Beach House’s Essential Truths: Innocence, Punk and a Twist of Fate
Beach House make some of the most mysterious music in modern pop. At first listen, it may seem like albums like 2015’s Depression Cherry and their seventh and latest LP, 7 (out May 11th), leave space for listeners to project their own hazy affections onto the songs, in the spirit of stalwart dream-pop acts like the Cocteau Twins. It’s a quality that the Baltimore duo’s fans prize, but for singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist-keyboardist Alex Scally, it isn’t their first instinct.
“We didn’t set out to make music that invites people into a world,” Scally says. Instead, he insists, their music is “very personal to us,” carved from living, feeling, existing, experiencing. “It’s our personal color, our particular flavor,” Legrand adds. “We write about real things. When it comes out, it’s a natural flow and a part of you.”
“When you write lyrics, when you sing, I believe it,” Scally says, addressing her directly. “I believe that it’s you.”
We’re seated on the greenhouse patio of New York’s Ludlow Hotel, the angular outdoor furniture contrasting with the dark antiques inside. Legrand and Scally look past me as we talk, their eyes focused squarely on each other. It’s hard to not take this personally at first, but it becomes apparent that they are scanning each others’ faces for cues; it’s how they’re famously able to finish each other’s sentences. Theirs is a limitless connection forged by hours of creative work, a kind of telepathy divined from 13 years as a band, 77 songs and seven records in.
When Legrand and Scally met in Baltimore in the early 2000s, they discovered that, in essence, they were creative soulmates. “Fate played a hand,” Scally says. How else to explain the incredible odds of two musicians who complement each other, out of the billions of humans on this planet, let alone the increasingly small pool of musicians with any discernible talent?
“My strengths seemed to be where her weaknesses were,” said Scally. “And her strengths seemed to be where my weaknesses are. What we made [together] was instantly far better than anything we made on our own. It was an ease of work.” Legrand still recalls the first time she watched Scally play an acoustic guitar. “I knew that there was someone who was willing to chase this dream with me,” she says. “It’s not overt ambition, but you’re both simultaneously going towards something together.”
That said, Legrand notes explains that their partnership takes honest work. “There were times when we didn’t get along,” she says. Scally agrees: “You, too, can have this [creative soulmate] thing — if you’re willing to go through constant hell with someone.”
Their relative insulation is, in part, a matter of self-protection. It’s why you won’t hear Beach House in a commercial. “We’ve not to tried to overexpose ourselves or shove ourselves down anyone’s throat,” Legrand says.
“We’re both obsessed with keeping that youthful innocence,” Scally agrees. For Legrand, it’s about appreciating a “punk vibe, because when you’re younger, you don’t give a fuck.”
Both of them romanticize their beginnings as a bedroom band, and they take none of the success they’ve experienced for granted. Scally still keeps a list on his phone with the date and location of every show they’ve played.
The 13-date installation tour they mounted in 2016, housed in small, 200-capacity performance spaces, was aimed at preserving that charm. “It brought back an intimacy,” Legrand says. The band performed behind a gauzy curtain, with swelling tube lights and a lumbering shelving unit containing fiber optic roses that twinkled like a city lights from a plane. Still, Scally admits the shortcomings of the experiment: tickets sold out immediately, leaving many disappointed fans unable to attend. “I don’t like exclusivity at all,” he says. “Our ambition [was greater] than the practicality.”
Beach House are revered by fans for their consistent sound, but Scally and Legrand move heaven and earth to maintain that consistency while challenging their own formula each time. For 7, they worked with co-producer Sonic Boom (Peter Kember), a change from their longtime collaborator Chris Coady. (Disclosure: My partner worked as a studio technician for Coady on 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom, before we met.)
The new production arrangement seems to have guided Beach House away from restraint, self-imposed or otherwise. Dainty synth intros slide toward resignation deeper in the song (“Drunk in LA,” “Lose Your Smile”), and loosened song structures feel like psalms of love to Beach House’s own gifts (“Last Ride,” “L’Inconnue”).
Kember encouraged a free-spirited approach to songwriting, with Scally and Legrand crafting music by allowing it to “write itself,” says Scally. “A melody has a spirit,” adds Legrand. “It has demands, it shows you what journey it wants to take. As you stretch it out, as you play with it, as you repeat it, you see what it wants to do.”
Their live drummer, James Barone, adds newfound auxiliary percussive color on every song on 7, dotting Scally’s guitar arpeggios like sun-kissed freckles. His malletted cymbal swells, a rare sound in modern rock music, are no longer relegated to the stage; the crashes of “Dive” fill laptop speakers just easily as they will a live setting.
7 is an album full of thematic contradictions, between surrendering and action, love and despair. “Dark Spring,” the opener, dashes forward with purposeful urgency, using psychedelia-flecked minor chord progressions to awaken us. The seductive ballad “Lose Your Smile,” a late-album highlight, warmly gives us space to succumb: “Tomorrow is gone today/Lose your smile.”
After all, what’s left to smile about these days? Legrand laughs when I suggest Cardi B as one of the last remaining bright spots in pop culture. “She’s a fireball,” she says, referencing Carol Burnett and Tiffany Haddish as other personal icons, all women who are so firmly themselves. Legrand, too, is a force of nature in her understated way, unequaled in her use of poetic abstraction to illustrate very real moments.
If it still feels like Beach House’s music is open to interpretation, it’s only in the way that Van Gogh’s paintbrush once snaked around the stars, the swirls cradling points of light in the heavens. He used abstraction to illuminate an essential truth, and Scally and Legrand follow in this tradition. “It’s always from a belief in a universal feeling, and what feels right in the moment, because being connected to the ground is key,” Legrand explains. By demystifying this band, a far more beautiful truth reveals itself: Beach House’s music is about the achingly real moments that belong to all of us.
There's Still Time to See Taylor Swift (and Get a Discount on 'Eras' Tour Tickets)
- TAYLOR SWIFT TICKETS