27 February 2008

Band of the Week: Beach House (Exclusive EF Interview)

Band: Beach House
From: Baltimore, MD
Sound: dreamy, shimmery ballads; think melancholy but hold the depression
Similar Artists: Mazzy Star, Cat Power, Galaxie 500, Nico
Listen Now: "Heart of Chambers"

Let's begin with a simple plea: go get Beach House's new album Devotion right now. Go ahead, we'll wait for you. Wait, where are you going? You don't have to leave the comfort of your computer/cubicle/sofa, just click above on the album title or troll the digital store of your preference.

Okay, time to regroup; everyone back here and all ready to go? Good. Hit play on track one and let's do this...

Beach House is the Baltimore-based duo of Victoria Legrand (vocals, keyboards) and Alex Scully (guitar, keyboards), but perhaps you already knew that. After all, their self-titled debut album was released to near-universal praise in 2006 while Devotion has been on store shelves for a mere two days and yet has already amassed a thesaurus's worth of glowing superlatives (I'm doing my best to add to the mass, just wait for the next sentence).

Purveyors of ethereal, delicate, and deeply affecting compositions, sorcerers of instant atmospheric immersion, and also very nice folks to gab with, Legrand and Scully took some time out from preparing for their upcoming headlining tour to talk with EAR FARM about the joys of life on the road, the inspiration behind Devotion, covering (and then meeting) Daniel Johnston and how to answer the phone with your ass....

Cue Scene: I call Alex's cell phone and awkwardly repeat "Hello? Hello? Hellloooooo?" while listening to about a minute of rustling and muffled conversation before he explains

Alex: That’s hilarious. Sorry, my butt answers it, I don’t even hear anyone call and my butt just answers it. We were talking about women’s fashion. We were just at the mall buying white pants. We’re just kind of doing all the last minute stuff before going on tour.

EF: How are you guys feeling about heading back on the road starting on the 28th for yet another long tour?

Alex: We’re both really excited. Personally, I haven’t really been doing anything creative for a while and even though it’s playing songs we’ve already written it feels good to be intensely musical again.

EF: Have you been playing these new songs from Devotion live a lot lately?

Alex: Well we haven’t really played since November and we didn’t play all these new songs so we’re definitely excited to play a bunch of them, and also Jason Quever from Papercuts is going to be joining us on percussion so I feel like the songs are going to feel very exciting and feel really alive. I’m excited.

EF: When did you finish recording and mastering for Devotion? Was it not until after you wrapped up playing live shows in November?

Alex: No no no, they make you finish records so early now…I think it was totally mastered by late September and we had started recording in early August. There’s such a delay with things. It’s like whenever you see a band on tour with a new record you know that that was due for them at the earliest 6 months ago.

EF: Right, well that’s why I was wondering whether maybe you guys were already sick of the material from Devotion but it's great that that’s not the case.

Alex: It is great. When we toured after our first record it was tough because we’d already been playing those songs for a year, so it’s definitely going to feel a lot more alive this time around.

EF: Well, you’re basically veterans of the road at this point. Is it possible to have any sense of normalcy or schedule on the road or does that all just go out the window?

Alex: I think schedule and normality go out the window on tour, you’re sort of suspended in mid-air in a sense.

EF: Is that an environment that you find to be at all beneficial?

Alex: When we’ve had really good tours – certain parts of tours have been good and other parts not so great – the good times were really amazing because I think you get a lot of energy from people enjoying what you made and that feels really great, and of course I think that sustains you. But then you have a lot of bad shows, like when we went to Europe the record had been out for so long that things didn’t feel special. So, the worst is when things don’t feel special and then I think the best is when everything does feel special and every show is unique and exciting.

EF: It sounds like you feed off the vibe you get from the audience then and that dictates a lot?

Alex: Yeah definitely. And then it also goes into the day you’re having before the show. When that good stuff is happening, you start feeling good about everything and having more fun and taking things less seriously and you’re able to stay excited.

EF: Yet because your music is very lulling and gentle, I was curious if at times playing shows there was ever a barrier in reaching people who may either be standing there with their arms folded or wanting something heavier?

Alex: Not that I’ve noticed. Generally, the people who probably come out for us know what they’re getting.

EF: Well, it’s just that I could see the potential for you being mismatched with other performers on a bill. It could be a barrier to cross because your music is so delicate.

Alex: Yeah actually, we went on a tour in Europe with a really great band Arbouretum and they’re really heavy, they’re loud and they can play really hard and at some of those shows when we opened for their fans it was a little hard to be exciting, but I still think it went okay. I think a live drummer too will help whatever amount of that still exists. But also, this is our headlining show and I think most people coming will know what to expect. Plus its a lot more abrasive, the sounds are louder and more intense too than on the record.

