants a producer who's going to walk all over them. That's never going to fly with us. I think the word 'producer' has connotations, too, you know? A producer is really subjective, like what does the artist think of that term and why are you picking this person over this person? Everybody's going to be different. We chose Chris because he respected us and he understands us and helps us get there. The word producer is a relative term.
Maybe the word "collaborator" would be better?
Yeah, I think that we like to collaborate and we'll never be a band that needs a producer producer who stamps you. I think that we've been doing it too long ourselves to do whatever someone says, blah blah blah.
"Myth" and "Lazuli" are out as singles, of sort. What do you hope people take out of those two songs before they dive into Bloom as a whole? What made you choose them as the songs to lead the way?
We don't really believe in the "single" because when I think of a single, I think of what the UK thinks of a single, which is a "hit" and we don't write hits. As much as it's not intentional, it does happen. We thought that "Myth" was a great gateway into the record and "Lazuli" was a great continuation of unveiling this world. I feel like every song on the record has another thing to offer. For us it was more like "what song we feel like were great introductions." There's a lot of songs on the record that could have been in their place as well but those are the ones we chose.
I think it's important also that we control what songs people hear first, you know? The label doesn't say "you guys do this or do that." We have absolute control, so I think that they were the most fitting ones. There are a lot of colors and feelings. I think they encourage people to want to listen to the record, and that would be the point, no? [laughs] Like I said, we're not just trying to have a single and then nothing else, that's not the way we approach music. It should be intriguing and bring people in, as opposed to just being the only thing that you have and then you have nothing else to go on.
All songs are important. Not just ours. You're supposed to fall in love with something or not. You can develop an immediate interest in it, or not. They're gateways. When someone plays you a song from an album that you've never heard before, that song makes you go "what is this?" That's the power a song. More than a single or whatever. For us, we released two songs off our record and we would release a third but we're just going to put the record out now.
Calling you tour veterans isn't a misnomer at this point. This summer, you're playing small clubs and big outdoor venues. In your time on the road, have you developed a preference for one or the other?
We definitely prefer moderate sized clubs; 500 to 1200 capacity, I think. That's the most ideal size for a show. You know that everyone's going to see it and it's not going to be so big that people feel like they're far away. We also play shows that are closer to 2500 and this summer, it will be 5000 at Summerstage. We've played festivals where it's even more than that. There's a huge range of things. We're about to embark on a tour in the Southeast, which is going to be like anywhere from 200 to 1200, so there's a huge range there.
I do think we prefer the club shows. Mostly because of the control that we have over the show and the production and the experience. We want to have a good time, you know? We'll see. I think that in a way, we are tour veterans. I think it's funny that you said that. It's been like eight years of playing music and just as many of touring. I think that we'll try to rise to any occasion but I think our most comfortable is less than 2500. Summerstage, I think, is different because it's outdoors and it feels like you're out in the world. It's different, and I think music can wander through the air and there's trees around so it can be more of that kind of experience, versus being in a Miller Lite Arena or something and it's 5000. That would be awful.
What are some of your favorite tour spots? Where are you looking forward to going this summer?
It's been six months since we played, since we toured. I'm excited to go back down south. I love going south. Even right when you leave Baltimore, you see the pull of the South coming to you. It just feels easy and kind. It's really amazing. You lose that tension that you have in the Northeast, where everyone's kinda like "Fuck you!" I don't feel like we have that as much in the South. I'm hoping to return to Japan and places like that, later in the year. We've been to Japan one time and that's truly an amazing place on this Earth.
I think we're just most excited about touring again. We learn a lot on the road. We have a little touring family; it's like seven of us and we all work together and take care of each other. It's also the time for the record to have its last life-form. You write the album, you record the record, you play the songs, you rehearse them, and then the live experience is different every time you play a show. It's never that predictable, and that's what makes it great. You can't be so jaded that you say "blah it's all the same" because it's never the same. It's never the same. No records will be the same, and I won't be the same.
Back to Bloom for the last one: where as most of Teen Dream was focused on the "you," this one feels like it's more inward. Did you go in saying "there's things that I can only say through me" or did you write the record and this is how it came out?
It's not something I think about too much. It's funny that you said that because someone just said to me that they felt like there was a lot of 'you' and not a lot of "I." I think it's different for everybody. I think I just naturally- that's the way that I express whatever the idea or the feeling that I have. I think I prefer a certain openness to the fact that it could me AND you, it could be all of us, it could be just me. It depends on the listener really. That perspective that you're coming from. I don't want to narrow anything down.
A song like "Wild" starts off with "my mother said to me that I would get in trouble". I think it goes in and out. It's not just one literal perspective. I think that's important to realize, that it doesn't stay in one place. For me, those are interesting movements and motions because the visions and the music, they all work together and they create intense feelings and I just follow those things. I don't think about it too much. I think that I'm editing lyrics, I sort of notice the "I" and the "you", things like that. I do deliberately pick things but the initial instinct of "will this be like this," I try to let that be as natural as possible. I do think it's important that someone can fit themselves into this album and all of our records, really. I've never not felt like that.
I think that you should feel like you can walk through it, or be inside of it and come out each time you listen to it feeling something different. When you walk into a gallery or a museum, you see things on the wall, you're going to see them always differently. They're always going to say something different to you and throughout your life they'll change. When I listened to this when I was 25, it felt like this to me, but now that I'm 40 and all of this happened to me, this song no longer feels like that, it feels like this. Maybe that's something that I chase.
Beach House play at Bowery Ballroom tomorrow.
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