One of the most pleasant experiences I've had listening to rock music this year was discovering how much I liked Beach House's
self titled debut the first time I heard it. What I heard that first time was clearly something special: quiet, dreamy music that doesn't seem to come from any particular time or place but somehow sounds very familiar almost right away. Victoria Legrand's dark organs serve as a simple and powerful atmospheric backdrop to Alex Scally's gorgeous slide guitar parts that always seem to start off hidden beneath a fog of ghostly reverb but somehow manage to slowly find their way into the light, creating many of the album's most striking and memorable moments with restrained, surf influenced shimmers. Victoria's vocals, although not exactly precise or traditional, are extraordinarily effective in lending soul and sorrow to songs that often sound so detached that one might imagine them fading away into the distance at any moment. Basically, the contributions of both members stand out in different spots but come together seamlessly to create a series of very distinct moods that are pretty much perfect for this time of year.
I called Alex and Victoria tonight, on the eve of a show they were playing in Los Angeles with Ariel Pink
, to ask them some questions about their band. I first spoke with Victoria when they were on their way to a hotel, but after a few interruptions caused by bad reception and the chaos of arriving in a new town, I picked the conversation back up with Alex once they settled down. Beach House is playing a Gorilla vs. Bear
show at the Amsterdam
this Saturday night, and although you might not have heard about it in the local "alternative" paper (at least I didn't see anything about it) , I'm sure you'll want to consider going once you've heard their music... if you haven't already. Here is our conversation:What are you guys doing out in LA... playing shows I'm assuming?
We're playing a show tomorrow at Echo with Ariel Pink.
Oh cool. I've seen him live twice. Once he played a lot of album cuts and put on an amazing performance, and the other time he did improv for 45 minutes.
Yeah, it can kind of go any way with him. He's unpredictable.
So I guess I'll start with the usual stuff... how did you guys meet and how did the band come together?
Alex and I met about three years ago through a mutual friend. I had just moved to Baltimore from Paris where I was studying music and acting, and I picked Baltimore to live in because the rent was cheap and I already had some music connections there. We were in another project together before Beach House, which never really added up to anything, and one day we just started writing and Beach House was born shortly after that. We've been doing it for about a year and a half now.
And had you guys just been playing locally in Baltimore for most of that time?
Yeah, we were playing locally in Baltimore for most of that time. We played in New York and a few other places once and a while, but primarily stayed in Baltimore. We started getting some attention because of our local shows, and we actually recorded our album very quickly, several months into the existence of the band. The album was recorded in February and was mastered and done in March. We were signed a couple of months later.
So everything happened pretty fast?
Beach House moved gradually, but the process of actually getting a record out happened very quickly. We were very lucky.
Would you attribute that (the speed of the records release) to anything in particular? Did someone catch notice of you early?
I would attribute it to a lot of work and a lot of dedication to our stuff, as well as our energy and desire to put our record out as quickly as possible because we were already writing new material and we thought fall would be the best time to release it. I attribute a lot of it to our own ambitions to get our material out. If we hadn't been signed we probably would have released it ourselves, but as it turned out, Carpark records was looking at artists in our area and they just got a hold of us, which is how it all happened.
I've noticed that a lot or reviews of your album make reference to your name and use visual descriptions of beaches and the fall and things like that to describe the sound. Does any of that have anything to do with what you were writing about or thinking about while you were writing these songs?
Well, obviously its all related, but its not like the name Beach House guided what we would sing about. Its just that the name was a way we were trying to describe what we felt like when we were playing the music, like we were in another part of the world, on the beach or something, and the word Beach House just sort of popped out one day. Its all very naturally fallen into place, which I guess is what happens when you're trying something that makes sense to you. You find a sort of language that you can cultivate in a musical sense. I don't really think much about what I'm singing or how its going to end up, it sort of all comes out naturally. All our processes are very organic and we always just let every idea go.
I think you record is one of the few that has gained a lot "indie" buzz this year that really doesn't sound a whole hell of a lot like anything else from the past. Were there any strong, direct musical influences that you guys had in mind when you were writing this record?