EF: Are the arrangements any different than the record if that’s the case?

Alex: The arrangements are the same but it sounds a lot different as you’d expect.

EF: I was wondering if we could talk about Devotion now while on the subject. It feels like such a cohesive album and cohesive statement, obviously I don’t want to set you up and say “concept album” but it seems like there are some common themes running throughout?

Alex: I’ll start the answer and then I’ll pass it over to Victoria because she writes all the lyrics. I think we’ve always described both our albums as families – like each album is a family of songs – and I don’t think it’s a concept album, but it is a family seeing as they were all written in a similar phase and with similar energy. I’m going to pass you over to Victoria…

Victoria: yeah I mean they’re all birthed from different places but I think there’s a lot of connections with love, absence and the unknown and small things like that. In the end, if you were to do one of those drawings with a list of words on the left and then some categories on the right they would all connect, and you’d be able to draw many different lines across. I mean it’s not that thought out, but I did do a whole lot more crafting this time on the lyrics because I guess there was a lot more that I wanted to come out.

EF: It definitely does all seem to have sprung from a similar mindset. Now what about the song cycle and sequencing? Is that something that you guys really deliberately sat down and mapped out?

Victoria: Yeah. We did figure out where each song fit best and the natural build of the record, putting “Some Things Last a Long Time” kind of in the middle there as a little moment of rest or moment of clarity or some other insight or something like that. So we did really focus on it, it wasn’t random.

EF: Right, and I actually wanted to touch on that song briefly too. The lyrics and everything fit in perfectly with the rest of the album, which is funny because you guys didn’t write that one. How did you come across it and know it would fit well with the album?

Victoria: Well with that song, it just feels like a Beach House song. Something in it is haunting and obsessive but really gentle and delicate. Actually, we saw Daniel Johnston play last night in Baltimore and I got to meet him. I got to shake his hand and tell him that I was in a band that covered his song. It was just really crazy timing because our record’s coming out tomorrow and then he performed “Some Things Last a Long Time” with a piano player from Baltimore playing these chords that I know so well and just singing by himself and shaking and holding the microphone with this small fragile voice. It was just the essence of that song, and we didn’t want to damage or beat that essence or try to think we could do it better. That’s not the point. When you cover music, it’s because you have an instantaneous attraction or connection to that song as an artist. Words can’t often describe it. So for that song, it was very emotional immediately, and our record is a very emotional record, I think. We just wanted to capture a little bit of its essence, not take it too much further than it is, and it ended up that that was one of the last songs that came together. It’s not that long, and we don’t do the whole song,

EF: I was going to say, it’s almost as though you hint at it, play the first verse and then gently fade out and go on to the next song…

Victoria: Which in the original version there is that essence, something going away and something being there on the wall and lasting. The chords are so simple and that’s also what attracted us. We being two people and not having a lot of other members and having two instruments, we’re trying to work from a pretty minimal level and trying to create things out of nothing, creating something more than would be imaginable from two people.

EF: Just in general, how do vocal melodies work when writing? Do you have the actual songs in place and the melody and lyrics is the last thing that comes or do you toy with the vocal melody first and build the song around it?

Victoria: It changes often. Sometimes I’ll have chords and then a melody that comes instantaneously and the words emerge from that but usually it’s some feeling, it’s just something that clutches me and it’s like I’m grasping it from the air. Not that you’re just plucking whatever but it’s like the way you can sense harmonies when you’re singing and you know what other voices work with it. I think the same thing applies when writing music, it’s like you’re writing words and suddenly this entire thing manifests itself. The good ones, they appear out of nowhere all of a sudden.

EF: Any examples of a song off the new album that just came together seemingly effortlessly like that?

Victoria: “Turtle Island”

EF: And is that actually about the place Turtle Island?

Victoria: Turtle Island is a name of a place from my childhood where I used to hang out. But the story isn’t necessarily about that, and it’s not necessarily a story either. It’s more about a moment, an opening, and a sense of blossoming.

EF: I know you’re more in favor of other people interpreting lyrics more so than you laying out concrete definitions of everything but that being said, is there an actual “Gila”? Where did that come from?

Victoria: (laughs) “Gila”, well, that just started out as a great word as we were traveling throughout the Southwest. I don’t know, words tend to do that; they don’t go away, they build levels of subtext, they become characters themselves. “Gila” is definitely a feeling, it’s indescribable, it’s not necessarily a gila monster. It can be something that’s actual or something that’s untouchable.

EF: I alluded to this with Alex already but what is it you’re looking forward to most about touring?

