Pop duo Beach House finds time to grow
In bloomby Andrea Warner
There's a big difference between indie pop duo Beach House's Teen Dream and singer Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream." Fans of the former can exhale that long breath they've been holding since 2010: Bloom, Beach House's fourth album (due May 15 on the Sub Pop label), is as magical as it is morose, an atmospheric and evocative wonderland. Fans of the latter — well, enjoy the Perry karaoke.
Since 2004, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have been the somewhat mysterious forces behind Beach House. Rising up out of Baltimore's increasingly relevant DIY arts scene, the pair make music befitting the arch loneliness and beauty of director Wes Anderson's film. If Bloom were a movie, it might be about the terrible ways we learn to live in the moment, the kind of lessons that come from a loss so sudden it unhinges your grip on life and forces you to think about making the most of things — that is, if Legrand was the type to disclose her private life to the press. She's not, but upon hearing some personal reflection about what the record meant to this listener, the notoriously private singer/songwriter admits that recording Bloom was Beach House's biggest challenge yet.
"Each album we've made is a moment in our lives," Legrand says. "Some people have a scrapbook or a journal, and we have these records. I'm 30, and now it's been a long time making music, but Bloom has been one of the more intense experiences of making an album for us. That's probably the most personal information I can give about it."
Legrand says she and Scally usually let their guts guide them — the album took shape once the songs revealed themselves. It's not an unusual way to work, but her reverence for the process is unique.
Some songs can take months to write; it's a process that she says can't be rushed.
"If I wanted to make a concept album about spaghetti, I'd know exactly what the album was going to be about, but that's not how we go about making things," Legrand says. "It's always about following the instinct or playful moments or inspirational moments, the melodies that talk to us, and seeing how big we can make them or how far they take us. It's a combination. It can be tortuous and euphoric."
Beach House has never really had hit songs, but they do have several great songs that people like. "It's always about respecting the songcraft and the song and the album format," Legrand adds. "It's about the record now more than ever, because it seems like the attention span of the world is diminishing every minute."
The nation's collective ADD has also played its role in celebrity and fame trumping art. Legrand knows this all too well. During one of the Teen Dream-era concerts, superstar couple Jay-Z and Beyonce were in attendance — a happenstance that's now often referred to as a turning point in Beach House's success.
"Celebrities appear at your show and I'm like, 'Go away,'" Legrand laughs. "It's like doing them a service more so than it's doing us a service. I think they [Jay-Z and Beyonce] watched every single band that day, so it wasn't a question of us being particularly more enticing or anything like that. But that's part of our obsession with celebrities and useless information. Like a news headline or a headline at all, or a reference point. I hope it's something that becomes a little less important or we're pretty close to all starring in that film Idiocracy, which should be required viewing for all schools."
Legrand believes that she can make her life different than people say it has to be. She and Scally took a risk with Beach House, and it's paid off in a way that satisfies them. She admits that they've had their share of luck, but she points out that their work ethic is "undying." She also credits Beach House's sparse beginnings, such as shows where they played for just five people, as vital to the band's growth.
"One of my favorite words is 'gestation,'" Legrand says. "You need time as an artist to be an artist and develop. Not just get hyped and then put a lot of pressure on and then flop. The best things in life have time to grow."
It's fitting, then, that Bloom is possibly Beach House's best record yet. It might be a time capsule of the duo's most difficult years, but that's what makes it resonate so deeply. They're not trying to break your heart, but Legrand admits she'd be happy to hear about it if it did.
"The best moments are met with someone on the other side and that we can connect," Legrand says. "That's definitely why we're still making music. For some reason or another, what we do seems to mean something to people, and we're very grateful to anybody who finds themselves in our music. It makes it seem worth doing."