Beach House Discuss Tiny Moments, Physics And Miranda July

Beach House are so indebted to instinct that their songwriting philosophy can be distilled to just five simple words – ‘a feeling that you get’. Victoria Legrand (singer, keyboardist) discusses the order of things with such frequency that decisions seem to be made by consulting with leaf matter, power crystals and sonar graphs. Of course it’s much more intuitive than that. Bloom – the Baltimore duo’s fourth album and second under Sub Pop Records – surrounds itself with the same tender magic as its predecessors but neither us nor Legrand can quite divine why…

Hey Victoria, where in the world are you at the moment and what have you been up to today?

I’m in Baltimore and I am getting ready for the tour. We’re building these huge set pieces for tour and we’re working really hard right now, not relaxing at all. We’re working constantly and we’ll be working constantly til we leave for the first show in May.

What can we expect from the live show this time around?

You can expect that we’re going to be working really hard. We’ve stepped everything up a little bit just because we as artists have to remain excited and inspired by what we do when we’re on tour. One of the things that we’ve done I think is evolve very naturally over the last six years since our first record came out. This is our fourth album and I think since the time that Teen Dream came out we moved on from that album almost the minute that we finished it. I think that touring really solidified the fact that we had moved on from that album in our minds.

We don’t really live in the past, we very much follow our desires and whatever catches our eyes and ears in the moment. A lot of things stay the same but we just work a lot harder now like our quality control is very important to us right now. Making sure that things are still special for people, especially the live show. Doing things ourselves. Like Alex is building everything himself. It’s very hands on. We have strong ethics in this band in terms of managing things and not making choices that we feel might hurt our fans.

The last time I spoke with you we talked a bit about how you guys call a certain vibe or batch of songs ‘the family’ so I guess what I want to know is what does your family look like and are they healthy?

(Laughs) Our family I think is very big. I think that these songs are a lot bigger than Teen Dream in terms of size and in narrative scope. I don’t really think that our albums sound like one another but I think that you have a few elements of Beach House that are distinctively Beach House. It’s Alex and I, it’s guitar and keyboard, the way that we work together, the chemistry, the fluidity, the nature of things, you know, there are things about the process and the final product that are distinctively Beach House. But with this particular family it’s quite deep and there’s a wider spectrum and there’s a certain amount of honesty. I mean, I stand behind every collection of songs that we’ve done, this is just our ‘Bloom’ collection. I really do feel about music the way a visual artist must feel about an exhibition and how they represent their work in a gallery and create a world, these songs are absolutely ‘Bloom” and it’s all based on feeling, intuition and instinct.

We started fleshing these songs out in March 2011 but it probably wasn’t until the fifth song had been written, it takes about three or four songs until you see the size of the world you’ve created, it wasn’t til then that we started making full blooded songs out of these ideas that we had collected over the past two years. You very naturally see the shape of things and the magnitude and you just keep following and following and following until you have certain types of songs and feelings and sizes. It takes a lot to make an actual album. For us it’s not just about slapping some songs together and being like ‘we have a record’. There has to be certain moments and feelings and you can’t really predict these things. But you can just start with the desire to make an album. Because with Bloom we had like thirty ideas but only ten of those ended up on the album.

So I don’t know if that helps you realise how much we actually had in terms of excitement and desire post the last album but we never stopped thinking about what was next. Some of the ideas started at the very end of the recording cycle for the last record. We never stopped at Teen Dream or settled with Teen Dream. I think we were still very dissatisfied and I think that’s what keeps artists going is that lack of feeling like you have achieved anything (laughs). It’s true! In our minds we don’t ever feel like we’ve made something definitive yet. It’s always bigger or crazier or more this or more that or less this or less that.

You mentioned that you guys had made thirty or so babies for this family. What was the kinship between the songs that did make it onto the album that made you go in that direction?