Victoria: Performing. To challenge myself and to get into the groove (laughs). We’ve really been hacking it out with all the business stuff, and the thing that’s fun is playing music. It’s cathartic, it’s a release and very intense too when you have those shows when there are a few people that you’re making intense contact with and then you’ll never see them again, that’s what I’m looking forward to.

EF: So you also feel a connection with the crowd when things are going well?

Victoria: Definitely, those are the shows that are good. If there’s not a connection it’s not a big deal, but the best shows are the ones where the people are there because they’re curious or want to hear a story and feel intimate. Even a large space can feel intimate, it’s just really a gamble.

EF: Well, you’re going to be coming to Bowery Ballroom again (on April 2nd). You had played there with Grizzly Bear on your last tour, do you like playing there?

Victoria: Yeah we played there with the Clientele too. Headlining it is nuts for me. We really like playing there, it’s a good-sized place it doesn’t feel intensely huge. We’ve played bigger places and obviously not filled them up but, we’ll see what happens. I’m expecting like 60 people (laughs).

EF: I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the turnout.

Victoria: I just hope there’s not like 40 people there or something...

EF: I don’t want to take up too much of your time and I’m sure this is going to be one of the go-to questions you’ll have to answer for the next month or so but I too am a Rock of Love fan and I want to know: who do you have winning this season? Who’s going to make it?

Victoria: Awesome. I think it’s a toss up between Kristy Jo and Daisy. I think that Kristy Jo – he said himself he likes crazy girls – and for TV they’ll keep whoever makes the most drama. I think Ambre might be there also.

EF: She’s kind of the dark horse.

Victoria: She is, but I’m thinking Kristy Jo. What about you?

EF: I don’t know, I just felt like last season there were more people to root for and this season I don’t root for anybody. It’s more just the thrill of watching a train wreck.

Victoria: Ambre’s really solid though, she could be there for a while, she’s a really good kisser. They should really be paying us for talking about this stuff!

Listen: "Heart of Chambers"

Watch: "You Came To Me"

See Beach House Live:
28 Feb - Baltimore, MD @ G-Spot w/ Papercuts
29 Feb - Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 w/ The Papercuts
01 Mar - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl w/ The Papercuts
02 Mar - Birmingham, AL @ The Bottle Tree Cafe w/ The Papercuts
03 Mar - Memphis, TN @ Hi-Tone Cafe w/ The Papercuts
04 Mar - Hattiesburg, MS @ The Thirsty Hippo w/ The Papercuts
05 Mar - Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon w/ The Papercuts
06 Mar - Houston, TX @ Walters on Washington w/ Papercuts
07 Mar - Austin, TX @ Emos w/ The Papercuts
08 Mar - Denton, TX @ Haileys w/ The Papercuts
10 Mar - Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture w/ The Papercuts
11 Mar - Phoenix, AZ @ Modified w/ The Papercuts
12 Mar - San Diego, CA @ The Casbah w/ The Papercuts
13 Mar - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo w/ The Papercuts
14 Mar - San Luis Obispo, CA @ Steynberg Gallery w/ The Papercuts
15 Mar - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill w/ The Papercuts
17 Mar - Portland, OR @ Holocene w/ The Papercuts
18 Mar - Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey w/ The Papercuts
19 Mar - Vancouver, BC @ The Media Club w/ The Papercuts
21 Mar - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court w/ The Papercuts
22 Mar - Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive w/ The Papercuts
24 Mar - Omaha, NE @ The Slowdown w/ The Papercuts
25 Mar - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry w/ The Papercuts
26 Mar - Chicago, IL @ Schubas w/ The Papercuts
27 Mar - Cleveland, OH @ The Grog Shop w/ The Papercuts
28 Mar - Toronto, ON @ El Mocambo w/ The Papercuts
29 Mar - Montreal, QUE @ Casa del Popolo w/ The Papercuts
30 Mar - Burlington, VT @ The Monkey House Burlington
31 Mar - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs w/ The Papercuts
1 Apr - Middleton, CT @ Wesleyan University w/ The Papercuts
2 Apr - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom w/ The Papercuts
3 Apr - Philadelphia, PA @ The Barbery w/ The Papercuts
4 Apr - Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel w/ The Papercuts

Visit Beach House on MySpace
In the recent past, the following bands have been featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week:
Computer Perfection
Goes Cube
Magic Arm
Drink Up Buttercup
The Big Sleep
Pete and the Pirates
Dead Confederate
Throw Me The Statue

See the entire list of bands featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week HERE.


Anonymous said...

Devotion is one of the best albums of the year. Especially You Came to Me is P/E/R/F/E/C/T

Anonymous said...

thats a great interview

robert said...

wow great thanks for the interview
great work!

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