Beach House make dreamy jams that could be described as effortlessly cool if they weren’t so damn complicated. Vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand has a similarly intricate way of talking; she weaves in and out of tangents meticulously, cracking jokes along the way that contradict her solemn presence onstage.
Legrand describes Beach House as “early on in the year,” mentioning that by the time 2012 is all said and done, she and bandmate Alex Scally will have played about 100 more shows. The Baltimore duo has enjoyed a monster year already, though, after releasing their fourth album Bloom in May to commercial and critical success. Rolling Stone caught up with Legrand on a break between tours to discuss the not-so-meteoric rise of Beach House, her qualms with the music press and why her band will “always be kind of scrappy and stubborn.”
You and Alex have spoken extensively about making music for yourselves, first and foremost. But it has to feel good that Bloom has been so well-received.
Obviously, it’s great to know that your music is being listened to. I feel like we’ve never wanted to force our music on anyone, and hope that even if it’s doing better than our last album – or whatever the industry words are – it’s still based on people liking the music. We’ve made choices in our past to avoid those types of situations where we would be marketed as being in someone’s face. You do have to say no a lot. We’re just trying to maintain that word-of-mouth, organic feeling.
It’s been eight years, and it’s nice to see the growth still happening, accumulating steadily over time. It’s very natural. What I think is unnatural – and we’re lucky because this didn’t happen to us – is when you have one album and it blows up and you have to figure out how to do the second one. With us, people caught on to something on our third album, and that will never be repeated. Basically, I don’t really have any complaints about the way that Beach House has grown. I feel like we’re still in control of what we’re doing, and it’s a great time in our existence. But I can’t actually stop my hyperactive brain. I’m already thinking about, “I want to find a keyboard or I want to find this thing.”
So you’re already thinking about the next album?
Kind of. I’m not thinking about our next record, specifically. I’m thinking about creating – “Oh, I want to make this, I want to make this, I want to make this.” It’s not limited to music, either.
In a recent interview, Alex said that he feels like people tend to hear tones instead of fully-formed songs when they listen to Beach House. Why do you think that is?
Sometimes people talk about music, whether blogs or magazines, in a strange way where it doesn’t seem like they’re actually listening to it. They’re just like, ‘Oh, it sounds like the second album.’ It’s not the best way to listen to music. You can’t direct people, but you can just go, “Hey, I don’t quite know what that means.” In our music, there’s a lot of stuff going on, but the most important thing for us is that we hope it resonates with people. If someone talks about that, we’re going to understand. Whereas if they say, “It really sounds like this,” we’re gonna say, “Uh huh, ok.” You can make a reference to Cocteau Twins, you can make as many references as you want, but I do think the most meaningful thing about our music is the feeling.
I saw your release show for Bloom in New York, and I appreciated the sparse set – the industrial fans with the light streaming through them. What’s the role of visuals in a Beach House live show?
We come up with the concept ourselves, and Alex built all of that. He’s done carpentry and he literally built two sets, one for Europe and one for America, all before we left for the earlier shows. In terms of the visual, we’re probably never going to have too much. When you have too much going on, it can be kind of awkward or jarring, like you’re trying too hard to put on a light show. It’s always about trying to make everything go with the music, like a script. It’s not like, “Let’s have a confetti gun!” If I ever have one of those, it will be because it’s absolutely the right thing at the moment in the song. I can’t just go get a confetti gun.
Right, you’re not Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.
That makes total sense with their music! But that’s the thing: it just has to fit with what’s going on. It’ll always be something different or slightly new. Same thing with setlists. On the upcoming tour, we’re not going be playing the same set every night. It’s not about being a robot, it’s about adapting to every situation, whether it’s in front of 5,000 people or 200 people. We’re definitely still bouncing around between small rooms and 1,200-capacity spaces. For us, there is definitely a limit on size.
What point would you have to get to, popularity-wise, to be uncomfortable?
I think that what has made us uncomfortable, we’ve already passed on. I can’t say exactly what that point is, but I’d hope we’ll keep using the same intuitions that we’ve had, but with an open mind. If, for example, a commercial does want to use our song and we support the company, yeah, they can use our song, and everything will be fine because we won’t feel artistically compromised and the commercial will have what it wants. We’re definitely not opposed to those types of things.
We’d probably never be happy playing an arena, but that’s not even going to be a possibility unless we open for a band we love. As long as we can keep doing what we’re doing, I’m not concerned about getting to a point where I think to myself, “What the hell happened?” I’m not going to have a Russell Brand moment – where he just wakes up in a bed wearing gold chains and smoking a cigarette, like, “What happened?”