Waking Up to Beach House

Hunkered down in a small wooden room near the town of Woodstock, New York during the early summer of 2009, Beach House began work on Teen Dream. Originating from Baltimore, guitarist Alex Scally and organist-singer Victoria Legrand describe Teen Dream as a culmination of life’s happenings.

“I think the process was really just life,” Scally suggests.

“It was months and years in the making,” adds Legrand.

“We were at a very lovely studio. It had a beautiful wooden room, which is where we recorded all the sounds and organs and guitars,” says Legrand. “The recording process was about three weeks, so it was a little bit longer than devotion and 3 times as long as the first one. The environment was very concentrated.”

“Kind of a middle of nowhere vibe… rolling hills, serene summertime so you heard the rainstorms, animal life everywhere. We slept there so we wouldn’t have to leave at night and so we could work until whatever hour we wanted. A lot of nights ended with the sun up. We would just pass out and start whenever everyone got up. That happened for three weeks. It was pretty amazing,” offers Scally.

Teen Dream is a definite expansion of Beach House’s internalized sound. The guitar is louder, the vintage organ sounds have added depth. Notice a perfectly placed cymbal crash signaling a change in movement, and the omnipresent, beautifully soaring vocals. However, it functions on its own terms. It sounds like the Beach House we know and love, but without being a mere reiteration of the previous two albums. It has become apparent; the sound they’ve keyed in on has many shapes, sizes, and colors.

“It’s really simple,” says Scally. “We made our first record, we wrote it in our houses and we recorded it in our basement, we went on tour. We came back and we had more ideas, more just natural things. Made another record in the studio for 6-7 days. Went on tour again, learned a ton all year on tour, touring everywhere. Getting to go to different countries and touring. Came back and started working and…it’s all been a natural progression of ideas and development.”

“I think it’s more of an evolution,” says Legrand.

“It’s older and more confident, more developed. Its come with age, age is a certain thing where…there’s so much power and confidence with age,” interjects Scally.

“But I would never want to say it’s definitive because then what is our next work? Not definitive, regressive?” adds Legrand. “This record has taught us what we can do with time. If we just give ourselves a little bit more time – and it’s not even in the grand scope of things a huge amount of time. If we just are allowed to have a certain amount of time, what we’re capable of…”

“It’s just another step for us. But, for me, it’s the proudest of anything I’ve ever made,” says Scally. “I imagine the next record will be far better, but I’ve felt that of every record.”

A peculiar feature of Beach House’s music is how it evokes certain imagery in the mind of the listener. Vast fields of swaying wheat on a blue-sky day, waiting for the school bus during a warm rainstorm, dew dripping from a budding leaf, freedom, openness, space. Even the name of the album — Teen Dream — brings to mind a sort of melancholy, archetypal vision of a limitless future. But then everyone has a different vision or dream growing up of “how things should be,” our teenage years are so deeply personal, that it’s hard to imagine what such an archetype would look like if one did exist.

“I think all music comes from a personal thing. Whether it’s an experience, abstract memory, some emotion, something raw. As far as the end result is concerned I think that, lyrically especially, I’ve always tried to find more powerful visions than just the literal direct ‘what happened.’ I try to find something that’s bigger than myself, or bigger than where it came from. I don’t know if that makes any sense but, I think for it to mean something for someone else it has to be up there, it has to be away from you,” Legrand digresses.

She emphasizes the role that lyrics play in their song craft: “I try to be as free as possible when coming up with the lyrics. In the end they are very carefully chosen and I think that every word is important. I don’t think that they’re secondary. Any word written on a page is going to be a different experience if you’re reading it without the music. It’s going to mean different things. I think fewer words have more power, it’s important to be selective in what you say.”

For those lucky enough to get tickets to their recently sold out show at the Neurolux, Beach House delivered an expansive, existential set of arm-cradling music. The eager crowd was swept away in a wash of expressive vocals and glimmering guitar/organ interplay.  The songs are tightly composed, but at the same time very spacious. It was interesting to see them manipulate that space in a live setting.

“We drive a lot of volume into that space, I think Victoria sings into that space a lot, I think we drum into that space,” says Scally. “You know there’s a lot of things that, I hope it’s not missed but, there’s a lot of subtleties amongst things live that changes every night which is really exciting. Little rhythms change, little feelings change, new dynamics grow. I think a very bad listener would say that we play the songs like the album. Which, we essentially do with the arrangements with small changes. But a good listener would realize we bring a lot of different energy to each one of the songs, every night.

“Songs take on different shapes with the crowds and the rooms. Sometimes a set will take on a really somber thing, or sometimes it becomes rock and it’s like a party, sometimes it becomes almost dance-y and there’s a dance party…there’s a lot of shape shifting live.”

Scally offers some deep-thinking words about their use of drum loops. They use the loops in addition to an actual drummer. “We still always use the loops live because there’s kind of this thing, there’s this thing where, it’s a push and pull that happens. That’s really, for me an extreme feeling, and one I would never have were it just a drummer playing a beat. It’s this crazy thing of like playing and going in and out of and playing inside of something mechanical. That is, I’m realizing, intrinsic to what we do.”

Legrand elaborates, “The restraint too, it’s also the restraint of energy that causes a huge swell, especially live. And I think it definitely comes out in the music, the blend of the two, it enhances the energy.”

Both members comment on how they really enjoyed their stay in Boise. They say it was the first chance they’ve had to rest in a while. Their moods are gentle and upbeat, a contrast from the somber tones in their music. By now, however, Beach House are long ahead in its journey, hitting venues in British Columbia, Seattle, San Francisco, and so on. The day-to-day being one giant performance where art reflects life and life reflects art.

“When we’re writing the songs we’re playing them constantly…but then we get really tight while on the tour. Everybody starts to get good at what they do and playing together,” says Scally.

Legrand muses, “I think our biggest rehearsal right now is just touring. We just came back from Europe, we were there for six weeks, we were home for six days, it’s a constant thing…the rehearsal is life.”


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