I mean there is a spiritual thread that connects them. People always ask me ‘is there one theme?’ and I always say ‘no it’s not just one thing it’s more a feeling that you get’. When you play “Wild” or you’re working on “New Year” or “Wishes” you just feel this thing. You feel this thing…I don’t even know how to say it. For Alex and I these things fit together. They just fit together. The force behind them, the intentions, it’s just a feeling. And when making these songs we really didn’t want to just stay in one place and I think that’s one thing that these songs have in common on the album. They start in one place and they go somewhere else and that was really important to us. It was really important for us not to settle for verse/chorus verse/chorus.

We love pop music, obviously, but we didn’t want to settle for a basic structure, not just for the people listening it was really for us as artists. You know, songs where there’s a moment that only happens one time and it never happens again. I think we were getting back in touch with something very creative and powerful. I think one of the weirdest things you can do in music and art in general is how can you be powerful without being aggressive? You can’t predict that. For us when we were mixing the album we were very persistent that we didn’t want things to sound too harsh or loud or abrasive we wanted things to feel warm and beautiful. Like tiny universes.

That’s sort of the intensity. And that’s something I think the songs share, the intensity that we put into each one. In the end when each one came to completion they felt like they were all part of the same intensity. Part of the same whatever it is when you look at something and it all makes sense. Or like when you meet somebody and you think ‘this is someone that I’m going to know for the rest of my life’ or someone that I want to know for the rest of my life or someone that you connect with instantly. It’s the same thing with songs they either connect for this unknown reason or they don’t and they go by the wayside.

Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, Tornillo, Texas, 2011.

We actually posted a few pictures from the recording process on our website. Can you tell us a little bit about the mindset going into it, I know you guys have songs almost completely finished by that stage..

We recorded the album in Texas and it took about seven weeks. Then we mixed it in New York City. We wanted to go to Sonic Ranch Studios because they have certain types of gear that we wanted. We recorded this on two inch tape much like the last one and there was just certain equipment there that we wanted to use. We were also looking for a place where we couldn’t get distracted and just be the weirdos that we are and not be bothered and that’s it.

Like you said the music has nothing to do with those surroundings because the music was written and arranged with production ideas before we got there. But there’s never really any wiggle room with us as far as letting the environment that we’re in change our ideas. Mainly because we’re so controlling but also because you have to have concrete ideas before you explore things sonically. If you don’t have the skeletons, the real songs, you can’t do that because it’s really about songs ultimately. And the studio was very respectful of that and very conducive to people who want to work hard and want to be left alone and take a break once in a while.

One thing that I will say about the environment and that picture of us on the water tower that you might have seen, the few times that we were there we got an amazing view of the western Texas sky and it’s just unbelievable. There’s just nothing. It’s a very complex feeling looking at the sky there. Because you instantly think freedom but there’s an incredible amount of death and dryness too. It’s a mixed bag.

And alone.

Yeah totally, it makes you feel so small. Alex is super into physics and stuff like that and you just realise looking up that there’s hundreds of thousands of other galaxies and when you’re in that kind of environment you really are reminded of how insignificant you are.

For you personally what does the idea of home mean? Like you literally play hundreds of shows in a year, and you’re about to do it all over again, but both the experience of coming home and the idea of home itself – what does it mean for you now that you’re kind of this citizen of the world?

Home is this thing that you sort of take with you wherever you are. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve lived in several different apartments and haven’t toured in six months but when I’m on tour home becomes the vehicle that I’m living in. It’s a bus or a van or a hotel room. I think it’s a feeling that you take with you wherever you go whether that be people in your family or whatever. You always keep certain things in your mind and hold onto to them.

Now I’m increasingly feeling like the idea of my home is the world. Like my home is Baltimore technically but I feel like I live in the world. I feel alive when I’m playing shows and touring and expressing and sharing. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll have a home-home. A physical house that I live in but for now I make my home wherever I am. Like If I’m at the recording studio for two months that’s my home. Then I move everything out and I pack it up and I go. We’re transient people even though we live in Baltimore when we’re not touring. Domesticity is not something that I have the luxury of practicing at this time. Alex and I, we really are taking advantage of our youth and our energy. Our natural rhythm of putting out records every two years is because we want to and because we have that momentum. It has nothing to do with any pressure. No one’s making us do it.

