TAS In Session: Beach House
Beach House recently released their third album Teen Dream on Sub Pop and lots of people are saying that its their best record to date. And I'm going to have to agree with that.
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have a very unique sound. They've often been described as having a dreamy and atmospheric vibe. This is actually a source of frustration to them , because they don't necessarily feel that way about their music. They feel as though they've been pigeonholed by this response which I guess is understandable. Many times when a band is described like that you might think that their music could fade into the background. Beach House's sound, however, is very much in the foreground.
Their style was evident from the very start of their career with their 2006 self-titled debut album. But years of experience have enabled Legrand and Scally to hone their musical skills to the point where Teen Dream sounds more confident and vivid than any of their previous releases.
We talked about the album and the cool DVD which accompanies it, which includes a music video for each song on the album. Legrand makes her directorial debut on the video for "Silver Soul" and there are also contributions from Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew and Seattle artist Sean Pecknold, brother of Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes.
Alisa Ali: You guys holed yourselves up in a converted church in upstate New York [to record this album]?
Victoria Legrand: We went for a month and we stayed in a house and we continued the intense focus process that we'd been doing in Baltimore. And it was a church but it didn't feel very religious at all.
Alisa: What did it look like?
Victoria: it was a beautiful wooden room with stained glass, high ceilings, but no religious iconography anywhere.
Alex Scally I thought it was more barn-like than church-like.
Alisa: Was that experience different from how you recorded in the past?
Victoria: It was longer.
Alex: Every other time time we've recorded it's been about getting it done as quickly as humanely possible because we had a few days to do everything. This time, we had a ton of time. Three weeks, but that seemed like an eternity. We were able to take our time and focus.
Alisa: People have been saying you have a very consistent sound, but to me, you sound more confident.
Victoria: I think we've definitely gotten stronger, but that's what happens when you tour constantly. You live and breathe the music that you make.
Alex: I think we still have a lot of the same musical interests but I think there's definitely been a natural drive towards sophistication. I don't think anyone wants to make the same record twice and you tire of the old things. I think we're tired of those low fi sounds, they're limiting and have one dimension.
Victoria: We just tried something a little different, but not too different.
Alex: It's like getting a new Lazy-Boy chair!
Victoria: We might go back to the Lazy-Boy. You never know what might happen four months from now. You never know how you're going to feel about songs because when you play them live you learn so much about [them] and what you loved you might not like. It's a crazy cycle.
Alisa: When you play the songs, have you found that you're favoring particular songs to play live?
Victoria: We've been playing some of the new songs for a little bit but then there's a whole other half of the record that we've yet to really perform every night. So, we've had fun playing "Walk in the Park" and it's always really fun when you play the new songs because Devotion is definitely played out for us. We want more from [Devotion songs]. It feels old but it also feels strange in your body.
Alex: It's like hooking up with your ex-girlfriend and it's horrible. You know you shouldn't be doing it and it's not right.
Victoria: And you're trying to capture how it felt when you dated ....
Alex (finishing her sentence): But it's not going to happen. It's gross.
Alisa: So these songs are basically your girlfriends?
Victoria: Every record.
Alisa: I like that analogy. So the new album is Teen Dream. What does that mean to you?
Victoria: It's something that came out of a burst of energy. When we found the words, we instantly knew it was the title of the record. I think we had four songs at that point and it gave us this incredible light at the end of the tunnel. It's really just an abstracted sense of freedom, passion, obsession, whatever you'd make of it as well. It felt very classic to us.
Alex: It was an instinctual blurt as many things are for us.
Victoria:: It's not about our teen past, though I'm sure most people would say that we are giant teenagers.
Alex: We didn't name the album 'The Dream You Experience During Your Teenaged Years' because it's not specific.
Victoria: It seemed like the proper point for a record that, for us, felt epic on certain levels. A lot of imagination, a lot of movement, so it really seemed like the proper sail for this very swift creature that grew up out of waves. And that's literally what the record felt like, making it, and so when that happened it did feel like something bursting through.