I would say no, we don't have any particular or deliberate specific influences that we were trying to imitate when we were writing our songs. Alex and I loved the sounds that we created and found, and we sort of followed our instincts. We do share musical tastes, we both love music from the 60's and Motown and all that stuff obviously, so if there are any kind of influences brought to mind by our music, its just mostly referential without really being super conscious of anything. Its sort of just a big collage of all of our tastes. We weren't trying to sound like any specific artist at any point, and neither of us believe that that is how music should be. It shouldn't begin as an imitation. If it ends up sounding like something else, then thats the way it is, but in order to write songs, you can't think about what it sounds like or who it sounds like while you're writing. It has to remain somewhat innocent and protected. You can keep the things you like, but keep them in the background.
So are you saying that even if you had wanted to approach writing and recording songs with direct influences in mind, maybe you couldn't have even done it to begin with, or at least not as effectively?
No, when we write our material, we don't want to sound like any specific artist, and when we record, we don't look for a sound that sounds like any certain album. We say, when we write and record our music, "this is Alex and Victoria writing songs, we are just doing this and these are the sounds we like." We're not trying to imitate anyone. Inevitably, we're going to be put in some genre, like we're already being put in with shoegaze, and thats totally fine, but we're just trying to not let that affect how we approach our music. We' re trying to guard it a little bit. Labeling and all this stuff is fine if people need to do it, but for the artist, its very destructive and it actually creates too many thoughts in your mind where you become too preoccupied with what you sounds like and who you will appeal to. We try to very much remain in a more innocent place.
(This is the point where Victoria had to hang up because one of the other bands they were touring with needed directions to their hotel. I called back a few minutes later and talked to Alex, who answered the rest of my questions.)
What was the recording process like, and where did you record your album?
We recorded the album in my basement but with two very well trained and experienced recording people setting it up with appropriate microphones and stuff like that. We just kind of set up a studio in my basement and did it at home.
How did you guys get that faint drum sound? I'm curious because it really stands out to me throughout the record.
All different ways really. Some of them were recorded on to tape first and played like that, to get a sound that was very filtered. All of the drum sounds are filtered in one way or another, either by effects or recording process. We played all the songs live, or at least did the recording live. The drums were recorded before, by themselves, and were their own recorded part. Some of them are hand played, some are made using machines, and some were played on organs.
How important was it to you to record the album in the way you did? Was recording technique a big part of your vision for the record itself, or did it fall into place later as you were going about it?
I think production is 90% of making a record. I think tons of bands, in fact, most bands don't get a good recording. So it was really really important to us to get a recording that sounds like us or expresses our character or how we feel as we're writing our songs.
You guys have been getting a lot of press lately, and I wanted to ask you about the big Pitchfork review since people love to debate about how Pitchfork reviews affect a band's career in the short term. I was wondering if that review changed things for you, or sparked a lot of new interest in your band.
I don't know. I have a hard time answering that question. I don't know what attention was there, and I don't really monitor it. I'm on tour, and not around a computer a lot, so I don't keep track of that kind of stuff. Pitchfork seems to help. When bands get good reviews from them they end up getting a lot of attention, so I'm sure it helped us, I just don't know exactly what role it played. It also seems like Pitchfork fans are very fickle, like they like whatever Pitchfork says and then move on to the next band. Its like they like Pitchfork more than the bands almost. Hopefully that won't happen to us because we don't want to be a five minute band. We want people to just like the music and not think of it as some "new" thing.
People seem to put a lot of importance in Pitchfork reviews.
I'm sure we've had a lot better attendance at shows because of Pitchfork and everything, but everyone has been really nice so its hard to tell. I don't like to think about it too much because it kind of freaks me out. I just want to play and make music and let the press do what it does. I just want us to be ourselves.
So obviously we're doing this interview because you're playing Dallas on Friday. Have you been to Texas before? Do you have any impressions of it?
Yeah, I was in Austin recently. I liked it a lot.
Have you been to Dallas?
Just the bus station.
Any funny stories?
No, Texas looks wonderful. Everything looks big. Big cars. Big cities. Big freeways. Big people. I don't know.
Anything else you'd like to talk about?
No, we're trying not to think about things too much. We just want to make music and not plan too extensively, because it seems with all the things that have popped up recently, there are a lot of opportunities to lose your way and get very caught up in the meaningless bullcrap of the music world.
Is that something you feel a lot of pressure or anxiety over?
No, thats my point exactly. We're feeling no pressure, we want to keep doing exactly what we've been doing which is just making music and not trying to make the "right moves" or cater to anyone's opinions to get attention.