It’s just that you have so many windows in your life to make things, to travel, to do all the things that you wanted to do and I really do feel like this is our giant window. I don’t know what will happen in five years or tens years I just know that tomorrow I’m going back into the practice space to keep working on the live show. And I know that I’m touring a lot this year and I look forward to the weird, wild, bad, good, heartbreaking mess slash epiphanies that might happen this year (laughs).

You mentioned how there’s a wider spectrum in “Bloom” but I think the most distinctive thing about Beach House and this record in general is that indirectness almost where you listen to a song for the umpteenth time before those little moments reveal themselves and magnify everything else that’s happening in the context of the song. And it’s always something so nuanced that you can never quite notice or identify it immediately. How do you guys know how to create such big moments out of such small things and what lets you know that it’ll translate to the listener?

The feeling you just described is something that I’m always striving for. Always. I can’t put words to it but it’s something that I genuinely feel. It’s indirect but it’s somehow going to connect with somebody in some way. And I know that it’s going to. I know that it’s going to because it did for me. A word that I fell in love with recently is inadvertently. Inadvertently means the world to me and I don’t really know why. It speaks to me. I believe in the transference of these energies and I think that Alex and I, when we’re writing and these twists and turns happen in these moments, we’re just like you, we feel that thing while it’s happening. We don’t change that or let go of that. We hold onto it for dear life. It’s something we care a lot about.

I think with lyrics for example I like to combine a bunch of different things. I have never really written the most literal words but I think there’s an emotional quality to them. I like words that can be taken from many different sides and I like creating visions that could mean something for one person and something completely different for someone else. I don’t quite know why I do it I just know that the feeling you just described to me is something I experience and strive for quite often. Whatever that something means to you, it probably means the exact same thing to me it just might be in a different state. Like each time you listen to something, depending on the context in which you’re listening to it, the things that you hold on to will change. You could listen to something ten different times when you’re 14 or 27 or 40 and it’ll mean something completely different each time.

I think the best example of that in your work is something like “Master Of None” which Toro Y Moi covered and The Weeknd sampled and is this pivotal plot point in the Miranda July film The Future. They all saw different qualities in that song which helped serve their own purposes…

Yeah you’re right. I think it’s a very human thing to do. Humans learn from each other and are inspired by each other and it’s all essentially good. I always find it interesting though. I personally don’t like remixes. I’d say that most remixes that exist of our music we didn’t authorise but that’s the thing about the world now is that people can do what they want and you can’t do anything to stop them. But what I can say as an artist is that we want people to experience our album on headphones or buy it on vinyl or whatever. We just want to make sure people have an experience with our music and that it’s special because that’s the way that we feel about music. Which is why we don’t really care about remixes or shitty quality MP3s or things like that because that’s not how we treat our music.

How did The Future thing come about?

We were working with her on that two years ago. She said that she had no money and no budget and that the song was for a really important scene so we edited it for her and sent it back to her and two years later it was in the movie. That’s a really good example of working with another artist. When we believe in something or someone we generally don’t have a problem with it. It’s just a question of do we understand it, do we like it, does it feel right. And that’s how we’ve always made our decisions like whether to put music in TV shows. We say no to a lot of things but we also say yes to certain things. If the story behind it or the reason for the music is something we can understand and we believe in then we’ll probably be fine with it. We’re pretty picky though.

What’s your favourite tiny moment on the record?

I think my favourite tiny moment is at the end of ‘Irene’ though I’ve had many, many moments with each of these songs. But because you’ve been so nice to me I’ll give in to the favourite question which I hate doing because I’ll say it and then someone else will say ‘I heard your favourite song was “Irene”‘ and it’s like I love them all! But the end of “Irene” was a really special moment. That’s pretty much a live take and it means a lot to me.

Thanks for your time Victoria.

Thank you. Take care.

Beach House release ‘Bloom’ on May 11 via Mistletone / Inertia.

All Photos Provided by Beach House