Alex: The Germans did not understand the Teen Dream title. They wanted specifics. They wouldn't just let it be. They were like 'but what does it mean?'
Alisa: Victoria, what a voice you have. It's so unique and different. Did you know you've been getting a lot of comparisons to Stevie Nicks? What do you think of that?
Victoria: I think it's better than Nico. At least Stevie Nicks hits actual notes.
Alex: Stevie Nico.
Victoria: Nico Nicks.
Alisa Ali: Did you ever have formal training in singing?
Victoria: I did. I started singing when I was 14 and did some opera-ish type stuff, but that kind of singing you have to keep working on it. I'm very grateful for my training, but [for this kind of singing] you use parts of it. It's a very different world, the ncredibly fragile, yet very precise world of formal opera singing. You have to keep working on [your range] it otherwise you lose it. This is a different style, this is rock 'n' roll. I can't believe I just said that (laughs). I'm going to get punched later.
Alisa: And Alex, saw you doing some fancy footwork there. What are all of those pedals?
Alex: It's just a bass synth which is just a very exciting new element for us. And it's really one of the most exciting musical things that's happened for me in the last few years.
Victoria: Besides Eric Clapton.
Alex: Yeah, except for studying Eric Clapton constantly. Just starting to play with my feet and my hands at the same time is so enjoyable. The division that happens in your brain is really exciting.
Alisa: You've got a video for each song [on a DVD accompanying Teen Dream]. Whose idea was it to do that?
Victoria: It was our idea to have a DVD and it just fit with Teen Dream.
Alex: I think this probably grew out of two things. We think of our music as extremely visual and I think we wanted to promote that. The other thing was that we experienced frustration after our last album - the pigeonholed response to our music, of it being dreamy, ethereal. Which is not really the way we feel about it at all. This super one dimensional reception and I think by getting these artists involved, curating these [ten directors] and having nothing to do with the ideas at all, we were able to stimulate a new realm of responses to what we make. I think it's really awesome to give people who listen to us, along with the record, a whole library of interpretations to accompany it.
Victoria: Watching them, one after the other, is actually a very intense experience. We did that for the first time yesterday. We had a little screening. And I got to see all of the videos, really, for the first time, all in a line. Other people's interpretations of what you do is ultimately much more fascinating than your own.
Alisa: You directed one of the videos too.
Victoria: For "Silver Soul." I had a very strong vision for that song and that's the only reason I did it because I've never [directed] before. This was my first experience. It was very challenging. I saw this very strange narrative, hula hoops, this girl, a shower. All very tangible. And my brother. So it was fun and I filmed it in Baltimore. I can't believe it's real.
Alisa: The production seems much tighter on this record. The songs seems more vivid.
Alex: It's a really different style. Those sounds that we were going after, that we were really obsessed with, are those really fast, lo-fi, immediate sounds which are really great because they capture a certain energy. And there was a lot of reverb on the previous records and there isn't a lot on this record. I think what we were ultimately trying to do was have the same feeling of reverb - that epic, giant, expansive sound - but without any reverb. I think we were attempting to record it in a panoramic, tall [way] so that when you listen to it, it's literally everywhere in the sonic spectrum.
Alex on 'Walk in the Park': "The first thing that happens in a song is usually really exciting, like the first little chord progression. But then there's this immediate wall that hits: how do you make this into a song and not destroy what was so amazing about this first little part? One of the coolest evolutions of ["Walk in the Park"] was we had the whole song and when Victoria goes into the outro, it actually changes keys, something that's really fun. It's actually an old-fashioned thing. It goes up to an entirely different key. And that part would have never sounded like that had it not been for [drummer] Dan [Franz]. We were coming to that part and he just leapt into this loping drum thing at the end. It's really epic and rolling. That was one of the last things that happened that made the song way better."