Music

Beach House’s Victoria Legrand on Teen Dream, the Merits of Jimmy Buffett, and Making Out in Honda Civics

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Last time we spoke with Beach House, Baltimore’s best dream-haze band, was in the summer of 2008, right before they were about to play the Siren Festival–smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. (Even Legrand conceded, “There’s something about Beach House playing at 11:30 in a cave in Norway that seems more appropriate.”) Since then, they’ve toured the world over, vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand has lent her vocals to Grizzy Bear’s Veckastimist and the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack, and the duo contributed a cover of Queen’s “Play the Game” to last year’s Dark Was The Night compilation. This week they return with their third album and Sub Pop debut, Teen Dream, a record that builds on their layered approach to writing sweet-drugs-come-down- pop songs. But this time they’ve consciously added more rhythmic elements–or as Legrand explains it, “These songs explode off each other, come out of deeper and farther places. There still is reverb, but things aren’t so drenched in it.”

If their past records were darker, washed-out things, where you sorta felt like the band was hiding something, Teen Dream feels like a coming out party. It’s happy, it’s proud, and feels like you’re looking directly at them, instead of eavesdropping on their subconscious.

We spoke with Victoria Legrand last week from her apartment in Baltimore. Beach House play the Bell House tonight and Webster Hall on May 6.

A few years ago, you played the Siren Festival during the afternoon. I tried to get a friend of mine to go over and watch it with me. But he wouldn’t, said it was “too light out.” Have you heard that before?

No…but I can see what he means. But if he didn’t like us, then it’s an insult. But if he does like us, then, I guess for him it wasn’t maybe the right environment? Maybe he preferred a dark rock club.

Have you had over the years people telling you odd places that they love to hear your music?

That’s the ultimate connection, when people respond positively to your music. Even when someone doesn’t like it: I’ve had people come up and say that they’re not to into it, but they find it interesting. Even weird things like that, I find funny.

But no instances of people saying “I only love listening to Beach House when I’m riding roller coasters. Or working out.”

[laughs] No. I’ve heard that it’s good music for yoga or something.

How did you settle on the title Teen Dream?

To us, it’s a very immediate, fun, abstract, youthful title. When we came up with it, we’d been working on [the song] “Silver Soul” and it was nighttime. We were in our practice space, writing, getting excited and throwing energy at each other. “Teen Dream” came out and we both liked it immediately. Much like teenagers like something instantly and they don’t want to change it, we did that with it basically. It happened really early on in the writing process.

It must’ve been relaxing to settle on an album title so early.

It’s inspiring. It’s like a painter finding a really nice frame for his painting. It doesn’t need too much explanation, it just fits the colors of the record. We knew that with only having written four of the songs at that point–which is a very strange part of writing music. It’s very intuitive, at least for me. You structure things and there are very specific things in the arrangements of our music. But at the same time, we know something is right or fits, in our bodies. This record to us is something we followed very passionately, very vehemently and ferociously. We wanted it to feel more physical than the other records. And I think it does, for sure. I think it’s still a Beach House record–and at its core it has a lot of the same feelings of the past records. But I think that it feels a lot closer. We had a lot of energy bottled up. We go away, and travel and tour, and we store up all these crazy desires. We learn a lot about music and I expect changes to keep happening for us. We toured a lot with Devotion and we learned a lot about those songs. We learned about things we weren’t interested in anymore.

Such as?

Well, for example, playing “Gila” every night–that was a pretty popular song for us, and in the rhythms, we were having these urges. So when we came back home, we started to reinvigorate a song like “Norway.” I came up with a rhythm that was very different for us. But it wasn’t super conscientious. It was instinctual. Some of this, is very primitive. Like when you sit down and your body lets out a sound. Your arms start tapping a beat. That comes from a feeling your having, a very raw feeling. We had a lot of energy that we had to get out. “Norway” was one of those songs that dictated the kind of record that it would be for us–more intense. We wanted it to be more intense than Devotion.

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It sounds intense but also more varied, from piece to piece, song to song.

Yeah, they’re in the same world but they’ll all different. I think we brought them up to a level where they all could exist. Like “Used to Be”–we rewrote that until we felt like it worked with the other songs. It almost wasn’t on the record because we didn’t feel like it had a certain thing that the other songs had. And that certain thing is unknown until you feel it sonically. I think you can understand how sonically they fit together. They don’t have to be all linked like Devotion, where they feel like they’re coming out of each other. These songs explode off each other, come out of deeper and farther places. There still is reverb, but things aren’t so drenched in it. Things have been allowed to breathe more with my vocals. We wanted to show them more. My voice has changed; there’s an intensity that came with the music but also my voice. We didn’t want to mask anything.

The vocals seemed like you’re showing more range this time.

I’m a trained singer in my past–I have control over my voice and in Beach House we’ve been pushing ourselves. It wasn’t something I had to think about. When you perform 200 shows, you get more intense. You just do. You’re a medium for music and a connection to an audience. That energy changes you.

Do you have a favorite vocal on the record?

I don’t actually. They all mean something different. I think that maybe my singing on “Silver Soul” is pretty intense. I really enjoy performing “Take Care.”

I can’t believe “Used to Be” almost didn’t make the cut.

We wanted it to be on the record. But there are scary moments in the songwriting process, where you’re spending days and days on something. We were just being very hard on everything.

Listening to that song, it feels nostalgic–and maybe the record does too at times.

Yeah, for me, it’s about looking forward more than looking back. I have issues with nostalgia. When I start to look back on something, lately it’s just too much for me. I can’t do it. I think a lot of it has to be with being in motion all the time. This Teen Dream record, signifies a beginning really. A quest. I think it’s about the moment more.

Certain assumptions are probably made about your influences–but I was wondering if you had any influences that might be on the more guilty pleasure side of things?

We were in Florida not too long ago and we were driving around realizing how strange Florida is. It was just the two of us writing and trying to have a vacation. But it was really cold, because they had that record breaking temperatures. And we started listening to Jimmy Buffett–so we were laughing and listening to songs about boat drinks. And he’s made his whole career off that. I embrace the new world of music but I’ve just been listening a lot of washed out, electronic music. Because it makes me feel like a teenager again. Remembering innocence, where I’m about to have a crush on someone. It softens my hard skin.

I used to listen to Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend when I wanted a girlfriend.
Weezer’s Blue Album does that for me. And Portishead’s Dummy and Bob Marley–when I hear it, I hear my 14 year old self and see myself making out in a red Honda Civic. I love music that takes you way back.

Was it a Civic hatchback?

Yeah.

Ever any thoughts of relocating to New York? Or pressures to do so?

We’ve never been pressured and never thought about it. We have friends there but we’ve never had that desire. We have this amazing space down here, where we work and it’s too good to be true. It’s incredibly cheap for the size we have.

And you can get seafood.

Yeah. You can get crabs and Coors Light.